Reflections on ‘Vocation: The Universal Call and the End of Man’

Blogger’s Note: This is a short reflection I wrote on Deacon Joseph Michalak’s Catechetical Institute Formative Session talk, “Vocation: The Universal Call and the End of Man.” Since I missed the session traveling to Michigan to see my folks, I was asked to write a short essay to show I had listened to it on my own.

Some years ago I wrote an essay about “the Jim in my Head,” a version of myself who is always a gentleman, always charming and courteous, always knew what to say and when to be still. That Jim, if he existed, would be loved and admired by others…but he became a source of frustration to me.

When I wrote about the Jim in my Head, he was meant to be a humorous sort of inspiration, but he became a yardstick with which to beat myself. I acted as though everyone else saw the imagined ideal and could judge to what extent I came up short. I fell into the “if-only” trap: if only I were in a different situation; had a different job; had more time and money, a different degree, etc. I finally saw the trap for what it was a year or so ago when I caught myself thinking, If only I had different gifts. The implication was that I would be a better person if God had made me better—as if the One who is all love had withheld something from me, or the One who is perfect wisdom had made a mistake.

Deacon Michalak emphasizes that the call to holiness is not only universal, but is our sole purpose—the only end worth pursuing in this life. We are each perfectly equipped to pursue this end in precisely the way God intends for us, provided we stay close to Him. This mirrors a recent comment from my spiritual director: “As long as you are open to God’s will in your life each day, you can’t screw this up.”

Why? Because He desires us to be with Him. That’s His sole reason for creating us.

I want to live an integrated life. I want my roles as husband, father, protector, provider, professional and Christian to be oriented to a single end: sainthood, for me and those I love. And I want to love everyone I encounter, so that my prayer for sainthood extends to all. It is a source of tremendous hope to me to know that I have a purpose, that I am perfectly suited to that purpose, and that God is personally invested in helping me achieve that purpose. Instead of trying to measure up to the man in my head, who doesn’t exist and never did, I can aspire to be the man in God’s heart, who is the only me who has ever existed.

Easter Greetings from the Thorp Gang

Holy Saturday

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” – John 20:29

How dark a Sabbath dawned the day after Jesus’s crucifixion: the so-called savior dead and in the ground; his disciples scattered, and the Passover at hand—a remembrance of freedom for God’s chosen people, once again marked under Roman rule.

Our Holy Saturday is not so dark, for although we did not walk with the living Lord or see His risen self, we know the story and believe what we have heard—that fear-filled seventh day was followed by an eighth, a day of resurrection and re-creation. A day of joy and wonder.

So we rise this Holy Saturday, not with trepidation, but anticipation. We rise to the same hell-bent, broken world the apostles did, still filled with pride and pain and broken people; we look with wonder this morning at four inches of fresh snow fallen silently over night and rejoice that God has seen fit to grace us with another day, another hour, another breath.

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Brendan is spending the Easter Triduum in the Eternal City. He is in Rome this semester and has visited Ravenna, Assisi, and Venice, as well as Ireland, Bulgaria, Greece, and France. He will spend next week (his spring break) in Poland and the Ukraine, and will be home at the end of April to work and save for one more year at the University of Mary. God willing, he will graduate next spring, a year early.

Gabe is winding down his senior year at St. Michael-Albertville High School, still discerning his future.  He has been accepted to Thomas Aquinas College, which he visited last summer for their Great Books program, and UMary. He has also applied to NET Ministries, in which he would spend next year traveling the country with a team of other young adults, leading retreats and other events in order to evangelize Catholic teens. He expects to learn whether he has been accepted as a NET missionary in early May.

Emma turned 16 yesterday—since it was Good Friday, we celebrated with presents but without cake. She finishes her sophomore year of high school this spring and will get her driver’s license this summer. (A nerve-wracking car accident early in the winter slowed our lessons a bit.) She still bakes, sings, and plays the flute; still avoids compliments and hugs (except from her closest friends), and still plans to go to UMary in 2020.

Trevor is nearly a high-schooler now, lean framed and long haired, with a questioning mind and a gift for music:  strings, keys, voice, and percussion. He is a drummer in no less than six groups: 8th-Grade Band, Middle School Percussion Ensemble, this summer’s High School Drum Corps, two rock bands (his and Bren’s), and a praise and worship group at our church. Our youngest son will be confirmed this spring and is also discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood.

Little Lily is wrapping up her kindergarten year already. Dark-eyed and quick-witted, she loves to read, to do arts and crafts, and to dress in her own feminine and funky style.  She loves Jodi, tolerates me, and adores her “cute little dog Bruno,” whom she orders around and addresses with baby-talk despite the fact that he’s bigger than she is. Much to Jodi’s chagrin, she loves being licked by him and presents her bare arms to a tongue-lashing multiple times a day.

Bruno is soft-eyed and hard-toothed; all male, all Airedale, and all of eight months old. He is a lunatic, and we love him.

Jodi continues to do good work for the same company in Maple Grove and continues to grace our family every moment with her selflessness, her faithfulness, and her peace. She has time for everyone but herself, and she deserves better love than I can give her. But she stays with me, convinced (I suppose) that I can be taught and one day I’ll make a man, or at least a living. I am blessed to have her with me.

And she may be right, you know. In the past year I left a job I loved at our home parish to answer a call to write and evangelize; I wound up unemployed, then sorting packages for FedEx in the wee hours of the morning, before landing at another local parish doing what I set out to do. As is typical, I saw this as a sign and ran with it, convinced I knew God’s plan and could carry it off on my own. A few months later, my new employers lost their faith formation director and asked me to consider taking on the role, at least for a time.  I said I would pray on it, confident the answer would be no. Ten minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the answer came: Why do you think I put you there?

I am insecure and impractical; bull-headed, soft-hearted, romantic, and rash. But I can be taught, and I believe I will make a man (and even a living) one day. God works, not just in broad strokes, but in the details of our lives. He put us exactly where He wants us, day by day, and if we are open to him, we cannot help but succeed, because He wills only the best for us. He cannot will anything else or anything less, because it’s His very nature. He loves us, because He is love.

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In the end, that’s the only thing that makes the world bearable. He is the reason we rise, this morning and every morning, to begin again.

Vigil

We search for signs. Signals too dim to light our way stop us dead. We wait—for what? An invitation is ours each day; each moment we are born again, to do more good. To do better. God is God the Everpresent:  He leaves not—each dawn an Easter; each day a rebirth

Happy Easter, dear ones. Know our thoughts and prayers are with you even when we, ourselves, are not. We love you.

Always,

Jim and Jodi

Brendan, Gabe, Emma, Trevor, and Lily

‘You Wicked Servant’

Yesterday’s gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35, in which Peter asks Jesus how often he must forgive his brother. “As many as seven times?” he says naively, thinking that would be plenty.

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants…”

Thus begins the parable of the wicked servant, in which the Lord lays out in stark terms our duty to forgive.

You probably remember the story: The king calls to account a servant who owes him a huge amount of money. Since the servant has no way of repaying it, the king plans to sell him, his family, and all his belongings.  But the servant begs for mercy, promising to repay the debt in time. And the king relents—not only does he decide not to sell the servant and all he has, but he forgives the loan altogether in response to the servant’s humble plea.

The first servant then seeks out another servant who owes him money and seizes and chokes him, demanding immediate repayment. The wrath of his master is immediate and severe: The first servant is handed over to the torturers until he repays his entire debt to the king.

Consider for a moment the fact that we’ve already been told the servant had no way of paying back the money. How, then, will he ever escape the torturers?

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What I Couldn’t Say

Yesterday was Bethany’s wake; today will be her funeral. For me, the wake was a flurry of hugs and tears; I had an evening meeting to attend and wanted to see as many of my Poland daughters as possible, along with Bethany’s family, before I left.

It was hard to feel the heartache of people you care for in your arms and chest as you hold each other in sorrow. I wished aloud more than once that I could say something to ease the pain of her passing (I believe that, in the moment, the words were actually “to make this suck less”)—but I don’t know why this happened, and I miss her, too.

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Imagine the thing that matters most to you in all the world—beautiful, precious, perfect in your eyes. Imagine that you crafted this thing yourself, putting all of your attention, skill, and loving care into every detail. Imagine holding it in your hands, gazing at it in joy and wonder, and seeing how good it is. Continue reading

Who Is My Family?

On Saturday our community suffered a terrible blow: we lost a beautiful, sweet young woman—a daughter, a sister, a friend—in a skiing accident. Bethany was a 2017 graduate and a member of our church’s youth core team. Her younger sister is a close friend of Emma’s, and the friend who was with her at the ski hill is Gabe’s Confirmation sponsor and a good friend of Brendan’s.

Last night the church was home to many families and teens who came to Tuesday evening Mass and stayed for an hour of Adoration afterward, praying for the repose of Bethany’s soul and peace and consolation for her family and friends.

Providentially, the gospel reading was Mark 3:31-35:

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In his homily, Fr. Richards spoke of the joys of family life—”Your family knows you…you can be yourself.”—and emphasized that, by word and deed, Jesus made all of His followers a spiritual family. Nowhere was that more evident than in the hour following Mass. Teens and children, adults young and old, prayed and praised God, wept and worried, laughed and lingered long after the Blessed Sacrament was reposed. In my mind’s eye, I saw Bethany smiling. Continue reading