Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Blogger’s Note: This was meant as a parish bulletin column for next weekend, but it seems appropriate to post it now.

As coronavirus news reached a fever pitch this past week, a friend shared the reality of the threat for his wife, whose immune system is compromised. While he would never suggest that everyone change their behaviors to accommodate the needs of him and his wife, he urged people to understand that just because you might weather the virus with no lasting effect doesn’t mean your neighbor would.

Our world is flush with information; society is rampant with anxiety on the best of days; and we don’t like facing mortality or being blamed if we fail to act. All these things make us ripe for the Enemy’s picking. Who is the deceiver, the accuser, the divider? Who benefits from the disintegration caused by sickness and fear, quarantine and “social distancing”?

On the other hand, who inspired Cain’s infamous question (Genesis 4:9), “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Our thoughts, words and actions either contribute to the spread of this virus and the fear associated with it, or they diminish it. They either divide, or they unite. Continue reading

Living Lent as a Family

Blogger’s Note: This post originally written for and published in the February 2018 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church stewardship newsletter.

Most of us don’t actively seek out sacrifice or suffering, and Lent is a season that encourages both: We give up meat on Fridays; we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; we are called to pray and give alms. Jodi and I spent this past Epiphany with some dear friends and discussed how our families approach Lent. Below are several of the best ideas shared that afternoon—may they spark new Lenten traditions in your own family!

Preparing for Lent

In the weeks leading up to Lent, spend time with your spouse and each of your children discussing how each of you are doing emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. This can help you assess where you need to prune and where you need to grow. Ask: What brings me joy? What makes me anxious or upset? What’s going well, and what do I wish was going better?

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Forty-Third Birthday, Extended and Remixed

I am still a such a kid when it comes to birthdays. I still love the food and fun, the off-key singing, the warmth and glow and light and presents. Yes, I know that material wealth does not avail, but I love receiving (and giving) gifts. I can’t help it.

At the same time, birthdays are also a bit melancholy. As each year passes, I find myself reflecting on those things I have not yet done, and the speed with which time seems to pass these days. That mix of joy and anticipation with reflection and blues often leaves me quiet, recollected, and prayerful—which, in the end, is not a bad place to be.

Nevertheless, when my 43rd birthday rolled around on Friday, I struggled a bit. Jodi and I worked during the day, which is not unusual, but Gabe needed to work late afternoon through early evening. In addition, a couple of conversations with my bride (one somewhat veiled, one not so much) led me to believe that she was struggling to come up with a gift of any sort, much less the one she hoped to purchase. It was shaping up to be a subdued celebration.

So when Emma was offered a babysitting gig for Friday evening, I sighed and surrendered. We would celebrate Saturday, gift or no gift.

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Geek Feast: How to Eat Like a Hobbit

Last weekend our offspring (minus Brendan, who’s at UMary, of course) and the Engel clan gathered at our house for a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Of course, such a quest—nine-hours-plus of movie-watching—requires a substantial outlay of provisions. I came home from work that Friday afternoon to a house that rang with laughter and hobbit songs, and smelled of savory meats and sweet baked goods.

The eldest Miss Engel had cracked open her hobbit cookbook (and not a few eggs, I suspect), and the teens were busy filling meat pies, cooling fresh lembas and cupcakes, and preparing mushrooms for stuffing. Bacon-wrapped sausages and po-tay-toes (“boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew…”) rounded out the feast.

Rosebud had frosted the cupcakes: nine with blue circles to represent the Rings of Men, seven red ones for the Dwarf-lords, three in green for the elves, and five yellow-frosted cakes with delicate runes in black (“It’s some form of Elvish, but I can’t read it.”) translated as “One ring to rule them all.”

Mike and Stacy came over to eat after Jodi got home from work. The teens watched movies all night. We ate for days.

Hobbits eat well, as do Lord of the Rings geeks, it appears!

When One Door Closes…

Tonight I have a date with my bride. Tonight we celebrate that I finally landed a freelance project that pays the bills for the next few months and enables me to stop my early-morning labors at FedEx. We are able to make ends meet. We are able to pray together in the mornings again. I am able to see my children at the beginning of the day and stay up past eight o’clock.

God’s timing is impeccable. For the past couple months, I’ve been losing weight and getting in progressively better shape. I’m holding steady at around 218 pounds right now—a weight I haven’t seen in close to two decades, I would guess. I am stronger, more flexible, and in better condition as well.

At least, I was until a week ago.  Continue reading