Suffering For, Suffering With

It’s Independence Day: a time to celebrate life and liberty in these United States. We are blessed, even in these strange days, with much of the country under some form of quarantine, protests in our streets and ugly politics blaring from every screen and speaker. God continues to guide us with His providence, though we cannot see His ends.

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is her defense of meaning. For example, not everyone distinguishes between liberty—freedom to do the good—and license—freedom to do whatever you want. That’s an important distinction with real outcomes for society: A culture that espouses liberty believes in good and evil, and facilitates the good—but a culture that embraces license ultimately finds no common ground, no good to support—so what happens when what I want conflicts with what you want? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Business as Usual

It has been almost a month since Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were dispensed of our Sunday obligation to attend Mass, and even less time since public Masses were suspended and we were told by state officials to stay home for two weeks. It seems longer, doesn’t it? It appears likely we will be asked to persist in this relative isolation awhile longer.

People are rightly concerned about the health of their loved ones, the most vulnerable among us and healthcare workers (among other “essential” employees). They are also rightly concerned about their livelihoods and the economy, their family’s mental and spiritual health, and how much freedom and control we are willing to sacrifice based on what evidence.

That’s a great deal of concern. It’s exhausting to carry, and people everywhere are asking, “When will things get back to normal?”

I am not sure they should. Continue reading

Waiting for the Other Shoe

“Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” – Matthew 6:33-34

One of the aspects of my personality that can be maddening to those blessed to live with me is that, regardless of how well or how poorly things are going in the moment, I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. If all is going well, I marvel at the fact, and since I’m certain I don’t deserve it, I wonder how long it can last and how it will end. When things are going poorly, I think not so much about when it will turn around, but how much worse it will get first.

I know, I know. It’s part of my charm.

I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this. These days the anxiety is palpable among so many people—and if I immerse myself too deeply in what passes for coronavirus “coverage,” the fear grows in me, as well. Much of what I read is of the “pick your poison” variety—give up your personal freedom or contribute to mass casualties. Are we overreacting, or underreacting? Will this disease fundamentally change the way we live? Or will government efforts to manage it be the thing that does?

So people change the subject, trying to avoid the question on everyone’s mind: What’s going to happen next? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Who Are You Pointing To?

The Superbowl was this past Sunday. Midway through the evening, social media exploded with critiques of the halftime show, which apparently featured two high-profile female performers in various states of undress dancing provocatively while sharing a medley of their musical hits.

I am not sorry we missed it.

I won’t rehash what I’ve read on the subject. The reason we did not watch was because a year or two ago, after repeatedly venting about the content of the halftime show and even some of the commercials, we agreed as a family to stop watching. When Superbowl Sunday rolls around, we prepare the usual snacks and treats, gather around the TV…and watch a movie.* We are not big football fans, and it occurred to us that it was a waste of time and energy to watch a game we didn’t particularly care about in order to see questionable commercial content and to be subjected to yet another pop-culture skin flick. It wasn’t easy to take that first step “out of the loop,” but honestly, we haven’t regretted it.

This is not to say you can’t enjoy football or the Superbowl. But I was struck by the volume of social media posts, articles and commentary that began with some variation of, “Thanks for exposing my child to X, Y and Z during the halftime show. They shouldn’t have to see that.”

They don’t have to see it—and as consumers and parents, we have the power and the responsibility to ensure they don’t.

Providentially, the next morning, the daily gospel was Mark 5:1-20. Bishop Robert Barron’s scripture reflection focused on the age-old practice of scapegoating: projecting our anxieties and anger onto a particular person or group of persons in order to preserve unity in our community. Bishop Barron suggested that we could interpret the numerous demons possessing the man living among the tombs as all the fears and frustrations of the people in that territory. They may not have liked the demoniac, but they knew him. They had a scapegoat. When Jesus sets him free and casts the demons into a great herd of swine, the people do not rejoice that their neighbor has been restored to his right mind. Instead, they are afraid and beg Jesus to leave.

How often are we uncomfortable with seeing and claiming our part in the evils of the world? How comforting it is to see someone else as the villain—to gawk, point and howl at wickedness instead of changing something in our own lives to prevent its spread!

How many years in a row did I shake my head at the garbage on our television but resist cutting the cable?

In last Sunday’s bulletin, I referenced Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. This morning I read his account of learning that war was again breaking out in Europe:

There was something else in my own mind—the recognition: “I am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too…” It was a very sobering thought, and yet its deep and probing light by its very truth eased my mind a little. I made up my mind to go to confession and Communion on the First Friday of September.

I knelt at the altar rail and on this first day of the Second World War received from the hand of the priest, Christ in the host, the same Christ Who was being nailed again to the cross by the effect of my sins, and the sins of the whole selfish, stupid, idiotic world of men.

I have to admit I was caught off guard when I read this—the vehemence with which Merton incriminates himself, and at the same time, the sense of relief he feels in coming to terms that he is in company with all of mankind, all to blame and all loved and redeemed by Christ.

There is an image often shared with children: When you point at someone else, the rest of your fingers point back at you. My wish for myself and all of you is that, as often us possible, we point to Jesus.

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* This year, appropriately enough, it was an annual favorite: Groundhog Day. I understand a Jeep ad based on the movie was one of the highlights of Sunday evening.

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Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.