Home Away From Home and the Gift of Disillusionment

On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.

It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.

When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.

Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).

But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.

Should I be worried?

Continue reading

Retreat Brain, Illustrated

I was blessed to spend last weekend on a three-day silent retreat. It was a fruitful time, to be sure, but honestly I’m still sorting through everything God was doing with me there. I am sure to share more in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime: After the retreat an older gentleman told me that he noticed that I take lots of notes. I explained that for me, writing is how I remember and process information. What I didn’t mention is that I also doodle, draw arrows to make connections, intersperse my own comments and conclusions, and generally wind up with much more in the notebook than was actually said in the retreat master’s talk. Then I add to it between conferences, while praying and mulling over what was said. The page below is an example, an illustration of my “retreat brain” at work (or perhaps play).

EPSON MFP image

Retreat Notes, August 2020

Whaddya think? Is a picture worth a thousand words?

What about a picture of words? A pitcher of words?

I could use a pitcher right about now…

A Man of Many Fathers

In the spirit of my Mother’s Day post from last month, I thought I raise a post and a pint to the fathers who matter most in my life to receive God’s blessing. Happy Father’s Day!

To Daryl, my dad and dziadzi to my children: You set a high bar for fatherhood and sacrificial love, Dad, and even though we are quite different, I still strive to be like you in so many ways. Thank you for your constant care, support and example. I love you.

To all the priests who have blessed me over the years. To Fr. Kubiak, my baptismal priest; Fr. Hart, the priest of my First Reconciliation and First Communion; my spiritual father, Fr. Bill Zink, the priest of my reversion, Confirmation, and first call to ministry; and the various shepherds who, at critical moments in my conversion, have called me to deeper discipleship: Fr. Leonard Siebenaler, Fr. Michael Becker, Fr. Michael Rudolf, Fr. Peter Richards, Fr. Nathaniel Meyers, Fr. Nathan LaLiberte, Fr. Joah Ellis, and Jim Englert. I am eternally grateful, and I love you.

To Brendan, my eldest son and expectant father of our first grandchild: It humbles me to see you and your bride step so calmly and confidently into marriage and family life. I am inspired by your love and example, I cannot wait to see your little one asleep in your arms (or erupting out both ends!)—and I love you. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness (on Thursday): I Can’t Hear You…You’re Yelling

Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Woke this morning on the wrong side of the bed. Shuffled to the living room to pray with my bride. Opened the missal to the Tenth Thursday in Ordinary Time (Year II) and began to proclaim the first reading, only for Jodi to say that her copy of “Living With Christ” had a different reading.

Of course. It’s the memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle.

I turned to the back of the missal and found June 11. Sure enough, the first reading was about St. Barnabas, from the Acts of the Apostles. I read the responsorial psalm, then began the gospel.

“Um,” said Jodi, “I have a different gospel.”

I sighed and shrugged. “Well,” I said, exasperated, “I don’t know what it is…what do you have?” Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Another Step on the Road Home

My bride and I met while working at Wall Drug, on the edge of the Badlands in South Dakota. I was selling boots and moccasins that summer; she was selling hats and western wear. The day she started at the store, I had been working about a week. Her supervisor had gone to Mass (“On a weekday?” I thought.) and asked me to keep an eye on things and show the new girl how to run the register when she arrived.

So I did. It wasn’t long before I wanted to spend all my time with her, even accompanying her to Mass, which I hadn’t gone to in years—and when I went back to Yale in the fall, I missed her.

I had a job for the School of Music’s Concert Office that took me all over campus and several classes at the far end of Hillhouse Avenue, so multiple times a week (sometimes several times a day), I walked past St. Mary’s on Hillhouse (good photos). Sometimes I would see sandaled and habited Dominicans greeting students as we passed by, and I loved the tall stone steeples, which, unlike the numeorus other gothic structures on campus, announced the presence of the divine. When the I finally (inevitably) decided to go to church and pray for (at least daydream about) the girl I hoped to marry, those gray steeples and thick wooden doors were the ones that welcomed me home, if only as a heathen dabbler at the time.

Continue reading