Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

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What Is God Doing?

Last weekend, Fr. Brian Park delivered a wonderful homily on the Transfiguration from the perspective of St. Peter. He began by reminding that less than a week before Jesus, Peter, James and John ascended Mount Tabor, Jesus told His disciples for the first time that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter wanted none of this news and pulled Jesus aside to correct Him. The future saint simply could not believe that this could be God’s plan.

Father closed his homily with a stark declaration: There is no glory without the cross.

Sometimes I find myself in Peter’s shoes, listening to the Lord as best I can and trying to understand—then finally crying out in exasperation, “God, what are you doing?!” I look at the plan unfolding around me and cannot see the sense in it, so I stand in the breach, athwart God’s will, to challenge the One who breathed me into being.

O foolish man! I am no Moses—and God’s will is never thwarted.

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What Child Is This?

Note: This post appears as the January 3, 2021, bulletin column (the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been smitten with the image of the pregnant Virgin Mary. When Jodi began showing with our first baby, I was struck with a notion that may be foreign to women undergoing the physical changes that accompany incubating new humans, but that hopefully has occurred to other men: Pregnant women are beautiful. The glow of the expecting mother is long established and oft reported, but the bodily transformation is no less captivating. A luminous mother-to-be, her belly impossibly round with child, calls to mind the miraculous, celestial beauty of the stars and planets—even drawing us into orbit around her.

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

This is appropriate, since she bears the future of the species, the planet, even the universe, within her womb.

If that’s true of my bride, it’s truer for our Blessed Mother. Mary’s circumstance was more difficult than most first pregnancies, but her trust and her joy were no doubt more complete. I see this young woman, innocent and unassuming, bearing the changes and challenges confronting her with simplicity and obedience, radiating the life of God within her while pouring herself out in service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and later, to her husband Joseph.

Do you see her, too? Is she not beautiful?

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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Spiritual Conversation Is Food for the Soul

Yesterday my spiritual brother Mike and I traveled to Perham to pick up freshly-butchered beef we were blessed to buy from Becky’s aunt and uncle. It was about a three-hour drive each way; the meat market was jumping when we arrive, and we also stopped at Disgruntled Brewing in Perham for a pint and Beck’s Burger Company in Staples for a very late lunch (or an early supper). All told, the venture took the better part of the day and evening, by the time we the meat was safely stowed in our respective freezers.

Of course, we had plenty of time to talk. The conversation started with the usual topics these days: the pandemic, the election, the upcoming holidays and how our respective families (immediate and extended) are managing the risk, the uncertainty and the deep desire to be together during times like these.

Our children need each other and us, and we need them.

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