Growing Younger

This post appeared in the Sunday, September 25, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I don’t know if this is typical for adult Christians as they try to follow Jesus more and more closely—but I often feel as though I am regressing spiritually.

It is certainly true that I don’t struggle with the more serious or habitual sins I did as a younger man, before my reversion to the faith—that is real progress. But most of sins I bring to Confession today are things any child or teen might share: short-temperedness, impatience, ingratitude, laziness, vulgarity, jealousy—smaller things deeply rooted in my heart and habits. I struggle to confess these sins, either because they are so frequent and reflexive as to defy counting, or so subtle and ingrained that I don’t perceive them at all without careful hindsight.

Many of these sins are rooted in vanity and insecurity: I become preoccupied with myself and my own needs at the expense of those around me. As a result, I am also a slave to sins of omission (good things not done), another category of wrongs it can be difficult count.

So I’ve been praying to God for an influx of charity—a stretching of my heart—so that I might better see and respond to the needs of others, when and where they exist.

Guess what? God is obliging…and it hurts.

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All Too Familiar

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the starts, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

St. Augustine

In last weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus is rejected in His hometown. His family, friends and neighbors watched Him grow up among them, and as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The better we think we know a something, the less special it seems.

In a country like ours, in which Mass is readily accessible and religious persecution is relatively rare and non-violent, we can be tempted to regard Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the same way. Our priests celebrate five Sunday Masses each weekend at St. Michael alone, and in an effort to urge people to resume going to church in person, the Church has emphasized how easy it is to find a Mass near you, wherever you are.

All of which makes it easy to say, I can go to Mass later. I can go to Mass anytime. I guess I’ll go next week.

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Same Ol’ Same Ol’…

This post appeared in the June 27, 2021, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

This August, my bride and I will have been married 25 years. At this point, you’d think we would understand each other, or at least give one another the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t. Most of the conflict in our marriage turns on the same little things that derailed us a quarter century ago. Our insecurities, assumptions and coping mechanisms are the same—and so our frustrations are also the same.

After 25 years, I wonder why she doesn’t get me, but I rarely apply that standard to myself. I inflict, then apologize for, the same little wounds, to the point now that most of the time, Jodi doesn’t realize what I’m apologizing for. She seems to take nothing personally (thank you, Jesus!), but that doesn’t make it right.

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A Promise, Not a Threat

This post appeared in the Sunday, May 9, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I spent the past week with my folks in Michigan, in the log house we built together when I was in high school. It’s surrounded by trees and green pastures, flowers and birds, with deer wandering through nightly and a plump woodchuck burrowed in beneath an old truck-box-turned-storage shed.

We built this place from scratch, from tall, straight pines some of which we felled ourselves. We drove the well ourselves. At the time, there wasn’t a thing my dad couldn’t do with his mind and body—and I, who had a very different mind than his, was amazed by what he could see and accomplish.

Over the past few years, time has taken a toll on my father. His strength is diminished; his hands, unsteady; that creative inner vision, not as clear as it used to be. His machine shop is largely idle these days, but he stays busy keeping the lawn and pasture mowed, the birds and wildlife fed, and my mother loved and entertained.

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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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