“Wherever there is repentance, there is faith. Where there is no repentance, Jesus is rejected and His Church persecuted.”“One Bread, One Body” reflection on John 10:31-42
Over the past few weeks, a handful of lifechanging Confessions have been on my mind. Each resulted in a deepening of faith, but only after I humbled myself and turned once again to God and His Church:
A SECOND FIRST CONFESSION: Not long after Jodi and I started our family, I began to think about my dormant Catholicism. Aside from a brief period in grade school, I had grown up outside the Church and had a lot of questions, misunderstandings, and disagreements regarding Church teachings. Our priest in Michigan, Father Bill Zink, spent an hour or more allowing me to unload my spiritual baggage in his living room, then told me I should ask my questions from within the Church, after receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion again—in fact, he offered to hear my confession then and there. At first I refused; I said I didn’t remember how, but he offered to help me through it. I had to acknowledge the need for mercy and accept the invitation; to let go of my pride, humble myself, and return to God. That was the beginning of my reversion.
Growing up, many of my heroes were “the strong, silent type”—men of few words and decisive, often violent, action, who always knew the right thing to do and had the ability to carry it out. Small, bookish, and emotional, I admired men like that, even though I was not that type myself.
Since I didn’t grow up in the Church, I knew only a few Bible stories. The heroes of those stories seemed larger than life—even the shepherd boy, David, who slew Goliath, has already been chosen by God, anointed by Samuel, and filled with the Spirit of the Lord before he ever took the field against the Philistine.
I knew the story of the birth of Jesus, but I didn’t think of Joseph as a hero.
This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, March 20, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
Last Saturday, my bride and I went to morning Mass together. In the gospel, Jesus admonishes His disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
I’ve always taken this to be a tall order—impossible, in fact, for anyone but God alone. It almost always makes me feel small, weak, and inadequate to the task. These feelings may be true, but do not seem particularly helpful when it comes to striving for sainthood.
But Father Joe tweaked my thinking with his homily Saturday morning.
“Notice,” he said, “that the Lord doesn’t say, ‘Do everything perfectly,’ but ‘Be perfect.’”
He went on to explain that, with our fallen nature, we cannot expect never to make mistakes—but that we should do the best we can in every circumstance, striving to love as God loves.
My friend Jeremy and I met with our ninth-grade D-group last week to talk about Lent. The turnout was light that night, and with Ash Wednesday just a few days away, I thought I’d share some of what we discussed in hopes that others might benefit. Here are five tips for building spiritual strength this Lent:
- Prepare Yourself. If you haven’t already, spend some quiet time in prayer. Ask the Lord what He wants for you this Lent. If we don’t take time to prepare, we often default to the same old things we are comfortable with or we have struggled to keep in the past. Ask Him specifically about each of the three Lenten disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—and listen for His reply in the movements of your heart. How does He want you to grow in prayer? What good thing does He want you to give up for the next several weeks? How is He asking you to love your neighbor this year?
- Challenge Yourself. When you ask God what He wants from you, be prepared for an answer that might push you a bit. The Lord wants us to grow in holiness, but He does not challenge us beyond our abilities. I remember the teens in our Michigan youth group saying, “I could never give up such-and such!” and immediately seeking something else to sacrifice. If the Lord challenges you to do something difficult, lean into it—ask Him how to go about it, rather than steering the conversation to a more comfortable conclusion.
- Pace Yourself. Don’t be afraid to start small. When we lean into a challenge and talk with God about it, He helps us come up with small ways to build our spiritual strength. For example, if the Lord calls you to step away from your smartphone, and you’re not sure you can do that for all of Lent, maybe pick one day a week to be device-free—the Lord’s Day, perhaps, or Friday. On the flip side, sometimes we enter Lent with big ideas about the sacrifices we are ready to endure, but unless we’ve been practicing small sacrifices throughout the rest of the year, we may not be ready. Self-control takes practice, but even small sacrifices made with love are pleasing to God.
- Push Yourself. If you start small this Lent and feel called to do more, answer that call! My bride, Jodi, often adds to her Lenten commitments each week, building spiritual strength and momentum as she gets closer to Easter. It’s a great way to push yourself, grow in holiness, and learn your limitations.
- Be Gentle With Yourself. If you are challenging or pushing yourself as Lent goes on, there’s a good chance you’ll slip up or fall down—and that’s okay. I have found myself at both ends of the Lenten spectrum: either throwing up my hands and giving up entirely when I’m not perfect or trying to do too much and white-knuckling it through Lent while those around me suffer my ill temper and frustration. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to start again, always in prayer. Growth is the goal, not instant perfection.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is this Wednesday, March 2. Mass times are 7:45 AM (school Mass; open to all), 5:00 PM, and 7:00 PM—and don’t forget to fast and abstain from meat that day. Lenten guidelines are online at usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/lent. Have a blessed Lent!
This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, February 27, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.
One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”
This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.
We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.
She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”
I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.