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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A Fool for Christ

Note: I am an emotional guy. I am a bit self-conscious about the number of times in my posts I “choke up,” tear up or flat-out cry. But the Psalmist cried a lot, too. Also, this post appears as the bulletin column for this Sunday, January 24, for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Two Mondays ago, a friend and I discussed God’s desire for simple obedience. As a man who is constantly trying to make sense of things (and who often worries about what others think of me) this has been a long, hard lesson. I often analyze the promptings of the Spirit, worried that I’ll look foolish if I carry them out.

No one likes to be laughed at—but perhaps we should expect it:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 4:10

Later that same day, the Zach Williams song, “Fear Is a Liar” came on. My mind immediately went to my elder daughter, Emma, who is a freshman at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

“Fear Is a Liar (Official Live from Harding Prison” by Zach Williams

That’s not a completely random connection: Emma used to have a quote from that song on the wall of her bedroom: “Cast your fear in the fire, ’cuz fear, he is a liar.” But this wasn’t just a pleasant memory conjured up by song lyrics—I felt a strong urge to pray for her and to tell her I did so. Immediately I lifted Emma and her needs and intentions to Our Lady to bring to Jesus.

That was the easy part. Then I grabbed my phone to text my daughter: “‘Fear is a Liar’ is on, and as soon as it began, I felt moved to pray for you.”

I stopped briefly and thought, Is this weird? I hit Send, and began to type again: “I have asked Mary to intercede for you.”

Again I stopped. I wanted to type, “Do not be afraid,” but I couldn’t. Seriously, I thought, what if she’s having a quiet morning enjoying a late breakfast or hanging out with friends? What if nothing’s going on? How weird is it to have your Dad text, “Do not be afraid” when you’re not worried about anything?

And then, a whisper in my heart: Trust Me.

I typed, “I have asked Mary to intercede for you. Do not be afraid!”

I quickly hit Send. Then I typed and sent, “I love you, daughter,” set down my phone and walked away.

A few minutes later I heard it buzz. I returned to see a message from Emma. My text arrived just after she had delivered a short speech to her speech class, and she had been anxious about it beforehand.

“Thanks dad,” she texted. “I love you too.”

Tear welled in my eyes to think that God was there, in this ordinary moment, when His daughter and mine was worried about so small a thing as a class presentation, that He used me to love her in that moment, and all I had to do was text her.

It’s so easy to share God’s love. What are you worried about?

The Plan and the Power

This post appeared in the December 20, 2020, bulletins for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

In my newspaper days, I had the opportunity to profile an inventor, a young man who had created and patented a few small, practical products and was hustling every day to market them to retailers and the public. He proved to be focused, driven and wise beyond his years.

Not long after I wrote about him, I introduced him to another aspiring inventor I knew. The more accomplished man shared all he could about creating a prototype to prove your concept, pursuing a patent and more. Then he took a long look at the younger man and said something like this: “Sometimes a person with an idea gets to this point and stops, because it’s more comforting to have an idea in your back pocket than to try it and learn it doesn’t work or won’t sell. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to say, ‘I can always do that’ than to have nothing to fall back on.”

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Be Present to the Present

Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.

Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.

That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.

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George Floyd: What Can I Do?

Blogger’s Note: This is a long post. I hope to do some shorter ones, rooted in specific Catholic teachings and principles. But I think I need to say a few things first. (Photo courtesy of a local Catholic friend, Jim Lang.)

* * * * *

For days, I have wanted to write and couldn’t—not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say, and most of it felt too easy. I re-read an essay I wrote from four years ago, when the dead man’s name was Philando Castile, then reposted it—but that seemed too easy, as well. Something was different this time. Something more needed to be said. Something else needed to be done.

I wanted to have said something so I could stop thinking. I even sat and began to type a time or two. But the only clear thought that came, again and again, was, “What can I do?”

I also worried about saying the wrong thing. It doesn’t take long online to discover that too many people are looking for fight. I’ve seen folks advocating violence, dismantling the reputation and character of businesses and strangers, and dismissing people entirely for using the wrong word in the wrong way.

And I am prone to vainglory (worrying overmuch about what people think of me) and have a hard time letting things go, especially when misunderstood.

So I’d much rather sit this one out.

With Philando Castile, I simply described the tension in my heart and mind. This time I leaned into that tension, not looking to respond, explain or excuse, but to see, hear and learn about myself.

Something is different this time. Something more needs to be said. Something needs to be done.

What can I do?

* * * * *

I can tell people where I stand. George Floyd’s killing is an outrage, and I am angry. This should not have happened and should never happen again.

Perhaps, like me, your first instinct now is to say, “Yes, but…”

Hold that thought.

Just sit in silence with the image of a six-foot-six man, created in God’s image, dying in the street, held down by police officers who would not help him and watched by bystanders who could not. Let that break your heart. Continue reading