A New Christmas Poem

I have a story in my head, of an old shepherd minding the camp while the younger men take the herds out to graze. At first I thought to tell the whole story in verse, but that proved to be too much. Then I began to write the story, with little bits of verse by the old shepherd, interspersed throughout. That also proved too much to finish by today. But the bits of verse hung together fairly well, so I polished them up a bit this morning. The story will come as I have time.

The Shepherd’s Rhyme

by Jim Thorp

O fallen are the souls of men and death the sinner’s doom

And who but you, O Lord of all, can make the desert bloom?

And who but you, O Lord of hosts, can split a winter’s night

To flood the weary world below with wonder, warmth, and light?

The heart, a stony seed within; a man, the dusty ground

And who but you, Creator blest, can make new life abound?

And who but you, O Lord above, our sunshine and our rain,

Can soak and swell a shrivelled soul and make it sprout again?

The crocus blooms, the rocks rejoice, the dry rills run with water

The heavens ring: A king! A king! is born to virgin daughter!

c.f. Isaiah 35

What Discernment Looks Like—for Us

Many of you reading know that Jodi and I have been discerning the possibility of me becoming a deacon. A deacon in the Catholic Church is an ordained member of the clergy, meaning that like priests and bishops, they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. An ordained deacon is a deacon for life. If unmarried, he remains unmarried; if married, he does not remarry after the death of his wife. They generally serve the Church and assist priests at the altar during Mass, with certain pastoral and sacramental duties, and with teaching and preaching. Generally, they maintain their careers outside the Church, which uniquely positions them as clergy out in the world on a regular basis.

The Church recognizes two types of deacons. Transitional deacons are ordained deacons on their way to becoming ordained priests. Permanent deacons are ordained deacons who do not intend to become priests but have answered God’s call to serve the Church in this deeper way.

 In the Catholic Church, deacon is not a volunteer position or a job, but a vocational call—and for a married couple that has a vocational call as husband and wife, it ought to be a big decision. As the Institute for Diaconate Formation (IDF) here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis often puts it, Wives need to be comfortable with their husbands marrying another woman, the Church.

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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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Take the Wheel

The post was published as a column in the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin for Sunday, April 25.

I have a bone to pick with Fr. Mike Schmitz.

Before you send a message up to Duluth to tell him I’m calling him out, let me explain: Several years ago, I shared a wonderful video of his with the parents in our LIFT classes, entitled “Heaven: You’re Not Good Enough (and Why That’s Okay).”

It’s a great video—Google it!—but in the final minute, he says something that has haunted me ever since: “I’m not good enough to go to the Olympics, and I’m not good enough to go to heaven, but any one of us can surrender.”

Any one of us can surrender. He says it, just like that.

Have you ever tried? I have. I can say the words and think the thoughts, but when it comes to actually letting go and letting God, I can’t unclench my fists.

Any one of can surrender, he says. Sure…but how?

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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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