You Did It For Me

It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.

Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading,  Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  …  ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?

Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”

So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.

Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”

God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.

On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).

In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.

So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:

May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.

May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.

Living Lent as a Family

Blogger’s Note: This post originally written for and published in the February 2018 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church stewardship newsletter.

Most of us don’t actively seek out sacrifice or suffering, and Lent is a season that encourages both: We give up meat on Fridays; we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; we are called to pray and give alms. Jodi and I spent this past Epiphany with some dear friends and discussed how our families approach Lent. Below are several of the best ideas shared that afternoon—may they spark new Lenten traditions in your own family!

Preparing for Lent

In the weeks leading up to Lent, spend time with your spouse and each of your children discussing how each of you are doing emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. This can help you assess where you need to prune and where you need to grow. Ask: What brings me joy? What makes me anxious or upset? What’s going well, and what do I wish was going better?

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Peace in God’s Hands

A week ago Friday, Emma and I went for a drive. The purpose was to get her on the freeway for the first time—on Saturday, we were heading to Bismarck to visit friends, and that long drive straight west is a great opportunity to get practice hours behind the wheel. We had planned to take the Suburban, but Emma had less experience and comfort with the Blue Beast, so we opted to take the minivan. It is getting older, but it’s my daily driver and a little easier for a new driver to manage.

Emma has been doing well in her driving thus far. She is focused and attentive and rarely gets rattled. She has driven 55 to 60 miles per hour on regular roads and has experience in town traffic, but this was to be her first time on the freeway. I drove us westward on I-94, away from the Cities and end-of-the-workday traffic, reminding her as we went of what she had learned in class: merging, moving over for entering traffic, blind spots, etc. She admitted she was nervous, but no more so than trying any other new thing behind the wheel. I offered that we should get off at the Hasty exit, and that she could drive toward Maple Lake on regular roads a bit before we looped back and got on the freeway. And so we did.

The sun was setting as we approached the freeway and turned right onto the eastbound ramp. Westbound traffic was still heavy; eastbound, not so much. So far so good. I talked her through the merge as we headed down the ramp, and she responded: Get up to speed. Signal. Check your blind spot…

A vehicle was in the near lane, closing on us. We both saw it; it was difficult to tell if they were letting us in, and Emma said so.  We looked forward at roughly the same time and saw we were coming off the ramp and onto the shoulder, which was covered with a thin layer of slushy snow. The van began to fishtail.

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All Is Gift

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I wanted to tell you yesterday all the things I’m grateful for this year. I rose at 4 a.m. to stretch, pray, and write—but the Bearded Wonder (my eldest son Brendan) is home from college and rose at 4:30. We sat in flickering candlelight and visited for a couple hours, until Jodi got up to start the turkey. Then I left her and her boy alone and greeted the dawn with Bruno. Our walk was unusually peaceful: silent except for the whine of the distant freeway; we saw a total of four cars, a jogger, and a neighbor with the same idea: walking his dog in the quiet of the new day.

The rest of the household was stirring when we returned home, and the rest of the morning was spent going to Mass (the Feast before the feast) and preparing for dinner. We cooked, we ate, we watched the Lions get trounced by the Vikings. (Sorry, fellow Lions fans: to me, the game didn’t feel close.) My folks were supposed to be here, but Mom got sick and they returned home—we arranged for a friend to bring them Thanksgiving dinner, and enjoyed a beautiful, grateful phone call with them in the early afternoon.  We laughed and listened to music; we napped, walked Bruno again, and ate pie.

And yet, when evening fell, I felt unsettled. The one thing I hadn’t done was write. So while the family played games in the dining room, I attempted to journal. Instead I listened to Jodi and the kids joking, arguing, and laughing together. After a while, Brendan stepped away from the games and took up the mandolin, picking and strumming snippets of songs we knew. I closed my journal and vowed to write this morning.

* * * * *

Today Brendan turns twenty. I rose again at four, acutely aware that I have now been a father for two decades—nearly half my life to date!—and unsure about what that means for me. I went downstairs to let Bruno out; stepped into the cold, black morning, and breathed in the clean air. I need to write, I thought.

About what? About all of this.

I brought Bruno back in and shuffled into the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror to see myself. At 4 a.m., I look lived in: a little worn and disheveled, sagging here and there, but comfortable and still functional. I leaned in closer to peer into my own eyes—windows to the soul, they say—and in an instant, they filled with unexpected tears.

Gifts. All of it—my bride in our bed, our beautiful offspring, the pup downstairs. Our aging suburban split-level. The still unfinished tree house out back. All gifts.

I am working harder these days for less money, and yet I feel better—freer—than I have in years. Gift. We have friends who never get sick of our company, family who love us, and a great God in Heaven who keeps the very rhythm of our hearts in time with His own. All gifts.

The tears brimmed but didn’t fall; my chest swelled but didn’t burst. Sure signs that I have not yet fully grasped the magnitude of my situation: the all-powerful and ever-present Creator of the universe is making room enough in me so He can dwell there. The One who is Love is carving a God-size hole in me, chipping away, flake by flake, at my stony heart.

* * * * *

With all the many gifts I enjoy in this life, perhaps the thing I am most grateful for this year is perspective. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Look around you. Have you seen this place?

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? — Job 38:4-7

We are so very blessed and have done nothing to deserve it. Sure, we’re good people, as far as that goes. But lots of good people suffer, and a fair number of not-so-good people seem to thrive. I cannot earn these blessings or somehow make them happen—I cannot avoid illness, accident, or tragedy—any more than I can make Brendan’s beard grow. I can only look on with wonder and thanksgiving, and join my song to Mary’s: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name!

 

Airedale Chronicles: Little Big Dog

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Bruno at 15 weeks, with size 14 boots for scale

I took Bruno to the vet today for the last of his vaccinations. He will be 15 weeks old on Thursday, and in the past month, has gained exactly 11 pounds and (I’m guessing on this) about three or four inches in height. When he first came to us, he could scoot under the lowest cross-brace on our kitchen chairs or plunge beneath the futon almost without breaking stride. Now he belly-crawls beneath the futon and pushes between the chairs. At more than 27 wriggling pounds, he’s a lot to scoop up these days—like when he doesn’t want to get in the van or walk into the veterinary office. And he’s still got that puppy awkwardness, only magnified by his adolescent frame. He trips, stumbles, rolls, and keeps going.

The doc remembered him—she doesn’t see many Airedales—and voiced her approval of his growth. She checked him over and commented on how muscular he is for a puppy. On my way out, the lady with the mini (toy?) schnauzer said, “Look at those paws! He’s gonna be HUGE!”

I don’t know whether to be proud or scared.

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