The Phantom Cross

A little more than a week ago, we dropped our second son Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul to begin training for nine months of drawing young people to Christ as a NET Ministries missionary. Then yesterday we dropped our eldest, Brendan, off for his third and final year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As we sped east on I-94 last night, Jodi reflected that we hadn’t taken a photo of Bren as we dropped him off this year. The first year we took several. Last year I snapped one of Brendan and his roommate Nick for Jodi, since she couldn’t be there when I dropped him off. This time we were both there, and it was clearer than ever that our adult son has another beautiful life, mostly hidden from us. This was revealed during a brief stop  at his girlfriend Becky’s home in Moorehead for introductions and delicious, homemade double-chocolate-chip-and-almond scones on the way to UMary, by the laughter and embraces upon his arrival on campus, the excitement and shouted greetings from hallways and upstairs windows, the verbal and non-verbal shorthand between our son and his friends. He belongs there as much as in our home, and we were so subconsciously aware of this that dropping him off and driving away seemed almost natural.

It was not precisely so when we dropped off Gabe. I’ve reflected briefly on the difference when we celebrated his grad party earlier this summer: When we took Bren to Bismarck the first time, the sensation was like a long, taut line from me to him—I could not see him, but I could feel him and was acutely aware of his presence six hours to the west. But Gabe was dropped off just down the road in St. Paul, at a place he has been before. Currently he is at a camp somewhere in the woods, praying and team-building and training like countless times previously. From this perspective, this feels like no big deal—Gabe is doing youth ministry as he has for years now.

On the other hand, this time he is not coming home until Christmas and will be gone again until spring. And if he is chosen for a traveling team, as he hopes, he won’t be in any one place, but will live out of a suitcase, a van and a trailer, staying in strange homes in strange cities. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Equipping the Called

After a whirlwind road trip to Michigan with my oldest to visit my parents, I returned last night and had to make a concerted effort not to plunge neck deep into email. The temptation to see what I would be facing at work this morning nearly got the best of me, but I fought it off and visited with my bride and family, then went to bed.

I rose this morning with a knot of dread in my belly. Over the past few days of travel, I had made it to Sunday Mass, of course, but had not dedicated as much time to personal prayer as usual. I felt the consequence this morning as a distance from God.  I was distracted and foggy, even after coffee. I caught myself expecting the worst and feeling unready, unprepared, unequipped. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Learning to Surrender

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.

Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.

Almost everyone, except me. Continue reading

Heartstrings III

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

It’s been a busy week, with the Totus Tuus program in full swing at Saint Andrew (plus the completion of my reconsecration to Mary on this Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), so I’m sticking with another short “cheater” post—another “heartstring” connect me to the Sacred Heart.

Perhaps I’ve felt particularly drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (and Mary’s Immaculate Heart) only in the past year or so, but the image below shows the first religious artwork we purchased together and displayed prominently in our home.

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O Heart of Jesus pierced for our sins and giving us your Mother on Calvary! O Heart of Mary pierced by sorrow and sharing in the sufferings of your divine Son for our redemption! O sacred union of these Two Hearts! Praised be the God of Love who united them together! — from the Prayer to the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which I just discovered today

Spiritual Cardio, Part 2

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

My departure from home to the Engels was bittersweet, of course. I was sad but resigned to going solo and making the most of my time alone with God. Even as I drove, I prayed for the ability to forgive my family, for Jodi (and Emma) to forgive my anger and hurtful words, and for God to have mercy on us all.

I arrived after dark, opened things up and turned on the lights, then turned Bruno and Dusty loose in the house together. Immediately they began tearing around the house, wagging, snarling, rolling, and wrestling. I began streaming the Friday night blues programming from Jazz88 and opened the windows to the lake breezes and nightly noises, then cracked a beer. I sat, watching the dogs, listening to the blues, nursing a beer, and feeling calm but discontented. Continue reading