Wednesday Witness: Too Much to Carry Alone

I am a proud parent of five children, ages 22 to 8. Our eldest is married in Bismarck, and he and his bride recently shared that they are expecting. Most of my family is from Michigan, where my folks live in a log house we built when I was in high school. Jodi’s family is in South Dakota, for the most part—her parents live in the Black Hills.

We are spread out across three time zones. During this time of uncertainty, I wish we were closer. I worry about all of them: How are they getting on? Do they have what they need? Would they tell me if they didn’t—and what could I do about it? I pray for them daily, but that doesn’t keep the concern away.

Sometime in the past week, I ran across a description of the “layers” of the human heart. The surface layer is the emotional heart; it is reactive and feels what it feels quickly and intensely. The next layer is the intellectual heart; this level weighs the emotions against reality and tries to come to a rational conclusion. But the innermost layer is the spiritual heart, where God resides. This is the core, where we discern the fullness of Truth and experience the peace and joy that come with it. Continue reading

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Blogger’s Note: This was meant as a parish bulletin column for next weekend, but it seems appropriate to post it now.

As coronavirus news reached a fever pitch this past week, a friend shared the reality of the threat for his wife, whose immune system is compromised. While he would never suggest that everyone change their behaviors to accommodate the needs of him and his wife, he urged people to understand that just because you might weather the virus with no lasting effect doesn’t mean your neighbor would.

Our world is flush with information; society is rampant with anxiety on the best of days; and we don’t like facing mortality or being blamed if we fail to act. All these things make us ripe for the Enemy’s picking. Who is the deceiver, the accuser, the divider? Who benefits from the disintegration caused by sickness and fear, quarantine and “social distancing”?

On the other hand, who inspired Cain’s infamous question (Genesis 4:9), “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Our thoughts, words and actions either contribute to the spread of this virus and the fear associated with it, or they diminish it. They either divide, or they unite. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: How Many Licks?

Who else remembers the candy commercial that seeks to answer the age-old question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Toostie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

The old owl manages just three licks before crunching the candy with his beak and swallowing it hole. “Three,” he answers with authority—even though, in his impatience, he has come to the wrong conclusion.

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Wednesday Witness: Who Are You Pointing To?

The Superbowl was this past Sunday. Midway through the evening, social media exploded with critiques of the halftime show, which apparently featured two high-profile female performers in various states of undress dancing provocatively while sharing a medley of their musical hits.

I am not sorry we missed it.

I won’t rehash what I’ve read on the subject. The reason we did not watch was because a year or two ago, after repeatedly venting about the content of the halftime show and even some of the commercials, we agreed as a family to stop watching. When Superbowl Sunday rolls around, we prepare the usual snacks and treats, gather around the TV…and watch a movie.* We are not big football fans, and it occurred to us that it was a waste of time and energy to watch a game we didn’t particularly care about in order to see questionable commercial content and to be subjected to yet another pop-culture skin flick. It wasn’t easy to take that first step “out of the loop,” but honestly, we haven’t regretted it.

This is not to say you can’t enjoy football or the Superbowl. But I was struck by the volume of social media posts, articles and commentary that began with some variation of, “Thanks for exposing my child to X, Y and Z during the halftime show. They shouldn’t have to see that.”

They don’t have to see it—and as consumers and parents, we have the power and the responsibility to ensure they don’t.

Providentially, the next morning, the daily gospel was Mark 5:1-20. Bishop Robert Barron’s scripture reflection focused on the age-old practice of scapegoating: projecting our anxieties and anger onto a particular person or group of persons in order to preserve unity in our community. Bishop Barron suggested that we could interpret the numerous demons possessing the man living among the tombs as all the fears and frustrations of the people in that territory. They may not have liked the demoniac, but they knew him. They had a scapegoat. When Jesus sets him free and casts the demons into a great herd of swine, the people do not rejoice that their neighbor has been restored to his right mind. Instead, they are afraid and beg Jesus to leave.

How often are we uncomfortable with seeing and claiming our part in the evils of the world? How comforting it is to see someone else as the villain—to gawk, point and howl at wickedness instead of changing something in our own lives to prevent its spread!

How many years in a row did I shake my head at the garbage on our television but resist cutting the cable?

In last Sunday’s bulletin, I referenced Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. This morning I read his account of learning that war was again breaking out in Europe:

There was something else in my own mind—the recognition: “I am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too…” It was a very sobering thought, and yet its deep and probing light by its very truth eased my mind a little. I made up my mind to go to confession and Communion on the First Friday of September.

I knelt at the altar rail and on this first day of the Second World War received from the hand of the priest, Christ in the host, the same Christ Who was being nailed again to the cross by the effect of my sins, and the sins of the whole selfish, stupid, idiotic world of men.

I have to admit I was caught off guard when I read this—the vehemence with which Merton incriminates himself, and at the same time, the sense of relief he feels in coming to terms that he is in company with all of mankind, all to blame and all loved and redeemed by Christ.

There is an image often shared with children: When you point at someone else, the rest of your fingers point back at you. My wish for myself and all of you is that, as often us possible, we point to Jesus.

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* This year, appropriately enough, it was an annual favorite: Groundhog Day. I understand a Jeep ad based on the movie was one of the highlights of Sunday evening.

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Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.

Wednesday Witness: Tame My Tongue

I seem to have a faulty filter.

It is well established that I am an emotional and vocal person with a strong desire for affirmation and an apparent inability to suffer in silence. Those characteristics alone ought to be enough to sanctify my wife and children. But I have the additional quirk that my verbal filter was installed on the wrong end of my tongue. Instead of capturing the rubbish my brain produces before it exits my mouth, my filter is several seconds downstream, between my ears and heart. I hear what I’m spewing and my heart hurts, but it’s too late. My only hope is a pause in the outburst long enough for my heart to signal my brain to activate the emergency shut-off. Then I apologize, restart the system and begin again. Continue reading