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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Mass Hospitality: Welcoming Strangers to Worship

Not long ago, our pastor implemented the practice of having parishioners stand and greet those around them just before Mass begins. Predictably, the reaction was split: Some people like it as a small gesture of warmth, welcome and connection, while others think it’s unnecessary, corny or even disruptive to their preparations to worship God in the Divine Liturgy.

What struck me most among the reactions, however, was something I saw on social media: That standing and saying good morning to each other before Mass is fake in some sense and doesn’t make us more welcoming. This observation bothered me enough that I set out to determine why. Here’s what I discovered in my own heart.

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For several years now, Fr. Richards has challenged us to intentionally seek out and introduce ourselves to people we don’t know in the parish, especially people who appear to be new to the community or otherwise disconnected. I have never taken this challenge seriously. Instead, I have a list of rationalizations, excuses and cop-outs that will show up rather poorly when I have to explain them to Jesus. These are just a few: Continue reading

Wear Your Faith Lightly

“Seriousness is not a virtue. …[S]olemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. 

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

About the time I graduated high school, I remember a conversation with my dad about a friend of mine. You know the guy—great fun to be around, but always on the edge of trouble, and one could never be sure he’d stick around if things went south. “But someday,” said Dad, “he’s going to grow up, raise a family, and be an upstanding citizen. And he’s going to look back on his high-school days and think, ‘Man, I had fun.’”

He looked at me and said, “Sometimes I wonder if you’ll be able to say the same.”

I have always been a serious soul—earnestly wanting to do the right thing, to avoid the mistakes I could and learn from the ones I couldn’t. I was the kind of kid who felt so badly for things I did wrong that I ratted on myself. Even today, I am an emotional sort who avoids the news to keep from raging or sorrowing over the terrible things that happen to people I don’t know.

This serious streak has also manifested itself in my faith life. I am so abundantly blessed, both at home and at work, but you wouldn’t always know it. The weight of my faults and earthly concerns drag my gaze downward until all I see is dust and grime. At times I dwell on past sins that have already been forgiven, and against my own advice to others, I worry about things that have not, and may never, come to pass.

This is not what God desires for us. In the parable of the talents from last weekend’s gospel, the master bids his two worthy servants, “Come, share your master’s joy.” Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reassures his disciples, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Though Jesus tells us we should expect to suffer for our faith, these are not the words of a Lord who wishes for us to suffer needlessly. God wants us to be happy.

A friend recently gave me a collection of C.S. Lewis speeches entitled The Weight of Glory. Lewis opens with a reflection on the idea that Unselfishness has replaced Love as the highest virtue in modern society, and insists that this shift is a mistake, because it put the emphasis on denying ourselves and not on helping others. The focus has shifted inward, but in a stoic, joyless sort of way that fails to acknowledge the extravagant promises to us who live a holy life. Lewis writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.”

Imagine: infinite joy! Should that not put a spring in our step and a laugh in our throat, and raise our gaze toward heaven? And won’t that light-hearted faith be far more attractive and illuminating to those lost souls circling like moths in the darkness, trying to find their way?

Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, Nov. 23, church bulletin .