This post ran in the Ascension Sunday edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin, the weekend of May 28-29. Another note: My mother and my sister are both practicing Catholics these days…my bride sets a good example!
On this Ascension Sunday, I want to share with you a different sort of rising. Many of you know I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up in any church to speak of, aside from a brief period in the mid-1980s when my mother brought to St. Joseph the Worker in Beal City, Michigan, to be instructed in the catechism and receive our first Holy Communion from kindly old Father Hart.
Mom grew up in a Polish Catholic farm family. Dad was her next-door neighbor, of no particular faith; his grandmother shared Bible stories and values with him, but though he saw the sense in it, he has never claimed to be a believer. When I met my bride, I guess I was just Catholic enough—that brief period as a kid, plus a few dozen Catholic Masses and weddings, made enough of an impression that I could hold my own alongside her on Sunday mornings. And I was thoroughly smitten, so Jesus had His opening. He took full advantage.
Yesterday I was completing a couple home projects in our basement and reminiscing with our teenage son, Trevor, as I worked. In the course of the conversation, a shared memory surfaced: Once when I was working on a different project (the kids’ treehouse, I think), I sent Trevor to the garage to get the orange carpenter’s square.
“Big, flat piece of steel, like two rulers at a right angle to each other. It should be hanging on the peg board over the work bench. Bright orange—can’t miss it.”
He was gone a long time.
* * * * *
When I was old enough to read the fractions etched into the sides of sockets and wrenches, I became my Dad’s “gofer” (as in, “Go fer this; go get that.”)—and I had an uncanny ability to look squarely at the tool my father asked for and not see it. I could not see something for several minutes straight; we never tested the upper limits of this knack of mine, primarily because the sought item would snap into focus the moment Dad disentangled himself from the drivetrain of the pickup, rolled out from beneath it on the creeper, stood, sauntered over to the bench, and pointed at it, right where he said it would be.
“Oh,” I would say sheepishly, handing it to him. “I didn’t see that there.”
In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.
In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.
As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession: Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.
I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.
On Ash Wednesday this year, Archbishop Hebda visited our parish and school and presided over the school Mass. During his homily, he asked the school children to give examples of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One boy suggested that you could fast from lights, “like, with an oil lamp or something.”
Archbishop chuckled and said he had never thought of that before. But I have.
Years ago, I ran across an article by Catholic convert, blogger, and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler entitled “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” Her experience captured my imagination, and I pitched it to my own family and those in faith formation at the time as “Firelight Fridays.”
The premise is simple—no electrical lights or screens of any kind after sundown on Fridays during Lent. The results were profound: we found ourselves congregating as a family around the candlelit kitchen table or living room, playing board games, listening to music, or just talking and laughing together as a family. It a couple hours, we would begin to feel snoozy; eventually we would, by common consensus, snuff the candles and go to bed early, sleep soundly, and rise refreshed on Saturday morning.
Over many St. Patrick’s Days I’ve shared and reshared a short post on how Irish I actually am. The answer? Not very, in flesh-and-blood sense; in fact, some of my ancestry was Scots-Irish, Protestant, and apparently anti-Catholic, even in my parents’ younger days. But though our Thorp name persists, we’ve since converted to the Catholic faith of my mother’s Polish family, so spiritually I feel more akin to the the Poles and the Irish these days.
My father tells, however, of a period in which peace was achieved between the Scots-Irish Protestant Thorps and Polish Catholic Galubenski clans. The story goes that during Prohibition, my great-grandfather Bronislaw Galubenski was brewing or distilling on the family farm. One of Dad’s uncles or cousins was a deputy sheriff at the time. He knew what was cooking on the farm and could’ve shut it down, but instead, reached an agreement: As long as Broni left a bottle in the culvert on the corner, the deputy left well enough alone.
Peace and understanding acheived thanks to a shared love of spirits. Would that all conflicts could be resolved over a drink.