Wednesday Witness: Belong. Believe. Behave.

This piece was published in the May 24 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.  At the time, I thought it resonated with our typical approach to welcoming people into our church, but a week and a half later, I challenge myself and everyone else to read and reflect on it in light of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

People need a place to belong. They want a reason to believe.

* * * * *

Two weekends ago, Fr. Richards preached a homily that has not left me. Over the years, he has talked often about the need for hospitality in our parish—and more recently, he has urged us to move beyond welcoming to actively inviting people into relationship: with ourselves, with Christ and with the Church.

This time Father presented a simple model of how to do this—or more precisely, how we often do it wrong. The model was summarized in three short words: Belong. Believe. Behave.

People are looking for a place to belong. We are made for love and community—without it, we can’t step forward in trust toward belief. And if someone does not believe—specifically, if someone does not believe in a God who loves us and has a plan for us—why would they ever behave? How can they receive a love they cannot see? Why would they follow a God they do not know? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Whom Do I Follow?

Along with many of you, I am frustrated with all the conflicting information circulating about the coronavirus pandemic, and particularly, with the mixed signals from our government leaders about what is deemed safe (big-box retailers, for example) and what is not (public Masses). I have great hope that this issue will be resolved soon, and we will again be able to worship in freedom, peace and safety.

In the meantime, however, I have made peace with the situation we are in and am doing my best to pray for and support our church and civic leaders. It’s not always easy, but I thought I’d share my thinking, in hopes that it helps someone else along the way. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Simple Act of Mercy

Five minutes ago, my smart phone buzzed to say a new text message had arrived. This is a fairly frequent occurrence on weekdays, but this was no ordinary text:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 12:22 PM

Archiocese SPM – Anointing: Please now pray one Our Father for someone suffering from COVID-19 who is about to be anointed in our Archdiocese; one Hail Mary for comfort for the patient’s family; and one Glory Be in thanksgiving for and in protection of the priest and the medical team ministering to the person. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! St. Roche, pray for us!

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has set up two text-based prayer groups that anyone can sign up for: The first sends out a message whenever a priest in the archdiocese has been sent to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to a COVID-19 patient who is seriously ill or facing death; the second sends a message whenever a frontline healthcare worker in the archdiocese has asked for prayer support for their work. Instructions for signing up for these prayer lines can be found on the Archdiocese COVID-19 Prayers webpage.

I signed up to support the Anointing Corps on Friday. Within a couple hours, my phone buzzed, and when I saw the message, I choked up. It is easy—in a third-ring suburb, in a Midwestern state that thus far has not been hit as hard as my homestate of Michigan or either of the coasts—to get frustrated with not being able to do what we want, when we want, and to forget that somewhere not far from here, this virus is stealing a life.

I wiped my eyes and prayed.

I have received seven more texts since then—including two overnight last night and the one from the top of this post. That’s not so many, perhaps, but it’s enough to keep me aware of the need for God’s love and mercy for those most affected. And what simpler way to be an instrument of that mercy? In less that two minutes, we can lift an entire family and team of caregivers in real time.

It’s humbling. God does not need our help in His saving work, and honestly, often we fumble in our attempts. But like a good and patient Father, He wants us near, learning and growing in our half-hearted attempts to be like Him.

‘Go Forth, the Mass Is Ended’

The placement of St. Peter and St. Paul in the dome is one of my favorite details in our church’s artwork. As we approach the altar from the center aisle, St. Peter is above us—the apostle who first declared Jesus to be the Messiah—reminding us of Whom we are receiving. At the end of Mass, as we exit up the center aisle, St. Paul is front and center above us—the great missionary apostle who took the Word of God out into the world, reminding us of our own mission to invite people into relationship with Jesus and His Church. Continue reading

‘I Can’t Love You Enough’

A while back I was counting my blessings in prayer, reflecting on my life and my family. I was struck by how differently things have turned out than I would have predicted, and how much better than I ever could have orchestrated myself. I remember choking up a bit (which happens more than I like to admit), smiling to myself and God, and saying to Him, “I can’t love you enough!”

When I said it, I meant, “I love you so much for all the great things you’ve done in my life, and even that isn’t adequate!”

But as soon as I heard my words, it struck me another way: I cannot love You enough. I am unable to love You, Lord, in the way that I should. You have given me everything; You lived and died for me…and I can barely find time to say thank you, let alone seek to do Your will.

I am unable to love You as I should, Lord.

That thought struck me again late last week, as we prepared to head to Bismarck for our oldest son Brendan’s graduation. As I reflected on it, I saw two paths I could take from there.

The first is well-worn and dusty; I have traveled it many times. It’s the path by which I try to pray harder, do more, use better words, cram more in. I try to earn my way into heaven through my own effort…and time and again, I fall, because I can’t love Him enough.

The other path is so little traveled that flowers grow, so that you almost dare not take a step. It’s the path by which I acknowledge the truth about myself: that nothing I can ever do can repay my debt to God for loving me into being and dying to save my soul. I learn to humble myself and submit to His plan, in which He saves me because I can’t love Him enough.

The first path leads to exhaustion, failure, frustration and despair. The second leads to freedom and peace. Which one, do you suppose, leads to Him?