The Plan and the Power

This post appeared in the December 20, 2020, bulletins for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

In my newspaper days, I had the opportunity to profile an inventor, a young man who had created and patented a few small, practical products and was hustling every day to market them to retailers and the public. He proved to be focused, driven and wise beyond his years.

Not long after I wrote about him, I introduced him to another aspiring inventor I knew. The more accomplished man shared all he could about creating a prototype to prove your concept, pursuing a patent and more. Then he took a long look at the younger man and said something like this: “Sometimes a person with an idea gets to this point and stops, because it’s more comforting to have an idea in your back pocket than to try it and learn it doesn’t work or won’t sell. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to say, ‘I can always do that’ than to have nothing to fall back on.”

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Are We There Yet?

Gabe, napping in the minivan…

Back in my newspaper days, I wrote a column each Tuesday called “Almost There.” My bride and I were young parents of two preschool boys at that time, so “Almost there!” was a constant refrain wherever we went. But the name also captured the sense that we were on the verge of putting it all together—of making sense of marriage and family life, and of my newfound faith and fledgling career as a writer.

That was more than 15 years ago, and that sense has never left. The novelty of feeling so close to understanding wore off years ago, however—as a result, I am prone to asking our Lord like the spiritual child that I am: “Are we there yet?”

The answer, invariably, is no.

This world so loves achievement that we have turned even baseline accomplishments like participation and attendance into certificates and celebrations. In what other facet of life besides our faith do we commit ourselves to weekly participation, devotion, and study, year after year, and discover that we have done only what is expected of us?

We long for recognition of our efforts, and this longing even skews our perception of the sacraments. As children and as parents, we are pleased with having made it to Mass or Confession, but sometimes forget that these are not ends in themselves, but means by which we conform ourselves to Christ and reorient ourselves toward Heaven. We treat both Confirmation and Marriage as the culmination of work already done rather than the beginning of something new. The certificates we receive look for all the world like diplomas, when in fact they are birth certificates!

The path to Heaven leads out of this world, and among those born into humanity, only Jesus knows the path in its entirety—so we have no choice but to follow Him and go where He leads. Since we cannot know the path ourselves, the only way we can help others get to Heaven is to teach them to follow Christ who said, “I am the Way.”

Road trip!

How does one follow Christ? St. John of the Cross writes, “God carries each person along a different road, so that you will scarcely find two people following the same route in even half of their journey to God.” As a result, we need to teach others where to find God and how to engage Him—in the Church; through scripture, prayer, and the sacraments. And we need to do this as a community. Why? Since there are as many paths to sanctity as there are unique persons, each of us will resonate with others in ways that no one else can. Somewhere in this parish, someone needs your example!

Fr. Robert Barron shares a story of Jewish academic and Catholic convert Edith Stein, now St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who before her conversion went into a cathedral to admire the architecture and saw a woman still laden from her day’s shopping, kneeling and rapt in silent prayer. This simple act of devotion struck the future saint profoundly, advancing her on the path toward holiness and heaven. Who knows what saints we will help to create simply by showing up each week to bend our knees in prayer and worship?

Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, June 14, church bulletin.