Note: This column is based loosely on a talk my second son Gabe and I gave to parents and teens at a nearby parish on Wednesday evening. You can watch the video here.
Often, I have wondered why God entrusted my five children to me. At times, they seem so grounded and confident that my fatherly advice seems more hindrance than help; other times they are such a mystery to me that I wonder how we could possibly be related. I am exasperated when my brokenness shows forth in their behavior, and overwhelmed when some small seed I buried and forgot about suddenly blooms in them.
This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.Mark 4:26-27
Many of you reading know that Jodi and I have been discerning the possibility of me becoming a deacon. A deacon in the Catholic Church is an ordained member of the clergy, meaning that like priests and bishops, they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. An ordained deacon is a deacon for life. If unmarried, he remains unmarried; if married, he does not remarry after the death of his wife. They generally serve the Church and assist priests at the altar during Mass, with certain pastoral and sacramental duties, and with teaching and preaching. Generally, they maintain their careers outside the Church, which uniquely positions them as clergy out in the world on a regular basis.
The Church recognizes two types of deacons. Transitional deacons are ordained deacons on their way to becoming ordained priests. Permanent deacons are ordained deacons who do not intend to become priests but have answered God’s call to serve the Church in this deeper way.
In the Catholic Church, deacon is not a volunteer position or a job, but a vocational call—and for a married couple that has a vocational call as husband and wife, it ought to be a big decision. As the Institute for Diaconate Formation (IDF) here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis often puts it, Wives need to be comfortable with their husbands marrying another woman, the Church.
Time is a strange phenomenon. We’ve all experienced that sensation in which the days seem long and weeks short; where the whole summer stretches out in front of us for sunlit miles…and then suddenly it’s Christmas. Marriage is like that, too. On a hot summer’s day on the South Dakota plains—August 17, 1996—in a little Spanish-style stucco church named for a German bishop, St. Liborius, two kids got hitched. The tall, slim, cleancut groom in white tails was me: book-smart and big-hearted, a little awkward and a lot emotional, with an insecure streak, a dose of self-righteousness, and a professed agnosticism that bore little resemblence to the faithfulness I was prepared to promise to this girl.
And what a girl! Jodi was, then as now, beautiful: dark wavy hair, eyes that went from brown to hazel to green and back, quick to laugh, solid and peaceful, steadfast in her Catholic faith, and willingly to pour herself out entirely for those she loved. She was a fountain flowing; I, a bottomless bucket.
One of us cried at our wedding—the one who saw too well that he was getting the better end of this deal. How could I ever love her enough?
Last weekend, Fr. Park preached on the importance of rest. The Lord calls His followers to come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile (Mark 6:31). We do well to rest with the Lord by keeping holy the Sabbath—attending Mass and resting from activities that do not renew us in body and spirit—and by regularly withdrawing from the world to spend time with Jesus on retreat.
First, I want to second Father’s retreat recommendation. I’ve been blessed to make a personal retreat almost every year since I left the University of Minnesota and came to work for the Church. The first was a hermitage retreat at Pacem in Terris in Isanti, during which I spent a few days and nights in a comfortable one-room cabin in the woods; a basket of simple foods and water were left on my doorstep each morning, and I was encouraged to read scripture, reflect and pray in silence, on my own. A couple years ago I did something similar at Holy Hill in Wisconsin, renting a room in the old monastery and enjoying a self-imposed silence and reflection at an otherwise bustling shrine.
The rest have been three-day silent retreats at Demontreville in Lake Elmo, with a Jesuit retreat master leading us through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, simple rooms, great food and quiet consistency from one year to the next. All have been fruitful, and when I re-enter the silence of retreat, I find God waiting for me, right where we left off.
This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.
It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.
We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.
When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?