Never Just a Number

Note: This post appeared in the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin for Sunday, October 18, 2020.

In case you haven’t notice, election season is in full swing. Pollsters, pundits and politicians are slicing and dicing the American people to predict what is likely to happening on Election Day and afterward. Republicans versus Democrats. Liberals versus conservatives. We are counted and calculated by culture, color and creed—to what end?

My son’s theology teacher recently gave me a copy of a book I’ve meant to read for years now: Society and Sanity by Frank Sheed. I started it last night, and for a book written in the 1950s, its relevance even in the first few pages is staggering. Sheed opens his book by making a simple and eloquent case: In order to create a society in which we humans can live together in peace, happiness and freedom, we must know what it means to be human.

We need a clear understanding of what we are and why we are before we can clearly conceive of our happiness and how to achieve it.

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Worth Living

I am blessed this morning to be sitting in the morning sun, overlooking a lake, drinking coffee and listening to an abundance of birds of all shapes and sizes squabbling over breakfast. Swallows and sparrows, redwings and robins, hawks, herons and hummers, filling the air with a cacophony of sound. The blue of the sky is reflected in the rippling water; all else is gold and green, as from my perch I watch three varieties of squirrel cross-crossing the grass seeking food: sleek grays, feisty reds and bold chipmunks.

That God would grace creation with even one prototypical bird or rodent is nothing to sneeze at, and here are so many different kinds, each beautiful in its way—and each created for us.

Do you realize? We believe that all of Creation in its incredible variety was made, out of love, for us. God worked for six “days” establishing the order of the universe and the wonders of the living world, and then made us in His image, giving us stewardship of everything.

And behold, it was very good.

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Retreat Brain, Illustrated

I was blessed to spend last weekend on a three-day silent retreat. It was a fruitful time, to be sure, but honestly I’m still sorting through everything God was doing with me there. I am sure to share more in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime: After the retreat an older gentleman told me that he noticed that I take lots of notes. I explained that for me, writing is how I remember and process information. What I didn’t mention is that I also doodle, draw arrows to make connections, intersperse my own comments and conclusions, and generally wind up with much more in the notebook than was actually said in the retreat master’s talk. Then I add to it between conferences, while praying and mulling over what was said. The page below is an example, an illustration of my “retreat brain” at work (or perhaps play).

EPSON MFP image

Retreat Notes, August 2020

Whaddya think? Is a picture worth a thousand words?

What about a picture of words? A pitcher of words?

I could use a pitcher right about now…

Wednesday Witness: Little Mistakes and the Big Picture

Yesterday I got my first look at our parish’s new monthly newsletter, DISCIPLE, which should go into the mail tomorrow. It looks great, and I am truly excited to share it with you.

It also took less than two minutes to find two small but obvious errors in the final printed version: a typo and a small oversight in layout.

Those two small blunders nearly derailed me from enjoying a good day yesterday. I kept churning it over and over in my mind: How can I review something so many times, and still let two mistakes slip through? Especially mistakes that are so easy to see after the fact? How many people will notice? What will they think?

But the more important question occurred to me this morning: Why I am so upset and impatient with myself over two honest oversights, but always ready to excuse and forget my countless actual sins?

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Wednesday Witness: Who Are You Pointing To?

The Superbowl was this past Sunday. Midway through the evening, social media exploded with critiques of the halftime show, which apparently featured two high-profile female performers in various states of undress dancing provocatively while sharing a medley of their musical hits.

I am not sorry we missed it.

I won’t rehash what I’ve read on the subject. The reason we did not watch was because a year or two ago, after repeatedly venting about the content of the halftime show and even some of the commercials, we agreed as a family to stop watching. When Superbowl Sunday rolls around, we prepare the usual snacks and treats, gather around the TV…and watch a movie.* We are not big football fans, and it occurred to us that it was a waste of time and energy to watch a game we didn’t particularly care about in order to see questionable commercial content and to be subjected to yet another pop-culture skin flick. It wasn’t easy to take that first step “out of the loop,” but honestly, we haven’t regretted it.

This is not to say you can’t enjoy football or the Superbowl. But I was struck by the volume of social media posts, articles and commentary that began with some variation of, “Thanks for exposing my child to X, Y and Z during the halftime show. They shouldn’t have to see that.”

They don’t have to see it—and as consumers and parents, we have the power and the responsibility to ensure they don’t.

Providentially, the next morning, the daily gospel was Mark 5:1-20. Bishop Robert Barron’s scripture reflection focused on the age-old practice of scapegoating: projecting our anxieties and anger onto a particular person or group of persons in order to preserve unity in our community. Bishop Barron suggested that we could interpret the numerous demons possessing the man living among the tombs as all the fears and frustrations of the people in that territory. They may not have liked the demoniac, but they knew him. They had a scapegoat. When Jesus sets him free and casts the demons into a great herd of swine, the people do not rejoice that their neighbor has been restored to his right mind. Instead, they are afraid and beg Jesus to leave.

How often are we uncomfortable with seeing and claiming our part in the evils of the world? How comforting it is to see someone else as the villain—to gawk, point and howl at wickedness instead of changing something in our own lives to prevent its spread!

How many years in a row did I shake my head at the garbage on our television but resist cutting the cable?

In last Sunday’s bulletin, I referenced Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. This morning I read his account of learning that war was again breaking out in Europe:

There was something else in my own mind—the recognition: “I am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too…” It was a very sobering thought, and yet its deep and probing light by its very truth eased my mind a little. I made up my mind to go to confession and Communion on the First Friday of September.

I knelt at the altar rail and on this first day of the Second World War received from the hand of the priest, Christ in the host, the same Christ Who was being nailed again to the cross by the effect of my sins, and the sins of the whole selfish, stupid, idiotic world of men.

I have to admit I was caught off guard when I read this—the vehemence with which Merton incriminates himself, and at the same time, the sense of relief he feels in coming to terms that he is in company with all of mankind, all to blame and all loved and redeemed by Christ.

There is an image often shared with children: When you point at someone else, the rest of your fingers point back at you. My wish for myself and all of you is that, as often us possible, we point to Jesus.

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* This year, appropriately enough, it was an annual favorite: Groundhog Day. I understand a Jeep ad based on the movie was one of the highlights of Sunday evening.

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Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.