All That Wasted Time…

Several weeks ago I resumed praying the St. Joseph the Worker prayer on a daily basis for the first time in years. The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit calls us to prayer, and this was definitely a Holy Spirit inspiration. For the past month, time and again, I’ve been convicted by a few brief lines near the end of this prayer:

…having always before me the hour of death and the accounting I must then render of time ill spent, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of my empty pride in success, which is so fatal to the work of God.

Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker

I don’t know about you, but I waste a lot of time. Oh, I get done whatever needs to get done, but that’s a low bar. The real question is, how do I spend the bulk of the time given to me?

I’m working on my old ’66 Ford pickup this summer. Three years ago it was a daily driver, until it conked out along the roadside between Elk River and home. Since then, it has sat in our driveway, in various stages of disassembly, while I tried to track down the problem and fix it. I’ve had the diagnosis and the parts for two years or so, and finally got it running again last month.

What took so long? First of all, there was the anticipation that the job was harder and the problem likely bigger than I understood. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the job that I failed to start it!

But more than that, I chose not to do it, because I had other projects, other priorities, other things I’d rather do. For example, in the past three years:

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Sure Signs of Spring…

March is my least favorite month of the year. Winter is winding down, but rarely leaves quietly. It’s often cold, but also wet and windy—the worst weather conditions—and even as it warms, the white snow turns dingy gray and black, uncovering a winter’s worth of dirt and debris:

Fat Tuesday
Why should the robin be the harbinger of Spring?
Why watch for flowers?
The tulip and the thrush borrow beauty from the sun;
tug their strength up from the dark earth.
Stronger still, and darker, is the crow.
Songbirds ride the North Wind south;
flowers hang their heads and retreat beneath the snow.
The crow remains.
Feathers ruffed, dark eye glaring sidelong, he stoops;
picks bits of hide and hair from the cold pavement.
A lean meal this Christmas, but Easter comes,
and Nature’s bounty blooming black from the snow.
A stiffened ear; the rack and ripe entrails—
the crow consumes all, makes ready the house for the Master’s arrival.

He waits, black as the cloth, preaching his monosyllable, fasting.

Poem, a Day Late (February 7, 2008)

As a general rule, I don’t shovel after March 1.* Invariably we get snow in March (and even April), which means that while our neighbors’ driveways still have nice straight edges and clear entry points, ours is a lumpy and treacherous mix of snow, slush, and refreeze.

When the blustery weather finally breaks (temporarily, of course), we see our first serious warm-up and venture out for a walk around the neighborhood. The curbs and gutters run with miniature rivers and rapids; last autumn’s soggy leaves and twigs form dams creating shallow pools for passing cars to splash through, and the storm sewers roar and rumble. The plowed snow along the road melts from the bottom up, creating shelves of ice that crunch and give way beneath our boots. With no talls weeds to hide it, litter appears — the soggy remains of last fall’s lunch someone tossed out the car window before the first snow. And then, after a couple days and maybe a good, hard rain, the mud forms.

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You Don’t Stand a Chance

Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:

“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”

Ching An

Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.

For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently:

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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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