Your Eternity Begins Now


For the past few years, our family has joined numerous others from our parish and surrounding churches for Life Chain, an hour of silent public prayer for an end to the evil of abortion in our country. We spread out along Highway 19 between the parish school and Middle School West and stand facing the road, holding signs and praying.

On the back of the signs are suggested hymns, prayers, and petitions to guide our personal reflection during that hour. Every year, I am taken aback by the petition that asks me to pray for God’s mercy for all I have failed to do to protect life and work for an end to abortion—because every year, I am convinced I could have done more.

Now we are two weeks out from electing a new president. Most of us have likely made up our minds how we will vote—guided, I hope, by reason and a well-formed conscience.  God willing, no Catholic will cast a vote in support of abortion or its proponents. Beyond that, faithful Catholics can and do disagree on how best to combat the evils in our society by our actions at the ballot box. With that in mind, I would like to share three thoughts about the aftermath of Election Day.

First, remember the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: “The world is thy ship and not thy home.” We are a pilgrim people, and although our country is great and worth fighting for, the kingdom to which we truly belong is not here. We are called to evangelize and make disciples; to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The outcome of this election will not change our mission.

Second, we are all called by God—and not one of us is worth less in His eyes because of the votes we’ve cast, the mistakes we’ve made, or the sins we’ve committed. Whatever happens on November 8th, we will continue to suffer for our faith, as Christ foretold, and our nation and world will continue to need our light, our service, our faithful example. Cast your vote on Tuesday and move on, because we must pull together as one body, one spirit, in Christ.

Finally, we have no time to waste. Too often our efforts on behalf of the unborn, marriage, freedom of conscience, or religious liberty hinge on the headlines and reach a fever pitch every four years with the election of a new president. We support particular candidates or policies; we act as though everything is riding on the results of the next election, then shake our heads when nothing changes and go back to minding our own business.

What about the roughly 1,460 days between presidential elections?

As Catholics, our opposition to abortion and the other great evils of our time is not primarily about saving lives, but about saving souls—including our own. Obedience to Christ and His Church is a daily choice. Disobedience is also a choice. So is complacency and non-action.

Every moment, God calls; every moment we respond. Our eternity begins now.
Lord, have mercy on me for all have failed to do here in my own community to draw people to you and build your kingdom. Amen.

Long Goodbye Addenda

In the emotion of last weekend, I neglected a few details from dropping Brendan off at UMary:

  • No sooner had Bren and his roommate introduced themselves to each other than one of the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery and one of the RAs appeared to sprinkle holy water in the room, pray with them, and give them a cross-shaped icon to hang. So the first real interaction Brendan and his roommate had with each other and with the university community was shared prayer. Very nice.
  • I posted a photo of Bismarck’s Big Boy drive-in, but not the details, and this may be of interest to anyone who, like me, brew up with Big restaurants. The plump fellow in checked overalls and the Big Boy name is there, but the experience is something different entirely. First, it is strictly a drive-thru. Second, it does not serve breakfast, and for lunch and dinner, has a unique menu including tasty fried chicken, a pizza burger “flying style” (i.e. pressed flat and sealed tight around the edges so it doesn’t leak in your car), fries with country gravy, and the Purple Cow, a grape-flavored milkshake. It’s not fancy, but tasty and relatively cheap, if you are ever in need of a quick bite in Bismarck.
  • In an effort to get daytime, and especially nighttime, driving hours, Gabe pushed himself hard to do most of the driving for the trip. He drove from Albertville to NDSU in Fargo to drop Bren off with friendson Friday afternoon, negotiating a surprising amount of traffic and a stiff crosswind with the big blue Suburban. I drove from NDSU to the hotel for the night, and to Sandy’s Donuts (great!), NDSU, and 30 minutes toward Bismarck in the morning, then Gabe took over again to get us to a gas station in Bismarck. Jodi drove from the station to Big Boy and U Mary–then Gabe drove a full six hours straight from Bismarck back home again. 
  • The “highlight” of the drive home? A stretch of about 10 miles in which the bugs hitting the Suburban sounded like rain, and the wipers and fluid couldn’t keep up. Visibility was probably 60 percent when we finally found a gas station to clean the windshield. A half dozen other vehicles were doing the same, and the place was completely sold out of wiper fluid. We got the windshield cleaned, and had no further problems–but Sunday morning, the bugs were still so thick on the grill and headlight they were attracting other bugs to feed. Disgusting.
Many memories. Bren is doing well. Can’t wait to get back out there and catch a football game or wrestling meet!

Be the Bedrock

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. – Matthew 7:24-25


A few weeks ago, my daughter Emma shared a beautiful encounter she had during Adoration at Extreme Faith Camp. While praying with her eyes closed, she saw a young girl not unlike our younger daughter Lily, and received the distinct impression that this was Jude, the baby we miscarried before Lily was born. At first she felt sad, reflecting on how she never knew her other sister—until she heard words of consolation from our Lord. After those words, she even invited Jude to sit in her lap, and felt her sister close to her.

Emma used this experience as an opportunity to witness to others: “I guess that what I’m trying to tell you from sharing this story is that the Lord is truly in the Eucharist and he is there to show you amazing things and bring you closer to him. Don’t doubt for a minute that he isn’t truly present because he is. He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you so you can have the amazing life he has planned for you. Also, remember that your loved ones you have lost love you and are praying for you so that you can join them one day in God’s kingdom.”

Experiences like these move me deeply, because I didn’t grow up this way. My children are learning at an early age that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament, that the Holy Spirit moves in their lives, and that God has a plan for their happiness, both here and in eternity. I am an old dog, struggling to learn tricks my pups have already begun to master.

I mentioned this to my confessor last week. “We’ve done the best we can for them,” I said, “but activities like Extreme Faith Camp and Core Team have changed their lives. They are experiencing things that I never have!”

“You know how this works, right?” he said. “The reason they are able to reach higher than you is because they are standing on your shoulders. You have given them stability—a firm foundation to stand on. So often we hear people say they just want their kids to have what they didn’t have. … But you are actually doing it. You are giving them spiritual gifts.”

So many of us want to provide our children with a better life, so we focus on material things, like money, toys, gadgets, or cars; or on opportunities, like extracurricular activities and camps; travel, food, and recreation.  These are not bad things, necessarily, but when we consider all of eternity, we realize we are focused on the wrong kind of better. As St. John reminds us, “the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:17).

What is truly good is not of this world at all. By doing as Christ Himself instructed—by loving God, neighbor, and enemy; by leading lives of prayer and striving for holiness; by sharing the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Savior—we can be bedrock for our children: the solid ground upon which they plant their feet and lift their hearts to heaven.

Love Does Not Divide

How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  – Psalm 13:2-3

I ended last night with coverage of the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. I woke to 12 police officers shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas.

Can you feel it? The tension in the air? A spark has been struck, I fear, that cannot be contained.

And it’s an election year. Everything is spun, hyper-analyzed, re-calculated, and spun again. Everything is us-versus-them.

Can you hear it? The rattle between my lungs of the small stony lump that passes, these days, for a human heart? I can. It has shrunken and solidified more while I slept.

I can feel my heart hardening, each time my “enemies” advance. I can feel the love draining away and the anger rising. I am tempted to turn away from those I once cared about because we don’t agree. I have no time to spend on the lost sheep with my little flock to attend.

How cavalierly we treat the salvation of souls—including our own.

Here’s what I know for certain about these shootings: Someone took a life. Someone lost a life. Both are terrible and permanent things with serious implications in this world and the next. And the proper response for most of us, who are removed from the situation, is earnest prayer for the souls of those involved and for peace.

The Evil One relishes these divisions in humanity, and fans the flames that rage around us. Instantaneous media coverage and commentary stifles reflection and discernment, prudence and justice. Politispeak and emotionalism obscure the truth, without which there can be no love. We paint our enemies with one brush and hue, and lose sight of them as unique images of God—each one a masterpiece.

Yesterday I ran across a quote from C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity:

[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.

Our way, as Christians, is narrow, between the errors. Our Way is Christ.

Here’s the truth, as simply as I can express it this gray morning. We have good cops and bad cops; racist, noble, and scared cops…and this morning, living and dead cops. We also have young black men who are good men and bad men; racist, noble, and scared men; and yet again, living and dead men. We have well-intentioned activists on both sides who want justice, and rabble-rousers who just want to fight.

The same applies to Muslims and Christians, to immigrants and natural-born citizens, to men and women. How do I know this? Because all of them are human, and so am I. All of these tendencies live in me, and I must choose which to follow.

It is also true that significant differences exist between the wealthy and the poor, Christianity and Islam, rural and urban America, liberals and conservatives—differences that we must acknowledge plainly and address if we hope to find peace in our communities—but none of these differences are discernible in our DNA or our soul. None are who we are.

I am Catholic, so I am at odds with the culture, with many of my friends, and with much of my family. And it’s complicated. I am a Christian, but I am at odds other Christian creeds, not to mention the non-Christian religions of the world. I’m at odds with scientism, but not science. I am at odds with supporters of abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other ideas. Faith and reason set me at odds with all of these things, but none of these persons—at least, not if I’m practicing my faith well.

So we disagree. Big deal; it happens all the time at my house.  And we each think we’re right? Well of course. If we thought we were wrong and persisted, we have more serious problems.

But one of us must be wrong? True enough—and likely both of us. But truth and love go hand-in-hand, so what are we worried about? Being proven wrong? That’s pride talking, the root of sin.

Is it possible to disagree and get along? We do it all the time with people we love. And Jesus said to love our neighbor and our enemies as we love our own selves. We have our work cut out for us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. … You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36-26, 28

We can bring God’s good work to fruition, but we must keep foremost in our minds our common humanity and the dignity of each person as made in the image of God. We must focus our attention on the infinite value of each soul to the Creator, and the boundless desire God has for each of us. Salvation of souls is our goal; repentance and love is our means. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the concerns of this world—goods, comforts, guns, money—and lose sight of the only things worth loving: God and neighbor.  These other things are not bad in themselves, but can they get us to Heaven? Not likely, but they could drag us to Hell.

Love ought to be our first and last response. And God willing, as we learn to love as He has loved us and align our love completely with His eternal Truth, it can become our only response.

Detachment

Lord, you call us to new life, to rebirth in the Spirit. How can I be holy for You unless I am wholly for You?

“If anyone remembers my name

If I’m ever known for anything
Let it be I ran into the night
Running with a firelight, firelight
Cause I don’t wanna stroll the streets of gold
While there’s still a soul to love
Let me run into the night
Running with a firelight, firelight
Burning with a firelight, firelight”