Book Break: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

I recently finished an English audio version of the 1828 Italian novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni on Audible. I first learned of this book—apparently the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language—from a post by Joseph Pearce on the Imaginative Conservative website with the provocative title, “The Betrothed: The Greatest Novel Ever Written?” That caught my eye, because, as a somewhat educated person, I had never heard of it.

I also share all this information to distinguish this book from a much more recent young adult romance novel and two-book series of the same name by Kiera Cass. This is NOT that.

Instead, this is a wonderful historical novel set in the 1600s in Lombardy, Italy (pictured above), telling the story of two young, relatively poor, and essentially good villagers preparing for their much-desired marriage, and a cowardly priest who refuses them the sacrament after a tyrannous local lord threatens his life if he should join them. The fearful parish priest is balanced by two heroic clergy, a Franciscan friar who serves as a father and spiritual director to the pair, and the real-life Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the heroic and holy archbishop of Milan, whose pastoral efforts bring about novel’s conclusion.

What struck me most about this novel is how timeless great literature actually is. The book is about many things, each as relatable today as in the time it was set and the time it was written, including:

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Rising to the Occasion

This post ran in the Ascension Sunday edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin, the weekend of May 28-29. Another note: My mother and my sister are both practicing Catholics these days…my bride sets a good example!

On this Ascension Sunday, I want to share with you a different sort of rising. Many of you know I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up in any church to speak of, aside from a brief period in the mid-1980s when my mother brought to St. Joseph the Worker in Beal City, Michigan, to be instructed in the catechism and receive our first Holy Communion from kindly old Father Hart.

Mom grew up in a Polish Catholic farm family. Dad was her next-door neighbor, of no particular faith; his grandmother shared Bible stories and values with him, but though he saw the sense in it, he has never claimed to be a believer. When I met my bride, I guess I was just Catholic enough—that brief period as a kid, plus a few dozen Catholic Masses and weddings, made enough of an impression that I could hold my own alongside her on Sunday mornings. And I was thoroughly smitten, so Jesus had His opening. He took full advantage.

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Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

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A Man of Many Fathers

In the spirit of my Mother’s Day post from last month, I thought I raise a post and a pint to the fathers who matter most in my life to receive God’s blessing. Happy Father’s Day!

To Daryl, my dad and dziadzi to my children: You set a high bar for fatherhood and sacrificial love, Dad, and even though we are quite different, I still strive to be like you in so many ways. Thank you for your constant care, support and example. I love you.

To all the priests who have blessed me over the years. To Fr. Kubiak, my baptismal priest; Fr. Hart, the priest of my First Reconciliation and First Communion; my spiritual father, Fr. Bill Zink, the priest of my reversion, Confirmation, and first call to ministry; and the various shepherds who, at critical moments in my conversion, have called me to deeper discipleship: Fr. Leonard Siebenaler, Fr. Michael Becker, Fr. Michael Rudolf, Fr. Peter Richards, Fr. Nathaniel Meyers, Fr. Nathan LaLiberte, Fr. Joah Ellis, and Jim Englert. I am eternally grateful, and I love you.

To Brendan, my eldest son and expectant father of our first grandchild: It humbles me to see you and your bride step so calmly and confidently into marriage and family life. I am inspired by your love and example, I cannot wait to see your little one asleep in your arms (or erupting out both ends!)—and I love you. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Two Little Things That Help

As I’ve mentioned in these posts before, I struggle a bit with the virtue of Hope. As a result, I don’t always cope well with situations in which I can’t make sense of what is happening, come up with a plan, and take some semblance of control.

As a result, the past several days have been challenging for me. COVID-19 coronavirus is pushing all my buttons.

I reached my lowest on Monday evening, after working for a few days straight on nothing but parish communications around the virus. Monitoring social media and other websites became overwhelming, and the world seemed to get hazy. I wasn’t present for my family; I knew it, and so I stepped away to pray. Providentially, a friend had shared a powerful video of a priest preaching our divine authority to implore God’s protection with the passion and powerful name of Jesus. Continue reading