Wednesday Witness: Life Abounds

In December 2017, my daughter Emma and I were driving near Clearwater, hoping to practice merging and freeway driving ahead of a long trip to Bismarck on the coming weekend. As she was getting on the freeway for the first time, a knot of cars approached, and it was difficult to tell if they were letting her in. Our passenger-side tires hit slush on the shoulder; we began to fishtail and then spun across both lanes of traffic and into the median. We were struck hard by at least one other vehicle, which also wound up in the median. It was terrifying.

I wrote about the experience afterward: how, in an instant, I came to the stark realization that my life and hers were not in my control. Strangely, that revelation came with a feeling of extraordinary peace and the desire that, whatever happened, my daughter should know that she is loved and that everything is okay. Continue reading

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.

Book Break: How to Be Holy

How-to-Be-HolyA few weeks ago, my spiritual director did something he’ s never done before: He directed me to read a book. This was not a casual suggestion. He said, “I want you to read it cover-to-cover as soon as possible, so if you are reading something else right now, stop.”

The book was Peter Kreeft’s How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, which is the popular Catholic writer and philosopher’s take on (“festooning of”) a spiritual classic, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. I have not read the latter, but have read just enough Kreeft to know to expect a relatively quick read, light in tone, punny in humor, and practical in content. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Scarcity or Abundance?

Originally published on The Net blog on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, September 5, 2018.

One of the other recurring themes during prayer at my silent retreat in Demontreville last month was scarcity versus abundance. This time of year—with summer winding down, school and activities ramping up, days getting noticeably shorter and cooler, and trees suddenly changing color—it’s easy to slip into a mentality of scarcity.

Not enough time.

Not enough money.

Not enough help.

Not enough of me to go around.

Of course, when we are feeling stressed in this way, it is appropriate to turn to God in prayer for help—but when we start with a mentality of scarcity, it is easy to slip into a spirituality of scarcity, in which our prayer is focused on what we lack and forgetful of all that we have. We become anxious about the present, worried about the future, and instead of asking for the peace, patience, wisdom and perseverance to get through the present moment, we beg for relief or escape. Continue reading

More Connections: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

1232x_1I mentioned in my last post that Kate and the Engel clan had a young-reader biography of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lying around and I began reading it while I was alone at the lake. The book was Saint Margaret Mary and  the Promises of the Sacred Heart by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, and if you laugh to imagine me reading the book pictured, you might be surprised that I couldn’t put it down.

It’s not a brilliant novelization or spiritual classic—but began to draw together months’ worth of disparate threads into one taut cord between me and the Sacred Heart.

Continue reading