This Week Has Been Good to Us, Redux

In the past two weeks, I’ve written a couple posts on the crazy busy-ness of May with three teens and a kindergartner in the house, a globetrotting college student returning home, and a 10-month-old puppy in a dog’s body underfoot. The schedule has not relented:

  • We enjoyed a three-day (Monday through Wednesday, May 14-16) visit from my parents that overlapped Busia’s birthday, a band concert for Emma, a band concert for Trevor, and a high-school awards night for Emma and Gabe.

Eddie’s Mickey Mouse “smash cake,” by Emma

  • On Saturday, May 19, we enjoyed a first birthday party for our youngest nephew Eddie, featuring Emma’s second commissioned cake—before scooting home so Gabe and Emma could attend a National Honor Society party.
  • On Sunday, May 20, we hosted a Confirmation brunch with the Engels and Trevor’s sponsor Jack, and Livi’s sponsor Elizabeth, then drove to the Cathedral of St. Paul for Confirmation. (Brendan served at the altar with Bishop Cozzens.)

Confirmandi and sponsors: Poland daughter Elizabeth, second “other daughter” Livi, youngest son Trevor, and good friend and guide Jack.

  • We then drove home and had supper with the Engels, Elizabeth, and Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn, then went to our second Mass of the day: Baccalaureate for Gabe, Kate, and Elizabeth.

Three of the best grads I know: my second son Gabe, my Poland daughter Elizabeth, and my eldest daughter from our “other family” Kate…

  • On Monday, we enjoyed Emma’s Beatles-themed pops concert—possibly her last choir concert ever, since her schedule won’t allow both band and choir next year.
  • On Tuesday we took in Trevor’s final choir concert of the year, including his featured vocals on “Carry On, My Wayward Son” by Kansas.
  • On Wednesday, we went to the high-school local scholarship night, where Gabe received a Knights of Columbus scholarship. (Our local KC Council 4174 gave out 20 $750 scholarships this year–$15,000 total.)
  • And last night, we went to Trevor’s WEB Leader Ice Cream Social, in which he and his fellow WEB Leaders were recognized for their service this year acclimating the incoming fifth-graders to middle-school life.

Also, somewhere in there Jodi chaperoned a zoo field trip; I took in Trevor’s science fair project; Lily and Emma had dentist appointments; and I fixed my old truck’s wiper just in time for the first storms of the spring.

Tonight, I’m hosting a mini-Poland reunion with whichever Poland families can make it for laughs and tacos. (They’re universal; see Bren’s recent post on the Ukraine.) Then we escape for a few days on the water.

We didn’t earn this. We don’t deserve it. We are humbled these lives have been entrusted to us. We are “cursed” with what Chris Stefanick describes as the problem of managing our blessings. Life is good. Busy. Exhausting. But so good.

Time for gratitude, prayer and re-creation. May God speed to heaven the souls of all those who gave their lives in military service—and may He bless your weekend, as well.

Liturgy and Sacraments: The Spirit at Work in the World

Blogger’s Note: This was my final short reflection paper for Module II of the Catechetical Institute, on liturgy and the sacraments. I continue to be drawn toward the person and activity of the Holy Spirit, which I’ve been slow to comprehend in the past.

The Spirit is the fuel of the Church, the energy and life force of the Body of Christ. And we can’t get him through heroic effort. We can only get him by asking for him. That’s why, for the past two thousand years, the Church has begged for this power from on high. Jesus told us that the Father would never refuse someone who asked for the Holy Spirit. So ask! And ask again! Realize that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. (Bishop Barron, Daily Gospel Reflection 5/8/18).

The second pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” pertains to liturgy and the sacraments. The opening paragraphs (CCC 1066-2068) connect back to the first pillar, “The Profession of Faith,” by re-asserting God’s plan outlined in the Creed:

“For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation (CCC 1067).

The liturgy in its various forms celebrates the great mystery of Jesus’ saving mission. It is the “public work” (leitourgos) of the Church: the “participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069), which manifests her as a visible sign of communion between God and man (CCC 1071).  The Church is born on Pentecost, the new Body of Christ on earth following the ascension of the resurrected One, and Jesus acts “in and with” this body through the sacramental economy (CCC 1076). The fruits of this mystery are shared liturgically, especially through the sacraments, “efficacious signs” (CCC 1131) instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church to give us the grace we need to live lives of holiness. Continue reading

He Thinks, Therefore I Am

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16

Yesterday morning I read St. Matthew’s account of the baptism of the Lord. Two things struck me. The first was that, in the Ignatius (Revised Standard Version) Bible I was reading, the translation is somewhat different from the New American version we hear at Mass (linked to above). The New American translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.” The Revised Standard translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.”

The difference is small, but struck me as important, because alighting suggests the Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus and remained with Him. This is reinforced by the first line of the next chapter, which begins just one verse later: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

See that? The Spirit is still with Him, leading Him.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us, either. We talk sometimes about the indelible mark left on our souls by certain of the sacraments, which might leave us with the mistaken notion that God makes an impression on us but doesn’t stick around. But clearly the Spirit did not leave Jesus—in fact, in paragraph 695 of the Catechism, we learn that the Holy Spirit represents the very anointing that signifies Jesus as the Christ, or messiah: the anointed one of God. And He is covered completely by this anointing, as close as oil on skin: “The humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 695). Continue reading

Victory Is His

For many years I struggled with a number of habitual sins common to the male of the species. I say I struggled with, rather than against, because for much of that time I was complicit. I knew these things were sinful, knew they weren’t healthy for me or my marriage, and yet I was only willing to resist up to a point.

I remember going to confession with Fr. Siebenaler in the old St. Michael church and confessing these same sins yet again. He spoke kindly but bluntly: “You remind me of St. Augustine praying, ‘Give me continence, but not yet!'” And he advised that if I truly loved my wife and wanted to leave these sins behind I should admit them to her and ask for her help in overcoming them.

I thanked him, did my penance, and returned home thinking, He’s obviously never been married—no way am I telling Jodi! Continue reading


good-friday-2264164_1920Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Over the past three years I’ve been blessed to serve as faith formation director for our parish and to write a monthly column in our church bulletin. I’ve tried in that time to urge us all to discipleship: to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus every day, listening and responding to what He asks of us, seeking the lost and leading them to heaven.

It’s a big job, to be sure, but we are not alone. We are one body, with Christ as our head. Through the Apostles, the bishops, our priests, and our baptism, His mission of saving souls has been given to each of us. Individually we are ill-suited to the task of redeeming the world, but together?

Together we are unstoppable. Continue reading