In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.
In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.
As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession: Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.
I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.
Growing up, many of my heroes were “the strong, silent type”—men of few words and decisive, often violent, action, who always knew the right thing to do and had the ability to carry it out. Small, bookish, and emotional, I admired men like that, even though I was not that type myself.
Since I didn’t grow up in the Church, I knew only a few Bible stories. The heroes of those stories seemed larger than life—even the shepherd boy, David, who slew Goliath, has already been chosen by God, anointed by Samuel, and filled with the Spirit of the Lord before he ever took the field against the Philistine.
I knew the story of the birth of Jesus, but I didn’t think of Joseph as a hero.
Last Saturday, my bride and I went to morning Mass together. In the gospel, Jesus admonishes His disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
I’ve always taken this to be a tall order—impossible, in fact, for anyone but God alone. It almost always makes me feel small, weak, and inadequate to the task. These feelings may be true, but do not seem particularly helpful when it comes to striving for sainthood.
But Father Joe tweaked my thinking with his homily Saturday morning.
“Notice,” he said, “that the Lord doesn’t say, ‘Do everything perfectly,’ but ‘Be perfect.’”
He went on to explain that, with our fallen nature, we cannot expect never to make mistakes—but that we should do the best we can in every circumstance, striving to love as God loves.
Over many St. Patrick’s Days I’ve shared and reshared a short post on how Irish I actually am. The answer? Not very, in flesh-and-blood sense; in fact, some of my ancestry was Scots-Irish, Protestant, and apparently anti-Catholic, even in my parents’ younger days. But though our Thorp name persists, we’ve since converted to the Catholic faith of my mother’s Polish family, so spiritually I feel more akin to the the Poles and the Irish these days.
My father tells, however, of a period in which peace was achieved between the Scots-Irish Protestant Thorps and Polish Catholic Galubenski clans. The story goes that during Prohibition, my great-grandfather Bronislaw Galubenski was brewing or distilling on the family farm. One of Dad’s uncles or cousins was a deputy sheriff at the time. He knew what was cooking on the farm and could’ve shut it down, but instead, reached an agreement: As long as Broni left a bottle in the culvert on the corner, the deputy left well enough alone.
Peace and understanding acheived thanks to a shared love of spirits. Would that all conflicts could be resolved over a drink.
Two summers ago, Jodi and I and our youngest daughter Lily arrived at a New Family Social at St. Michael Catholic School (StMCS) to learn the ropes at a new school. We’ve been members of this parish for nearly 20 years now, and I’ve been on staff in two different roles—but when our oldest son, Brendan, was heading to kindergarten, we never made it off the waiting list for StMCS. We wound up enrolling him at Albertville Primary, and we never looked back.
We are blessed with great schools in this community, including some of the most faith-friendly public schools around. But when COVID derailed our older daughter Emma’s senior year and graduation, cancelled our youngest son Trevor’s theater performance of The Three Musketeers, and confined Lily to interacting with her classmates through a Kindle screen, we began to rethink our approach to educating our children. Two things seemed clear to us at the time:
Once the state gets involved in the day-to-day operations of public schools, it seems unlikely that they will pull back very much.
The best chance for Trevor and Lily to have a somewhat normal school experience during the 2020-21 school year would be in a Catholic school.