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.Ezekiel 36:26
Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.
Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.
Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.
This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.
It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.
We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.
When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
I am writing this column from my parents’ log house in rural Michigan. Yesterday our Airedale Bruno and I drove 12 hours to get here. Half the time I listened to the news on Minnesota and Wisconsin Public Radio.
Public radio is in frustrating entity for me, and this long drive was no exception. On one hand, they interviewed interesting people about compelling topics and told wonderful stories that kept me awake and alert all morning and into the afternoon. On the other hand, nearly every story was presented with a left-leaning worldliness and a persistent godless optimism, as though this past year (and the previous three) were truly unprecedented and hellish, but now the right people with the right ideas, wielding power in the right way, can finally fix everything. Nearly all of the interviews were political, some were explicitly pagan—and none mentioned God in any meaningful way, except to reference the road not taken.
This is the divide that concerns me in our society. This is the fundamental, irreconcilable issue upon which there can be no compromise: Either God is real and created the universe and humanity according to His law and purpose, or He didn’t. Both views have profound implications on how we live together in this world.
I was blessed to spend last weekend on a three-day silent retreat. It was a fruitful time, to be sure, but honestly I’m still sorting through everything God was doing with me there. I am sure to share more in the coming days and weeks.
In the meantime: After the retreat an older gentleman told me that he noticed that I take lots of notes. I explained that for me, writing is how I remember and process information. What I didn’t mention is that I also doodle, draw arrows to make connections, intersperse my own comments and conclusions, and generally wind up with much more in the notebook than was actually said in the retreat master’s talk. Then I add to it between conferences, while praying and mulling over what was said. The page below is an example, an illustration of my “retreat brain” at work (or perhaps play).
Retreat Notes, August 2020
Whaddya think? Is a picture worth a thousand words?
What about a picture of words? A pitcher of words?
I could use a pitcher right about now…
Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8
Woke this morning on the wrong side of the bed. Shuffled to the living room to pray with my bride. Opened the missal to the Tenth Thursday in Ordinary Time (Year II) and began to proclaim the first reading, only for Jodi to say that her copy of “Living With Christ” had a different reading.
Of course. It’s the memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle.
I turned to the back of the missal and found June 11. Sure enough, the first reading was about St. Barnabas, from the Acts of the Apostles. I read the responsorial psalm, then began the gospel.
“Um,” said Jodi, “I have a different gospel.”
I sighed and shrugged. “Well,” I said, exasperated, “I don’t know what it is…what do you have?” Continue reading