I must not look like a Jim.
For many years, casual acquaintances have consistently called me by other masculine J-names—especially John. I have been John to people who barely know me and to people who should certainly know better.
Then, several years ago, a priest friend advised me to reflect upon the young apostle John, who sits close enough to Jesus to lean against His breast (c.f. John 13:23-24). A year or two later, a different friend told me, “You are closer to Jesus than you think—leaned right against His chest, close to His Sacred Heart.” From that time forward, he purposely addresses me as John and reminds me of this connection to the youngest apostle frequently.
These two independent references to the same Gospel passage confirmed in me my spiritual proximity to St. John, and our Lord and His mother, at the Last Supper and at the foot of the Cross. It’s a beautiful blessing—but it’s also complicated, especially as a man.
I am close to my dad. I remember as a child and a younger teen stretching out to watch TV and doze on the same couch with him—and I remember, as a young man on an ill-fated elk hunt, suffering altitude sickness and shivering uncontrollably until he wrapped his arms and sleeping bag around me for a hour or more to warm me and still my convulsing body.
Dad is the man I love most in this world, but expressing these intimate moments is difficult, because as men, we don’t generally share such physical closeness publicly.
So what would it take for me, a grown man, to rest my head against the breast of Jesus in a room full of other men?
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“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” – Luke 6:46
Recently I was paid a great compliment: I was called a disciple. My reaction surprised me. I didn’t feel pride or embarrassment, but alarm. My immediate concern was that if people consider me disciple, they might strive to be like me and fall short of true discipleship. The closer I get to God the more clearly I see how far I have to go. I am a tall man, but a low bar.
We all have a choice to make, to leave our former life behind and follow Christ to Calvary. As Deacon Ralph Poyo shared in his recent visit, it is an all-or-nothing choice. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The only way to put God first is to place everything else behind Him.
The bad news is that we cannot work hard enough or love well enough to earn heaven without God’s grace—but neither can we cease to work and presume God’s grace will carry us.
The good news is that the choice is still before us, in every interaction, every moment here on earth.
How do we make the right choice in the moment? Jesus gives us clear instructions. For example:
- Renounce your possessions, pick up your cross, and follow—otherwise you cannot be a disciple (Matthew 16:24-16, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26).
- Love God, love neighbor, love enemies—it is not enough to love those who love you (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36).
- Provide for the needs of others as you would for Jesus Himself—anything less is damnable (Matthew 25:31-46).
These words are like a punch to the gut for me. I have no trouble at all crying out to the Lord, but I’m terrible at doing what He commands. I go to Mass, pray pretty regularly, and try not to sin. But I enjoy my life, I dislike suffering, and I am comfortable in this community, in my circle of friends and family, in a job that suits my skills and pays the bills.
Surely I get bonus points working for the church? Didn’t the Pharisees?
We have hope, however. God seeks us constantly, loves us endlessly, wants to forgive us and welcome us home. God proves His love by sending His son to sinners, to live, suffer, and die in order to save us from our sins. We can choose today to accept this love or not. We can choose to love God back or not. We can choose to follow Jesus or not. We can make this choice right now.
But we can’t do it alone. If you are ready to change your life and follow Christ today, talk to someone today. Ask someone you regard as a disciple what to do next. They might be a little flustered at first, because discipleship is a big responsibility. If they are uncomfortable, it may mean they need someone to walk with, too. Ask them to partner with you. And if you don’t know who to talk to or want help from the parish to get started, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at the parish office.
Don’t wait. The way is narrow, but not so narrow that we can’t walk it together!
This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, May 15, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.
Last weekend, we saw all of our children and grandchildren, not to mention my mother and several friends, due to our youngest son Trevor’s star turns as St. Thomas More in the play, A Man for All Seasons. We had representatives of four generations of Thorps under our roof. We saw moving performances, illustrating a 500-year-old life that remains compelling and relevant today. We celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and the May Crowning of Mary and Mother’s Day at the 9:00 AM Mass, with Father Park and Bishop Williams and two deacons. We received Jesus in Word and Sacrament—and my mom benefitted deeply from 10 minutes with two of our parish’s wonderful prayer ministers after Mass. We ate and drank and made merry. It was a both-and kind of weekend, a time of spiritual superabundance.
Early Monday morning, after Mom departed for the airport, I read the daily gospel reading, which continues St. John’s Good Shepherd discourse. The last line of the reading struck me hardest:
“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”John 10:10
I recognize the thief and his works—I see them daily in the world—and I know that, at times like last weekend, we are experiencing God’s abundant life firsthand. The Enemy divides, distorts, and destroys; he is wreaking havoc in the world right now. But Jesus brings hope, courage, joy, and peace—not to mention the perseverance to live in the Spirit despite the Enemy and those who serve him.
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This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, March 20, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
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.
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I’ve been thinking lately about what is means to say that God is love. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “Love is willing the good of the other as other.” If God is love, then God’s very nature is to will the good of each of us, at all times and eternally. A couple weeks ago, the story of the hemorrhaging woman from St. Mark’s gospel struck me as a profound illustration of what this looks like in our world.
You’ve heard the story: Jesus is traveling with a large crowd of people to the home of Jairus, whose daughter is dying. With the crowd pressing from all sides, a woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years approaches Him from behind, with profound faith in who Jesus is and a deep hope that if she can just touch His cloak, she will be cured.
She succeeds in touching Him and is instantly healed.
Mark 5:30 tells us, “Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who has touched my clothes?’” Unlike other gospel healings, there was no initial conversation between Jesus and the woman before the miracle takes place. So did she somehow heal herself by tapping into His power while He wasn’t looking? Of course not—the God of the Universe is not commanded or controlled by His creatures.
So what happened here?
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