All Too Familiar

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the starts, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

St. Augustine

In last weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus is rejected in His hometown. His family, friends and neighbors watched Him grow up among them, and as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The better we think we know a something, the less special it seems.

In a country like ours, in which Mass is readily accessible and religious persecution is relatively rare and non-violent, we can be tempted to regard Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the same way. Our priests celebrate five Sunday Masses each weekend at St. Michael alone, and in an effort to urge people to resume going to church in person, the Church has emphasized how easy it is to find a Mass near you, wherever you are.

All of which makes it easy to say, I can go to Mass later. I can go to Mass anytime. I guess I’ll go next week.

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Same Ol’ Same Ol’…

This post appeared in the June 27, 2021, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

This August, my bride and I will have been married 25 years. At this point, you’d think we would understand each other, or at least give one another the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t. Most of the conflict in our marriage turns on the same little things that derailed us a quarter century ago. Our insecurities, assumptions and coping mechanisms are the same—and so our frustrations are also the same.

After 25 years, I wonder why she doesn’t get me, but I rarely apply that standard to myself. I inflict, then apologize for, the same little wounds, to the point now that most of the time, Jodi doesn’t realize what I’m apologizing for. She seems to take nothing personally (thank you, Jesus!), but that doesn’t make it right.

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Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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Wednesday Witness (on Thursday): I Can’t Hear You…You’re Yelling

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