When we first moved to Minnesota 17 years ago, I worked for a marketing agency in downtown Minneapolis. I was conspicuous as one of the only conservative folks on staff, and my honesty, joy and general lack of cynicism earned me the nickname “Farmboy” from at least one colleague. I was regarded as a good writer and editor, but so naive and old-fashioned as to be quaint.
At the time, our oldest son Brendan was in in early elementary school. Someone on the bus began to mock him for believing in Santa Claus, and Bren responded that if Santa didn’t visit their house, it was because they didn’t believe in him. When he told Jodi and me about it afterward, he ended the story with, “I’m glad you guys still believe in magic.”
On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.
It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.
When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.
Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).
But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.
“He who says he has done enough has already perished.” – St. Augustine
One of the great, geeky pleasures of having college-age offspring is that my older sons are making great book recommendations from their own reading. I finished one such book this weekend: Servant of God Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. My oldest son, Brendan, recommended it to me, and numerous times during the past few months, as I was sharing what was on my mind and in my heart, he asked me if I’d finished it yet.
I now know why: Day’s journey is very different from my own, but my desire to work and to serve appears to have a similar destination.
So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” – John 13:12-15
In his Holy Thursday homily last night, our pastor Fr. Peter Richards encouraged us to reflect on why, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus interrupts the Passover meal to do something incredible: wash the feets of His disciples. Washing another’s feet was the job of the lowliest of servants: St. John the Baptist uses a similar comparison to tell his followers how far above himself the Messiah would be: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).
Why would Jesus do this? Father encouraged us to contemplate how great the Lord’s love for us is, to allow ourselves to receive that love, and to yield to it…to surrender to the One who gives Himself entirely for our good.
It has been almost a month since Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were dispensed of our Sunday obligation to attend Mass, and even less time since public Masses were suspended and we were told by state officials to stay home for two weeks. It seems longer, doesn’t it? It appears likely we will be asked to persist in this relative isolation awhile longer.
People are rightly concerned about the health of their loved ones, the most vulnerable among us and healthcare workers (among other “essential” employees). They are also rightly concerned about their livelihoods and the economy, their family’s mental and spiritual health, and how much freedom and control we are willing to sacrifice based on what evidence.
That’s a great deal of concern. It’s exhausting to carry, and people everywhere are asking, “When will things get back to normal?”