Seek Ye First…

Blogger’s Note: This post appeared as the Sunday, August 1, bulletin column for St. Michael Catholic Church.

Last weekend our family went to Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Watertown, South Dakota. The pews were full; the priest, energetic; and we took part in blessing a couple celebrating 40 years of marriage with the same blessing song used by our Christ Renews His Parish retreats and St. Michael Catholic School:

May the blessing of the Lord be upon you/we bless you in the name of the Lord.

We caused much worry and concern as our youngest daughter, Lily, bolted from the worship space with her hands over her mouth as if she were going to be sick—and relief when she returned with a gap in her smile, having lost a tooth. And we delighted in Father inviting up a young boy who had drawn for him a picture of the Lord with the message Trust In Jesus on it.

“You love Jesus, don’t you?” said the priest, and the boy nodded solemnly. “And you trust Him, like the young boy in the gospel, who gave everything he had [loaves and fishes] even though he knew it wasn’t enough.”

None of these moments would have transpired had we rose Sunday morning and decided to head for home instead of to Mass.

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Rest and Re-Creation

Last weekend, Fr. Park preached on the importance of rest. The Lord calls His followers to come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile (Mark 6:31). We do well to rest with the Lord by keeping holy the Sabbath—attending Mass and resting from activities that do not renew us in body and spirit—and by regularly withdrawing from the world to spend time with Jesus on retreat.

First, I want to second Father’s retreat recommendation. I’ve been blessed to make a personal retreat almost every year since I left the University of Minnesota and came to work for the Church. The first was a hermitage retreat at Pacem in Terris in Isanti, during which I spent a few days and nights in a comfortable one-room cabin in the woods; a basket of simple foods and water were left on my doorstep each morning, and I was encouraged to read scripture, reflect and pray in silence, on my own. A couple years ago I did something similar at Holy Hill in Wisconsin, renting a room in the old monastery and enjoying a self-imposed silence and reflection at an otherwise bustling shrine.

The rest have been three-day silent retreats at Demontreville in Lake Elmo, with a Jesuit retreat master leading us through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, simple rooms, great food and quiet consistency from one year to the next. All have been fruitful, and when I re-enter the silence of retreat, I find God waiting for me, right where we left off.

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One-Track Mind

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.

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Be Present to the Present

Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.

Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.

That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.

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The Better Part

Nearly everyone I talk with these days agrees with me: The summer is flying by, in part because our families are so busy.

A friend has an acronym for BUSY: Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke. We may object that the numerous things we are doing are not evil, but are good and perhaps even important. But we would do well to ask ourselves, are they necessary?

Necessity is a high bar, when you think about it. As animals, we have very few absolute needs: food, water, shelter, and the like. As humans, made in God’s image, we have a few more: freedom, community, love. Meeting these needs for ourselves and our families requires effort on our part—but for the person of faith, there is a hierarchy: God, spouse, children, everyone else, everything else.

Which of these things are we spending time on these days, and in what order? Continue reading