Family and Fruitfulness: A Father’s Perspective

It’s getting quiet around here.

This weekend, Emma and Trevor are helping with our church’s Core Team Retreat, so just Jodi, Lily, and I, along with our Airedale Bruno, are at home. It’s a preview of our new reality beginning early next month—our youngest as an only child; we, as nearly empty-nesters.

This situation is not extraordinary. Indeed it is almost inevitable, and certainly preferable to a basement full of adult children without direction or dreams. But both Jodi and I agree that the approaching transition feels different.

* * * * *

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, our oldest son Brendan, his bride, and his two little sons left Bismarck in a plane, bound for Minneapolis, Boston, and, ultimately, Rome. They arrived in the Eternal City early Friday; they will make their home in a convent apartment for 10 months out of 12 for the next two to three years as Brendan oversees Student Life for the University of Mary’s Rome campus.

We hope to visit them this spring. We didn’t travel back and forth to Bismarck often these past few years, but seeing the four of them in person just once a year—and the stark reality that an ocean and two half-continents lie between us—leaves a hollow feeling in my chest.

* * * * *

Tomorrow morning, we take our youngest son, Trevor, to Saint John Vianney Seminary (SJV) at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul to begin his undergraduate studies and formal discernment of priesthood. In his case, he’ll be less than an hour away, but it seems further somehow. SJV is an island of clean-cut, well-dressed young men living and praying together amid the highs and lows of life on a fairly typical college campus. The young men’s schedule is structured and rigorous; their access to technology—especially smart phones—is strictly limited; their studies are not oriented simply to a career field and a job, but to a lifelong vocational call.

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The Long Surrender, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about throwing out my lower back and learning to surrender my plans to God’s. Turns out the urgent priorities that had to be postponed or cancelled as a result were only the first small lessons God had for me.

We cancelled a trip to Texas, and I pushed back a few other appointments and projects. But certain things—like the baptism of our second grandchild in North Dakota and Trevor’s graduation party here at home—could not be held off. As a result, the following weekend I found myself walking gingerly through a Bismarck hotel lobby while Jodi lugged suitcases and bags to the elevator and up to our room.

Of course, this pushed my insecurity and vainglory buttons: In my mind’s eye, I could see the clerk and all the other guests eyeing our family, wondering why a strapping middle-aged man wouldn’t lift a finger to help his overburdened wife.

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The Long Surrender

My last column was about wasting time—accomplishing too little with the time I’m given.

It has been a busy spring and summer. Our youngest son graduated, a new grandbaby arrived, and three of our children are relocating in preparation for a new phase of life. We have a grad party in the works, vacation plans, work and home projects, and all the ordinary, day-to-day stuff.

Often I cope well with our busy-ness—remembering with gratitude that we are juggling blessings. But sometimes stress and anxiety get the better of me. With so much to do, I rush around barking orders and straining to make everything go according to plan.

Whose plan? Mine of course; the one in my head. This was the plan for July:

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Book Break: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

I recently finished an English audio version of the 1828 Italian novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni on Audible. I first learned of this book—apparently the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language—from a post by Joseph Pearce on the Imaginative Conservative website with the provocative title, “The Betrothed: The Greatest Novel Ever Written?” That caught my eye, because, as a somewhat educated person, I had never heard of it.

I also share all this information to distinguish this book from a much more recent young adult romance novel and two-book series of the same name by Kiera Cass. This is NOT that.

Instead, this is a wonderful historical novel set in the 1600s in Lombardy, Italy (pictured above), telling the story of two young, relatively poor, and essentially good villagers preparing for their much-desired marriage, and a cowardly priest who refuses them the sacrament after a tyrannous local lord threatens his life if he should join them. The fearful parish priest is balanced by two heroic clergy, a Franciscan friar who serves as a father and spiritual director to the pair, and the real-life Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the heroic and holy archbishop of Milan, whose pastoral efforts bring about novel’s conclusion.

What struck me most about this novel is how timeless great literature actually is. The book is about many things, each as relatable today as in the time it was set and the time it was written, including:

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What ‘God Is Love’ Looks Like

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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