Book Break: Hope Is the Last to Die

In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.

As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession:  Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.

I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.

Continue reading

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

George Floyd: What Can I Do?

Blogger’s Note: This is a long post. I hope to do some shorter ones, rooted in specific Catholic teachings and principles. But I think I need to say a few things first. (Photo courtesy of a local Catholic friend, Jim Lang.)

* * * * *

For days, I have wanted to write and couldn’t—not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say, and most of it felt too easy. I re-read an essay I wrote from four years ago, when the dead man’s name was Philando Castile, then reposted it—but that seemed too easy, as well. Something was different this time. Something more needed to be said. Something else needed to be done.

I wanted to have said something so I could stop thinking. I even sat and began to type a time or two. But the only clear thought that came, again and again, was, “What can I do?”

I also worried about saying the wrong thing. It doesn’t take long online to discover that too many people are looking for fight. I’ve seen folks advocating violence, dismantling the reputation and character of businesses and strangers, and dismissing people entirely for using the wrong word in the wrong way.

And I am prone to vainglory (worrying overmuch about what people think of me) and have a hard time letting things go, especially when misunderstood.

So I’d much rather sit this one out.

With Philando Castile, I simply described the tension in my heart and mind. This time I leaned into that tension, not looking to respond, explain or excuse, but to see, hear and learn about myself.

Something is different this time. Something more needs to be said. Something needs to be done.

What can I do?

* * * * *

I can tell people where I stand. George Floyd’s killing is an outrage, and I am angry. This should not have happened and should never happen again.

Perhaps, like me, your first instinct now is to say, “Yes, but…”

Hold that thought.

Just sit in silence with the image of a six-foot-six man, created in God’s image, dying in the street, held down by police officers who would not help him and watched by bystanders who could not. Let that break your heart. Continue reading

Book Break: A Canticle for Leibowitz

LeibowitzBeing without work these past few weeks, I’ve had more time than usual to read. Last weekend, I finished Walter M. Miller’s 1959 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a book recommended to me by three of the smartest men I know. Set in post-apocalyptic America in the centuries following a nuclear holocaust, it tells the story of the monks of the Albertine Order of Leibowitz, who scratch their livelihood from the rocks and dust of the southwestern deserts and dedicate themselves to their founder’s mission of extracting knowledge from the rubble of the previous civilization and preserving it for the future. Continue reading

Love Does Not Divide

How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  – Psalm 13:2-3

I ended last night with coverage of the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. I woke to 12 police officers shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas.

Can you feel it? The tension in the air? A spark has been struck, I fear, that cannot be contained.

And it’s an election year. Everything is spun, hyper-analyzed, re-calculated, and spun again. Everything is us-versus-them.

Can you hear it? The rattle between my lungs of the small stony lump that passes, these days, for a human heart? I can. It has shrunken and solidified more while I slept.

I can feel my heart hardening, each time my “enemies” advance. I can feel the love draining away and the anger rising. I am tempted to turn away from those I once cared about because we don’t agree. I have no time to spend on the lost sheep with my little flock to attend.

How cavalierly we treat the salvation of souls—including our own.

Here’s what I know for certain about these shootings: Someone took a life. Someone lost a life. Both are terrible and permanent things with serious implications in this world and the next. And the proper response for most of us, who are removed from the situation, is earnest prayer for the souls of those involved and for peace.

The Evil One relishes these divisions in humanity, and fans the flames that rage around us. Instantaneous media coverage and commentary stifles reflection and discernment, prudence and justice. Politispeak and emotionalism obscure the truth, without which there can be no love. We paint our enemies with one brush and hue, and lose sight of them as unique images of God—each one a masterpiece.

Yesterday I ran across a quote from C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity:

[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.

Our way, as Christians, is narrow, between the errors. Our Way is Christ.

Here’s the truth, as simply as I can express it this gray morning. We have good cops and bad cops; racist, noble, and scared cops…and this morning, living and dead cops. We also have young black men who are good men and bad men; racist, noble, and scared men; and yet again, living and dead men. We have well-intentioned activists on both sides who want justice, and rabble-rousers who just want to fight.

The same applies to Muslims and Christians, to immigrants and natural-born citizens, to men and women. How do I know this? Because all of them are human, and so am I. All of these tendencies live in me, and I must choose which to follow.

It is also true that significant differences exist between the wealthy and the poor, Christianity and Islam, rural and urban America, liberals and conservatives—differences that we must acknowledge plainly and address if we hope to find peace in our communities—but none of these differences are discernible in our DNA or our soul. None are who we are.

I am Catholic, so I am at odds with the culture, with many of my friends, and with much of my family. And it’s complicated. I am a Christian, but I am at odds other Christian creeds, not to mention the non-Christian religions of the world. I’m at odds with scientism, but not science. I am at odds with supporters of abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other ideas. Faith and reason set me at odds with all of these things, but none of these persons—at least, not if I’m practicing my faith well.

So we disagree. Big deal; it happens all the time at my house.  And we each think we’re right? Well of course. If we thought we were wrong and persisted, we have more serious problems.

But one of us must be wrong? True enough—and likely both of us. But truth and love go hand-in-hand, so what are we worried about? Being proven wrong? That’s pride talking, the root of sin.

Is it possible to disagree and get along? We do it all the time with people we love. And Jesus said to love our neighbor and our enemies as we love our own selves. We have our work cut out for us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. … You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36-26, 28

We can bring God’s good work to fruition, but we must keep foremost in our minds our common humanity and the dignity of each person as made in the image of God. We must focus our attention on the infinite value of each soul to the Creator, and the boundless desire God has for each of us. Salvation of souls is our goal; repentance and love is our means. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the concerns of this world—goods, comforts, guns, money—and lose sight of the only things worth loving: God and neighbor.  These other things are not bad in themselves, but can they get us to Heaven? Not likely, but they could drag us to Hell.

Love ought to be our first and last response. And God willing, as we learn to love as He has loved us and align our love completely with His eternal Truth, it can become our only response.