Wars and Rumors of Wars

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt 24: 6-14)

The Pulse shooting in Orlando. The Supreme Court ruling, once again, in favor of abortion. The British exiting the EU. Extremist left-wing and right-wing groups clashing in Sacramento. These are just a few of the big stories that have happened in the last 14 days. And after every one, Ryan texts me or vice versa with a link to a news story, and the other replies with some variation on, “What the heck is going on in the world?” It’s enough to make your heart beat a little faster as we are all left wondering, “Is society just…breaking down?”

To be sure, these crises constitute “wars and rumors of wars”. It’s easy to get very anxious about the state of the world right now. I feel that anxiety mounting in my own heart. But then I stop and think: Haven’t there always been wars and rumors of wars? And doesn’t Christ tell his Apostles, “See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen”? When our Lord told his followers about these signs, He was not telling them to be complacent or anxious. He was telling them to do as they had done before: remain at peace in your own heart and stand firm to the end. I think the former opens up the possibility of the latter in each Christian’s life. If we can remain at peace, rooted in Christ, that will allow us to stand firm.

I am not one to say whether or not the world is “much worse off than ever before” or if things are “just as bad as they always have been”. I truly don’t know. But I do know this; whether we live in a time of stability or upheaval, whether we are rich or poor, whether our nation is at war or peace, we are called to do the same thing…be at peace, trust in our Lord, and stand firm.

They Know

Back in March, as I travelled to Asheville, NC for work, I would get a knowing look. A smile. A nod. A few bold folks actually strode over and whispered or said just loudly for us to hear, “go Sioux!” You see, I had a University of North Dakota Hockey cap on. The logo on the cap is the best logo in sports now-retired Sioux Indian head. Deemed “hostile and offensive,” the nickname was changed this last fall in a public, yet deeply unpopular, online vote to the cowardly very safely inoffensive Fighting Hawks (don’t worry, I wont tell you how I really feel).

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From the Airport to the hotel grounds and back, people would look at the hat. Those who knew what the logo was, would mention it with pride. Even as far away as Atlanta and Raleigh, I got the nod. It got me thinking though – I was sporting a logo of a collegiate hockey team. Granted, one that was very distinctive and one that will become harder and harder to find. But it still got a rise out of people.

But what about things that really matter? Like my faith. When I’m about in public do people see me and think – he must be a Christian, or even, a Catholic? It’s one thing to wear your team logo on your sleeve, but it’s another to wear your faith on your sleeve and I don’t want to be superficial about it. What if there’s a way for people to know, to recognize that (Sioux fan though I may be) I claim Christ as my Lord and King. A cross? A medal? A scapular? A tattoo?

What about my actions? Do my actions lead others to conclude that I’m on Jesus’s “team?” How do I treat those random strangers in the restaurant, the hotel lobby, the airport terminal, or in the next seat in the plane?  How do I treat those in my office, but even more importantly – those at home? Do I treat them as individuals with value and to be loved?

If something were to happen to me and I died suddenly in the presence of all those people, would the best they could say about me was, “he sure was a Fighting Sioux hockey fan?”

How Beautiful

I’m working on something right now that a year ago I would have laughed and called super cheesy… I am taking an e-course on defining my family’s mission. I mean, seriously, do you have to take a class on that kind of thing? But it was put forth by a blogger that I respect, and recommended by several others, so I bit the bullet and signed up.

It has been eye-opening. I might even venture to say… life changing?

I am only a small portion of the way through, but already the guided self-reflection has opened my eyes to my priorities, my desires for my family, and what it is that I truly love. Most of my life has been spent trying to please others and say and do the “right thing”. I have improved greatly over the years, but if I’m not careful, I still fall into the habit of “What are you ordering? Oh that sounds good to me too.”

One of the first exercises I was asked to complete was a reflection on beauty. I was supposed to list everything I could think of that I find beautiful, and then go back and comment on what it was that made each particular thing beautiful to me. For possibly the first time ever, I made a completely honest list of what I personally find beautiful, ignoring that nagging voice telling me to make sure what I wrote showed cultivated, refined taste. I was trained in classical violin and I always thought I should find all classical music beautiful, but honestly, there is much of it that does nothing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that there is an innate beauty in classical music and art, but not everything that is of a high quality has to be on my personal list of beautiful things.

I came to realize something: as I listed what I truly found beautiful, I noticed that everything I wrote gave me a real sense of joy when I thought of it. A snapshot of a chickadee on a willow branch that had rolled across my Instagram feed… a song by Matt Maher that gives me chills whenever I hear it… the tiny orange flowers I picked up at the garden center for our front yard… when I thought of these things, I could not stop smiling!

I have been praying for peace and joy for months… begging, more like it. Ever since we moved last September, it has been a struggle to maintain a peaceful spirit and a joyful heart. I would find joy for a moment, for a day, and then I would feel down and out again. The stress of the move, children’s bad attitudes, terrible world events, pregnancy difficulties would constantly crowd out any peace that I found. But as I meditated on beauty, it felt as if a veil was lifted from my eyes and I could see God’s amazing creation all around me with fresh eyes. My list kept getting longer and longer.

Soon after making my list, I attended the Catholic Homeschool Convention in St. Paul. Lo and behold, the keynote speaker’s first talk was about bringing beauty and delight into your homeschool day. Then for my book club, we decided to read Spark Joy by Marie Kondo, author of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Much of her philosophy revolves around surrounding yourself with what you find beautiful and removing that which doesn’t bring you joy. Everywhere I turn now, I’m encountering people who want to tell me more about the importance of beauty.

My next stop will be to read The Evidential Power of Beauty, by Thomas Dubay. It has been on my list for almost a decade, but I have never picked it up. I think God is hinting to me that now is the time. I have decided to follow this trail wherever it leads, because as Dubay says, “The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer. Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite…”

Seeking beauty is not a shallow, meaningless task. True beauty leads us toward the infinite. I can’t wait to find out more.

“What can men do against such reckless hate?”

One of my favorite scenes in cinema is from Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. The good folk of Rohan have fled to their last defense, the bastion of Helm’s Deep, but even that fortress of stone is not enough to stop the onslaught of the armies of Saruman the White. Line after line of defense has crumbled, and the last defenders scurry about the inside of the keep, piling furniture against the gates even as their enemies prepare a battering ram. In this moment, the king of Rohan despairs: “So much death…” he mumbles. “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

The bleakness of his words stop his men in their tracks. There is moment of absolute darkness, where we see that all is truly lost. But in moment, whether because of foolishness or courage, the king’s friend, Aragorn the Ranger, says, “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them….for your people.” What follows is a cavalry charge of epic proportion, but it’s never really been the charge that interests me. It’s that when Aragorn is faced with the unthinking rage and cruelty of the Orc horde, he does the unexpected: along with a small band of dear friends, he makes one last sacrificial gesture to show the people of Rohan that they are indeed loved and worth fighting for.

All Sunday I followed the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. It’s still so fresh that I hardly know what to think or feel. But in the maelstrom of fallout, reaction, and shock, I refuse to despair. In the face of such senseless violence, perhaps all we can do is the foolish, courageous thing: along with a small band of dear friends, make some kind of sacrificial gesture to show the world that each human life is loved and worth fighting for.

May all the victims rest in peace. Let us also hope and pray that Omar Mateen looked in horror upon what he had wrought and, before the end, sought mercy. No one is beyond His help.

Don’t Blame Me

On my way to an appointment today, I was cut off by a car going straight through a light when I had a green arrow to turn left. We both slammed on our brakes and gesticulated angrily at each other through our windshields, obviously both under the assumption that the other person was in the wrong. I checked and double-checked, but my arrow was still green.

It takes quite a bit to get me riled up, but feeling as if I have been unjustly accused of wrongdoing is at the top of the list of culprits that make me boil. I think this is pretty common, judging by the reactions of drivers toward each other on the road. We are generally kind and polite, until we get cut off on the interstate. Suddenly our brains are filled with all kinds of insulting assumptions about the driver, righteous indignation, even hopes that they’ll get what’s coming to them at a speed trap up ahead. The possibility that this person is in a hurry for a valid reason, or they simply had a quick lapse in judgment, or they (gasp!) made a mistake… these thoughts might pop up hours later, but that’s definitely not where my mind goes first.

My self-righteous sense of justice carries over into my role as a mother as well. Talk about getting falsely accused! Every day, I am blamed for not knowing where the clean pair of jeans are (thrown on the floor yesterday after a child rummaged through a drawer of clothing), for not responding quickly enough to a question (as I simultaneously change a squirmy toddler’s diaper and direct the three-year-old to put-on-her-shoes-for-the-tenth-time!) I am seen as the bad guy for serving the wrong kind of cheese on the sandwich, for forgetting which kid won’t touch sliced red peppers, for making a sensitive child cry because he received a time-out for sassing his mother.

It’s. Not. Fair. And it eats at me.

But today, as I watched fuming as a stranger in a suburban silently berated me for attempting to turn left on a green arrow, it hit me. Who am I to deserve fair treatment? The King of Heaven and Earth, spotless, blameless, pure, hung on a cross like a common criminal. Fair? Just? Wait… aren’t we called to be like Christ?

So today I am making an effort to be more like Jesus as I suffer through the tiny injustices that prick at me throughout the day. In my meager attempts to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect, I will offer up the moments when I am wronged, blamed, falsely accused and let God use them to increase my humility.

“From the fear of being wronged…
From the fear of being suspected…
Deliver me Jesus”
– From the Litany of Humility

Playing (Holy) Cards

Every Monday our family joins a few others and prays the rosary. On the First Monday of each month, our parish, Christ the King, hosts the rosary during adoration, so we meet there.

Earlier this week we were at our parish where my boys found the Christ the King prayer cards below in the book holders on the back of the pew in front of them.

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My three-year-old son old grabbed all the cards in the pew, shuffled them and “dealt” half of them to his brother. Then I overheard the following whispered conversation:

3-year-old: Hey, let’s play Go God!

5-year-old: Yeah!  Good idea! Me first!

(long pause as he surveys his hand)

5-year-old: Hmmmm… Do you have a Christ the King?

3-year-old, incredulously: HOW DID YOU KNOW?!?!?!?!?

 

Edifying Podcasts from Matt Fradd

No doubt most readers of the blog are familiar with Matt Fradd, well-known Catholic apologist and speaker. What you may not know, however, is that he has launched not one, but two weekly podcasts since April:

  • Pints with Aquinas runs 15-25 minutes long each week and takes a look at one (just one!) question from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa. It’s a great introduction to the way that Aquinas thought, and how he has shaped Catholicism.
  • Integrity Restored runs 20-30 minutes long each week and is focused on giving listeners practical tips for overcoming the pornography fixation/addiction. Fradd and his guests use a variety of approaches including spiritual, psychological, and neurological to talk about conquering what for many is a very difficult cross to bear.

Both come highly recommended, so check thou them out!

St. Philip Neri

Drawn to St. John Henry Newman’s homily on today’s Saint by the Magnificat, I found this compelling account of his life I’d like to share:

Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low. He taught poor begging women to use mental prayer; he took out boys to play; he protected orphans; he acted as novice-master to the children of St. Dominic.

He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers. Cardinals hung about his room, and Popes asked for his miraculous aid in disease, and his ministrations in death. It was his mission to save men, not from, but in, the world…

To draw the young from the theatres, he opened his Oratory of Sacred Music; to rescue the careless from the Carnival and its excesses, he set out in pilgrimage to the Seven Basilicas. For those who loved reading, he substituted, for the works of chivalry or the hurtful novels of the day, the true romance and the celestial poetry of the Lives of the Saints. He set one of his disciples to write history against the heretics of that age; another to treat of the Notes of the Church; a third, to undertake the Martyrs and Christian Antiquities;—for, while in the discourses and devotions of the Oratory, he prescribed the simplicity of the primitive monks, he wished his children, individually and in private, to cultivate all their gifts to the full.

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St. Philip Neri, Pray for us!

The Nightmare

Last night I woke up in a cold sweat after horrific nightmare. It was so vivid and traumatic, I don’t want to recount it here except to say that it dredged up all kinds of memories about our miscarriages and other difficult pregnancies.

After I came out of it, I lay in bed, feeling nothing but dread and a heavy spiritual oppression settle over me. It was so intense I reached over to make sure my wife was still in bed next to me and that I hadn’t woken up in some terrible, lonely place. It took a real effort of will to get out of bed, fumble with the light, and look around to assure myself that all was well. I splashed some water on my face and then thought, “Why am I doing this? This feeling is not going away.” So I grabbed a bottle of holy water that stands on our dresser and applied it liberally: my forehead, my pillow, the room itself…I just slung that stuff around as best I could. Then I lay down, said one St. Michael prayer and…

…I was out like a light. I slept beautifully and woke up this morning, refreshed and ready for my work week.

Today I am incredibly thankful for sacramentals, those physical reminders of God’s overwhelming love for us. Whether it’s holy water, saint medals, blessed rosaries, or blessed candles, I think most of us are not relying on them enough. Like the big S Sacraments, these are gifts given to us freely, and to let them gather dust is a shame. So after my little spiritual skirmish last night…you can bet everyone and everything in the house is going to get a good sprinkling in the next few days.

 

Cursing the wind

Training for a half marathon can be mentally freeing on the days when you have good runs. Other days, it can be frustrating.  Yet there are days when it can be both – on the same day, on the same run.

Saturday was one of those runs. My longest run before Grandma’s Half Marathon next month, I was staring at the prospect of 12 miles. Six miles out, six miles back; literally uphill both ways. There was a northwest breeze that promised to help keep me cool as the sun rapidly warmed the land.

My route took me southeast of town along the Heart River and into the bluffs above the bottom lands and the Missouri River.  It’s a beautiful run any day, but Saturday morning was crisp, sunny and bright. I headed southeast along the ancient river where thousands of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Indians once made home. Lewis and Clark came right up through the Cottonwoods seeking to make contact with friendly natives after being put to flight by the fighting Sioux to the south.  It was right here in these parts while exploring the Big Muddy’s western banks that the Corps of Discovery met its first grizzly bear in 1804.

The bike path from town to the state park six miles south follows a rusted old Northern Pacific line that sought to unite isolated cattle towns in west-central Dakota Territory with the big city of Bismarck. A few miles south of here, the rails and ties disappear into the overgrowth of a grade that has long been abandoned, no longer making its way to its terminus. However, the railroad had laid claim to the first modern conquest of the upper Missouri River when it built the High Bridge across it in 1882, opening  wide the path from Minnesota to the Pacific. The bridge still stands on its original piers and receives use daily by trains hauling grain, oil, and coal east on the main line.

In order to protect the railroad outpost burgeoning in central Dakota, the US Army sent two companies from the 6th Infantry to build a post atop a bluff overlooking the ruins of a Mandan village. Shortly thereafter, the 7th Cavalry followed, lead by its infamous commander, Colonel (ahem, call him “General”) George Custer.

Running along the bluffs, the meadowlarks, pheasants and robins serenaded me, as they likely did the 7th Cavalry with Custer leading them west out of the Missouri River valley on a May morning 140 years ago. The men that marched west that May morning never returned to this valley, they found their way into the history books and infamy. I was not to bear such a fate, and for that I should have been thankful.

The entire outward run, the wind gusted over my right shoulder and across my face, but mostly behind me. As I reached Cavalry Square and began my about-face, I noticed the state and Union flags snapped straight out away from me. I was turning headlong into the wind.  This is North Dakota, buddy. Buck up.

I turned smack into the teeth of a 25 miles-per-hour wind and I was looking at 6 miles of this new adversary.  This is North Dakota, its windy here; you know that.  No big deal. There were hills and trees that would surely break some of the wind for me.  How bad can it be?

I found out how bad. And every time I figured the wind couldn’t get any harder or worse; it did. It seemed that every little turn in the path, change in grade, shelter promised by trees just served to square me up directly into the wind a little better.

I muttered something under my breath and into the wind.  The wind laughed back. This brought about another choice word or two. The wind blew them back into my face. The futile curses, complaints and mutterings continued on and on for miles until I reached my car.

Though done with my run, I felt that my senseless anger at the wind served only to create an occasion of sin for me. So I found myself in line for Confession on Saturday afternoon. The priest in the confessional pointed out that little things build into larger things, and how those mutterings underneath my breath are really small ingratitudes, which can build into larger ones.

Reflecting on his words in the church afterward, my first reaction was, what on earth could I ever be thankful about the wind for – especially a 25 mph one?  Then the reasons I should have been thankful flooded down. First off, that wind kept me cool both ways. I didn’t need to be cooled as much on the out route, but when I’ve run that route on warmer or calmer days, the hills have me sweating and bemoaning the heat.

Next, in an ironic way, that wind served as motivation for me. I felt horrible the last two miles of the run. For as peaceful as the first 6 miles were the first 4 back into the wind and hills were a killer on the mental aspect. Add to that the fact I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and all my thoughts were focused on just quit; just walk; slow down; all the while, the wind taunted me, I’m going to beat you. I didn’t want to be beat. Not by my aching stomach, and not by the North Dakota wind. I don’t think anyone would have sympathy for a guy who quit running because the wind was too strong. You live in North Dakota, buck up!

Finally, I’ve heard horror stories from friends who’ve run the Grandma’s half marathon. When its nice – its hot and you’d die for a wind. When its windy, its Gitchie Gummie-windy, with rollers and breakers and all. So on one hand, I may be longing for this very wind in a month when I’m running. On the other, I may be running into a Lake Superior gale and, if so, thank God I know what its like to run into a 25 mph wind!

As Taryn said last week, “we are told to give thanks to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), not just when the going is good.

I guess I should have been thankful after all.

As I walked out of the church, the wind caught the door and whipped it out of my hands. Instead of muttering under my breath, as I had earlier in the day, I just smiled.

Thanks for getting the door for me.” I chuckled and this time, the wind laughed with me.