In transit with Our Lady

In transit with Our Lady

When I ride the metro by myself, I like to pray the rosary. If I time it right, I can get three decades in on the train itself, and two on the walk to or from the metro station. If I don’t time it right, or start to daydream, or lose my place, I end up at work or at home mid-conversation with Our Lady. Sometimes there’s a lot to say, and sometimes it’s more of a companionable silence. There are times when I envy some of our more charismatic Christian brothers and sisters the ability to craft beautiful extemporaneous prayers, to “freestyle.” It often makes me uneasy if someone asks me to say grace or offer a special intention. Sure, part of it is probably the inherited Catholic cultural discomfort of openly discussing religious feelings, but that’s not all there is to it. I sometimes think that finding the right words takes away from the beating heart of the conversation. Though it would shock the teachers who joylessly doled out countless glow-in-the-dark rosaries in elementary school CCD to me and my bored classmates, I’ve come to love the “formulaic” prayers of our faith. The other day, I was cleaning out those odd corners of my room where things seem to get hastily stashed and quickly forgotten about, when I found the rosary I used in college. I spotted the little soft blue bag covered in dust and I misted over a bit. I was so happy. Though you can ask Our Lady’s intercession as effectively on borrowed plastic beads as you can on pearls, I’m of the opinion...
How Are We Called to Be Holy?

How Are We Called to Be Holy?

I had a crisis of faith over the past few weeks. I was not questioning any points of doctrine or doubting God and His existence, but I was doubting whether or not I, as a middle class American with so many comforts, could ever really live life of heroic virtue. The doubt came from a combination of circumstances, the first being the bleakness of a winter that has no end in sight, the second being the deaths of a number of people close to me or close to those I know, the third being considering the lives of a couple of saints through film. The winter is self-explanatory. It is getting pretty long here in Minnesota, even though it has been mild compared to last winter. But when the 20s seem warm, you know you have a winter problem. The glumness of winter wears a person down, and opens one up for doubts. Further, Lent is looming on the horizon and as I think about what to do for Lent, all of my faults and tendencies towards sin stare up accusingly at me. Then there are those who have died. The first was a neighbor, an elderly man of Christian faith, leaving behind his kind widow. They have been great neighbors, and for my children he is the first person that they knew personally to pass away. They pray for his soul daily, just as they prayed for him to overcome his cancer daily. The second was the father of a good friend. This also affected my kids, since he is the grandfather of some of their friends. The...
Learning Virtue From Jane Austen

Learning Virtue From Jane Austen

Every couple of years (usually during pregnancies) I pull out our tattered volume of the complete works of Jane Austen and read it from cover to cover. And with each reread of her novels, I discover more about how she saw human nature. This past reading I was struck with her exploration of her characters’ natural inclinations. We all have them, an inclination to certain sins like sloth, gluttony, selfishness, or over-indulging various pleasures. But we also have inclinations to good things. Some of us are more inclined to quiet prayer, while others are inclined to a long run, and others to friendliness. And while we are to spend our lives overcoming our weaknesses, we do so with the aid of our good inclinations. In Austen we see her heroines and heroes overcoming their natural weaknesses, and her villains succumbing to them. The villains of her stories, such as Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice or Mr. Crawford in Mansfield Park, have no guidance or inclination to seek virtue, and often they are influenced by others with the same weaknesses to lead a life of vice. A character that is inclined to self-indulgence often has been raised by someone of the same character or been spoiled in their youth by a well-meaning adult. Those who overcome their weaknesses, such as Emma in Emma and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, are encouraged to do so by a good upbringing or by another character who is self-aware enough to see the need to overcome weakness. In Austen we see these good influences in the forms of a mentor or of a romantic interest who sees...
The Christian life… on ice!

The Christian life… on ice!

I’m an avid figure-skater, but not a very skilled one. I really took to skating while I was in Canada, because, let’s be honest: your outdoor exercise options are rather limited in a place that is frozen nine months a year. But I relished the challenge, the exhilaration, the grace, and, well… lots of falling down and the occasional trip to the frontier emergency room to stitch up the damage done by surgically-sharp new blades and a poorly-executed one-foot spin (“I think your finger is still attached, because it looks like the ligament is only partially severed.”—actual verbatim physician quote). It’s plenty enjoyable to skate around on the outdoor rink somebody made by hosing down the frozen ground in the park, of course, but when I returned to the US last year, I decided to be a little more intentional about it. I signed up for some figure-skating lessons at the local rink. And after a year of figure skating, I’ve noticed that learning to ice-skate and pursuing the Christian vocation have a lot in common. To be fair, they both involve hard falls and sharp edges, and tough lessons in humility (those 14-year-olds make it look so easy). But it’s a little more than that. Skating, as well as the Christian life, starts with limiting one’s own freedom. Ice has certain immutable properties, and figure skates are designed accordingly. If you respect the fact that your elegant, thin blades are meant to go forwards and backwards on a curve, they work beautifully. But if you fight the physics of their design, well, you simply aren’t going to win....
The God of New Beginnings

The God of New Beginnings

As I write this post I am standing on the porch of a log cabin in Oklahoma. I am gazing a a beautiful and brilliant sun slowly making her rapid descent below the horizon. As I watch this I am reminded of two things. First, there will, in all likelihood be a tomorrow. Second, that tomorrow is a gift from God as a sort of promissory note on the new beginning He offers every day. With a new year just days away, we can take hope in that new beginning, in all the new beginnings Our Blessed Lord offers us. 2014 may have been a phenomenal year for you. for me, there were ups and downs. I had a new level of my spine fused together. I also finished the second Masters degree. I lost a dear friend at work to cancer. I also made new friends. I spent another 365 days with my beautiful wife and amazing children. And I saw goodness, beauty, and true love in so many places. A new beginning is not always a reset. Sometimes, it is simply an opportunity to be renewed. Not just when we turn the page of the calendar, but every moment of our lives through the sacraments our gracious God renews us. This time off the grid at this beautiful place has given me the chance to experience that renewal. I am excited for my new beginning! May God renew and bless each of you abundantly in his merciful love in...
No room at the inn

No room at the inn

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this Advent is that there was no room at the inn. Allow me to explain. It’s all too easy to take the uncertainty (and frankly, the humor) out of the Nativity story. Mary’s a young, unwed mom-to-be whose first reaction when faced with the central role in the history of man’s salvation is essentially “I know how babies are made, and I’m pretty sure I can’t be pregnant.” Joseph thinks there’s some funny business going on until he’s visited in a dream by an angel who convinces him that his fiancée is actually pregnant with the Word Incarnate. And can you imagine that conversation when Mary says “I don’t mean to scare you, but I’m going to give birth to the Son of God” and Joe says “…I know.”? Then, they’re just trying to do the right thing, to go be counted for tax purposes, and they end up in Bethlehem with nowhere to stay the night. I bet that Joseph probably wanted nothing more than to find a nice bed for his pregnant wife. He did his best, but he came up short. Can you imagine how badly he must have felt? If you think about it, it’s all rather funny. We know how the story ends. They certainly didn’t! But isn’t that how life is? Not at all how you planned it, not always meeting expectations, so often a case of the best laid plans going amiss, often painfully humorous in retrospect. But God doesn’t make mistakes. The plan didn’t go amiss.  From the beginning of the universe, Our...