The past and present thoughts of a Catholic husband, father, and fledgling faith formation director at St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, Minnesota

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Blogger's Note: Another past writing, from 2001. This is one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction I ever wrote, and came back to my mind following this recent post from Prairie Father. In case you are wondering, Fr. Tyler is, in fact, the Tyler mentioned below. Finally, I'm no cowboy. If my terminology is imprecise or inaccurate, forgive me. If it is offensive to cowboys, correct me in the comments!

The city girl behind the counter called it a marking. She wore Doc Marten sandals and just last week mistook a bird’s call for approaching cattle. Drugstore cowgirl, with her chopped blonde hair tucked beneath a curled straw hat, more Junior Brown than Tom Mix. She wants a stampede string to keep it in place should she need to chase cattle at the “marking,” and I’m smiling at the thought of her sprinting in her sandals through knee-high grass behind some rangy Angus cow, her hat tied tight beneath her chin.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thomas and Me

Blogger's Note: What follows is as close as I've come to a mystical experience. Because of this, I don't doubt the charismatic side of our faith as much as some -- but also, I recognize more fully that it is extremely hard to know what's going on in another's mind, heart, and soul. I wrote this back in 2003, shortly after moving to Minnesota and relatively early in my return to the Church-- before my conversion, in many ways. As such, it is a glimpse into an immature prayer life that was blessed with a brief but up-close encounter with God's love. I've made two small edits for clarity's sake. I would write this differently today, but it is as accurate as it can be. 

Thomas was a lucky man.

Imagine sharing your life with Christ, in the flesh. Experiencing the gospels firsthand. Hearing the people talk of the healer, the prophet, the man who overturned tables in the temple — your friend. Imagine seeing miracles not just happen, but be performed by someone you broke bread with.

Thomas was lucky — not only to have known Jesus personally, but also to have missed His first appearance to the disciples. Imagine — Thomas comes back from wherever he’s been, and his friends are grabbing his robes, spinning him around, each trying to explain over the others that Jesus, three days dead, had come to see them. Had breathed on them. Now, Thomas is no fool — he knows his Lord was flesh and blood, and saw Him crucified. He knows that, despite Christ’s miraculous powers, he didn’t make it off that tree alive, and he can see nine ways to Sunday how somebody pretending to be a risen Christ could really mess things up good for the disciples, for the Jews, for the Romans, everybody.

So he puts up both hands, looks at his brothers and says, “I’ll believe it when I see it. No — as a matter of fact, I’ll believe it when I can examine the holes in His holy hands and feet. When I can stick my hand in His side.”

Imagine the audacity! The disciples are staring at Thomas in open-mouthed disbelief: After all you’ve seen, and all we’ve told you — after all we’ve been through together — you won’t believe until you’ve pierced Him again with your own hands?

Thomas glares resolutely around the room, then stalks out again.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Flitter-Flutter of Tiny Wings

For the past several days, we've had just two kids at home, Trevor and Lily. The elder three were at Extreme Faith Camp, Brendan as a leader, Gabe as a member of the prayer team, and Rose as a camper. Their return, I think, was bittersweet for the younger ones -- although bored and (allegedly) overworked at points, they enjoyed having Mom's and Dad's full attention. Lily got in trouble for interrupting far less, because there was far less to interrupt. And Trev got to go to Culver's and Jurassic World with just Jodi and me.

We parents, on the other hand, missed our teens. It took only a day or so for me to stop and calculate that we are just six years from potentially being a permanent four-person household, and eight years from Lily being alone with us, At some point unmarked in the past, the pitter-patter of tiny feet was drowned out by the flitter-flutter of tiny wings as the fledglings prepare to leave the nest.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Are We There Yet?

Gabe, napping in the minivan...
Back in my newspaper days, I wrote a column each Tuesday called “Almost There.” My bride and I were young parents of two preschool boys at that time, so “Almost there!” was a constant refrain wherever we went. But the name also captured the sense that we were on the verge of putting it all together—of making sense of marriage and family life, and of my newfound faith and fledgling career as a writer.

That was more than 15 years ago, and that sense has never left. The novelty of feeling so close to understanding wore off years ago, however—as a result, I am prone to asking our Lord like the spiritual child that I am: “Are we there yet?”

Friday, May 29, 2015

LIFT Links: Summer Break Edition

Catamaran at Camp Lebanon, Summer 2014
Today was the final parish school Mass of the year, in which Fr. Richards and Fr. Nathan collaborated on the homily/skit to underscore to the students that we do not take a vacation from God. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few ideas to keep growing in faith during these months of summer leisure.

The Basics
  • Make Sunday Mass a priority all summer long. Especially for those of us who like to escape to the cabin or lake, or who plan trips during the summer months, it can be tempting to skip out on Mass, or to plan to attend the last possible weekend Mass and miss accidentally or arrive late, hungry, harried, and distracted. But Mass and the Eucharist are central to our Catholic faith -- the closest encounter with Christ and the most powerful prayer we can offer! Wherever you are headed, take time to find a Catholic Church along the way and make sure you make it to Saturday evening or Sunday Mass. (We once stopped at the Catholic Church in St. Ignace on the way back from Michigan, and the kids were invited by the priest to help with the May Crowning of Mary!) If you have kids, let them look online and help you pick which church you attend, then check out the stained glass, statues, Stations of the Cross, and such -- and see what you can learn about that parish's patron saint.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Sacraments Keep Us Catholic

“At last the most wonderful day of my life arrived, and I can remember every tiny detail of those heavenly hours … How lovely it was, that first kiss of Jesus in my heart—it was truly a kiss of love.” – St. Therese of Lisieux, describing her first Holy Communion

Last month I was blessed to witness nearly 140 young people from our parish and school receiving their first Holy Communion. They were, by and large, reverent and excited—and those I spoke with personally understood at least in concept that they were receiving Jesus’s Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. I hope at least a few of them remember the day with the same deep joy and devotion as St. Therese expresses above.  I’m almost certain, unfortunately, that a few have not been back.

Our approach to preparing children for First Confession and First Communion in recent years has increasingly fallen on their parents. In one sense, this is as it should be: the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that, through marriage, “parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children” and “should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith.”