Online at Yield and Overcome Since 2007 — Fighting the Good Fight In These Parts Since 2011

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Break: God's Doorkeepers

Ordinarily when I do one of these mini-reviews, I try to summarize the book as I offer my reflections on it. In the case of Joel Schorn's wonderful little book God's Doorkeepers, which presents the parallel biographies of three 20th century saints (though only one has been canonized to date), I'll let the summary on the back of the book explain the work for me:
I look on my whole life as giving, and I want to give and give until there is nothing left to give. -- Solanus Casey
Padre Pio and Andre Bessette would have readily agreed with Solanus Casey even though, on the surface, none of the three had much to give. All grew up in humble circumstances, each suffered poor health, and none achieved academic distinction or prominent positions in their religious orders. They were, to all appearances, the sort of people others overlook. 
Yet in their lifetimes, untold numbers found physical and interior healing through their ministries, and since their deaths their fame has grown enormously. Their secret was the secret of every successful Christian life: In complete humility, they abandoned themselves to the will of God.  
Bessette and Casey literally answered the door at their monasteries, and Pio was something of a spiritual doorkeeper in the confessional. God's Doorkeepers reveals how these miracle-workers, in spite of their lowly circumstances, inspired and continue to inspire those who seek a healing encounter with God.
 By way of commentary, I'll offer this observation: I am sometimes guilty of reading Scripture or accounts of the incredible accomplishments of the ancient saints and silently wondering, "Where is God today? Why does He not show his power and love today as he's done in the past?" I admit that I sometimes long for a sign (a parted sea, the lame walking, the dead raised) and when I don't witness these things...I don't lose faith, per say, but I wonder...

For awhile I thought this lack of the miraculous may be a backhanded blessing, since Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe." And while that may be the case, I see now that it is also a general lack of awareness, a spiritual (and historical) blindness on my part. I read this book quickly, captivated by the stories of three humble, broken, and at various points, outcast men -- all three of whom lived in the 20th century; two during my parent's lifetime and one in our neck of the woods -- who healed thousands spiritually and, yes, physically; who were conduits of God's love, grace, and mercy, and who (we might say, though they never would) worked miracles. There are people still alive today who encountered these men and can attest to what they did while on this earth. Too few of us know about them -- and even fewer give credence to their stories, although we will live by countless less-well-attested "truths."

God is active among us, even now. And if we know this -- really know it -- and act accordingly, what expectations are too great?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Break: The Relative
Un-Importance of Being Earnest

Jodi and I used to watch a lot of Seinfeld. In relatively small doses, the show struck us as amusing to flat-out hilarious, although occasionally there was an episode that made us cringe or second-guess our choice of entertainment.

When the series finale rolled around, we were there with much of the rest of the country to see how it all would end. The last joke, it turned out, was on us: using courtroom testimony as the vehicle, the final episode chronicled, back-to-back-to-back, what rotten, superficial human beings Jerry and the gang were during the run of the series, then ended with a joke about how they'd already had the final conversation before. Jodi and I looked at each other with the grim realization that we had wasted a tremendous amount of time over the previous several years, to no redeeming end.

Like Seinfeld, Oscar  Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest seems to me to be adamantly about nothing. Of course, like the TV show, the play has to be about something, but it sets the bar so low that it is essentially a three-act setup to a single joke, the punchline of which is a pun. Like a good sitcom episode, it is funny and short. (I read it in an evening.) I would like to say it's witty, but I'm not sure it's clever enough for that. It seems to me to be an exercise in style, primarily, with little substance beneath it.

Several years ago now, I read Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. That is a great story, and proof enough  in my book that Wilde was a great writer. At the time, I wrote, "It's a great story full of people you can't stand, living in a world of false beauty. … Part of the genius of this book is the sinking feeling that there really are people like these, and we may even know some of them." That line holds true for Earnest, except the word "great" and the phrase "of the genius." While I don't regret reading it (especially given its brevity), I sincerely wish there would have been more to it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A New Calling

Blogger's Note: For those few of you who still follow this blog and don't attend St. Michael Catholic Church, the article below was published at our pastor's request as a self-introduction to the community in last weekend's parish bulletin.

As of this week, I have been your new faith formation director for one month. The transition feels fresher than that, and I feel just as green, in many ways, as on the first day in the office. As I’ve said more than once, it’s like I’m a first-time parent again: like I have been entrusted with something precious and fragile and sent home with lots of advice and no clear idea of what to expect next.

Okay, it’s not as bad as all that. My wife Jodi and I have been parishioners here for 11 years now; two of our children (Trevor and Lily) have been born and baptized here, and our older kids (Brendan, Gabe, and Emma) have been altar servers and active in the youth group and other activities. Jodi and I were youth leaders at our previous parish—St. Michael’s in Remus, Michigan—and have been LIFT catechists, liturgical ministers, Natural Family Planning and God’s Plan For a Joy-Filled Marriage witnesses, and CRHP witnesses here. I also served on the Faith Formation Advisory Committee during the transition to LIFT, so I understand what we’re trying to accomplish and know how hard Carol and Kathy have worked over the years to build our core program.

Nevertheless, this is a big shift for me. I was baptized in the Faith but not raised in it, and I became a husband and father before I became a confirmed and practicing Catholic. Until last month, I had spent my entire professional career in journalism and communications. Jodi and I have talked for several years about the possibility of me working for the Church someday, but never imagined the call would come this soon. And it is a call. This past Monday’s reading from the prophet Hosea described the Lord leading His people to a desert place and speaking to their heart—and professionally, this past year was desolate and lonely, until former colleagues, friends, and family all began to urge me to pray and to think about what I was being called to do.

I prayed. I did my best to listen. And I’m here…now what?

We visited some of our former youth group “kids” in Michigan earlier this month, one of whom was recently featured in the Diocese of Grand Rapids magazine for her beautiful pro-life witness. In the article, Natalie jokes about how much she could accomplish if God would just give her a clear to-do list. Instead she—and we—are called into a relationship and an ongoing conversation with God, in which we get to know Him day by day, enabling us to better hear, understand, and respond to His desires for us.

That’s where I find myself now. We have a beautiful parish and community, faith-filled priests, strong core programs, devout and dedicated catechists, and a rookie faith-formation director who is on the job, but still praying and listening. We have a firm foundation and so much potential—and I look forward to hearing from and working with you as we continue to become a people living for Christ.