“He’s whole.” The story of Ernie Johnson

Everything I try to express in this Blog is in one way or another narrated in this extraordinary 23 minute ESPN story.

http://www.espn.com/watch/player?id=18658899&lang=en

OR
http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=18658899

The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring labourers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history. — St. John Paul II

Saved by a Stick

Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you are called at. Whatever you do. It’s about confidence, not arrogance. — Bob Dillon

My grandfather wrote me in a letter, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s not what you make, it’s who you become in the making. It’s not about getting recognized for what you’ve done, it’s recognizing what you’ve done you did for the right reason. And the right reason is always the Almighty and your fellow man. The rest is incidental.”

“Being best at it” is to strive to do each thing you do with full intention, as if each action were the first, last and only thing you will ever do. Living as if now was all your legacy would be in time, all your name would signify in eternity. To treat each encounter as defining, each next as a new beginning, as the whole present in the part. For God does not treat any moment as insignificant, since He is wholly present to each moment, loving with equally infinite intensity.

Back when my daughter Catherine was 4 years old, I came home from work one day feeling defeated and tired, and not prepared to patiently interact with my children. I wanted to stare at a blank wall that did not talk back, and sip a Blue Moon.

As I got out of my car and started toward the front door, I noticed Catherine was playing over by the tree line. When she caught sight of me, she ran excitedly toward me with a stick in hand and shouted, “Daddy look! A stick! A stick!” I mumbled something and hoped she’d go back to her solitary play. But she persisted, “No! No! Look at the stick!” As I looked, she pointed to little red mites running in and out of the cracks in the stick. She pulled me with her to the ground, and we blanked the whole world out to examine this microcosm together.

In a matter of seconds my whole disposition changed, the present presided over both past and future, and my regrets and worries were forgotten amid the lilies of her field.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. — Isaiah 11:6

In that moment, Catherine’s love seized me, and I was prepared to worthily receive the sacrament of the present moment. It is in such moments that the Kingdom Come, comes. More than anyone in the world, my children have taught me how to discover my vocation in the moment. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

 

Messy Magnanimity

God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions. ― Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Why? I, for one, would prefer ideas. But ideas alone remain in the head, allowing us to become spectators of Truth. Acquiring Truth through the brambles of “pains and contradictions” frees us to choose it or reject it, to pay a price for it and so revere it and love it, whence Truth enters the heart. There knowledge gained transforms, metabolizing ideas into wisdom and virtue, making us not simply knowledgeable but magnanimous, “great souled.”

A friend of mine was going through a really rough patch in work, and spoke to his Confessor about his woes. The priest gave him advice that, he said, was bitter to the taste, but sweet in giving him a sense of freedom. I wrote my own thoughts that night in my journal, reflecting on the priest’s advice. Here’s part of what I said:

You have a real choice to discern. Learn to embrace the cross in your work as a path to sanctity, and stop kicking against the goads, or humbly acknowledge your limits and try to find another job. But you can’t have it both ways. To live in a constant state of dissatisfaction, complaining endlessly that God is not showing you His will is a dead end you’ll never exit from.

If you choose to leave, know the cross awaits you wherever you go next. Have no illusions. But also know He is there bearing that cross already for you. Realize also that if you choose to stay and embrace the cross you shoulder now, while it won’t necessarily make things any easier, it will make you a saint. The key to both? Knowing His will is always found entirely present in every moment, regardless. We’re only tasked with embracing the cross in trust and love, not with resolving every problem.

And “embrace” doesn’t mean you just grit your teeth and bear it Stoically, stupidly. It means finding grace in each moment, and then using your graced wit to discover ways of creatively and courageously maximizing the good and minimizing evil. Then each Sunday, unload on the Altar the whole unruly, stinky batch of dough you’ve kneaded, and give a hearty consent for its consecration by the Spirit in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mess.

Then meditate when you receive Holy Communion on the truth that, in that consecrated Host, you’ve already received the whole Answer to your every cry and plea…

A Lent of Eloquent Silence

Praise no one before he speaks,
for it is then that people are tested. — Sirach 27:7

Every Lent calls for a fasting from words. Not simply to make them fewer, but to make them worthier of our dignity and His Majesty.

This Lent, more silence for the mouth, the ears, the phone, the keyboard. Fewer words, spoken with more consideration and care, more thought and deliberation, more reflection and repentance. Words that emerge from a place of depth, and not from the swampy shallows of superficiality. Words that tremble in the presence of their Creator, the Word through whom all things were made, He who once said to us, “on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12:36).

Be silent, or say something better than silence.

This Lent, choose to “let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). This Lent, turn your words upward more often than outward. It’s so easy to hurl from the tongue — like stones — criticisms at those who have failed, who have fallen short. But it’s much harder to rouse the courage to address the One whose permission allowed them to fall, only so you might manifest His mercy and run to their aid, pleading to Him their cause.

For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. — Luke 6:38

When God formed us in His image, He consecrated our tongue for speech to bless the world with life-giving truth, beauty, goodness, mercy. But by our words, we chose to desecrate the earth with the curse of merciless death. In His mercy, God has now entrusted each of us with a noble calling to bless those who curse and quench the fiery darts of the Enemy. Indeed,

the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell … With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this ought not to be so. — James 3:5-10

This Lent, give heaven your tongue to re-consecrate the world.

You fill my heart with your absence

Who are you, that you fill my heart with your absence?
Who fill the world with your absence? — Pär Lagerkvist

I was speaking with a woman who shared with me her marital struggles, and she said something that captured powerfully a truth:

I feel [my husband and I] have forgotten why we married. Work, children, our own lives intervened and we lost sight of what made us choose each other. My fear is that one of us will find that answer somewhere else.

When I asked her what made her aware of their crisis, she said, “When he came home after a week away, and I realized I never even missed him. That feeling of emptiness frightened me.”

In a relationship of love, absence evokes longing. In the death of love, absence is apathy. This is what the spiritual tradition calls acedia, a listless loss of desire for the good, a loss of resolve to keep promises, as loss of will to struggle for love.

Love is free in its offer, but costly in its reception. Love requires sleepless attentiveness, labor, sacrifice, cultivation, planning, guarding, defending. Yes, there are times we can (and must) rest in the beauty, joy and pleasure of love, but only after six days of work have nurtured those fruits.

If we take for granted the love God has given us, that love granted us “will be taken away and given to a people that produces the fruits” (Matt. 21:43).

Love is not ours to take, squander and cast away. Love is a gift that belongs properly to God alone, for God is love. He entrusts it to us afresh each day, as first in the beginning in the Garden, to see if this time we might — only with His grace — cultivate the life-giving fruits of enduring love that last on into eternity.

Or not.

At the end of my conversation with that woman, I said, “You know that empty feeling you had when your husband came home? I believe that was a gift from God. The gift of emptiness that, more like a stomach than a glass, reminds you you are starving. Even when the feast is right in front of you. Choose the feast…”

Give to everyone who asks of you. — Luke 6:30

Give to everyone who asks of you. — Luke 6:30

When our first son, Michael, was born, my paternal grandfather wrote my wife and me a letter with his advice on parenting. It is a treasure. Among his many insights, this one leapt out with particular power:

Tommy, anyone who tells you you “become a father” when your child is born is a liar. You don’t become a father, your child rips fatherhood out of you! With every cry and smile, every success and tragedy your children will make you into someone you never were. They will call out of you the best you have to offer them, and more…

That was 22 years ago, and the truth of his words not only reveal the deeper meaning of fatherhood and motherhood, but of life. Of vocation. Having reflected on his words endlessly these years, I can see so clearly that every divine vocation is, in its deepest structure, a call to “give to everyone who asks of you” in the parameters and limits established by your calling.

In my marriage, our covenant promise binds me to my wife’s “asking” for absolute fidelity, honor, love. As a father and mother, our having said “yes” to accepting the gift of children binds us to our children’s “asking” — by rejoicing in their coming-to-be, feeding them, giving them drink, clothing them, tending to them in sickness, seeking them out when they run away, forgiving them, teaching them, suffering for them, dying for them. In a word, by becoming God-like to them.

Someone said to me the other day after describing a mess of relationships and circumstances in their professional and personal life, “I don’t know what God is asking of me.” I responded with the St. Benedict quote I love so much, “Age quod agis, ‘Do what you are doing.’ God’s voice is all around you, eloquent and clear, and the Gospel is your Rosetta Stone…”

Well, yes, trying to discern what particular direction to go here and there, what job to take, what state of life to enter, what prudential judgment to make in a project is all important. But vastly more important is to confront every moment, in the ambiguous confines of every mess and muddle, with a will to Christ-love. To choose in each moment to be as honest, just, patient, courageous, forgiving, kind, merciful as you can. Especially when others are not. Then repent for the ways you inevitably will fail, knowing even that gets taken up into God’s grand design as precious building material.

Live with that End in mind, and the present becomes pregnant with possibility.

My deepest calling is to hear in every circumstance a Voice asking: “I am hungry, feed me. I am thirsty, give me drink. I am in prison, be with me. I hate you, love me. I sinned against you, forgive me. I lied to you, lead me to truth. I am irritating, be patient with me. I am irresponsible, correct me. I am ignorant, teach me. I am in chains, liberate me. I am un-ideal, deal with me.”

While living in the dark, don’t curse, light a candle, even if it seems futile.

The only absolute certitude we can have in doing God’s will is to love in our place, to trust that, regardless of how Egypt-like or Calvary-like our circumstances, there is found God’s will to respond with the Heart of Christ, leaving the uncontrollable rest to the providence of God who raises from every ugly catastrophe “offered up” a beautiful new world.

A dear friend of mine who has had a life of many sorrows once said to me, when I commented on how she never ever complains, “Why complain? No one listens anyway. [we laughed] But God, I complain to God plenty. Because He can actually do something about it. No, He will do something about it. Not usually the way I tell Him, but He knows best. What does the Holy Scripture say? ‘Trust in God and He will act.’ I complain, then I trust. But if I ever make it to heaven, I have a few questions…”