Tag Archives: Saint Paul

The Sacrifices of Fatherhood

24 Sep Saint Joseph with Infant Jesus - Guido Reni

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 4.14.30 PM

   Today, I am a lucky man. Not because I have a lovely wife, a son, and enough work to support them. Those are all blessings, but last night I slept for seven straight hours. I closed my eyes at 11:00 PM and did not open them until 6:00 AM. I have not enjoyed such a peaceful slumber since June 1st of this year, the day my son was born. Parenthood requires a lot more sacrifice than a few hours of sleep, though, but it is all worth it for numerous reasons. For one thing, being a parent makes you a better person by promoting Christ-like humility, for it requires a constant emptying of one’s self (Philippians 2:5-8).

The son that keeps me up at night is not actually my first child, only my first-born child. In February of 2012, my wife miscarried. We did nothing to cause this child’s death, but it happened anyway. We wanted control, but had none. We were excited to welcome this new child by losing sleep, spending less money on luxury, and diminishing our social lives, but we never got the chance to empty ourselves in such a manner. Rather, we faced the difficult task of accepting our loss. Like so many couples, we know now that we are not immune to tragedy, and that what happens is not entirely up to us.

This time, we got what we wanted. We have a beautiful, healthy little boy with blue eyes, lots of hair, and a propensity to give people the stink eye. We also have a new lifestyle as parents that requires a lot of sacrifice. The usual sacrifices a parent must make are conducive to the family’s material welfare, but there is more to parenting than raising a healthy child. As a father, it is my duty to be a spiritual guide to my son. Every sane father would admit to being horribly under qualified for this job, but we have to do it anyway. We must empty ourselves to Christ through obedience, thus becoming “children of God” so that our children may know Him (Phil 2:15).

It is worth noting that parenting is not all about the child. People often forget that parents need attention, too. Mothers must help fathers, and fathers must help mothers. If the parents don’t take care of each other’s material and spiritual needs, the family will suffer. I want my family to be healthy and safe, but I also want everyone to know and love Christ. In order to help them along, I need to know, love, and serve Christ. As a boy, Karol Wojtyla learned to pray by watching his father. Something as simple as witnessing his father in prayer helped young Karol grow up to be a child of God in a “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15). My greatest joy would be knowing that I helped bring my family to Christ.


– Ian Skemp


From the Midwest to Big Apple

15 Jul Midwest Peace

Daydreams dancing in my head, a rainstorm of heels tapping the sidewalk, the power of the subway passing. I dreamt of the artists of the Lower East Side, the rooftops of East Harlem, the aristocrats of the Upper East. I desired to move into that world, the world where you swim with art, culture and lyrics. I was moving to New York City, and I was moving there with dreams.

The Big Apple  Friday at rush hour, arriving at Penn Station, duffle bag in hand, I stood in a sea of people who moved, dancing with one another, avoiding collisions with wisdom and alertness. Stumbling and toppling, I took refuge in a corner of the station to observe, immediately facing the reality of the city I painted so whimsically in my mind. Run over by high heels and swatted with briefcases, I watched, awakened.

With a year behind me now, I recently climbed the subway stairs with a learned confidence, walking with the wisdom and alertness that I so envied in the Penn Station crowd I had first encountered. A phrase that has visited me often repeated itself in my mind, “I can’t believe I live in New York.”

With this awe lingering, I left the city to visit my new nephew in the Twin Cities. While sharing a beer and dinner in the peace that the Midwest seems always to provide, my brother-in-law inquired, “How is it living in New York City?” Looking up I was brought back to that new moment of confidence, and I realized the dreams I had thought would be life here had disappeared. It is not jadedness that I have found, it is a new wonder. It is not until the projection of ideas for our future are surrendered that we truly encounter the Divine.

While I stood in awe that I had moved to the City, there was a fight between expectation and reality. I had expected to encounter something different, something separate from myself. But standing on the city’s corner, I encountered my true self. For wherever we run, for whatever dream we are going towards and conflict we are running from, there comes a moment where we are asked to encounter reality. This wonder that I was so adamantly in search of was always with me, it was the wonder that comes with the realization that this is all given, all given to us by Christ to explore and encounter. Now, I am falling into a new dream, a dream of the present where beauty is continually given with my surrender.

– Colleen Pesci

Baseball as Partaking in the Sacred

9 Jul

Baseball. The American past time. The All-American sport. The sport I knew nothing about until I had a son. The sport I didn’t even know my husband cared about before we had a son. It all began one fateful evening when our son, who was about 15 months old at the time, dragged our coffee table book about the history of baseball to his Dada and insisted they look at it together.

Baseball as Partaking in the Sacred - Nell Alt

Fast forward a few years to our three year old. It’s a sacred thing, now, the ritual of listening to the game on the radio every day, of putting on my brother’s 25-year-old Twins striped shirt. It has purpose, meaning, an intellectual impact as well as emotional. When they lose, he is disheartened—but vows they’ll win the next game. When they triumph, it is as personal as the blueberries in his oatmeal that are not for his little sister.

I see that same rapt attention at the baseball game at Mass, too. His studied expression when he slowly mimes the pitch, or when he pretends to be incensing the altar. His shrieks of delight when Dozier hits a home run, his eager and earnest whispers when our pastor holds up the Blessed Sacrament and says “Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum [This is My Body].”
What is this correlation between baseball and the sacred?

Both boast fascinating and vivid characters: a myriad of rollicking players from Babe Ruth to Dizzy Dean, Joe Mauer to Sam Deduno; Jesus and his burly crew of apostles, Saint John Berchmans who died as a young altar boy to Saint Stephen the first martyr who was stoned to death. Both capture the essence and imagination of his identity: he is a baseball player who will someday be an altar boy when he gets bigger and bigger {actual quote}. He loves both so fiercely. First it’s baseball, then it’s church. Good altar boys have to train as baseball players {another zinger from the 3 year old}.

When one thing, in this instance baseball, helps lead a little mind to something truly eternal and infinite, we simply have to be grateful as parents. I had scoffed at parents who let their children wear sports jerseys as TACKY! UNCULTURED!—and now he is one of them! He loves baseball, he loves being Catholic, and somehow the one leads into the other in a sacred and mysterious way. I’ll take it. So take me out to the ball game, and let’s hope the Twins win big time this year. I’ll even drink to that.

-Nell Alt

Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls

18 May Catholic Tattoo - The Heart of the Matter

Saturday night, downtown Minneapolis is one big Minnesotan hot dish. You are guaranteed to see all sorts of things, from the bachelorette party walking bar to bar, and “that one girl who just shouldn’t have worn that,” to the 55 year old couple leaving the Orpheum all dressed up, to the mentally ill elderly man trying to feed his dog newspaper.

Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls - Kari Elsen - The Heart of the Matter

What would this scene look like in Heaven? What we are is much more than what we can see with our eyes; each body walking the streets has within it a soul. We are more than our blond highlights and our “Semper Fi” tattoo, so how do we embrace the fact that we are both body and soul? The truth is that our body is mortal, but our soul is immortal, and what we do with our body affects our soul. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united…Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.” This being that both body and soul are good and we need both!

We are physical people; we learn through our five senses and do what we can to “feel good.” Our Catholic faith recognizes this, and this is why we can experience God through the smells of incense, the feeling of chrism oil on our heads, and the taste of the Eucharist. What we do with our bodies affects our souls; we drink too much: we affect our soul, we are promiscuous: we affect our souls. Because we are physical beings, the sins of the flesh are sometimes the hardest to gain control of. In reconciliation we use our bodies to speak words out loud so God can purify our souls, and in this sacrament we experience God’s forgiveness in a physical, bodily manner as well as on the level of the soul.

The next time you find yourself critiquing yourself or others based on the state of the body; remember that you are much more than your body: you are an embodied soul, that is, a soul within a body. Go to reconciliation, gain some new perspective. Because a clean soul is so much more beautiful than the perfected body and you may just find that the state of your soul can radiate more beauty than you could ever know.

– Kari Elsen

Prayer for a Man’s Man

17 Apr Prayer for Men - Isaac Huss

The taste of orange juice right after you brushed your teeth. The sound of nails scratching a chalkboard. The feeling of getting kicked square in the crotch. All are things I’d sometimes prefer to spending an extended period of time in prayer. Okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the point. Prayer is often hard, really hard. From what I can tell, my struggles with prayer are pretty representative of what you might call a normal dude in America today. Men aren’t exactly pounding down the doors of the local parish church nowadays. The fact is, there are millions of things men would rather do than sit down and pray. I’m not saying men don’t want to pray or don’t understand the importance of prayer, although there are certainly plenty in both camps. I’m just saying the average Joe has a hard time with prayer in general, even if he would really actually like to pray.

Prayer for a Man's Man - Isaac Huss

When I was confirmed, I was told to ask God for a gift of the Holy Spirit. When piety was described to me as essentially a desire for doing holy things, I thought, “Sign me up! I’d love to actually enjoy going to Mass.” When the rubber hit the road, kneeling down and praying was not attractive to me at all. Ever. In hindsight, I was probably a wee bit naive about what it meant to receive the gift of piety. In other words, “Sure, God, I’ll pray, but what will I get out of it? Can you make it fun and exciting? Or at least a little bit enjoyable? Hell, I’d settle for tolerable! Oh, and sorry for swearing. Amen.”

Here’s the thing about prayer: it’s the exact opposite of self-centered. Prayer is a turning from self to God. It’s not self-seeking, it’s God-seeking. Not self-serving, but God-serving. Here’s where man’s struggle to pray becomes refreshingly counter-intuitive: when a man sits in prayer, whether it’s in Mass or by himself, and he starts to feel that familiar feeling of I’d-rather-be-doing-anything-else, that’s not him failing at prayer. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means he’s succeeding and the prayer is doing its work. Or, more properly speaking, God is doing His work.

When a weightlifter feels the burn while bench pressing, he doesn’t assume he’s failed, he realizes that the lifting is pushing him to his limits and making him stronger. Similarly, when we struggle in prayer, we are actually succeeding–pushing our spiritual capacity to its limit and making our love for God stronger. The goal of benching is not perfect form but a strong body. The goal of prayer is not perfect prayer, but love of God. I’m not saying that prayer can’t possibly be enjoyable or that the only way we grow in holiness is by gritting our teeth. I am saying that the measure of holiness does not necessarily mean that you’d rather participate in a 3-hour Latin high mass than watch the Vikings, or that a holy hour miraculously seems so much more appealing than a happy hour. Instead, holiness just might mean that you’d rather be doing something else, but you choose to pray anyway.

-Isaac Huss

The Freedom to Follow Christ

4 Apr The Freedom to Follow Christ - Catherine Huss

   I have been to more talks and read more books than I can remember about how non-Catholics (and non-practicing Catholics for that matter) find religion to be restrictive and oppressive, and that not following any religious teaching is freeing. Catholic authors and speakers counter this assertion with a different one: that in reality, following Christ brings you “true freedom.”

The Freedom to Follow Christ - Catherine Huss

The Calling of the Twelve John Mosiman

For most of my life I never understood that assertion. How could having to follow rules, strict rules, that forbid you to engage in fun, enjoyable activities be freeing? How is it “true freedom” when every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation the place I will be and the activity I will partake in is planned out for me? How is it “true freedom” when I am told how my sexual relationships and weekly tithing should look?

Lately, the Lord has revealed to me through small experiences (as He usually does) the ways in which I am truly free by following Him.

Drama: I have found that when I try my best to be kind to others, smile at people, don’t pick fights, give people the benefit of the doubt, and don’t talk about people in a derogatory manner, my life has become drama-free.

Peace and Patience: Stub a toe? Get cut off on the freeway? Get lost in an unfamiliar place? Order a plane ticket for the wrong day? By realizing and accepting God is in control, and that He allows everything to happen, I have peace and patience with a situation and am free from freaking out.

God’s Will: I can’t even tell you how many hours and days, weeks and months I have spent worrying, stressing and being anxious about events in my life. Whether it is getting a job, being accepted into a certain school/program, having food to eat and a roof over my head, it is incredibly freeing to know that ultimately it is all in God’s hands, and His Will will be done. It’s not entirely up to me. I do the best I can with what I am given, and He does the rest.

Just because I have decided to follow Christ and His teachings (which we all have the freedom to choose to do), doesn’t mean these freedoms will magically come. I still gossip, swear in frustrating situations and stress about jobs. But by following Christ, I am given the tools to work toward a drama-free, peaceful life according to God’s Will.

– Catherine Huss

Freedom Through Confession

3 Apr

Freedom Through Confession - Colleen Pesci

  The winter lies heavy on our backs. The morning sun rising long after we have started our days only to be blocked by the low grey sky, turning our strides into a trudge through soiled slush, with our minds solely concentrated on leaving one destination and arriving at another. I walk, clouded, up the large stone steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, positioned on bustling 5th Ave. Commuters hustle by me, heads down, scarves wrapped, looking for the shelter of their offices and the warmth of their cubicles. The stone of the church mimicking the condition of my heart: heavy and cold.

I head straight back to the confessionals feeling once again like a small fifth grader, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind racing, anxious to divulge my secrets and sins. As I kneel behind the screen I feel safe, tucked away in this small corner of the church, me and the priest, divided by a screen, identities unknown. In the opening prayer I am hit with a familiar voice, one that I have heard many times, yet one that sits in my memory as speaking to a crowd, to an audience. Here, however, there is a personable tone, it is Cardinal Archbishop Dolan.

After my initial shock of recognition and at the end of my sharing, he pauses with a sigh as he digests what I have given him, and he responds with these words:

“Remember, my dear friend, the story of St. Andrew. We, as Christians, focus on his yes to the Lord, his surrender and trust, his movement towards Christ. But with every movement towards something there is a leaving behind, with every ‘yes’ there lies countless ‘no’s.’ Fulton Sheen is buried feet away from us, under this very altar. He wrote once of a scene at the confessional. A line of people waiting to enter, backs arched with heavy burdens, yet as they leave, they walk with a freedom past piles and piles of people’s pain, sin, and sorrow that have been laid down, released from their possession. Leave here, and leave it behind. Leave it behind at the door. For all is forgiven.”

I walked out of the Cathedral, down the concrete steps, past the booming stone walls, and once again into the sharp winter wind, my heart no longer clouded by grayness. With the morning sun, I watched the streets become alive with steady steps, hands grasped around the steaming cups of morning coffee and I recognize the Promise. In our human weakness, there is redemption. My every choice and encounter not only is an opportunity for my yes but also my no. I stand in front of these encounters, not with a heart of fear but of Promise, because when shackled to my weakness there sits waiting for me, tucked away in a drafty church,  an opportunity to release my burdens and walk away, free.

-Colleen Pesci

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

24 Mar Start Teaching our Children the Faith Early

Spirituality and religion are so profoundly personal.  And many of us are still on our journey of either/both/one.  Given that each person has a particular journey, why start religious instruction early for children?  Why not let them choose their own path when they are old enough to be interested in it?

We have opted to start religion for our kiddos from the get-go for a number of reasons: 1) being part of a larger spiritual community; 2) development of conscience; and 3) reinforcement of our parenting values.

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Our son who is two and a half has a sweet love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He doesn’t get the advanced concepts of the hypostatic union or transubstantiation.  He doesn’t need to.  He understands Jesus was once a little boy too.  He understands Mama Mary to be his heavenly mother, and Jesus’ mama, who is there to comfort him when he is alone and scared.  For him, the Saints are not only a great baseball team, but also a team of wonderful people who are dead and whose examples we strive to follow.

 When we consider how the Church can influence the development of conscience, we don’t see religion as a vehicle for shaming or guilt-tripping.  The shaping of a conscience is comprised of delineating desirable behavior from undesirable behavior, and empowering the child to internalize this distinction process.  All parents do this, regardless of creed.  Catholicism provides a blue print to make this go more smoothly.

But why start now when they are so little?  Because I cannot hope that our children come to embrace these values later on as they are not the natural values to embrace.  It is natural for children to be rude, selfish, and wild. Instead of shaping his behavior through punishment (all the time), an external force, we are trying to give him a rooting in the whys behind the don’t-do-that.  Following your base instincts will not bring you closer to a God of love, and will not make you happy.  You have to practice self-discipline, and develop it from the get go, based on something that is higher than your parents.  Someone you are accountable to when no one is looking. If you have surrounded your child with a culture that backs up what you have shown them, then they can see from their friends, their friends’ parents, their school, and their environment a mirroring of values you hold true.

In conclusion, why not have God as a part of their routine?  Even if you are more spiritual than religious, consider how as a parent you give your child parameters and boundaries on all other fronts.  Why not organize their exposure to a Higher Power in the form of organized religion? It’s up to you how you present the routine of the Divine, and which traditions you emphasize, and accordingly you could give your child a better or different or more complete version than what you yourself received.

-Nell Alt

Looking for the Kingdom at the Neighborhood Café

20 Mar The Neighborhood Cafe

   I have a fairly juvenile approach toward prayer. My own interpretations and perspective often turn a little ridiculous. For instance, my wife and I recently read Romans 14:17, “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” I thought, “man, that sounds tough.” I truly enjoy the happiness of indulging in food and drink. What if Saint Peter is more of a host waiting to show us to our reserved spot (upon condition)? Don’t  you think that we’ll be eating and drinking to our hearts’ content once through the big pearly gates up there?  

Looking for the Kingdom at the Neighborhood Café
  I’ve recently found my own little slice of heaven at my favorite neighborhood greasy-spoon diner, appropriately called The Neighborhood Café on Snelling Ave in St Paul. They continue to make improvements, such as offering breakfast hash that looks more homemade than what you would get out of a can, a small dinner menu with good appetizers, a great draft beer lineup that includes tasty local suds, and usually a wildly concocted special that never seems to make sense until it hits your taste buds. They have the gruff (but with a smirk) service that is essential in the greasy spoon category.

  A few weeks ago, friends and I were there for one of their first dinner offerings. As we watched the local football rivalry ensue on their single wall-mounted 17” TV, I noshed on a pulled pork Cubano sandwich. My wife enjoyed a deluxe grilled cheese complete with bacon and tomato while our friend practically inhaled the famous pot roast. Although our stomachs were stuffed we all willingly assisted in the take down of a caramel-drizzled, seared pear with ice cream in the middle. Before we walked in we knew a few of the wait staff and the owner, after we departed we knew most of the patrons as well.

  This is my heaven. This is where I find my peace, my joy. Is it reasonable to think that this experience is what eternity could be? I doubt it, because in my heart of hearts, or the heart of my stomach, I know that the evening could have included much less tasty fare and would still have been as enjoyable. The peace I find in these situations isn’t how seasoned the pork is or how perfectly proportioned the deluxe grilled cheese presents. It isn’t about the seared pears or local brews. It’s about the laughs, the jokes, and the hilarious remarks. That is what the Holy Spirit is in my juvenile world. That is the peace I seek. Although my conscious goal is to find my wife and I a delicious meal that will fill our bodies, the real seasoning I seek is seeing the Spirit in others. Smiles on faces and inside jokes with new friends is the righteousness I crave. Maybe my purgatory would be an empty Neighborhood Cafe… still sounds pretty tasty though.

– Joseph Olson

Making Sandwiches for the Smallest and Most Forgotten

15 Feb Christ of the Breadlines

  Recently, I have been going to help out on the food line, making sandwiches, handing them out, and chatting with people who are hungry. I am a little surprised at myself, since usually I stick with my books and my pints. I guess something made me realize it had to be done. One cannot be Christian if one does not serve others in some way, especially the poor. Dorothy Day pointed out the connection between being a true believer and serving. She explained that “those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.” How can we see Christ in the poor, if we are not with the poor? So, in September, I started going to serve for a couple hours a week.

ing Sandwiches for the Smallest and Most Forgotten - Terence Sweeney

Christ of the Breadlines Fritz Eichenber

  I don’t do much: put some sandwiches in bags, give them to people. I sit down with old ladies on the ground and talk about the weather and the places we have lived (an apartment on Grand Ave; a cardboard tent by the highway). At the end of my time there, I head back to my school work and leave them to move along. As our conversation ends, I look at the person and realize that I have no idea what they do or what their life is like.

  So, have I seen Christ in the poor? I have shaken a few cracked hands, heard anger and laughter, seen weariness, and smelled people for whom a shower is a luxury. That is what I think of as I stand in a steaming shower. Jesus didn’t have this, not because it was 30 AD, but because he was dirt poor. If Jesus walked into our homes we would probably grimace because he, like the homeless lady I was speaking with, smelled bad.

  Bartolomé de las Casas once wrote that “God has a special memory for the smallest and most forgotten.” We will be judged by whether we too have remembered and helped those forgotten people on the streets, in hospitals, on death row. It is a scary to think that I have forgotten so many people who just need a helping hand or a sandwich. Jesus never forgot them; because, He was one of them. And I believe, that the Catholic Church, so full of sinners like me, does not forget either (although her memory can be a bit foggy). The Church remembers through Her many charitable organizations and in Her commitment to a society in which the smallest and most forgotten are taken care of.

  I have not learned anything ground breaking by handing out sandwiches. I suppose in a way I have just become more of Christian by spending a little time with Christ in the poor. I have realized how poor I am in my own grumpy heart. And I think I can see that an essential way to rediscover Jesus and his poor Church is by being with the poor, the elderly, and the unwanted. Just as Jesus did and as He calls us all to.

-Terence Sweeney