A Thanksgiving Story

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks.

I feel somewhere along the way we have forgotten we belong to each other. But then again I wonder if that has always been the case. I am not sure there was any period in human history where there was not war, hunger, or someone seeking to harm the other. It is naïve to believe there ever was a golden age of togetherness, respect, and love? Is it naïve to believe one could come?

In 2016, I made my first thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey and roasted it. I mashed up potatoes, made green beans, made cornbread, and bought the pumpkin pie. Most of the essentials were there with the exception of sweet potato casserole. But I wasn’t bold enough to make that quite yet.

With all of the food on the table we sat down to eat. Before we started all of us went around the table and said one thing we were grateful for from the past year. To me, it is not thanksgiving unless you practice giving thanks. Without that it simply becomes another meal at the table – albeit a nice one.

Making the meal took a lot of work. One has to prep the turkey, season the turkey, pray and hope the turkey doesn’t burn or taste terrible once it is done cooking. One has to cook the potatoes, the green beans, the cornbread, and kill a few sticks of butter in the process. It is one big dance that needs to come together at just the right moment so nothing is left sitting too long to get cold. I cook often so even though I know my way around a kitchen this was still a formidable challenge.

However, even though cooking the food is a lot of work, Thanksgiving is not necessarily about eating the food one cooks. It is a holiday of being thankful we have the food to cook and people around us to share it with. At its core, Thanksgiving is a holiday to remember that we belong to each other. The Thanksgiving story of the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering around a table to share their harvest reminds us of that truth.

I personally love stories. I love nestling up to my son and reading him the classics: Winne the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Charlotte’s Web. I love their interesting plots and the meaningful lesson at the end. Jesus loved stories too, I think. He told them often and they always had a meaningful lesson – even if those listening did not always understand.

The course of human history is certainly a story and our lives are one small chapter or maybe just a few lines. Intertwined in our story, undoubtedly, are the holidays we come together and celebrate. I wonder if I opened that book to look back and see that a couple times a year groups of people came together from all over to share a meal, tell stories, laugh, and give thanks – if I might see that as a moment in time when the world remembered it belonged to each other.

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks. The story of human history is filled with chapters of war, hunger, and despair. Those are chapters we should read and continue to work toward resolving. That work never ends and because of that our coming together should never end.

So grab a seat at the table, place your napkin, and pick up a fork. I am grateful for you and most grateful for those times I remember we belong to each other.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on November 23, 2016

An Essay on Young Adulthood

Perhaps to all of us who have been through it and to those of us who are going through it now, this image is one to encourage us on the journey. In those moments where we are tempted to say “I have been there,” it reminds us that God always says, “I am with you now.”

I recently had a brief but meaningful conversation with an old friend. We had not talked for months and even now we could only find a few minutes to sit down and chat. We caught up on new jobs and showed each other around our new homes. Both young adults, we had a number of new things happening in our lives.

I have many friends who are going through “transitions,” whether that be into priesthood, parenthood, married life, full-time employment, life in new cities, or new lives back in the same city. With all that transition comes a sense of uncertainty. Did I make the right decision in moving away? In moving back? Am I on the right path?

I have no doubt that most people go through this stage in their life. Most likely, we go through multiple transitions – at the beginning of adulthood, when the kids move out and head to college, when we retire, or when we lose someone close to us or face another unforeseen circumstance. Each transition hopefully makes us more able to face the next.

There is no doubt that most of the time during our life journey of transitions, a few encouraging words goes a long way. But, how often do we look at someone who is having difficulty with something new or unforeseen and say, “I have been there,” then share that often-maligned-yet-all-too-common unsolicited advice about how to get through it?

I do it, and we all do from time to time. We especially like to respond this way with people who are closest to us. We already know them and have spent hours working hard to support them. Our advice, then, should be considered and graciously received.

Is there a way, especially with those who are closest to us, to change “I have been there” to “I am with you now”? We all face transitions and new circumstances that challenge who we are and what we want to become. Sometimes these shake us badly and we find ourselves diving into the sort of depth that forms character, builds or breaks relationships, and gives perspective that forms our future choices.

One of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales, in one of his writings, shares an encouraging image of a God that holds us by the hand, matching His steps to ours and happy to walk at the pace we set. Perhaps to all of us who have been through it and to those of us who are going through it now, this image is one to encourage us on the journey. In those moments where we are tempted to say “I have been there,” it reminds us that God always says, “I am with you now.”

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on August 26, 2016

You should avoid young children – a reprise

I recently came across a poem titled “You Should Avoid Young Children” by Claire Keyes, which is sort of ironic as my wife Gillian and I just welcomed our first child into our little apartment home.

At 6 pounds, 1 ounce, our son Simon came screaming into the world. His voice filled up the room as my eyes filled with the expected waterfall of tears. Healthy, happy (once he was given to his mom), and full of life, he really is bringing a windfall of change to our lives. I am sure many of our readers can relate to these statements. A new baby is everything wonderful with the world, yet it is also the most exhausting thing one ever experiences.

I do not know much about the author of this poem, other than she apparently has keen insight into the impact little children have on our lives. We are almost three weeks in and the only thing that seems clear enough to conclude is that, for the foreseeable future, my life will assume a pattern of sleep, diaper change, and eat ad infinitum. Which is certainly a radical departure from my life before baby!

Eating a meal is no longer a fork in one hand, knife in the other exercise. In fact, someone should write a book called the “baby-holding diet” that highlights recipes you can both prepare and eat with one hand.

Going anywhere requires checking and rechecking a bag full of baby things. And now my wife insists I use the turn signal on the car because “I am a parent now so I should learn to abide by traffic laws.” And Gillian, I appreciate your constant efforts to keep me alive – I do appreciate it and I love you.

There are probably some parents out there either agreeing with me or rolling their eyes, saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet, boy.” Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree. I haven’t really seen anything yet and that is both an exciting and troubling prospect.

And that truth is what brings me to the lesson of this written-on-three-hours-of-sleep blog post. We really should avoid young children, unless, of course, we actually want our lives to be changed.

Parenthood has many parallels to monastic life. But this is where I think it most closely aligns. When men join the monastery, they commit themselves to learning a life that is completely different from the way they were living before. The change uproots every single habitual exercise in their lives so that their day becomes focused on building up the kingdom of God in their school of the Lord’s service.

I firmly believe parenthood does the same. Things awaken in you that you never knew existed. Your days become realigned and focused on a much greater mission. As generations and generations of parents I am sure can attest, it probably does not feel like that most of the time. But it is true nonetheless. Parenthood uproots you in the best of ways and so do small children.

So, avoid them if you want and approach them cautiously if you dare. They are miraculous little nuggets of the most immense joy and they have the uncanny ability to change your life forever.

You Should Avoid Young Children

By Claire Keyes

Because they fill their diapers
with reliable ease, sitting on your lap
or spread out on your best mattress.
Guilt is as foreign to them as vichyssoise.

Because they spread sticky fingers
over the piano keys, looking for you
to hoist them onto your lap. They slam
the ivories for the racket they can make.
Re-think your nap.

Because they are blank slates
on which so much waits to be written,
their eyes opened wide to take everything in,
including the lines around your eyes,
the pouches under your chin.

Because they manipulate the controls
on the TV, finger the holes in the electric socket,
stomp the cat’s switching tail only to smile
and gaze at you as if you held the keys to joy.

Because you can embrace them, but
you can’t bind them. Because they have nothing
to give you-and everything. Because
something loosens when they come around.
Something opens you didn’t know was shut.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on June 17, 2016

Walking on Holy Ground

Each situation can be blessed with grace. Each struggle can be battled with hope. And each journey, with its winding roads, is a place where we can encounter the living God.

A couple months ago, I started volunteering with my wife and a co-worker and his wife at a local ministry for those who are homeless or down on their luck called Jesus Cares at Exit 0.

The ministry, located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, somewhere close to exit 0 on I-65 (hence the name) began about six years ago by Paul Stensrud, a local resident, and his family.

It really is a remarkable ministry. Paul has done much to improve the lives of the local homeless and works tirelessly with community leaders to address issues facing this community. Paul says this ministry is much more than passing out food for them to eat – and nothing could be truer.

He provides showers, he registers individuals for healthcare and food stamps, he helps find jobs, he is a teacher of the faith and, most importantly, he is a dear friend of those who really need one.

His story is one that should be told often. He saw a need and took drastic steps to address it. Even if this need brought him to places many of us will never go.

Wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

May is a special month. There is Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, National Teacher’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and, of course, National Roast Leg of Lamb Day (May 7, in case you were curious). But most important and relevant to me, even though I deeply appreciate a good leg of lamb, is the fact that May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that severely affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure and about 70,000 people worldwide battle it each day.  I walk with someone each day that has this disease. She is smart, funny, strong and immensely courageous. She is my wife, Gillian.

There is so much to say about her courageous battle. There are endless stories about hospital stays, drug studies, hours of treatments, and of the many unique people met along the way – even George W. Bush, the 43rdpresident of the United States.

Her story is a truly beautiful one. It is a story of a thousand little moments of strength, sacrifice, smiles and hope. Her every day is a day filled with medicines and treatments that help her live another day. Yet they are filled with moments that give witness to the power of faith, hope and an enduring commitment to living each day with purpose.

Wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

The above phrase is a reflection by one of my favorite writers, Fr. James Martin, SJ. They moved me the first time I read them and continue to do so each time I reflect on their meaning.

I am immediately taken to the story about the journey to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke. Two disciples distraught from the loss of who they believed was a king, journey away from the eternal city of Jerusalem down a hill to the small town of Emmaus. Jesus appears to them on the way and talks with them, revealing to them the great mystery of His life, His death and, soon after He breaks bread with them, His resurrection.

Life can sometimes be like the road to Emmaus, full of winding journeys and disparaging situations. It is also full of people filled with hope and on fire for the work of God, just as the disciples were when they ran back to Jerusalem after their eyes were opened at the breaking of the bread.

Really, the story of Emmaus is a story about who we are as people on the journey of faith.

Each situation can be blessed with grace. Each struggle can be battled with hope. And each journey, with its winding roads, is a place where we can encounter the living God.

For wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog Echoes from the Bell Tower on May 21, 2015

Preparing to Entertain Angels

Out of the three that will be read, this one is my favorite. It teaches timeless lessons that are learned over and over throughout the course of life. In some ways, it is the first reminder to a lifetime of reminders that God is in those whom we encounter every day and that no matter what may come our way, the Lord is our helper and we should never be afraid.

For over a year now, I have been on a journey with my soon-to-be wife planning our wedding Mass and celebration. Although it has been a complete joy picking out the colors of the table linens, taste-testing the food we are to eat, stressing over the difference between white and ivory, and wondering if our bank accounts will ever be big enough to handle the onslaught of overpriced wedding services, my favorite part of planning has, without a doubt, been choosing the readings that will be proclaimed at our wedding Mass.

The second reading we chose, from the Letter to the Hebrews, reads: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” Further down, the reading continues, “Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, I will never forsake or abandon you. Thus we may say with confidence: The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:1-4a, 5-6b)

Out of the three that will be read, this one is my favorite. It teaches timeless lessons that are learned over and over throughout the course of life. In some ways, it is the first reminder to a lifetime of reminders that God is in those whom we encounter every day and that no matter what may come our way, the Lord is our helper and we should never be afraid.

Marriage is a frightening prospect in many ways. First and foremost, when you say your vows you are the most vulnerable you have ever been and will ever be. With all the faith, trust and hope in your heart, you vow to the one you love before God that you will treasure them all the days of your life no matter the trials or tribulations that may come your way.

It is a timeless commitment and one that binds your heart to another. It is a commitment that almost demands courage, fearlessness, and blind trust in the Providence of the One who proclaims, “I will never forsake or abandon you.”

But as Paul’s letter tells us, we should never be afraid to take courage and to trust in the Providence of God, for it is His love that helps us overcome any trial or tribulation. It is the love of God that helps us be content with the many gifts given and not wish away our life on things that blow away with the wind. It is God who is our firm foundation, the foundation that allows us to embrace the type of radical vulnerability it takes to wake up every day and renew the vows you took to cherish the one to whom you’ve committed your life.

Paul teaches all of us that the vows said on the day of your marriage do not bind but free us from fear, worry, distress, anxiety and all of the evils that plague us when we fail to remember the Lord is our helper. The vows free us to love one another fully, openly and without abandon.

They allow us, and challenge us, to never neglect the greatest gift and blessing of all time: the gift that He gave, and continues to give each time we celebrate Eucharist. The gift of His only Son, sent to sacrifice Himself so that we might have life. Incarnate in the flesh, God made Himself in human form and likeness so that we know in His nearness and unfailing love that we will never be abandoned and never be forsaken.

It is in that truth that I take courage and that I boldly proclaim to love and cherish another for the rest of my days. It is from that commitment that I am challenged to open my door to angels and to never be afraid.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on November 6, 2014.