Future, Forward

January 19, 2016 — Leave a comment

“Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the wilderness I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.”
– Isaiah 43:18-19

Future, not past.

Forward, not backward.

Eyes in Front

I saw a quote online the other day that noted, “Our eyes are in front because it’s more important to look forward than it is to look back. Don’t dwell on things in the past. Learn from them and keep moving forward.”

So often, I have to stop myself and think: Is it productive for me to be reflecting backward like this? Should I dwell on those mistakes I made in the past, or the slip-up that a teammate had last week? Should I hold a grudge over something someone did to me a few months or a few years ago?

Usually, if I’m honest with myself, letting go of the past while still taking forward anything I can from the experience it is the most productive approach.

It’s also often the healthiest approach. How much ‘baggage’ can I lug around through life with me, after all?

Yes, I’ve made mistakes – big ones. Yes, people have hurt me. Yes, I’ve hurt others.

In all cases, I’ve done what I can to make amends, seek forgiveness, right the wrongs, give forgiveness, or otherwise put the bad in the past.

Penance & Forgiveness

I thought of this last Thursday when my second son Matthew James was about to head to the church with my wife and me for his first Penance. As his brothers got out of the van at his NaNa’s house so that she could watch them while we were at the church, he inquired, “Guys, have I done anything mean to you lately? Was I mean when we were getting ready for school? Did I say anything mean to you?”

Each of the boys, in their own way, kind of brushed it off, saying something like, “Yeah, maybe, but I forgive you and I’ve forgotten about it.”

Forgive & Forget

Forgive – or seek forgiveness – and then move forward. Again, I find myself learning from my own sons. In their love for each other they forgive, forget, and move forward so gracefully.

Even When It’s Hard

Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it takes years, or decades.

There was a time, years ago, when I deeply hurt a mentor of mine – an adviser that I had in scouting when I was a youth leader. I didn’t intend to, and it didn’t happen directly. Another adult who was responsible for choosing & appointing the adviser role came to me and another youth leader, explaining that he was planning on appointing a new adviser the following year, and asking for our input on candidates that he should consider.

I considered the conversation one in confidence and told no-one – not even the adviser who was going to be “replaced” the following year. When everything had come to pass, he found out that the other youth leader and I had been involved in the discussions earlier on and projected a lot of his hurt onto us.

It hurt me too, because of what he had been to me as a mentor, adviser, and father-figure.

It took nearly a decade until our paths brought us back into alignment in our missions and work in life, and our relationship was touchy again at first, but time, discussion, and grace helped us heal those wounds – both for ourselves and for each other.

I’m still thankful that we had the chance to “make good” in our relationship before he passed on to the next life a couple of years ago.

To this day, he’s one of the men who had the biggest impact on my life, and I’m thankful we said “goodbye” as friends.

Don’t Miss the Chance

Forgive, forget, move forward.

“Remember not the things of the past…” move onward and upward to “something new”…

“Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b-14

We’re Ready, Lord

January 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Wedding Feast at Cana

Wedding Feast at Cana

This Sunday’s Gospel comes from the beginning of the second chapter of John (John 2:1-11). It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ first public miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana.

Leading up to that event, it’s interesting to consider everything that happened in the first chapter of John: We hear the famous “In the beginning was the Word..” testimony, then the introduction of John the Baptist – the forerunner, then “The Word became flesh”. John came to give testimony, then “the next day”, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him. Then “the next day”, Jesus found and called Philip and Nathanael.

The Third Day

Then, in today’s Gospel, “On the third day…” falls our wedding.

Right out of the gate, we’ve come through the Christmas season in which we recall and celebrate “The Word made flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ, we see his public manifestation at his Baptism as the Christmas season ends, and we’re propelled right through the calling of the first Apostles and into the middle of Jesus’ first miracle.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time, and yet it’s notable that this “first wedding” falls on the third day – preparing us for the wedding feast of the Lamb coming later, on our next “third day” at Easter.

I’ve always loved the way this story unfolds… the wedding party has been continuing, and the guests have drunk fully of their host’s generosity.

When the wine runs dry, Mary takes the concern to her son first. At first, he seems to pushes her away. But she just turns to the servers, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

So much to learn from Mary – first, that she’ll always turn to our Lord on our behalf. Second, she trusts that if we listen and follow his way, he will provide. Third, he responds to her prompting.

The Miracle

And then the miracle. The servers cooperate with Jesus and fill the stone water jars as instructed, and without any hesitation, Jesus has them draw from them and take it to the headwaiter, who observes that it’s not water, but the finest wine to date!

I’d imagine that at that point, those first disciples were sold! In fact, the Gospel concludes noting how “the disciples began to believe in him.”

The Water, The Wine

What might that water represent for us in our lives today? What might the wine it becomes represent?

In the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), we hear about the many talents in the body of Christ…

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

And the verse in the Alleluia before the Gospel reminds us:

God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ

Grace + Water = Wine?

We’re called to let the grace of God work through us and our God-given talents, and how we live the Gospel, to help lead by example, and to DO things that create positive change in the world around us.

What is the “water” in the world around me today? What could use the grace of God sweetening it into fine wine?

  • Does my wife need a bit more of my time to help strengthen our relationship and keep us close?
  • Does one of my sons need an extra hug, some encouragement, or just some time shooting some hoops together at the end of a rough day at school?
  • Does that older lady need a hand getting out of church and into her car in that thin layer of ice?
  • Does that guy need a hand getting that pile of lumber into the back of his truck?
  • Does that fearful expectant mother need a little bit more encouragement and prayer?

Live It… Proclaim It!

The more we tune into that grace and focus it into the way we live our daily lives, the more we’ll become “other Christs” – Bread Alive in the world today for others. We’ll see more of the water of daily life around us becoming the fine wine of grace-touched hearts and lives.

In one of the hymns at morning prayer in the breviary this week, this verse caught my ear:

The faith that first must be possessed,
Root deep within our inmost breast;
And joyous hope in second place,
Then charity, thy greatest grace.

In Christs’s coming, the three heavenly graces have been revealed and imparted to us: The faith of Baptism, the hope inherent in his call, and the charity his grace bids us impart to the world around us. Between last week’s Gospel and this week’s, we’re ready to encounter the world, bringing our Christian character to this Ordinary time.

We’ll not only live, but we may even lead others to sing with us the Psalm… “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations!”

Like the first disciples who followed you from those first few days, into the wedding at Cana, and then on your journey, we’re ready, Lord. Thank you for your call. Thank you for your grace. Help us to do your work today.

A whole new idea – a public dose of what I’m thankful for each Thursday.


This week:

(1) Mom

Today’s her birthday, after all. She carried me, gave me life, and was a blessing as a mom (along with my dad) raising me.

(2) Matthew & (3) Reconciliation

Our little #2 son, Matthew James – his big smile and even bigger heart. He’s the “heart” of our 4 boys, for sure.

And the Sacrament of Reconciliation – tonight, in fact, is his first Reconciliation. Thankful for the opportunity to make ourselves right with God through this great Sacrament. Looking forward to the special evening as a family!

“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

-Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message, March 31, 2013

Knock, knock, knock.

That was the sound at our front door last night as I was in my office reading about the Corporal Works of Mercy and my wife was at our dining room table working on details for the kids’ school’s annual fundraiser dinner.

It was an unexpected visit from a surprising visitor that ended up taking the idea of “Mercy” full-circle in my own reflection.

Christ of the Breadlines, Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Breadlines, Fritz Eichenberg

The Church & The Poor

Sunday, while driving Joseph Michael (our 3rd son) home from a birthday party, he asked a simple question about the church…

“Dad, how much money does the church need to run?”

I answered that it depends – different parishes or different dioceses have different ministries, different projects, different numbers of people working for them, different bills for electricity and what not.

“No, but don’t we give our money to the church, and then the church gives the money to the poor?”

If only it were as simple in the real world as it is in the mind of the 6-year-old.

I explained more of the nuances of the expenses of running a church. He simply answered, “Well, I think that the church should just spend as little as it needs so that it has more to give to the poor.”

In his mind, the discussion was over and his solution was the simple one we’ve been looking for all along. A child shall lead them…

Works of Mercy

I can’t stop thinking about that conversation, and it led me to my office last night, reading a bit more about the Corporal Works of Mercy. They are:

1) Feed the hungry
2) Give drink to the thirsty
3) Clothe the naked
4) Harbor the harborless
5) Visit the sick
6) Ransom the captive
7) Bury the dead

So, there I sat, reflecting for the evening in my office on the first three in particular when the knock came at our door.

At Our Own Door

Suzanne yelled down, “Michael! There’s someone knocking on our front door!”

As I came upstairs, she answered the door. Running through my mind were all of the possibilities, from a family member stopping by to a nefarious hoodlum seeking to do evil.

A small, worried woman stood across the threshold, close to tears. She lives a few doors down, she explained (we knew this). Her 24-year-old daughter had just gotten into her first run-in with the law – a DUI – and was in the city jail.

She had pulled together all of the cash that she could at the late hour that it was, and wasn’t sure where else to go to get cash so late at night.

She only needed 54 more dollars to be able to help bail her daughter out of jail for the night.

Suzanne closed the door and turned to me – what should we do?

My gut told me we needed to try to help. I pulled out my wallet and found just $8 cash. Suzanne opened her wallet and had $46. Together, we had exactly the $54 that our neighbor needed.

It’s Right

After we had given the woman the money and talked for a minute and she had left to work through the situation, we both momentarily questioned whether we had done the right thing.

I’m a person who lives by “the signs” – and the fact that, together, we both had the precise amount of money, and that this whole incident happened while I was reflecting upon the Corporal Works of Mercy, was enough for me.

However, on another level, it’s always right to help another person in need, to put Mercy into action in our world.

Earlier, I was reading a post on First Things titled The Need for Epiphanic Evangelicalism. You should read it, but part that resonated with me was a call for “the epiphany Jesus promises in work that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned. Part and parcel with Jesus’ epiphany in these ministries, their very costliness to Christians in time and treasure is a means that credibly signals the Church’s profession of Christ’s Kingdom in a day in which mere Church talk is dismissed by the culture.”

Show Mercy

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m going to try to work harder on stepping up my own “Epiphanies” of the Works of Mercy, and help my family to do the same. Will you join us?

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

-Matthew 25:34-40

This weekend is a diaconate formation weekend for my classmates and me. We’ll be studying “Prayer & Sacramental Participation”.

I’m going to try to remember to share when I’m away on these weekends, and ask you, in the charity of your own prayers, to please lift my classmates and me up in your prayers during these formation weekends.

In turn, I will be remembering you and keeping your intentions in prayer during our Holy Hour on the Friday night of the weekends. If there’s a particular intention you’d like me to keep in prayer, please comment with it here or message it to me privately.

N.B.: This first year is an introductory year – the four years that follow carry more intense college-level academic studies. This year’s topics include:

  • September: Introduction to Discernment
  • October: Introduction to Theological Reflection
  • November: Introduction to Spiritual Direction
  • December: Pastoral Identity, Skills, and Boundaries
  • January: Prayer & Sacramental Participation
  • February: Evangelization & Ecumenism
  • March: Research & Writing
  • April & May: Philosophy (formal academic coursework begins)
  • June: Retreat

A House, A Home

January 5, 2016 — Leave a comment


My grandparents’ house – where they made a home, raised my dad, my aunt, and my uncle, and helped to raise our generation.

They took a humble space, worked hard, made a home, and raised a family.

Last week, my dad, aunt, and uncle closed on selling the house to a new person for whom it will become a whole new home. It was a bittersweet day in many ways, for them directly, and indirectly for our whole family…

In this home, my dad and his siblings were raised. In this home, I spent many nights with grandma and grandpa. In this home, I got to drink grape soda, eat caramels and jawbreakers, and have hamburgers & french fries for dinner and pancakes & orange juice for breakfast.

In this home, I played pool in the basement with my uncles, admired my grandpa’s beer can collection and the bar my grandma built with her bare hands, and enjoyed playing their pinball game. In this home, the American flag and Japanese flag both flew proudly.

To this home, I rode my bike the few blocks to relax and “escape” my own house for a bit, every once in a while. In this home, I slept on the couch while grandpa slept in his reading chair, watching me. In this home, I also acted asleep on the hide-a-bed in the back room while my mom and dad talked about the ups and downs of marriage with grandma and grandpa.

In this home, I read the newspaper every day after preschool and kindergarten with my aunt – my earliest memories of reading. In this home, I played with electronics with my uncle. In this home, I picked roses and gave them to grandma. In this home, we gathered as family and enjoyed times together.

Inordinate Attachments

In The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that the purpose of our existence is “to know, to love, and to serve God and so to attain our salvation – eternal happiness.” In the same Exercises, he teaches of our nearly irresistible attraction toward things that continues to pull us away from our creator and toward created things. He encourages us to remember that created things are created for us to be neutral toward, but to remind us of and continue to point us toward God our Creator. We’re to rid our soul of “inordinate attachments” toward created things.

In the first paragraph of the book of The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius writes, “By the term Spiritual Exercises is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation… and every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the Will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.” (Emphasis mine).

Letting Go, and Letting God

This is hard at times, especially moments like this when we’re letting go of something that was so central to our childhood and family life. But, at the end of the day, it is a house, a place, a created thing. We don’t love the place for the place, but for how it turns us toward God. And in that sense, this home was a very special place that was a center for our family life and our growing toward God.

In the last few weeks, I was able to help my dad and my uncles (who had invested much time and energy getting the house ready to sell) move the last “things” out of the house. A refrigerator went to my aunt & uncle’s house. My grandpa’s grandfather clock has a new home in my dining room (this is very special to me). My parents have moved the dining room table into their own home. These last things are our last, very special, ties to the moments in and memories from that old home.

We now have new homes, new branches in our family tree. And their old house will serve a new family.

Farewell, 3272 Edgewood Avenue. May you be a good home for a new family, serving them well and helping them grow toward God and each other, as you did for our family.

(Photos from my sister Sara’s phone, from her last visits to the house)

Cheerful Servant

September 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

OA CornerI love this weekend’s readings. The themes in them have long been a big part of my life and character.

In the corner of my home office, I have a little set of reminders of the time I spent as a youth leader and as an adult volunteer in the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s National Honor Society, which focuses on developing servant leadership in scouting’s best.

In the corner, I have pictures of some of my favorite memories as an Arrowman and scout, with some of my best (and lifelong) friends and Brothers. I have the sash I wore when I served as a ceremonial character, helping to impart some of the Order’s message to new and upcoming members. I have the sash that all of the Arrowmen shared in wearing at the recent 100th Anniversary National Order of the Arrow Conference. There are ashes from my own Vigil fire when I was given the Order’s highest honor by my brothers (and given the Lenni-Lenape Indian name Lilchpin Lekhiket, which translates to Diligent Writer.) There are ashes from the Centennial Fire that burned at the 100th Anniversary NOAC.

There is a pair of #DareToDo sunglasses, reminding me of the OA National Chief’s challenge to do a good turn each day and spread the word about the good we do in the world.

And there is a medal that I was awarded back in 1992, when I was one of our lodge’s two annual recipients of the Founder’s Award (the other recipient that year was my long-time friend and adviser Jim Dedera, may he rest in the peace of Christ).

On the back of that medal are engraved words that embody the spirit of the Order’s founders and are embedded in the ceremonials and the life of the Order and its Arrowmen:

“For he who serves his fellows is, of all his fellows, greatest.”


Sound familiar?

Those words are effectively a paraphrase of a verse from the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel:

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” – Mark 9:35b

I was raised in the spirit of this passage, and I still love and hold onto these words whenever I’m up against challenges in service that I find hard to tackle. Christ himself gave us the example of how the servant is raised up by the Father. He taught that humble service through His own life and actions.

And it gets even better this weekend… In the midst of the second reading is a clip that I read to myself each morning before work as a reminder of how I’d like to spend myself in service each day:

“Fructus autem iustitiae in pace seminatur facientibus pacem.”

“A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:18

As I embark on this new journey of discernment and discipleship, exploring and praying about whether this path toward the diaconate is where God wants me to be, it’s heartening to be strengthened by the words of the readings this weekend, carrying messages that have long meant so much to me.

That Gospel? The word used in the Greek actually is: διάκονος – diakonos – servant. That word, meaning waiter, servant, or administrator, and now a form of ordained ministry in service of the Church, appears some 29 times in various forms in the Bible.

This is the self-giving, loving, peaceful service that our Lord exemplified on the very night of the Last Supper, when he knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.

In peaceful, cheerful service, we can bring others to God through our own example and show them how to do the same. We can give to others what they need, sacrificing our own wants and needs for others’ good and the greater good. That idea was instilled in me at a young age and as I grew into manhood, and has played a key part in my entire life.

Harvest righteousness through peace… and serve others.

Am I always good at this? No! I fall short just like we all do. That’s why I surround myself with reminders of these phrases and challenges. And it’s why I’m excited whenever they come up in the readings for the Mass.

How can we serve this week? The lonely person who walks into the coffee shop looking for someone with whom to talk? The teammate who needs some praise and honest feedback on the work they’re doing on the tough project at the office? The person looking for a spare dollar – or one earned in honest work? The friend needing an extra hand? The child needing an extra hug? The coworker who has questions about the Holy Father’s visit to the Americas? The spouse needing a few more minutes of your time and attention? The Spirit sends us forth to serve these, and all the others we run across.


A daily rosary; an intention per mystery

As I’ve gotten back into the habit of praying the rosary each day (a habit I never should’ve gotten out of, but that’s a different story), I’ve developed a “standard” of the intentions that I keep top-of-mind and place before Mary and Jesus during each of the five mysteries.

They’ve come to mean a lot to me and to aid in directing some of my reflections and thoughts as I pray (beyond just the meditation on the subject of each mystery), so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here. If you’re looking for ideas for intentions as you pray the rosary, perhaps you might find some thoughts, ideas, or inspiration here.

The First Mystery:
My bishop, the Pope, and all bishops

As I reflect upon the first mystery, I also hold especially in my mind the health, well-being, and intentions of my own bishop, Thomas John Paprocki, and of Pope Francis and all bishops.

The Second Mystery:
My pastor, and all priests and seminarians

This one holds a special prayer in my heart, because this structured way of approaching my prayer intentions with my rosary developed when our pastor asked my mother-in-law, when he was blessing a new rosary as a gift for me, to ask me to pray the first Hail Mary of the rosary for him.

As a result, I always remember him, all priests who have served my parish and city, and all priests (especially those I know personally) in mind during the second mystery. I always remember my pastor, Father Jeff, in a special way during the first Hail Mary, but then immediately broaden my prayer to cover all of the priests and seminarians who come to mind.

The Third Mystery:
All deacons, and those in formation

As I pray the third mystery, I am mindful of and pray for the intentions of all deacons, and my brothers in formation for the diaconate. I pray for our service among God’s people in the world. I also take a moment to pray for all religious, especially the religious sisters who have served in our parish and school.

The Fourth Mystery:
My wife, my sons, and our family

During the fourth mystery, I turn my prayer toward my wife Suzanne, my four sons, our parents, and our whole extended family.

The Fifth Mystery:
The intentions of family and friends

At any point in time, if you’ve recently asked me to hold a personal intention in my prayers, it’s in front of my on a slip of paper as I pray the fifth mystery.

In recent days, that mindfulness and prayer has included Madalene and her family, my friend Carol and her son John and their family, and our friend Barbara and her aunt Anita and their family. As time goes on, this one changes the most and brings my mind the freshness of prayer. (Note that I find it helpful to include real names – even if it’s just their first name – if someone asks me to pray for someone, I ask for their name, so that it’s easier to be mindful, personal, and intentional while holding them in prayer.)

As I come close to ending the rosary, this also helps to turn my thoughts outward from the authority and structure that help to solidify and support my faith life, and outward toward the world where our prayer and action are needed.

What about you?

If you have a special way that you structure your mindfulness of the intentions you’re laying before Mary and Jesus as you pray the rosary, I’d love to hear about it in the comments here.

If you have a special intention that you would like me to remember as I pray the rosary, particularly the fifth mystery, please feel free to send me a message and I’d be glad to add your intention to my personal notes and list.


August 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

Thinking about this weekend’s readings and the grace of Confession…


The Pruning

May 3, 2015 — Leave a comment
Bob Jenkins, Pruned Rose (Flickr)

Bob Jenkins, Pruned Rose (Flickr)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

Usually, when I’ve heard or read the parable of the vine and the branches, I’ve mainly been drawn toward and reflected upon the phrases about being part of the vine and remaining in Christ – that is, remaining in Christ’s body by living as he taught and following God’s commandments.

This morning when I heard the Gospel proclaimed at Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, I heard a different part that I hadn’t even noticed before – emphasized in this clip:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8, emphasis mine)

I don’t know how I had never really heard that phrase toward the beginning before. I think I was always ready for and anticipating the meat in the middle, about living in Christ as branches on Him, the vine.

But the part at the beginning – about every branch that does bear fruit being pruned by the Father so that it bears more fruit? That part struck a chord for me because of much of my own discernment and reflection in recent years. God prunes us? Yes! He does.

A plant that is pruned, cut back in the right ways at appropriate times, is healthier and more vigorous. Pruning can lead to larger shoots, prolonged and enhanced blooming, resistance to pests and environmental challenges, and even a better root system.

What about our own bring pruned? Let me tell a story of a time this became vivid in my own faith life. It was painful, if for a brief moment, but it was a pruning, and it allowed me to bear more fruit in new ways.

For several years after my two terms on our parish pastoral council, I had held responsibility (and great pride) for our parish website. I knew that I was probably one of the best in the parish for bearing this “fruit”, with my background, skills, knowledge, and access to the tools and technology to do it well.

However, less than a year into a new pastor arriving at our parish, even though we had developed a good relationship and rapport, there was a moment when we had a very abrupt and hurtful encounter. I randomly ran into him one day around the parish grounds while I was preparing music for a retreat that weekend. He pulled me aside and said something like, “Oh, next week I’ll work with you to get the website turned over to [another person]. You don’t need to do that anymore.”

I was hurt – deeply hurt. But all kinds of conflicting emotion were already fighting within me. I wasn’t mad, because at the same time that I was hurt that this came out of the blue, so suddenly, without any discussion or concern for my thoughts or feelings, I also knew deep down that I was a little bit thankful that this responsibility had been taken off my shoulders. I wasn’t certain that the other person could do what I thought was “as good of a job”, but I knew that he would do well and that God would provide for that. At the same time I was grieving having something I took such great pride in swiped from my hands (if it was ever really in my hands, since it was God’s work in the end), I was a bit happy that I could occupy my time, attention, and skills in some new ideas and areas.

I bounced back from that moment fairly quickly. Thankfully, on that weekend retreat, I was able to connect my feelings of hurt with the words of the Lord’s Prayer that remind us to forgive in the measure we hope to be forgiven for our sins. My “pruning” in this situation had resolved itself fairly quickly.

Sometimes these moments of pruning that God gives us in life aren’t as fast or easy to get through or resolve. Sometimes the resolution can take months or years. Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime.

But there it is, plain as day at the start of the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel: We are to remain in Christ’s body, as branches of Him, the true vine; and when we bear fruit, the Father will prune us so that we bear more fruit.

Since the situation with the website that I just mentioned, I’ve become more conscious of the commitments that I have in the Church, in my family, and in the world, and in the ways that I have to try to be careful to not over commit. This is hard, and it’s a process that I am constantly undergoing.

Sometimes when I do realize that I’ve taken on too much, I have to prayerfully step back, take some time, and discern where I’m truly needed the most, and where my own unique talents can provide the most benefit.

Sometimes this leads to painful decisions to step back from things that I care deeply about, to find other people on the vine of Christ who will bear good fruit in these areas and ensure they are well taken care of before I do step back.

In recent months, as I’ve continued to discern what I believe to be a call to the Diaconate formation program in our diocese, I’ve reflected a great amount on the “prunings” that I will have to accept if I’m accepted into the program and take this path. For one, I will have to give up the work with music that I do (and love) in my home parish. That is a pruning that I’ve had to pray and consider deeply whether I’m willing or ready to accept, and there are many dimensions of that prayerful discernment: I cherish my hours in the choir loft, at the organ, with my friends and fellow choir members. I cherish the fact that my sons enjoy being up there with me so much, and that Thomas so enjoys playing the flute with us. I don’t even know yet whether I’ll be accepted into the program and start this new journey, but I know that I have come to peace with the “prunings” that I will have to be open to God making in my own life in order to follow that call.

And so it always comes back to the question: Is it my will or God’s Will that I seek? Do I want to choose to risk becoming the unwieldy, overgrown bush that has resisted the pruning and no longer bears new fruit in abundance? Or do I embrace the risk and the sometimes unknowns that come from accepting God’s Will – God’s pruning action in our lives?

Are there new ways God is calling me to go? New directions in which I am to grow and bear new types of fruit?

God prunes our lives in various ways in due time – new careers, new family and friend associations, new places in which to live, new crosses to bear in our daily walk. But the Gospel tells us that the pruning is for an end: so that we can bear more fruit.

It takes great grace and some pain to “be pruned”; that is, to allow the unnecessary to be removed from our lives. Unfruitful commitments, relationships, and the like are sometimes very hard to step away from. And, truly, it’s sometimes very fruitful commitments or very loving relationships that God takes from us in order to make room for something new, something that may even surprise us.

Leonardo da Vinci was known for referring to sculpture as “the art of removing.” We have to become ready to let God, the master potter, work the clay of our lives and remove the unnecessary, to help us become an even more beautiful work of art.

What are the keys to this from our standpoint? Studying and remaining true to God’s Word and to the truths of our faith is one. The other, critical key is a very strong, committed life of prayer. Taking a break from the busy-ness of our daily lives and our commitments provides the space in which to reflect upon where we can and should be going, and listening for God’s guidance.

A life of reading, reflecting upon, listening to the ministers of the Church teach about, and LIVING in God’s Word, and then accepting the prunings God provides, will bring us to the great glory that God has prepared for each of us from the beginning of time.

May God give us the grace to accept the pains of the pruning, the excitement of new growth, and the joys of bearing fruit in his vineyard.