Over the last 90 days (ending on Easter) I have been undertaking the Exodus 90 disciplines for the second year. My brother and our friend Ronnie also did it this year. We had a larger group last year, and we met up more frequently. This year it was only us and we did not meet up at all, except for some family hangouts on Sundays.

During Exodus 90 I read a few books on my kindle relating to the alleged visions at Medjugorje, as well as listening to an audible book about the Fatima apparitions. I have also been working intensely on praying the Rosary, and writing down thoughts on how to teach our kids how to say the Rosary.

Finally, I have been fasting in reparation for my sins and the sins of others.

Just as importantly, I have been working in family practice, which brings me face to face with humanity in all its beauty, frailty, joy, stupidity and evil on a daily basis. I will be talking diet and exercise strategies with a 50-year-old pastor one minute, and trying to convince a sixteen-year-old boy that he should not kill himself in the very next appointment. It is a frontline posting in the spiritual war that we are all born into whether we like it or not. Many times over the last few weeks I have remembered the saying of Jesus: “This kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”

I have learned several things from the experience, probably the most important of which is that I really have a very shallow and superficial relationship with Jesus and with His mother. Being the kind of person who likes to read and think and approach things through the mind, I have been reading and listening to audible books about Mary in the Scriptures, and about Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I said, I have been trying to pray the Rosary, more frequently and fervently.

But I have also come to have a greater appreciation for the importance of the home and family life Kathleen and I are trying to build here. We had some family over for Easter dinner and one of them paid us the compliment of saying we had a “very peaceful home.” There are some who think that is an extra, a privilege, or even an unfair advantage over the thousands, or even millions, who do not have the ability to live in peace and emotional security like our children do. I myself am prone to that thought, to feeling guilty at how well off we are when so many other people are less fortunate.

A few nights ago, it was probably a Thursday or Friday night based on how tired Kathleen and I were, we were trying to put the girls to bed, and they were having none of it. They still had tons of energy. It took an hour to get them even to want to lie still enough to snuggle. Then Ellie was in a clingy mood, and didn’t want to be put in her crib while she was still awake. Time was dragging on, and it was pushing closer and closer to 9:00, with laundry and work preparations still remaining to be done, and the knowledge weighed on me that we would probably be up with a snotty baby at least once, and that the jolt of the alarm was creeping inexorably closer and closer. I impatiently wondered why Ellie needed to be held right then. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep in her crib by herself?

For a brief second a picture flashed into my brain that I had seen on a news story or a facebook blurb or something like that. It was a picture of a little boy, probably two or three years old, who had been brought to a refugee hospital in Aleppo at the height of the civil war. I have seen the “thousand yard stare” many times in my life. I’ve probably worn it at least a couple times. But this picture was the first time I had ever seen it on a child’s face. It was a face that was worn, haggard, with huge eyes, completely catatonic, staring vacantly into nowhere.

I realized that holding our children when they need to be held is not an imposition, or an interruption. It is our most serious business, our most critical mission. Nor is it a privilege, or an unfair advantage for children to grow up valued, loved or emotionally secure, or to be read to at an early age. It is not a privilege, it is their birthright, as it is the birthright of every child ever born, to have a mother and a father who love them, and who model for them what real love is. The tragedy is not that some children get to enjoy a measure of this, but that many children do not.

I saw a little patient today, a sweet little boy with severe developmental delays and physical disabilities. His grandmother remarked in passing that we, the medical providers, had held him longer in the short office visit than his father had in his entire life.

I may not be able to love all the children of the world, but I can certainly love my own. I can offer everything I do from the moment the alarm goes off until the moment my eyes close (for the first time) at night as a sacrifice, as an act of charity and obedience, for all the other children that I cannot reach.

Right now it is Easter week. I am not sure how official it is, but I have been taught to think of Easter week as one long intentional celebration of the Resurrection. That means no fasting or abstaining. Instead, I plan on making pumpernickel bread and having bacon sandwiches on Friday this week, in gratitude for the glorious gift of bacon. This looks forward to the life of the world to come when God will “wipe away every tear from every eye.” It recalls that Jesus has risen, He is truly alive, and that He is with us always even to the end of the world. As He Himself said, “No one can fast when the Bridegroom is present.”

But He also followed that up with, “But someday the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15.)

We exist in the already and the not yet. So for one week out of the year, the week of Easter, we do not fast in celebration of the resurrection. But next week, Adam and Ronnie and I will take up fasting again. We will certainly not be doing all the Exodus 90 disciplines (cold showers are out!) But we all agreed that fasting seemed both the most essential and the most rewarding and we will be maintaining that to some varying extent.

Fasting is not a mental exercise, a spiritual workout. It is not about mind-over-matter or developing “self-discipline,” although it does those things. Fasting is an act of preparation for the Eucharist, first and foremost. It is a way of meditating with our body on “Every word that comes forth from the Mouth of God,” which is the “Word become Flesh, and dwelling among us,” “the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Secondly, fasting is an act of spiritual warfare. It is a defensive action that strengthens us against temptation. It is also an offensive action which, when offered for another, or offered directly to Jesus in union with His own salvific suffering (Colossians 1:24), is a fast acceptable to the Lord, able “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

Pray, do penance, go to confession, Celebrate the Eucharist, Love your Family. You will be helping to save the world.

 

Manmaker (2)
Insert Man Here

 

 

 

I have spent a good portion of my life in the space between an ALICE pack and a pair of combat boots. I first put on a rucksack at the age of 17, at basic training, when we had to train up for a culminating event which consisted of rucking 12 miles in 3 hours with 35 pounds. I did not realize at the time just how integral a part of my life that piece of equipment would one day become.

I began to take it a bit more seriously when I started training up for Selection in 2003-2005 (completed but did not pass), then again training for Sapper School in 2006 (completed but did not pass), and then again when I got back from Afghanistan in 2008, training up for Selection again, (passed, September 2008). I spent the next two-years of my life in Fort Bragg, slowly and painfully crawling across the wilds of North Carolina with an unhealthy amount of weight on my back.

During that time I averaged between 20 and 30 miles per week on my feet, either rucking, running or both. I remember hearing other guys say, “I cannot wait until I graduate and go to a team, and then I don’t have to do this outdated, leftover Vietnam BS! I’m just going to lift and get freaking huge and never ruck again.” They were saying it, and I was thinking it. I just wanted to get to that place where I could concentrate on getting jacked and tan, without having to spend 5 to 8 hours under the ruck every week.

Then I got to First Special Forces Group and spent the next three years on a mountain team. If you think military mountaineering is about scaling sheer cliffs in shorts, climbing shoes and muscle shirts, think again. It is mostly about… you guessed it. Rucking.Colorado 14er (2)

That’s really what it is. It’s all about carrying heavy things some more, just in steeper and more dangerous terrain; and sometimes over snow.Marines Cross Country CA

What is strange is that over time I have come full circle. I started out a starry-eyed young dreamer longing for fortune and glory and excited about doing real Army things! Rucking was fun because I saw myself sneaking into enemy held territory to wreak havoc on bad guys and rescue good guys. Then it became a chore that I had to do, but I didn’t mind because I was good at it. Then it morphed into a demon. At Selection they talk about the “fear monkey” which is an unfocused sense of panic that jumps on your back and sinks its dirty fingernails into your flesh. If you let it, it will sink its teeth in your neck. We also refer to the rucksack as “the tick” because it settles onto you and sucks the life out of you. It gets to be so painful and miserable that just the sight of the tick brings on the fear monkey. You literally panic at the sight of the rucksack.

That is when men either quit, or don’t. And that makes all the difference. If you don’t quit you will find yourself swallowing the fear and at the bottom of the cup you will find enjoyment. It’s the same thing with rock climbing (I am afraid of heights). I don’t think I have ever been on a rock face without promising myself that if I only get off this one alive, I will never climb again. It works every time. And I came to enjoy climbing.

Colorado 14er (1)
It’s freakin’ cool when you get there.

 

You have to push through the fear to find the joy.

I was talking with a younger guy a while ago, a younger guy who is kind of drifting right now, contemplating his options without acting on any of them. I recommended he start rucking.

Right now my brother Adam and I are engaged in a men’s group doing a program called “Exodus 90.” I brought up the what-if, “What if we lived in a society where every boy had to pass selection as a teenager before he was allowed to hold a job or date a girl.” I may write a novel about that someday, if I get the time.

In Special Forces training the rucksack is a tool. It’s purpose is to force each man to that choice: quit or don’t quit. They don’t particularly care whether any individual quits or not. They are in the business of weeding people out who can’t hack it, and selecting people who can. They use the rucksack, partly because it’s tradition, partly because it is a highly useful skill in combat, but also partly because it is not sexy. If they used weightlifting, or crossfit, or something like that, there would be the unfortunate sexy component. You could look in the mirror in the middle of the suck and think, “Dang, I look good!” But they want a challenge that isn’t fun, isn’t interesting, doesn’t look sexy, and you just have to dig deep and do it anyway. If you can’t do something when no one is looking, and when it isn’t sexy, then they don’t want you. The rucksack will weed you out.

In this sense I use the ruck differently than they did at Selection.

I call the ruck “The Man Maker.” I truly believe that for boys having a hard time transitioning to manhood, the ruck is as good a way as any to learn what you need to learn. Its purpose is not to weed out those who can’t hack it, but to teach those who don’t know they can hack it that indeed they can. And to teach those who think they can that in fact they still have a lot to learn. I encourage rucking as a vehicle for bringing people to that place where they either have to quit or keep going, and then teach them that they can keep going.

Of course some will learn, and some will not.

And of course, the rucksack is not the only man maker out there. A herd of cows, a plot of ground, medical school, a fishing boat, a coal mine, a deployment, the seminary, a small business, a farm, a marriage, children; all of these can bring a boy to that same choice. In other words, life will make a man out of you if you accept its challenge.New York Flood 2017 (16)

That is how God designed it. That is the purpose of this world, to bring you to the moment of choice, which is alive and throbbing underneath every moment of our lives. The rucksack is a model for this, and video games are its antithesis.

Just be aware. Rucking will make a man (or a woman) out of you. But it will not make you a Saint.

st-john-the-baptist-icon

The Prophet

My conscience wears a loincloth of camel hair.
His stomach, drumskin taut from hip to gaunt
Protruding ribs, bloats and ripples beneath
The harsh and swelling cry. Through busy streets
The press of unwashed bodies, mingling, shoving,
Sweating over their various sundry trades,
Commerce and compromise, muffle the voice, deaden
The shrill, piercing, long-accustomed cry:
“Repent!”

                             Within the academic towers
The scholars pause their insufficient trade
In formulations inadequate to truth
Or grace, to parse and analyze his words,
Extrapolate his childhood memories,
Apply the latest theories, check his sources,
Influences, background, syntax and every shade
Of meaning inherent beneath the truth he says,
Or does not say.

                             Poets hold easy commerce
With his “artistic vision.” His naked plea
Draws knowing professional courtesy, they nod and snap
Their fingers and murmur “Mmmmmm…”
“Yes!”
“Oh yeah!”
They clap him on the shoulder and call him, “Brother.
We too are misunderstood, we understand.”
But they will never believe. Belief requires
Relinquishment of doubt, acceptance of joy,
And joy and faith are just not “in” these days
And so they casually wear artistic angst,
Artfully draped across the shoulder and back,
At a jaunty angle like the capes of musketeers,
And neither believe, nor even understand. 

Seers drown their visions in cups of tea
Brewed from scraps of re-constructed past
Steeped in self-pity, savoring the taste
Of stagnant pain, and swirl the bitter leaves.
They read the posthumous reviews of their own tales,
Of all the ways things could have turned out well
If the other guy had only heard the call
To repent. 

                             Outside the city walls the farmland
Groans. Ignorant farmers work the earth
Producing grain, and grapes, and olive oil
For shipment to the City, there to furnish
Bread for the masses, and wine to cheer their hearts,
The necessary but insufficient cause
Of life. The workers live their lives
Such as they are, with a minimum of fuss
Taking in stride the semi-occasional raid
Upon the farms, by scaly, stupid beasts,
Monsters from the ancient outer wilds.
These things do happen.

                                                While in the cosmopolitan,
Refined and cultured burg, the very name
“Barbarian,” or rumor of beasts, is enough to send
The citizens into orgies of delicious panic.

 Meanwhile, the ground beneath our feet shakes,
Rumbling with inexorable, oncoming
Redemption like a volcano beneath the earth.

 

https://pilgrimatthecrossroads.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/blogpost139prayer.jpg
This beautiful image is borrowed from https://pilgrimatthecrossroads.files.wordpress.com

The Best Part of Waking Up is the morning holy hour. Whether I drive to St. Frances Cabrini’s and pray in front of the Tabernacle, or simply go upstairs and meditate, a solid hour of prayer every morning is a prerequisite for a good day. It is the ground work for the battles to come. It is a chance to inventory MWE (Men, Weapons and Equipment. Sorry, throwback to my military days), prep equipment, oil the guns, top off magazines and canteens and down some Spiritual Chow before beginning the day’s operations.

If I do that morning stand-to, my day is usually pretty good. If not, my day https://sites.google.com/site/worldwar1class4/life-in-the-trenches/daily-routineis rocky at best, and often a disaster.

Unfortunately, sometimes just getting there can be a struggle. I deliberately try to be in bed at a specific time every night, precisely so that I will be able to get up with time for that morning prayer hour.

However, life being what it is, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I am awake past bedtime for one reason or another. Sometimes Evie gets me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes she gets me up and wants to party in the middle of the night. I am always aware of the sleep clock during these interruptions. As the overall amount of sleep drops ever further and further below budget, the odds of having a rough time getting out of bed and into prayer time go higher and higher.

Then the alarm goes off and this song and dance starts.intuition-vv65ssttfyzv6bayjjl-jq

I feel like the Angel says, “He will do his prayer time. The Spirit is Willing!”

And the Demon says, “He’ll go back to bed. The flesh is weak.”

But then the Voice of the Lord Thunders from all Eternity in the prevenient grace of a Creative Act:Slide1

“THEREFORE THE COFFEE SHALL BE STRONG!”

 

This morning’s cup of motivation brought to you by DeEspressoLiber.

computer-game-addictionsAt the beginning of this month I gave up video games.

Forever.

This was the result of about a week or two of soul-searching, during which I was playing video games in almost all my spare time (Sid Meiers’ “Civilization IV” if you want to know). Of course, as a college student, husband, father, blogger and National Guard Soldier I don’t have much spare time to begin with, and you might wonder, as I did, what the harm is in playing a turn-based strategy game on my downtime? Everyone needs to unwind, right? I was still making all my daily prayer times, getting to class on time, taking care of Evie, spending time with Kathleen, even getting all my papers turned in on time. Where is the harm in a few hours a week of video game?

And yet, during my prayer time I got the distinct impression that Jesus was looking at time spent playing that game with something resembling a frown. I didn’t feel that He was angry about it, or that He was regarding it as a sin. Rather, I felt He was getting impatient with it, sort of like, “When are you going to quit playing around with that and surrender your spare time to me? I have use for it.”

At the same time a fairly involved writing project was slowly taking shape in my mind, and instead of getting started on writing it, I was playing video games. Unexpected free time would come up, and with it the certainty that it was given to me so that I could start writing. I wanted to start writing. I had every intention of writing and… I would open up Civ IV instead of MS Word.

I was hesitating, I was delaying doing what I knew Jesus wanted from me. That was sin.

As I said, I wrestled against it for two weeks. Then my cousin started NaNoWriMo, and I decided that I had to do it too. The writing project is not just a fun hobby, but somehow a means of Grace that Jesus wants me to explore. I gave up video games, told my wife I was giving them up, and posted it on facebook. Now if any of my friends see me drifting towards the games again, they have leave to call me out on it and hold me to account. I set to work writing, and I am a little over 12,000 words into it so far.

Recently during a rosary or morning prayer or something where I was saying the Our Father, the line, “Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” jumped out at me.

How many millions of times have I said that prayer, and that line has never hit me as it has over the last few weeks. Kathleen and I were talking it over when I shared it with her and we agreed that it was actually a terrifying prayer, when you really think about it. I mean really, we are praying that we be given the grace to obey God the way the saints and angels in Heaven obey Him. Kathleen described it as “Instant and complete obedience to absolutely every single little command.”

That is why I had to give up video games, not because they are bad. They aren’t necessarily bad. It is not even because I have other things that I can do that are better, like reading, writing, exercising, spending time with friends and family, or praying. I do have all of those things which will make me into a better person than gaming ever could, but that is not the reason. That is a consequence of the reason. The reason is that Jesus wants me to.

That’s it. There is no other reason necessary. Absolute and total obedience is a simple duty of the creature to the Creator, of the child to the Father, of the redeemed to the Redeemer. Giving up games is one step in the pursuit of that goal of perfect, total obedience, one simple, easy little step. The difficulty I had in taking it has more to do with my own lack of love than any inherent difficulty in that step. After all, obedience unto death is our model and our standard. As I am beginning to suspect, it is not even a special call reserved for the few, but a simple requirement for getting into Heaven.

But more on that some other time.obedient unto death

One of my least favorite verses in the whole Bible is Psalm 127:2.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
Eating the bread of anxious toil;
For He gives to His beloved sleep.
 

My least favorite version of that verse is the translation in the Divine Office.

In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest
You who toil for the bread you eat
While He pours out blessings upon His beloved while they sleep.

You see I have always had a conflicted history with sleep. I don’t like sleep.

It isn’t just that I don’t like sleep, and I would rather be awake doing things. That would be fairly normal, I think. Just think of how much we could get done if we didn’t have to sleep!

But no, I don’t just dislike sleeping. I positively resent the need for sleep. I have the tendency to regard my continuing need for sleep as a personal affront to my productivity. Perhaps that is why I still need to sleep, and why I don’t do as well on no sleep as I used to.

And yet, God has decreed that I shall need to sleep fully a third of every day, on average. Without sleep memories don’t consolidate, muscles don’t regenerate, the immune system doesn’t kill bad bugs, and eventually I crumble and grind to a halt. I suppose you can look at the time that God has free reign to repair all the damage I do to myself on a daily basis. I am not striving, I am just doing nothing, so I am not getting in His way.

God knows that I need to shut down and let Him do His thing on a daily basis. Sleep is the great humbler. So I thank Him for it. I wonder if in Heaven we will combine the awareness and alertness of the conscious awake state with the total vulnerability and relaxation of the sleep state?