On Wrestling with God

One of my favorite Christmas stories happened a long time before Christmas (maybe 2000 years). It is the story of Jacob, wrestling with the Angel of God.

Jacob was a man of conflict. He was stubborn and ruthless, a liar, cheat, and con man. The name “Jacob” means “deceiver” or “thief”. Yet God had promised Jacob to him that Jacob would the head of “a company nations”. Still, it seemed unlikely.

Jacob had an estranged twin brother, Easu. Jacob had tricked their father Isaac out of Easu’s birthright, and Easu had vowed to kill his brother. And before the two brothers met again, Jacob was challenged by God on a mountaintop in the middle of the night. There, he wrestled in a life-or-death match with an angel, which pulled Jacob’s leg out of its socket– yet he locked up with the angel until daybreak. At dawn, the angel pleaded to be let go, but Jacob refused until the angel blessed him. The angel did so– and changed Jacob’s name to “Israel”, which translated, means, “one who wrestled with God.”

That’s a Christmas story all right. We’re still getting there. I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

We are Israel today.

Well, I am anyway. I shouldn’t speak for you.

I am a person who wrestles with God. What He wants of me. What He demands of me. How He wants me to lead my family. How He wants me to lead my students. How He wants me to lead my life. I wrestle with God against my own temptations, against my own will power, against my own stubborn disbelief in the midst of belief.

I am Israel. I am captive to my own weaknesses, and I wrestle with Him unceasingly. Bless me, Lord, that we can stop fighting.

And yet, there are times where I just decide to shut up and do it God’s way, because it’s the only way I know to salvation.


I think that the reason that so many Christian cranks cling to strongly to the “Keep Christ in Christmas” effort is that Christmas is just about the last public remnant of Christian culture. There was an era in Western tradition where a person could easily be catechized from the greater society. Even if parents were not very observant, their children would learn the tenants of salvation through the diffusion of Christian society.

It’s no longer that way. But don’t worry, dear reader: I’m not going to grind that axe right now.

But Christmas– and more specifically, Christmas carols– might be the last piece of the public catechesis in the Western tradition.

There is a short post by the Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulweiler from before she became part of the Catholic blogging-industrial-complex (a term of amusement, not contempt) where she remembered her atheist days, being dumbstruck in a mall when the music played “What Child Is This?” over the speakers. She talked about how the song demanded an answer– was this holiday just a fourth-quarter sales booster, or was it a time of Joy at the birth of a new born king? What kind of child was this?


One of my favorite Christmas songs isn’t really a Christmas song. Properly speaking, it’s an Advent song: O Come O Come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”, is a statement that Our Lord is real, and has come to earth to break the bonds of sin.

This song makes me want to cry. I am Israel. I am one that wrestles with God. Without Him, I sit in lonely exile– unable to live up to the thing for which I was made– Heaven. Yet if the song is true– that God is with us– then it means that all my frail temptations, all my favorite sins, and all my fears and doubts, are nothing to His ransom. Rejoice, rejoice! God has come to me, me who wrestles with God.


I doubt that “The First Noel” is anyone’s favorite Christmas song unless you are a baritone singer with a hammy disposition. Then, it’s probably your favorite. Maybe the reason that it’s no one’s favorite is because every version of the song that you know is over the top and cheesy.

But lately, I’ve come to think of it as my song.

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay:
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

One day, I’ll share the story of how I tumbled into the arms of Jesus and Our Lady, having been lost in the pit into which I dug for myself. It is the story of the worst year of my life, and how only when I reached rock bottom could I ever really look up and ponder Heaven.

It’s not my favorite story, but it’s true and I don’t hide from it. It’s not my favorite because it means I have to admit that I am not my own master– and that when I’ve tried to live my life by Polonius’s maxim “to thine own self be true,” I lived it right into sad desperation. I am not my own king– and when I pretend to be so, it nearly ruins my life.

Jesus is my king– He who has saved it and transformed it into something way better, if way harder. And on Christmas night, that first Noel, was born the King of me, Israel. King of the man who wrestles with God.


Jacob’s story of wrestling with God is a Christmas story. It’s the story of a broken, sinful person, who had to face up to all the crap he had made in his own life. But it’s a Christmas story because the story doesn’t end there. Jacob had to confront the mess he made and all the ways he wasn’t living up to the life God had made for him.

And when that wrestling got most real– when he was hurt, tired, and could not go further, the fight stopped when Jacob– he who wrestled with God– gave up the fight and asked God’s blessing. That blessing would change Jacob’s life– and change the world.

Two thousand years later, God’s people still wrestled with Him. Two thousand years from then, we still do.

God is with us. He is the babe born in that manger on that silent night.

O come, let us adore Him.

Merry Christmas.

WRC locuta est on December 24th 2014
Advent & Christmas | | Comments Off

On COEXISTing and shutting up

The associate pastor at my neighborhood parish has been recording his Sunday homilies for several weeks now. If you’re interested in good, authentic Catholic teaching, I commend them to you highly.


For some reason, they’re not individually linked, so I can’t give you a specific permalink to click and hear a certain sermon, but his homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is top notch.

It discusses Father Wallish’s least favorite bumper sticker and what it means for Christians.

ASIDE: When people say “Pardon my French”, the next words to come out of their mouth are rarely in French.

WRC locuta est on April 23rd 2013
Catholicing | | Comments Off

On toddlers and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

This is not my child

I love my toddler. At two-and-a-half years old, Sweet Walburga (not her real name) has blessed our family in ways that we could have never expected. She has also driven me crazy in ways that I could have never expected. Surely, every parent agrees with that feeling.

Going to Mass with my family is the highlight of my week. It is also a part of my week that I secretly dread. Because my dear angel Sweet Walburga is very two-and-a-half. Nonetheless, the last 3 weeks that we went to Mass together, her behavior has been more than tolerable. Therefore, I feel qualified as an expert on toddlers and the Divine Mysteries, and confidently submit the following advice to other parents who are sick of fighting with their progeny during Mass.

There is nothing worse than the cry room. Seriously, it’s awful. Parents should get an indulgence if they assist the Holy Sacrifice from there. Do your best to avoid the cry room and prep your children for the pews.

Really, I don’t have any great advice. My toddler is just now learning the basics of being quiet, though she isn’t anywhere near the part of keeping still. The 4-month old, Baby Benedetto (also not his name), gets a pass.

Go to the earliest Mass possible, even though trying to make the 7:30 AM Mass on a Sunday is torture. Kids are almost always better in the first part of the morning. Also, until they are out of preschool age, get over the fact that your kids can munch teddy grahams and a sealed cup of milk in the pews. As long as it won’t make a mess, do it.

Don’t sit too far back at Mass. That’s most people’s first mistake: you think that you want to be by the back for a quick exit if the poop hits the fan. That is understandable, but if you’re too far back, then the children can’t see what’s happening at front and the whole thing is a really boring and quiet 60 (Novus Ordo Mass) to 90 (Traditional Latin Mass) minute torture. Sit as close to the front as you are comfortable, but sit on the aisle. Don’t give up the edge of the aisle except for old ladies in a full house. Even then, maybe (especially then?).

We tried a book or a toy or something. Disaster. It only leads to whining, throwing, and I no want that book, I want Curios George! (Sweet Walburga sounds Greek when she’s angry). Now she gets a bulletin in advance and a hymnal to leaf through. It keeps her busy and we’ve only lost two pages in 3 months.

Also, do your best to prep them for the parts of the Mass that are the most interesting. Walburga particularly loves the bells. I do my best to clue her in when they’re about to come. Then I try to prop her up during the consecration, whispering– “Father is about to lift up the little white circle. It’s called the ‘Eucharist’. Then the altar boy is going to ring the bell. Hear it? That’s daddy’s favorite part of the Mass. Father is going to do the same thing with his gold cup. Ready? Watch!” Little pieces like that help. She also goes up with me to communion (obvs doesn’t receive, but she’s there). That’s a nice break for her to move around.

When it’s time to get out of the pew, just go. Don’t apologize. Everyone understands and everyone is happy that you’re keeping your child busy. Sweet Walburga and I like to see the Stations of the Cross up close. Whispering, she points out Jesus, the angels, the soldiers, the women, etc. She particularly likes to kiss her hand and touch Jesus’ feet with her kissed fingers. I encourage that.

When all else fails, just go run it off in the narthex. We like to point out the picture of the pope, find all the holy cards with Mary on them, and count the bags lined up in the hallway for the food collection. Then after a few minutes, I ask if she’d like to go back to sit with mommy and Baby Benedetto. She always says yes, but I make her state what the conditions of the pew are: “I be quiet and watch Father at Mass”. It doesn’t always work and sometimes we’re back in the narthex. Seriously, sit on the outside of the pew. It is awkward the first time you get up at Mass in the middle of Mass. But it is only awkward for you. Everyone else is relieved and understanding.

Outside of Mass, I also think it’s good that we drive by the church pretty often. I used to point it out to her, but now she likes to see it first. “That’s our church!” she says. “Yes, Walburga! It sure is! What do we do in there?” She answers “We see Jesus, we pray, and be quiet!” That last part always cracks me up. She figured it out on her own. If you can, even stop in when there’s no Mass and let them see the Church when it is quiet. Kids respond to the reverence of solitude with the Blessed Sacrament. Even as a child, the Blessed Sacrament can draw them in if you give them the chance, prep them for it, and don’t overstay their ability to take it in.

Lastly: it is hard and it stinks. Yep. But it is our obligation as Christians and as parents to be at Mass and to bring the souls entrusted to our care. The worst thing you can do is to think that you’re going to start taking them when they’re older– learning how to worship Jesus at Mass starts now.

Hang in there! We’re all struggling together.

WRC locuta est on April 4th 2013
Catholicing | | 1 Comment »

On the true meaning Easter, as told by children

The funniest Easter joke I know:

A children’s catechism teacher was asking her kindergarteners what was Easter all about.

One child raised his hand and said “That’s when Santa Claus comes and brings toys to all the good boys and girls!”

The teacher replied “No, that’s Christmas. But it’s a good guess.”

A girl raised her hand and said “That’s when we dress like scary ghosts and pretty princesses and all the neighbors give us candy!”

“No,” the teacher answered, “that’s Halloween. Very good guess though!”

Another boy raised his hand, saying “That’s when Jesus comes out of the grave!”

“Yes!” the teacher beamed.

“And if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter!”

WRC locuta est on March 31st 2013
Lent & Easter, Temere | | Comments Off

On the goodness of Friday

My friend Tom said that all Fridays are a good Friday, so today should be called “Great Friday”. Heh. I get it.

But I’ve always thought this was a poorly named day. I mean, sure, the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ was good for us.

But it sure was lousy for Him.

Also, it seems odd to wish someone a “happy Good Friday”. So have a crummy one.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

WRC locuta est on March 29th 2013
Lent & Easter | | Comments Off

On The Passion

I had never seen the film The Passion of the Christ until tonight.

When it was released in 2004, I was a long way from caring about Jesus, so when the movie came out, it didn’t interest me much. Plus, I have long been cynical of dippy Jesus art, so I figured the movie was just more of the same but with a higher budget and a big-name director doing a charity bit. But it popped into my Netflix suggestions recently and I decided to add it to the queue.


What a moving film! The most poignant part is a line that is so easy to miss. Simon, who when forced to carry the cross, protests saying “Remember that I am an innocent man, forced to carry the cross of a condemned man!”

There is a brutality to irony.

Today, Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. Or, as it was formerly (and more dramatically) known, Passion Week. This final week of lent is the week of The Passion of the Christ.

Gentle reader, if you have let your Lenten Resolutions go a little lax, then we can commiserate because I have gotten soft on mine, too. It is time for us to redouble those resolutions and draw closer to Jesus in that pursuit of holiness. A friend of mine told me recently that for all the agony that we face when we want that after-dinner piece of cake or that morning cup of coffee or that Scotch nightcap or whatever it is that we suffer to give up at Lent– it is nothing compared to how much Jesus wants you to be with Him in paradise.

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Welcome to Passion Week.

WRC locuta est on March 24th 2013
Catholicing, Lent & Easter | | Comments Off

On separation of church and casket

A Benedictine Abbey in Louisiana was threatened with fines and jail times by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors because the monks were selling caskets without a funeral director’s license. The monks sued the board on boring legal grounds of blah blah blah… and won!

From AP

A federal appeals court says Benedictine monks may keep selling caskets from their monastery near Covington.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling in favor of St. Joseph Abbey and against the state board of funeral directors’ rule that only state-licensed funeral directors can legally sell caskets in Louisiana.

Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote, “The funeral directors have offered no rational basis for their challenged rule and, try as we are required to do, we can suppose none.”

Judges Catharina Haynes and Stephen Higginson joined in the opinion.

The court had asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to decide whether the board’s regulatory power extends beyond funeral homes. It said Louisiana’s highest court declined to hear the case and did not say why.

Yay! And since today is the Feast of St. Benedict, I’m thinking about ordering a dozen caskets for my family. If they arrive before Easter, maybe I’ll fill them with plastic grass and chocolate rabbits?

Unrelated: I wonder why my siblings don’t call me anymore?

WRC locuta est on March 21st 2013
Catholicing, Temere | | Comments Off

On heroes and heroic virtue

In my non-online life, I teach high school geography and history at the finest Catholic school in the Midwest. My work is very important to me; I am convinced that it is my secondary vocation that God has made me for and called me to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of history education in our country. While many people can happily remember a great history teacher in their lives, I am convinced that overall, Americans have a bad relationship with the subject. I mean, ask people why we study history, and they’ll likely parrot back the George Santayana line “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That assumes that history has nothing to offer modern man besides a list of his failures. But what if there are some parts of history that would be great to repeat? What if people were blessed to repeat their past?

Aside: that people personalize their history education to a teacher kind of fuels my opinion. History should be about discovering how God interacts with His creation and how we fit into that story. It shouldn’t be a class about academic personality. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be good teachers– far from it! But that the class shouldn’t be about the teacher.

Yet so much of typical history education is about tearing down honorable people. Lincoln was a psychologically unstable closeted gay, Columbus’s only lasting legacy is enslaving Indians, Thomas Jefferson was a philanderer with his slaves, etc. And yes, History Channel. I’m typing at you.

And the act of tearing down honorable and heroic people carries over to our modern lives: all athletes take drugs and cheat on their wives. The clergy’s biggest goal is to diddle children. The government is out to get you (this one may be true). The most admirable people in life are the professional stupid people on Jersey Shore because they’re getting rich just by being stupid.

Sigh. We live in a world without heroes and without virtue.

Of course, the answer is NOT to ignore failures of important people. We’re all children of the Fall, after all. But lately, I’ve had the phrase “heroic virtue” stuck in my head. It is one of the requirements for canonization to sainthood, so it us the highest call that a Christian can live.

But how do we present heroic virtue to our children? To the world around us? How do we give them models of a holy and virtuous life?

I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ve done a very good job of doing it, either in my curriculum or as a model in my classroom or in my family.

Then I came across this (very informal) book review this morning and it screamed at my teacher conscience. From the Acton Institute, titled “A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey” by Jeff Sandefer and Fr. Robert Sirico, it is going on my Amazon wishlist right away.

“As a teacher,” Sandefer writes, “I’ve seen three types of students:

“The first are those who have a deep-seated anger against an authority figure … When properly guided, these types often will use their conflict to change the world for the better.

“The second are those who have overcome a potentially crushing challenge …These types attract other upbeat companions and role models and often go on to great accomplishments.

“The final type seems most successful in schools and early life. …I pity this last group, because I have never had success in reaching one of them. Not a single one. Having faced no epic battles or catastrophic mistakes, they haven’t learned that the sting of failure almost always is more imagined than real.”


In a world without heroes and among a fallen people where we love vice more than virtue, this this a futile task? And how do I live up to my own hopes of inspiring students to be good people doing good? Alas. I do not know.

WRC locuta est on March 20th 2013
Catholicing | | Comments Off

On the vox populi

The Jimmy Kimmel show has a running segment called “Lie Witness News” where they ask people on the street about things that aren’t true and get their reaction.

In the video below, the Kimmel team interviews people about the “new pope” before we actually habemused a new papum. Gold.

But really, the whole reason to watch it is for the guy in the white hat walking down the street around the 1:50 mark. That’s exactly the kind of man I will be one day. You’re welcome, my beloved spouse.

WRC locuta est on March 18th 2013
Uncategorized | | Comments Off

On the final four

Finally, something that the Holy Father and I can agree on.

I don’t have Villanova getting past Kansas, either.

From Catholic Memes

(They’re Jesuit schools. Get it?)

WRC locuta est on March 18th 2013
Temere | | Comments Off