A Birthday Reflection (and Farewell, of Sorts, for Now)

This thirty-first orbit around the sun contained some of the best moments of my life as well as a number of major changes. Before charging full steam ahead into 31 (officially “in my thirties,” as my brother reminded me), a recounting and reflection seems in order. Psalm 103:1-5.

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First, the highlights/milestones:

  • In October, I got down on one knee in front of the main entrance of Westminster Abbey and asked the woman of my dreams to marry me, who, thanks be to God, said “yes”;
  • On Divine Mercy Sunday in April, I laid down my Protestant arms, crossed the Tiber, and officially joined the Roman Catholic Church in St. Dominic Chapel at Providence College;
  • In June, I helped my fiancée move out of her Northern Virginia apartment, shipping her stuff to our future home in St. Louis and bringing her back with me to the Boston area to prepare for our imminent wedding;
  • Also in June, I left the law firm where I had begun my legal career after nearly two years as an associate there, saying goodbye to many wonderful friends and colleagues;
  • Also in June (and most importantly), I married my best friend;
  • In July, I got two spend almost two weeks traipsing through the Amalfi Coast, Rome, and London with my new wife (the featured image of this post was taken in London during our honeymoon, on the night we decided to re-live our engagement night), during which time, among the many highlights, we attended a mass offered on behalf of our marriage at the altar of St. Michael the Archangel in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City; and
  • Also in July, my wife and I packed up my Boston-area apartment into a Uhaul and moved to St. Louis so we could settle in and get familiar with the area before I start a clerkship here in August.

Truly, God’s mercy and love are unfailing. Lamentations 3:22-23.

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Thanks in no small part to the blessing of having Jenny in my life, I’ve been challenged this year to grow back into the faith I crawled back to a few years ago after many years adrift. Joining the Church was a huge step along the way, but every day requires a renewed commitment to following Jesus and His teachings. My specific spiritual goals and challenges for the year ahead are embodied in the following verses:

  • “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . . [H]usbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church . . . .” Ephesians 5:21-29.
  • “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1.
  • “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? May it never be! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? . . . We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. . . . [S]in will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:1-2, 6-7, 14.
  • “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on the throne of His glory . . . . [H]e will put the sheep at His right hand . . . . Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw You hungry and gave You food, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? And when was it that we saw You a stranger and welcomed You, or naked and gave You clothing? And when was it that we saw You sick or in prison and visited You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” Matthew 25:31-40.
  • “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27.
  • “[A] lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'” Luke 10:25-28.

By the grace of God, I am what I am, and by that grace I can accomplish these goals day in and day out. 1 Corinthians 15:10a.

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As I enter this next season of life, I will be writing a lot less, if at all, on this blog (as is, given the busyness of life, my blogging here has markedly declined over the past year), at least about anything legal or political. Between being newly married and being a law clerk for the next three years, my time and ability to opine on law and politics is severely circumscribed both practically and professionally. Before I go dark on these subjects, however, and while I am reflecting on the year past and the year ahead, I thought I might share some parting thoughts–ones that relate to that passage from Luke above and my failure to live it out.

One need only spend a few moments on Twitter, or watching cable news, to recognize that American politics is pretty toxic. I’m not so naive as to think that politics has ever been primarily about principles (rather, politics has been and is largely animated by those forces that Madison decried in Federalist 10 and Washington warned us of in his farewell speech), but it does seem that in times past our politics focused more on principles, which left room for humanity and decency. Now, it seems principles are being replaced by personality cults and unreasoned dogmas. The “with us or against us” mentality has largely taken over both major parties. The list of maladies affecting the body politic is long, and I could go on, but I won’t–that’s not the point here.

The past few years have been a season of moral reflection for me (scary, I know – like Dylan sang in Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues, “now I’m home, investigatin’ myself // Hope I don’t find out too much // Good God!”). One of the things I recognized in this season is that the times in which I most failed to love my neighbor as myself, in violation of the teachings of Jesus, correspond with the times in which I most allowed a political perspective to dominate my worldview. Because I put politics in the foreground, with all its absurdities and toxicities, my perspective was tainted. Instead of viewing others first and foremost as creatures made in the image of God to whom I owed a moral debt to love in the same manner as I loved myself, I mentally reduced people (subconsciously, mostly) to little more than the sum of their opinions and perspectives (or what I assumed were their opinions and perspectives). If they were on “my side,” everything was mostly gravy. As to those who were not, however, it became far easier to be uncharitable or mean-spirited towards them–if not always in word or deed, at least in thought (though, quite regrettably, in word/deed as well, at times). This was a profound moral failing. Matthew 5:43-48.

Evidence of this tainted perspective is undoubtedly apparent in some old posts of mine here on this blog, where the tone and spirit of my writing was wrong, even if the substance was right (though I was incorrect there, too, I’m sure). This wrong perspective led me not only to prioritize the wrong things in life, but it also caused me to sin against my fellow man (and thus God) on account of this lack of charity and mean-spiritedness. These sins have repeatedly occupied my confessions these past few years, as, through prayer, I have reflected on my failings and sought to improve.

I repent of these failings. And, of course, as I’ve written in the past, true repentance requires more than my feeling sorry for having messed up. Rather, it requires me to continually change my way of thinking and living:

Gonna change my way of thinking,
Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna change my way of thinking,
Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna put my good foot forward,
And stop being influenced by fools.

Moving forward, particularly this next year but beyond as well, I will strive more than ever to make sure that the principles guiding my perspective and actions are those two principles Jesus articulated in Luke 10: Love God with everything within me, and love my neighbor as myself. I will continue to block out the influence of fools so that I can focus on these goals. As so much of our politics is foolishness incarnate, this means avoiding that arena as necessary. To the extent I find myself in that arena (mentally or otherwise) in the future, my first priority in that space must be to love God and others in thought, word, and deed. My first allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God and its dictates, disregarding the influence of all earthly kingdoms insofar as they stand in opposition to that Kingdom and those dictates.

God, wife, family, friends, neighbors–this is what matters. In the coming year and beyond, I pray that I will focus on loving Him and loving others above all else and that my actions will reflect the same, everyday. If I can do that, thirty-one should prove to be a very good year of life, come what may otherwise.

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