Michael T. Dolan

Writings, Reflections, and Commentaries

There’s an app for that

Man looks down in his hands and taps on his toy, checking the weather and reporting his findings. God already created an app for that, I think to myself. And I look toward the sky…

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Harry

I am sitting, reading. My four-year-old son is likewise sitting, playing. He glances up and looks at the man on the cover, reflections of whose life are held within. “Why did Harry Kalas die, Dad?” he asks. I fumble over my reply, “Well, he was a little bit old… and it was time for him […]

Visitors

It was a bad day for the worms. Frozen for weeks, the snow-covered ground thawed in one of those misleading warm February days that hint at spring. Mud replaced the snow, and the worms had nowhere to hide. Just before dusk, the birdfeeder freshly filled, the robins came calling. Well over a hundred red-breasted birds descended upon the lawn […]

Divine shadows

In the brightness of a snowy moonlit night, the shadow of the towering tree is cast upon the earth. Barren branches reach in every direction, and their shadows dance on the snow in their distorted way. I gaze out at the snowy canvas and envy the moon. Like God, it casts its light from the […]

Floating in a moonlit sky

Christmas day and a cold one at that. Toys and newly opened presents filled his grandparent’s home, but my son stumbled upon an old bottle of bubbles and was intent on breathing life into the soapy liquid. “That’s a summertime game,” I tried to explain, more out of selfishness than anything else. I was quite […]

Sacramental snowfall

The heavens open up above today and the first snowfall of the year arrives. The children face the heavens and capture the falling flakes in their mouths, tasting heaven. The coolness drops on one’s tongue, vanishing all too quickly. It leaves you thirsting for more, the million specs of snow just a hint of heaven. […]

Rebirth

Days dot the year when I strive for rebirth. New Years Day. Ash Wednesday. My birthday. Easter. In the heart of each day I hear a voice calling for rebirth . . . a rebirth from harmful habits, to follow my dreams, to be a better person, friend, husband, father. Yet the day comes and […]

Advent

Driving in the car, my four-year-old daughter gazes out the window in the backseat. Excitment for the arrival of Christmas is building with each passing day, and Molly has been vigilant in keeping track.  “Is it 15 days until Christmas, Dad?” “Yes,” I assure her. To which she responds with matter of fact wisdom: “It scares me how quickly […]

Do unto others

Thanksgiving morning came too early for me. I had gone to sleep much too late the night before, but my two-year-old son was ready to start the day at 6:30 A.M. So much for sleeping in. A few hours later I lay on the couch with Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the television. I had my […]

Wings

It was a grey November afternoon, the air cold but not too cold, the sky dark but not too dark. I sat in my car at the traffic light and a flock of starlings caught my attention. Simultaneously, hundreds of them ascended from a barren tree on the side of the road, black dots starting […]

Wawa

The local convenience stores have all installed fancy touch screen computers that allow customers to place their order without even uttering a word. Late at night, I am the only person standing in front of the deli and its technological testimony to efficiency. The young man behind the counter stands there silently, waiting for my […]

Autumn’s martyrs

Fiery leaves signal the dawn of all middles, a waning bell curve between the activity of summer and the dormancy of winter. Autumn – the midpoint of all that lives and all that dies. I stand in the sun’s light and feel the warmth of summer months in the midst of fall. Stepping aside, however, […]

Walking

My children and I were on an evening walk in the neighborhood, their watchful eyes taking in all there was to see – basketball nets in driveways, a bunny rabbit or groundhog scurrying across a lawn, kids playing street hockey. A few blocks from home, we turned south onto a dead-end street that leads toward […]

Parable of the rocks

The rocks have stood there virtually unchanged for 20,000 years, giving visitors a present-day glimpse of a long-ago past. It’s known as Boulder Field, and its nearly 17 acres of sandstone and rock is an awe-inspiring site to anyone visiting Hickory Run State Park in the Pennsylvania Poconos. Tis a humbling experience to stand before […]

Drawn to the light

The neighborhood has long since gone to sleep. A novel kept me up past the others, and so it is well into the morning when I call it a night. I face the mirror, toothbrush in hand. Tapping and buzzing on the window screen call my attention. My bathroom light the only luminous presence in […]

Carpenter bees

My daughter and I stood on the back deck working on the never-ending honey-do list. I stood on the picnic table bench about to drill into the stucco back wall. A carpenter bee flew from underneath the picnic table. They’d found themselves a home in the table, and despite puttying the holes, they kept coming […]

"Bye-bye. Love you."

My four-year-old daughter learns much from her mother, not the least of which is her fondness for talking on the telephone. One night, with yellow play cell phone in hand, she practised calling 911. She thought of all the possibilities that I could play victim and made the emergency call for me. In her mind, […]

Christmas

The crowds stream into the church on Christmas day. Still twenty minutes before Mass is to start and already the pews are filled. Quickly the aisles are filled with those forced to stand. Latecomers are forced to pile into the vestibule; still others are forced to participate in the celebration in the cold. Sitting in […]

Listening to God

I sometimes think we forget to listen to God because we think his time is spent talking to the truly important people. The saints. The mystics. The prophets. We have it in our minds that God speaks our language and that if he wants to speak to us he’ll literally knock us off our horse […]

Seasons greetings

The mailbox is full today, as it has been often these days with the approaching holiday. Within the many Christmas greetings, though, there are always one or two annual family updates that spout off all the wonderful things the family accomplished in the last year. More often than not, humility is lacking. I wonder where […]

Spirits in the sky

My three-year-old daughter has three fears that bring about instant and complete anxiety in her little body: loud noises, crowds, and costumed people. For Molly, our town’s annual Halloween parade is her triumvirate of fears. Arriving in advance of the crowds and the noise, we staked out a spot on the brick sidewalk from which […]

Have you seen us?

Each week in my mailbox I am deluged with circulars, credit card applications, and assorted flyers that make their way directly to the recycle bin without passing go. As I deposit the papers in the brown paper bag, I inevitably pause when two lonely faces call out to me from the “Have you seen us?” […]

Brake lights

The busier life gets, the more difficult it seems to find the time to spend an hour in the Lord’s presence on Sunday, let alone any other day of the week. I have a hunch, however, that God realizes how busy we are. He knows all the things that we believe we need to accomplish […]

Salt on the earth

Darkness swallows the neighborhood, save for the covering of snow on the ground and the glow of moonlight. Snow has silenced the streets, though not for long. Soon enough the trucks and their angry plows will be about, salting the life out of snowy peacefulness. It is in this frightening interruption to human schedules that […]

Leaf-letting

I stand in the middle of the yard, an enormous pile of leaves to my side. I lean on my rake and look at the great expanse of yard still to be cleared. Breathing in the smell of burning decay, I look up at the shedding trees and wonder at this annual autumn leaf-letting. Each […]

Acorns

The squirrel sat on the lawn across the street, staring at the two-year-old girl hollering over to it. “Acorns! More acorns here!” She gestured at our lawn, which was littered with the droppings of the two tall oaks that towered over my daughter. She continued the chant. “Acorns! More acorns here!” She called not because […]

Bodysurfing

“Starting Point” in the National Catholic Reporter (August 11, 2006). I walk the beach with my daughter, a bucket of ocean in tow. Looking to the waves, a man is teaching his son to bodysurf, and I catch of glimpse of my past and my future. As a child, there was no missing my 6-foot-4 […]

The moon and the surf

God spoke to me tonight through the moon. Listening to the waves crash on the ocean floor, I heard the voice of God talking. The moon’s gravity pulled the ocean skyward, continuing the eternal conversation of the surf.

God's messenger

Each night before bed, my wife and I lay with our daughter and say prayers. We run through a litany of people and things that make up the two-year-old’s day: her little brother, her grandparents, her stuffed animal “Ducky” (also known as “Mr. Ducks”), and so on. After a lifelong friend of mine passed away […]

A hole in the sand

I sat with my daughter on the beach, gathering together millions of pieces of sand so that together they could form a magnificent castle. The beach was beginning to be deserted, with swimmers, sunbathers and the rest making their evening trek back to solid ground. A mother walked by with her young son. Spotting a […]

"Molly loves mine"

“Sacramentals” in the National Catholic Reporter (September 5, 2008). After saying prayers with my daughter, then telling her a short story with only the nightlight on, we spend a few quiet minutes rocking in a peaceful meditation before I place her in her crib for the night. On one such night I broke the silence, […]

Pretending to be blind

Is there a more uncomfortable place than the mind of the healthy visiting our elders in a nursing home? Leaving a quick visit with a friend recuperating from surgery, I walk past two little ladies imprisoned in wheelchairs in the hallway. One can barely keep her head raised. The other is letting out a constant […]

Santa and the fire truck

It was a grey December afternoon when I heard the engines in the distance. Within minutes they were at the bottom of our street, getting louder with the approach. I hollered to my daughter in the other room, calling to her: “Come quick! Come quick! Santa on a fire engine!” She came scampering through the […]

Evening prayer

I end each day by walking into my daughter’s room and watching her sleep. Immediately the past and the future disappear. Like being with God, only the present exists. The anxieties, stresses, worries, and problems of the day – and the day yet to come – all vanish. At this moment there is only peace. […]

Trick or treat

My daughter wasn’t even two when she dressed up as a bumble bee for Halloween. As dusk fell we put the costume on and prepared her to “trick or treat” to the neighbor’s next door just so they could see her costume. Before heading out, her Grandmother put some “treats” into the plastic orange pumpkin […]

Hail Mary and the ‘Times Tables’

Hail Mary and the ‘Times Tables’ in the Philadelphia Inquirer (September 25, 2005). The siren behind me causes me to look into the rearview mirror, and I am instantly transported back to my youth. Sitting near the back of the classroom, I remember our second grade class racing through the multiplication tables with unwavering speed. […]

Faith and thunder

“Turn off the thunder, Dad! Turn off the thunder!” A toddler’s first experiences of a thunder storm are an exercise in faith. Deafening noises crash outside, some rumbling in the distance, others seemingly crashing right outside the window. Now is not the time for meteorological lessons explaining the nature of warring cold and warm fronts. […]

The courage to wave

Perched atop the grocery cart, my one-year-old daughter waves at every person we pass as we make our way through the aisles, challenging them with a smile and a hello of the hand. Many smile in return and wave back. Others do not even notice. Whether they are looking or not, though, she offers a […]

Morning prayer

The shower prayer: “Lord, cleanse my body, cleanse my mind, cleanse my heart, cleanse my soul.” Short and sweet, and not a bad way to start the day, accompanied by the incense of Dial.

Witness to violence

The television was on in the background. My daughter awoke well past the time infants in other time zones have even gone to sleep. Playing on the floor, she looks to the TV screen just in time to see a violent act of bludgeoning on a crime drama. In a heartbeat her eyes bulge in […]

Sunflower

A neighbor gave us a sunflower. Not watering it, it quickly died. The weeds surrounding it seemed not to mind the lack of water. Rather, they seemed to flourish. Man is born with weeds inside him. Such is the price of free will; such is the need for grace. Without a daily dose of grace, […]

Starrise

“Starting Point” in the National Catholic Reporter (May 25, 2007). Sunrises and sunsets get all the attention. And not that they shouldn’t – the burning sky deserves attention. Tonight, however, I glimpsed a “star-rise.” It was approaching dusk and the sun had disappeared over the horizon. Light still filled the sky, though it became a […]

Turnstiles

Working in a small office in the suburbs, the pace tends to be slow – busy, but slow – which makes the occasional meetings in Center City a bit like watching a movie as others race by me and through me. I find the building and attempt to open the doors. They are locked. Looking […]

Watching my steps

Walking to the back door of our house, my one-year-old daughter is distracted by activity at her feet. Still struggling to pronounce the word, she shouts the word for “bug.” “BUH! BUH! BUH!” Raising her legs, she begins to playfully stomp on the ants at her feet. It was just yesterday that bugs were a […]

Listening

A child’s ears truly listen. Whether we are seated at the dinner table, playing with the toy kitchen, or reading a book, it is always my daughter who calls my ears to attention. “Cawl! Cawl! Cawl!” She’s right, I do hear the birds now. “Weeeeeeehhhh,” she howls in excitement, tapping her head to tell me […]