He did it religiously.

Every afternoon, following a large lunch and usually a piece of pie, my grandfather would head out for a walk around his neighborhood. He had been a teacher and principal of the local high school for 40+ year and so nearly every person in his small Ohio town knew my grandfather by name.

Over the years my grandfather’s walk slowed in pace and shortened in length, but everyday at about 1 p.m. you could find him walking the streets of his hometown. He took this walk religiously. It’s funny how we use the world “religiously” to describe a practice or habit that someone does repeatedly. If someone has a good habit built up, we say they religiously do that thing. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Luke describes Jesus going to synagogue and reading from a scroll. It feels like the first act of a life of public ministry. Luke says that Jesus went to the synagogue that day “according to his custom.” In other words, Jesus regularly attended the synagogue in his hometown. Going to the synagogue was an ordinary practice for Jesus. One might say he went religiously. 

We humans often think that things that happen regularly are boring or mundane. While in some cases that might be true, just because something happens time and time again doesn’t make that thing any less significant. The sun rises everyday but if we are paying attention, it can be a pretty extraordinary thing.

After Jesus read the scroll with the messianic prophecy from Isaiah, he sat down. While everyone starred at him, he said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was an extraordinary moment. Jesus publicly declares that he is the chosen messiah spoken about in the Old Testament. Jesus exclaims that he has come to bring glad tidings to the poor, recover the sight of the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim a year of jubilee. These are the actions of the messiah. 

I see two take aways for us. First, Jesus is Lord and he purposefully says so. Secondly, amazing, extraordinary things not only can happen in ordinary, regular moments, but often only because those moments occur with regularity.

The truth is we encounter a great deal of miraculous, astonishing, and extraordinary things in our daily lives. We have just become numb to their profound awesomeness. God blesses us abundantly and we often get bored with the incredible. 

Mass is an example of this experience. We go to Mass week after week and for many of us it feels like the same old thing again and again. The reality is that during Mass the veil between heaven and earth falls, the bread and wine on the altar transform into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and our God comes so close to us we can taste him. While we might attend Mass religiously, we should never let Mass become empty repetition. After all, it is always extraordinary. 

Live It: Go to Mass and pretend it is your first Mass ever. Try to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste everything as if it is the first time ever. Let yourself be amazed.

Sunday Readings January 23, 2022.

Whatever.

My best friends in the world are great meat eaters. If it comes to buying, preparing, or dinning out on meat, I 100%, without hesitation trust what they say. If they tell me the double pork chop at such-and-such a restaurant is worth the price, I am making reservations. If they have a new way to sous vide and reverse sear a brisket, I’m making plans to make the recipe happen. I trust them completely in regards to meat. 

Do trust anyone like that? Is there anyone who, when it comes to food or coffee or art you trust completely? How did you build that trust? What about them makes them trustworthy?

The gospel this Sunday is the story of the wedding at Cana. Most of us are likely very familiar with the details of the story (If you need a refresher, read it here). One line stuck out to me this time. Mary tells Jesus they are out of wine. Jesus responds basically questioning what it has to do with him. Marty responds, not by correcting or encouraging Jesu, but by turning to the the waitstaff and saying, “do whatever he tell you.”

Mary’s trust in Jesus is deep, powerful and authentic. No one has a closer relationship with Jesus than Mary because no one trusts Jesus more than Mary. 

Mary’s trust in Jesus is actually present in multiple ways. First she trusts that he as the ability to do something about it. This was his first public miracle. Jesus doesn’t exactly have the track record of a wonder worker. Yet, Mary trusts that he can some how make it so that there is enough wine for the wedding to continue. 

Mary also trusts that Jesus will do something. This is incredible because Jesus just literally denied that this was his responsibility. Yet Mary knew his heart and trusted that Jesus would in fact act and save the wedding. 

Finally Mary trusts that Jesus would engage the other humans present to accomplish the mission. Jesus didn’t stagger off carrying giant water vessel after water vessel to go get it filled up. No, Jesus cooperates with the humanity present to miraculously change water to wine, a failed wedding into perfect nuptials. 

While there are many lessons held with in these words, the one I am taking away this week is that if you want a miracle performed, trust Jesus. Trust he is able. Trust he is willing. Trust he will cooperate with us to get the job done. 

Sunday Readings for January 16, 2022.

Do Homage.

In 1999 St. Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis, Missouri my hometown. I was in the Kiel Center with 22,000 teens and young adults for the youth prayer experience with St. JPII. It was awesome. One of the most incredible moments for the St. Louis young people was when the Pope suddenly appeared on the big screens. He was in the building! And then coming into the camera view was St. Louis Cardinal baseball player Mark McGwire. This was a bigger deal than you can imagine.

Let me explain. St. Louis is baseball crazy. (Partly because we don’t have anything else going for us.) In 1999 before all the performance enhancing drug controversies, Mark McGwire was a living legend. He was a big deal. Part of the stadium was named after him (Big Mac Land) and only recently has been renamed. When we saw the Pope and the Big Mac together on he big screens, if felt like our little St. Louis heads were going to explode. 

Then Mark McGwire leaned over and kissed the Pope’s ring. With head lowered he waited for a blessing and humbly and simply thanked the Pope. It was amazing to see the biggest name, the most famous sports star, so humbled in the presence of St. John Paul II. Only later did I realize what Mark McGwire was doing was paying St. John Paul II homage. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the familiar story of the three Magi traveling to see Jesus in the manger. They follow a star. They bring gifts. You know the drill. 

But what amazed me when I re-read it this week is that they tell Herod that they are coming to give this new king homage. Herod asks them to tell him when they have found the new king so that he too can offer homage. Later when the wise men find Jesus, they do in fact offer him homage (and stuff). 

The appropriate and good response to searching for and finding Jesus is to give him homage. This is what we were made to do – to offer Jesus homage. What does that mean for us. To give Jesus homage is to offer him some special honor in a public fashion. In other words, we humble ourselves before him and offer praise and honor in a place where others witness this action. 

I think a lot of us offer Jesus our problems. We offer Jesus our needs. We offer Jesus our requests. We are private fans of Jesus. All of that is fine, but it isn’t doing Jesus homage. 

This Christmas season our challenge is not just only be fans of Jesus, but to be followers. Our challenge is to offer Jesus special honor in a public manner. Let’s offer our newborn King homage. 

Live It: Go to a local nativity scene (at your parish or otherwise) and offer Jesus some act of homage. Pray out loud to him, say a Glory Be, or some other act of praise and honor. Visit and offer Jesus homage. 

Sunday Readings for January 2, 2022.

WRONG Turn.

In 2011 I was in Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day. Started by St. John Paul II, World Youth Day is a gathering of Catholic young people from all over the globe to celebration their faith and have some face time with the Pope. I was leading a group of about 20 something high school and college students toward a night of Adoration on the other side of Madrid when we got lost. We had hopped on the subway and gotten out at a subway stop that was totally and complete wrong and it was 100% my fault. 

I thought if we just walk a couple blocks this one direction maybe we end up in the right place, but instead prudence just told us to turn around. Rather than continue down this wrong path, the right thing was just to turn around. When we popped out of the sub on the other side, we heard sirens and not 90 seconds later, Pope Benedict the XVI came driving by in the popemobile and we were absolutely the only group on the side of the road in this sleepy Madrid neighborhood. I like to say we got a private audience with the Pope (at 50 miles per hour) all because we simply turned around. 

In life when we recognize we’ve made a wrong decision or taken a wrong turn we have a decision to make, do we persist in that errant decision or do we turn around? In the gospel this Sunday we will read about what Joseph and Mary do in just such a situation.

The Holy Family has traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. After completing the festival they leave in a large caravan of people. After a day of travel, Joseph and Mary realize they have left 12 year old Jesus in Jerusalem (Think Home Alone 2 but Jerusalem instead of NYC). 

What do Joseph and Mary do? They turn around. They don’t try and justify their travel or find another way to retrieve their child. No, they just turn around and go to Jesus. I think this is a pretty solid course of action for any of us when we wander off. 

If you feel like you have lost your way or have made a bad decision, don’t justify where you are or explain yourself, simply turn around and return to Jesus. It is actually as simple as stopping and going back to where you were.

LIVE it: This year December 26 is the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. Maybe you’ve made a bad decision or a wrong turn with someone in your family (maybe it just happened at Christmas). Stop, turn around, and go to Jesus about this issue. After that, go to your family member and seek to make amends. It just may be the thing you need this Christmas. 

Sunday Readings for December 26, 2021.

One Mightier than I.

I love ping pong. Growing up, I had a table in my basement and at our neighborhood pool. I played a ton of table tennis as a teenager and got pretty good at it. All those reps serving, returning, lunging, and diving built up a significant amount of muscle memory. Not only was I a pretty good ping pong player, but I was pretty proud of how good I was. I loved taking on all challengers and quickly dispatching them. 

That was until I was entirely and completely destroyed in one game. As you can imagine I was talking big and feeling strong. My opponent was quiet but happy to play. Within a couple of serves I knew I was in trouble. After loosing by double digits, I received some humble pie when my opponent did the most in your face thing ever – he was nice to me about it. In my experience competitive people are only nice when they play someone who they don’t think is very good. I encounter someone mightier than I (at ping pong). 

In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist has collected a large, diverse group of followers. Each groups asks John how they are to behave. He answers with simple, clear directions. The gospel then says they were “asking in their hearts” about whether John was the Messiah. In other words, they wondered, but they didn’t ask anything out loud. 

John is a prophet, so he answers the question the crowd isn’t asking. He says,”I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals…”

When we encounter someone mightier than us, we tend to have one of two reactions. Sometimes our defenses can raise. We can become antagonistic because someone is better than us. We can become resentful because we meet someone who outshines us. We can become indignant that someone out performs us on our turf. (Here is looking at you pharisees, scribes, temple officials.)

Or we can choose to be like John the Baptist. We can acknowledge the truth of the situation and recognize that our worth isn’t tied to our performance, but to the gift of sonship or daughter we’ve received from God through our baptism.

When it comes to encountering Jesus I think some of us even put up walls or are resentful. It is as if, we know Jesus is better than us and we can’t stand to fathom being near to him  because we are self-conscience about how bad we look. We can be fearful that Jesus’ goodness will illuminate our badness. As sad as his reality is, I do believe some people react in this way to Jesus coming. (Here’s looking at you Herod.) 

As we draw closer to Christmas and draw closer to Jesus coming to us in a unique way at the end of 2021, we have a choice. We can be like Herod or the Pharisees or we can be like John the Baptist. Will you welcome one mightier than you or deny him this Christmas?

Live It: Make a plan to welcome Jesus into your house and your heart this Christmas. With 2 weeks left, gather your family and make a plan for how Jesus is going to be the best thing about Christmas this year. 

Sunday Readings for December 12, 2021.

How to get ready for Christmas

The lights are lit. The tree is up. Gifts are being purchased. Decorations in various shades of green and red are festively strewn around the house. Cookies are being planned. Meal menus are being discussed. Airline tickets are purchased for travel to relatives homes. Candle #2 is ready for lighting on the Advent wreath. Advent calendars are slowly being emptied of the chocolates (and in my household beauty supples #dadofdaughters).

Needless to say, preparations are underway for Christmas. Christmas is a big deal. Even our secular culture makes a big deal about his high holy day. There is a lot for which to get ready. By the time it is all said and done we will probably spend hours, maybe days or weeks, preparing for how we celebrate Christmas. That isn’t a bad thing. 

In the gospel this Sunday it says that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then he went on to quote the prophet Isaiah extorting the listener to prepare the way of the Lord. The gospel is seeking to convey that the manner by which we prepare for the coming of our Lord is the forgiveness of sins. 

In other words the way to straighten the path, to bring mountains low, fill in valleys, and smooth rough roads is to seek forgiveness for our sins. God can do anything and overcome any obstacle, but our road to God is made substantially easier if we seek forgiveness for the ways we have sinned against God and others. If we want Jesus near to us this Christmas, the way is to be near to him by seeking forgiveness from him for our sins. 

While twinkle lights, indoor trees, stockings, and cookies may be a way to prepare to celebrate the coming Christmas, we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ by seeking forgiveness. You want to give God a straight shot to your heart? You want to make your path towards heaven easier? Go to Confession this Advent. Prepare the way for the Lord by seeking forgiveness. 

Live It: Double challenge this week. 1) Go to confession. Here are the times at HNOJ for my fellow parishioners. Find your local Catholic Church and go to Confession. 2) Offer forgiveness to someone in your life. Do this quickly and without making a big deal out of it. Make a simple offering of forgiveness and mean it. I promise it will straighten some things out.

Sunday Readings for December 5th.

When it’s dark

Monday morning everyone seemed off. It was the Monday after the end of Daylight Savings Time, but it wasn’t just that. November has arrived in full dreariness in MN. The autumnal brilliance of colorful leaves is done. The last warm day is giving way to cold and child. Yet we seem far from the beauty and fun of significant snow accumulations. The world is dying, the news isn’t getting any better, and all is blah. Some in the church I work in are mourning for significantly more intense reasons than the weather. It seems death is all around. 

The readings this Sunday match this feeling. In the first reading from Daniel we hear, “It will be time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.” In the gospel Jesus says, “In those days after the great tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the power in the heavens will be shaken.” Dark stuff. 

Then Jesus preaches, “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds.’” Just when all hope is lost. Just when the very sun moon and stars are collapsing around us. Just when death seems a forgone conclusion. Jesus comes and saves. 

In this time of year and, let’s be honest, ALL of the last two years, when death, destruction, and failure seem to be winning, Jesus reminds us that a savior is coming. We are not left alone to contend with this darkness by ourselves. 

Jesus is our light. Jesus is our life. Jesus is the answer to the question of Death. Jesus is the remedy to the illness of sin and death. When the world is dark and broken, Jesus is the light and the healer. 

Live It: If you are feeling dark, seek the light. Go directly to Jesus. Go for a walk outside no matter how cold it is. Go seek out his light on earth, the Church. (I know the Church is full of sinners and we make mistakes, but the Church always seeks to be a light in the darkness. Contact your local church and explain why you are seeking them out. You may be surprised the light you find.)

Sunday Readings for November 14, 2021.

Careful where you sit

Whenever I have gone to a baseball game or a play or some other spectacle, my dad, without fail, would comment on our seats. If our seats are good, he will lavish praise upon on view and how close we are to the field. If they aren’t so good he will say, “Well, every seat inside the stadium/theater is better than every seat outside.”

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus preaches about pride and money. He seeks to teach us about generosity and self-gift. Jesus is seeking to show us that what we give God is judged on what it costs us not on how much it is. An important lesson. But I think there is another thing to learn in the story as well.

When explaining to his disciples that they should be wary of the Scribes behavior he mentions the Scribe’s long robs, their devouring of widow’s houses, and lengthy prayers. He also mentions that Scribes often sit in a seat of honor in the synagogue and in places of honor at banquets. 

Immediately after this condemnation of the Scribes’ behavior, the story shifts and the gospel says, “Jesus sat down opposite the treasury…” I don’t believe this is an accident. Jesus uses the seat location choice of the Scribes to demonstrate their pride and then Jesus demonstrates his humility by sitting across from the treasury in the Temple. Jesus’ proper place to sit is inside the Temple, but instead he chooses to sit across from he treasury. 

Jesus doesn’t just teach us via words and admonitions about how we should behave, but he also demonstrates it and acts it out himself. This is one of the reasons that following Jesus isn’t just a thing of words. 

Within the master and disciple relationship, masters teach and act and disciples listen and mirror that behavior. The same is true for the disciples of Jesus. They not only listen to his teaching the seek to emulate his behavior. Disciples do this until they naturally behave as the master would. This is the life of a disciple of Jesus.

What does this mean for us? First we are to listen to the teaching of Jesus. We do this by reading Scripture and listening to those whom he has put in places of authority (the Church). Then we seek to emulate his behavior. We seek to do what Jesus would do. 

Live It: Change where you sit at the dinner table this week. What happens in you? What reaction does it get from others? Spend some time thinking and praying about the answers to both questions. 

Sunday Readings for November 7, 2021

Delayed Gratification and Heaven

Delayed gratification is hard. Maybe you are a more evolved creature, but for me, I struggle to wait for my reward. I learned about delayed gratification when I took a psychology class in which we watched a video where 6 and 7 year olds were offered 1 marshmallow now or 2 marshmallows if they could wait 20 minutes. The researcher then left the child in a room with a single marshmallow. If the kid lasted 20 minutes, they got 2. Most did not. Watching kids do mental (and sometimes physical) gymnastics in order to avoid being tempted by the marshmallow in front of them was quite entertaining. 

Most people think that being a person of faith, a religious person, a church person is an exercise in delayed gratification. In someways they are right. We do await eternal glory and perfect joy and peace in God’s presence forever. I mean heaven is better than this mess, right?

However, to think that being a person of faith means that all the rewards will only come in the afterlife isn’t what Jesus taught or what we believe. 

The gospel story this Sunday is Jesus preaching the Beatitudes. We are all familiar with these even if we don’t fully understand or live them. In each beatitude Jesus mentions a particular attitude or way of suffering and then explains how people with that attitude or affliction will be blessed. For example the second beatitude in Matthew’s gospel says, “Blessed are they who morn, for they will be comforted.” And indeed beatitudes 2-6 and 8 are written in the future tense. Do this and that will happen. 

The promises in Beatitudes 1 and 7 are written in the present tense. In other words, if you are or do this, then you have this NOW! The reward is the same in these two Beatitudes – The kingdom of heaven. What is Jesus trying to say?

Heaven can’t wait. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus brought with him the beginning of the Kingdom of heaven. Heaven has come and is yet to come. Jesus is trying to say that we can begin to experience the joys and delights of heaven now. Because Jesus came to earth, died and rose, we can experience a taste of heaven in this life. We can live the good life, not because everything is perfect and all of our desires are perfectly met, but because we can be in intimate relationship with God now. Jesus came to rescue us from death and sin and to bridge the divide we created through our sin. Jesus opens the gates of heaven for us even here on earth. 

In heaven we will be perfectly united in perfect communion with the perfect Trinity. And we don’t have to wait until then to begin to experience that perfect joy. Get close to God, be a saint and you can begin to experience heaven on earth. 

Live it: DON’T WAIT! Stop whatever you are doing (reading?) and say this prayer, “Jesus I want to be near to you. Jesus I want heaven. Jesus I want to be a saint. Help me.”

Not what I thought you meant.

Have you ever had two people say the exact same thing, but, in fact, they are talking about completely different things? The best example from my life is the word, “soon.” One time in particular we were driving home and one of my children had to go potty. My wife said, “Just hold it if you can because we will be home soon.” I was flabbergasted, we were no less than 15 minutes away from home. Miles away and my wife still used the word “soon” in regards to when we would be home.

So I asked her (I know, a mistake), what she thought was too long for something to be soon. She saw through my gambit and accused me of attacking her use of the word. She wasn’t wrong. For me, soon is like right around the corner or just a couple minutes. The kids agreed and now they ask, “Is it “mom soon” or “dad soon”? When we tell them something is soon. Smart kids. 

Same word, different meanings. You get what I’m saying. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear of a similar “same words, different meaning” moment. James and John ask if they can be made leaders in Jesus’ kingdom. They want to sit at Jesus’ left and right. They literally want to be Jesus’ right (and left) hand man. Jesus asks in reply, “Are you sure you can do this?” He asks specifically if they think they can drink of the same cup and receive the same baptism as he is about to receive. Of course, they say yes.

What they are saying yes to, in their minds, is the cup of an earthy king – choice wine in abundance. The baptism they anticipate is the like the Roman baths of Herod – luxurious places of comfort. 

What Jesus means by cup is the cup of his Passion. What Jesus means by his baptism is the baptism in his own blood on the cross. While James and John want leadership in an earthly way with comfort and abundance, Jesus means leadership in the heavenly kingdom which will take suffering and total self gift. This is a kingdom they can’t imagine. 

Jesus goes on to talk about servant leadership and what means to lead in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, leaders lead on behalf of and to benefit the people. More often than not earthly leadership benefits the leaders and not the people. Servant leadership, heavenly leadership takes the total gift of self from the leader on behalf of the people. Leaders in the Kingdom of God serve the people.

When we are at our best we adhere our leadership to this model. Whether it is at work, in our families, or even amongst our friends, when we are servant leaders we glorify God. When the Church is at her best, our bishops and priests act as selfless servant leaders. We all know what happens when they don’t. When we are in positions of leadership, let’s do it as servant leaders.

LIVE IT: Do one of the following two options: 1) Return a misplaced shopping cart either to the store or a cart corral (one that isn’t yours) OR 2) Pick up a piece of trash off a the floor somewhere it isn’t your job to clean. When you do one of these things, say a prayer offering up that act to God and asking to be made a better servant leader.