Surprise!

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Sunday Readings for November 17, 2019. 

My two year-old is obsessed with Lemons. I know we aren’t supposed to let him have them because of teeth or enamel or something like that, but I pick my battles, okay? The other day he whined when he saw a lemon slice in my water. As I acquiesced and handed him the lemon slice I said, “Now, you know it is sour?” 

Immediately he popped it in his mouth, took a big bite, and then made the sourest, squintiest, puckeriest face of all time. Then he looked at me in total surprise like I had tricked him in some way. I laughed. He laughed. It was all fine, but I couldn’t help but think, “What did you expect?”

Sometimes I think good Christian men and women are surprised when we get the short end of the stick from the world. We are surprised when we actually follow Jesus, that we might get putdown, ignored, and dismissed. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I often think I can follow Jesus and still be fully, comfortably, completely embraced and loved by the world. Consequently, when someone thinks I’m a religious weirdo who is “way too into church,” I’m surprised and disturbed. 

Jesus promises us we will be hated – not only disliked or disapproved of, but straight up hated for our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the king of good news (life over death, all sins forgiven, unconditionally loved by God, etc.), but Jesus also reminds us that there are forces that oppose the gospel and those forces will encourage hatred of all who seek to do the will of God. 

The question we must all answer as followers of Jesus is whether we are willing to be hated because of our love for Jesus. the truth of the matter is that we answer that question with our actions and our words.

Live It: Turn off the radio or podcast or music for 1 drive this week and think about the question “Am I willing to be hated for my love for Jesus? Am I willing to endure hatred for how I share the good news of Jesus Christ?

Life or Death.

Sunday Readings for November 10, 2019.church-abandoned-64768

I enjoy laughing at the clunky way that TV, movies, and other media depicts Catholicism. Sometimes a character or church reflects more of what I find authentic Catholicism to be. More often than not, Catholics on the screen is curmudgeons old priests, crabby nuns, and dusty statues of long dead saints in empty, dark churches. (Some weeks I would prefer this Catholicism to what I experience daily, but I digress.)

I think the reason that this is the way that Catholicism is expressed on the screen is that most people see God as the God of the dead. Religion is for the dead or nearly dead. Religion is old and tired. Saints are literally dusty relics of a long gone era. 

In our gospel this Sunday, when Jesus is confronted with a question about resurrection, he explains that to God all are alive. Our God is a God of the living, not the dead. That those who die with Christ, rise also with him. The purpose of baptism and Christianity is to to inoculate us to death. 

The purpose and good news of belief in Jesus Christ is that he beat death for ever and we can beat death too!
Sometimes we get caught up in all the ways we live that reality out. Certainly we should help others and have good liturgy. We should teach the faith and learn the faith. We should have good community and even better celebrations. But all of that, all that the Church does is to participate in the death beating, life saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

The purpose of the Church is make disciples of Jesus so that each and ever soul might be saved and spend eternity with God forever. Nothing short of Life over Death is the whole story. 

LIVE IT: Listen to John Mark McMillan’s song “Death in Reverse.” You have to follow along with the lyrics because they are poetic and hard to understand. It’s one of my favorites and all about Life overcoming Death. 

 

How to get found

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Sunday Readings for Nov. 3, 2019

Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was, “If you ever get lost, put yourself in a position to be found.” When it came to getting lost in a JC Penny when I was 5 years old and bored with shopping for school clothes, it meant to sit down and stay in one place until I was found. When it came to getting lost in the woods outside of my neighborhood it meant following the creek until it passed under a road and then hiking up to the road and finding my way home. 

In the spiritual life I think this advice is even more valuable. We get lost. Whether it is because we hitch our wagon to someone or some people who lead us away or we make our own way through sin and selfishness, humans seem to get lost regularly. Sometimes it’s a simple couple steps back on the path. Other times we need a major intervention to find our way home. 

In the gospel, Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus who is a thief and exhorter and short fellow. When Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree and in the process puts himself in a position to be found. When Jesus dines at his house, Zacchaeus repents and promises to make restitution. 

Christianity is different than all the other world religions. Religion is sometimes defined as man’s search for God. But for Christians, our religion is actually God’s search for us. For while we were still a long way off, God sent his only Son to become one of us, to live like us, and die like us so that we too can be saved. 

Jesus came searching for you and for me. 

The good news is that all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to be found. 

LIVE IT: Go to Church. Come sit a pew. Whether it is for Mass, Confession, or just some silent time, come and put yourself into a position to be found. 

Talking to Yourself

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Sunday Readings for Oct 27, 2019

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the backseat of the car and watching my dad talk to himself. I don’t mean in unsettling or mental health sort of way. Rather in the kind of way I think most of us do. I’ve been caught by my children rehearsing a conversation before it happens or working out a problem and not realizing how public I am being about it. I’ve even been known to win arguments with not so present adversaries. 

In the gospel tells a parable about a prideful Pharisee and a humble sinner. In the story, the Pharisee stands in his regular pew and offers up a prayer “to himself.” I used to think this meant he said it quietly, but more recently I think this means that was actually praying to himself. He wasn’t actually thanking God, but in fact thanking himself for his own self determined goodness. 

I think sometimes we do pray to ourselves. We think or speak prayers in such a way that glorifies us. We utter intentions that ask ourselves to make something happen or to be okay with a situation. We ask for our own favor so that we can do whatever we were going to do anyway.  

Jesus taught us so many lessons with this simple parable, but for me, I think the lesson this year is to make sure I am praying to God and not myself. That means I need to offer praise for what God has done, not me. I need to thank God for what he has given me. I must ask him for things only he can provide. If we actually learn to pray to God and not ourselves, I think we won’t have to worry about whether we are prideful or humble, self-righteous or justified by God alone. 

LIVE IT: Make tonight’s prayer the name of Jesus. Just pray the name of Jesus over and over as slowly and with as much meaning as you can muster. Do this for as long as you need to. 

 

3 Ways to NOT be Tired.

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Readings for Sunday Oct. 20th.

Life Hack: Never tell anyone that they look tired. 

Seriously, telling anyone that they look tired is only an accusation and judgement of appearance and no body likes that. Some people take it more personally that others, of course, but no one likes it. Some people respond better to “You seem tired,” but even that can go wrong. Maybe if we just all agree to not comment on how tired everyone is. 

Quick poll – raise your hand if you’re tired? Did you raise your hand? “Tired” seems to be the most common current mood. “Tiredness” has risen to epidemic levels. Is everyone just tired all the time now?

So in the gospel this Sunday when Luke writes “pray without becoming weary” and then Jesus tells us a parable about perseverance in prayer, it kinda feels like a trick. Who can possibly pray without becoming weary? Who can avoid becoming weary?

If the answer truly is no one, what should we do when we become weary? I think the first reading has an insight. The Israelites are fighting the Amalekites and as long as Moses has his arms raised, the Israelites are winning the battle. But his arms begin to sag and the Amalekites begin to win. So Moses sits down and Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms.

The answer on what to do when we grow weary in prayer is to not do it alone! Prayer and, in fact, Christianity is always to be done in community. Even hermits have some sort of community. If we try and go alone, we will grow weary. Always practice our faith in groups and this goes for prayer too.

Here are three simple ways to pray when we grow weary:

  1. Parish prayer line – At my parish, Holy Name of Jesus, we have a group of people who pray for the intentions of the parish. A quick email to the directors of the prayer line and a whole host of people begin praying for any intention. Good chance your parish has one too. 
  2. Saintly Intercession – If we believe in everlasting life and we believe others can offer up our intentions for us, than why not ask the Saints to pray for our intentions. Pick a Saint of your choosing and ask them to pray for your intentions. 
  3. Phone a friend – Call or text someone and ask them to pray for your intention. I know that sounds kinds of obvious, but I’m writing it here to give you permission to do. 

Live It: Do one of the three suggestions above in order to pray without growing weary this week.

 

Scream at God.

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Readings for Sunday Oct 13th, 2019

I don’t remember the circumstances, but I remember the prayer. I was having a rough time in my college years. I was home for summer and I was frustrated and mad and not happy. I was driving home and I shut off the radio and I screamed – I screamed at God. 

No one would have called it reverent or pious. But it was real. I was really upset. I screamed and cried and let God have it. I was angry and blamed God at lease partially. Of course it wasn’t his fault, but I couldn’t see that at the time. Afterward I just sat in my car and cried for a while. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to handle my situation, but strangely, I felt like God heard me. I felt like he heard my cry. 

In the gospel on Sunday Oct 13th, Jesus heals 10 lepers. To get Jesus’ attention the lepers “raised their voices, saying ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’” Later when the one returned he glorified God “in a loud voice.” My point is this when we are in distress and need God it doesn’t do us any good to be quiet.

If you are in a tough spot, shout at God. If you are struggling or suffering or don’t see any end to your difficult situation, let God know about it. God is big and strong and can take it. Raise your voice to God. If you’re angry at God, be angry. Be authentic in your prayer.

(Obviously I’m not advocating irreverence or rudeness towards God, just loud voices.)

And…when healing occurs and joy is restored and we feel grateful and blessed, we can shout with that same force. We don’t have to hold back in some false piety when God blesses us, but be loud and strong with our praise of the God who loves us. 

Whether you are struggling or celebrating, shout it out!

Live It: Sometime today pray out loud to God. Whether it is in your car or your home, speak the words you mean to say to God, out loud. 

Not Even the Bare Minimum.

Readings for Sunday Oct. 6th, 2019.

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I sleep pretty well. But every once in a while, when my head will hit the pillow and I am just about to drift off, my brain brings up some huge mistake from my past and I am wide awake again with worthless, unnecessary worry. No sleep for me.

One of those burdensome worries comes from my time in grad school over ten years ago. I had an experiential learning assignment at an elder care facility. My final assignment was to gather a list of potential actives and field trip opportunities for the residents. I started the process but never finished. I told my field supervisor that if he signed my form, I would complete the assignment after the semester was over. I never did. 

Oh man, even writing about this makes my skin crawl. Most of us aren’t the kind of people who dodge assignments or fail to complete at least what we are told. 

In the gospel Jesus gives an example of real faith is. servants who do the bare minimum, and just do what was commanded do get special rewards or extra thanks. No they did was they were supposed to and that is good, but it isn’t extraordinary. 

The reality is when it comes to our faith lives, we rarely even accomplish the bare minimum. When it comes to following Jesus, we so infrequently do even the simple things Jesus asks of us. Most of the times we aren’t even unprofitable servants, we a servants who fall short of the bare minimum. And that is why we need mercy. We have a God who is love and who loves us so much that even when we fail to do only what was commanded of us, Jesus completes the rest, forgives us, and still invites us to dine with him. Will you receive God’s mercy?

Live it: Go to confession. I know, this is the “Live it:” like, at least 4 times a year. That’s how important God’s mercy is. So just go. What is keeping you from God’s mercy?