Are you antsy?

By nature, I am a fidgeter. The 2nd most common question of my childhood was “Chris are you feeling antsy.” (The most common was, “Are you hungry?” I could eat.) Sitting still just isn’t something I take to easily. As a younger person, if you would have given me the option of sitting on the beach or hiking in the mountains, I would have picked the mountains every time. How about you? Are you antsy?

As I get older I am getting better at remaining still. I no longer do a little dance while I brush my teeth. I don’t get up from my desk every five minutes while trying to work. I play an imaginary kick drum under the table during dinner. I might even pick the beach over mountains sometimes. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

In our culture we don’t often glorify the act of remaining. In fact, more often than not, we vilify people who remain. It’s as if the act of remaining grates against our need to produce or to move forward. Remaining is seen as the act of the coward who isn’t bold enough to head out on adventure. Maybe in some sense that is true at times. 

However, Jesus commands us to remain in his love. It isn’t a suggestion or invitation, it is a commandment to remain. Then Jesus explains that the way to remain in his love is to keep his commandments just as he has kept God the Father’s commandments. Follow Jesus. Do what he says. Remain in his love. 

The reality is the we fail to do this every day. Instead of remaining in Jesus’ love, we venture out in sin and selfishness. We get spiritually, morally antsy. 

If you are the kind of person who struggles to sit still, you understand the feeling of restlessness. I think we sometimes get this feeling when it comes how we practice our faith too. We feel like we must not be doing enough. We feel like we haven’t earned God’s love. We feel like we gotta go do something to be a better Christian. 

Jesus tells us this Sunday that what we really need to do is remain in his love. If we are seeking to follow Jesus’ commandments, then we just need to stay where we are. If we are receiving the Sacraments and engaging in daily prayer, remain in that. If we living lives of service and sacrifice that aids our fellow humans, we should stay right there. 

Don’t over complicate our faith by getting antsy. Avoid evil. Do good. Pray. Remain in Jesus’ love. 

Live It: Practice remaining in Jesus’ love by practicing sitting still. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes and then simple sit in silence and listen for God. Do it once today or once a day for three days and see what happens.

Sunday Readings for May 9, 2021.

1 way to let go of CONTROL

Superstition is a funny thing. All kinds of humans practice it. Baseball players are notorious for it. I know grandmothers who throw salt over their shoulder if they spill during baking. Some people wear certain colors when they have important meetings. 

Some superstitions just make good common sense. Opening an umbrella indoors, especially in a small space, could be dangerous. Walking under a ladder is asking for something to fall on one’s head. While other superstitions have more spiritual origins. It’s said knocking on wood for good luck comes from the pagan belief that wood spirits will be awakened and come to your aid (or scare them off, depends I guess). 

What all superstitions do is seek to give us control. Some superstitions even seek to give us control over the uncontrollable. 

Humans want to be in control. We desire to have power and dominion over our existence. More and more it seems, especially for us in wealthy countries, people believe they have control over absolutely every aspect of their lives. Some folks learn through various experiences just how limited we are in controlling our lives. Others seek to hold onto control no matter what. We all probably know someone who considers themselves a control freak. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd. We’ve heard this gospel and the main sentiment countless times. The image of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one most Christians are familiar with. But there is curious message at the end. 

Jesus says,
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.

Jesus proclaims that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. What does this mean? Jesus is claiming to have power over life and death. Jesus is claiming control over the very forces of nature. Jesus is claiming to be God. 

Only God has power over life and death. Only God knows the length of our days. Jesus is explaining that he has been given a command from the Father to die and to rise. 

While we wish we had control and do a number of silly behaviors to try and gain control, we know that death is one thing we don’t have control over. No matter how advanced medicine gets, not matter how healthy we live, the death rate continues to be 100% ultimately.  

So what?

First this gospel and the fact that Jesus has power over life and death (and we do not) is a healthy and good reminder that Jesus is God and we are not. It is good for us to remember this. As we get more and more sophisticated and seem to have more and more control over what we eat, who we talk to, what we do, we need to be reminded we are not in actually in control and that is good. 

Second, this gospel is a reminder that we will die. Sorry if that is bummer of a thought. The good news is if we know Christ and growing in an intimate, loving relationship with him and seek spiritual communion with God through the Sacraments of the Church, this death won’t be the end. We have a God who conquered death through the cross. Jesus is in control. 

Live It: There is a great tradition in the Church that helps us to remember our death which helps us live for God now. It’s called Momento Mori. Check out this site all about Memento Mori written by a Catholic sister who used to be an atheist. Super Awesome.

Sunday Readings for April 25th, 2021.

I could eat.

“I could eat,” is my favorite response to the question “Are you hungry?” I like this response because of how much I appreciate the act of taking a meal. There is something human about having a meal or sharing food with someone. Also it acknowledges the truth that sharing a meal and physical hunger are only weakly correlated. A meal is about so much more than simply meeting a caloric need. 

My family of origin and the family I married into understand the importance of sharing food. Okay that may be the understatement of the week for me. When I broke some rules and got in trouble my senior year of high school my punishment was that I had to be home for dinner every single night of the week. What genius. It was a painful punishment for an active and social high school kid and by it’s very nature I reconnected and my family sought to heal the broken relationship caused by my breaking of trust. 

In the gospel reading this Sunday we hear about another appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Jesus shows them his wounds and then asks for some food. They give him a baked fish and he eats in front them. What a strangely specific detail. Why would Luke include this aspect of the event? I think it is because of the importance for two things: Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the effects of sharing a meal. And I think they are related. 

It would be easy to misunderstand the resurrection. I think most of our culture does. It is assumed that Jesus was kind of like a ghost or some sort of spirit when he appeared to the disciples. The gospel writers go out of their way to demonstrate this isn’t the case. Jesus was physically, bodily resurrected. Luke even says the disciples thought he was a ghost, showing that they knew he was truly dead. Then they physically touch Jesus and even watch him eat food. Spirits don’t eat. Spirits don’t have wounds you can touch. Jesus does. The dead man really is alive again. 

Jesus eats more than once while appearing to his disciples. He eats cooked fish and breaks bread with his disciples. He wants to show them that sharing a communal meal is at the very center of Christian community. He want to show us that sharing a meal is at the center of our faith community as well. It is in these meals that Jesus’ identify is revealed to to those who don’t recognize him. It is in this meals that the reality of his bodily resurrection is confirmed. The post resurrection meals recorded in the gospels matter to the Church and to our faith. 

Mass isn’t extra. It isn’t nice that we get to do it (I mean, it is). Mass, a shared meal, is necessary for the Christian life. Mass is where we most vividly encounter the resurrected Jesus! Our communal meal is where we are fed and fortified and prepared to go try and save the world. Mass is where we realize our faith in the Father, resurrected Son, and Holy Spirit is real. Live it: Go to Mass. I get it. It may have been a while. You may not be going out to eat or going to Costco, traveling, or going to kids sporting events – in other words, avoiding crowds are all costs. But make this the first thing you do when you come back. You need Mass. 

Sunday Readings for April 18th, 2021.

You don’t even know.

I could say that I’ll never forget getting my wisdom teeth removed, but that would be a lie. Sure I remember going to St. Luke’s hospital in St. Louis, Missouri to the dental surgery floor. I remember the medical person talking to me about the Cardinal’s off season moves while she started the IV that would eventually knock me out. I remember waking up very loopy and making my parents ride the elevator up and down before heading to the car. I remember getting home and my buddy Drew bringing me a cookies and cream milk shake from Steak-n-Shake. 

I remember all that, but I don’t actually remember the removal of the wisdom teeth. I was unconscious, thank goodness. When I woke up the teeth were gone. It happened even though I didn’t remember it. The truth is that some of the details of my wisdom teeth removal, I only remember because my parents told me about them later. It’s kind of like when we remember the color of the carpet in the room where we were a baby, but only because someone showed us a picture of us in the room as an infant. 

In the gospel this week we will hear incredible stories of the resurrection. The Church remembers these stories. Not only through them being recorded in Sacred Scripture, but also in the lived Tradition of the Catholic Church. People like you and me remember these moments. They just happened to be followers of Jesus in the 1st and 2nd centuries. 

John writes at the end of this piece from his gospel that, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” In other words there are many other things that Jesus did between his resurrection on Easter Sunday and his Ascension that aren’t recorded. Jesus performed many more miracles. He appeared to more people and in more places. 

I think this doesn’t just apply to the disciples and his immediate followers but there are many, many other moments when Jesus appears that aren’t recorded in scripture. In fact, I would say Jesus has appeared, healed, preached, ate with his followers countless times in the last 2000 years and we’ve recorded and remembered publicly very, very few of these moments.

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He acts in the lives of his faithful followers. He speaks to us. He heals us. He forgives us. He really is truly alive and active in our lives today just as we read about in the Bible. 

A significant majority of the moments, maybe even most moments, we experience the resurrection haven’t been recorded. Just like not remembering the extraction of my wisdom teach, we don’t always remember or even realize the moment that the resurrected Lord comes into our lives and acts with saving grace. Sometimes we do feel and experience the effects of the resurrection even if we didn’t see it happen. We can know the change in our lives, even if didn’t recognize at the time how the resurrected Christ came to us. 

Do you believe that Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead, is working in your life? Do you believe he is actively preaching, healing, changing, and calling you? Do you believe in “many signs…not written” in the book of your life? Is Jesus alive?

Live It: Say this simple prayer tonight when you go to bed, “Jesus, thank you for loving and caring for me, even when I am not aware.”

Sunday Readings for April 11th, 2021.

That’s Unbelievable.

“That’s UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!” If you are sports fan you’ve probably heard the word “unbelievable” throne around a lot. Maybe the most famous USA sports call of all time was a question from Al Michaels asking, “Do you believe in miracles?” Believing the unbelievable seems to be an important aspect of the fan experience. 

When we say something is unbelievable, we often mean unlikely. When the Vikings are down by nearly a touchdown in the final seconds of a football game it is unlikely that they will win. Yet, the Minneapolis Miracle happened. Some things do happen that are so unlikely that we just can’t believe they really occurred. 

Jesus’ empty tomb could easily be labeled as unbelievable. 

What a miracle. What an incredibly unlikely thing. Maybe the most unlikely outcome of Jesus’ life from simply a human perspective. When people die, they generally stay dead. Yet, when Mary of Magdala and then Peter and John arrive at the tomb they find it empty except for the burial clothes. 

I think most of us take the reality of the empty tomb for granted. We don’t stop and think about exactly how unbelievable the resurrection really is. The truth is if there is not resurrection, if the tomb isn’t empty, then our faith is significantly impacted. Some would go so far as to say that if the tomb isn’t empty then our faith is empty. 

In the face of such an unbelievable, unlikely reality, we have to make a decision. Do we believe? Are we willing to ascent to the reports of the gospels that Jesus was raised from the dead? We have two choices. Either he rose from the dead, conquered death forever, saved all humanity, and is worthy of our worship and total devotion, OR Jesus didn’t raise from the dead and he is a dead man. Everyday you and I pick between these two choices. 

If we believe the unbelievable, we then walk into a deep and abiding relationship with the God who loves us enough to die for us. If we state with our whole being that tomb is empty and Jesus is risen, then we will be a people truly free from the bonds of death and slavery to sin. If we believe, then we can live as a people free from fear. 

If you want to be free, if you want to be truly alive, if you want to believe the unbelievable then say it with me this day, “THE TOMB IS EMPTY! ALLELUIA!! HE IS RISEN ALLELUIA!!!” 

Live It: Listen to this song Because He Lives from Matt Maher. It’s a good one. 

Easter Sunday readings for April 4th, 2021.

Why is it Good?

The other day I was leading a group of Seniors (not high school students), in Bible Study. This is a pretty loose and casual group. A lot of jokes. Many of them at my expense. Fun. But this particular week we read an excerpt of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Mark.

Something was off. They were quiet, somber even. I asked what was wrong and didn’t get a full answer. It dawned on me, we had just read a Passion account and they were moved by Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus’ death is gruesome. He suffered much for us. It makes sense for us to be in a bit of a grim melancholy after hearing it. So why do we call Good Friday, good?

I heard a priest say that it is Jesus Christ and the Cross that makes this life good and wonderful and justified. Without Jesus and the Cross this life is meaningless and empty. The choices he says is either Jesus or nothing. 

If things in this world are good or true or beautiful, they are that precisely because of Jesus Christ and his suffering on the Cross. The Cross redeems us, certainly, but it also redeems a fallen, broken, and suffering world. 

Pain and suffering aren’t proof that a good God doesn’t exist, but instead are the very reason for which we need a God who will come and make these things make sense. God takes that which seemingly hurts us and uses it for good. He does this through the Cross. 

It is for this reason that we call Good Friday, good. The day that remembers the death of God and the great suffering of that very being who had come to save us from needless suffering and death is the ultimate good to us. It is through Jesus’ suffering that our suffering is redeemed. It is through Jesus’ death that our death is conquered. It is through Good Friday that Easter Sunday is possible. 

How much does God love you? Enough to die for you. How good is Good Friday? So good that it changes all that is bad and gives it meaning. Without Good Friday all is lost. With Good Friday all is gained. 

Live It: On Good Friday, from noon until 3 p.m. turn off any and all entertainment. No TV, no phone, no music (Mozart Requiem Mass is the exception). In the silence simply thank God for the great gift of the Cross. 

Good Friday Readings for April 2nd, 2021.

Note Bene: I will be posting an Easter Reflection on the Easter Gospel this Sunday, you know, like on Easter. Check back for that brief reflection on the Resurrection.

Material vs Supernatural

I’ve never felt the cold of Siberia. I’ve never climbed Kilimanjaro. I’ve never white water rafted down the Colorado River (but I have shot rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado!). I trust that the stories I’ve heard and the pictures I’ve seen are real. I put faith in the people who have recorded these things and reported them to me. I’ve never actually experienced them for myself.

Just being alive takes faith. 

Believing that my next breath will have enough oxygen for my to survive or that my next bite of food isn’t poisoned is an act of faith. In this way, everyone has faith. Everyone puts their faith into something.

Increasingly, people are only putting their faith in things they can experience. It seems that even people of Christian faith would prefer to only believe in a radically material Christianity. For the materialist, Jesus is just human and the miracles of the scriptures (and the last 2000 years) can all be explained away with “natural” explanations. 

But the truth is that this material faith isn’t Christianity at all. No matter how you slice it, Christianity is a supernatural faith. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in rational thought, nor does it mean that everything that seems to be weird or out of the ordinary is supernatural. But to follow Jesus and to believe in what he teaches is to believe in the supernatural. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus proclaims that his mission is coming to an end and it is time to glorify God on the cross. Jesus laments the suffering he is about to endure, but still assents to the will of the Father. With that, a booming voice from heavens proclaims that He glorifies and will glorify.

Those who heard the voice tried to explain it away. Some said it was thunder. Others said it was an angel. While both are common ways to represent God speaking to humanity, at its root, this represents an effort to explain away a supernatural event using natural means.

Many do this same action with every single miracle of the New Testament. Thomas Jefferson had a version of the Bible where he had all the miracles and supernatural things cut out so that only the sayings of Jesus remained. 

This way of understanding Christianity and Jesus is dangerous because it isn’t true. Removing the supernatural from Christianity is wrong not only because it is an inaccurate representation of what Christianity really teaches, but also because it makes it easy to interpret Christianity as simply a lifestyle choice.

Christianity isn’t a lifestyle choice. Following Jesus is the way to survive death and be happy forever. Following Jesus Christ isn’t a nice way to get through life, but it is the greatest of joys that totally and completely changes everything about what it means to be alive. 

LIVE IT: Tonight turn off all the lights in your room, get down on your knees and pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). Pray it until you mean it. 

Sunday Readings for March 21st, 2021.

I Declare Bankruptcy.

If I’m honest, I’m a big fan of the TV show The Office. I wish I was a better person and used my time for more noble pursuits, but I just really enjoy watching this show.

One of my favorite moments is when the regional manager Michael Scott runs out of money and stands up in the office and yells in a commanding voice, at the top of his lungs, “I DECARE BANKRUPTCY!!” See, he had just be told that bankruptcy was a get out of jail free card and that he wouldn’t have to pay back his debts if he just declared bankruptcy. 

Only after this public declaration did his employees explain that there is much more to declaring bankruptcy than just saying it out loud. 

You might know someone who is like this in their faith life too. Whether it is checking a box on a form or answering the new neighbor’s question about whether they belong to a Church, they will say they are Catholic. However, a simple examination of their life will show that they haven’t taken too many steps to act like a Catholic other than to declare it. 

Don’t get me wrong, a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Church is important to being Catholic. We do it every single Sunday when we stand in the middle of Mass and recite the Nicene Creed together. Yes that is our altar call, that is the moment we stand and declare we are Catholic. 

It’s just that saying we are Catholic isn’t enough. Not because we have to earn salvation or earn God’s love – of course not. But because if we really believe, if we really are choosing to follow Jesus Christ, then that choice demands more than just words. 

Catholicism, like love, is something we do, not just something we feel. Catholicism and following Jesus is an active pursuit. Not because God demands it but because if we really ascent to believing in God and in what Jesus taught, then we will change our lives in response to it. 

We declare our faith with our actions. 

If I tell my wife I love her, but never acted like it, what would she think? The same is true in our faith lives. If we say we believe in God, but don’t act like God really has any say in your lives, what do we really believe?

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the famous line from the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” What most people don’t realize is that later in the same speech Jesus explains that believing means acting. That if one believes in God and in the light of the gospel, then their actions will follow. He says this at the end of this Sunday’s gospel, “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

Do you believe? Live it. 

Live It: Want to know what you are supposed to go “do” as an active Catholic? You should check out what are called The Precepts of the Church. These are 5 things that the Church says are the very basic actions of Catholics. Check them out here.

Sunday Readings for March 14th, 2021.

Unexpected.

When I was about 11 years old, I was waiting outside of my elementary school. I was taking a summer science program and I had just completed my journal of native plant species. A shiny, silver, two door sports car pulls up and out of the driver’s seat pops Tony Pena. Tony was the starting catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. For a kid in St. Louis this was a big deal. It’s kind of hard to explain how amazing meeting a Major League baseball player was for me in this moment. 

Tony was picking up his son who was also there for a summer program. He graciously greeted all the children and was signing autographs. I got Tony’s signature on my native plant species project and walked home in a daze. I don’t think set that piece of construction paper down for about two weeks.

I didn’t expect to come face to face with a real, live St. Louis Cardinal that random summer afternoon. In reality nothing major actually changed in my life, but my day seemed to be totally upended and the next week was completely different than the previous or the next, just because of this unexpected encounter. 

The woman at the well in this Sunday’s gospel didn’t expect to meet anyone important when she went to go get water. In fact, she didn’t expect to meet anyone at the well. The gospel says it was about noon when she went to the well to get water. Noon wasn’t the normal time for women to get water. Typically they would do it first thing in the morning to avoid the midday heat and to have water for the day. 

Instead of no one, she encountered the most someone who has ever lived. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came into her life. He didn’t give her an autograph, but instead offered her living water. He knew her troubles and gave her peace.

God can break into and show up in the most unexpected places in our lives. 

Imagine if we actually looked for and expected to find God. How could God work in our lives if we actually invited him in and sought to have him show up not only in the unexpected times, but always? 

Often we don’t do this because we don’t want to be disappointed. If we ask for God to come into our lives and don’t find him, we are fearful we will loose faith or have a reason to be angry at God. This is a real concern. 

The reality is that if we humbly invite God in, he will come. If we let go of our desire for the kind of control that seeks to know when and how God works and instead lets him love and heal us without us even knowing – God will do this. God wants to intimately act in our lives. God isn’t some distant Olympian deity just watching and occasionally throwing a lightning bolt. God is wildly present in our lives. If we will pay attention and invite him in, we will find him. And he will find us. 

LIVE IT: Every time you unlock your phone today say this 3 word prayer, “Come Lord Jesus.” OR Pray the prayer “Come Lord Jesus.” 100 times today. Do whichever one is more. 

Sunday Readings for March 7th, 2021.

A Tip or Trick that Works.

I’m a sucker for a tip or trick. When I see a link from a DIY magazine and the article is titled, “21 Tips and Tricks to Keep your Garage Clean,” or “13 Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Lawn,” I can’t help but click. 

The worst is when those titles are just click bait and the tips and tricks don’t work or are unrealistic. When I find that gem of an idea, go try it, and it works, oh the glory! When I find a tip or trick that actually works, it can make the difference. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus brings his executive committee of Peter, James, and John up a mountain, and before them he is transformed. How so? He was radiant. So white, no one on earth could have bleached his clothing to that shine. With him was Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets of the Old Testament. It was a sight no human had seen to this point in history. But they would see it again. 

The Transfiguration is a prefiguring, a taste of the resurrection. It is a glimpse into the future reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter’s natural inclination is to want to erect tents and stay on the mountaintop because he understandably wants to stay in the goodness of the resurrection. Of course they must go down the mountain and complete the mission. 

The transfiguration is a reminder to us now and to the disciples then that Jesus accomplished what he came to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus works. Christianity works. God saves us. Jesus’ mission was and is a success. When we read the account of the resurrection, we are reminded that Jesus saves and the result of that salvation is glorious. 

In the midst of our daily grind and the ups and downs of our faith it can be hard to keep the goal in the forefront of our minds. The transfiguration is a glimpse into the goal that has been and will be accomplished – our resurrection. 

LIVE IT: Here are 5 Tips and Tricks for a more fulfilling faith journey. No seriously, check out this new initiative called the Synod at Home from my Archdiocese. It is a plan for families, individuals, couples, whoever, to make a faith plan for their household. It is simple in it’s idea, but seemingly effective. It’s full of Tips and Tricks. 

Sunday Readings for February 28th, 2021.