The Boy Who Cried “Trust Me!”

May 27th Sunday Readings.

michael-larosa-449701-unsplashThe boy who cried wolf is a real thing. I don’t mean the story is factual – wolf, boy, etc, but the idea that someone speaks falsely so many times that when they tell the truth, most don’t believe them. 

What if you met someone that always told the truth? Someone who didn’t, couldn’t lie? How would you react to the things they said. What would you ask them? Maybe more importantly, would you always believe them? Even when you know that they won’t lie, would you trust them?

Jesus always tells the truth. Jesus doesn’t life. In the gospel this Sunday he commands the disciples (and us) to go and make disciples of all nations. He give us direction on how to complete his command. Then Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Do you believe Jesus?

Do you trust Jesus that when he says he will be with you until the end of the age, that in fact, he is with you now?

Do you feel like the living God, Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead is with you?

If the answer is yes, then you believe and trust that Jesus told the truth then and is with you now. Awesome. Sounds like a prayer of thanksgiving or praise is coming soon. 

if the answer is no, what is keeping you from believing Jesus? What is your obstacle to trusting that Jesus meant what he said? 

In my experience, the times I’ve answered “no” in practice (even when I may have answered yes with my words), I’ve needed to go to Confession. I need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not because I was bad (though I was), but for of two other reasons too. First, I needed the Sacrament of Reconciliation because sin blocks me from really believing and trusting in what Jesus said. Second, going to confession is a moment of guaranteed grace, where I meet my savior face to face. Removing self imposed obstacles and looking Jesus in the face is the way back to believing Jesus again. These are the roads back to believing Jesus is alive and with us know. 

If you don’t feel like Jesus is with you, if you feel abandoned or alone, if you don’t believe Jesus, try going to Confession, and give Jesus a chance not only forgive and heal you, but also to show you that Jesus is trustworthy – you can believe what he says. 

Live It:
Make a plan to go to confession like this: 1) Look up confession times at your parish or nearby parishes. 2) Clear your calendar so you can go. 3) Prepare by reflecting on a examination of conscience like these ones. 4) Actually drive to church and make it happen. 5) Rejoice! (I do this with ice cream). 

On my own!

May 13th Sunday Readings.

“NO! I want to do it on my own!” Could very well be the motto of 4 year olds everywhere. child-542146_1280If you’ve ever tried to tie the shoelaces or put on an inside out coat of a 4 year old then you know what is like to be denied the ability to help. Just a little bit of learning and competency seems to embolden preschoolers maybe past their true ability. 

Of course, the same is true of us. A little bit of success in loving well or practicing faith and most of us are quick to say to Jesus, “Lord don’t worry, I’ve got this.” In my experience, that phrase whether uttered explicitly or lived implicitly always directly precedes a spiritually humbling moment which reminds me of my need for a savior. 

Mark’s gospel tells us this Sunday about Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples to go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This call extends to all of us. We are all invited to renew our efforts to spread goodness, love, and joy that can only truly be found in and through Jesus. If each new generation is a new continent to be evangelized, we still have much to do. 

After Jesus ascends the gospel says that the disciples went out to preach and scripture says, “…while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” I love this line. “The Lord worked with them.” The reality is that all that we do that is good and righteous, we do with God. Our actions cooperate with God’s work. And God works with us. 

Following Jesus Christ and inviting others to know Jesus is hard work. Maybe as hard or harder than fine motor skills for a preschooler. The good news is that we don’t do it on our own. The Lord works with us. Don’t try to go alone. Let God help. 

Live It:

Make your first prayer today, “Lord help me to pray.” Make your second prayer, “Lord work with me today.” 

Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

* * *

PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into. 

Dead or Alive.

April 29th Sunday Readings.

roman-averin-173797-unsplash.jpg

Arbor day 1989, I come home from school with a runt-of-the-litter little sapling that I was determined to plant and grow in our yard. I had been convinced by a presentation at my elementary school that planting trees was the way to save the world. My mom was convinced this sad little sapling was going to die in the first week it was planted. It did not. 

Now the tree is so large that my parents have to regularly have it trimmed so that it doesn’t harm the house. It is a healthy, fully grown conifer. Why? Because it was connected to a good source of water and food. It was planted in good soil. 

Every single Arbor Day sapling my poor daughters have brought home has not been so lucky. Whether they rot in our fridge waiting to be planted or whither in the yard for lack of water, these poor things never make it. Why? They aren’t connected to a good source of water and food. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. The analogy that Jesus is making is so helpful for the spiritual life because it demonstrates clearly that being connected to Jesus Christ is a life or death reality. 

To be cut off from God doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. To be cut of from God is to be a dead person. 

Morality, right and wrong, isn’t some list of arbitrary rules that someone made up long ago that we have to reevaluate in each new generation. No, the purpose of leading a moral life is to be connected to the source of all life, Jesus Christ. The rules of the moral life don’t exist for their own sake. The rules exist to keep us connected to the source of life. One direction leads to life. One direction leads to death. 

The reality is that most who are away from God don’t have a defining moment they cut themselves off from God. Most people drift, slowly and painlessly, away from God. At some point they have forgotten what is like to even been connected with the source of life. At this point, sin and death feel normal. 

Yet, when we find ourselves disconnected from God and thus disconnected from his body, the Church, we may sense that something isn’t quite right. We may not notice it right away. We may not recognize it constantly, but in the small hours or when we are alone or when we are ambushed by a moment of unexpected silence, we can feel the withering, the drying out of our life. 

The good news is that we are never too far gone for God. The vine grower has the supernatural capacity to connect us again to the source of life and to fill us again with goodness, love, beauty, and grace. There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. God is willing to go the distance to give us life again. Not because we deserve it, but because of his unconditional love for us. 

Live it:
Go outside. Go find a tree and take 5 or more minutes in silence near it. Be reminded that just as it needs water, good soil, and sunlight, you need to be connected to God to live. Ask God to bring you close to him. 

Old is a bad word.

April 22nd Sunday Readings.

A week after Christmas (and 4 or so days after the birth of my son), I dropped my smart john-paul-joseph-henry-245902-unsplashphone into the toilet. To save you from unpleasant and unnecessary detail, I’ll just say this – it didn’t make it. We had an old flip phone in the junk draw and so I transferred my number to ol’ reliable and fired it up. The battery lasted for days. It was so small and fit so well in my pocket. I wasn’t chained to it’s screen expecting a constant drip of dopamine from likes, retweets, or texts. Of course it wasn’t all good, and when I finally broke down and got a new smart phone, I was relieved. 

There is nothing wrong with the latest and greatest. Often the reason the new replaces the old is because it’s better in some manner or degree. Innovation and improvement are good in so many ways. However, far too often, I think our predilection for “the new” is absolute. We are quick to flush the old anything in favor of the new for no other reason than it is new. Honestly, it feels like “old” is a bad word in our culture. 

Sometimes we desire new because of the shortcomings of the old, which is good. However, by the time we recognize the shortcomings of the new, the old is long gone. 

Is it possible to hold onto the old and embrace the new? I’m not sure yet, to be honest.

What I do know is that in the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This way of thinking about Jesus, as good shepherd, feels old. My grandparents had a painting of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders, in their home. Now, we hear about Jesus as bridegroom or Lord or Hurricane or Good Father, but rarely, shepherd. There is some simple beauty in this scripture even as it isn’t stylish or current to think about Jesus as shepherd.

zoltan-tasi-308658-unsplashJesus the shepherd cares for us. Jesus directs us. Jesus chases us down when we are lost. Jesus sometimes uses a stick to get us back on track. Jesus works out fights when we run into other sheep. Jesus picks us up when we are too small to walk. Jesus leads us to clean water and lush, verdant pastures. Jesus provides exactly what we need. 

Jesus is my shepherd. 

Live It:
Take some time with this piece of scripture. Pray through it. What would it look like if Jesus was shepherding you?

I’m so scared.

April 15th Sunday Readings.

 

denny-muller-534079-unsplashAre you the kind of person who is startled easily? I wish I could say no, but I’d be lying. A number of years ago, a friend of mine hid in a darkened closet to scare me. I opened the door, he harmlessly jumped out from behind a rack of chairs and barely uttered “boo” before I started screaming uncontrollably. I threw the music stand I was holding at him and nearly dropped by lap top. I was terrified. No real injury except for my dignity. 

In the gospel the resurrected Jesus comes into the presence of the disciples, and scripture says they were startled and terrified and thought they had seen a ghost. This was after Peter returned from the tomb, and after the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had recounted their experiences of the risen Jesus. 

Jesus goes on to inquire as to why they are so afraid. He even goes so far as to ask for something to eat. This thing before them isn’t a ghost, but Jesus, their friend, raised from the dead. Yet the disciples who saw all of Jesus miracles, were still shocked by his resurrection. 

How would you react if you encountered the resurrected Jesus? Would you be scared, startled, and spooked? I think how we react to Jesus the living God is directly related to who we think Jesus is and what we expect him to do.

If Jesus is just a good man and a good teacher, then seeing him appear after his death would be a frightening thing. If what we expected out of Jesus is that he would conquer the Romans, then we might just be terrified if he showed up after having been killed by the Romans. If Jesus is only our judge, then we might be a little worried when he appears. 

However, if we really believe that Jesus is God and if we believe that Jesus’ purpose was to conquer death and restore humanity’s relationship with God, then I don’t think we will be too worried about encountering the risen Jesus. If Jesus is on our side, and wants us to go to heaven even more than we do, then having him appear in our midst should be a relief for us. 

The other thing is this; as humans, we have a natural suspicion of strangers. If we were out to dinner with our family and some stranger sat down at our table, then we would probably be scared or at least a little on edge. Is Jesus a stranger for you? I don’t mean do you know who he is – of course you do. But do you know Jesus, personally? If really, truly encountering Jesus would be shocking and terrifying, I think it’s time to think about whether you know Jesus and why you think he wants to be near to you. 

Live It:
Invite Jesus into life. Whether it is at the end of the night before you go to bed or in the middle of Mass on Sunday, say a little prayer inviting Jesus into your heart and into your life. That way Jesus won’t be a stranger.

What’s it going to take?

April 8th Sunday Readings.

Getting kids to eat whatever they don’t want to eat can be a monumental task. I realize Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplashthat there are strategies that work. Also, negotiation is not most effective way to get children committed to a power struggle to do what you ask them. And, there are times when getting a child to eat green beans or ham (depending on the kid or the moment) just boiling down to the questions, “What is it going to take?”

When faced with unbelief in the lives of our family or friends, or even in the dark corners of our own doubt, I think we could easily ask this question, “What is it going to take?” What is it going to take for you and I to really believe the good news of the gospel? What is it going to take for our sibling or parent or spouse or offspring to believe that Jesus is their Lord? What is it going to take?

In the gospel, we hear about Thomas who states clearly what it will take for him to believe. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It would appear that for Thomas it takes touching the wounds of Christ to believe. At first blush, this seems like a lack of faith. Thomas appears to be put conditions on what it will take for him to believe in the resurrection, but I think there is more going on here.

John, the gospel writer, never states whether Thomas actually touches the wounds of Christ. In fact, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” when he simply sees Christ. For Thomas encountering Jesus face to face is enough. Meeting Jesus is what it takes for Thomas to believe.

I believe this to be true for most of us. For most of us, we believe once we have had a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ. Christianity isn’t only a set of beliefs or a moral code, but it is a relationship with a person. To really meet the person of Christ (and not just the idea of Jesus) fundamentally changes us at our core.

When Thomas sees the resurrected Christ, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” This profession of faith is one of the most vivid and explicit in all the gospels. By giving Jesus the titles of both Lord and God, Thomas is proclaiming Jesus the same God as the God of his fathers, the Lord God of all Israel and the Old Testament. When we encounter Jesus face to face, we know Jesus is God.

Live It:
Jesus lives. If we really believe in the resurrection we will look for him now. Two suggestions: Look for Jesus in the Eucharist and in the poor.