Rush after Him.

July 22nd Sunday Readings.benny-jackson-222664-unsplash

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus and the disciples try to sneak away to a deserted place to rest, but the crowds came to know where Jesus was going and rushed ahead to meet them. Scripture says that a vast crowd had gathered. I can imagine Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat to get away while word of mouth spread of where they were heads. I can almost see the vast crowds of people pouring out of the towns and villages and gathering on the seashore, hungry to catch even a glimpse of Jesus. 

When was the last time you rushed to be close to Jesus?

If it was this past Sunday when you rushed your family out of the house and rushed into the parking lot and rushed into Mass 5 minutes late – God bless you. Extra gold star points for getting to Church. Just getting the family to Mass on Sunday can be a miracle. 

Many of us rush to meetings or the gym or dinner out or kids activities. However, when it comes to our faith we rarely show the same level of urgency. Rarely do we rush to confession when serious sin enters or life. Infrequent are the times we hurry to get prayer time started in the morning. 

The other thing about the kind of rushing that occurs in the gospel is that nobody in the story planned on hearing Jesus teach. It was spontaneous. The people who rushed to be near Jesus stopped what they were doing, dropped whatever was going on, and rushed to go where Jesus was going in order to be near him. 

Have you ever dropped everything to rush to Jesus? Do you think you could do that now? What would it look like to drop everything and rush to Jesus?

LIVE IT: Rush to see Jesus. Do something for your faith that is unplanned. Drop everything and stop by Church or the Adoration Chapel. Turn off the radio and pray for the entirety of a car ride. Take someone who is lonely out for coffee. Drop everything and go rush after Jesus. 

It ain’t over till it’s over.

July 1st Sunday Readings.

In game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers were one strike away from David_Freese_on_April_30,_2010winning their first World Series championship. It was the bottom of the 9th inning and there were two outs. All the Rangers needed was one more strike or a pop up or a ground out. Their championship hats and t-shirts were ready, waiting to be distributed. The champagne was on ice and the Ranger’s lockers were being covered in plastic. 

Down 1-2 in the count, St. Louis Cardinal David Freese hit a line drive over a leaping Nelson Cruz for a triple scoring two runs and tying the game, sending it to extra innings. Immediately in the 10th inning the Rangers scored two runs to go up 9-7 and in the bottom of the 10th inning they were one out, one strike away from wining it all, again. But Lance Berkman hit a single that tied the game sending it to the 11th inning. 

Freese again stepped to the plate where he hit a walk-off home run that won Game 6 and sent the World Series to a Game 7, which the St. Louis Cardinals won. Twice the Cardinals faced elimination and twice they narrowly escaped to play another inning or game. 

Whether you were a fan of the Rangers or the Cardinals, Game 6’s motto was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

In the gospel this weekend Jesus cures the dying (or dead) daughter of Jarius, a synagogue official. At one point, other officials from the synagogue tell Jarius not to “trouble the teacher” since his daughter is dead. Jesus tells him to have faith. 

The other officials want to throw in the towel, to give up, but Jesus shows us what faith can do. Jesus shows us what it means to keep the faith. Jesus shows us that it’s not over till it’s over for the daughter of Jarius and for us too.

When it comes to faith, it’s not too late for us. If you are reading this, it’s not too late for you. God hasn’t given up on us. As far as God is concerned, we are a game tying single away from changing everything and returning to him. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I am what I am. I can’t change.” Or maybe you often say, “I’m not a religious person, God wouldn’t want me.” Or maybe you’ve thought, “It’s too late for me, I’ve made my decision about faith & God & Catholicism.”  If you’ve thought any of these things or sentiments like them, let me be clear – you’re wrong. 

The game isn’t over yet. You might feel like there are two outs in the bottom of the 9th and you are down 0-2, but know that even by the skinniest of margins, God can save.
More importantly, God desires to save you. God desires to be near to you. God wants you near to him forever in heaven, and it’s not too late. It’s not over yet. 

Live It:
Admit to God in prayer right now, “God, it’s not over, till it’s over. I know you’re not done yet.”

Sin is Boring. Convention must die.

 

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Photo by Bence ▲ Boros on Unsplash

June 24th Sunday Readings.

I’m reading a nonfiction book about the rise of ancient Rome (I know – nerd). I recently finished a section that reminded me of the last ten or twenty or fifty years of popular culture and entertainment. The book described the use of shocking behavior (mostly sexual) to get the attention of both the elites and general public. Do something shocking enough – violent, sexually explicit, brutal – and you could rule Rome for a day.

My take away from reading our current culture reflected in that ancient culture was the simple realization that sin is boring. 21st century America hasn’t created any new shocking perversion. We aren’t the first culture to seek to break from the past by brazenly throwing out the previous generation’s moral code or public decorum. We just aren’t that original. 

Each generation seeks to be innovative and new. New generations desire to correct the mistakes of their parents by doing old things in new ways. In some ways, there is nothing wrong with this in principle. However sometimes, we go off the rails.

In the gospel this Sunday, we learn an important lesson in defying custom while listening to God. Zechariah and Elizabeth name their son John seemingly against the wishes of family and friends. They didn’t name John after Zechariah or any of the couple’s relatives. They named the boy John because the angel of the Lord told Zachariah to do so. The lesson here is that submitting to the will of God can sometimes break with customs, but can never break with truth. Or as G.K. Chesteron said, “Break the convention. Keep the commandments.” 

Where I live in Minnesota it is conventional to not “bother” other people. See someone crying in a pew in an empty Church in the middle of the day – don’t approach them, they wouldn’t want to be bothered. See someone wandering the aisles on a busy Sunday looking for a seat – they wouldn’t want me to make a big deal by moving over for them. A coworker asks what you are doing on the weekend – I’ll mention the lake or lawn care, wouldn’t want to bother them by telling them about my church. These are conventions that need to be broken in my neighborhood. 

What are the conventions of your local culture that need to die so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be clearly and beautifully lived and proclaimed? I’d love to hear your answers. You can find me at Twitter or Instagram.

LIVE IT:
Change something this weekend for church. If you don’t go to church in the summer, go to church. If you have a set routine, break it. If you go to church alone or just with your family, invite someone else. When you do, offer it up to God. 

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.

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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.