Be Careful What You Ask For.

Oct. 21st Sunday Readings.

jim-halpertOne of my favorite episodes of the TV show “The Office” is when Jim, the cool, young, “normal” employee is left in charge of the office in the absence of Michael, the strange, self important, unaware manager. While Michael is gone, Jim tries to simplify the office’s process of celebrating birthdays and the whole thing blows up in his face. Everyone is mad at Jim and in the end his changes are thrown out and everything goes back to the way it was.

In nearly every episode Michael makes a puzzling or downright idiotic management decisions and Jim (and others) quietly thinks they could do better if they were manager. At the end of the episode, Michael sits down next to Jim and they share a moment discussing what it’s like to be in charge. It’s a classic example of, “Be careful what you ask for.”

In the gospel this Sunday, James and John ask Jesus if they can hold positions of power and honor when Jesus is finally in charge. Jesus’ response is probably not what they expect. Instead of yes or no, Jesus responds that they don’t know what they are really requesting. Jesus goes on to explain that if they really want what they are asking for, they will have to suffer and die just as Jesus will. 

Jesus wants James and John (and us) to understand that greatness, in the Kingdom of God, isn’t the same thing as earthly power or prestige. In the Kingdom of God, if one wants to be great, they have to be servants or even, as Jesus says, slave to all. If we ask for greatness, we are actually asking for the grace to serve others well. 

Live It:
Do something small this week that isn’t “your job.” Don’t claim credit or fish for a thank you. Just do it. 

Impossible Heights

Oct. 14th Sunday Readings.

jef-willemyns-520713-unsplash.jpgI am deathly afraid of heights. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a paralyzing fear. When I was in high school I went to a high adventure camp which included a high ropes course. It did not go well. I got about 15 feet up the 8 inch wide rope ladder which was the first station of the course and I totally frozen and couldn’t move. I had to quit and come back down. Not only could I not finish the course, I didn’t even really start it. 

I wasn’t the only one not to finish. Some others didn’t make it past the rope bridge or the climbing wall or even the zip-line. Each one of us who didn’t finish found one or another of the obstacles to be impossible for us to overcome.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus holds this conversation with a rich young man. By the end of the conversation Jesus tells the man to sell al his has, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. The young man can’t do it and went away dejected. 

For that man in the story it was his money, his many possessions that were his obstacle to following Jesus. Jesus, with great insight, knew that if he had just asked the man to follow him, that the man would always have this thing that he valued more tugging him back home. Jesus knew that if that young man would really want to follow Jesus, he would need to eliminate that obstacle.

In the decision to follow Jesus Christ, it is likely that we have at least one thing that keeps us from truly, fully following Jesus. Your obstacle that you can’t seem to overcome might be money or security or safety or status. Maybe it is control, pleasure, power, pride or despair. The list could go on. 

If you held this same conversation with Jesus what would he have you remove from your life?What is the thing that you hold on to that keeps you from following Jesus more closely?

Don’t worry if this question isn’t easy to answer. The true answer might be hidden from you. Sometimes it’s hard to know ourselves fully. So if you don’t know, what are you going to do to find out?

Once you figure out what this obstacle is, the next step is to remove it? I bet there is a reasonable change that you would struggle to remove it on your own. Maybe even you don’t want to remove it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus promises that what is impossible for us to remove from our life God can move easily. What keeps us from Jesus and from heaven, God can remove. All things are possible for God, even when we can’t see a way. 

LIVE IT:
Next time you go to Mass, bring with you your obstacle. Think about it during Mass and at some point offer it up to God. Give God the chance to do a miracle and do the impossible. 

You are not enough.

Oct 7th Sunday Readings.

A good friend of mine likes to say, “Either a man is humble or he is about to be humbled.” jose-morales-571859-unsplashThis friend should know. He was a highly touted, high draft pick, professional baseball pitcher (Mets, Royals, Twins, etc.). He was told all his life that he was the best of the best and that he had a real chance of making the big leagues. He had one major league win and then was sent to a Japanese team for cash considerations. He knows what it’s like to be humbled. 

I like this quote because it is clever and smart and sounds like something I should believe. However, the reality of this little turn of phrase is frightening. In reality it means that if in fact I am not currently humble, then humility is coming my way. Generally, growing in humility is painful. It’s painful because it is a correction of a wrong. It is painful because it is my mind conforming to reality. It hurts to let go of our misconceptions and embracing reality.

For me, at least, the primary way in which I am not humble is my belief that I can do it all. Most days I believe that if I just work a little harder, if I just gave a little more effort, if I just push myself, I can be perfect, I can save myself, I can be everything that my wife and children need. 

This is a lie. I am not enough. And here is the harder thing for me to say – You are not enough either. I am humbled almost daily because of my persistence in believing that I can do it all. I have a plethora of evidence to prove to me that I am not enough. Yet, I persist in my pride. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that if we want to go to heaven, we have to become like little children. Little children are helpless. They exist totally dependent on adults to care for them. They need someone else to change their diapers and give them hugs and cut the crusts off of sandwiches for them. And here is the key – they are okay with it. For the most part, very little children are okay with being dependent on others for even their most basic needs. 

Only someone humble enough to be completely dependent on another is ready for heaven. If we want to go to heaven, we have to be completely dependent upon God. We are not enough and that’s okay, because we are loved by a God who is so much more than enough. God is more than adequate. God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, overwhelming. 

Live It:
Tonight when you go to bed, pray like a child. Get on your knees, on the side of your bed (even if your spouse thinks this is weird), and pray, “God I need you.” 

Everyone has a #1.

September 30th Sunday Readings.

stlI married a Twins fan, but I grew up in St. Louis, MO as a rabid Cardinals baseball fan. In 1987 when the Twins played the Cardinals in the World Series, my heart was broken by Kirby Puckett and those upstart Twins with dyYcFhRxtheir dome-field advantage. When I moved to MN I adopted the Twins as my American league team. People ask all the time who I root for when the Cardinals play the Twins. My answer is easy – the Cardinals are my team.

Everybody has a #1. Everyone has something that is most important in their life. As much as we might hope to have a short list of priorities that are all equally important to us, when push comes to shove, one of those things will come out on top. In fact before mid-20th century the word priority was almost never pluralized. We only had a priority, not priorities. Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 7.53.34 AM.png

When we try to hold multiple priorities in our hands we only deceive ourselves and set up a situation where our true priority might get lost in the shuffle. In fact, it happens more often than not that we don’t end up prioritizing the thing that we say or believe we hold most dear.

This is why Jesus Christ tells us that whatever causes us to sin we need to cut completely out of our lives. If anything confuses us about what is most important, we need to completely rid ourselves of it. It is better that we don’t have things that keep us from the most important thing.

What is the most important thing? God. If we truly want what was best for us, then our number one priority should be spending eternity with God, starting right now at this moment. 

How important should this priority be to us? So important we would be willing to loose a body part for it. How dangerous are the things that distract us from God? So dangerous that we should cut them out completely. 

I want to be clear, this isn’t easy. Christianity isn’t easy; it is good. The path is narrow. The way is hard. And it is worth it. God can do it, if we fully rely on Him. 

LIVE IT:
Take out your calendar (digital or paper), and figure out what is the thing that you build the rest of your life around. Work? Kids Activities? Gym time? Or could it be God/Prayer/Church? If someone never met you, but got to examine your calendar, what would they say is your number 1?

Flight Madness

Read the September 23rd Sunday Readings

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Something about airline travel turns the kindest, most generous people into absolutely selfish monsters. Every time I fly, I seem to encounter all kinds of human selfishness and entitlement. There are moments of generosity and selfless gift, don’t get me wrong, but I amazed at the number of “me first” moments I witness while flying. 

Oh, by the way, I am 100% talking about myself. I’m the monster. 

A couple months ago I flew a certain airline that lets passengers choose their own seats. I actually like and appreciate this model because it appeals to my sense of fairness. If you check in early or pay a little extra you get to board first and every seat is yours to choose from. 

I boarded early and sat in an aisle seat in the 3rd row. Hundreds of people boarded after me and poured towards the back of the plane hoping for a “not middle” seat. Alas this was a nearly full flight. The seat next to me was still open as the plane filled and I secretly hoped it would remain so. Finally the last few souls entered and after stowing bags one standing passenger exclaimed, “Wow this is full, where is there an open seat?” 

Did I raise my hand? Did I call out, “Oh brother human, over here! Please take your rest next to me.” No. I kept my head down and hope against hope he would sit behind me? Absolutely. Why? Because I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted the open seat. I wanted to be first. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” I don’t know about you, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want that open seat on the plane and I want to follow Jesus too. I’m okay not being first, but I sure don’t ever want to be last. 

Jesus makes it abundantly clear again and again in the gospels, there is a choice between serving ourself and following Jesus. No middle ground exists. Either we follow Jesus and serve others or we serve yourselves. 

How do we do totally give up serving ourselves? First, we need to totally rely on God for the grace to do this. Left to my own devices, I will never offer the open spot next to me to the person looking for it on a plane. Second, we look to help people who can do nothing for us. We need to look to serve the helpless. Only by God’s grace can we hope put ourselves last. 

LIVE IT:
First of all, this week’s Good Word was particularly challenging to me. I constantly fail at this. So the Live It is most important this week. Turn to God each day from now until the next Sunday and ask God for the grace to be last. 

Does this hurt?

September 9th Sunday Readings.

Whenever my kids get a minor bump or bruise and they are crying hurt, I have brian-patrick-tagalog-681929-unsplasha particular ritual that I go through to help them. It starts by having them sit down and put their injured limb up on the couch or chair in a unnaturally high way so I can get a better look. Then I examine the affected area. Next I start to poke and prod the clearly unaffected areas while I ask, “Does that hurt?” To which they usually answer a tearful but confused, “No.” Finally I ask them to show me where it hurts and I make a face like I finally see the real problem and give them a remedy of icepack, bandaid, or smooch (depending, of course).

This is all theater. I have virtually no medical training and have no idea what I am looking at. I am 100% sure my older children know that, but still allow for this farce because it seems to work. Somehow by the time I am done with my very serious and very scientific examination, most bumps and bruises feel better, tears have dried, and my kids are ready to get back to it. 

In our gospel this coming Sunday, Jesus is summoned to examine a man who the scriptures call deaf with a speech impediment. Jesus seems to go through a procedure about as effective as my examination except by the time Jesus is done sticking his fingers in the man’s ears, spiting and touching his tongue, and finally crying “BE OPEN!”, the man can hear and speak. The man is healed.

If you or I did the same procedure, I assure you nothing would happen. Why does what Jesus does heal this man? Clearly it’s because it was Jesus who did it!

Jesus has the power to heal our deepest injury. Jesus as the ability to restore our brokenness to the point where we don’t appear to ever have been broken at all. Jesus can save even the most abandoned places in your life. The gospel tells us a couple things about how this works if pay attention.

First, we can ask for healing. In fact, in this story the deaf man begs and his friends beg that Jesus lay his hands on him. When was the last time you asked Jesus to heal your inner brokenness? 

Secondly, Jesus might not heal you in the way you think. Things might get weird before they get good. Jesus will get all up in your face, literally in the gospel, in order to heal you. And Jesus is going to stick his fingers where you would rather they not go. The only way for this to work is to be docile and let Jesus heal. 

marcelo-leal-664865-unsplashThird, when Jesus has healed you the appropriate response is to be astonished. We read in the gospels that Mary is continually astonished by Jesus. She fully knows who Jesus is, but she is astonished because encountering God is astonishing, amazing, and dazzling.

It’s okay to be wowed by God. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or unsophisticated; it means you actually understand what God has done for you. 

Jesus is asking you where it hurts. Show him. Let him heal you. 

LIVE IT:
Right now, stop and tell God where there is pain in your life. Sometimes that pain is within. Sometimes it is in relationships in our life. If it is something you’ve done, then go to Confession. I promise you’ll find healing there. 

 

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.