Simple.

In a popular TV comedy one female character is remarking about the male character that she is romantically entangled with by saying, “(He) is the most complicated man that I’ve ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kind of game is that?” We live in a world so used to misdirection and filtered conversation that to encounter someone who actually says what they are thinking can be startling.

In the gospel this weekend, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a simple question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He isn’t trying to trick Jesus, but is testing to see if Jesus knows the answer.

Jesus responds by reciting the Shema, a Jewish law found in Deuteronomy. Then he adds the law of love for others. What is the greatest law? Love God. Love others. Love well. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words or talk about how this may be interpreted. No, the law of God is straightforward and simple. Love. 

We struggle with this in three ways. First, we often get the word love wrong. In English we use the word love to mean a number of different emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. In the last week I’ve said I love pizza and I love my wife. I do not love them in the same way. I think it’s helpful to understand the Greek word for love that is used by Jesus here. 

Agape is a self sacrificial love. It is a self giving love. This is love that wills the good of the other. It isn’t affection, friendship, or romantic love (though they can and should have forms of Agape within their practice). What kind of love should we have for God? One that put’s God’s will above our own. What kind of love should we have for others? The kind of love that wants what is best for them even if it is difficult for us.

Second, we tend to complicate things when they seem simple. It’s as if we say, “Well, that can’t be all there is. It must be more complicated than that.” And then we go and muddy the waters of the commandment. We rationalize and theorize the kind of behavior we would prefer rather than what Jesus prescribes.

Third, the command is simple, but follow through on it is challenging. Even if we know, we fail to do it. It’s hard to make a gift of self to someone else. Love is costly. To love someone else costs us greatly and to love God costs us everything.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we are going to seek to follow Jesus’s simple command to love God and love others? Once we make that decision, now comes the work of loving well. 

LIVE IT: Double challenge this week. You can do this for a person or for God.  First, tell someone you love them. Stop them, look them in the eye and tell them. Second, show them that you love them. 

What is Owed.

Which one of your parents do you look more like? Which one of your kids looks most like you? My kids look like collective mixes of my wife and I. A friend of mine who is a grandparent says that her grandkids look like her. She also admits that the other grandma says that the grandkids look like the other grandma. My friend admitted they are probably both right.

In the gospel this week Jesus answers a difficult question about whether or not to pay taxes. Remember the Romans were the occupying enemy force of the Jewish people. They hated the Romans and so to pay taxes was to support the enemy. But to not pay taxes was treason.

Jesus takes this difficult question and turns it into a lesson on our relationship with God. Jesus tells those gathered to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And what is Caesar’s? The coins with Caear’s face on them. Then Jesus says repay to God what is God’s. What is God’s? The logic flows that anything that has God’s face. Just as the coins that have Caesar’s face on them belong to Caesar, anything that has God’s face is God’s.

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” What has God’s image? You do. I do. We do. What are we supposed to repay to God? Us.

What God wants from us is us. He doesn’t want us for what we can do. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t want us for what we can offer, for he gave us all that we have. He doesn’t choose us because of what we deserve. He wants us because he loves us. Since God gave us everything, we owe him everything.

God loves us because we are his. What he wants from us is our whole selves.

Live It: Put a penny or other coin into your pocket tomorrow (even if you are wearing sweatpants at home). Every time you feel that coin in your pocket remember that you are made in the image and likeness of God and make a little prayer offering yourself to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 18th, 2020.

We forgot how to Feast.

A friend of mine married into a wealthy family. His wedding day was 100% a feast. After Mass there was a garden party with served hors d’oeuvres and toasts of champaign. A cocktail hour followed with a buffet of appetizers which flowed into a seven course dinner with poured soup and perfect medium rare file mignon. Then we indulged in an incredibly moist and rich chocolate wedding cake. Just as I started to get hungry at 11 pm, huge trays of hamburgers and milk shakes were made available. We experienced a full on wedding banquet feast. 

I think we mostly don’t know what it is like to feast. Maybe that is because we don’t fast very well. There aren’t many days when I don’t get to eat something I enjoy much less a day I don’t get to eat enough. I don’t experience physical hunger very often. So something really has to be over the top for it to be considered a feast. 

To that end, partially because we don’t feast well, I don’t think we celebrate very well. We have few examples in our lives of true festival. While we might still celebrate holidays when they serve the consumer culture, we don’t throw festivals like we used to. We rarely gather with the larger community for true festival celebration.

Not knowing how to feast and not being good at fully engaging in festivals hurts our ability to look forward to and desire heaven. Heaven is a feast. Heaven is a festival. Heaven is a party that we never get tired of. Like any party, we receive an invitation to heaven and are expected to respond in some way.

How do you respond to an invitation to attend a feast, a festival? Sometimes we’re excited to go, but more often we kind of hem and haw as to whether we will attend. Imagine some getting the invitation to heaven but saying, “I’d like to go, but you know it is just going to be so busy. I don’t really know what the food is going to be like. I’m not sure I’m going to know anyone there. I mean, it sounds good, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll make an appearance and then get out quick. Then again, I’d have to get ready all over again. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort and I’m already in my comfy clothes. Maybe I’ll just stay home.” Sound familiar? 

While we should respond to any invitation with a yes or no, sometimes we don’t respond at all. Turns out, no response is a response.

In the gospel Jesus tells the story of a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. The people originally invited all bail on the feast for practical reasons. So the king sent his servants out onto the road ways and invites whomever hey can find to come to the banquet.

The question this parable asks of each of us is whether we have accepted God’s invitation to dine with him. In other words, do you want to go to heaven? 

Will you accept Christ the King’s invitation to the greatest, grandest, most fulfilling of banquets. If the answer is yes, what do you have to do to get ready to attend? At the end of the parable Jesus explains that the king comes across a guest who isn’t wearing the formal wedding attire. In other words that guest wasn’t ready to feast! What do you need to get ready in your life in order to attend the banquet? What do you need to do to prepare for the feast?

LIVE IT: Take out a piece of paper, any scratch paper will do. Write out the words, “I accept.” Now post this paper somewhere you will see it everyday. Every time you see it simply prayer, “God I accept your invitation to a heavenly feast.” Pray it until it becomes 2nd nature. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 11th, 2020.

Doesn’t apply to me

With a lot more time at home during this pandemic, my family has discovered or maybe developed some new habits. One of my kids always (I really mean always) leaves her breakfast dishes on the dinning room table. The dishes sit there all day. Often we have to ask her to clear them before dinner time. This drives my wife crazy, which, in turn, drives me crazy. 

I tried to remedy this situation by making a general announcement and setting an expectation for the entire family. “All dishes should be cleared within 30 minutes of the completion of a meal with water glasses being the exception.” To which the serial offender turned to her sister and said, “That means you!”

The kid who created the need for a new rule and who needed to receive the direction didn’t know it was her who was the problem. How often is it that those who cause the issue don’t think the new rule is for them?

This weeks gospel is a prime example of this. Jesus tells a parable that paints the chief priests and elders as the villains and yet when Jesus asks what the evil tenants’ punishment should be, the chief priests and elders pronounce a harsh and merciless judgement. They didn’t know the story was about them! Idiots.

Oh, also, the parable is about us.

At least, it’s about me. Of course, the parable is about Israel and how when God wanted to bear much fruit, those in charge rejected the prophets and eventually Jesus. Yes. But the parable is also about every single time that God wanted to harvest a beautiful bounty in our lives and we failed to give God his due. This story is about every time we reject the prophets in our own lives and are selfish. This story is about when we deny Jesus Christ and choose our own path. When we sin we throw Jesus out of our vineyard and our sin brings about the cross. 

Jesus tells this parable as an invitation to return to God, to repent, to confess our sins and give God what belongs to God. What do we owe God? Everything. What do we get from God in the first place? Everything. The only thing God doesn’t give us is our sin. So we need to give him that too. 

Just as the vineyard owner is ostentatiously merciful, giving the tenants chance after chance to repent and give over the fruit of the harvest, God gives us chance after chance to respond to him with love and surrender. Will you give God what you owe him? 

Aren’t convinced that this parable is about you? Neither were the chief priests or elders.

LIVE IT: You probably live a fruitful life. You have produced many things, experiences, maybe even people. Have you given them to God? Make a list of everything you have produced in the last 7 days – work, home, hobbies, children, etc. Take some time over the next 3 days to offer those things over to God. One by one offer them up in prayer to God. 

Sunday Readings for Oct 4th, 2020.

Words and Actions

When I was about 11 years old, I asked my parents if there were any ways I could make some money around the house. I wasn’t a big chores kid when I wasn’t getting paid, but a couple greenbacks changed everything. My dad hired me to wash the family car. I put soap and water in a bucket, grabbed some towels, and pulled the hose around to the driveway. 

After washing and rinsing the entire car, I got my dad to inspect. I was looking forward to his congratulations on a job well done and a handful of cash. Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t wash the car.” I ended up getting really upset. I did wash the car. I covered the thing in soapy water and rinsed it off with the hose. How could he say I didn’t wash it? Did he not see me out here?

He showed me on the front where there was still a bunch of dried, stuck-on bugs. He showed me where there was grime in the wheel wells. He pointed out dirt around the windshield wipers. I may have done all the actions of washing a car, but the outcome was a car that still needed to be cleaned. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells the story of a father and two sons. The father asks the first son to go work in the vineyard. This son says that he will not, but he changes his mind and eventually goes and works. The second son says he will go work, but never does. Then Jesus asks his audience which of these sons did the father’s will.  

God asks us every moment of everyday if we will do his will. That we exist at all, is an invitation to answer the question: what are you going to do with your life? Then the fact that we have received Sacraments where we promised, before God and the Church, that we would do God’s will, further invites us to answer the question: what are we doing with this short, single life we’ve been given?

We can say yes with our words, but still stay no with our lives. We can say all the right things, call ourselves Christian, but if we aren’t living it, are we disciples of Jesus? 

I was convicted reading this gospel this week. I feel like I say yes often with my words and fail to follow through on those words. It’s like promising to wash the car, but the final product isn’t a clean car. For these failures, I go to confession. I lean into the mercy of God. 

The reality is that we’ll never be perfect in both our actions and words. The more we rely on God to lead us, the more we will be able to do God’s will. The more we seek to make our actions match our words, the more we are going to need to depend on God.

LIVE IT: Read these short (really it is brief) couple of paragraphs from the Catechism. You will find what are called the Precepts of the Church. These Precepts are the very basic things we must do as Catholics. If you are looking for the 5 ways to make your actions meet your words in your Catholic faith, these are the absolute basics. Check out the Precepts here. 

Sunday Readings for September 27, 2020.

It’s Not Fair.

If you are a parent, then it is likely that you’ve heard someone complain that something isn’t fair. If you are parent like me, you’ve heard this phrase yelled at you while one child gestures wildly at another child. I don’t need to explain to you that comparing ourselves to others is a death sentence to loving them well and being happy. If you want to lose your joy, then start comparing yourself to others.

When I would yell at my parents about the fairness of their parenting my younger sister and I, most often their response was, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.” I never liked that answer. I used to think that equal portions, the same rules, etc absolutely means equal, but then I started to say it to my kids and it started to make sense.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a man with a vineyard who hires workers throughout the day and at sundown pays them all the same wage. Whether someone worked twelve hours or one hour, they all got a full day’s wage. The workers who worked a full day complain that they didn’t get what they deserved. The vineyard owner explains that they were paid what was promised, which is true. Then he explains that it is his choice if he also decides to pay the partial workers the same amount.

As the person who holds strict rules about standing in line and always returns the shopping cart to the cart corral (yes that is their technical name), I still struggle with this answer. I want to shout at Jesus, “BUT THIS STILL ISN’T FAIR!”And maybe I’m right. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is love.

God isn’t fair, he is love. He is extraordinary love.

God is wild generosity and total self-gift especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve a full portion of God’s love? Me. You. All of us. Few of us started working at dawn in the vineyard and none of us have worked perfectly all day long. We don’t deserve the wage God wants to pay us. So who are we in the story? We are the workers who come at midday and the end of the day, and yet because of God’s generosity, we still get a full portion.

What is the wage we are paid? Paul says that the wages of sin is death. So what is our wage for working in the vineyard? Life. The reward at the end of the day of working is a life of eternal bliss with God Almighty! There is no half measure of Heaven. If Heaven is infinite joy and perfect communion with God, then those who receive it won’t have more or less than someone else. There is no comparison in Heaven because everyone there is perfectly satisfied. More and less no longer matter in a state of perfect communion with God. 

Finally, this gospel teaches us that it is never too late to receive that full day’s wage. If you are reading this, but have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are reading this and aren’t in full communion with God, now is the time to reach out and take the job. Say a prayer that puts yourself at God’s mercy and God’s will. No matter how far away you feel. No matter how long you’ve been gone, God will welcome you back with extraordinary love. 

LIVE IT: Tell God you want to work in his vineyard. Actively seek to commit yourself to God. Use whatever words come from you heart. 

Sunday Readings for September 20th, 2020.

You’re dead to me.

I give up on people. I do. Most of us do, I think. If someone burns us enough, we get to the point where we can no longer give them another second, third, fourth chance. I’m sure someone has given up on me too. It is very likely I failed someone, said the wrong thing, or didn’t say the right thing too many times for someone.

Conventional wisdom and, in fact, the cardinal virtues probably lead us to believe we can write them off. Prudence tells us that we probably shouldn’t trust that person any more. And yes, that is probably wise. Justice tells us they aren’t fulfilling their duty and so what we owe them has changed. Temperance would have us reach a reasonable amount of latitude before we write them off. Fortitude might invite us to be strong in our stern rejection of the other. 

While it feels wrong to speak of giving up on someone in the abstract, in the particular, I bet you and I can think of a least one person we gave up on because their actions didn’t follow their words. 

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs Peter that he not simply forgive someone, but that he should perpetually forgive them – seventy seven or seven times seven times. Jesus surely teaches virtue, so why can he teach this unlimited forgiveness? Perhaps it is because the most central virtue for Jesus isn’t prudence or justice, but it is Love. We forgive over and over again because of love. 

Of course that doesn’t mean we abandon the other virtues. God’s love is just. God’s love is prudent. Forgiving and loving doesn’t mean we fully trust someone not worthy of our trust. However love demands that we never write anyone off. 

God’s love is exactly that for us. We need God’s forgiveness every single day. God never gives up on us. God never writes us off. God gives us all the chances we need and then some. There is no amount of failure we can accomplish that will cause God to give up on saving us. 

In this Sunday’s gospel parable, the servant begs for forgiveness. This is an essential aspect of our forgiveness. God won’t force forgiveness on us. We must want it too. 

Live It:
Mini Challenge: Ask God for forgiveness or simply go to Confession. 

Big Challenge: Reach out to someone you have written off. Just make contact and say hello. See how God uses that act.

Sunday Readings September 13th, 2002.

Cake is for Eating

My family used to be obsessed with cake/baking reality TV shows. Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, the Great British Bake Off, Cake Wars, Cupcake Wars, and Nailed It were just a few of our favorites. With the exception of Nailed It, at some point in many of these shows, the awesomely designed and physics defying confection would be carried or wheeled out and the recipient would undoubtably say, “It’s so cool/beautiful, I don’t know if I can eat it.” Without fail the baker then swiftly says that of course you have to eat it and promptly starts cutting pieces. 

The old saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” remains true in most cases. Many experiences in life require us to make a decision. The truth of the matter is that no decision is, in fact, a decision. And, at least when it comes to cake, even if we choose “cake” over “eat it,” we actually get neither because cake doesn’t last too long before it isn’t beautiful or delicious. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Peter wants to have his cake and eat it too. Peter wants Jesus to fulfill his mission and save mankind, but he doesn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die. Furthermore, Jesus says that if you want to be his disciple, then you must follow him even unto suffering and death.

We are presented with the same decision that Peter has here – do we want to follow Jesus? If we answer yes, then we must be ready to give up everything to do so. If we want to live, we must be willing to die. There is no half-way discipleship of Jesus Christ. St. Therese of Lisieux said this about sainthood, “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” 

This is a hard teaching. Most of my life has been spent working a situation so that I could get the best of both worlds. Being all the way committed to the point of no return isn’t something I do well. If you’re at all like me, the idea of making a complete and total decision and not trying to find a way to have your cake and eat it too is hard to swallow. So how do I do it?

When Captain Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World from Spain in 1519, it is reported that he ordered his men to burn the boats they arrived in. Why? Because he didn’t want to leave any option of leaving. The decision had been made. 

What are the faith or life style boats that we haven’t burnt yet? What are our easy ways out of being sold out for Jesus? I think if we can identify the ways we wiggle out of a firm commitment to Christ in our behavior or life, we can start to make the changes that demonstrate the decision that we’ve made. 

The reality is that we have a limited amount of time to make this important decision. Are you trying to follow Jesus with every aspect of your life? If not, what boats do you need to burn to more completely, totally follow him?

LIVE IT: Make a list of 3 reason you miss prayer or Mass or reconciliation. Burn one of them. If you need to literally write it on a piece of paper and set it on fire (outside, with a proper fire receptacle). Once you burn it (mentally or otherwise), you can’t ever use that excuse again. Then pray or get to Mass. 

Sunday Readings for August 30th, 2020.

The Question

Deacon Sam Catapano used to say that the central question of every single human person’s life was this, “Who do you say that I am?” And the person asking the question, as he does in this week’s gospel, is Jesus Christ. Deacon Sam used to say that the answer to that question and how seriously we take our answer determines everything else in our life. 

In the gospel, there are many rumors floating around about who Jesus is, but when he asks the disciples, Peter clearly and definitively states, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The result of Peter’s proclamation is that he is made the leader of the followers of Jesus and our first Pope.

Peter’s answer certainly influenced the rest of his life. Sure he failed at times, but in the end Peter spent the rest of his life telling other people about Jesus and eventually gave his life because of his faith in Jesus. 

If we say that Jesus is only a teacher or a revolutionary with radical ideas, then we can easily dismiss him and build our lives on something else. But if we say that Jesus is God, then what he says and how he lives must inform every one of our decisions, actions, and beliefs.

If Jesus is God, how can we keep that incredible reality to ourselves? Who is Jesus?

LIVE IT: Two stage live it this week. Stage 1: When you wake up tomorrow morning, say outloud, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Say it like you mean it. Stage 2: Say it to someone else. It will be awkward, I promise. But do it anyway. Stranger, spouse, children or otherwise, but say the words to them, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Trust the Leftovers

In the last year I’ve taken up a new hobby – woodworking. Yes it is the most “old man” of hobbies, but I really enjoy it. The temptation at every stage is to buy the very best of the best of every tool. The thinking goes, “If I could just have that new $400 smoother handplane, then I could make really fine furniture.” The reality is that there are many woodworkers who have thousands of dollars of the very best tools and very few finished wood items to show for it. 

This problem isn’t unique to woodworking. Photography, biking, sailing, cooking, and many other human endeavors have this issue, “If I had the best, I could do this activity better.” While this isn’t untrue, the reality is that most of the time, we just need to go for it and let our tool collection catch up. Often we need to go ahead and make something with the tools we have before we can move forward. 

In the gospel, a caaninite woman approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t even respond to her. He seems to ignore her completely. When she persists, Jesus tells her that his mission is to the children of the house of Israel. When she asks again he tells her that one shouldn’t give the children’s food to the dogs. How does she respond? She says she would take the scraps, the leftovers, if they came from him. 

Jesus responds by announcing her great faith. She is the only person in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus says has great faith. 

This gospel calls us to have the kind of faith that is okay with scraps. Sometimes we approach faith like we approach our hobbies. We need the best of the best. We need the newest book by a famed catholic writer. We need a cooler, nicer rosary. We need the slickest faith app for our phone. If only our tools were better and cooler and more engaging, then we could be people of great faith. 

The reality is that great faith means trusting that God will give us everything we need to be healed and saved. Great faith is not waiting till we have the best of the best or until things are perfect, but to believe now. Don’t wait until things are perfect, pray now. Great faith is trusting God’s scraps will be enough. 

LIVE IT: This sounds crazy, but after dinner when you are putting away your left over food, say this quick prayer (or something like it), “Dear God, than you for the abundance of food that we would have leftovers from our meal. Thank you for being so generous with the gift of yourself that we have an overabundance. Help us to trust in you so much so that we would be okay even with your scraps.”

Sunday Readings for August 16th, 2020.