Breath. Breath. Breath.

I rolled over the other night to find myself face to face with my beautiful, beloved bride. She was sound asleep and was, how shall I say it, melodiously breathing deeply. It was then that a warm gust of moist breath hit me in the face. It struck me that it felt like it had been a long time since someone breathed in my face. In this time of social distancing and mask wearing, I haven’t felt the warmth of someone else’s breath for a while, thank God. 

Truth be told, it’s not like I was getting explicitly breathed on a lot in the past either. It is such an intimate thing to happen, we just don’t normally feel other adults breaths on our face. Sure when you have kids it will happen that one of them will climb into your arms, say something cute, sigh, and then breath out deeply all over you. But how often would you purposefully share breath with another adult and know it, feel it? Rarely right? 

So it strikes me as odd that in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, in the midst of his post resurrection appearance, breathed on his disciples. Can you imagine being the disciples? Your best friend, leader, and messiah actually rises from the dead, he shows up, says a couple things, and then breaths on you. Why?

Jesus’ breathing onto/into his disciples reminds us of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:7 God made man out of the dust of the ground and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Just as God gave life to man by making this carbon bag filled with mostly water into a living, breathing, conscious thing, Jesus breaths the breath of life into the disciples. His breath gives them new life, a life in the Spirit and as the Church. 

When people talk about hearing a good talk or reading a particularly good religious book or quote, what do they call it? Inspiring. If someone shouts “Eureka! I’ve figured it out.” They have been inspired. Jesus literally expires his breath and by doing so  inspires the disciples, and indeed the whole Church, to complete his mission. Jesus has preached and commanded and now Jesus is giving inspiration to his followers one last time.

The Hebrew word for God’s breath that was used in Genesis 2:7 is ruach. This word can be used for breath and often is. The other meaning of ruach is spirit. By breathing on his followers, Jesus is literally giving them the Holy Spirit. He is breathing his very life and indeed his Spirit into the disciples and into the whole Church. The very next thing Jesus says is, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Boom. 

This Sunday we should probably refrain from receiving anyone else’s breath. But we can and should know the intimacy Jesus wants to have with us. How close? He wants to breath on us. We can know with confidence that Jesus Christ has and will breath his life, his inspiration, and his Holy Spirit into the Church – into us! Come Holy Spirit!

LIVE IT: On Sunday, take 12 big, deep, from your tummy, breaths. With each one pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”, either when you breath in or out. 

The Unexpected Missionary

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I recently read some non-fiction books about the American Revolution and the early 1800s. What I was most surprised by was the difficulty, but regularity of ocean travel. Last year my wife and I traveled to Boston and toured the USS Constitution, a retired tall ship that I actually read about this past week. While the ship was so large, the living quarters were very small. I couldn’t imagine signing on to traverse the Atlantic or even further.

Yet, for many centuries this is what it meant to be a foreign missionary for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Why would anyone get on a boat (maybe not as sturdy and glorious as the USS Constitution) and travel across the globe to tell people about Jesus?

Easy–Jesus told us to.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us, the Church, the Great Commission. Jesus tells us first and emphatically to “Go.” It is the mission of the Church to go out into the world and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to leave the confines of the safe harbor and strike out into open water. When we get there we are to make disciples of all nations, teach them to obey Jesus, and remember Jesus promises to be with us always.

The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I am writing this from the comfort of my finished basement. I have a space heater taking the chill out of the air and enough tea and afternoon snacks to keep me going. I am here because of our stay at home order, and the best way to keep each other safe is to stay home or stay safe. How can I be a missionary for Jesus Christ if my ship can’t leave the harbor?

When it comes to missionary activity we have two Patron Saints that the Church looks toward for intercession and inspiration. First, St. Francis Xavier sailed from Europe in 1540, and after sailing around Africa, founded missions in India, Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, and then died at age 46 off the coast of China where he was headed for missionary work. A brave and holy man, who has the resume for the job of Patron of Missions.

The Patroness of Mission is Saint Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese lived in a Carmelite Cloister and never left France on Mission. She died at age 24, never having set sail for the far reaches of the world. Yet, she is the unexpected Patroness of Mission and Missionaries. How did she accomplish the Mission of the Church while never leaving her home? St. Therese did three things that I think we can emulate and by doing so, accomplish the mission before us:

  1. Prayer. I am not an expert in St. Therese’s prayer life, but one thing I do know is her absolute dependence on God. When we pray during this time, we must pray as a people who are absolutely in need of God. We can do that.
  2. Love. St. Therese was humble and lived humbly in the cloister, but she did so with great love. While she didn’t travel the world on mission to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, she loved well those around her. She did the things of her day, dishes, prayers, chores, laundry, with great heart. She did these simple sacrifices with love and offered her work up to Jesus Christ. We can do that.
  3. Write/Record. St. Therese wrote “The Story of a Soul”, an autobiography which has converted (along with God’s grace) many hearts. She recorded her desire for God and for others to know God. We can write to our family and our friends. We can record what God is doing for and in us right now with a pen or keyboard or camera. We can do that.

Live It: If we want to emulate the great Patroness of Mission, St. Therese of Lisieux, then we must start with our prayer. St. Therese wrote many prayers, and this one for the start of the day is particularly beautiful in its simplicity (I think).

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.

Readings for Sunday May 24th, 2020.

There are two types of people…

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Have you ever heard someone start the phrase “There are two types of people in this world…”? The second half is usually something silly like, “Those who like Chicago style pizza and this who like New York Style pizza.” That, of course, is ridiculous. All pizza is amazing and delicious. Or maybe they say, “Those who like Star Wars and those who like Star Trek.” Also silly because most people actually either like both or neither (right?).

As much as I think that most of the time when we use this phrase we are setting up a false dichotomy, there is one topic that I think is true:

There are two kinds of people in this world, people who think God is active and working in our lives and people who don’t.

Of course there are many ways to categorize and break down each of these two groups, but in the end either you think God is working or you don’t.

It is tempting to think that maybe God exists and He started this whole existence thing and now we are on our own. This way of thinking is helpful when we consider why bad things happen if we supposedly have this good God. It even helps comfort people when they question why their prayers are not being answered. Some call this the Watchmaker God. As if God built the world and now it just runs on its own.

Of course there are problems with this way of thinking. The biggest issue is that if you believe this, then it is impossible to be Christian. In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us his word that he will not abandon us. He tells us he won’t make us orphans. Jesus promises us another advocate for us, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Further, Jesus himself is proof that God didn’t just make the world and abandon us. No, God sent his Son into the world and changes the course of history and salvation for us all. God’s interjection was the most profound and real example of God actively working in our world. And Jesus promises to never abandon us.

Do you believe God is actively working in our lives? Do you believe Jesus is the greatest example of God’s saving work? Do you believe Jesus when he says he will never abandon you?

If the answer is yes to all three, then be confident that you believe the truth, that you not only have a God that breathed the stars and invented gravity, you have a God who cares deeply for you personally and will never abandon you.

Live It: Jesus says he won’t abandon us and that he will send an Advocate – the Holy Spirit. So pray this prayer at least 1 time this week:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

(And then eat some pizza to celebrate.)

Sunday Readings for May 17th, 2020.

Enough Ice Cream

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Have you ever been to Nelson’s ice cream? I went to the St. Paul location a couple years ago. A friend of mine, Kory, and I went together. It was my first time, but not his. Kory and I both enjoy our ice cream and have been known to put away our fair share. So I was shocked when on our way in he asked, “Do you want to share a child’s size?”
What? First of all, I don’t want to share at all and much less the “child’s size.” I couldn’t believe he asked. That was until we walked inside and saw what Nelson’s calls the child’s size. If you don’t know, a child size at Nelson’s is like 10 heaping scoops of delicious, rich ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. I half expected Kory to look at me and ask, “Is that enough ice cream?” I finished mine and enjoyed every bite, but didn’t feel good about the decision later.
The word “enough” is a funny description. Enough seems to be predicated on our personal preference. What my wife and I think is enough ice cream is very very different. When I tell my 2 year old that he has banged his fork on the table enough times, he rarely agrees.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus is preaching to his disciples and assuring them that he will be going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. All they must do is follow his way. Thomas questions whether they know the way and Jesus emphatically tells them that Jesus himself is the way. Then Philip puts out a condition, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus admonishes him. Jesus says you already know the Father because you know him. Jesus and Father are one and the same.
The issue here, beyond Philip and the other disciples seemingly lack of understanding, is  that they are putting one more condition on Jesus. It’s akin to saying if you just do one more thing, then we will believe. Even in the context of the story, it seems rude. Jesus has preached with authority like no other man. Jesus has multiplied the loaves. Jesus has healed the lame and leper. Jesus has forgiven sins. By all accounts, Jesus has done enough. Yet, the disciples still ask.
One question this reading asks of us is, “has Jesus done enough for you and I to believe?” Are His miracles, preaching teaching, and promises enough for us to lay our lives down before Him forever? How about His resurrection? What would be enough?
Yet maybe this isn’t the right question. We aren’t asking about a business transaction – Jesus proves himself and we assent to His divinity. We are talking about love relationship. Jesus is inviting us into a deeply loving relationship that could last the rest of our existence. When it comes to love, the word “enough” doesn’t enter into the equation. We love by choice and by action. After all, Jesus loves us when we aren’t enough.
LIVE IT: Journal for 5 minutes even if it is just bullet points. Answer the following questions, 1) Has Jesus done enough to earn me? 2) Do I love Jesus?

Sunday Readings for May 10th 2020.

Paradise

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I distinctly remember watching an 80’s sitcom (though I can’t remember which one) in which a young female character was being wooed by an older man. He kept saying that he had two tickets to paradise if she would trust him. The whole show comes to a head when the female character goes back to this man’s dingy one room apartment where she finds “two tickets to paradise” to be an unnamed pill and vague promises of intimate pleasure. Needless to say, she flees, the man is confronted later, and the whole seen is lesson for us impressionable children of the 80s. 

Yet, I think the lesson is a true one. Again and again we try to find a shortcut to paradise. Maybe it is the obvious substance use, pleasure seeking route. Maybe it is more hidden like avoidance of any pain or suffering. Maybe we think if we are rich or successful or comfortable enough we will make ourselves a heaven on earth. 

The gospel this Sunday is a clear reminder that the one and only way to paradise is Jesus Christ. The only door on the way to heaven is Jesus himself. In some ways, this is bad news for all who try to gain entry to a heavenly experience in some other way. Yet it is very best news for all. It means we know the way to heaven. We know who can open the way and bring us to eternal paradise – Jesus. 

Jesus isn’t only the way to heaven when we die, but is the only way to peace and joy now. Jesus can heal our hurts in a way that no other method or practice can. If another way of healing works it doesn’t work outside of Jesus’ power, but, ultimately, through it. 

How do we enter into the sheep fold? First we have to stop trying to jump over the wall. We must actively and purposefully chose Jesus over what we think is a shortcut. The next step is to trust fully in Jesus as our gate to heaven. Pray and rest in him. Let Jesus heal your brokenness. Make a statement of faith in him. Jesus is the gate. 

Live It: Make a statement of faith. How? It could be as simple as prayerfully repeating a short phrase. Options: “Jesus I trust in you.” “Jesus you are my Lord and my God.” “Jesus I believe, help my unbelief.” Or you could recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed. You could also just speak to God from your heart like, “Jesus I give you my life. I trust totally in you. I want to be yours and follow you all the days of my life.” 

Sunday Readings for May 3, 2020. 

Why?

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In times of great suffering it is common to wonder, “Why is this happening to us?” It’s a question that at its core is asking, “Why do I have to suffer?” I have been asking this question a lot in these days. Rather than settling on a perfect or definitive answer, I’ve been left holding the question in my hands. 

The good news is that the scriptures we read or hear at Mass this Sunday give us a little help with the answer. We’ll find some meaning in these scriptures because the reason we suffer is intimately tied to the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to suffer?”

In the gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of the road to Emmaus. Two characters are leaving Jerusalem to return home after Jesus’ death. When they meet a stranger along the road, who asks the travelers what they are talking about, they say, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.” Jesus then calls them fools and explains the events.

For me the phrase that gets me is when the two travelers say “The things that happened to Jesus…” Certainly Jesus suffered and was killed and those events happened to him, but the way it is phrased, clearly missed the point that Jesus choose his path. Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim, but glorious sacrificial victim. He suffered and died because that was the way to accomplish his mission to save humanity from death and sin. 

This gospel is from Luke, but in John’s gospel, Jesus always seems to be in control. The things that happen to him happen because he ultimately wants to accomplish his mission of love. Certainly Jesus asked for the cup to pass, and then he submitted to God’s will. Maybe he didn’t desire the cross, but he absolutely embraced it. Jesus’ desire was for love and a suffering sacrifice was the only way to love enough.

None of us would choose suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. Love requires sacrifice which often means suffering. We see it in small ways like doing the dishes when it is our spouse’s turn. And we see it big ways when someone sacrifices their life to save another. 

The suffering that we are experiencing doesn’t make sense unless we unite it with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Unless we offer it up to him and embrace it so that others might be loved, we might just think it is all meaningless. 

So what do we do in the face of great suffering? Love. I know that seems overly simplistic and trite, but it is the right answer. It has always been the right answer from the beginning of time and no one teaches us that more than Jesus Christ. 

When correcting the two travelers Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Our salvation was dependent upon it. Now we can follow in Jesus’ example, and sacrifice, maybe even suffer, so that others might know love. 

LIVE IT: When it comes to loving the first battle ground is our own heart. This doesn’t mean just be nice to yourself, but instead it means sacrificing something so that you get what you really need – Jesus. While the world is upside down, find 10-15 minutes extra each day when you can give up what you would normally be doing in order to listen to Jesus. Speak his name and sit in silence. BONUS: Show your family you love them this week. If they are the only people you see, they are the people you are being called to love well. 

It was an accident.

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As a parent, I have lots of moments where I try and teach my kids a lesson that I, myself, haven’t yet totally mastered. Don’t hit your sister (sorry Kate) – Maybe you should get the small ice cream – and please excuse yourself from the table next time – are just a few. But the lesson I feel like I am constantly teaching, and constantly failing at myself, is the lesson of purpose. 

The other day one of my children knocked a glass of water off the table. The glass shattered, the water sprayed everywhere. I helped them clean it up and when I asked them to be more careful, they responded with hurt in their voice, “But I didn’t do it on purpose!” I said in response, “Yes, but you didn’t do things on purpose to avoid the situation like moving the glass in from the edge of the table or going slow or not swinging your arms wildly while singing a show tune.” I tried to explain that there is a difference between an absolute accident, doing something on purpose, and not doing things to avoid a potential accident. They stared at me blankly and we moved on. 

I think this kind of thing happens to Thomas in our gospel reading for this Sunday. Thomas gets this horrible nickname of “doubting Thomas” simply because he wasn’t present when Jesus appeared the first time. He didn’t purposefully try to miss out, but he did. He just didn’t do the thing he could have to not have missed the resurrected Jesus. 

However, I think this missing out moment has even deeper meaning than a way I teach my kids not to spill glasses. In this story we see that Jesus was there. Jesus was present right at the moment that everyone thought it had gone. Jesus wasn’t absent from his friends and followers. It was Thomas who was gone. When we feel far from Jesus, it isn’t that he leaves us, it much more likely that it is us who have left him. 

Also, Thomas missed Jesus when he was away from the community of Christians. The same is true for us in a certain sense. When we are separated from our Church, we can miss seeing Jesus. 

I recognize that is a horrible thing to name in the midst of social distancing and the stay-at-home order that are all experiencing. The reality is that we are physically separated from each other, but we can be spiritually united. What we can do, is what we can do. We must do things on purpose to avoid an accidental separation from the Church and from Jesus. We must be Christians, we must be the Church on purpose. 

Live It: Reach out to a friend you haven’t connected with in the last month. Pray for them then give them a text message or phone call to connect. Maybe ask them “Is there anything I can pray for you on your behalf?” or just go ahead and offer to pray with them on the phone. See what happens.

Sunday readings for April 19th, 2020.