Ask Big.

Every now and again one of my kids throws a fit. I know, I expected them to be perfect little saints all the time as well. Turns out they are normal kids, kind of a relief actually. 

The other night my son was in bed but kept calling and calling and calling for us. I pulled the short straw and went up to his room. 

When I asked him what we wanted, his huge, overwhelming demand was that I take is water bottle and put it on his night stand. He could have asked for the moon and I would have tried to get it for him. His ask was small in comparison.

In the spiritual life, I think we often ask too small for God. We think we should limit what we ask for in prayer because God will be more likely to answer our prayer. Or we don’t want to seem selfish or demanding so we go small. It could also be that we don’t want to be disappointed, so we only make little prayers. 

In the gospel this Sunday, The crowds ask for more bread. They want to be fed like they were when Jesus multiplied the loaves. The crowds want physical sustenance. They are asking small. 

Meanwhile Jesus is offering the bread of heaven. He is offering them something that will keep them fed forever. Jesus is offering them the Bread of Life. Jesus is offering himself. 

Too often I think we ask small. In our prayer we ask for just the worldly things when God is offering us something much, much larger. We ask for comfort while God offers us greatness. We ask for success and God offers us salvation. We ask for the world while God is offering us Heaven.

There is nothing wrong for praying for our daily bread, Jesus instructs us to pray those exact words. However, praying for our daily bread must not deter us from asking for the big stuff. When we pray, we can and should ask for a God sized miracle or request. The prayer life of the disciple of Jesus is one in which our prayers match our faith. Ask big. 

LIVE IT: Decide on something really, really big – a God sized ask – and then pray that prayer every day for a week. Go Big. Ask God something that is crazy and impossible and then see what happens. 

Need a Break?

Every single one of us is addicted to busyness. Try to convince me otherwise. We feed off the stress of too much. We long for a simpler time when we didn’t run from one thing to the next constantly overcome with stimulation overload.

For some, that time was about a year ago in the middle of the pandemic. Everything stopped and some of us didn’t constantly check our phones because the news was just too much. Most of us won’t admit to enjoying the time when everything was shut down because that time was a period of horrible suffering and financial disaster for many of our neighbors not too far down the road. I’ve heard people express guilt over enjoying last summer just so much. Fair enough.

But in quiet conversations, with close friends who know what we mean and what we don’t, some of us will admit – there was sometime beautiful and good about the world slowing down. 

What were the things we needed a break from? Maybe it was stressful, long hours at our jobs. Maybe it was overwhelming responsibilities in caring for loved ones. But for most of my friends, it was a break from the things we do for our kids and for our leisure. It was a little bit like when someone says they need a vacation from their vacation. We needed a break from the things we do for rest, from the maintenance of our comfortable, leisurely, overwhelming lifestyle. If these sounds like first world problems, well, they are. 

In the gospel, Jesus gives the apostles an emphatic command. He says, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” No parable, no clever question to get his followers to think, Jesus just straight up commands them to take a break.

This is the kind of commandment even the least motivated of Jesus’ followers should be able to pull off right? As a Christian, how good are you at doing things that actually give you rest? That’s what I thought, same here. 

We do a number of things that we think will give us rest, only which actually stress us out further. We want rest, but we turn our hobbies and fun into more work. We want joy, but are so focused on entertainment or pleasure we miss the goodness right in front of us. We want peace, but we listen to and watch true-crime podcasts/shows which unsettle us. 

It would seem to me we live in the era of constant stimulation and productivity. We fail at rest. 

Good news, Jesus gives us the formula for rest. Here are the 3 components that make up Jesus’ formula for rest:

  1. Come Away – The first component is that we must remove ourselves from our day to day. This sounds like a burden or another thing to do, but we don’t have to get on an airplane or take a week off of work to do this. One way is to simply close our eyes. It’s amazing how far away we can go if we just close our eyes and eliminate that stimulus. 
  2. By Yourselves – Jesus says this to his disciples and I think he is speaking in the plural. For us, it may mean we go alone. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things and there is great spiritual benefit to time alone. Consider taking your rest alone if possible. If not alone, then doing this with only the most trusted and closest people in your life is another good option. 
  3. To a Deserted Place – If your home is like mine, I feel like it is full of stuff I need to clean or a person who distracts me from the rest I’m seeking. While we probably can’t remove the other members of our households whenever we feel like, I think it is helpful to carve out a deserted location where we live. One way is to create a sacred space which we reserve for our times of rest. In our house it is a particular couch in a room without screens (and into which we don’t bring our screens), and a wall of crucifixes and crosses behind us. Honestly if we just cut screens that’s probably deserted enough to make a difference. 

When sprinting on the overstimulated, overworked, over entertained treadmill, it’s hard to imagine stepping off ever for a moment, but we should try. Jesus command us to rest. 

LIVE IT: Try the formula 3 times this next week. Come away by yourself to a deserted place for 10-15 minutes 3 times in 7 days. Don’t do anything. Just rest. If you like it, do it again next week. 

I’m Ignoring You.

I currently have a teenager and a toddler at home. Yes, a 16 year old and a 3 1/2 old. It is exciting times in my house. Any parent of a toddler knows that sometimes the best response to the “hilarious” antics of a “just old enough to be dangerous” little person is to completely ignore them. When I did this the last time I had preschoolers 8 years ago, it usually resulted in changed behavior and everyone just moving on.

This time, I have a teenager in the house. She is truly wonderful (honestly), and sometimes she questions my decisions and actions. Particularly she can’t begin to fathom why I would ignore the toddler’s inappropriate behavior. Shouldn’t I correct him? Shouldn’t I punish him? Shouldn’t I react in some way!? “If we don’t stop him, he’s never going to learn.” 

Little does she know that by reacting we teach him that this particular word or behavior will earn him loads of attention, which, of course, is exactly what he wants. Ignoring the bad doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it is exactly what is called for. 

In the gospel today Jesus learned of the very ill daughter of Jarius. When he heads to Jarius’ home to heal the girl they all hear, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” What does Jesus do next? He ignores them. He ignores the fact that the girl has died. It says that Jesus disregarded the message. Then Jesus goes onto explain that the girl is only asleep. He consequently heads into the house and heals her. 

As Christians it would do us well to follow in Jesus’ way at times. We too must disregards messages of death and failure. It would serve us to ignore the voice of the enemy inviting us to sin. We will grow in holiness if only we neglect fleshy temptations and invitations to despair. 

Whether it is our own minds, or the voice of another, we will look more and more like the saints if we too can disregard any message that doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus Christ. Learning to listen to the voice of God and ignore the whispers of the evil one is the life long work of the Christian. 

Live It: Next time a doubt, a moment of despair, or a negative thought enters into your mind, STOP, brush your shoulder off as if you are swiping a little monster off your shoulder and pray, “Not today! Help Lord Jesus Help!” 

Bigger is Better.

“Bigger is Better.” “Everything is big in Texas.” “She is a big deal.” “That was a huge mistake.” “He is a giant in the industry.” “I’m a huge fan of the local sport team.”

Written into our idioms, sayings, and colloquial language is the message that big is good. Not only is big good, but bigger is better, and, in fact, biggest is best. As much as we may want small computer chips, tiny carbon footprints, and minuscule mosquitos, in most things in our culture we want BIG. We desire grand romantic gestures, big wins, and gargantuan personalities. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. As Jesus states, mustard seeds are small. There is nothing big, grand, majestic, or huge about them. Mustard seeds are practically nothing. Yet they grow into the largest of shrubs in which the birds of the air can rest and nest. 

Through this analogy, Jesus Christ emphatically states that the Kingdom of God is a work of God and can only be accomplished by God himself. Why? Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something small, meaningless and make it into something large enough for the whole created world to reside within. Only God can take something that wouldn’t even register as worth anything and make it into a world wide phenomenon. 

Isn’t this what Jesus does with the Church? Jesus takes a small group of inconsequential peasants from a forgotten corner of the grand Roman Empire and creates the Church. The Holy Spirit moves maybe the most unlikely group of spiritual leaders into the great bishops, priests, and saints we know today. God takes virtually nothing and makes it world wide, universal. 

The lesson for us then is that God doesn’t need much from us to do great big things. All God needs is the tiny whisper of, “yes Lord.” God doesn’t need our success or our skills or our talents to do something great in our lives. God needs the smallest drop of surrender from us. A simple yes and God can and will do something great. 

Live It: Go into your room and turn off all the lights or go into your car and turn off the radio/podcast. Close your eyes (unless you are driving). Pray this simple prayer, “Yes, Lord.” Whisper it even. But say it out loud. See what God will do with it. 

Sunday Readings for June 13, 2021.

Gift Giving is an Art.

Gift giving is an art. Some people are world class artists in gift giving. Others try hard and fail harder. Most of us have winners and the occasional dud of a gift. The worst gift I ever received was a pair of maroon socks when I was 6 years old from my grandparents. What were they thinking? These days I really enjoying a new pair of high quality socks for Christmas. Funny how time changes the success of that gift giving. 

In addition to the art of gift giving, there is an art to gift receiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t have that gift. When I received those aforementioned maroon socks, I couldn’t hide my displeasure and disappointment. Later my mom explained that saying thank you for an unexpected gift is not only polite, but it’s wise because you never know if you actually will want or use that unwanted gift, eventually. 

In the gospel, we hear about Jesus Christ giving us an incredible gift. This Sunday we will hear Mark’s account of Jesus instituting the Eucharistic Feast at the last supper. Jesus gives us his body and his blood to eat and drink. As challenging as it is the understand, Jesus isn’t speaking metaphorically when he says, “Take it; This is my body,” and “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

This gift of his body and blood is mirrored in his final moments on the Cross, when Jesus offers up his body and his blood on our behalf. It is in the cross that Jesus totally offers himself on our behalf. And so, when he gives us the gift of his body and blood at the last summer and at every Mass since then, we know he is offering himself completely to us. 

What did Jesus give us? Everything.

What does the ultimate gift giver look like? Jesus. What does a good gift receiver look like? Going by my mom’s advice a good gift receiver hubby receives the gift and doesn’t try and deny it. They offer thanks sincerely and explicitly. They put that gift to good use as soon as makes sense. They don’t waste or neglect the gift. 

For us that means that humbly receive Jesus in the Eucharist as Mass each Sunday. We don’t deny the gift either by skipping Mass or receiving unworthily. We offer out thanks to God during the entire Mass, but especially after receiving communion. When we leave Mass we go out and seek to live Christ centered, holy lives. In other words, we put the grace of receiving Jesus’ body and blood to good use. We love our neighbors as Jesus would love them. We don’t waste the grace or neglect God’s continued love and faithfulness. 

If you need a more concrete example, there is no better one than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary perfectly, humbly receives the gift of having the Devine within her (she was the first!). She is grateful. He puts the gift to good use. She never neglects Jesus, even when he was dying on the cross and it was painful and inconvenient to remain near to him. 

We all want to be good givers. As Catholics we need to grow to become good gift receivers as well. 

Live it: Go to Mass this Sunday and make the following prayer your single priority during Mass, “Jesus, Thank you.” 

Sunday Readings for June 6, 2021.

Hometown Kid.

As a sports fan, I am particularly moved when a player gets to play for his or her hometown team. When a young person grows up idolizing players on the local squad and then they join that team, it can be a powerful expression of realized dreams and hometown pride. 

Where we are matters.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus’ Great Commission of his disciples. He tells them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the mission of the Church. This is what we, the Church, are supposed to do with our lives. This is why the Church exists. 

With an important command like this, you would expect to be proclaimed from a mountain top or in the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus gives it to his disciples in Galilee. This region is literally the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for Jesus and the disciples, we wouldn’t even know it’s name. So why does Jesus give this important command in Galilee?

Galilee is where many of the disciples are from. It is their home region. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry began. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus’ saving work began in Galilee and ended in Galilee. 

When we think of missionary work, we usually think of going to a far off land in the middle of jungle or desert and speaking to groups of indigenous people who have never heard the name Jesus. The reality is that most of us are called to be missionaries to our own hometowns. We are called to minister and reach out and love the very people we live next to, whom we have known, and who know us. 

While some of us are called to go away to move to make the road our home and our ministry territory, the truth us that most of us are called to grow where we’re planted. To water the gardens that surround us. 

St. Therese of Liseux desperately wanted to the join the missionaries from her holy order who were being sent from France to Asia. She wanted nothing more than to “go and make disciples.” St. Therese never left the convent or France after she joined. Though selected to be a missionary her poor health kept her in France. She led a hidden life of prayer for the remainder of her life. At her death at 24, she is said to have told those around her God granted all of her desires.

Despite never going out on mission, St. Therese is the Patroness of Missions and Missionaries. She was a missionary where she was. She watered the gardens around her (she is also patroness of gardens and gardening). The Church could’ve have chosen any number of missionaries who traveled the globe to spread the gospel, but they chose a woman who never left her convent.

We are called to fulfill this Great Commission and we are called to do it right where we are. 

Live It: Jesus says love your neighbors as yourself. Who are my neighbors? How about the people who live next to you? You know, you’re actual neighbors. Whether you are in a house, an apartment, or a dorm, reach out to your neighbors, learn their names if you don’t know them and find a way to grow in friendship. After this past year, it might just be the best way to follow Jesus’s command. Be the gospel right where you are. 

Sunday Readings for May 30, 2021.

Making Peace with Rebels.

All couples fight. In fact, sometimes, when done fairly and well, it can be a sign of a healthy relationship. My wife and I are both passionate people who are fairly bad at hiding our emotions or reactions. We have been known to verbally spar a bit. 

If I am honest, we have even done this on the way to Church. Yes, I admit it, at times in our marriage, we will be in the midst of a disagreement or I’ve said something stupid or mean and we will actively fight on the drive to Mass. It isn’t a great way to enter into the Sacred Mysteries of Jesus Christ. 

Mass will proceed as mostly as normal and then we will all get to the Sign of Peace. I will turn to my wife, she will turn to me, and we will offer each other the Sign of Peace and without fail, we will be reconciled. Offering peace to each other works. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus Christ rises from the dead and appears to his disciples. The first thing he says to them is “Peace be with you.” In fact, he says it twice. For a long time I thought is was just because the disciples were actively freaking out because their dead friend and leader was standing, talking, and eating in front of them just 3 days after they watched him be publicly executed. I mean, com’on, we would be freaking out too. It makes sense that Jesus is inviting them to be at peace (calm down).

However, Jesus offers the disciples and, by extension all of us, something more than just an invitation to remain calm. Jesus is offering us the kind of peace that happens at the end of a war or battle. 

When we sin, we become rebels. We rebel against God’s divine plan of sheer goodness, perfect order, and overwhelming beauty. In a sense, our sin is a declaration of war against God and what God wants for us in our lives. To reject God’s plan for us is to form a rebellion. Certainly Jesus came to heal, teach, proclaim the kingdom, and restore Eden, in other words, to save souls. To do this he has to make peace with our rebel forces. Jesus Christ makes that peace by not only offering it to us unconditionally, but he makes all the concessions. Our only responsibility is to cooperate with Jesus and respond to his offer of peace. 

The peace Jesus offers the disciples in this Sunday’s gospel isn’t only an invitation to remain calm, but is an offer of peace to all us rebels in the human race. To receive that peace, and eternal peace, all we must do is surrender our rebellion and receive the Peace of Christ. 

Live It: This Sunday at Mass offer your family members an authentic and heartfelt Sign of Peace. (Maybe warn then ahead of time.) If you attend Mass alone, offer peace to those in your area and pray for them throughout the rest of Mass. 

Sunday Readings for May 23, 2021.

Did Jesus Oversell Discipleship?

While some struggled with the daily requirement to wear a mask during the Covid pandemic, few suffered deeper inconveniences than those who wear glasses everyday. I don’t wear glasses, but I watched daily as coworkers and friends would don a mask and their glasses would immediately fog up. 

To the rescue was a anti-fog spray that supposedly eliminated this first world problem. I bought some, applied it to my sunglasses, and sure enough the first time I used it, MAGIC! It worked. Unfortunately it didn’t work more than a couple more times before I was reapplying it. The daily reapplication was too much and I soon abandoned the practice. I was a victim of the classic oversell.
An oversell is when the reality of the benefits of a product or experiences don’t live up to the marketing or advertisements. This can happen with huge ad campaigns and it can happen in our private lives. If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by a restaurant after a friend just raved about it, you know what I am talking about.

Does Jesus oversell in the gospel this Sunday?

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. Then he goes on to say all those who believe will be able to drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink poison, and heal the sick. 

I don’t know about you but to this point I have been avoiding drinking poison and handling venomous snakes. I have prayed for people to be healed, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laid hands and healed someone. I speak about 25 words of Spanish and I can’t name a time I drove a demon out of someone. How about you?
So are we not believers? Are we believers, but Jesus oversold on the effects? 

First, I am a believer, and I’m sinner (a tremendous sinner, in fact). I try everyday to avoid evil and do good, but I fail everyday too. I got to confession often. I share all this to say that I am a believer who falls everyday. Take a beat and ask yourself, are you a believer (and maybe a sinner too)? 

If you answered yes as I did, then the next question is why can’t we do all the stuff Jesus promised? One answer is that I haven’t really tried to do all of that. It’s probably not the prudent choice to test the Lord by leaning into these items just to see if I make it. So I am going to continue to avoid drinking poison and holding snakes. 

I think Jesus’ point here is that being a believer, following Jesus and joining the mission to save the world, has life and death implications. Being a believer doesn’t mean we will be saved from physical death. What it does mean is that the choice to follow Jesus is a life or death decision. If we want to live forever with God in perfect delight, then we need to be a believer now. It matters what we believe, what we think, what we do. Not because we earn heaven or earn God’s love, but because when we believe in the Lord of life, the result is life. When we are in love with God, we life life to the fullest. Faith is life! Believing in Jesus doesn’t disappoint; it isn’t a oversell. It is life!

Live It: Take 10 deep, deep breaths. Breath slowly and purposefully. With each one, pray this simple prayer to Jesus, “Jesus I believe.” Breathe and Believe. 

Sunday Readings for May 12, 2021.

Are you antsy?

By nature, I am a fidgeter. The 2nd most common question of my childhood was “Chris are you feeling antsy.” (The most common was, “Are you hungry?” I could eat.) Sitting still just isn’t something I take to easily. As a younger person, if you would have given me the option of sitting on the beach or hiking in the mountains, I would have picked the mountains every time. How about you? Are you antsy?

As I get older I am getting better at remaining still. I no longer do a little dance while I brush my teeth. I don’t get up from my desk every five minutes while trying to work. I play an imaginary kick drum under the table during dinner. I might even pick the beach over mountains sometimes. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

In our culture we don’t often glorify the act of remaining. In fact, more often than not, we vilify people who remain. It’s as if the act of remaining grates against our need to produce or to move forward. Remaining is seen as the act of the coward who isn’t bold enough to head out on adventure. Maybe in some sense that is true at times. 

However, Jesus commands us to remain in his love. It isn’t a suggestion or invitation, it is a commandment to remain. Then Jesus explains that the way to remain in his love is to keep his commandments just as he has kept God the Father’s commandments. Follow Jesus. Do what he says. Remain in his love. 

The reality is the we fail to do this every day. Instead of remaining in Jesus’ love, we venture out in sin and selfishness. We get spiritually, morally antsy. 

If you are the kind of person who struggles to sit still, you understand the feeling of restlessness. I think we sometimes get this feeling when it comes how we practice our faith too. We feel like we must not be doing enough. We feel like we haven’t earned God’s love. We feel like we gotta go do something to be a better Christian. 

Jesus tells us this Sunday that what we really need to do is remain in his love. If we are seeking to follow Jesus’ commandments, then we just need to stay where we are. If we are receiving the Sacraments and engaging in daily prayer, remain in that. If we living lives of service and sacrifice that aids our fellow humans, we should stay right there. 

Don’t over complicate our faith by getting antsy. Avoid evil. Do good. Pray. Remain in Jesus’ love. 

Live It: Practice remaining in Jesus’ love by practicing sitting still. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes and then simple sit in silence and listen for God. Do it once today or once a day for three days and see what happens.

Sunday Readings for May 9, 2021.

1 way to let go of CONTROL

Superstition is a funny thing. All kinds of humans practice it. Baseball players are notorious for it. I know grandmothers who throw salt over their shoulder if they spill during baking. Some people wear certain colors when they have important meetings. 

Some superstitions just make good common sense. Opening an umbrella indoors, especially in a small space, could be dangerous. Walking under a ladder is asking for something to fall on one’s head. While other superstitions have more spiritual origins. It’s said knocking on wood for good luck comes from the pagan belief that wood spirits will be awakened and come to your aid (or scare them off, depends I guess). 

What all superstitions do is seek to give us control. Some superstitions even seek to give us control over the uncontrollable. 

Humans want to be in control. We desire to have power and dominion over our existence. More and more it seems, especially for us in wealthy countries, people believe they have control over absolutely every aspect of their lives. Some folks learn through various experiences just how limited we are in controlling our lives. Others seek to hold onto control no matter what. We all probably know someone who considers themselves a control freak. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd. We’ve heard this gospel and the main sentiment countless times. The image of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one most Christians are familiar with. But there is curious message at the end. 

Jesus says,
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.

Jesus proclaims that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. What does this mean? Jesus is claiming to have power over life and death. Jesus is claiming control over the very forces of nature. Jesus is claiming to be God. 

Only God has power over life and death. Only God knows the length of our days. Jesus is explaining that he has been given a command from the Father to die and to rise. 

While we wish we had control and do a number of silly behaviors to try and gain control, we know that death is one thing we don’t have control over. No matter how advanced medicine gets, not matter how healthy we live, the death rate continues to be 100% ultimately.  

So what?

First this gospel and the fact that Jesus has power over life and death (and we do not) is a healthy and good reminder that Jesus is God and we are not. It is good for us to remember this. As we get more and more sophisticated and seem to have more and more control over what we eat, who we talk to, what we do, we need to be reminded we are not in actually in control and that is good. 

Second, this gospel is a reminder that we will die. Sorry if that is bummer of a thought. The good news is if we know Christ and growing in an intimate, loving relationship with him and seek spiritual communion with God through the Sacraments of the Church, this death won’t be the end. We have a God who conquered death through the cross. Jesus is in control. 

Live It: There is a great tradition in the Church that helps us to remember our death which helps us live for God now. It’s called Momento Mori. Check out this site all about Memento Mori written by a Catholic sister who used to be an atheist. Super Awesome.

Sunday Readings for April 25th, 2021.