It’s a Miracle! Why?

When I was in college and dating my future wife, we would go to crazy lengths to see each other. Summer between Junior and Senior year, I lived in St. Louis, MO and she lived in MN. Somehow we ended up seeing each other multiple times that summer. She drove down to visit me. I drove to go see her. We would do whatever it took to just be near each other. Hundreds of dollars and many tanks of gas, just to be close.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish, and he multiplies the bread until there was more than enough for 5,000 men (probably 20,000 – 30,000 people total). Jesus transgressed the laws of nature to create a superabundance of food. Why?

The miracle both harkened back to the Old Testament when God gave Manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It reminds us of the prophet Elisha multiplying meager rations to feed 100 hundred men. It looks forward to the Last Supper and Jesus instituting the Eucharistic celebration and to the heavenly banquet of the saints and angels.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle to demonstrate his power and to allow the people to witness a miracle of a messiah. Jesus multiplies the loaves, because the people are hungry. All of this is true. 

In this version in Matthew, Jesus multiplies the loaves to keep the people close. The disciples were ready to send the crowd away because they didn’t have enough food for them. But Jesus performs this incredible miracle because he doesn’t want to send the people away. Jesus wants to keep the people close to him. 

The truth this teaches us is that through the Eucharist, Jesus brings us close to himself. It is in and through the Mass that God draws nearest to us. In fact, we take him inside our bodies and we become one flesh with Jesus Christ King of Kings. Just as the multiplication of loaves was a miracle that allowed the people to stay close to Jesus, the Eucharist is a miracle that allows us to get intimately close to Jesus. 

If you feel far from God, one surefire way to get near him is to go to Mass. If your faith is wavering, it is in the Eucharist that you will feel closer to the God who loves you unconditionally. 

LIVE IT: Go to Mass. Whether it is a daily or Sunday Mass, get there and be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday Readings for August 2nd, 2020

Worth it

What is precious to you? We all have something that is precious to us. Something of great value to us. Whatever it is, you probably don’t like when other people touch it or handle it. Maybe you are willing to pay a great deal of money to get or repair it. Maybe it has intrinsic value or maybe it just holds sentimental value to you. 

The word precious comes form the Latin root word pretium. Pretium means price. In other words, whatever is precious to you comes with a great price.

You or I would be willing to pay a great price for that precious item. In the first two parables in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. Both are precious. Jesus describes these hidden things which have incredible worth. The characters the parables sell everything to gain the treasure and the pearl pay a great price. How much is the hidden treasure worth? Everything.

Often we interpret these parables to mean that faith in Jesus, the gospel, is the hidden treasure and we need to sell everything in order to receive the gift. While that is true, I don’t think that is the only way to read these parables. 

The other way to read them is that you and I are the pearl, the treasure. You and I are the thing of immense value. What are we worth to Jesus Christ? Everything.

God is willing to trade it all to gain us. Jesus sold everything he had including his life in order to win us heaven. Jesus sacrificed everything his life, his dignity to bring us home. God values you and me, not because we deserve it, but because we belong to him.

We are hidden treasure. For some of us, the treasure is very hidden. But God knows what and who we really are. We are His. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are baptized sons and daughters of God. We are worth it.

LIVE IT: Take a little reflection time – figure out how much you are worth (like financially). Even if the bank still owns a big portion of your house or car or whatever, add it all up. Would you pay that amount of money to know Jesus? What is God worth to you? Pray in thanksgiving that Jesus gave up infinitely more than that just to win your heart. Thanks be to God!

Judgemental

I made fajitas the other night and they were delicious. Marinated, grilled skirt steak. Cast iron peppers and onions. Tortillas warmed on the grill. Fresh Pico de Gallo and Guacamole to top things off. Shared on a warm night with a slight breeze on a table set up in the shade of a tree in our beautiful backyard. It was nearly perfect. 

To name the food and atmosphere and company as enjoyable and good is to make a judgement. I made a judgement as to whether the food was delicious or not. I judged the weather and the shade and the table we ate on. I judged the company. I made judgements about the pleasurable aspects of my evening and judged it to be good. 

We live in a time when being judgmental has been seen as negative. I have worked on trying to be less judgmental. But the gospel this Sunday challenged this negative view of judgement. I am convinced that judging things is actually a good and necessary thing. We should be judgmental. Let me explain. 

Judging things keeps us safe. In the gospel, Jesus tells a parable of the farmer who plants good wheat, but an enemy sows weeds in the same field and they both grow up together. The weed that Jesus is describing is called darnel. When it is young, it looks just like wheat. It is difficult to distinguish the two. As it grows it wraps its roots around other plants. To pull up darnel would be to pull up other crops.

Also, it’s deadly poisonous. The farmer and his servants have to judge the difference between darnel and wheat if they don’t want to be poisoned. If we want to live, we have to make judgements between what is harmful to us and what is good for us. 

Only when we judge do we appreciate. We aren’t grateful for the wheat, the good things, in our lives if we don’t judge them as good. How do we know that Fajitas are good or bad? We judge them. We don’t know that something is Beautiful, Good, or True unless we make an assessment. 

While the gospel may give us good reason to judge, it also comes with clear warning about judgement. We can judge behaviors, material goods, or beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we should judge people. In the gospel, the harvester and the farmer judge the weeds from the wheat, but the farmer tells the slaves not to pull the weeds until harvest time.

To that end, it’s not our job to judge people. It isn’t the right time. God waits to judge people until their deaths and the end of time because he wants to give each of us every single opportunity to change. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate the time. I need it. 

Whenever we judge people we do it on way too little information. We are poor judges of the human heart because we just can’t know all the information we would need to make a sound judgement.

Also, we shouldn’t judge people because we often base that judgement off of the wrong or incomplete information. It is like judging whether the fajitas are good based on the shape of the pasture where the cow who became our meal grazed in. Not enough and wrong information to make a judgement. 

We should be judgmental. We judge to avoid evil and to choose good. How?

The judge of judgement should always be love. 

If we judge with anything other than love as our guiding principle, we will fail to judge well. God’s judgement and God’s love aren’t opposing forces, but in fact they work for the same end – our intimate and ultimate union with God forever. 

Live It: Next time you encounter someone, whether you know them well or not, use your power of judgement to ask this question, “What can I do to love this person well right now?”

Restored again.

In the midst of our state’s stay at home order and lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we got bored with screens pretty fast and were looking for things to do around the house. My wife looked at our backyard and decided that we should rebuild our raised vegetable garden beds. They aren’t anything fancy and we aren’t farmers by any means, but we’ve learned a thing or two trying to grow tomatoes and carrots and peppers over the years. 

So when I read Jesus’ parable of the sower from this Sunday’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but think about my new garden beds. Jesus describes four places where seeds fall – hard packed path, rocky, shallow soil, weed riddled soil, and fertile, good soil. 

I thought of the hours spent emptying the old beds, shifts to remove rocks and weeds. I thought about the bags and bags of new soil and manure we hauled from the driveway down to where the beds reside on the edge of our property. I thought about the feet of netting we put up to keep the rabbits away. A lot of work, but now we’ve got lush, verdant, and hopefully, fruitful plants. 

When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples he tells them that the seeds are the word of God which is sown into the hearts of those who hear Jesus and the disciples preach. Jesus explains that a great number of people are going to hear the preaching, but not everyone will have the right kind of disposition to have the seed take root in their life. 

Some might be tempted to say, “I’ve tried the religion thing and I just must be shallow or hard packed or weedy soil that won’t ever receive the word of God. I’m done. I’m never going to be good soil.” I don’t think that was Jesus’ point. 

The thing about all the unfit soil that Jesus describes is that it can change. Weeds and thorns can be pulled. Rocks can be removed. Hard packed soil can be tilled up. Jesus never mentions soil that is beyond restoration. 

For us that means that Jesus doesn’t give up on us. No one is beyond God’s ability to prepare soil that will receive his word. And it takes work to get ready to plant. No farmer worth his salt just throws seeds on the ground and hopes it works out for the best. If you want seed to sprout and grown and bear fruit, you have to prepare the ground first. 

Is your heart fertile soil? Are you as prepared as you could be to receive God’s word? What are the practical things we can do in our lives to prepare them for God? Here are a couple ideas. Pick one:

  1. Till the soil – In our spiritual life, this looks like examining and reflecting on our lives to find the places where we don’t let God in very easily. The best way I’ve found to do this is something called the Daily Examen. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this isn’t exactly an examination of conscience, but a moment each day to reflect on what happened that day. Here is a good source on how to go about making a Daily Examen
    1. Micro Challenge – Try this everyday for a week and see if your packed soil gets tilled up. 
  2. Remove the Rocks – In our spiritual life, this is when we loose excitement for the faith because of difficulty or tragedy in our life. This happens to nearly everyone and has probably happened to a lot of people this year. How do we trust in God when something difficult happens to us? I think finding out how others have done this is helpful. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Seek Counsel. Search out someone you think is spiritually wise. Maybe this is one of our priests or parishioner or maybe someone in your family. Ask them what they have done when it feels like troubles steal their faith. 
  3. Pull the Thorns – In the spiritual life, this is when pleasure, entertainment, power, control, or other things pull us away from our faith. We live in a culture that says discomfort is bad and if your every desire isn’t satisfied, something is wrong. This leads us to chase pleasure so that we will be happy, which, of course, makes us unhappy. We have to denounce this way of thinking and all the behaviors that lead us in that direction. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Go to Confession. Twice. Nothing like the Sacrament of Confession to pull the weeds of sin out by the roots. Why Twice? If it’s been a while, then the first time will feel strange and less like prayer than you might like. The second time can potentially bear more fruit. 

Sunday Readings for July 12th, 2020.

Overheard

Have you ever been in a crowded restaurant (not lately…), and overheard the conversation at the table next to you. One time my wife witnessed the breakup of a long term relationship. It was messy and horrible to be a part of. Another time we accidentally sat in on a business meeting of a local pro sports team, and heard that they weren’t planning on bring the coach back the follow year (can’t make it up).

Overhearing an intimate conversation or an intimate moment is a little cringy. Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes to eavesdrop, but for me the more intimate the conversation or moment, the more I just want to run away or plug my ears. One of the reasons I don’t like is because that means there has probably been a time when some overheard an intimate conversation I was a part of. No one wants that. 

When a conversation is general or mundane, I don’t have the same reaction. Who cares if I overhear someone talking about trash day or the weather?

In the gospel this Sunday we overhear Jesus making an intimate prayer to God. Only three times in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus pray like this. One time is when he is suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Another is when he is dying on the cross. This Sunday we hear the third time Matthew records Jesus’ intimate prayer. 

Jesus is praying in thanksgiving to God for his disciples, in fact, for all people who believe in him. He calls them (us), the little ones. What do these little ones know that the wise and the learned don’t know? Him. The little ones know Jesus. If you know who and what and why Jesus is, Jesus says then you know the Father. If you have intimacy with Jesus, you have intimacy with God Almighty. Jesus reveals who God is. Wow. Awesome. 

I think overhearing someone’s prayer is a lot like overhearing someone’s conversation. When I am praying in a group, my prayers are more what you would expect me to say in front of other people. But when I am alone and really in need of my Lord, my prayer is intimate, personal, and not something I would love for someone else to overhear. 

Maybe this is why Jesus says “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).

I think there is a time a place for all kinds of prayer (no wrong way to pray, honestly). Yet I do think our goal in life is intimacy with God (heaven) and that means our prayer needs to move in that direction too. Pray like Jesus – intimately. 

LIVE IT: Go somewhere totally alone – Car, a hike in nature, basement, bedroom, bathroom. Say to God a prayer from your deepest place. Tell him what is really going on. Ask the thing you can’t imagine asking him. Say the prayer to him you wouldn’t say in front of anyone else. 

Sunday Readings for July 5th, 2020.

Embrace

In the the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a brief, fleeting image that I will never forget. Jesus has already been scourged and is now carrying his cross to Golgotha. He falls hard to the stone paved ground. In his effort to lift up his cross again, Jesus embraces his cross. The scene makes reference to another moment when Jesus embraces his mother. The question left for us the viewers is this: “Does Jesus love his cross?” 

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus warns us that if we love anything, prefer anything to God and to Jesus’ mission, we are not worthy of the mission. Then Jesus instructs us that whoever doesn’t take up his cross isn’t worthy of following Jesus.

I think this tells us two things:

  1. Following Jesus is something we do on purpose. We don’t accidentally become disciples of Jesus. Whether it is one big decision or a hundred little ones (probably a little of both), if we want to follow Jesus we have to “take up” the mission. 
  2. It’s not enough to accept the idea that we will suffer and maybe suffer for our faith. We have to embrace our cross. 

I don’t suffer well. I am bad at suffering. I don’t want it and I will do nearly anything to avoid it. I think a lot of people I know are like this too. This makes us vulnerable to the temptation to chase comfort and ease. If I am constantly just trying to get comfortable and satisfied, then my comfort is my highest value. If comfort is my highest value, then I won’t embrace, much less love, anything that causes me to suffer. 

I think this is a daily battle for many of us. We are sold comfort, security, entertainment, and convenience on every screen, billboard, broadcast, and notification. If all day long I choose ease, ease will become my God and I will prefer it to Christ. 

Which leads me back to the first point – We have to embrace the Cross on purpose. Maybe that means fasting or giving or doing something beyond our comfort zone. Maybe that means actively accepting and owning the suffering we already face. Whatever the case, to follow Jesus means to take up our cross even if that means suffering. The only way to embrace suffering is to trust in God. The only way to trust in God is to embrace suffering. 

LIVE IT: Pick up a cross. Literally. Go a find a cross or crucifix and hold it for 5 minutes and during that time ask God to help you take up your cross that day. 

Sunday Readings for June 28th, 2020.

To Deny the Gift

I can’t force my older kids to do things. They haven’t totally figured that out yet, which is nice. I think the oldest one suspects the truth and every now and again pushes a bit. For the most part they are obedient and respectful kids. I’m blessed and they are blessed because of it. Consequently, I rarely seek to make them do or not do something.

Sure there are times that I put my foot down, but usually we give our children choices and then make the alternatives we prefer the clear winner. Sometimes our outside the box thinker tries the alternative option. Usually it doesn’t work out well. We give options and make clear consequences. That’s what we are supposed to do right?

God doesn’t force anyone to do anything either. God doesn’t make us love him or make us worship him. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. We are free to go to heaven or no to go to heaven. Because grace is a free gift and we do nothing to earn it, we can sometimes erroneously get the idea that we also can’t deny it. But that isn’t how gifts work. Just because we didn’t earn it, doesn’t me we are forced to accept it. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” In other words, God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of his love. God freely gives grace, salvation, and love, but we can deny it, just like any other gift. 

If we can deny it, then it follows that to receive it we must accept it. The ability to accept it is a gift from God too, but that doesn’t mean that our choice to receive the gift is unimportant. No friends, if we want the free gift of God’s love and grace, we must cooperate with God’s action in our lives. 

The Good News is that God wants us to accept the gift of his love more than we want to. God wants to give us his grace more than we want to accept it. God wants us in heaven, in perfect intimate relationship with him, more than we desire heaven for ourselves. 

God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of his love and grace. This means we have to participate in the reception of that gift. Here are 3 ways to accept that gift today:

  1. Sacraments – Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Go to a Wedding or ordination or baptism. Pray for and receive grace. If you haven’t been in a while, start with confession. It’s personal, private, and easier than you remember. 
  2. Scripture – Read the Bible. It’s pretty straight forward. Start by reading a gospel, Mark. Just read one section. Do it 3 days in a row and then keep it going. God will reach out to you through the words on the page. 
  3. The Poor – Find a way to give to someone in poverty. Bring food to a food shelf (or HNOJ collects everyday). Check in with your neighbors. Give to someone’s poverty even if their poverty isn’t material. 

Live It: Try one of the three suggestions above on how to receive God’s grace and love. Make a plan and follow through before next Sunday.

I’m your huckleberry.

Quarreling is our current national pastime. Whether it is politics, covid/stay-at-home orders, race, religion, the environment, sex, parenting, sports, money or whatever – we quarrel about nearly everything. Not only do we like to quarrel, we enjoy watching other people quarrel. A significant portion of cable networks is just video of people quarreling about some topic. We have build vast online frontiers where we can pick a fight at a moments notice.

Somedays I wonder if people want to change the US motto from “In God we trust.” to “Well, actually…” It seems it would be more accurate. In the Gospel this week we read about Jesus teaching a truth that caused the Jews to “quarrel amongst themselves.” What caused them to quarrel? Jesus said that his flesh was bread and if they ate his flesh, they would live forever. Later Jesus preaches this:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. 
John 6: 52-59

Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor. Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Even those of us who enjoy quarreling won’t argue with a metaphor (though we might argue how accurate it is). Jesus teaches this truth over and over again in John 6. Jesus was so committed to this teaching that he was willing to loose every single follower if necessary. 

What would make this teaching necessary? It is true. Jesus gives us himself, his own body, both on the cross on Calvary and in every single Mass in the Eucharist. The truth is is that if we eat of his flesh, we can have eternal life with him forever.

If we have the true intimacy that comes with full communion through the Eucharist, we will draw ever closer to Jesus. Just as Jesus will enter into us through our consuming of his flesh and blood, we will enter into the inner life of the Trinity in Heaven. There is no more intimate relationship than this. 

People have and will quarrel about this truth. That doesn’t make it any less true.

The decision each of us has to make is whether we will walk away because that teaching is hard, not modern, and weird, or whether we respond like St. Peter and say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Do we believe what Jesus says is true or will we quarrel?

LIVE IT: 2 steps to this micro challenge: 1) Read the entire chapter of John 6. 2) Go for a walk and think about what happens and what Jesus teaches. 

Famous.

I met famed Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Morris. Okay, truth be told, he rubbed up against me on an airplane and then sat down right behind me. Everyone else was bothering him and I could tell he just wanted to watch Avengers on his phone in peace, so I didn’t bother him. But I watched him a bit. 

I knew his reputation as being a little bristly or salty. I’d heard he was polite, but didn’t totally enjoy being bothered all the time. I’d heard him rip on a broadcast of a Twins game, mercilessly the younger players and their style. And by the time I got done watching him interact with people, I was convinced that all those things I already knew about him were probably true. 

I think fame and reputation make it heard for people to really see the famous person. Naturally I think we fill in a lot of information about a person, especially a famous person, from what we already know about them. If we’ve heard they are difficult, we interpret everything through that lens. I mean, come on, Tom Hanks can’t be that great, right?

This Sunday we will heard proclaimed maybe the most famous piece of scripture that appears in the New Testament. John 3:16 is painted on the wall of our worship space at HNOJ. It is held up on signs at sporting events, at least it used to be. It might be the most memorized piece of scripture. Rightly so. It’s been said it is the entire gospel message in one sentence. 

Like a famous person, we can fill in what we know about this scripture and not really hear what it is saying. We hear the first three words and we go on autopilot. The way around this is to take it slow and break down each and every phrase we read. Let’s try it:

God so loved the world – God chooses to love the world. The world is broken and ugly and diseased and on fire, and he loves us anyway. God loves you, personally and intimately. 

That he gave his only Son – God has only one Son, and he was and is willing to sacrifice him for you and for me. 

So that everyone who believes in him – We can believe in Jesus. Believing isn’t just acknowledging his existence, but it is believing who Jesus is, what he says, and following what he does. Believing means calling him Lord and doing what he says. Believing is cooperating with God for the salvation of the world. 

Might not perish – If we don’t believe, we will perish. Following Jesus is life, to deny him is death. 

But might have eternal life. – Choosing to believe and be 100% sold out for Jesus means eternal life and joy with God forever. 

John 3:16 is a famous piece of scripture, and so, we have a choice to be a fan of it or to live it. We have a choice to marvel at a distance or to come up close and let its meaning rule our lives. God loves us. He sent Jesus as a gift for us. We are called to believe in him with our every action and decision. By his grace and our cooperation, we will have life with God forever. 

LIVE IT:
Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write out entirety of John 3:16. If you are a crafty/artistic person, do your thing. If not, just take your time and write it out slowly. After you’re done, read it out loud. Believe it. 

Sunday Readings for June 7, 2020.

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.