Love and Action.

My four year old son is very sweet. He can be a bit sour too, but very often he is super sweet. Regularly, he will stop whatever he is doing, turn towards my wife or I and just blurt out, “Mommy, I love you. Daddy, I love you.” He really means it. 

What is tough is when he does this and then his very next act is one of rebellion or mischief. He will shower us with words of love, but then disobey us with his actions. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” I think Jesus is demonstrating a reality to this life. To really love someone is more than just words. To love someone is more than a feeling or a sentiment. Love isn’t just black and white. We can love well or love poorly. We can love to a greater degree and to a lesser degree. 

When my son says he loves me, but then blatantly and purposefully disobeys me, he is just being a normal four year old. What is it when I act this way towards God?

I tell God I love him all the time. I pray using words of adoration. I say all the right things. Then I turn around disobey God. Maybe you do this too. 

Love is more than words. Love is an action. If we are going to love God, we must, not only say the words, but do the deeds. We don’t earn God’s love, but if we really do love God, then we must act like it. Otherwise, I think we have to examine how genuine our love is. In other words, if I say I love God, but I don’t act like I do, do I? 

The growth mindset version of that same question might be a little different. If we want to love God well, how can our actions reflect our desire. In other words, how can our behavior more perfectly demonstrate what we believe.

Jesus himself said that the way that will show our love for him is by doing what he says. Obedience, no natural rebel’s favorite word, is one way to love well. Do you love God? Do you do what he says? If you answered Yes and then No, you have something to work on, like the rest of us. 

Live It: Take 5 minutes this weekend to think about your 3 highest values. What are the animating beliefs by which you live your life. Now ask someone else in your life to write 3 highest values based only on what they can observe from your life. Do they match up?

Sunday Readings for May 22, 2022.

Tight Hold

My 4 year old has a strong personality. Maybe all 4 year olds have strong personalities, but I don’t remember my daughters behaving the way my son does at times. Also, whenever someone says the phrase “strong personality,” I think it is ultimately code for, “pain in the bum.” And while my son is sweet and good and generous, he can also be a pain in the bum. Maybe you know someone like that. 

The thing he does that bugs me more than just about anything else is when he won’t turn off the TV. I’d like to be the kind of person who can say, “Yeah, my family doesn’t watch a lot of TV.” But reality is that we do watch more TV than we should (please don’t send me an article on toddlers and screen time. I know.) 

Sometimes when it’s time to turn off the TV, Leo will take the remote, pretend like he is going to turn it off, and then just stand with the remote in his hands and stare at the TV. Almost no amount of cajoling will get him to give up the remote. One time I made the mistake of trying to physically remove the remote from his hands. I couldn’t believe how strong he was. The kid weighs 30 lbs and it was all I could do to pry his little fingers apart. Unbelievable. 

In the gospel, Jesus claims his followers. He says we will know his voice. We will follow him. He will give us eternal life. Then Jesus says no one can take us out of his hand. No one can take us out of the Father’s hand. Scholars tell us that this is a turn of phrase that means that if God wants to hold onto us, no one can take us from him. 

I think sometimes we believe that there are forces in our lives that can pry us out of God’s grasp. Our busy schedules make it hard to go to Church on Sunday. Kids activities and sports tournaments get in the way of being committed to Church stuff. Our work life keeps us from a daily prayer practice. Have you ever heard anyone say things like this? Have you said them?

What Jesus is saying in the gospel is that nothing, I mean nothing, can steal us from God’s grip. No outside force can pry our lives out of God’s hand. Nothing can remove our souls from Jesus’ embrace.

The bad news is that anytime we do fall away from God, it isn’t anyone else fault but ours. When work or kids activities or busyness get in the way of God, it’s because we’ve chosen them over God. Nothing can pry us from God’s grasp, but we can walk away anytime.

When we choose something instead of God, it isn’t because that thing is more powerful than God. It is because we want it more than God in that moment. It’s us. It’s always been us who walk away.

Maybe that is hard for you to read. It was hard for me to write. 

The good news is that God loves us more than our sin. While we turn away, God turns to us. When we run, he runs after us. When we pry ourselves out of God’s grip, God opens up his arms even wider and hopes we will run back to him soon. 

So whether you feel like you are currently being held in God’s hands or feel like you are far from your loving God, don’t fret, nothing is more powerful than God. God is bigger than your sin. God loves you more than you love everything else in your life. All you have to do is return to him. 

LIVE IT: Find something in your house, car, or office that symbolizes God. Maybe a crucifix from the wall or a Bible. Pick it up, and hold onto it really really tightly. Pretend that someone is going to try and steal it from you and hold onto it. Then say a quick prayer asking God to hold onto you tighter than you are holding onto that thing. Let God hold you close. 

Sunday Readings for May 8, 2022.

They ran.

When was the last time you ran, but not for exercise? As adults we don’t really just randomly run usually. Maybe we go for a run or we run as part of a social sports team we are on, but rarely if ever do we just run. My four year-old runs randomly all the time, but that is a different story.

Last summer I was on a hike up North with my 4 year-old son (he was 3 then). He didn’t want to walk any more and I didn’t want to carry him anymore. He was trailing about 20 feet behind me while I was walking backward and urging him along. Suddenly he pointed and shouted, “Dad, a bear!” Yeah right.

I walked back and held his hand and we walked to the to top of the ridge. When we got there, we looked down a crossing trail when about 50 feet away a large, black bear started crashing through the trees away from us. I picked up my son and slowly backed away down the trail away from the bear. When I was confident that the bear was far enough away that we weren’t in danger of looking like prey, I just started running while holding my son. Nothing like a 3/4 of a mile run with 30 lbs. of kid on my hip, a back pack, and hiking books. My point is, outside of exercise modern adults just don’t run very often.

Thinking more about it, the only times I ever run, as an adult, is when I am chasing or being chased by my kids (and the one bear time). The only times I run (when not exercising) is when I am either pursuing or being pursued by someone I love. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Mary of Magdala, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple finding the empty tomb. When Mary found the empty tomb early in the morning before the sun rose, she ran to tell Peter. Then Peter and the Beloved Disciple ran to see for themselves. This act of running for the ancient Jew is undignified. Adult men, in particular, didn’t run in ancient Israel. 

I think Mary, Peter, and John all run for the same reason we might run – for love. The loved Jesus and he loved them. In fact, Jesus is love incarnate. So when they find out his body is missing, they run to find him. 

The question for each of us – would we run to find Jesus? Do you run to Church? Do you run to prayer? Do you run to Mass or Confession? When you are far away from Jesus, do you run back to him? 

Obviously I am using the word “run” metaphorically. Are we eager to engage with our faith or is it is another thing in our day we “should” do. 

Sometimes love is doing things we don’t want to do when we don’t want to do them. But love is alway desiring greatly to be close to the object of our love. If we don’t really desire to be near to Jesus do we really love him?

We all have areas of our life that need conversion. We all have ways we don’t love Jesus well. If you are aware of times that you aren’t running to Jesus, maybe this Easter is the moment to ask Jesus to bring about significant change in your heart. Maybe this Easter is the moment when your desire for Jesus outruns your sin. Run to Jesus and ask for the desire to run. 

Live it: Go for a .75 mile run on Easter morning. This is the distance between the upper room and Calvary. Remember the run that Mary, Peter, and John made 2000 years ago. Can’t run? Move with haste to your morning prayer Easter morning. 

Easter Sunday Readings for April 17, 2022.

I can’t wait.

What are you looking forward to right now? Maybe you have a vacation coming up. Maybe you have a child graduating or competing in something they love. Maybe you have a date nigh this weekend. Maybe you have a big work thing about to be accomplished or completed. Maybe you just have a solid plan for dinner. Whatever the case, anticipation of something good (or the end of something tough) is one of the great joys of being human. 

April 10, 2022 is Palm Sunday. We all get palms and participate in a reenactment sort of procession before Mass begins. The other name for this Sunday is Passion Sunday because we will be hearing the story of Jesus’ suffering and death when the gospel is read. 

At the beginning of this story we hear Jesus say, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” Jesus is literally looking forward to sharing this last supper. I think for the most part we take for granted that Jesus is God and so everything was “easy” for him, but I honestly don’t think that is the case. 

Imagine knowing you are about to share your last meal with your friends. You know that when this meal concludes you will be arrested, tried, tortured, and killed. I don’t know about you, I don’t think I would be eagerly anticipating each of the next steps to happen. Yet Jesus says he eagerly desires it. Why?

I think he eagerly desires to share this meal because of what it is going to mean for his disciples and indeed for the Church. Jesus will promise to be with the disciples until the end of the age. He has a plan to be intimately close to his followers and that plan is through the Mass and the Eucharist. This meal, this last supper, is the institution of the Eucharist. 

It is on this night when Jesus begins the practice of Mass and makes this sacred meal a Sacrament for the Church. On the one hand it is Jesus’ gift of himself to God the Father, a sacrifice made on our behalf. On the other it is Jesus’ gift to us in order to be intimately close to us now so that we can be in perfect communion with Jesus forever in heaven. The Eucharist is the Bread of Life. 

Why is Jesus eager to eat this Passover with his followers? Because he is eager to accomplish his mission to save us from sin and death. Jesus is eager to institute the Sacrament of the Mass. Jesus is eager to share himself even more fully and completely with his followers and with you and me. 

Live It: Are you eager to go to Mass this weekend? Do you eagerly desire to receive the Eucharist? Take out your phone and turn to notes or grab a piece of scratch papered a pen. On a scale of 1-10, how eager are you to go to Mass or receive the Eucharist? Write that number down. Are you happy with that number? If not, what can you do to raise it? Do that. 

Sunday Readings April 10, 2022.

Go. Go on, get outta here.

Have you ever met someone who seems perfect? No one is, of course, but it’s a fact that some folks just seem to have it all together. They seem to be patient and kind, generous, helpful, talented, smart, athletic, musically talented, and easy going. They can get things done, but don’t stress. They are humble and magnanimous all that the same time. If you ever point out that they seem to have it all together, they will gracious thank you for the compliment, but then explain how sometimes they eat chocolate on a weekday and can’t seem to grow larger carrots in their raised garden beds, as if these are major character flaws. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear about a character that no one would call perfect. Jesus is presented with a woman caught in the act of adultery. The crowd wants to stone her because that’s what the law says. Jesus calmly writes on the ground and then invites those in the crowd to feel free to throw stones if they themselves are without sin. In other words, Jesus says if anyone present is perfect then they can judge. 

The irony of course is that Jesus is the one person present who is perfect. Jesus is the lone judge standing before her. When it comes time to pass his judgement Jesus choses mercy. He doesn’t say what she did was okay or normalize adultery, but he choses not to condemn her. Then he sends her on her way commanding her to not sin any more. 

What is fascinating is Jesus’ last line, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” The word that gets me is “Go.” I think this word gets lost in Jesus’ next command to go and sin no more. In fact I think Jesus is giving two commands. 

Jesus commands another group of people to “Go,” at the end of Matthew’s gospel. In that moment it is the disciples who Jesus commands to, “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” What Jesus is say by using the same emphatic, imperative here is that both the disciples and the woman caught in adultery are being sent.

What does that mean? Jesus doesn’t just send perfect people to do his will. Jesus doesn’t just invite perfect people to follow him. Jesus doesn’t call upon the perfect to become pilgrims on the journey towards heaven. The good news of the gospel is that even if you consider yourself a wretched sinner Jesus is calling you. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not good enough to be a church person or a real Christian.” You were wrong. 

Jesus wants to reconcile you. Jesus desires to show you mercy. Jesus wants to send you out. Jesus can and will command you to go. Being a sinner doesn’t preclude you from being close and being called by Jesus. 

Live It: The key to this exchange is that before Jesus sends the woman, he shows her mercy. Before we can be sent, we need God’s mercy. The best way to do this is to head to Confession. Receive God’s mercy and be sent this Lent. 

Sunday Readings for April 3rd.

A Man of Action

Do you know someone who is a person of action? Anytime a job needs to be done, they are the first one to volunteer. They move, organize, motivate, and build until the goal at hand is accomplished. They execute with dogged determination. 

In the gospel this Sunday Peter demonstrates this kind of action. Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. There Jesus is transformed and his clothes are made dazzlingly white. Two men appear and it’s clear, somehow, that they are Moses and Elijah. After it appears Jesus is done speaking them, Peter jumps into action. He cries out, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter jumped at the chance to start doing something. Peter wants to build something. Peter wants to leave his mark and he wants to start now. 

Then a cloud overshadows the group and when it came to rest upon them a voice said, ”This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

We don’t often think of listening as an action item. When we imagine people who take action and get things done, we rarely think of them as good listeners. Listening, in our our culture, seems to be thought of as simply a passive activity. 

Our gospel this Sunday is trying to show us the first movement of any active response to God is to listen. The first thing we must do if we want to follow Jesus is, not to move, but to listen. 

The cost of not listening first is that we may act or move in the wrong way. Peter seems to do this. In the gospel after he suggests making three tents the scriptures say, “But he did not know what he was saying.” That isn’t a good sign that he was on the right path. We know the rest of the story that Jesus had to come down off the mountain and head into Jerusalem to suffer and die for us. 

If we want to follow Jesus, then we must do what the voice in the cloud suggests, we must listen to Jesus. The first step in any action plan must be to first sit still and listen. 

Live It: We are a week into Lent. How is your Lenten promise doing? Whether you have given up something or added something, consider adding some silence into your day for the remaining days of Lent. Try just 5 minutes of silence every morning. Here is how to do it. Set a time on your phone for five minutes and then leave it across the room so you can’t reach it. Sit and listen for the Lord. If you get distracted, write down your distractions or say Jesus’ name over and over until the distraction passes. Honestly the more times you do the better it will go. Give silence a try this Lent in order to “listen to Him.”

Sunday Readings for March 13, 2022.

Big Time. Big Game.

Super Bowl Sunday approaches and the collective eyes of a relatively large chunk of the world will watch 100 men play a fantastically hard-fought, inherently violent, powerful game. So many famous and powerful people will be in attendance or watching. Besides the FIFA World Cup Final which only happens every four years, the Super Bowl is regularly the most watched sports event in the world. One estimate is that over 167 million people will watch this year. I will be one of them. 

I can’t even begin to guess at the amount of money this single game moves around. Never mind the salaries of the players and coaches, small potatoes. The average cost of a 30 second commercial spot is about $6.5 million. To produce the 13 minute halftime show, costs the NFL about $13 million. It’s estimated that the economic impact on LA for hosting the big game will be between $234 and $477 million. Bookies report approximately 7.61 billion dollars will be wagered on this single game. 

The Super Bowl really is the biggest, most watched (outside the World Cup final), most financially impactful television sporting event. We will witness the indescribable joy of victory and the sadness of failing so close the ultimate football goal. 

The irony of this Sunday’s gospel falling on Super Bowl Sunday is almost too much to bear. 

On Sunday morning we will hear Jesus preach the Beatitudes. In Luke’s version we get four Beatitudes and four Woe statements. Jesus says to his disciples and all who will listen that it is the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted who are blessed. He makes a stern waring to those who are wealthy, well fed, happy, and praised.

In other words, woe to the winner of the Super Bowl. 

What is Jesus talking about? He is talking upside down, right? 

The Beatitudes remind us that what the world values is temporary and short lived. Success and comfort by worldly standards will fade away. Are they bad? Not necessarily, but it will be gone and forgotten (and sooner than we can imagine). 

The problem is when we settle for little satisfactions instead of forever joys. The issue is when temporary entertainments get in the way of us seeking out what our hearts really desires. When we let what the world calls “the best” take the place of the kind of communion with God that we really need, that is when worldly things become an obstacle to forever things.

For all its prestige, money, and power, the Super Bowl will come and go and mean almost nothing very soon. I once heard a retired NFL player say that once you win the Super Bowl you remember that moment and will always be a Super Bowl winner for the rest of your life. But that’s just it – for the rest of your life. Our lives will end and what will remain will be the only things that do remain after we pass – our souls and our relationship with God. 

Watch the Super Bowl and enjoy it, by all means. I will. But go to Mass on Sunday morning and remember that what you do at Mass will still matter in 1000 years and this weekend’s big game won’t. 

LIVE IT: Make a bet this weekend that is 100% guaranteed to pay out. Go to Mass. Offer Jesus Christ the best of your life (and the worst too, he wants it all). Ask God to give you a desire for that which will last for eternity. 

Sunday Readings for February 13, 2022.

Both/And

Both/and – This has got to be one of my favorite phrases. Often in life we are faced with “either/or” situations. Either it’s cold or it’s warm. Either I am happy or I am sad. Either I have everything I need or I have a wish list a mile long in my Amazon account. While it is true that often we are faced with either/or circumstances, I think sometimes we apply this divisive mindset in places where it doesn’t work. 

In particular, I am thinking about Peter in the gospel for this Sunday. In this passage from Luke, Peter exhibits incredible faith and follows the command of Jesus by putting out into the deep and casting his nets once again. Of course later we know he becomes the rock on whom Jesus builds the Church. Peter is the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. 

On the other hand, the guy tells Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In another story he sinks in this same lake because he doesn’t fully trust Jesus. Jesus refers to him as Satan in another moment. 

We could say Peter is either a saint, disciples, and leader of the early church or a sinner, failure, and poser with weak faith. The question at hand has to be is Peter a saint or a sinner?

Of course this isn’t an either/or answer. Peter is both. Peter was a sinner and Peter is a Saint. Both are true. Our world wants to say if you are one you can’t be the other. We would say every sinner can be a saint (and unfortunately every saint can be a sinner.). 

Each and everyone of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We are made good. All of us who are baptized are the very sons and daughters of God. We are God’s children. Yet each and everyone of us sins. We fail and fall and don’t live up to our true identity. 

Am I saying it’s okay for saints to persist in sin? No. Every single Saint has actively worked against the sin in their life. What I am saying is that If you consider yourself a sinner, that doesn’t disqualify you from seeking sainthood. 

In other words, we are worth saving and we need of a savior. 

What I think this means for us is that we should be confidence in the Lord. When we sin, we should be confident that he love us, wants to forgive us, and can save us. If we are feeling particularly saintly, we can be confident that it is only by God’s grace that we sought goodness. Whether you think you are a sinner or a saint you might just be right. God wants to save you either way. 

Live it: Sometimes it is helpful reflect on our desire to be saints. On a scale of 1-10 how much do you want to be a saint? What would it take to increase your desire for the sainthood by just one degree? Go do that thing. 

Sunday Readings for February 6, 2022.

He did it religiously.

Every afternoon, following a large lunch and usually a piece of pie, my grandfather would head out for a walk around his neighborhood. He had been a teacher and principal of the local high school for 40+ year and so nearly every person in his small Ohio town knew my grandfather by name.

Over the years my grandfather’s walk slowed in pace and shortened in length, but everyday at about 1 p.m. you could find him walking the streets of his hometown. He took this walk religiously. It’s funny how we use the world “religiously” to describe a practice or habit that someone does repeatedly. If someone has a good habit built up, we say they religiously do that thing. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Luke describes Jesus going to synagogue and reading from a scroll. It feels like the first act of a life of public ministry. Luke says that Jesus went to the synagogue that day “according to his custom.” In other words, Jesus regularly attended the synagogue in his hometown. Going to the synagogue was an ordinary practice for Jesus. One might say he went religiously. 

We humans often think that things that happen regularly are boring or mundane. While in some cases that might be true, just because something happens time and time again doesn’t make that thing any less significant. The sun rises everyday but if we are paying attention, it can be a pretty extraordinary thing.

After Jesus read the scroll with the messianic prophecy from Isaiah, he sat down. While everyone starred at him, he said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was an extraordinary moment. Jesus publicly declares that he is the chosen messiah spoken about in the Old Testament. Jesus exclaims that he has come to bring glad tidings to the poor, recover the sight of the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim a year of jubilee. These are the actions of the messiah. 

I see two take aways for us. First, Jesus is Lord and he purposefully says so. Secondly, amazing, extraordinary things not only can happen in ordinary, regular moments, but often only because those moments occur with regularity.

The truth is we encounter a great deal of miraculous, astonishing, and extraordinary things in our daily lives. We have just become numb to their profound awesomeness. God blesses us abundantly and we often get bored with the incredible. 

Mass is an example of this experience. We go to Mass week after week and for many of us it feels like the same old thing again and again. The reality is that during Mass the veil between heaven and earth falls, the bread and wine on the altar transform into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and our God comes so close to us we can taste him. While we might attend Mass religiously, we should never let Mass become empty repetition. After all, it is always extraordinary. 

Live It: Go to Mass and pretend it is your first Mass ever. Try to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste everything as if it is the first time ever. Let yourself be amazed.

Sunday Readings January 23, 2022.

Whatever.

My best friends in the world are great meat eaters. If it comes to buying, preparing, or dinning out on meat, I 100%, without hesitation trust what they say. If they tell me the double pork chop at such-and-such a restaurant is worth the price, I am making reservations. If they have a new way to sous vide and reverse sear a brisket, I’m making plans to make the recipe happen. I trust them completely in regards to meat. 

Do trust anyone like that? Is there anyone who, when it comes to food or coffee or art you trust completely? How did you build that trust? What about them makes them trustworthy?

The gospel this Sunday is the story of the wedding at Cana. Most of us are likely very familiar with the details of the story (If you need a refresher, read it here). One line stuck out to me this time. Mary tells Jesus they are out of wine. Jesus responds basically questioning what it has to do with him. Marty responds, not by correcting or encouraging Jesu, but by turning to the the waitstaff and saying, “do whatever he tell you.”

Mary’s trust in Jesus is deep, powerful and authentic. No one has a closer relationship with Jesus than Mary because no one trusts Jesus more than Mary. 

Mary’s trust in Jesus is actually present in multiple ways. First she trusts that he as the ability to do something about it. This was his first public miracle. Jesus doesn’t exactly have the track record of a wonder worker. Yet, Mary trusts that he can some how make it so that there is enough wine for the wedding to continue. 

Mary also trusts that Jesus will do something. This is incredible because Jesus just literally denied that this was his responsibility. Yet Mary knew his heart and trusted that Jesus would in fact act and save the wedding. 

Finally Mary trusts that Jesus would engage the other humans present to accomplish the mission. Jesus didn’t stagger off carrying giant water vessel after water vessel to go get it filled up. No, Jesus cooperates with the humanity present to miraculously change water to wine, a failed wedding into perfect nuptials. 

While there are many lessons held with in these words, the one I am taking away this week is that if you want a miracle performed, trust Jesus. Trust he is able. Trust he is willing. Trust he will cooperate with us to get the job done. 

Sunday Readings for January 16, 2022.