BONUS: Apathy is death

nadine-shaabana-s0uqGHl2DTg-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for Dec 1st, 2019 –

BONUS because I didn’t get this written or published last week. So here she is, out of order, short, and doubled up. 

What’s the opposite of love? Some people would say that hate is the opposite of love. However if you truly hold hot-burning hate for something it is likely because of your love for something else. Some say the opposite of love is selfishness and that might be a little closer to the answer. You could say selfishness is inappropriate or poorly executed love of self.

For me the opposite of love is apathy. If love moves us to act, to sacrifice for someone else, apathy is the not caring enough to move.

In the gospel from Dec 1st, 2019, Jesus explains to his disciples that most people are apathetic towards the coming of a Messiah. People will go about their daily business without a thought to the end of things for their end in particular. 

Love for God isn’t just a feeling or an openness to God. Love for God is an active movement towards doing God’s will and preparing for his coming. 

Our love for God can be measured in what we are willing to do, change, prepare, sacrifice, or offer to and for him. Love is an action. If want to love God, we won’t be apathetic to his return, but instead actively seeking to prepare our lives and our hearts for his coming. 

The other option is death. God, love is life. Apathy is death.

Live It: Throw something away that keeps you from God. Make a decision and get rid of it. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as removing it will help you get closer to God. 

 

The Fruit of Repentance

marina-khrapova-GbY8Xg5iTOA-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 8th, 2019.

My wife’s brother used to have this large and prolific apple tree in his backyard in Utah. It wasn’t ugly but it wasn’t great to look at either. It took up a lot of the yard and wasn’t good for climbing or much of anything else. It attracted bees (good and bad), and many pests. But did it ever produce fruit. Somehow this single tree produced twice as many apples as my brother-in-law and his family of four could consume even while making loads of apple sauce, pies, apple butter, and much more. 

When my brother-in-law moved to another state he planted more fruit trees because of the abundance of fruit from that one tree back in Utah. He wanted to try and recreate the same experience of a fruitful fruit tree. Why? Because it worked. A fruitful fruit tree was worth the work. 

In the gospel John the Baptist admonishes the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Later he explains that if their lives aren’t fruitful, they will be cut down and burned in the unquenchable fire. Yikes. 

Most of the time we consider things of faith to be kind of squishy. What I mean is, faith is a difficult thing to quantify and measure. And it’s true, we aren’t called to be successful, we are called to be faithful (St. Theresa of Calcutta).

John reminds us of a valuable truth of our faith. Though it may be hard to measure conversion or faith, and though we may never see the results of our work, if our faith lives aren’t fruitful, if they don’t result in a measurable good, then our faith is nothing more than firewood. In other words, if we are truly repentant and faithful to God, he will use our faithfulness to produce good fruit. 

I find it fascinating in John’s speech that it is our repentance that will produce good fruit – not our prayer or ministry, not our evangelization or kindness. No it is our personal conversion, our turning away from sin and towards God that will produce fruit. It is our becoming saints that will produce the fruit of faith in others. 

Want to produce good fruit? Become a saint. 

Live It: Go eat a piece of fruit. While you eat it, thank God for the deliciousness of fruit. If you can, take your time and go slow, savoring each bite. When your done ask God to produce fruit in your life. 

Offended.

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Sunday Readings for November 24, 2019

A good friend of mine once told me, “The Christian should never be personally offended by a private critique. Either what the other person says is true and we should receive it as correction or it is false and we should dismiss it as inaccurate.” Whoa. 

That was hard for me to hear and has been even harder to live out since then. How do I not let my feeling be hurt when someone says something negative about me, even if it is untrue? At the same time, maybe it is worse when someone critiques me and I know what they are saying is true. Admitting that someone knows my faults and shortcomings is difficult.

We hear in the gospel this Sunday that while Jesus hung on the cross, he was accused over and over of the same thing. He was mocked for what he had preached about himself. First the rulers, then the soldiers, and then even a convicted criminal all accuse Jesus of the same thing – being the Christ, the chosen one of God and the savior of the world. 

Of course, we know that they were right. They mocked him and asked him to save himself. The rude thief asked Jesus to save both of them. The reality is that Jesus was doing exactly that by dying on the cross. 

Who spoke the truth about Jesus while he suffered on the cross? Jesus’ enemies. Who named him Christ and King? Jesus’ accusers. They didn’t know the truth of their sneers. They didn’t know the accuracy of their description of Jesus’ mission. They thought Jesus was delusional and they ripped him for his claims. 

I think this scripture calls us to two things. First, we’re invited respond to sneers, jeers, and reviling critiques like Jesus. We accept what is true, ignore what is false, and stick to our mission. Secondly, I think we would do well to imitate the good thief in asking Jesus to remember us. In other words, we are called to depend completely on Jesus because he is God, he is the chosen one, he can save us from death and sin, and he can bring us to Paradise. Jesus remember me!

Live It: Reflect on the last time someone insulted or critiqued you. How did you react? How would you have preferred to react? What would relying completely on Jesus look like in that moment?

Surprise!

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Sunday Readings for November 17, 2019. 

My two year-old is obsessed with Lemons. I know we aren’t supposed to let him have them because of teeth or enamel or something like that, but I pick my battles, okay? The other day he whined when he saw a lemon slice in my water. As I acquiesced and handed him the lemon slice I said, “Now, you know it is sour?” 

Immediately he popped it in his mouth, took a big bite, and then made the sourest, squintiest, puckeriest face of all time. Then he looked at me in total surprise like I had tricked him in some way. I laughed. He laughed. It was all fine, but I couldn’t help but think, “What did you expect?”

Sometimes I think good Christian men and women are surprised when we get the short end of the stick from the world. We are surprised when we actually follow Jesus, that we might get putdown, ignored, and dismissed. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I often think I can follow Jesus and still be fully, comfortably, completely embraced and loved by the world. Consequently, when someone thinks I’m a religious weirdo who is “way too into church,” I’m surprised and disturbed. 

Jesus promises us we will be hated – not only disliked or disapproved of, but straight up hated for our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the king of good news (life over death, all sins forgiven, unconditionally loved by God, etc.), but Jesus also reminds us that there are forces that oppose the gospel and those forces will encourage hatred of all who seek to do the will of God. 

The question we must all answer as followers of Jesus is whether we are willing to be hated because of our love for Jesus. the truth of the matter is that we answer that question with our actions and our words.

Live It: Turn off the radio or podcast or music for 1 drive this week and think about the question “Am I willing to be hated for my love for Jesus? Am I willing to endure hatred for how I share the good news of Jesus Christ?

Life or Death.

Sunday Readings for November 10, 2019.church-abandoned-64768

I enjoy laughing at the clunky way that TV, movies, and other media depicts Catholicism. Sometimes a character or church reflects more of what I find authentic Catholicism to be. More often than not, Catholics on the screen is curmudgeons old priests, crabby nuns, and dusty statues of long dead saints in empty, dark churches. (Some weeks I would prefer this Catholicism to what I experience daily, but I digress.)

I think the reason that this is the way that Catholicism is expressed on the screen is that most people see God as the God of the dead. Religion is for the dead or nearly dead. Religion is old and tired. Saints are literally dusty relics of a long gone era. 

In our gospel this Sunday, when Jesus is confronted with a question about resurrection, he explains that to God all are alive. Our God is a God of the living, not the dead. That those who die with Christ, rise also with him. The purpose of baptism and Christianity is to to inoculate us to death. 

The purpose and good news of belief in Jesus Christ is that he beat death for ever and we can beat death too!
Sometimes we get caught up in all the ways we live that reality out. Certainly we should help others and have good liturgy. We should teach the faith and learn the faith. We should have good community and even better celebrations. But all of that, all that the Church does is to participate in the death beating, life saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

The purpose of the Church is make disciples of Jesus so that each and ever soul might be saved and spend eternity with God forever. Nothing short of Life over Death is the whole story. 

LIVE IT: Listen to John Mark McMillan’s song “Death in Reverse.” You have to follow along with the lyrics because they are poetic and hard to understand. It’s one of my favorites and all about Life overcoming Death. 

 

How to get found

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Sunday Readings for Nov. 3, 2019

Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was, “If you ever get lost, put yourself in a position to be found.” When it came to getting lost in a JC Penny when I was 5 years old and bored with shopping for school clothes, it meant to sit down and stay in one place until I was found. When it came to getting lost in the woods outside of my neighborhood it meant following the creek until it passed under a road and then hiking up to the road and finding my way home. 

In the spiritual life I think this advice is even more valuable. We get lost. Whether it is because we hitch our wagon to someone or some people who lead us away or we make our own way through sin and selfishness, humans seem to get lost regularly. Sometimes it’s a simple couple steps back on the path. Other times we need a major intervention to find our way home. 

In the gospel, Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus who is a thief and exhorter and short fellow. When Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree and in the process puts himself in a position to be found. When Jesus dines at his house, Zacchaeus repents and promises to make restitution. 

Christianity is different than all the other world religions. Religion is sometimes defined as man’s search for God. But for Christians, our religion is actually God’s search for us. For while we were still a long way off, God sent his only Son to become one of us, to live like us, and die like us so that we too can be saved. 

Jesus came searching for you and for me. 

The good news is that all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to be found. 

LIVE IT: Go to Church. Come sit a pew. Whether it is for Mass, Confession, or just some silent time, come and put yourself into a position to be found. 

Talking to Yourself

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Sunday Readings for Oct 27, 2019

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the backseat of the car and watching my dad talk to himself. I don’t mean in unsettling or mental health sort of way. Rather in the kind of way I think most of us do. I’ve been caught by my children rehearsing a conversation before it happens or working out a problem and not realizing how public I am being about it. I’ve even been known to win arguments with not so present adversaries. 

In the gospel tells a parable about a prideful Pharisee and a humble sinner. In the story, the Pharisee stands in his regular pew and offers up a prayer “to himself.” I used to think this meant he said it quietly, but more recently I think this means that was actually praying to himself. He wasn’t actually thanking God, but in fact thanking himself for his own self determined goodness. 

I think sometimes we do pray to ourselves. We think or speak prayers in such a way that glorifies us. We utter intentions that ask ourselves to make something happen or to be okay with a situation. We ask for our own favor so that we can do whatever we were going to do anyway.  

Jesus taught us so many lessons with this simple parable, but for me, I think the lesson this year is to make sure I am praying to God and not myself. That means I need to offer praise for what God has done, not me. I need to thank God for what he has given me. I must ask him for things only he can provide. If we actually learn to pray to God and not ourselves, I think we won’t have to worry about whether we are prideful or humble, self-righteous or justified by God alone. 

LIVE IT: Make tonight’s prayer the name of Jesus. Just pray the name of Jesus over and over as slowly and with as much meaning as you can muster. Do this for as long as you need to.