Perfect Positioning

Oct. 30th Sunday Readings

la-sp-shift-illustration-20150718I watch more sports than I should. Honestly, I enjoy watching them all. It’s a thing of beauty when a baseball infield puts the shift on and the heavy hitting batter pulls the ball within reach of the 2nd basemen for an easy out. When a quarterback appears to have thrown a pass directly toward the free safety and he easily picks it off, I am impressed. When a strong forward kicks the ball out to the hot handed guard and he nails the long 3 pointer from the corner, I cheer. When the center wins a face off and the puck goes directly to the defensemen who blisters a shot to the upper corner of the net past the goalie, I wonder “How did they do that?”

The answer is almost always, “They were in position.”

Talent, practice, coaching, and hard work are all well and good, but the most immediate cause of a great play is that the player was in position. They were in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes, I suppose positioning is luck, and maybe those plays make the highlights. However, when a player is in position it gives him or her a better chance for success.

In our gospel this weekend we hear the familiar story of Zacchaeus who climbs a tree to see Jesus. The story doesn’t start with a big confession or tremendous conversion (that’s how it ends). No, the story starts with Zacchaeus putting himself in a position to see Jesus.

Scripture says that Zacchaeus was short in stature, and so to see Jesus he had to climb that tree. The fact that Zacchaeus put himself in position to see Jesus made the story possible. Only then does Jesus call to him and invite himself over for dinner. Only then does a conversation ensue during which Zacchaeus repents and seeks to make restitution.

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “80% of success is just showing up.” I think that is true for Zacchaeus and probably us too. So the question about our faith is, are we putting ourselves in a position to encounter Jesus?

What does it mean for you to be in a position to be close to Jesus? When was the last time you went out of your way to see Jesus?

LIVE it:

Here are three ways to put yourself in a position to see Jesus:

  1. Get out of bed – when your alarm goes off, get out of bed and make the sign of the cross. That simple 4 second prayer will put you in a position to start your day with God.
  2. Kneel when you pray – okay, this one is going to be awkward the first time you try it. When I was a kid I used to kneel every night to say my prayers. Why did I stop? Try this again.
  3. Go to Mass – If you don’t go every week, try going every Sunday for a month. If you go every Sunday, try adding a weekday Mass. When you are at HNOJ for Mass, you are in a position to encounter Christ.

Who are these older people?

Oct. 23rd Sunday Readings.

The other day I was online and saw a picture of a group of people posted by one of my

compare

Funny, cuz I pick the Chocolate Chip Cookie every time.

Facebook friends. I didn’t recognize the name of the person or anyone else in the picture and when I looked at the people’s faces I thought, “Who are these older people and how do I know them?” Turned out they were all people I graduated college with who are basically my same age. How did these classmates of mine age so much, while I have stayed the same?

Comparing ourselves to others is dangerous and not in a good way. When we use comparing ourselves to others to build ourselves up or comfort ourselves, we can actually become addicted to the practice. Needless to say, when we compare ourselves to others with more or better or prettier or funner, it’s hard to feel good, to be grateful for our life. Sometimes we compare ourselves to how we used to be, and we can take pride in that, but it can also lull us into a false sense of accomplishment or perfection.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus tells a parable of two different people who went to the temple to pray. The pharisee extols his good deeds and thanks God that he isn’t like the sinners of the world. Meanwhile, the tax collector bows his head as he humbly asks for mercy. One man spends his prayer comparing himself to others, while the other focused solely on his own need for God.

Here’s the funny twist – the pharisee is doing all the right things. He is exceptional at following the law. He gives alms, prays well, and even fasts more than the law requires. Compared to others he is “better” at following the law. The twist in this parable is that our relationship with God isn’t dependent on how good we are at pulling it off; it is dependent upon how much we are willing to rely on God.

The pharisee is comparing himself to other sinners and consequently felt pretty good about himself. However, if we compare ourselves to perfection, we all fall short. Both the pharisee and the tax collector aren’t good enough to be justified with God. Neither are perfect. As good as the tax collector is; he isn’t perfect. Thus both are in need of mercy. If our measuring stick isn’t other broken people, but in fact perfect holiness; we all need mercy.

Are you perfect? No? Then our prayer is this, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

LIVE IT
Take 1 day to try and stop comparing. Here is a method: Whenever you find yourself comparing to another (good or bad), thank God for this person. Instead of comparing ourselves to them, thank God for them. When in doubt, start and end your day with the prayer, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

No talent.

Oct. 16 Sunday Readings

I’m a cruddy golfer. I don’t play very often, but when I do, I get as many swings as I camping-finistere-golfpossibly can out of 18 holes. If I quit my job and moved to Florida and played golf every single day, I bet I would get better. But no matter how many times I practiced or played, I probably wouldn’t ever be good enough play professionally. The same holds true for baseball, tennis, bowling, poetry, guitar playing, or wood carving (I don’t think I’d have to move to Florida for most of those, thank goodness).

Why? No talent.

Some things we do take practice and persistence, but they also take talent in order to really excel at them. My eldest daughter practices her flute regularly, but she is also blessed with her mother’s natural musical talent.

In the gospel Jesus uses a parable to tell us that prayer isn’t one of those things that takes both talent and practice. The story he tells is about a rotten judge and a motivated widow. The woman keeps bothering the judge to the point that he renders a decision in her favor. Jesus doesn’t mean to say that God is a rotten judge, but rather that if even a rotten judge would respond to persistence how much more would a God who loves us listen to our plea. In the story Jesus makes no judgement on the worthiness of the woman’s situation. The story isn’t about whether the judge is right or wrong in granting the woman’s request, but just that her persistence leads the judge to act.

For us it means that our prayers don’t have to be good. Honestly, I feel like is kind of a relief. We don’t have to pray well for God to hear us. It isn’t about having the magic words or the perfect petition; It’s about doing it every day.

A successful prayer life doesn’t consist of perfect prayer, but daily, persistent prayer. For me, this means praying when I don’t want to. I know this sounds funny, but I want to want to pray, but sometimes I don’t. My prayer life is going well when I pray when I don’t really want to.

How? Just do it. Set a time/place, schedule it, and do it.

One of my favorite quotes about prayer is by Peter Kreeft, “Less-than-perfect prayer is infinitely better than no prayer; more perfect prayer is only finitely better than less perfect prayer.” (Check out Kreeft’s full article here.)

Live It:
If your prayer life is going strong add this 5 second prayer, “Jesus thank you for the grace to pray persistently.”

If your prayer life could use a start, restart, or jumpstart (like mine), try this:

  •  Take out your phone/calendar
  •  Open calendar or calendar app
  •  Pick a time and schedule 5 minutes everyday for the next 7 days (I suggest right away in the morning.)
  •  Assign a location (big chair in living room).
  •  Options for prayer: silence, read gospel of Mark, say words of thanks petition or praise directly to God.
  • Try this consistent, persistent prayer each day for 1 week

Thank you (for reading)

Oct. 9th Sunday Readings.

My mom used to make me write thank you notes. Actually, I feel like she still does. stock-thank-you

Every time I sit down to scratch out a couple sentences of gratitude, I’m transported back to mid January 1988, and I am at the dinning room table and trying to remember which relative gave me which lego set. I guess I should write her a thank you note for making me say thanks.

Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show has a bit on the Friday night show where he has to “catch up on some personal stuff” during the show and writes some humorous thank you notes. “Thank you tissue boxes,” he says as he writes, “for either giving me one tissue or thirty.” Maybe you have to see it for it to be funny.

I think parents are onto something with the whole thank you notes. Jesus would say so. In the gospel this weekend Jesus heals 10 lepers and they leave to show the priests of the Temple. On the way, one realizes he is actually healed and returns to Jesus to say thanks. When does, Jesus asks where the other 9 are who were healed and then says, “Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you.”

How did the leper demonstrate faith? By giving thanks. How should we demonstrate our faith? By giving thanks to God.

Giving thanks doesn’t just demonstrate our faith, it actually makes us happy. Seriously. Multiple studies from places like Oxford and Harvard confirm the old saying:

It’s not that happy people are grateful. Rather people who are grateful are happy.

Saying thank you is a double gift; it’s a two-for-one deal. It’s like giving your dad 9faa4ada55f0493abdf42df86f987d0cGarth Brooks “The Hits” for his birthday when you’re 14; he’s happy and you get a CD you wanted (strangely specific example). What I’m trying to say is that when we give thanks, we get to recognize and take joy in someone else’s work and gift AND we get increased our own joy. It’s like opening the gift or receiving the work a sound time.

Giving thanks makes us happy and better people. The crazy thing is that we can get better at being grateful. The more we do it, the more naturally it comes to us.

So if you want to be happy, if you want to make other people happy, if you want to open a gift a 2nd time, if you want to demonstrate your faith in God, if you want to do what Jesus says, if you want to be saved – write a thank you note. Choose gratitude.

LIVE IT
Idea 1: Write a thank you note. Doesn’t matter to whom or for what, just do it. Make it be fore something for which you are really grateful. When you’re done thank God for that other person in prayer. (how? Say, “God, Thank you for ________ because they ____________.)
Idea 2: Want to grow in gratitude? Keep a daily gratitude journal. At night right before bed, write one thing you are grateful for. After a couple weeks (or couple days), you will probably have more things that you think of, write what what you want. Commit to it for 7, 14, or 21 days and then assess whether you want to continue.