Are the Avengers, real?

Sunday Readings for August 4th, 2019.

clement-m-JIOP2qvo8yk-unsplashIn addition to long walks, running through sprinklers, and late night bonfires, my family has been watching all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer. Good versus evil, superheroes, mostly quippy dialogue, self-sacrifice – everyone in my family finds something they enjoy in these films. 

Last night we watched Avengers. In the middle of an intense battle scene, Captain America jumps between two uneven pieces of the flying Helicarrier. When he lands and then saves the day, both of my daughters snickered. They giggled. And I heard their eyes roll in unison (I’m a dad, I can hear eye rolls). 

I asked them why they were snickering and almost in unison they both replied, “Ha, well, that isn’t real.” I ignored for a second the desire for reality while watching a movie about superheroes, interdemensional travel, and Norse gods, and I asked them why they thought it wasn’t real. My older daughter said that it just didn’t look real. Like you could tell it was computer animated. It just didn’t look authentic. 

This 2 seconds of video from a 90+ minute movie that is almost entirely unreal was the only time my kids scoffed at how real things looked. When an army of aliens, with 4 thumbs each, attacked New York City, my children didn’t bat an eye.  

We aren’t as good as we think we are at recognizing what is real and what is not. Even in our own lives, we can find countless examples of times we perceived something incorrectly or were tricked into seeing something that wasn’t there. This is the whole basis of the TV show Brain Games. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus warns against greed. Not only because greed rots the soul and drives us mad with self obsession, but also because greed causes us to care deeply about things that aren’t real. Greed puts value on what isn’t ultimately valuable. 

In C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce, when the main character goes to heaven, he finds a place more real than Earth. Heaven is so real that the people who were flesh and blood a mere moment ago are now ghost like. The grass is so hard, so real, that it cuts into people’s now ghost like feet. 

All we take for granted as real, we perceive through our senses. We see, hear, taste, and the rest what we consider reality. 

Jesus comes to tell us that there is something even more real than what we perceive now. Jesus warns us that if we care too deeply about what we believe to be real now, we will put far too much value on what is truly nothing more than dust. When we value what isn’t valuable, we will miss what is truly real and valuable.

My prayer is that each of us grows rich in what matters to God. May we fall in love with that which is most real. 

LIVE IT: Take a screen fast for 24 hours. No TV, no phone for entertainment, shopping, etc., just use it as a phone as necessary. During that time consider praying, asking God to show you what is real. 

Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama

Sunday Readings for July 28th, 2019.

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“Mama   Mama   Mama    Mama   Mama MamaMamamamamamamamama.” – my 19 month-old son. 

My poor wife. I mean honestly. My toddler son only knows a few words. Sometimes “yes” means “no.” Sometimes “no” means “if you say so.” When he says “dada,” it almost always means, “Yay! Look, it’s my dad over there.” But when my son wants something he says “Mama.”

Sometimes he does this to actually get her attention, but most of the time I think he chants this mantra as a reminder to us and himself that he is need of something. And he almost always needs something. If you are a mama or you live with a mama, who has a toddler constantly calling for mama, then you know what a burden this can feel like.

In my toddler’s defense, he’s learned this behavior. He’s learned that if he doesn’t get what he needs/wants when he points to it or screams or just tries in silence, he has learned that if he says mama again and again and again, something will happen. 

Needless to say, my wife doesn’t always give him what he wants. No, of course not. But she always turns to him and somehow responds “Yes” “No” or “Wait”.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in this Sunday’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t just teach us what to say, but how to pray – with persistence. 

Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Midnight Caller (just made up that title ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), that the owner of the house will get up to help his friend just becasue his friend is annoying. While we might think this doesn’t make God sound very good, the core of this parable is about our action, our prayer. Jesus knows that persistence is more important to fruitful prayer than perfect diction. In other words, if we think we can craft the perfect prayer that will convince God to give us what we want, then who we believe in is ourselves. 

Praying with persistence reveals that we know we can’t attain what we are asking for. To pray with persistence demonstrates our need for God. Persistent prayer ultimately shows that we know that what we really need is God himself. If we keep calling God’s name, he hears and he answers. 

LIVE IT: Set a timer on your phone for 2 minutes. Start that timer and then begin saying the name of JESUS over and over. Say it slowly. Say it as a prayer. Pray the very name of Jesus. 

Perfect-ish

Sunday Readings for July 21st, 2019.

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Mary owes Martha. I don’t mean because Martha served while Mary sat. And not because Mary’s “better part” looked good compared to Martha’s complaining. No, Mary owes Martha for what Martha does at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

We are so familiar with this story we might miss Martha’s first action in the reading. The gospel starts with Jesus entering a village. In that village, a woman named Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Martha invites Jesus in. 

Scripture doesn’t say, but I would venture a guess that Martha eventually introduces Jesus to her household and to Mary. Wherever the story goes from here, the fact remains that Jesus enters into the home of these sisters because Martha invited him. 

The first two lines of this gospel story points to a truth about meeting Jesus. The people in my life who have introduced me to Jesus aren’t perfect. The people who first taught me about following Jesus don’t always follow him all that well themselves. 

In stead of that being a disappointment, I think it is a calling to us not to wait to introduce others around us to Jesus. We don’t and shouldn’t wait until we are perfect disciples to introduce others to Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we have our stuff together before we welcome Jesus into our home. Invite Jesus into your life whether you are Martha or Mary. 

LIVE IT: Next time someone asks you about your weekend plans, include the fact that will be going to Mass. Then follow that up by actually doing it. 

Reach, He’s closer than you think.

Sunday Readings for July 14th, 2019.

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My eighteen month old son isn’t very good at jumping. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it is because is actually pretty bad at landing and he knows it. If he leaves his feet, it’s a near certainty that he will face plant. 

His lack of jumping and landing confidence leads to some humorous moments. Sometimes he won’t grab something above his head, even if it isn’t beyond his reach, because he just isn’t sure. My son will sometimes reach up with a crooked, alligator arm and strain towards the sky all while bending over. If he just stood straight up and extended his arm, he could easily reach his goal. 

I think we are like this in our faith lives far more often than we would like to admit. In the first reading this Sunday, from Deuteronomy, it is written,

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.

It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’

Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’

No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

When Jesus is asked in our gospel about what must we do to inherit enteral life, his answer is simple (paraphrased), “Love God all the way and Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Not complicated. Difficult at times, but not so far from us that we can’t imagine doing it. 

Sometimes we spook ourselves out of following Jesus Christ. Sometimes we imagine that loving God is so complicated and beyond our ability that we don’t do exactly what we can with what we’ve been given. 

For us baptized Christians, we have been made sons and daughters of God. We have been welcomed into God’s own family. As Catholics we receive the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ at Mass. God gives us his very Spirit over and over. When we mess up, he gives us healing and grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And yet, we whimper at trying to know God and follow Jesus. Really!?

Maybe it is as simple as this – Pray everyday. Read your Bible. Receive the Sacraments. Love (self sacrificially) whoever comes before you each moment. Standup straight and reach. 

LIVE IT: Go somewhere were you can be alone (or do this in public if you are into that kind of thing). Stand up straight. Reach up. Look up. Stretch. Keep reaching!! Up!! Whisper, “God I want to be near you!” Now say it louder if you dare. Go up on your tip toes! Now relax. Take a deep breath. Smile.  

Radical Dependence

Sunday Readings for July 7th, 2019.

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As an American, July 4th means fireworks, an abundance of grilled meats, unnecessary amounts of watermelon, and spending every moment of the day outdoors. My family wears an embarrassment of red, white, and blue apparel and we listen to both kinds of music – country and western (until John Phillip Sousa marches accompany fireworks, of course). 

While we say we are toasting our declaration of independence from stodgy ol’ Great Britain, I think secretly we are celebrating a world view that glorifies independence from jaden-hatch-b7BcALkirCc-unsplashanyone and everyone. Before we pretended to memorize the entirety of Hamilton, did any of us really think of the founding fathers on July 4th? Not really. No, our actions on
the 4th of each July, look more like a group of people ignoring the best advice of medical personnel. We eat meat and set off amateur explosives.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus calls all those who want to join his movement to a radical way of life. I don’t just mean the normal frivolous sacrifices we sometimes associate with comfortable Christianity. I mean that to really follow Jesus means to chose radical dependence. 

To follow Jesus is to sacrifice our independence. 

Jesus sends out his followers to heal and preach with out money, walking staff, or backpack. They will be totally and completely dependent on the people the encounter. Each community that accepts them and provides for them will literally be saving their life. That kind of dependence makes for committed missionaries. 

In another sense the Christian life calls for total dependence upon God. It almost feels silly to type such a simple and obvious statement. Yet as simple and obvious as this statement is to most of us, few of us actually act like it’s true. Few of us depend upon God in any significant way. Only when crisis hits do we really seek to depend upon him. As soon as that crisis is over or we feel comforted, most of us return quickly to our self serving independence. 

If, through some strange set of circumstances, you lost every single dollar and asset you owned, who would be your first phone call? Would it be your financial advisor? Parents? Friends? Your Church community or Priest?

Now, let’s say you fell to your knees in prayer, what would you say to God? Don’t wait! Say that now! If we are going to follow Jesus well, we need to depend upon God like we don’t have anything and need everything. Being a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ takes nothing short of radical dependence. 

Seek Jesus like you’ve got nothing to loose and I guarantee he’ll find you. 

LIVE IT: On July 4th morning when you open your eyes for the first time that day, slip out of bed  and fall to your knees and declare your dependence upon God, to God in prayer. Extra Credit – Tell someone about your prayer (humbly, of course). 

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