NEW & IMPROVED LENT!

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I read online recently about a new concept that helps people control weight, have more energy, have a clearer, focused mental state, and sleep better. This new behavior seems to fix a number of problems plaguing Americans today. I fell for the click bait and read the article. 

What was the new miracle behavior? Fasting. The article explained the various ways athletes and celebrities are fasting from food to solve all their problems. Whether they were not eating very many calories on a particular day of the week or only eating for certain hours of the day and going 16 or more hours in a row without consuming anything, the article examined the tactics and benefits of this brand new way of self mastery. 

As a Catholic I tried not to roll my eyes and instead tried to find joy in the fact that people are discovering the temporal benefits of a 2000 year old traditional practice of Catholicism. It reminds me of a couple years ago when it was fashionable (and may still be) to give up meat one day a week for the environment. Well, duh. 

We hear this Sunday of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and his temptation at the hands of Satan. The very beginning of this reading says, At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” I think it is good to note that it is the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the desert. It was God’s will that he enter into a period of testing and self denial.

Also, I think the fasting was something Jesus chose to do. Maybe that is obvious to you, but in the past I kind of thought it was a trick of the devil to make him hungry. But that isn’t what the text says. Jesus’ 40 day fast wasn’t part of the devil’s plan, it was part of what Jesus went to go do in the desert. So why did he do it? Why fast?

Jesus was about to embark on his ministry to save the world. He was about to teach, preach, heal, uplift, convict and minister to those he encountered. Jesus was about to allow the very humanity he came to save to crucify him on cross and kill him. Jesus was getting ready to open the gates of heaven and triumph over Satan and death once and for all. To prepare for this, Jesus went into the desert to fast and to pray. 

This is why we go into the desert of Lent to fast and pray. To prepare to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  We fast and pray to get ourselves ready for the most momentous moment of your year – the remembrance and celebration of when you and were saved from certain death and eternal suffering. 

Why fasting and prayer? Because these actions are powerful. Saint Pope John Paul II said this, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” My encouragement this Lent is to actually try purposefully fasting. Really do it. And do it tied to prayer. 

If you have something you are praying for, big or small, I would encourage you to try uniting that prayer with sacrifice. If you know someone struggling or who is sick and needs prayer, offer those prayers, but tie in some fasting with it too. It is powerful. 

LIVE IT: Add fasting into your Lenten practice in some way. It isn’t just giving up food (although there is something to be said for fasting from food), but purposefully going without in an intentional way. Whenever and whatever you sacrifice, offer that sacrifice up in prayer by simply telling God your reason why. It’s that simple. 

Sunday Readings for March 1st, 2020.

Absolutely Perfect.

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Two kinds of people inhabit this big blue marble we call home – those who love the Olympics and those who don’t. I for one love the olympics. The grandeur and spectacle of the opening ceremonies. The triumph on the faces of the athlete replete with medals. The agony of the defeat of those who get edged out into 4th place. The celebration of the unlikeliest athletes from the unlikeliest countries just competing at all. It all is exciting to me. 

I much prefer the timed competitions, but there is something exciting about the judged sports like figure skating, gymnastics or diving. That moment when the culmination of years of work has just completed and the athlete is awaiting their scores – wow, high drama. It doesn’t happen often, but when the judges deem that performance to be perfect – exhilaration. 

While perfection is something we think we know and experience in this life, it is quite rare. The perfect morning, the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect kiss – we may say these things, but how do we judge something is perfect. Is it perfect until something better comes along? By perfect do we mean that it couldn’t be improved? How do we know?

That is why this gospel is so difficult to get our arms around. Jesus preaches about our need as his followers to no longer seek to fulfill the bare minimum of the law, but to seek the law’s radical and greatest expression. In the end Jesus says, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this seem impossible? I feel totally ill equipped to be perfect. Nothing in my life feels perfect. How am I supposed to be perfect?

In praying with this scripture I found some direction in the second half of the directive, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How is God perfect? Of course we could say he is perfect in every way. But I think Jesus is trying to say something specific. 

God is perfect in his LOVE. Each person of our triune God loves the others perfectly. That love spills out into creation and God loves his creation perfectly. God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son to save us from death. God loves us perfectly. 

If we are trying to be perfect as God is perfect. We must try to love perfectly. The kind of love we are talking about is the love that we choose. It is self-gift. It is the kind of love that is self sacrifice. This is the love that Jesus had for us when he died on the cross. This love is divine love. Since you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love in this way. It is the love that God can perfect in us. How should we be perfect? We must seek to love perfectly. 

LIVE IT: Take out your phone and set a reminder for right after your alarm goes off in the morning – ask God to help you love perfectly that day and to give you opportunities to love someone else. Then prepare yourself to love and be giving the chance to love. 

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 2020.

No Rules. No Right.

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I have eaten my fair share of bloomin’ onions. I’ve sat and wondered if they actually have steak houses down under. I’ve sipped a frothy beverage and annoyingly repeated lines from Crocodile Dundee while waiting for my food. What I mean to say is, I’ve eaten at Outback Steakhouse. 

A while ago their tagline was “No Rules. Just Right.” This has always struck me as odd. Sure it captures what I can only presume is a rebellious Australian spirit. No rules. Yet, just as we are fully bought into the no rules aspect of dining, they get you with the just right. I think this was to give the impression that your steak would be cooked just right. It could also mean everything about one’s experience at Outback would be – just right. 

Both halves of this tagline are lies. The varied ways that Outback Steakhouses aren’t “just right” are probably self revelatory. But the real hypocrisy is first half of the line “No rules.”  The moment you get up from the table and try to leave without paying, you will quickly find that there are indeed rules. If you were to throw your cutlery on the floor or mistreat the staff or bother other patrons, they will show you the door for breaking the, well, rules. 

Further, If you order a steak Medium Rare (as one should), the only reason it would come out cooked to the state of Medium Rare is because the chef followed the rules of how long or hot to cook the steak. If your steak was black and charcoaly and you sent it back to the kitchen, you could do so only because there are, in fact, rules about steaks and steakhouses. 

Some people think Jesus threw out all the rules. Some believe Jesus tells us we don’t need and shouldn’t follow rules. They might even come to the opinion that rules are for pharisees and reactionaries (they would be partially right here). It is as if they believe the tagline of Christianity is “No Rules. Just Christ.”

As attractive as that line might be (especially to us Americans), it isn’t very Biblical and doesn’t follow our Tradition. This Sunday’s gospel shows us that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the rules, but to fulfill them. He preaches clearly and decisively that not only are the rules not too harsh and shouldn’t be abandoned, but in fact the rules don’t go far enough. If the old rule was that violence against your neighbor was bad, Jesus ups the ante to anger with your fellow man is wrong. He goes on to increase the demand in several other areas. 

Jesus teaches us that it isn’t that the rules should be dismissed, but the rules will never be enough to establish the Kingdom and save our souls. In fact, Jesus preaches the radical and difficult reality that we are not enough. He says that we can never do enough to earn salvation or approval. It is only God who is enough who can save us in the face of the high bar of following Jesus Christ. 

Should we follow the rules of following Jesus? Absolutely. Should we only follow the the bare minimum of the rules? Absolutely not. The rules are good and we must abide, but we must go on to love and love well. When asked what is the greatest rule, love for God and love for neighbor was Jesus’ answer. 

Live it: Make a rule for yourself to follow for one week. Try something like: Drink only water. or No TV. or Say “Hi!” to everyone you walk past. or Introduce yourself to strangers. See what works. Maybe you’ll fine something new for Lent this year. 

Sunday Readings for February 16th, 2020.

All the Flavor.

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About 5 years ago, my dad and I tried to make our own, from scratch, Italian sausage. We found a recipe in an older cookbook that we thought sounded authentic. We ground up the pork shoulders. We prepared the casings. We added various spices and finally the kosher salt.

While we were adding it, I remember thinking, “This seems like a generous helping of salt, but I’m sure the author of this recipe has more experience and expertise than I do.” But something went wrong. 

After filling the sausages, we fried up a little of the bulk sausage meat just to taste it. WOW SALTY. No one could eat the sausages. We tried cooking them in tomato sauce, but even then we found our family suffering through dinner. This salt was salty and our sausage experiment was a failure. Bummer. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it should be thrown out. The thing is, salt can’t loose it’s flavor. Salt is salt. So what is Jesus talking about?

We, in the 21st century, have refined, pure salt in our spice drawer at home. But imagine a time when one bought salt from a neighbor who only sifted it enough to get the large chunks of dirt or rock out of the salt. As one used the container of salt and get near the bottom, one probably got to the point where one had less salt and more dirt. Thus it no longer was salt.

Salt seasons and salt preserves. Salt does particular things. If you tried to use something less than salt to do either of these we are going to end up with dirty or spoiled food. What we need in cooking and food preparation is authentic salt. We need the real deal.

When it comes to sharing our faith, we need to have the real and authentic faith. Can we have questions and moments of weakness? Absolutely, that is part of growing in faith. But when it comes to sharing our faith, we can only share what we actually own. When it comes to inspiring and preserving faith in our family and our friends, we can only do so to the extent that we hold true faith. 

You and I can fake it till we make in terms of our own faith life and devotion (and sometimes we must!), but we can’t fake it for anyone else. We can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t lead where we won’t go ourselves. If we desire or feel called to help influence the faith of our children, spouses, neighbors, coworkers, or friends, then the first person we must help grow in faith is us. We must get salty, if we are going to season the world. 

LIVE IT: For the next 3 meals add this following prayer to your food blessing. If you make these meals, saying the prayer when you season the food. If you are picking up food, say it during the blessing.

“God, Give me the true and authentic faith you desire for me. Help me to be salt for those around me.”

Sunday Readings for February 9th, 2020.