Paradise

GoodWord.May2020.jpg

I distinctly remember watching an 80’s sitcom (though I can’t remember which one) in which a young female character was being wooed by an older man. He kept saying that he had two tickets to paradise if she would trust him. The whole show comes to a head when the female character goes back to this man’s dingy one room apartment where she finds “two tickets to paradise” to be an unnamed pill and vague promises of intimate pleasure. Needless to say, she flees, the man is confronted later, and the whole seen is lesson for us impressionable children of the 80s. 

Yet, I think the lesson is a true one. Again and again we try to find a shortcut to paradise. Maybe it is the obvious substance use, pleasure seeking route. Maybe it is more hidden like avoidance of any pain or suffering. Maybe we think if we are rich or successful or comfortable enough we will make ourselves a heaven on earth. 

The gospel this Sunday is a clear reminder that the one and only way to paradise is Jesus Christ. The only door on the way to heaven is Jesus himself. In some ways, this is bad news for all who try to gain entry to a heavenly experience in some other way. Yet it is very best news for all. It means we know the way to heaven. We know who can open the way and bring us to eternal paradise – Jesus. 

Jesus isn’t only the way to heaven when we die, but is the only way to peace and joy now. Jesus can heal our hurts in a way that no other method or practice can. If another way of healing works it doesn’t work outside of Jesus’ power, but, ultimately, through it. 

How do we enter into the sheep fold? First we have to stop trying to jump over the wall. We must actively and purposefully chose Jesus over what we think is a shortcut. The next step is to trust fully in Jesus as our gate to heaven. Pray and rest in him. Let Jesus heal your brokenness. Make a statement of faith in him. Jesus is the gate. 

Live It: Make a statement of faith. How? It could be as simple as prayerfully repeating a short phrase. Options: “Jesus I trust in you.” “Jesus you are my Lord and my God.” “Jesus I believe, help my unbelief.” Or you could recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed. You could also just speak to God from your heart like, “Jesus I give you my life. I trust totally in you. I want to be yours and follow you all the days of my life.” 

Sunday Readings for May 3, 2020. 

Why?

GoodWord.April2020.jpg

In times of great suffering it is common to wonder, “Why is this happening to us?” It’s a question that at its core is asking, “Why do I have to suffer?” I have been asking this question a lot in these days. Rather than settling on a perfect or definitive answer, I’ve been left holding the question in my hands. 

The good news is that the scriptures we read or hear at Mass this Sunday give us a little help with the answer. We’ll find some meaning in these scriptures because the reason we suffer is intimately tied to the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to suffer?”

In the gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of the road to Emmaus. Two characters are leaving Jerusalem to return home after Jesus’ death. When they meet a stranger along the road, who asks the travelers what they are talking about, they say, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.” Jesus then calls them fools and explains the events.

For me the phrase that gets me is when the two travelers say “The things that happened to Jesus…” Certainly Jesus suffered and was killed and those events happened to him, but the way it is phrased, clearly missed the point that Jesus choose his path. Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim, but glorious sacrificial victim. He suffered and died because that was the way to accomplish his mission to save humanity from death and sin. 

This gospel is from Luke, but in John’s gospel, Jesus always seems to be in control. The things that happen to him happen because he ultimately wants to accomplish his mission of love. Certainly Jesus asked for the cup to pass, and then he submitted to God’s will. Maybe he didn’t desire the cross, but he absolutely embraced it. Jesus’ desire was for love and a suffering sacrifice was the only way to love enough.

None of us would choose suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. Love requires sacrifice which often means suffering. We see it in small ways like doing the dishes when it is our spouse’s turn. And we see it big ways when someone sacrifices their life to save another. 

The suffering that we are experiencing doesn’t make sense unless we unite it with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Unless we offer it up to him and embrace it so that others might be loved, we might just think it is all meaningless. 

So what do we do in the face of great suffering? Love. I know that seems overly simplistic and trite, but it is the right answer. It has always been the right answer from the beginning of time and no one teaches us that more than Jesus Christ. 

When correcting the two travelers Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Our salvation was dependent upon it. Now we can follow in Jesus’ example, and sacrifice, maybe even suffer, so that others might know love. 

LIVE IT: When it comes to loving the first battle ground is our own heart. This doesn’t mean just be nice to yourself, but instead it means sacrificing something so that you get what you really need – Jesus. While the world is upside down, find 10-15 minutes extra each day when you can give up what you would normally be doing in order to listen to Jesus. Speak his name and sit in silence. BONUS: Show your family you love them this week. If they are the only people you see, they are the people you are being called to love well. 

It was an accident.

GoodWord.April2020.jpg

As a parent, I have lots of moments where I try and teach my kids a lesson that I, myself, haven’t yet totally mastered. Don’t hit your sister (sorry Kate) – Maybe you should get the small ice cream – and please excuse yourself from the table next time – are just a few. But the lesson I feel like I am constantly teaching, and constantly failing at myself, is the lesson of purpose. 

The other day one of my children knocked a glass of water off the table. The glass shattered, the water sprayed everywhere. I helped them clean it up and when I asked them to be more careful, they responded with hurt in their voice, “But I didn’t do it on purpose!” I said in response, “Yes, but you didn’t do things on purpose to avoid the situation like moving the glass in from the edge of the table or going slow or not swinging your arms wildly while singing a show tune.” I tried to explain that there is a difference between an absolute accident, doing something on purpose, and not doing things to avoid a potential accident. They stared at me blankly and we moved on. 

I think this kind of thing happens to Thomas in our gospel reading for this Sunday. Thomas gets this horrible nickname of “doubting Thomas” simply because he wasn’t present when Jesus appeared the first time. He didn’t purposefully try to miss out, but he did. He just didn’t do the thing he could have to not have missed the resurrected Jesus. 

However, I think this missing out moment has even deeper meaning than a way I teach my kids not to spill glasses. In this story we see that Jesus was there. Jesus was present right at the moment that everyone thought it had gone. Jesus wasn’t absent from his friends and followers. It was Thomas who was gone. When we feel far from Jesus, it isn’t that he leaves us, it much more likely that it is us who have left him. 

Also, Thomas missed Jesus when he was away from the community of Christians. The same is true for us in a certain sense. When we are separated from our Church, we can miss seeing Jesus. 

I recognize that is a horrible thing to name in the midst of social distancing and the stay-at-home order that are all experiencing. The reality is that we are physically separated from each other, but we can be spiritually united. What we can do, is what we can do. We must do things on purpose to avoid an accidental separation from the Church and from Jesus. We must be Christians, we must be the Church on purpose. 

Live It: Reach out to a friend you haven’t connected with in the last month. Pray for them then give them a text message or phone call to connect. Maybe ask them “Is there anything I can pray for you on your behalf?” or just go ahead and offer to pray with them on the phone. See what happens.

Sunday readings for April 19th, 2020.

Empty Tombs.

GoodWord.April202012.jpg

If I close my eyes, I can clearly see the mausoleum where my mom is buried. No matter what time of year it is, I always see it as summer. Her tomb is on the outside of the building facing a large open field and a small wood and creek beyond. The face of her tomb is a beautiful marble or some other stone. 

My dad always does a good job keeping a small floral arrangement that matches the season in the flower vase that sits on the front of her tomb. Of course when I imagine it, it is always the same floral arrangement. In my mind’s eye, it is the one we placed on her tomb the day we placed her remains inside. I would say that I will always see those same flowers on my mothers tomb, but I don’t believe that. 

What I do believe is that there will come a time when those flowers will no longer be necessary. There will come a time when the nameplate on the front of the tomb will be inaccurate. There will come a time when my mom no longer lays in that tomb. I believe Jesus Christ will raise my mom from the dead. I believe at sometime in the future her tomb will be empty just like Jesus’ tomb. 

We are getting ready to celebrate Easter this Sunday when we stand and proclaim that death is not the end. On Easter we ardently proclaim from the rooftops that Jesus has risen from the dead and death is conquered. Mary of Magdala and the Disciples found an empty tomb, and in short order they are going to find a resurrected Lord. Alleluia! 

But the good news doesn’t end there. Yes, Jesus’ tomb was and is empty. Jesus is raised from the dead. Scripture tells us that he is just the first of those who will be raised. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that when we die, we too will be raised. Praise be to God!

St. Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ…”

Yes I when I close my eyes, I can see how my mom’s tomb is today. When Jesus comes again, her tomb will be empty just as all of ours will be by the grace of God. 

Live It: On Easter Sunday go outside and say out loud (shout, if you dare), “Alleluia! The tomb is empty! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!” 

Sunday Readings for April 12th, 2020.

That’s Heavy.

GoodWord.April5.jpg

In the cinema classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses the 1980’s slang term “heavy” to describe the hi jinx he has unleashed with his unplanned trip to 1955. His friend Doc Brown responds by saying, “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

This is funny not only because of the mash up of 1955 and 1985, but also because Doc seems clueless to the meaning of the word “heavy” in this context and we the audience know exactly what Marty means. We know because the feeling of heaviness isn’t just 1980’s slang.  

We all know when a situation is heavy. We all know when we hear a story or statement that weighs upon us. We can feel it when we walk into a room and sense a heaviness among those already presence. 

On Monday I read the final three paragraphs of the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel at a Bible Study (online) in preparation for this coming Sunday. When I read about Jesus crucifixion and death you could feel the heaviness in the group. When we heard of Jesus’ suffering one could sense how heavy we all felt. When Jesus cries out and breaths his last, we paused, and we could feel the weight of this reality upon us. 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and Catholic Churches everywhere will read the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel. Granted it will be proclaimed to an online audience or to empty Churches in many places in the world. More than ever, it seems we know what it means to feel that somber weight of death and rejection. 

Another reality remains. While we may know what a heavy situation feels like, our God, the source of Light and of all creation, knows what our heaviness feels like. Jesus dying on the cross isn’t just about his suffering, but about ours as well. We have a God who knows what it is like to be us. We have a God who loves us so much that he wouldn’t let us persist in suffering without changing the story. In fact, he came to save us from suffering and death. Jesus died on the cross to conquer death forever. 

This week when you feel heavy, when the weight of the world falls on your shoulders, remember that you don’t bear the weight alone. Remember Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

LIVE IT: Let God give you rest. If it means an extra nap or a vigorous walk, when you feel light or rested, thank God for his gift to you. 

Read for your self: Sunday Readings for April 5th, 2020.