How to get ready for Christmas

The lights are lit. The tree is up. Gifts are being purchased. Decorations in various shades of green and red are festively strewn around the house. Cookies are being planned. Meal menus are being discussed. Airline tickets are purchased for travel to relatives homes. Candle #2 is ready for lighting on the Advent wreath. Advent calendars are slowly being emptied of the chocolates (and in my household beauty supples #dadofdaughters).

Needless to say, preparations are underway for Christmas. Christmas is a big deal. Even our secular culture makes a big deal about his high holy day. There is a lot for which to get ready. By the time it is all said and done we will probably spend hours, maybe days or weeks, preparing for how we celebrate Christmas. That isn’t a bad thing. 

In the gospel this Sunday it says that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then he went on to quote the prophet Isaiah extorting the listener to prepare the way of the Lord. The gospel is seeking to convey that the manner by which we prepare for the coming of our Lord is the forgiveness of sins. 

In other words the way to straighten the path, to bring mountains low, fill in valleys, and smooth rough roads is to seek forgiveness for our sins. God can do anything and overcome any obstacle, but our road to God is made substantially easier if we seek forgiveness for the ways we have sinned against God and others. If we want Jesus near to us this Christmas, the way is to be near to him by seeking forgiveness from him for our sins. 

While twinkle lights, indoor trees, stockings, and cookies may be a way to prepare to celebrate the coming Christmas, we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ by seeking forgiveness. You want to give God a straight shot to your heart? You want to make your path towards heaven easier? Go to Confession this Advent. Prepare the way for the Lord by seeking forgiveness. 

Live It: Double challenge this week. 1) Go to confession. Here are the times at HNOJ for my fellow parishioners. Find your local Catholic Church and go to Confession. 2) Offer forgiveness to someone in your life. Do this quickly and without making a big deal out of it. Make a simple offering of forgiveness and mean it. I promise it will straighten some things out.

Sunday Readings for December 5th.

When it’s dark

Monday morning everyone seemed off. It was the Monday after the end of Daylight Savings Time, but it wasn’t just that. November has arrived in full dreariness in MN. The autumnal brilliance of colorful leaves is done. The last warm day is giving way to cold and child. Yet we seem far from the beauty and fun of significant snow accumulations. The world is dying, the news isn’t getting any better, and all is blah. Some in the church I work in are mourning for significantly more intense reasons than the weather. It seems death is all around. 

The readings this Sunday match this feeling. In the first reading from Daniel we hear, “It will be time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.” In the gospel Jesus says, “In those days after the great tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the power in the heavens will be shaken.” Dark stuff. 

Then Jesus preaches, “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds.’” Just when all hope is lost. Just when the very sun moon and stars are collapsing around us. Just when death seems a forgone conclusion. Jesus comes and saves. 

In this time of year and, let’s be honest, ALL of the last two years, when death, destruction, and failure seem to be winning, Jesus reminds us that a savior is coming. We are not left alone to contend with this darkness by ourselves. 

Jesus is our light. Jesus is our life. Jesus is the answer to the question of Death. Jesus is the remedy to the illness of sin and death. When the world is dark and broken, Jesus is the light and the healer. 

Live It: If you are feeling dark, seek the light. Go directly to Jesus. Go for a walk outside no matter how cold it is. Go seek out his light on earth, the Church. (I know the Church is full of sinners and we make mistakes, but the Church always seeks to be a light in the darkness. Contact your local church and explain why you are seeking them out. You may be surprised the light you find.)

Sunday Readings for November 14, 2021.

Careful where you sit

Whenever I have gone to a baseball game or a play or some other spectacle, my dad, without fail, would comment on our seats. If our seats are good, he will lavish praise upon on view and how close we are to the field. If they aren’t so good he will say, “Well, every seat inside the stadium/theater is better than every seat outside.”

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus preaches about pride and money. He seeks to teach us about generosity and self-gift. Jesus is seeking to show us that what we give God is judged on what it costs us not on how much it is. An important lesson. But I think there is another thing to learn in the story as well.

When explaining to his disciples that they should be wary of the Scribes behavior he mentions the Scribe’s long robs, their devouring of widow’s houses, and lengthy prayers. He also mentions that Scribes often sit in a seat of honor in the synagogue and in places of honor at banquets. 

Immediately after this condemnation of the Scribes’ behavior, the story shifts and the gospel says, “Jesus sat down opposite the treasury…” I don’t believe this is an accident. Jesus uses the seat location choice of the Scribes to demonstrate their pride and then Jesus demonstrates his humility by sitting across from the treasury in the Temple. Jesus’ proper place to sit is inside the Temple, but instead he chooses to sit across from he treasury. 

Jesus doesn’t just teach us via words and admonitions about how we should behave, but he also demonstrates it and acts it out himself. This is one of the reasons that following Jesus isn’t just a thing of words. 

Within the master and disciple relationship, masters teach and act and disciples listen and mirror that behavior. The same is true for the disciples of Jesus. They not only listen to his teaching the seek to emulate his behavior. Disciples do this until they naturally behave as the master would. This is the life of a disciple of Jesus.

What does this mean for us? First we are to listen to the teaching of Jesus. We do this by reading Scripture and listening to those whom he has put in places of authority (the Church). Then we seek to emulate his behavior. We seek to do what Jesus would do. 

Live It: Change where you sit at the dinner table this week. What happens in you? What reaction does it get from others? Spend some time thinking and praying about the answers to both questions. 

Sunday Readings for November 7, 2021

Delayed Gratification and Heaven

Delayed gratification is hard. Maybe you are a more evolved creature, but for me, I struggle to wait for my reward. I learned about delayed gratification when I took a psychology class in which we watched a video where 6 and 7 year olds were offered 1 marshmallow now or 2 marshmallows if they could wait 20 minutes. The researcher then left the child in a room with a single marshmallow. If the kid lasted 20 minutes, they got 2. Most did not. Watching kids do mental (and sometimes physical) gymnastics in order to avoid being tempted by the marshmallow in front of them was quite entertaining. 

Most people think that being a person of faith, a religious person, a church person is an exercise in delayed gratification. In someways they are right. We do await eternal glory and perfect joy and peace in God’s presence forever. I mean heaven is better than this mess, right?

However, to think that being a person of faith means that all the rewards will only come in the afterlife isn’t what Jesus taught or what we believe. 

The gospel story this Sunday is Jesus preaching the Beatitudes. We are all familiar with these even if we don’t fully understand or live them. In each beatitude Jesus mentions a particular attitude or way of suffering and then explains how people with that attitude or affliction will be blessed. For example the second beatitude in Matthew’s gospel says, “Blessed are they who morn, for they will be comforted.” And indeed beatitudes 2-6 and 8 are written in the future tense. Do this and that will happen. 

The promises in Beatitudes 1 and 7 are written in the present tense. In other words, if you are or do this, then you have this NOW! The reward is the same in these two Beatitudes – The kingdom of heaven. What is Jesus trying to say?

Heaven can’t wait. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus brought with him the beginning of the Kingdom of heaven. Heaven has come and is yet to come. Jesus is trying to say that we can begin to experience the joys and delights of heaven now. Because Jesus came to earth, died and rose, we can experience a taste of heaven in this life. We can live the good life, not because everything is perfect and all of our desires are perfectly met, but because we can be in intimate relationship with God now. Jesus came to rescue us from death and sin and to bridge the divide we created through our sin. Jesus opens the gates of heaven for us even here on earth. 

In heaven we will be perfectly united in perfect communion with the perfect Trinity. And we don’t have to wait until then to begin to experience that perfect joy. Get close to God, be a saint and you can begin to experience heaven on earth. 

Live it: DON’T WAIT! Stop whatever you are doing (reading?) and say this prayer, “Jesus I want to be near to you. Jesus I want heaven. Jesus I want to be a saint. Help me.”

Not what I thought you meant.

Have you ever had two people say the exact same thing, but, in fact, they are talking about completely different things? The best example from my life is the word, “soon.” One time in particular we were driving home and one of my children had to go potty. My wife said, “Just hold it if you can because we will be home soon.” I was flabbergasted, we were no less than 15 minutes away from home. Miles away and my wife still used the word “soon” in regards to when we would be home.

So I asked her (I know, a mistake), what she thought was too long for something to be soon. She saw through my gambit and accused me of attacking her use of the word. She wasn’t wrong. For me, soon is like right around the corner or just a couple minutes. The kids agreed and now they ask, “Is it “mom soon” or “dad soon”? When we tell them something is soon. Smart kids. 

Same word, different meanings. You get what I’m saying. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear of a similar “same words, different meaning” moment. James and John ask if they can be made leaders in Jesus’ kingdom. They want to sit at Jesus’ left and right. They literally want to be Jesus’ right (and left) hand man. Jesus asks in reply, “Are you sure you can do this?” He asks specifically if they think they can drink of the same cup and receive the same baptism as he is about to receive. Of course, they say yes.

What they are saying yes to, in their minds, is the cup of an earthy king – choice wine in abundance. The baptism they anticipate is the like the Roman baths of Herod – luxurious places of comfort. 

What Jesus means by cup is the cup of his Passion. What Jesus means by his baptism is the baptism in his own blood on the cross. While James and John want leadership in an earthly way with comfort and abundance, Jesus means leadership in the heavenly kingdom which will take suffering and total self gift. This is a kingdom they can’t imagine. 

Jesus goes on to talk about servant leadership and what means to lead in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, leaders lead on behalf of and to benefit the people. More often than not earthly leadership benefits the leaders and not the people. Servant leadership, heavenly leadership takes the total gift of self from the leader on behalf of the people. Leaders in the Kingdom of God serve the people.

When we are at our best we adhere our leadership to this model. Whether it is at work, in our families, or even amongst our friends, when we are servant leaders we glorify God. When the Church is at her best, our bishops and priests act as selfless servant leaders. We all know what happens when they don’t. When we are in positions of leadership, let’s do it as servant leaders.

LIVE IT: Do one of the following two options: 1) Return a misplaced shopping cart either to the store or a cart corral (one that isn’t yours) OR 2) Pick up a piece of trash off a the floor somewhere it isn’t your job to clean. When you do one of these things, say a prayer offering up that act to God and asking to be made a better servant leader. 

Justice for All (as long as it’s not me).

Justice is sweet. When I am driving down the highway and someone cuts me off or blows past me driving erratically with no concern for their speed or safety, it is pretty awesome when, a couple miles down the road, I see them pulled over by law enforcement. We all love justice when it is happening to someone else. We want people to get what they deserve. 

When it is us, well, we love mercy. We desire leniency. We want to scoot by and maybe even get a free pass. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Where I work and the community I live in is a place of wealth. Our neighborhoods our comfortable, our schools are excellent, and we have an abundance of natural beauty. Targets and coffee shops on every corner – you get the idea.

When Jesus says it is difficult for those with wealth to go to heaven, he is talking about us. 

This statement is radical and, in the first century, was subversive. Jesus was saying those who have wealth aren’t blessed but, in fact, will have trouble being close to God. That is the exact opposite of the first century notion of blessedness. In the first century mind, those with financial, physical, familial health are the blessed. Those who are poor, sick, and broken are cursed. Whether we want to believe it or not, we certainly behave the same way today. The “haves” are blessed, the “have nots” are cursed. 

Jesus contradicts this conventional thought. The disciples were shocked and go on to ask if even the most well off struggle to get into heaven, who can make it? This is when Jesus drops truth that is both hard to hear and hopeful. No one can earn heaven. No one is good enough. No one can make it on their own. BUT for God nothing is impossible. 

This is what takes this message about justice and makes it a message about mercy. While no one is worthy of salvation, God can overcome the impossible and bring us to heaven with him forever. Wow, this is awesome and radical. You aren’t good enough and God still wants you. You can’t earn heaven, but Jesus would die to get you there.

LIVE IT: While we can’t earn heaven, when we try to get close to Jesus by sacrificing things of this world, Jesus tells us we will be rewarded. Make a small sacrifice this week (one cold shower, no phone use one day, no shopping on Sunday, whatever you want), and ofter that sacrifice up to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 10, 2021.

Almost spilled milk.

My three and half year-old son took the gallon of milk out of the fridge all by himself the other day. His plan was to pour himself a large glass of milk and savor every drop. The kid loves milk. The only problem is that the gallon of milk is about 30% of his body weight. After he successfully got it out of the fridge door, he couldn’t lift it, move it. He just dropped it on the ground and finally decided he needed help. 

He is at that age where he has decided he is a “big boy” and can do anything. Thus, he tries to do everything with various levels of success. I can’t judge him too hard for this as I think every single adult does this same thing at times. Let me explain. 

In the gospel Jesus is teaching about marriage, divorce, and, ultimately, authority. The Pharisees were asking if divorce is lawful. Jesus responds that it is not because what God has joined, humans cannot separate. 

I think we often fall into thinking that we have final authority. What we says goes. ”It’s my life.” It’s my beliefs.” “Its my body.” Fill in your favorite way to make the same statement – I’m in charge and there is no one in authority over me. Some people believe this. Some people think this statement is objectively wrong. Unfortunately, we all live like we believe it at times. 

No matter what we believe about this statement, we all encounter moments when we act like we are the ultimate authority in the universe. Sometimes we act as if the whole of existence depends upon us. 

The truth is that God is God and we are not. God is the author of truth, not us. The sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t just eating a pomegranate (not an apple, FYI). Their sin was disobeying God by trying to be the the author of truth. Their sin was trying to become God, to do God’s job instead of being a fully alive human being. 

When we try to write our own truth, we engage in the same sin as Adam and Eve. When we seek to be God, we aren’t being the beloved son and daughter of God that we were made to be. No matter how hard we try or how it may look, we aren’t the author of truth. That is a good thing.

LIVE IT: If we are going to believe that God is author of truth, we should read his book. Read just chapter 10 from Mark’s Gospel. It’s not long, but it is good. Find it here. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 3, 2021.

Whatever it takes.

Have you ever pulled an all nighter? For me it was only a handful of times in college (okay, and once or twice since). I would have a major paper due for a class. I would think I was farther along in the writing process the week before, but at about 11:30 p.m. I would discover I still had a long way to go before the paper was done. 

For me, 99% of the time all nighters happened because of poor planning or procrastination. However, some of the time life is such that an all nighter is just the thing that needs to happen to get the job done. Sometimes an all nighter is necessary. 

Doing what needs to be done is what Jesus is preaching about in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says if a hand or an eye causes you to sin, remove the eye or the hand. It is better to be maimed than to go to hell with your appendages in tact.

Of course, this seems crazy to us. I think it was meant to seem over the top to whomever heard it in the first place. Jesus is seeking to demonstrate that heaven is worth doing whatever it takes to spend eternity there. Jesus is seeking to show us that hell, separation from God, is so wretched that each of us must do what is necessary to avoid it. 

I think many people operate with this guiding question, “What can I get away with and still get into heaven?” This ultimately isn’t helpful. When we think of our faith as a loving relationship, this question does not give anyone the warm fuzzies. What is the least I can do and still be in love? Yuck. 

Rather this gospel invites us to think in the affirmative. What am I willing to do to go to heaven? What are you willing to do to love well?

Live It: I am going to take a wild guess and say if there was one appendage that you could cut off in order for you to become more holy it would probably be your cell phone. At least that is me. The challenge this week is a big one. Put your cell phone away for a week. Sure, carry it around for emergencies and calls/texts, but make a commitment for one week, to not search the internet, check out your fav apps, or look at social media. What are you willing to do for love, for heaven?

I bet you think you are right.

A friend of mine likes to say, “I’m wrong more often than I am right. But at least I am right more often than everyone else.” I can’t figure out if he is being humble or prideful. Either way it shows the basic human desire to be right. 

No one likes to be wrong. Especially when we are put in a position where we disagree with someone else. No, we want to be right and to show that the other person is wrong. There must be some survival of the fittest stuff going on there. 

In the gospel this weekend, Peter is about as right as person can be. Jesus asks his followers who they think he is. Peter boldly answers that Jesus is the Christ. Wow. He couldn’t be more right. It took a lot of guts to answer at all and much more to call Jesus the chosen savior of humankind. 

Jesus explains that he will have to suffer, be reject, and killed all by the people he is trying to save. Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus for saying these things. What does Jesus do? He turns right back around and denounces Peter in front of everyone by saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but has human beings do.” Yikes. Jesus says that Peter is so much of an obstacle to accomplish the Jesus’ mission, it is as if Peter is Satan. Rough. No one wants to be that wrong about anything. 

When it comes to being wright or wrong, I think the important thing to remember is that we don’t determine what is right and wrong. We are not the arbiters of truth. The gospel shows that it is Jesus who determines what is right and wrong.

Too often we try and focus on WHO is right and WHO is wrong. This takes truth and makes it subjective to the people involved. 

God is the one and only author of truth. If we want to be holy and happy, then we must submit to the reality that only God determines truth. 

Live It: Open your Bible and read John 8:31-32 ten times in a row. Read slowly and purposefully. Extra credit if you read it out loud. 

Don’t have a Bible? You can find John 8:31-32 here.

Sunday Readings for September 12, 2021.

Hi. I’m Chris and I’m a…

At the center of the dimly lit Church basement a group of flimsy folding chairs were arranged in a circle. Each one was filled with someone who appeared to be happy to be there. It wasn’t so much the space that made these individuals happy, but the fact that they were anywhere with other people. I was new. It was my first time attending this group. 

I was called upon and quickly stood, looked each and every one of the others in the eye and then said, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m an Extrovert.” Instantly everyone sprang up to meet me, no longer restricted by the social convention of circled chairs. I felt totally at home with a group of strangers. The small talk was exceptional

Okay okay, Extroverts Anonymous doesn’t exist. I googled it and could only find a covid pandemic short film and a twitter account. But if there was an Extroverts Anonymous, you could imagine that the meetings would never really start or end because everyone was too busy chatting. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a deaf and mute man with a speech impediment. However this healing story is different than many of the other healing stories in the gospel. Typically Jesus heals in public. This Sunday we hear, “He (Jesus) took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Why?

I think it shows that Jesus knows exactly the kind of healing and ministry each of us needs. While many would be fine to be healed in front of everyone, clearly Jesus perfectly adjusted his ministry to the needs of the man. 

Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, whether you get your energy from being alone or being with other people, all of us benefit from going off alone with Jesus.  Even when it is exhausting to be alone, the spiritual benefit of one on one time with Jesus outweighs any other cost. There is a reason God kept choosing shepherds to lead his people. Being alone with just the Lord and wide open spaces changes us and grows an intimate relationship with our Lord.

Live It:
Get some alone time with Jesus this week. Whether it is 20 minutes all at once or it is 5 minutes every day for this week. Find some time to step away and be alone with Jesus. (Even if you’re an extrovert)