Mary had it right.

December 24th Sunday Readingsangelico_annunciation

Life is complicated. Whether it is family or work or buying mustard, it seems like our daily decisions get more and more complicated each year. It can feel like the whole world is out to fool us out of our time or treasure. We’re constantly told that if we don’t do this or that, we are going to mess up our lives and miss out on being, owning, or having the best.

In the gospel this Sunday Mary shows us that faith is simple. Having faith is as simple as saying yes to God. When God asks something of us, we just say yes. It really isn’t more complicated than that. When we say no and turn away, we head down the road to unhappiness and death. When we say yes to God, we walk down the path of joy and fulfillment. Simple.

Mary doesn’t promise us it will be easy. In fact, to say yes to God is to love and to love is to sacrifice. Mary’s own life is an example of this truth. Mary watched her own son suffer and die, but her yes changed the world forever.

Mary didn’t just say yes to God with her words to Gabriel that are recorded in our gospel. Mary’s life was a yes. She eagerly strived, in her own way, to say yes to God. Saying yes to God isn’t just something we say; it is something we do.

How do we know what God is asking of us? Read scripture, pray daily, and go to Mass. What do we do when we mess up? Go to confession and give God another shot.

It’s not more complicated than that.

LIVE IT: Between today and Christ, say yes to God in prayer and ask God to show you how you can say yes with your life.

Rejoice! on purpose.

December 17th Sunday Readings.

“Rejoice always!” This Sunday we will hear this call to rejoice from St. Paul. The Churchjared-sluyter-342881 calls this Sunday Gaudate, the priests and deacons wear rose colored vestments, and we are reminded to Rejoice!

I know exactly what this looks like in children. I know what a little kid who is rejoicing looks like. Jumping up and down, boisterously shouting, maybe even fist pumps and high fives. Sometimes children even just sit and stare in unbelief in a stunned zombie like trance, overcome with joy.

While we know what it means to rejoice as a child, I think it is harder to judge what it looks like to rejoice as an adult. Sure, when our alma mater scores on the final drive to upset a hated rival, adults will jump and holler. On the day of a wedding adults will dance and raise glasses, but these are all culturally expected behaviors.

What does it look like when an adult spontaneously rejoices? I’m not sure I know the answer. But what I do know is that we have a whole host of behaviors that we do this time of year that I think are supposed to be the actions of rejoicing that seem to be so far divorced from their reasons that we forget they are actions of rejoicing all together.

As we rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent in anticipation of Christmas, what are we up to? We bake cookies, we decorate, we prepare a large meal, we exchange gifts, we see family and friends socially, we send cards, and more. Why? For me, sometimes, these actions become an end in and of themselves. We bake cookies because they are delicious and we always have. We put up a tree and decorate because we did it last year. We roast a silly amount of meat and buy much wine because people are coming over.

The reality for the Christian is that we bake, decorate, and feast because our Lord Jesus Christ has been born in Bethlehem. We rejoice because Jesus has become human. Jesus has become human to be close to us so that we can be close to God. Jesus has be born to heal, restore, and save us from death forever.

Nostalgia, pleasure, and habit aren’t good enough reasons to rejoice.

When those are our reasons for rejoicing, our joy ultimately falls flat. However, when we rejoice because the God of the universe love us so much that he puts our lives before his, then we rejoice for a right and justified reason. The reason for our celebration is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind! God is born to us!

Live It: Say a prayer of thanks when you serve the big meal, open gifts, or pour a glass of wine this Christmas. When rejoicing say, “Because of Jesus!”

Crooked Path

December 10th Sunday Readings.

A couple years ago I took my family camping in a state park here in Minnesota thatgreg-duprat-381998 overlooks the Mississippi River. On Saturday morning the whole family decided to take a hike down to the river’s edge. We filled water bottles, tied our shoes tight, and headed down the 200 foot bluff face trail.

After a half hour of playing in the water and collecting driftwood, we decided to head back. That is the moment my children realized those who hiked down, must hike up. Trying to climb straight up the side of the bluff would have been impossible. Instead, the path was a series of switchbacks that took the height of the bluff and spread it out over a longer distance. The way the path was designed made the bluff easier to climb.

Both in our gospel and the first reading from Isaiah, we heard the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” Just like the path on the bluff was changed to make it passible, John the Baptist and Isaiah ask us to make the path to our hearts passible for Jesus.

This time of year more than almost any other time, it can feel like there are many obstacles to Jesus entering more deeply into my life. Whether those obstacles are a product of the lives we lead, our current culture, or our own decisions, the call is to remove those obstacles. Some of these obstacles may feel as difficult as moving a mountain or filling in a valley. The reality is that with God’s help, no obstacle is permanent. No valley too deep, no mountain too large, nothing stands in the way of God’s desire to be near to you.

Whatever is in our past and whatever is our present, there are actions we can take to make straight the path for Jesus to come more completely, fully, deeply into our hearts. Hidden within advent are behaviors that help us straighten paths. It’s really this simple. On a daily basis, light a candle (Advent Wreath), turn down your lights, turn off or put away all screens, and sit in total silence. Remove the obstacle of noice and stimulus and simply let God in.

LIVE IT: Commit to 10 minutes of silence every day for the next week.

Zoned Out.

December 3rd Sunday Readings.

Do you zone out easily? To zone out is to kind of look off in the distance and think noah-silliman-136622random thoughts that don’t have much bearing on what is presently happening before you. Some people zone out in meetings or conversations or class. But when happens when the conversation partner, boss, or teacher catch us zoned out? Not good.

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to be watchful and alert. Jesus invites them to be like servants who stay awake and watch, waiting for their master to return from a long journey. He goes on to warn them against the dangers of being caught asleep and unprepared. In other words, he asks his disciple not to spiritually zone out.

What does it mean to spiritual zone out? I’m not talking about zoning out during Mass, though we should work against that too, no I am talking about zoning out during the most important and impactful moments of life. I think it is easy to become the kind of people who start zoning out during boring or lifeless or even painful moments, but then start to get so good at zoning out that we start doing it during the fun, exciting, and joyful moments too. We sometimes get so good at avoiding pain by zoning out that we never truly feel joy or love because we sleepwalk through those moments too.

Advent is the season of waking up. This weekend starts the process of becoming awake and aware and watching for the abundant gifts God has in store for us. But the key is to wake up and watch. Whether you zone out independently or by mindlessly scrolling through your phone, now is the time to wake up, to watch, to breath deeply of God’s good gift of life.

Live it: Wake up by actually waking up. Don’t hit your snooze at all this week. Plan on leaping out of bed and taking 5 deep breaths right away. If that means you are up 9 minutes early, spend those 9 minutes in prayer asking God to spiritually wake you up.

I didn’t know.

November 26th Sunday Readings.

As humans we are aware of so many things. Our senses take in so much information thatMonkeys we ignore or process involuntarily most of it. We are inundated with information about our immediate environment. Through our devices, we take in more information about our world than ever before. We know so much.

Since we know so much, we can be fooled into thinking that we know all or most of what is going on around us. We can come away with the perception that we are 100% aware of our own motivations and actions, and the outcomes of those actions. We can erroneously believe we know the who, how, what, and why of everything we do.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus explains to his disciples that at the end of time the Son of Man will separate those who loved God from those who didn’t love God. The Son of Man will be able to tell who loves God by how they treat the least in our world.

What was interesting to me was that neither the sheep or the goats knew Jesus was present in the least. The sheep loved the least without being aware that they were serving the God of the Universe while doing so. The goats didn’t realize they were ignoring their Savior when they ignored the least.

At the end of the day, anyone will be good when it profits them. All will do good for the other when it ultimately benefits themselves. But that is what goats are willing to do.

Sheep love and serve when it is of no benefit to themselves. Sheep love the least who have no way to pay back what they receive. Sheep love like Jesus. Sheep love Jesus whether they know it or not.

Live It: Make a plan to help someone in the next 7 days who can’t help you back.

Immediately.

November 19th Sunday Readings.

Are you a procrastinator? I’ll admit it, there is nothing quite like a deadline to help me procrastination.jpgcomplete my work. Part of the reason is that I like to keep my options open when it comes to tasks. What if new information comes and I’ve already done? I know that procrastination has got me in trouble more than once. Are you a procrastinator? Has procrastination ever gotten you in trouble?

In the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable about a Master and three servants. The Master gives an obscene amount of money to each servant while he is away. When the Master returned two of the guys have doubled their money, while the third servant has simply hidden the cash and hoped for the best. The Master praises the first two servants while the third servant is called wicked and lazy and is thrown out of the house and into the darkness.

The key to this reading for me is one word – immediately. When the Master gives the money to his servants and goes away Jesus says in the parable that, “Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two.”

The servants who get to share in the Master’s joy don’t wait. They don’t hesitate. They don’t put off their work until tomorrow or until they feel like it or until the circumstances are better or until they get invited or until….you fill in the rest.

If we wait or hesitate we may not have time to double our money. If we wait to invest spiritually in our life or our spouse or our children, we may not have enough time for our efforts to be fruitful. If we procrastinate working with the great gift of our life that God has given us, we may not be able to share in the joy we could have if we work not.

What’s the lesson? Don’t wait! Don’t wait until tomorrow to pray, go to Confession, give forgiveness, or serve someone else. Go, now!

Live It: Take 5 minutes (right now!) to decide what can you do in the next 24 hours to grow your faith, grow closer to Jesus. Then make a plan to do it in the next 24 hours.

What we can’t share.

November 12th Sunday Readings.

What is the first lesson most of us were taught when we began school? Share. Share yourshared toys with someone who wants to play with them. Share your lunch with a kid who is still hungry. Share your time, attention, joy, good news, and yourself with those who need those things. Share.

So when Jesus tells us a parable where the good guys don’t share, it can be a little unnerving. In the gospel this weekend the wise virgins, the hero of our story, don’t share their oil with the foolish virgins who don’t bring enough with them. How rude, right?  Why would Jesus tell the parable this way?

We need to remember that this story Jesus tells is a parable, a meaningful metaphor or allegory. Often when Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast, he is really talking about heaven.

In this particular metaphor the wise virgins don’t share because they can’t. They can’t share because the oil represents their love for the groom. The oil represents their willingness to prepare and go above and beyond in support of the groom. The foolish virgins did the bare minimum when it came to their duty, but the wise virgins did more. The wise virgins acted out of love, not fear in preparing to serve the groom.

Love is a choice each of us make. The wise virgins couldn’t make that decision for the foolish virgins. When the foolish virgins try and enter the dinner after the doors are shut the groom doesn’t say, “You weren’t there when I needed you,” or “why didn’t bring extra oil.” No, instead he says, “I don’t know you.” Entrance into the wedding feast is about knowing, loving, and serving the bridegroom.

When we are in love we don’t count the cost. When we love well, we don’t do the littlest we are able. In fact, when we love well, we don’t even ask the question, “How little can I do and still be okay?”

If we want to go to heaven, we won’t get there doing the bare minimum. We won’t get there doing just enough. If we want to go to heaven, we will only get their by love, by God’s love and our loving response.

LIVE IT: Pray this fantastic prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola for generosity.

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for reward

save that of knowing that I do your will.