Family Resemblance

October 22 Sunday Readings.

The other day my parents were in town and were picking my youngest daughter up from2017-america-the-beautiful-quarters-coin-proof-obverse-768x768 Church. While we were all sitting together, a coworker of mine walked by who didn’t know my parents. After being introduced, they said,”Well of course your Chris’ parents. I can see the resemblance.”

Who do you resemble? I am not asking which of your parents or siblings or even celebrity do you look like (although the celebrity question is fun). What I mean to ask is who is it that you have modeled your life after? In other words, finish the sentence: I try to live like _____________. I am going to venture a guess that if you really thought about it, you could name a person or maybe a couple that you model your life after.

In our gospel this Sunday, Jesus is asked about paying taxes to the Romans. If he says the tax is lawful, he is essentially a supporter of the Romans and betraying his own people. If he says don’t pay the tax, well then he is fomenting a rebellion against Rome. Either way, he gets the answer wrong for some group. But Jesus avoids the question entirely, never actually answering if the tax is lawful, by telling his followers to pay the tax because it is Caesar’s face is on the coins. But then Jesus takes it a step further and tells all to give back to God what has his image.

At the point of creation of humanity described in the book of Genesis it says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Who do we look like? God. We are literally made in the image and likeness of God. And because of that what do we owe God? Our entire selves. We owe God everything.

How do we do that? How do we give back to God what is his? I think this is a lifelong process. There is no easy answer or simple instructions. However, it starts with an authentic prayer of surrender. It starts by finding a quiet moment and soberly, simple praying, “God, I give you my life. I give you my failures and my successes. I give you good and my bad. I give it all to you.” (or something like that.)

The next step is the part that will take the rest of your life. Then we conform our life to Jesus. We seek to model our life to the life of Jesus. We try to be more and more like Jesus every day. In other words, we try to look more like Jesus each day. As much as if you look at a quarter and see George Washington’s face, when people look at our lives, they should see Jesus.

LIVE IT: Surrender your life to God. Start by praying the simple prayer you see above. Second try and change some aspect of your life to look more like Jesus.

Tuxedos and Rejection

October 15th Sunday Readings.

MW40_341R_10_CALVIN_KLEIN_FORMAL_MAINHave you ever been radically improperly dressed for an event? On my wedding day, my groomsmen and I arrived early to prepare for pictures before the wedding ceremony. One of my groomsman Joe, already had his tuxedo pants and dress shirt on when he pulled his rented jacket from the hanging bag. Instead of a jet black jacket matching the rest of ours, Joe held a marbled grey jacket with strange wavy black pinstripes. Hideous.

Miraculously the problem was solved when new jacket (which still didn’t 100% match, but at least was black) was driven to the church by the tuxedo rental company.

I don’t know what we would have done if there had not been a black jacket for Joe. We contemplated having Joe just go without a jacket. We talked about all the groomsmen not wearing jackets (no bad ideas in brainstorming). What we never talked about was Joe not being in the wedding because he didn’t have the right jacket.

Yet in the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable of King who after much effort in getting attendees to his son’s wedding banquet, kicks a man out for wearing the wrong clothes. It seems like a strange story for Jesus to tell. I don’t know about you, but it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I read this week that the wedding garment that Jesus describes in the parable was a metaphor for a righteous life. That the reason the wedding guest was excused from the wedding was not because he was improperly dressed, but because, after saying yes to the wedding feast, he didn’t change his life to conform to what was needed to participate.

Another way to interpret this parable is the idea that a King or wealthy individual throwing a huge wedding party would provide wedding garments for their guests. If someone showed up without the provided garment, it was a rejection of the hospitality of the King. Instead of the King rejecting the wedding guest for his clothes, it was actually the guest who was rejecting the hospitality of the King!
In other words, all are welcome to follow Jesus. All are invited to make the radical decision to make Jesus the Lord of one’s life. But just saying those words isn’t enough. The decision to follow Jesus has never been a one time thing. We must not only say yes to Jesus with our words; we must say yes to Jesus with our lives.

To that end, following Jesus is something, I hope, by God’s grace, we can get better at. During our lives we can learn to conform each decision, each action to the life and will of Jesus.

This, for me, is such good news. Yes it is challenging to think that I have to keep working on being a better follower of Jesus. But the good news is that I get to keep working on it. Tomorrow I can better than today when it comes to following Jesus.

I know Jesus has called me to follow him. I just hope that when my time comes, I am humble enough to accept the wedding garment he offers me.

Live it: Dress in some different way this week and do it as way to demonstrate your willingness to grow in your faith and grow closer to Jesus. If someone asked you why you are dressed differently, answer honestly.

Who’s the Boss?

October 8th Sunday Readings.

When I was 23 years old I was hired to lead a group of adults in doing youth ministryboss with and for high school teenagers. Every adult was older than me and had more experience in parish life and youth ministry, but I was in charge.

Having taken over this ministry, one of the first things I had to do was take teens to a conference out of state. The permission forms needed to be reworked and I was asked to add information about dress code and behavior. Being the early 2000s the dress code clause needed to be specific and I made it so (think Brittany and N’sync).

The conference came around and most of the group, teens and adults, had gathered in our parish’s gathering space waiting to depart for the conference. The group suddenly became quiet as the doors opened and one of my key volunteers walked in. Art was in his early 60s, 6’ 2” and 300+ lbs. He was wearing a white shirt that he had cut the bottom 10 inches off of, exposing the bottom half of his ample belly. A clear and certain violation of my newly minted “No Midriffs” dress code.

The group didn’t know whether to laugh or wince, and they looked to me to do something. Before I could, Art bellowed, “Oh, is that what you meant by no midriffs? Sorry, I’ll go change.”  And we all had a good laugh together.

I’m not sure if Art was just trying to be funny, but what happened was that he cemented my authority in the minds of those present. It was as if he had said, “I’m going to follow Chris, even if I don’t like or understand because I trust he is going to lead us well.”  In 11 years of youth ministry, I never had a single significant behavior problem.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who has a very different experience with his tenants. The landowner invests significantly in a vineyard, wine press, tower, and wall. He leases the vineyard to tenants and when he goes to collect his rightful portion of the harvest, they rebel, refuse, and rebuke every attempt collect. The landowner finally sends his own son and the tenants kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

The question for me in the parable is this – Who is the boss? Who is in charge? The tenants don’t want to be beholden to anyone but themselves. They are willing to murder to protect their independence and personal authority. Unfortunately for them, this attitude results in their destruction and the vineyard being given to someone else.

The question for us is this – Who is our boss? Who do we answer to? I think it is important for us to consider carefully who has given us our “vineyard.” We must reflect on who has give us a life and breath and all that we have. We may be tempted to say that we worked for it; we earned and deserve it. But so did the wicked tenants. No, everything we have has ultimately been made by God and is a gift. In fact, the work to receive these things was a gift from God, as was the ability to work. All is gift.

Who is your boss? Who is your ultimate authority? Who do you give authority to day in and day out? Who sets your schedule, tells you how to spend your money, and how to treat others?

If it is anyone other than God, consider how to take a step toward returning to God what was always his to begin with.

Live It: This Sunday when you go to Mass, at the time of the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, pray simply for the grace to make God the boss, to give God authority over your life, and ask for the grace to change.

The Tyranny of Our Past

October 1st Sunday Readings.

My local hardware store needs more cart corrals. You know, the metal structures placed express-cart-dual-cart-corral.pngin the parking lot rows where one returns a cart after one has used it. Pushed up on medians and wedged between parked cars are loose shopping carts because if one parks in certain rows there isn’t a place to return one’s cart to with in 75 feet.

But my mom didn’t raise the kind of kid that feels even remotely okay with leaving a cart to freely blow around a parking lot. Thus after I’ve emptied my hardware store type materials into my car, I walk my cart all the way back into the store like modern super hero. I rightly accept your adulation and affirmations of my virtue.

Next time I go to that store I could just as easily just leave my cart in the parking lot. I could choose the other path. I could change my mind. There is nothing that keeping me from breaking with my current habit.

Far too often we submit ourself to the tyranny of our past. What I mean by that is that we like to be consistent, even when presented with other options. We tend to think of ourselves as this or that kind of a person and thus we continue in this or that way. I think of myself at the kind of person that puts a cart back no matter what, and that guides my behavior.

Sometimes that kind of thing limits our behavior. In fact, sometimes this tyranny of our past keeps us in cycles of sin and self destruction. Sometimes people justify habitual sin by saying this is just who I am or the classic, “Well, I’m only human.”

The gospel this week presents a totally different understanding of our decisions. Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of our past. Jesus tells the story of two sons. One who says he won’t obey, but does, and one who says he will obey, but doesn’t  I don’t know the heart of either son, but scripture says that the first one “changed his mind.”

Part of the message is that every single one of us has an opportunity and the capacity to change our minds. If you have told God no in the past, you don’t have to today. You can change your mind. If you have turned away from God again and again, you can change your mind and turn back. If you have heard a call from God to do or to stop doing something and have ignored it, you can still change your mind. Conversely if, in your past, you’ve chosen to follow God, obey, pray, serve others, etc., it doesn’t mean you can coast the rest of your life. We can change.

Jesus can set you free form the tyranny of your past. In fact, this is the spiritual journey, that tomorrow we let Jesus make us a little more free than we were today.

Live It: No later than tonight before bed, kneel and pray, “Jesus free from my past and give my the grace to say yes to you tomorrow.” Level 2 – Go to Confession and be totally freed from the tyranny of your past.

The Cookie Split and the Gospel

September 24th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever had to split a cookie or a piece of cake with a sibling? If you did, when youChocolate_chip_cookiewere a kid, then you may have heard what I heard as a kid, “Honey, you can split the cookie, but then your sister has the first pick of which half she wants.”

The precision to break that cookie perfectly in half so that I didn’t get cheated and my sister didn’t get more was off the charts. If I had access to a jeweler’s scale, I would have broken it out to make sure that the cookie halves were exactly even, down to the nanogram. May it was just me, but I thought even = fair.

Nobody likes to get cheated. We have a natural, God given, desire that justice is done. It’s why we get perturbed at the the guy who cuts up in the traffic back up. It’s why we can never seem to pick the right grocery store checkout line. It’s why we ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Life should be fair.

It’s why the people who work all day in Jesus’ parable get frustrated when the group that only works for a little while gets the same pay. The parable goes against our sense of fairness. So what exactly is Jesus getting at?

Jesus starts the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” Stop right there. Jesus is comparing the kingdom to a person. the kingdom of heaven is intimate lived relationship with Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is full communion and intimacy with the Trinity. So when someone works for the kingdom, the usual daily wage isn’t gold or power or a perfectly split cookie. No, the usually daily wage is unconditional love, perfect joy, and total fulfillment. Everyone gets paid the same because everyone gets paid more than they could even want or need.

When it comes to the cookie, there is a finite amount of cookie. The more my sister got; the less I got. But when it comes to God’s love there is no limit. I can have limitless unconditional love and you can have limitless unconditional love.

With that in mind the objections of the people who worked all day isn’t justice, but jealously. They are jealous of those who received what they received but for less sacrifice.

Does being jealous make you joyful?

Of course not. God is never out done in his generosity. We will only be joyful if we are willing to accept and celebrate God’s generosity and mercy to others.

Live It:
Celebrate someone else’s victory, even if it is a small one. Send a note, buy a coffee, or say a prayer of thanks giving on their behalf – whatever will honor them.

Don’t Keep Score.

September 17th Sunday Readings.

233 Fenway Park - Scoreboard (June 2, 2007)-L-2During my marriage preparation our mentor couple told us a beautiful piece of advice – don’t keep score. Despite not yet being married, we knew exactly what that meant. If your married or have a deep friendship, than you probably know what that means too. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeking to “earn points” by doing things our spouse wants us to do. It feels natural to take away points when our spouse disappoints or hurts us. Keep score comes so naturally to us in so many areas of our life that we just naturally apply it to our relationships.

The truth is that relationships are not a competitive endeavor. No seriously. I know it’s funny to joke around about it – I certainly do that with my wife. But the reality is when we treat our spouse as our competition, as our adversary, we both loose.

In the gospel Jesus is trying to teach us that our relationships with God and with others are not competitive endeavors. No matter how many times someone else hurts us, they aren’t loosing. No matter how deeply we harm God, we aren’t down for the count. Why? Because God isn’t the divine referee. God is our Father and wants, not to have a point system with us, but instead, an intimate, lived relationship. God desires to be closer to us than we can ever imagine and keeping score just gets in the way.

God forgives you. He does. He wants to, because he wants you. We don’t go to Confession to have the score reset or to reset the clock. He go to have a conversion of heart. To turn away from keeping score and turn to acting, responding to God’s love with love. We do that by worshiping God and serving others.

The wicked servant in the story does the exact opposite. He keeps score and thus is judged by his score. Don’t keep score, love unconditionally, because God loves you first.

Live It: Do something nice for your spouse. Doesn’t matter what it is – get their car washed for them, bring them flowers, empty the dishwasher, let them pick the movie. Whatever it is, pray that you don’t do it for points, but out of love.

It Hurts.

September 3rd Sunday Readings.

hammer-thumb-ouch.jpgI’m not good at pain. When I get a cold, either I’m laid up at home and can’t do anything or I complain to my coworkers till the point they tell me to go home. My wife gently and lovingly mocks me for my over the top reactions to stubbing my toe or pinching a finger. I’m a little dramatic and I don’t handle pain very well.

The worst thing I do when I am hurt is to be upset that no one is helping me and, at the same time, tell people to stay away from me. I’ve been known to even yell at someone who is just trying to help. I know a number of people who struggle to let others help when they are hurting. Is that you too?

In our gospel this Sunday, after Jesus tells his disciples about the cross, Peter, with much gusto, tells Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes him and we learn that to follow Jesus means that we too must pick up our cross. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus not to try and fulfill his mission. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus to not help while humanity was hurting.

Before we judge Peter too harshly, I think we do this too. How often do we not let God help? How often do we try to manage our pain on our own? How often do we want to control everything around us?

More than all of that, unless we fully admit that we need Jesus’ death and resurrection, we denying Jesus’ cross just as much as Peter. By admitting that we are sinners in need of a savior, we are asking for God’s grace exactly when we need it the most.

So how do we do this? When we sin, instead of running away and figuratively yelling at God to “Leave me alone!”, turn to God in prayer. Go to confession right away. Admit that you need God, especially when you are hurting.

Live It: Pray this prayer, right now, “Lord, I need you.” Say it as many times as it takes to believe it.