Do Homage.

In 1999 St. Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis, Missouri my hometown. I was in the Kiel Center with 22,000 teens and young adults for the youth prayer experience with St. JPII. It was awesome. One of the most incredible moments for the St. Louis young people was when the Pope suddenly appeared on the big screens. He was in the building! And then coming into the camera view was St. Louis Cardinal baseball player Mark McGwire. This was a bigger deal than you can imagine.

Let me explain. St. Louis is baseball crazy. (Partly because we don’t have anything else going for us.) In 1999 before all the performance enhancing drug controversies, Mark McGwire was a living legend. He was a big deal. Part of the stadium was named after him (Big Mac Land) and only recently has been renamed. When we saw the Pope and the Big Mac together on he big screens, if felt like our little St. Louis heads were going to explode. 

Then Mark McGwire leaned over and kissed the Pope’s ring. With head lowered he waited for a blessing and humbly and simply thanked the Pope. It was amazing to see the biggest name, the most famous sports star, so humbled in the presence of St. John Paul II. Only later did I realize what Mark McGwire was doing was paying St. John Paul II homage. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the familiar story of the three Magi traveling to see Jesus in the manger. They follow a star. They bring gifts. You know the drill. 

But what amazed me when I re-read it this week is that they tell Herod that they are coming to give this new king homage. Herod asks them to tell him when they have found the new king so that he too can offer homage. Later when the wise men find Jesus, they do in fact offer him homage (and stuff). 

The appropriate and good response to searching for and finding Jesus is to give him homage. This is what we were made to do – to offer Jesus homage. What does that mean for us. To give Jesus homage is to offer him some special honor in a public fashion. In other words, we humble ourselves before him and offer praise and honor in a place where others witness this action. 

I think a lot of us offer Jesus our problems. We offer Jesus our needs. We offer Jesus our requests. We are private fans of Jesus. All of that is fine, but it isn’t doing Jesus homage. 

This Christmas season our challenge is not just only be fans of Jesus, but to be followers. Our challenge is to offer Jesus special honor in a public manner. Let’s offer our newborn King homage. 

Live It: Go to a local nativity scene (at your parish or otherwise) and offer Jesus some act of homage. Pray out loud to him, say a Glory Be, or some other act of praise and honor. Visit and offer Jesus homage. 

Sunday Readings for January 2, 2022.

WRONG Turn.

In 2011 I was in Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day. Started by St. John Paul II, World Youth Day is a gathering of Catholic young people from all over the globe to celebration their faith and have some face time with the Pope. I was leading a group of about 20 something high school and college students toward a night of Adoration on the other side of Madrid when we got lost. We had hopped on the subway and gotten out at a subway stop that was totally and complete wrong and it was 100% my fault. 

I thought if we just walk a couple blocks this one direction maybe we end up in the right place, but instead prudence just told us to turn around. Rather than continue down this wrong path, the right thing was just to turn around. When we popped out of the sub on the other side, we heard sirens and not 90 seconds later, Pope Benedict the XVI came driving by in the popemobile and we were absolutely the only group on the side of the road in this sleepy Madrid neighborhood. I like to say we got a private audience with the Pope (at 50 miles per hour) all because we simply turned around. 

In life when we recognize we’ve made a wrong decision or taken a wrong turn we have a decision to make, do we persist in that errant decision or do we turn around? In the gospel this Sunday we will read about what Joseph and Mary do in just such a situation.

The Holy Family has traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. After completing the festival they leave in a large caravan of people. After a day of travel, Joseph and Mary realize they have left 12 year old Jesus in Jerusalem (Think Home Alone 2 but Jerusalem instead of NYC). 

What do Joseph and Mary do? They turn around. They don’t try and justify their travel or find another way to retrieve their child. No, they just turn around and go to Jesus. I think this is a pretty solid course of action for any of us when we wander off. 

If you feel like you have lost your way or have made a bad decision, don’t justify where you are or explain yourself, simply turn around and return to Jesus. It is actually as simple as stopping and going back to where you were.

LIVE it: This year December 26 is the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. Maybe you’ve made a bad decision or a wrong turn with someone in your family (maybe it just happened at Christmas). Stop, turn around, and go to Jesus about this issue. After that, go to your family member and seek to make amends. It just may be the thing you need this Christmas. 

Sunday Readings for December 26, 2021.

One Mightier than I.

I love ping pong. Growing up, I had a table in my basement and at our neighborhood pool. I played a ton of table tennis as a teenager and got pretty good at it. All those reps serving, returning, lunging, and diving built up a significant amount of muscle memory. Not only was I a pretty good ping pong player, but I was pretty proud of how good I was. I loved taking on all challengers and quickly dispatching them. 

That was until I was entirely and completely destroyed in one game. As you can imagine I was talking big and feeling strong. My opponent was quiet but happy to play. Within a couple of serves I knew I was in trouble. After loosing by double digits, I received some humble pie when my opponent did the most in your face thing ever – he was nice to me about it. In my experience competitive people are only nice when they play someone who they don’t think is very good. I encounter someone mightier than I (at ping pong). 

In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist has collected a large, diverse group of followers. Each groups asks John how they are to behave. He answers with simple, clear directions. The gospel then says they were “asking in their hearts” about whether John was the Messiah. In other words, they wondered, but they didn’t ask anything out loud. 

John is a prophet, so he answers the question the crowd isn’t asking. He says,”I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals…”

When we encounter someone mightier than us, we tend to have one of two reactions. Sometimes our defenses can raise. We can become antagonistic because someone is better than us. We can become resentful because we meet someone who outshines us. We can become indignant that someone out performs us on our turf. (Here is looking at you pharisees, scribes, temple officials.)

Or we can choose to be like John the Baptist. We can acknowledge the truth of the situation and recognize that our worth isn’t tied to our performance, but to the gift of sonship or daughter we’ve received from God through our baptism.

When it comes to encountering Jesus I think some of us even put up walls or are resentful. It is as if, we know Jesus is better than us and we can’t stand to fathom being near to him  because we are self-conscience about how bad we look. We can be fearful that Jesus’ goodness will illuminate our badness. As sad as his reality is, I do believe some people react in this way to Jesus coming. (Here’s looking at you Herod.) 

As we draw closer to Christmas and draw closer to Jesus coming to us in a unique way at the end of 2021, we have a choice. We can be like Herod or the Pharisees or we can be like John the Baptist. Will you welcome one mightier than you or deny him this Christmas?

Live It: Make a plan to welcome Jesus into your house and your heart this Christmas. With 2 weeks left, gather your family and make a plan for how Jesus is going to be the best thing about Christmas this year. 

Sunday Readings for December 12, 2021.

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.