It ain’t over till it’s over.

July 1st Sunday Readings.

In game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers were one strike away from David_Freese_on_April_30,_2010winning their first World Series championship. It was the bottom of the 9th inning and there were two outs. All the Rangers needed was one more strike or a pop up or a ground out. Their championship hats and t-shirts were ready, waiting to be distributed. The champagne was on ice and the Ranger’s lockers were being covered in plastic. 

Down 1-2 in the count, St. Louis Cardinal David Freese hit a line drive over a leaping Nelson Cruz for a triple scoring two runs and tying the game, sending it to extra innings. Immediately in the 10th inning the Rangers scored two runs to go up 9-7 and in the bottom of the 10th inning they were one out, one strike away from wining it all, again. But Lance Berkman hit a single that tied the game sending it to the 11th inning. 

Freese again stepped to the plate where he hit a walk-off home run that won Game 6 and sent the World Series to a Game 7, which the St. Louis Cardinals won. Twice the Cardinals faced elimination and twice they narrowly escaped to play another inning or game. 

Whether you were a fan of the Rangers or the Cardinals, Game 6’s motto was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

In the gospel this weekend Jesus cures the dying (or dead) daughter of Jarius, a synagogue official. At one point, other officials from the synagogue tell Jarius not to “trouble the teacher” since his daughter is dead. Jesus tells him to have faith. 

The other officials want to throw in the towel, to give up, but Jesus shows us what faith can do. Jesus shows us what it means to keep the faith. Jesus shows us that it’s not over till it’s over for the daughter of Jarius and for us too.

When it comes to faith, it’s not too late for us. If you are reading this, it’s not too late for you. God hasn’t given up on us. As far as God is concerned, we are a game tying single away from changing everything and returning to him. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I am what I am. I can’t change.” Or maybe you often say, “I’m not a religious person, God wouldn’t want me.” Or maybe you’ve thought, “It’s too late for me, I’ve made my decision about faith & God & Catholicism.”  If you’ve thought any of these things or sentiments like them, let me be clear – you’re wrong. 

The game isn’t over yet. You might feel like there are two outs in the bottom of the 9th and you are down 0-2, but know that even by the skinniest of margins, God can save.
More importantly, God desires to save you. God desires to be near to you. God wants you near to him forever in heaven, and it’s not too late. It’s not over yet. 

Live It:
Admit to God in prayer right now, “God, it’s not over, till it’s over. I know you’re not done yet.”

Winners Fail.

March 18th Sunday Readings.

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Winners.

Nobody likes to fail. I don’t know about you, but I want to win every time. My reaction to Olympic events are a good example of this. When Americans won, like Team Shuster – the Men’s Curling team, I was elated and relieved and thought, “Good. Everything is right in the world.” When the Norwegians or Dutch easily captured the gold in a cross country skiing or speed skating event, I wondered what happened to my fellow Americans.

Yet Jesus says in this weekend’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus changes the paradigm. No longer is it winners and losers, but those willing to fall and die will bear fruit.

If we want to help others, if we want our friends and family to know the saving love of Jesus, we don’t win them, we die for them. Jesus is clear that the way the victory is won is through self sacrifice. St. John Paul II beautifully said, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” That sounds like winning to me.

Jesus is clear about one more thing. Jesus is going demonstrate and be the example per-excel-lance of this form of sacrificial love. Jesus will fall like a grain of wheat and die. Through that death will come life for us.

LIVE IT: Holy Week is coming. Start now to think about Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Remember God wants to do something for you this Easter. Healing, restoration, rest, peace, joy, whatever it is, Jesus wants to give you a tremendous gift this Holy Week and Easter.

Oprah and Purpose

February 4th Sunday Readings.

I don’t hate Oprah. I don’t know her personally and I’m not a disciple of her lifestyle 1*LrhFwqqUEA4Dk4wAerERngempire. The most I’ve encountered Oprah in the last year is when she essentially reported on California mudslides from her backyard and then she told the world she probably wasn’t going to run for president. Maybe I’m not the best kind of person to comment on her but here you go.

Oprah is a tremendous guru. Her ability to lead others, curate a world view, and pass along a particular lifestyle is nearly unmatched. I don’t follow her or know what she says, but even I have had a passing interest in her “favorite things” and her book list because they usually contain something that would make the kind of life I lead more interesting, easy, or fun. Oprah’s purpose is help others lead a comfortable life.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus say, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus states that his purpose is to preach. What Jesus is preaching is the good news that God loves us so much he would do anything to bring us back into intimate relationship. Jesus’ ultimate act of preaching was his death on the cross and his resurrection. In his death and resurrection, Jesus doesn’t just tells us that God loves us, Jesus preaches that to die for other is love. Through the resurrection, Jesus teaches that the only way to live is to die. Jesus’ purpose is to preach that if we die to self and follow him, we will be saved from death itself.

Oprah and other gurus teach their followers how to live. Jesus teaches us how to die. Jesus teaches us how to die to self and that only in dying to self can we truly live and truly love. Jesus teaches us how to love and how to receive the perfect love of God. This is an entirely different mission than any other guru.

What is your purpose? Who do you receive your mission from? Everyday we wake up and make the decision between whether we want to live for self or die to self. Everyday we wake up and reset our purpose, our mission. Jesus’ mission wasn’t to help us live a comfortable life, but to help us survive death. That same mission, to preach the good news, Jesus left for the Church – to you and me. Will you make Jesus’ mission your mission? What is your purpose?

LIVE IT:
Are you living on purpose? Take 5 minutes and quick write a short statement of your purpose in life. Don’t over think it. Then examines your life up and against that purpose statement. What needs to change?

 

Minnesota Nice?

April 2nd Sunday Readings.

Last week, I got flipped off while driving . I had moved into a turn lane to make a left at a stop light when a TruckCensoredlarge heating and air conditioning truck swerved into the turn lane. I clomped on my breaks and gave a little “honk honk” with my horn to let the driver know I was there and to avoid an accident. I didn’t lay on the horn angrily or scream – just a little, “maybe you can’t see me, fyi, I am here” kind of a honk.

The fellow Minnesotan driving the truck looked at me through his side mirror and proceeded to let me know that I was #1 in his book. This didn’t seem very Minnesota nice. Nor is it wise since his company’s name and phone number were painted on the side of his truck.

To further compound this awkward exchange, we were both heading to Menard’s and pulled into the parking lot at the same time. In a true act of Minnesota nice, we both avoided each other on our way into and while shopping at the home improvement store.

Minnesota has this reputation of being full of nice people. For the most part, this is true. When I told my wife the story of my morning, she responded that it wasn’t Minnesota nice to honk at the other driver in the first place, even if it did prevent an accident. Which made me wonder, is “nice” always good?

Sometimes we use the word nice when really we mean kind or generous or charitable. If those are the kinds of things we mean when we say nice, then by all means, be nice. But I don’t think that Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, suffered, and died on a cross just so that we would become irrationally polite.

Our readings for this Sunday teach us that Jesus’ mission was not to make mean people, nice, but to make dead people, live.

In the first reading God says through the prophet Isaiah, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” And the gospel is the beautiful story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

If Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, but to make the dead, live, then the question we need to ask ourselves when we lay our heads on our pillows each night is not, “Was I nice?” but instead we should ask, “Was I fully alive today?”

Man-Fully-AliveIs being kind, generous, and charitable part of being fully alive? Yes. Is being nice our sole goal each day? No. Being alive in Christ is our #1 priority and purpose each day. Are you alive?

 

LIVE IT:
Right now – Take 3 huge breathes and let the air slowly out of your lungs. Feel what it feels like to be alive. Now make a plan for something you are going to do tomorrow to be more alive than you were today.

We all need this.

The Good Word for Sunday February 28th ~ for the complete readings click here.

If you have kids you’ve probably been asked this question, “Do you really ‘need’ that thing, or do you ‘want’ it?” If you have a 3 year old, the answer is usually absolutely I need this candy bar and lip gloss and ninja PEZ dispenser. Duh.

But what do we really need?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow created what he called the “Hierarchy of Needs.” The basic premise is that one needs to have their most basic needs met before the next set of needs matter. For example, what we are going to eat for lunch in 2 hours doesn’t matter much if we can’t breath. And what we are going to wear to work the next day doesn’t matter much if we haven’t eaten in 3 days.

Maslow theory states that our most basic needs are physiological. We need air, then water, then food. Without these we can’t go on to care about things like which fonts to use on our blog. Everyone needs air and water and food, if they want to survive.

In the gospel this weekend Jesus explains that there is something that everyone needs: Mercy.

Jesus comments on two different “news” stories of the day in which people were killed. He asks the audience if the victims deserved death because of their sin. You probably already know that if Jesus had let crowd answer they would have said, “Of course their sin was greater; they died didn’t they?”

Instead Jesus says this, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Jesus is trying to explain that those poor souls who died violently either in the temple or because of the building collapse weren’t any worse sinner than us, not because they weren’t sinners, but because we are! Everyone is a sinner. You. Me. Pope Francis. Mother Teresa. And if we are sinners, then we all need God’s mercy.

I recently heard in a funeral homily the priest say that when there is a funeral of a really good and admirable person it is easy to just spend the whole time talking about how amazing they are. It is easy to forget that they were also a sinner in need of God’s mercy, just like us. In other words, every saint was a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

The good news is that God is ready to give you and I all the mercy we need. God can’t wait to pour his mercy upon us. He won’t hesitate to show us mercy when we don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Live it:
Go to Confession. If you haven’t gone in a while or don’t see the point or don’t feel comfortable telling a priest, I really encourage you to pray about it first. Want to check out a sweet talk about Confession? Check out “The Healing Power of Confession” By Dr. Scott Hahn by visiting formed.org, use our parish code, log in and then check out the talk. How to do all that can be found here.

The Good News for March 29th

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

On Palm Sunday we hear the story of Jesus’ Passion and death. The gospel is the longest of the year and it is easy to tune out the words because we’ve “heard it all before.” However, this is the central story of our faith – the most important story that we tell. Namely, God suffered, died, and rose from the dead all because he loves us so much that he can’t imagine life without us.

Toward the end of the gospel, Jesus says this simple phrase, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabchthani?” which is translated as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was always challenged by these words. On the one hand it was powerful that even Jesus Christ, Son of God, chosen one, the anointed, the one closest to God of anyone who has ever lived, felt abandoned by God. Sometimes we feel abandoned and Jesus knows exactly how that feels.
On the other hand, I wondered did Jesus really not understand what he was doing? It seems in the rest of the gospels, Jesus seems to understand and even predict his death, but when he came to it didn’t he understand God was with him in his suffering? I really struggled to accept this part of the story.

That is until someone pointed out a very important aspect of understanding this moment of Jesus’ suffering. The phrase “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” appears not only here is the gospel, but also as the first line of Psalm 22.

Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross.

As a practicing Jew, Jesus would know the psalms well and be able to quote them. The Jewish audience at his feet would know exactly the Psalm he was quoting and understand the entirety of his message.

See, Psalm 22 starts with this question about God abandoning the speaker and laments how God seems to not be answering the cry of the oppressed. But, about half way through Psalm 22 changes to be all about the hope one finds in God, even in the midst of the worst situations. Then the Psalm describes proclaiming the faithfulness of God, and finally end with the good news that “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.” In other words, God is delivering us from the oppression of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our job is to tell the next generation all about it!

While hanging on the cross, suffering overwhelming physical pain, and preparing for his death, Jesus gives us one more teaching – When things look the absolute worst, God is still with us and will deliver us. Moments before his death, Jesus was pointing toward the hope of the resurrection. Jesus final verbal instruction before his death is that we must not be afraid to share this story and the good news that Jesus has conquered death forever.

Live It:
Read Psalm 22 by clicking here.

The Good Word for March 22nd

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

avocadoWhen I was in elementary school and we were studying earth science, I was given the “Avocado Pit” experiment. The experiment was simple. Basically it involved putting an avocado pit in water and letting it sprout. Eventually the pit would break open, a small shoot would come out and begin to grow. The next step was to plant it and start an avocado farm, but I never really got that far.

The key to that experiment is also present in our gospel today. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” For the avocado pit to make an avocado tree, the pit must break open and die. It is only by being broken open is it able to grow.

Each Sunday when we attend Mass we hear four pieces of scripture. The 1st reading is from the Old Testament. The psalm, which is usually sung, is one of the 150 Psalms. The 2nd reading is from a letter or Acts. The Gospel is from one of the four gospels in the New Testament.

I don’t know about you, but far too often I just sit there while this abundance of scripture is read. Then I wait for the homily to wow me. I put the responsibility for this part of the Mass to be fruitful, all into the priest’s hands. I make it his job to make scripture come alive for me.

See, all this scripture is like the grain of wheat or the avocado pit. Like the seed, the Sunday scriptures must be broken open. If we really believe that scripture is the living word of God, then it truly is a seed ready to be broken open. When we take the time to really break open the Sunday scriptures, then the word of God can grow and give us life.

Great metaphor, but what does it mean? For me it means two things – Reading and Silence. For me to break open the Word, I need to read it before I get to Mass and I need to sit in silence while the scripture is fresh in my mind. One way to do this is an ancient prayer form called Lectio Divina. Pope Benedict said that if the Church (you and me) practiced Lectio Divina we would set the world on fire with our faith.

What if every reading at Mass moved you and grew your faith? They can, just break scripture open a little ahead of time – you won’t regret it.

Live It:
Read the Sunday readings before you get to Mass this weekend, by clicking here. Want to try Lectio Divina? Try out HNOJ’s Lenten Prayer Guide. It contains instructions on Lectio and has a short version of the Gospel for each Sunday to use in Lecto Divina.