Did Jesus Oversell Discipleship?

While some struggled with the daily requirement to wear a mask during the Covid pandemic, few suffered deeper inconveniences than those who wear glasses everyday. I don’t wear glasses, but I watched daily as coworkers and friends would don a mask and their glasses would immediately fog up. 

To the rescue was a anti-fog spray that supposedly eliminated this first world problem. I bought some, applied it to my sunglasses, and sure enough the first time I used it, MAGIC! It worked. Unfortunately it didn’t work more than a couple more times before I was reapplying it. The daily reapplication was too much and I soon abandoned the practice. I was a victim of the classic oversell.
An oversell is when the reality of the benefits of a product or experiences don’t live up to the marketing or advertisements. This can happen with huge ad campaigns and it can happen in our private lives. If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by a restaurant after a friend just raved about it, you know what I am talking about.

Does Jesus oversell in the gospel this Sunday?

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. Then he goes on to say all those who believe will be able to drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink poison, and heal the sick. 

I don’t know about you but to this point I have been avoiding drinking poison and handling venomous snakes. I have prayed for people to be healed, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laid hands and healed someone. I speak about 25 words of Spanish and I can’t name a time I drove a demon out of someone. How about you?
So are we not believers? Are we believers, but Jesus oversold on the effects? 

First, I am a believer, and I’m sinner (a tremendous sinner, in fact). I try everyday to avoid evil and do good, but I fail everyday too. I got to confession often. I share all this to say that I am a believer who falls everyday. Take a beat and ask yourself, are you a believer (and maybe a sinner too)? 

If you answered yes as I did, then the next question is why can’t we do all the stuff Jesus promised? One answer is that I haven’t really tried to do all of that. It’s probably not the prudent choice to test the Lord by leaning into these items just to see if I make it. So I am going to continue to avoid drinking poison and holding snakes. 

I think Jesus’ point here is that being a believer, following Jesus and joining the mission to save the world, has life and death implications. Being a believer doesn’t mean we will be saved from physical death. What it does mean is that the choice to follow Jesus is a life or death decision. If we want to live forever with God in perfect delight, then we need to be a believer now. It matters what we believe, what we think, what we do. Not because we earn heaven or earn God’s love, but because when we believe in the Lord of life, the result is life. When we are in love with God, we life life to the fullest. Faith is life! Believing in Jesus doesn’t disappoint; it isn’t a oversell. It is life!

Live It: Take 10 deep, deep breaths. Breath slowly and purposefully. With each one, pray this simple prayer to Jesus, “Jesus I believe.” Breathe and Believe. 

Sunday Readings for May 12, 2021.

Are you antsy?

By nature, I am a fidgeter. The 2nd most common question of my childhood was “Chris are you feeling antsy.” (The most common was, “Are you hungry?” I could eat.) Sitting still just isn’t something I take to easily. As a younger person, if you would have given me the option of sitting on the beach or hiking in the mountains, I would have picked the mountains every time. How about you? Are you antsy?

As I get older I am getting better at remaining still. I no longer do a little dance while I brush my teeth. I don’t get up from my desk every five minutes while trying to work. I play an imaginary kick drum under the table during dinner. I might even pick the beach over mountains sometimes. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

In our culture we don’t often glorify the act of remaining. In fact, more often than not, we vilify people who remain. It’s as if the act of remaining grates against our need to produce or to move forward. Remaining is seen as the act of the coward who isn’t bold enough to head out on adventure. Maybe in some sense that is true at times. 

However, Jesus commands us to remain in his love. It isn’t a suggestion or invitation, it is a commandment to remain. Then Jesus explains that the way to remain in his love is to keep his commandments just as he has kept God the Father’s commandments. Follow Jesus. Do what he says. Remain in his love. 

The reality is the we fail to do this every day. Instead of remaining in Jesus’ love, we venture out in sin and selfishness. We get spiritually, morally antsy. 

If you are the kind of person who struggles to sit still, you understand the feeling of restlessness. I think we sometimes get this feeling when it comes how we practice our faith too. We feel like we must not be doing enough. We feel like we haven’t earned God’s love. We feel like we gotta go do something to be a better Christian. 

Jesus tells us this Sunday that what we really need to do is remain in his love. If we are seeking to follow Jesus’ commandments, then we just need to stay where we are. If we are receiving the Sacraments and engaging in daily prayer, remain in that. If we living lives of service and sacrifice that aids our fellow humans, we should stay right there. 

Don’t over complicate our faith by getting antsy. Avoid evil. Do good. Pray. Remain in Jesus’ love. 

Live It: Practice remaining in Jesus’ love by practicing sitting still. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes and then simple sit in silence and listen for God. Do it once today or once a day for three days and see what happens.

Sunday Readings for May 9, 2021.

Material vs Supernatural

I’ve never felt the cold of Siberia. I’ve never climbed Kilimanjaro. I’ve never white water rafted down the Colorado River (but I have shot rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado!). I trust that the stories I’ve heard and the pictures I’ve seen are real. I put faith in the people who have recorded these things and reported them to me. I’ve never actually experienced them for myself.

Just being alive takes faith. 

Believing that my next breath will have enough oxygen for my to survive or that my next bite of food isn’t poisoned is an act of faith. In this way, everyone has faith. Everyone puts their faith into something.

Increasingly, people are only putting their faith in things they can experience. It seems that even people of Christian faith would prefer to only believe in a radically material Christianity. For the materialist, Jesus is just human and the miracles of the scriptures (and the last 2000 years) can all be explained away with “natural” explanations. 

But the truth is that this material faith isn’t Christianity at all. No matter how you slice it, Christianity is a supernatural faith. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in rational thought, nor does it mean that everything that seems to be weird or out of the ordinary is supernatural. But to follow Jesus and to believe in what he teaches is to believe in the supernatural. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus proclaims that his mission is coming to an end and it is time to glorify God on the cross. Jesus laments the suffering he is about to endure, but still assents to the will of the Father. With that, a booming voice from heavens proclaims that He glorifies and will glorify.

Those who heard the voice tried to explain it away. Some said it was thunder. Others said it was an angel. While both are common ways to represent God speaking to humanity, at its root, this represents an effort to explain away a supernatural event using natural means.

Many do this same action with every single miracle of the New Testament. Thomas Jefferson had a version of the Bible where he had all the miracles and supernatural things cut out so that only the sayings of Jesus remained. 

This way of understanding Christianity and Jesus is dangerous because it isn’t true. Removing the supernatural from Christianity is wrong not only because it is an inaccurate representation of what Christianity really teaches, but also because it makes it easy to interpret Christianity as simply a lifestyle choice.

Christianity isn’t a lifestyle choice. Following Jesus is the way to survive death and be happy forever. Following Jesus Christ isn’t a nice way to get through life, but it is the greatest of joys that totally and completely changes everything about what it means to be alive. 

LIVE IT: Tonight turn off all the lights in your room, get down on your knees and pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). Pray it until you mean it. 

Sunday Readings for March 21st, 2021.

I Declare Bankruptcy.

If I’m honest, I’m a big fan of the TV show The Office. I wish I was a better person and used my time for more noble pursuits, but I just really enjoy watching this show.

One of my favorite moments is when the regional manager Michael Scott runs out of money and stands up in the office and yells in a commanding voice, at the top of his lungs, “I DECARE BANKRUPTCY!!” See, he had just be told that bankruptcy was a get out of jail free card and that he wouldn’t have to pay back his debts if he just declared bankruptcy. 

Only after this public declaration did his employees explain that there is much more to declaring bankruptcy than just saying it out loud. 

You might know someone who is like this in their faith life too. Whether it is checking a box on a form or answering the new neighbor’s question about whether they belong to a Church, they will say they are Catholic. However, a simple examination of their life will show that they haven’t taken too many steps to act like a Catholic other than to declare it. 

Don’t get me wrong, a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Church is important to being Catholic. We do it every single Sunday when we stand in the middle of Mass and recite the Nicene Creed together. Yes that is our altar call, that is the moment we stand and declare we are Catholic. 

It’s just that saying we are Catholic isn’t enough. Not because we have to earn salvation or earn God’s love – of course not. But because if we really believe, if we really are choosing to follow Jesus Christ, then that choice demands more than just words. 

Catholicism, like love, is something we do, not just something we feel. Catholicism and following Jesus is an active pursuit. Not because God demands it but because if we really ascent to believing in God and in what Jesus taught, then we will change our lives in response to it. 

We declare our faith with our actions. 

If I tell my wife I love her, but never acted like it, what would she think? The same is true in our faith lives. If we say we believe in God, but don’t act like God really has any say in your lives, what do we really believe?

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the famous line from the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” What most people don’t realize is that later in the same speech Jesus explains that believing means acting. That if one believes in God and in the light of the gospel, then their actions will follow. He says this at the end of this Sunday’s gospel, “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

Do you believe? Live it. 

Live It: Want to know what you are supposed to go “do” as an active Catholic? You should check out what are called The Precepts of the Church. These are 5 things that the Church says are the very basic actions of Catholics. Check them out here.

Sunday Readings for March 14th, 2021.

Other People’s Passions

In the past couple years I have fallen in love with woodworking. I enjoy the process of taking a raw material and crafting it into a useful and beautiful product. I enjoy the smell of sawdust and the feel of freshly sanded boards. I like the hum of power tools and the preciseness of sharp hand tools. I enjoy the time alone creating something that will last for more at least a couple years, if not longer. 

I listen to podcasts about wood working. I read articles and blog entries. I page through woodworking magazines and books. Consequently I like talking about it. I enjoy talking for hours about about grain direction, wood species, and shellac cuts.

My wife does not. 

No matter how passionate I am, no matter how enthusiastic I get, not matter how dynamically I talk about woodworking, she gets bored pretty quick. She doesn’t mind the results of my work, she just doesn’t care about the journey like I do. No matter how much I want to share my joy in woodworking, she hasn’t discovered it for herself. 

In the gospel this week Jesus tells the story of ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom. Five virgins brought enough oil so that their lamps were still lit when the bridegroom arrives. Five foolish virgins did not. Then a peculiar thing happens. The foolish, short on oil virgins ask to borrow some oil from the wise virgins. The wise virgins refuse to share. The five wise virgins are welcomed into the wedding banquet, while the five poorly lit virgins were denied entry.

This doesn’t seem like a very Jesus like story. Why wouldn’t the five wise virgins share their oil? The short answer – they couldn’t. 

The oil in this story represents faith. The five wise virgins had enough faith to wait for the bridegroom (Jesus Christ). The five foolish ones fell short. In other words, their faith ran out.

The thing about faith is that you can’t give your faith to someone else. You can share what you believe and share your passion, but someone else can’t believe off of your passion. No, they must discover it for themselves. Each of us must discover, cultivate, and grow our own personal faith.

Just as my teeth don’t get clean when my spouse goes to the dentist, I need to have enough faith myself. As much as I love woodworking and talking about it, my passion, my enthusiasm isn’t enough for my wife to fall in love with the hobby. 

St. John Paul II said, “Every generation, with its own mentality and characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ.” As much as the wise virgins would have liked to share their oil they couldn’t. As much as we would like our faith to be enough for someone else, it can’t be. As much as we wish the the people in our lives who are short on faith can just borrow our faith, the truth is, they can’t.

For us, this is an invitation to make sure that our lamp is full. This parable is a reminder to consistently and eagerly grow our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus asks us to seek a deep, personal, lived relationship with him so that we too are welcomed into the wedding feast of eternal life and not left outside with the bridegroom saying that he doesn’t even know us.

Live It: Find a candle. Doesn’t have to be blessed or fancy, any candle will do (left over jack-o-lantern candle, maybe). Of course if you can find your baptismal candle, even better. Light the candle and then say this simple prayer, “God grant me the grace of a deep and rich faith. Help me grow my lived relationship with you. God help me to love you more tomorrow than I did today.” 

Sunday Readings for November 8th, 2020.