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.”

Sin is Boring. Convention must die.

 

bence-boros-178730-unsplash

Photo by Bence ▲ Boros on Unsplash

June 24th Sunday Readings.

I’m reading a nonfiction book about the rise of ancient Rome (I know – nerd). I recently finished a section that reminded me of the last ten or twenty or fifty years of popular culture and entertainment. The book described the use of shocking behavior (mostly sexual) to get the attention of both the elites and general public. Do something shocking enough – violent, sexually explicit, brutal – and you could rule Rome for a day.

My take away from reading our current culture reflected in that ancient culture was the simple realization that sin is boring. 21st century America hasn’t created any new shocking perversion. We aren’t the first culture to seek to break from the past by brazenly throwing out the previous generation’s moral code or public decorum. We just aren’t that original. 

Each generation seeks to be innovative and new. New generations desire to correct the mistakes of their parents by doing old things in new ways. In some ways, there is nothing wrong with this in principle. However sometimes, we go off the rails.

In the gospel this Sunday, we learn an important lesson in defying custom while listening to God. Zechariah and Elizabeth name their son John seemingly against the wishes of family and friends. They didn’t name John after Zechariah or any of the couple’s relatives. They named the boy John because the angel of the Lord told Zachariah to do so. The lesson here is that submitting to the will of God can sometimes break with customs, but can never break with truth. Or as G.K. Chesteron said, “Break the convention. Keep the commandments.” 

Where I live in Minnesota it is conventional to not “bother” other people. See someone crying in a pew in an empty Church in the middle of the day – don’t approach them, they wouldn’t want to be bothered. See someone wandering the aisles on a busy Sunday looking for a seat – they wouldn’t want me to make a big deal by moving over for them. A coworker asks what you are doing on the weekend – I’ll mention the lake or lawn care, wouldn’t want to bother them by telling them about my church. These are conventions that need to be broken in my neighborhood. 

What are the conventions of your local culture that need to die so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be clearly and beautifully lived and proclaimed? I’d love to hear your answers. You can find me at Twitter or Instagram.

LIVE IT:
Change something this weekend for church. If you don’t go to church in the summer, go to church. If you have a set routine, break it. If you go to church alone or just with your family, invite someone else. When you do, offer it up to God. 

What’s it going to take?

April 8th Sunday Readings.

Getting kids to eat whatever they don’t want to eat can be a monumental task. I realize Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplashthat there are strategies that work. Also, negotiation is not most effective way to get children committed to a power struggle to do what you ask them. And, there are times when getting a child to eat green beans or ham (depending on the kid or the moment) just boiling down to the questions, “What is it going to take?”

When faced with unbelief in the lives of our family or friends, or even in the dark corners of our own doubt, I think we could easily ask this question, “What is it going to take?” What is it going to take for you and I to really believe the good news of the gospel? What is it going to take for our sibling or parent or spouse or offspring to believe that Jesus is their Lord? What is it going to take?

In the gospel, we hear about Thomas who states clearly what it will take for him to believe. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It would appear that for Thomas it takes touching the wounds of Christ to believe. At first blush, this seems like a lack of faith. Thomas appears to be put conditions on what it will take for him to believe in the resurrection, but I think there is more going on here.

John, the gospel writer, never states whether Thomas actually touches the wounds of Christ. In fact, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” when he simply sees Christ. For Thomas encountering Jesus face to face is enough. Meeting Jesus is what it takes for Thomas to believe.

I believe this to be true for most of us. For most of us, we believe once we have had a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ. Christianity isn’t only a set of beliefs or a moral code, but it is a relationship with a person. To really meet the person of Christ (and not just the idea of Jesus) fundamentally changes us at our core.

When Thomas sees the resurrected Christ, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” This profession of faith is one of the most vivid and explicit in all the gospels. By giving Jesus the titles of both Lord and God, Thomas is proclaiming Jesus the same God as the God of his fathers, the Lord God of all Israel and the Old Testament. When we encounter Jesus face to face, we know Jesus is God.

Live It:
Jesus lives. If we really believe in the resurrection we will look for him now. Two suggestions: Look for Jesus in the Eucharist and in the poor.

Winners Fail.

March 18th Sunday Readings.

usp_olympics__curling_97910487-e1519497611791

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.

Give up.

February 18th Sunday Readings.

What do you think of when you hear, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”?

For me, I get derek-story-306918worried and scared. I think, “I’m caught. He knows.” Sometimes, I even start to think of the things I’ve done wrong and worry about what Jesus, and maybe others will think once they know I am a fraud and a sinner.

It’s as if I am in a fortress and an invading general is calling for my surrender. It is as if he is calling for me give up, and open my doors so that his troops can come and take me away.
In the gospel and in our lives, the exact opposite is happening.

Instead of being the leader of the invading army, Jesus is the leader of the liberating army. In stead of screaming at the walls of my citadel for me to open my doors and receive my just punishment, Jesus proclaims with joy, “GOOD NEWS! It’s finally safe. You can come out, all will be forgiven.”

We still have to surrender. We still have to admit to my sins. We still have to give up and give in. But instead of surrendering to our enemy, we are surrendering to our savior. As long as the doors are shut to Jesus, the pestilence of sin persists. It’s not only safe to open the doors to Jesus, it is the only way we will survive.

Repent, and believe that when you do, God loves you unconditionally, and Jesus has saved you.

LIVE IT:
Repent! Step 1: make a list of the things you need to turn away from. Step 2: Confess it. (The best way, seriously, is in the Sacrament of Confession). Step 3: Believe the good news that God loves you unconditionally and you are forgiven.

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?

 

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!”