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.

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.

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.

Doubt.

August 13th Sunday Readings.

baseball-umpire-out.jpgEarlier this summer, I pulled a prank on a retreat. What I did doesn’t matter. It was non destructive. It wasn’t mean. It was funny (I was told). However, in the time between when I performed the prank and the time the recipient discovered it, I was freaking out. I was worried I had gone too far. I was worried they would have hurt feelings. I was worried they weren’t going to find it funny, and it would harm our relationship. But mostly, I was worried I was going to be kicked off the retreat.

I don’t about you, but I haven’t been kicked out of many places. I haven’t been kicked off or fired from many teams or communities. I don’t know what it is like to feel that level of rejection. I can imagine it hurts.

I know some people who have felt like they have been kicked out of Church. These people felt on the outside of Church simply because they doubted. They felt like all the other people in the pews on Sunday have it all together and believe without question or hesitation. They felt like they were on the outside because they had questions.

In the gospel this week, we read the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter falling in. A one point after fishing him out of the waves, Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” This is Peter, Saint Peter, the first Pope, martyr for the faith – doubting. I’ve always thought that though he doubted he could walk on water, but the moment he started to sink, he had enough faith to cry out to Jesus for help.

Believe me when I say, doubt doesn’t put you on the outside of the Church. Questions don’t make you a bad Catholic or an irreligious person. What isn’t good is giving up on seeking the truth. Giving up and resting in the doubt versus doubting and actively searching for truth are two different things. It is the different between Peter drowning and Peter calling out for Christ to save him.

Do you doubt? So did the St. Peter. You have questions? So did the saints. You aren’t certain? Keep searching for answers. How? Start by turning to Jesus in prayer. Jesus just doesn’t have the answers – Jesus is the answer.

LIVE IT: Two steps – Step 1) Close your eyes and say this prayer, “Jesus, I do believe; help my unbelief!” Step 2) Address one of your doubts by asking your question of someone you trust. Weigh the answer. Pray about it again.

Weeds

July 23rd Sunday Readings.

RX-DK-CGG35206_Common_Lawn_Weeds_Dandelion_v.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.1707My favorite line in this entire gospel is, “Where do the weeds come from?” We all ask this spiritual question from time to time. Where does my desire to sin come from? Where does sin come from in the world? If God is good, why is there bad?

Jesus answers this question directly and clearly, “An enemy has done this.” The point is that the bad seed doesn’t come from God. We were made in the image and likeness of God. We were made for good. However, we were also made free. We have the ability to choose good or evil. That free will allows us to both turn away from God and to turn towards him, to love God well. If we aren’t free, we can’t love.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any new varieties of sin in my life. The same weeds sprout each time. And after years of trying to change, it can become disheartening. We can begin to think, “I am just this way. This is who I am.” The homeowner tells his servants that he isn’t the source of the weeds. God only plants good seed in our lives. We weren’t made to sin.

Best yet, God never gives up. We can’t and shouldn’t either.

Live it: Go find a mirror. Look yourself in the face. Remind yourself that God made you, God loves you, and God will never give up on you.

I am not a farmer.

July 16th Sunday Readings.

I am not a farmer. I am barely a gardener. Mostly I feed the bunny rabbits that roam Anim_Homepage.gifmy neighborhood like an emboldened street gang looking to destroy plush vegetation wherever they go. My wife seems, naturally, to know how to grow things. I just do what she says.

Sometimes Jesus’ farming parables get a little lost on me – maybe I don’t have ears to hear. This Sunday’s gospel is the classic parable of the Sower and the Seed (which, to me, sounds like the name of indie band. I digress). It seems pretty straight forward that Jesus is saying only about 25% of people who hear the good news are going to get it and follow.

The problem for me, and maybe this is my ignorance of farming, is that I don’t think that the overall premise of the story makes sense. What I know about gardening is that you don’t just walk around your property randomly throwing seeds. Like I wouldn’t trying to plant tomatoes in my driveway.

No, a reasonable farmer/gardener would either only sow seed where it would likely grow well or change the bad ground into well tilled, fertile soil. What does that mean? The sower should be turning over the path, digging up the rocks, and pulling the thorns – then sowing seeds.

What I think it means for us is that we need to be preparing the soil in our own hearts and in our world where we are planning to plant the seed of hope in the gospel. Listening to preaching or reading a spiritual book is all fine and dandy, but if haven’t prepared ourselves to really listen and reflect on what we hear/read, we won’t bear as much fruit as we could.

The absolute best way, I’ve found, to till up the soil of my heart in order to receive the gospel, is to go to Confession. Not as punishment for my sin, but as the way that my heart is turned over and prepared to be a fertile place for God’s word. The rocky sin gets removed. The habitual thorny vices are ripped out. Then there is opportunity for the seed of virtue to grow without sin getting in the way.

If I’m trying to plant the good news of the gospel in a rock hard world full of thorny people, I’m not going to have much success until I’ve earned the right to be heard and made the kind of friendships that open others to my witness.

Having said all that, last year I had a fennel bulb grow in between my driveway and cement front porch. How? I’m not sure. Sometimes all it takes is a crack and brave soul with good aim to grow the good news even in the most inhospitable of environments. So go and be bold in sowing the seed of the gospel, but trying tilling the soil first.

Live It:
Go to Confession. If it’s been a while, tell the priest that. If you aren’t Catholic, tell the priest that. If you don’t know how to go to Confession, tell the priest that. Just do it.