9 ways to be Happy

A quick glance at the magazine covers at the grocery store or a couple minutes scrolling through social media and you will see a lot of people who promise to make you happy. Whether it is by eating the right food, working out in the right way, having the best sex, doing the best hobby, believing the right things, or even just by buying the right magazine, the headlines or clickbait all promise happiness. 

Whether we want to admit it or not most of our human behavior is guided by a desire to be happy. Why do we cut our hair this way or that way? Because we think it will make us happy. Why do we get married to the person we marry? We think it will make us happy. Small things or big things, we often choose them because of our innate desire for happiness. 

This isn’t necessarily bad. God made us to desire happiness. The thing is that we can’t and won’t find true, lasting, real happiness here on earth. C. S. Lewis said it this way, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 

When Jesus preaches on the mountain top, he does the same thing that the supermarket magazines do, “If you want to me happy….” (What? The Savior of mankind can’t be good at marketing?)

Yes the beatitudes we read about this Sunday are a list of “if you want to be happy…” statements. The word translated as “Blessed” is Beatiudo, which is where we get name beatitudes. Ultimately, Jesus are saying, those who are __________ are happy, fortunate, or content.

What’s puzzling about Jesus’ preaching is that the things he promises will make us happy don’t seem very attractive. If you asked one of your kids how they were doing and they said, “Well I’m feeling pretty poor in spirit, sad, and meek. I wish the world was better than it is. I want to be merciful and have a clean heart and to be a peacemaker. I’m being bullied at school because I want to do the right thing and you should hear the things people say about me.” We wouldn’t instantly think that our kids are happy. Right?

Understanding what Jesus means by “happy” can help put together this puzzle. The original word in Greek that Jesus uses here is makarios which means good fortunate, happy, blessed. Jesus didn’t use eftihismenon which means blissful, feeling good. Jesus doesn’t promise pleasant feelings, but promises goodness. The things that will make us good and put us in a fortunate situation might not bring us blissful feelings. 

Another way to answer the seeming dissonance between happiness and suffering is that God’s goal for us often isn’t the same goal we seek when we want to be happy. If we seek happiness we will likely be left unsatisfied because we are bad at knowing what will make us happy and often follow the path of least resistance instead of the path to happiness. 

Jesus’ promise of happiness is actually a promise of goodness, beauty, and truth. In other words, if you are close to God, you will be happy. If you know God and God knows you, you will be happy. Happy is the one who has an intimate, lived relationship with Jesus Christ. 

LIVE IT: Make 2 lists. List 1 is all the things that make you momentarily, emotionally happy. List 2 are all the things that are good, beautiful, and true in your life. When you pray, pull out each list and thank God for each thing on each list one by one.

It’s Not Fair.

If you are a parent, then it is likely that you’ve heard someone complain that something isn’t fair. If you are parent like me, you’ve heard this phrase yelled at you while one child gestures wildly at another child. I don’t need to explain to you that comparing ourselves to others is a death sentence to loving them well and being happy. If you want to lose your joy, then start comparing yourself to others.

When I would yell at my parents about the fairness of their parenting my younger sister and I, most often their response was, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.” I never liked that answer. I used to think that equal portions, the same rules, etc absolutely means equal, but then I started to say it to my kids and it started to make sense.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a man with a vineyard who hires workers throughout the day and at sundown pays them all the same wage. Whether someone worked twelve hours or one hour, they all got a full day’s wage. The workers who worked a full day complain that they didn’t get what they deserved. The vineyard owner explains that they were paid what was promised, which is true. Then he explains that it is his choice if he also decides to pay the partial workers the same amount.

As the person who holds strict rules about standing in line and always returns the shopping cart to the cart corral (yes that is their technical name), I still struggle with this answer. I want to shout at Jesus, “BUT THIS STILL ISN’T FAIR!”And maybe I’m right. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is love.

God isn’t fair, he is love. He is extraordinary love.

God is wild generosity and total self-gift especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve a full portion of God’s love? Me. You. All of us. Few of us started working at dawn in the vineyard and none of us have worked perfectly all day long. We don’t deserve the wage God wants to pay us. So who are we in the story? We are the workers who come at midday and the end of the day, and yet because of God’s generosity, we still get a full portion.

What is the wage we are paid? Paul says that the wages of sin is death. So what is our wage for working in the vineyard? Life. The reward at the end of the day of working is a life of eternal bliss with God Almighty! There is no half measure of Heaven. If Heaven is infinite joy and perfect communion with God, then those who receive it won’t have more or less than someone else. There is no comparison in Heaven because everyone there is perfectly satisfied. More and less no longer matter in a state of perfect communion with God. 

Finally, this gospel teaches us that it is never too late to receive that full day’s wage. If you are reading this, but have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are reading this and aren’t in full communion with God, now is the time to reach out and take the job. Say a prayer that puts yourself at God’s mercy and God’s will. No matter how far away you feel. No matter how long you’ve been gone, God will welcome you back with extraordinary love. 

LIVE IT: Tell God you want to work in his vineyard. Actively seek to commit yourself to God. Use whatever words come from you heart. 

Sunday Readings for September 20th, 2020.

Worth it

What is precious to you? We all have something that is precious to us. Something of great value to us. Whatever it is, you probably don’t like when other people touch it or handle it. Maybe you are willing to pay a great deal of money to get or repair it. Maybe it has intrinsic value or maybe it just holds sentimental value to you. 

The word precious comes form the Latin root word pretium. Pretium means price. In other words, whatever is precious to you comes with a great price.

You or I would be willing to pay a great price for that precious item. In the first two parables in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. Both are precious. Jesus describes these hidden things which have incredible worth. The characters the parables sell everything to gain the treasure and the pearl pay a great price. How much is the hidden treasure worth? Everything.

Often we interpret these parables to mean that faith in Jesus, the gospel, is the hidden treasure and we need to sell everything in order to receive the gift. While that is true, I don’t think that is the only way to read these parables. 

The other way to read them is that you and I are the pearl, the treasure. You and I are the thing of immense value. What are we worth to Jesus Christ? Everything.

God is willing to trade it all to gain us. Jesus sold everything he had including his life in order to win us heaven. Jesus sacrificed everything his life, his dignity to bring us home. God values you and me, not because we deserve it, but because we belong to him.

We are hidden treasure. For some of us, the treasure is very hidden. But God knows what and who we really are. We are His. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are baptized sons and daughters of God. We are worth it.

LIVE IT: Take a little reflection time – figure out how much you are worth (like financially). Even if the bank still owns a big portion of your house or car or whatever, add it all up. Would you pay that amount of money to know Jesus? What is God worth to you? Pray in thanksgiving that Jesus gave up infinitely more than that just to win your heart. Thanks be to God!

To Deny the Gift

I can’t force my older kids to do things. They haven’t totally figured that out yet, which is nice. I think the oldest one suspects the truth and every now and again pushes a bit. For the most part they are obedient and respectful kids. I’m blessed and they are blessed because of it. Consequently, I rarely seek to make them do or not do something.

Sure there are times that I put my foot down, but usually we give our children choices and then make the alternatives we prefer the clear winner. Sometimes our outside the box thinker tries the alternative option. Usually it doesn’t work out well. We give options and make clear consequences. That’s what we are supposed to do right?

God doesn’t force anyone to do anything either. God doesn’t make us love him or make us worship him. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. We are free to go to heaven or no to go to heaven. Because grace is a free gift and we do nothing to earn it, we can sometimes erroneously get the idea that we also can’t deny it. But that isn’t how gifts work. Just because we didn’t earn it, doesn’t me we are forced to accept it. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” In other words, God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of his love. God freely gives grace, salvation, and love, but we can deny it, just like any other gift. 

If we can deny it, then it follows that to receive it we must accept it. The ability to accept it is a gift from God too, but that doesn’t mean that our choice to receive the gift is unimportant. No friends, if we want the free gift of God’s love and grace, we must cooperate with God’s action in our lives. 

The Good News is that God wants us to accept the gift of his love more than we want to. God wants to give us his grace more than we want to accept it. God wants us in heaven, in perfect intimate relationship with him, more than we desire heaven for ourselves. 

God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of his love and grace. This means we have to participate in the reception of that gift. Here are 3 ways to accept that gift today:

  1. Sacraments – Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Go to a Wedding or ordination or baptism. Pray for and receive grace. If you haven’t been in a while, start with confession. It’s personal, private, and easier than you remember. 
  2. Scripture – Read the Bible. It’s pretty straight forward. Start by reading a gospel, Mark. Just read one section. Do it 3 days in a row and then keep it going. God will reach out to you through the words on the page. 
  3. The Poor – Find a way to give to someone in poverty. Bring food to a food shelf (or HNOJ collects everyday). Check in with your neighbors. Give to someone’s poverty even if their poverty isn’t material. 

Live It: Try one of the three suggestions above on how to receive God’s grace and love. Make a plan and follow through before next Sunday.

Famous.

I met famed Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Morris. Okay, truth be told, he rubbed up against me on an airplane and then sat down right behind me. Everyone else was bothering him and I could tell he just wanted to watch Avengers on his phone in peace, so I didn’t bother him. But I watched him a bit. 

I knew his reputation as being a little bristly or salty. I’d heard he was polite, but didn’t totally enjoy being bothered all the time. I’d heard him rip on a broadcast of a Twins game, mercilessly the younger players and their style. And by the time I got done watching him interact with people, I was convinced that all those things I already knew about him were probably true. 

I think fame and reputation make it heard for people to really see the famous person. Naturally I think we fill in a lot of information about a person, especially a famous person, from what we already know about them. If we’ve heard they are difficult, we interpret everything through that lens. I mean, come on, Tom Hanks can’t be that great, right?

This Sunday we will heard proclaimed maybe the most famous piece of scripture that appears in the New Testament. John 3:16 is painted on the wall of our worship space at HNOJ. It is held up on signs at sporting events, at least it used to be. It might be the most memorized piece of scripture. Rightly so. It’s been said it is the entire gospel message in one sentence. 

Like a famous person, we can fill in what we know about this scripture and not really hear what it is saying. We hear the first three words and we go on autopilot. The way around this is to take it slow and break down each and every phrase we read. Let’s try it:

God so loved the world – God chooses to love the world. The world is broken and ugly and diseased and on fire, and he loves us anyway. God loves you, personally and intimately. 

That he gave his only Son – God has only one Son, and he was and is willing to sacrifice him for you and for me. 

So that everyone who believes in him – We can believe in Jesus. Believing isn’t just acknowledging his existence, but it is believing who Jesus is, what he says, and following what he does. Believing means calling him Lord and doing what he says. Believing is cooperating with God for the salvation of the world. 

Might not perish – If we don’t believe, we will perish. Following Jesus is life, to deny him is death. 

But might have eternal life. – Choosing to believe and be 100% sold out for Jesus means eternal life and joy with God forever. 

John 3:16 is a famous piece of scripture, and so, we have a choice to be a fan of it or to live it. We have a choice to marvel at a distance or to come up close and let its meaning rule our lives. God loves us. He sent Jesus as a gift for us. We are called to believe in him with our every action and decision. By his grace and our cooperation, we will have life with God forever. 

LIVE IT:
Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write out entirety of John 3:16. If you are a crafty/artistic person, do your thing. If not, just take your time and write it out slowly. After you’re done, read it out loud. Believe it. 

Sunday Readings for June 7, 2020.

Paradise

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I distinctly remember watching an 80’s sitcom (though I can’t remember which one) in which a young female character was being wooed by an older man. He kept saying that he had two tickets to paradise if she would trust him. The whole show comes to a head when the female character goes back to this man’s dingy one room apartment where she finds “two tickets to paradise” to be an unnamed pill and vague promises of intimate pleasure. Needless to say, she flees, the man is confronted later, and the whole seen is lesson for us impressionable children of the 80s. 

Yet, I think the lesson is a true one. Again and again we try to find a shortcut to paradise. Maybe it is the obvious substance use, pleasure seeking route. Maybe it is more hidden like avoidance of any pain or suffering. Maybe we think if we are rich or successful or comfortable enough we will make ourselves a heaven on earth. 

The gospel this Sunday is a clear reminder that the one and only way to paradise is Jesus Christ. The only door on the way to heaven is Jesus himself. In some ways, this is bad news for all who try to gain entry to a heavenly experience in some other way. Yet it is very best news for all. It means we know the way to heaven. We know who can open the way and bring us to eternal paradise – Jesus. 

Jesus isn’t only the way to heaven when we die, but is the only way to peace and joy now. Jesus can heal our hurts in a way that no other method or practice can. If another way of healing works it doesn’t work outside of Jesus’ power, but, ultimately, through it. 

How do we enter into the sheep fold? First we have to stop trying to jump over the wall. We must actively and purposefully chose Jesus over what we think is a shortcut. The next step is to trust fully in Jesus as our gate to heaven. Pray and rest in him. Let Jesus heal your brokenness. Make a statement of faith in him. Jesus is the gate. 

Live It: Make a statement of faith. How? It could be as simple as prayerfully repeating a short phrase. Options: “Jesus I trust in you.” “Jesus you are my Lord and my God.” “Jesus I believe, help my unbelief.” Or you could recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed. You could also just speak to God from your heart like, “Jesus I give you my life. I trust totally in you. I want to be yours and follow you all the days of my life.” 

Sunday Readings for May 3, 2020. 

Empty Tombs.

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If I close my eyes, I can clearly see the mausoleum where my mom is buried. No matter what time of year it is, I always see it as summer. Her tomb is on the outside of the building facing a large open field and a small wood and creek beyond. The face of her tomb is a beautiful marble or some other stone. 

My dad always does a good job keeping a small floral arrangement that matches the season in the flower vase that sits on the front of her tomb. Of course when I imagine it, it is always the same floral arrangement. In my mind’s eye, it is the one we placed on her tomb the day we placed her remains inside. I would say that I will always see those same flowers on my mothers tomb, but I don’t believe that. 

What I do believe is that there will come a time when those flowers will no longer be necessary. There will come a time when the nameplate on the front of the tomb will be inaccurate. There will come a time when my mom no longer lays in that tomb. I believe Jesus Christ will raise my mom from the dead. I believe at sometime in the future her tomb will be empty just like Jesus’ tomb. 

We are getting ready to celebrate Easter this Sunday when we stand and proclaim that death is not the end. On Easter we ardently proclaim from the rooftops that Jesus has risen from the dead and death is conquered. Mary of Magdala and the Disciples found an empty tomb, and in short order they are going to find a resurrected Lord. Alleluia! 

But the good news doesn’t end there. Yes, Jesus’ tomb was and is empty. Jesus is raised from the dead. Scripture tells us that he is just the first of those who will be raised. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that when we die, we too will be raised. Praise be to God!

St. Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ…”

Yes I when I close my eyes, I can see how my mom’s tomb is today. When Jesus comes again, her tomb will be empty just as all of ours will be by the grace of God. 

Live It: On Easter Sunday go outside and say out loud (shout, if you dare), “Alleluia! The tomb is empty! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!” 

Sunday Readings for April 12th, 2020.

That’s Heavy.

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In the cinema classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses the 1980’s slang term “heavy” to describe the hi jinx he has unleashed with his unplanned trip to 1955. His friend Doc Brown responds by saying, “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

This is funny not only because of the mash up of 1955 and 1985, but also because Doc seems clueless to the meaning of the word “heavy” in this context and we the audience know exactly what Marty means. We know because the feeling of heaviness isn’t just 1980’s slang.  

We all know when a situation is heavy. We all know when we hear a story or statement that weighs upon us. We can feel it when we walk into a room and sense a heaviness among those already presence. 

On Monday I read the final three paragraphs of the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel at a Bible Study (online) in preparation for this coming Sunday. When I read about Jesus crucifixion and death you could feel the heaviness in the group. When we heard of Jesus’ suffering one could sense how heavy we all felt. When Jesus cries out and breaths his last, we paused, and we could feel the weight of this reality upon us. 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and Catholic Churches everywhere will read the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel. Granted it will be proclaimed to an online audience or to empty Churches in many places in the world. More than ever, it seems we know what it means to feel that somber weight of death and rejection. 

Another reality remains. While we may know what a heavy situation feels like, our God, the source of Light and of all creation, knows what our heaviness feels like. Jesus dying on the cross isn’t just about his suffering, but about ours as well. We have a God who knows what it is like to be us. We have a God who loves us so much that he wouldn’t let us persist in suffering without changing the story. In fact, he came to save us from suffering and death. Jesus died on the cross to conquer death forever. 

This week when you feel heavy, when the weight of the world falls on your shoulders, remember that you don’t bear the weight alone. Remember Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

LIVE IT: Let God give you rest. If it means an extra nap or a vigorous walk, when you feel light or rested, thank God for his gift to you. 

Read for your self: Sunday Readings for April 5th, 2020.

Don’t be a Windsock.

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What is the purpose of a wind sock? 

Okay, so I guess I understand that a wind sock at small airfield could tell pilots which way the wind is blowing. I understand why on a golf course the holes have flags. The flags mark the location of a hole and help the players to see which way and the degree to which the wind is blowing at the green. But why do people sometimes have windsocks at their homes? 

The design of the windsock is such that it fills with wind and flutters in the direction away from which the wind is coming. It is controlled by the wind. It is blown directionally any which way the wind is blowing. I guess some people have them for decoration.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus asks those gathered why they went into the desert to see John the Baptist. One of the things Jesus asks is, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” In essence, Jesus is asking, “Did you come to the desert to see a windsock?”

The rhetorical answer that Jesus is looking for is a big NO. The crowds didn’t go into the desert because John dressed well or just because he was a prophet. They followed John because he wasn’t a bruised reed, but because he stood up to the winds of his time. John had backbone. 

People are attracted to people who believe in what they stand for. I have a friend who likes to say, I am passionate about passionate people. Other people’s enthusiasm and strong stance can be attractive at the right time and when expressed in the right way.

There might be nothing worse than someone who moves whichever way the wind is blowing that day. To just listen to the crowd and ignore the truth is cowardice and weak. 

John is attractive because he had backbone. John believed in something and was sold out for it. How sold out? He dressed in a hair-shirt and ate bugs because he thought that is what he would best serve the Lord. 

Following Jesus Christ, preparing a way from him is rarely convenient. If want to be people who serve God well and prepare a way, if we want to attract people to the gospel, we have to have backbone too. We have to chose the inconvenient path. We can’t be a windsock. 

Live It: Put on two different socks tomorrow. It isn’t as weird as a hair-shirt or eating locus, but us it a reminder to have backbone. Believe in the gospel. 

Surprise!

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Sunday Readings for November 17, 2019. 

My two year-old is obsessed with Lemons. I know we aren’t supposed to let him have them because of teeth or enamel or something like that, but I pick my battles, okay? The other day he whined when he saw a lemon slice in my water. As I acquiesced and handed him the lemon slice I said, “Now, you know it is sour?” 

Immediately he popped it in his mouth, took a big bite, and then made the sourest, squintiest, puckeriest face of all time. Then he looked at me in total surprise like I had tricked him in some way. I laughed. He laughed. It was all fine, but I couldn’t help but think, “What did you expect?”

Sometimes I think good Christian men and women are surprised when we get the short end of the stick from the world. We are surprised when we actually follow Jesus, that we might get putdown, ignored, and dismissed. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I often think I can follow Jesus and still be fully, comfortably, completely embraced and loved by the world. Consequently, when someone thinks I’m a religious weirdo who is “way too into church,” I’m surprised and disturbed. 

Jesus promises us we will be hated – not only disliked or disapproved of, but straight up hated for our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the king of good news (life over death, all sins forgiven, unconditionally loved by God, etc.), but Jesus also reminds us that there are forces that oppose the gospel and those forces will encourage hatred of all who seek to do the will of God. 

The question we must all answer as followers of Jesus is whether we are willing to be hated because of our love for Jesus. the truth of the matter is that we answer that question with our actions and our words.

Live It: Turn off the radio or podcast or music for 1 drive this week and think about the question “Am I willing to be hated for my love for Jesus? Am I willing to endure hatred for how I share the good news of Jesus Christ?