Tight Hold

My 4 year old has a strong personality. Maybe all 4 year olds have strong personalities, but I don’t remember my daughters behaving the way my son does at times. Also, whenever someone says the phrase “strong personality,” I think it is ultimately code for, “pain in the bum.” And while my son is sweet and good and generous, he can also be a pain in the bum. Maybe you know someone like that. 

The thing he does that bugs me more than just about anything else is when he won’t turn off the TV. I’d like to be the kind of person who can say, “Yeah, my family doesn’t watch a lot of TV.” But reality is that we do watch more TV than we should (please don’t send me an article on toddlers and screen time. I know.) 

Sometimes when it’s time to turn off the TV, Leo will take the remote, pretend like he is going to turn it off, and then just stand with the remote in his hands and stare at the TV. Almost no amount of cajoling will get him to give up the remote. One time I made the mistake of trying to physically remove the remote from his hands. I couldn’t believe how strong he was. The kid weighs 30 lbs and it was all I could do to pry his little fingers apart. Unbelievable. 

In the gospel, Jesus claims his followers. He says we will know his voice. We will follow him. He will give us eternal life. Then Jesus says no one can take us out of his hand. No one can take us out of the Father’s hand. Scholars tell us that this is a turn of phrase that means that if God wants to hold onto us, no one can take us from him. 

I think sometimes we believe that there are forces in our lives that can pry us out of God’s grasp. Our busy schedules make it hard to go to Church on Sunday. Kids activities and sports tournaments get in the way of being committed to Church stuff. Our work life keeps us from a daily prayer practice. Have you ever heard anyone say things like this? Have you said them?

What Jesus is saying in the gospel is that nothing, I mean nothing, can steal us from God’s grip. No outside force can pry our lives out of God’s hand. Nothing can remove our souls from Jesus’ embrace.

The bad news is that anytime we do fall away from God, it isn’t anyone else fault but ours. When work or kids activities or busyness get in the way of God, it’s because we’ve chosen them over God. Nothing can pry us from God’s grasp, but we can walk away anytime.

When we choose something instead of God, it isn’t because that thing is more powerful than God. It is because we want it more than God in that moment. It’s us. It’s always been us who walk away.

Maybe that is hard for you to read. It was hard for me to write. 

The good news is that God loves us more than our sin. While we turn away, God turns to us. When we run, he runs after us. When we pry ourselves out of God’s grip, God opens up his arms even wider and hopes we will run back to him soon. 

So whether you feel like you are currently being held in God’s hands or feel like you are far from your loving God, don’t fret, nothing is more powerful than God. God is bigger than your sin. God loves you more than you love everything else in your life. All you have to do is return to him. 

LIVE IT: Find something in your house, car, or office that symbolizes God. Maybe a crucifix from the wall or a Bible. Pick it up, and hold onto it really really tightly. Pretend that someone is going to try and steal it from you and hold onto it. Then say a quick prayer asking God to hold onto you tighter than you are holding onto that thing. Let God hold you close. 

Sunday Readings for May 8, 2022.

Go. Go on, get outta here.

Have you ever met someone who seems perfect? No one is, of course, but it’s a fact that some folks just seem to have it all together. They seem to be patient and kind, generous, helpful, talented, smart, athletic, musically talented, and easy going. They can get things done, but don’t stress. They are humble and magnanimous all that the same time. If you ever point out that they seem to have it all together, they will gracious thank you for the compliment, but then explain how sometimes they eat chocolate on a weekday and can’t seem to grow larger carrots in their raised garden beds, as if these are major character flaws. 

In the gospel this Sunday we hear about a character that no one would call perfect. Jesus is presented with a woman caught in the act of adultery. The crowd wants to stone her because that’s what the law says. Jesus calmly writes on the ground and then invites those in the crowd to feel free to throw stones if they themselves are without sin. In other words, Jesus says if anyone present is perfect then they can judge. 

The irony of course is that Jesus is the one person present who is perfect. Jesus is the lone judge standing before her. When it comes time to pass his judgement Jesus choses mercy. He doesn’t say what she did was okay or normalize adultery, but he choses not to condemn her. Then he sends her on her way commanding her to not sin any more. 

What is fascinating is Jesus’ last line, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” The word that gets me is “Go.” I think this word gets lost in Jesus’ next command to go and sin no more. In fact I think Jesus is giving two commands. 

Jesus commands another group of people to “Go,” at the end of Matthew’s gospel. In that moment it is the disciples who Jesus commands to, “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” What Jesus is say by using the same emphatic, imperative here is that both the disciples and the woman caught in adultery are being sent.

What does that mean? Jesus doesn’t just send perfect people to do his will. Jesus doesn’t just invite perfect people to follow him. Jesus doesn’t call upon the perfect to become pilgrims on the journey towards heaven. The good news of the gospel is that even if you consider yourself a wretched sinner Jesus is calling you. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not good enough to be a church person or a real Christian.” You were wrong. 

Jesus wants to reconcile you. Jesus desires to show you mercy. Jesus wants to send you out. Jesus can and will command you to go. Being a sinner doesn’t preclude you from being close and being called by Jesus. 

Live It: The key to this exchange is that before Jesus sends the woman, he shows her mercy. Before we can be sent, we need God’s mercy. The best way to do this is to head to Confession. Receive God’s mercy and be sent this Lent. 

Sunday Readings for April 3rd.

Delayed Gratification and Heaven

Delayed gratification is hard. Maybe you are a more evolved creature, but for me, I struggle to wait for my reward. I learned about delayed gratification when I took a psychology class in which we watched a video where 6 and 7 year olds were offered 1 marshmallow now or 2 marshmallows if they could wait 20 minutes. The researcher then left the child in a room with a single marshmallow. If the kid lasted 20 minutes, they got 2. Most did not. Watching kids do mental (and sometimes physical) gymnastics in order to avoid being tempted by the marshmallow in front of them was quite entertaining. 

Most people think that being a person of faith, a religious person, a church person is an exercise in delayed gratification. In someways they are right. We do await eternal glory and perfect joy and peace in God’s presence forever. I mean heaven is better than this mess, right?

However, to think that being a person of faith means that all the rewards will only come in the afterlife isn’t what Jesus taught or what we believe. 

The gospel story this Sunday is Jesus preaching the Beatitudes. We are all familiar with these even if we don’t fully understand or live them. In each beatitude Jesus mentions a particular attitude or way of suffering and then explains how people with that attitude or affliction will be blessed. For example the second beatitude in Matthew’s gospel says, “Blessed are they who morn, for they will be comforted.” And indeed beatitudes 2-6 and 8 are written in the future tense. Do this and that will happen. 

The promises in Beatitudes 1 and 7 are written in the present tense. In other words, if you are or do this, then you have this NOW! The reward is the same in these two Beatitudes – The kingdom of heaven. What is Jesus trying to say?

Heaven can’t wait. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus brought with him the beginning of the Kingdom of heaven. Heaven has come and is yet to come. Jesus is trying to say that we can begin to experience the joys and delights of heaven now. Because Jesus came to earth, died and rose, we can experience a taste of heaven in this life. We can live the good life, not because everything is perfect and all of our desires are perfectly met, but because we can be in intimate relationship with God now. Jesus came to rescue us from death and sin and to bridge the divide we created through our sin. Jesus opens the gates of heaven for us even here on earth. 

In heaven we will be perfectly united in perfect communion with the perfect Trinity. And we don’t have to wait until then to begin to experience that perfect joy. Get close to God, be a saint and you can begin to experience heaven on earth. 

Live it: DON’T WAIT! Stop whatever you are doing (reading?) and say this prayer, “Jesus I want to be near to you. Jesus I want heaven. Jesus I want to be a saint. Help me.”

Justice for All (as long as it’s not me).

Justice is sweet. When I am driving down the highway and someone cuts me off or blows past me driving erratically with no concern for their speed or safety, it is pretty awesome when, a couple miles down the road, I see them pulled over by law enforcement. We all love justice when it is happening to someone else. We want people to get what they deserve. 

When it is us, well, we love mercy. We desire leniency. We want to scoot by and maybe even get a free pass. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Where I work and the community I live in is a place of wealth. Our neighborhoods our comfortable, our schools are excellent, and we have an abundance of natural beauty. Targets and coffee shops on every corner – you get the idea.

When Jesus says it is difficult for those with wealth to go to heaven, he is talking about us. 

This statement is radical and, in the first century, was subversive. Jesus was saying those who have wealth aren’t blessed but, in fact, will have trouble being close to God. That is the exact opposite of the first century notion of blessedness. In the first century mind, those with financial, physical, familial health are the blessed. Those who are poor, sick, and broken are cursed. Whether we want to believe it or not, we certainly behave the same way today. The “haves” are blessed, the “have nots” are cursed. 

Jesus contradicts this conventional thought. The disciples were shocked and go on to ask if even the most well off struggle to get into heaven, who can make it? This is when Jesus drops truth that is both hard to hear and hopeful. No one can earn heaven. No one is good enough. No one can make it on their own. BUT for God nothing is impossible. 

This is what takes this message about justice and makes it a message about mercy. While no one is worthy of salvation, God can overcome the impossible and bring us to heaven with him forever. Wow, this is awesome and radical. You aren’t good enough and God still wants you. You can’t earn heaven, but Jesus would die to get you there.

LIVE IT: While we can’t earn heaven, when we try to get close to Jesus by sacrificing things of this world, Jesus tells us we will be rewarded. Make a small sacrifice this week (one cold shower, no phone use one day, no shopping on Sunday, whatever you want), and ofter that sacrifice up to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 10, 2021.

Need a Break?

Every single one of us is addicted to busyness. Try to convince me otherwise. We feed off the stress of too much. We long for a simpler time when we didn’t run from one thing to the next constantly overcome with stimulation overload.

For some, that time was about a year ago in the middle of the pandemic. Everything stopped and some of us didn’t constantly check our phones because the news was just too much. Most of us won’t admit to enjoying the time when everything was shut down because that time was a period of horrible suffering and financial disaster for many of our neighbors not too far down the road. I’ve heard people express guilt over enjoying last summer just so much. Fair enough.

But in quiet conversations, with close friends who know what we mean and what we don’t, some of us will admit – there was sometime beautiful and good about the world slowing down. 

What were the things we needed a break from? Maybe it was stressful, long hours at our jobs. Maybe it was overwhelming responsibilities in caring for loved ones. But for most of my friends, it was a break from the things we do for our kids and for our leisure. It was a little bit like when someone says they need a vacation from their vacation. We needed a break from the things we do for rest, from the maintenance of our comfortable, leisurely, overwhelming lifestyle. If these sounds like first world problems, well, they are. 

In the gospel, Jesus gives the apostles an emphatic command. He says, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” No parable, no clever question to get his followers to think, Jesus just straight up commands them to take a break.

This is the kind of commandment even the least motivated of Jesus’ followers should be able to pull off right? As a Christian, how good are you at doing things that actually give you rest? That’s what I thought, same here. 

We do a number of things that we think will give us rest, only which actually stress us out further. We want rest, but we turn our hobbies and fun into more work. We want joy, but are so focused on entertainment or pleasure we miss the goodness right in front of us. We want peace, but we listen to and watch true-crime podcasts/shows which unsettle us. 

It would seem to me we live in the era of constant stimulation and productivity. We fail at rest. 

Good news, Jesus gives us the formula for rest. Here are the 3 components that make up Jesus’ formula for rest:

  1. Come Away – The first component is that we must remove ourselves from our day to day. This sounds like a burden or another thing to do, but we don’t have to get on an airplane or take a week off of work to do this. One way is to simply close our eyes. It’s amazing how far away we can go if we just close our eyes and eliminate that stimulus. 
  2. By Yourselves – Jesus says this to his disciples and I think he is speaking in the plural. For us, it may mean we go alone. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things and there is great spiritual benefit to time alone. Consider taking your rest alone if possible. If not alone, then doing this with only the most trusted and closest people in your life is another good option. 
  3. To a Deserted Place – If your home is like mine, I feel like it is full of stuff I need to clean or a person who distracts me from the rest I’m seeking. While we probably can’t remove the other members of our households whenever we feel like, I think it is helpful to carve out a deserted location where we live. One way is to create a sacred space which we reserve for our times of rest. In our house it is a particular couch in a room without screens (and into which we don’t bring our screens), and a wall of crucifixes and crosses behind us. Honestly if we just cut screens that’s probably deserted enough to make a difference. 

When sprinting on the overstimulated, overworked, over entertained treadmill, it’s hard to imagine stepping off ever for a moment, but we should try. Jesus command us to rest. 

LIVE IT: Try the formula 3 times this next week. Come away by yourself to a deserted place for 10-15 minutes 3 times in 7 days. Don’t do anything. Just rest. If you like it, do it again next week. 

Hometown Kid.

As a sports fan, I am particularly moved when a player gets to play for his or her hometown team. When a young person grows up idolizing players on the local squad and then they join that team, it can be a powerful expression of realized dreams and hometown pride. 

Where we are matters.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus’ Great Commission of his disciples. He tells them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the mission of the Church. This is what we, the Church, are supposed to do with our lives. This is why the Church exists. 

With an important command like this, you would expect to be proclaimed from a mountain top or in the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus gives it to his disciples in Galilee. This region is literally the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for Jesus and the disciples, we wouldn’t even know it’s name. So why does Jesus give this important command in Galilee?

Galilee is where many of the disciples are from. It is their home region. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry began. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus’ saving work began in Galilee and ended in Galilee. 

When we think of missionary work, we usually think of going to a far off land in the middle of jungle or desert and speaking to groups of indigenous people who have never heard the name Jesus. The reality is that most of us are called to be missionaries to our own hometowns. We are called to minister and reach out and love the very people we live next to, whom we have known, and who know us. 

While some of us are called to go away to move to make the road our home and our ministry territory, the truth us that most of us are called to grow where we’re planted. To water the gardens that surround us. 

St. Therese of Liseux desperately wanted to the join the missionaries from her holy order who were being sent from France to Asia. She wanted nothing more than to “go and make disciples.” St. Therese never left the convent or France after she joined. Though selected to be a missionary her poor health kept her in France. She led a hidden life of prayer for the remainder of her life. At her death at 24, she is said to have told those around her God granted all of her desires.

Despite never going out on mission, St. Therese is the Patroness of Missions and Missionaries. She was a missionary where she was. She watered the gardens around her (she is also patroness of gardens and gardening). The Church could’ve have chosen any number of missionaries who traveled the globe to spread the gospel, but they chose a woman who never left her convent.

We are called to fulfill this Great Commission and we are called to do it right where we are. 

Live It: Jesus says love your neighbors as yourself. Who are my neighbors? How about the people who live next to you? You know, you’re actual neighbors. Whether you are in a house, an apartment, or a dorm, reach out to your neighbors, learn their names if you don’t know them and find a way to grow in friendship. After this past year, it might just be the best way to follow Jesus’s command. Be the gospel right where you are. 

Sunday Readings for May 30, 2021.

You don’t even know.

I could say that I’ll never forget getting my wisdom teeth removed, but that would be a lie. Sure I remember going to St. Luke’s hospital in St. Louis, Missouri to the dental surgery floor. I remember the medical person talking to me about the Cardinal’s off season moves while she started the IV that would eventually knock me out. I remember waking up very loopy and making my parents ride the elevator up and down before heading to the car. I remember getting home and my buddy Drew bringing me a cookies and cream milk shake from Steak-n-Shake. 

I remember all that, but I don’t actually remember the removal of the wisdom teeth. I was unconscious, thank goodness. When I woke up the teeth were gone. It happened even though I didn’t remember it. The truth is that some of the details of my wisdom teeth removal, I only remember because my parents told me about them later. It’s kind of like when we remember the color of the carpet in the room where we were a baby, but only because someone showed us a picture of us in the room as an infant. 

In the gospel this week we will hear incredible stories of the resurrection. The Church remembers these stories. Not only through them being recorded in Sacred Scripture, but also in the lived Tradition of the Catholic Church. People like you and me remember these moments. They just happened to be followers of Jesus in the 1st and 2nd centuries. 

John writes at the end of this piece from his gospel that, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” In other words there are many other things that Jesus did between his resurrection on Easter Sunday and his Ascension that aren’t recorded. Jesus performed many more miracles. He appeared to more people and in more places. 

I think this doesn’t just apply to the disciples and his immediate followers but there are many, many other moments when Jesus appears that aren’t recorded in scripture. In fact, I would say Jesus has appeared, healed, preached, ate with his followers countless times in the last 2000 years and we’ve recorded and remembered publicly very, very few of these moments.

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He acts in the lives of his faithful followers. He speaks to us. He heals us. He forgives us. He really is truly alive and active in our lives today just as we read about in the Bible. 

A significant majority of the moments, maybe even most moments, we experience the resurrection haven’t been recorded. Just like not remembering the extraction of my wisdom teach, we don’t always remember or even realize the moment that the resurrected Lord comes into our lives and acts with saving grace. Sometimes we do feel and experience the effects of the resurrection even if we didn’t see it happen. We can know the change in our lives, even if didn’t recognize at the time how the resurrected Christ came to us. 

Do you believe that Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead, is working in your life? Do you believe he is actively preaching, healing, changing, and calling you? Do you believe in “many signs…not written” in the book of your life? Is Jesus alive?

Live It: Say this simple prayer tonight when you go to bed, “Jesus, thank you for loving and caring for me, even when I am not aware.”

Sunday Readings for April 11th, 2021.

That’s Unbelievable.

“That’s UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!” If you are sports fan you’ve probably heard the word “unbelievable” throne around a lot. Maybe the most famous USA sports call of all time was a question from Al Michaels asking, “Do you believe in miracles?” Believing the unbelievable seems to be an important aspect of the fan experience. 

When we say something is unbelievable, we often mean unlikely. When the Vikings are down by nearly a touchdown in the final seconds of a football game it is unlikely that they will win. Yet, the Minneapolis Miracle happened. Some things do happen that are so unlikely that we just can’t believe they really occurred. 

Jesus’ empty tomb could easily be labeled as unbelievable. 

What a miracle. What an incredibly unlikely thing. Maybe the most unlikely outcome of Jesus’ life from simply a human perspective. When people die, they generally stay dead. Yet, when Mary of Magdala and then Peter and John arrive at the tomb they find it empty except for the burial clothes. 

I think most of us take the reality of the empty tomb for granted. We don’t stop and think about exactly how unbelievable the resurrection really is. The truth is if there is not resurrection, if the tomb isn’t empty, then our faith is significantly impacted. Some would go so far as to say that if the tomb isn’t empty then our faith is empty. 

In the face of such an unbelievable, unlikely reality, we have to make a decision. Do we believe? Are we willing to ascent to the reports of the gospels that Jesus was raised from the dead? We have two choices. Either he rose from the dead, conquered death forever, saved all humanity, and is worthy of our worship and total devotion, OR Jesus didn’t raise from the dead and he is a dead man. Everyday you and I pick between these two choices. 

If we believe the unbelievable, we then walk into a deep and abiding relationship with the God who loves us enough to die for us. If we state with our whole being that tomb is empty and Jesus is risen, then we will be a people truly free from the bonds of death and slavery to sin. If we believe, then we can live as a people free from fear. 

If you want to be free, if you want to be truly alive, if you want to believe the unbelievable then say it with me this day, “THE TOMB IS EMPTY! ALLELUIA!! HE IS RISEN ALLELUIA!!!” 

Live It: Listen to this song Because He Lives from Matt Maher. It’s a good one. 

Easter Sunday readings for April 4th, 2021.

Why is it Good?

The other day I was leading a group of Seniors (not high school students), in Bible Study. This is a pretty loose and casual group. A lot of jokes. Many of them at my expense. Fun. But this particular week we read an excerpt of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Mark.

Something was off. They were quiet, somber even. I asked what was wrong and didn’t get a full answer. It dawned on me, we had just read a Passion account and they were moved by Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus’ death is gruesome. He suffered much for us. It makes sense for us to be in a bit of a grim melancholy after hearing it. So why do we call Good Friday, good?

I heard a priest say that it is Jesus Christ and the Cross that makes this life good and wonderful and justified. Without Jesus and the Cross this life is meaningless and empty. The choices he says is either Jesus or nothing. 

If things in this world are good or true or beautiful, they are that precisely because of Jesus Christ and his suffering on the Cross. The Cross redeems us, certainly, but it also redeems a fallen, broken, and suffering world. 

Pain and suffering aren’t proof that a good God doesn’t exist, but instead are the very reason for which we need a God who will come and make these things make sense. God takes that which seemingly hurts us and uses it for good. He does this through the Cross. 

It is for this reason that we call Good Friday, good. The day that remembers the death of God and the great suffering of that very being who had come to save us from needless suffering and death is the ultimate good to us. It is through Jesus’ suffering that our suffering is redeemed. It is through Jesus’ death that our death is conquered. It is through Good Friday that Easter Sunday is possible. 

How much does God love you? Enough to die for you. How good is Good Friday? So good that it changes all that is bad and gives it meaning. Without Good Friday all is lost. With Good Friday all is gained. 

Live It: On Good Friday, from noon until 3 p.m. turn off any and all entertainment. No TV, no phone, no music (Mozart Requiem Mass is the exception). In the silence simply thank God for the great gift of the Cross. 

Good Friday Readings for April 2nd, 2021.

Note Bene: I will be posting an Easter Reflection on the Easter Gospel this Sunday, you know, like on Easter. Check back for that brief reflection on the Resurrection.

A Tip or Trick that Works.

I’m a sucker for a tip or trick. When I see a link from a DIY magazine and the article is titled, “21 Tips and Tricks to Keep your Garage Clean,” or “13 Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Lawn,” I can’t help but click. 

The worst is when those titles are just click bait and the tips and tricks don’t work or are unrealistic. When I find that gem of an idea, go try it, and it works, oh the glory! When I find a tip or trick that actually works, it can make the difference. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus brings his executive committee of Peter, James, and John up a mountain, and before them he is transformed. How so? He was radiant. So white, no one on earth could have bleached his clothing to that shine. With him was Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets of the Old Testament. It was a sight no human had seen to this point in history. But they would see it again. 

The Transfiguration is a prefiguring, a taste of the resurrection. It is a glimpse into the future reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter’s natural inclination is to want to erect tents and stay on the mountaintop because he understandably wants to stay in the goodness of the resurrection. Of course they must go down the mountain and complete the mission. 

The transfiguration is a reminder to us now and to the disciples then that Jesus accomplished what he came to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus works. Christianity works. God saves us. Jesus’ mission was and is a success. When we read the account of the resurrection, we are reminded that Jesus saves and the result of that salvation is glorious. 

In the midst of our daily grind and the ups and downs of our faith it can be hard to keep the goal in the forefront of our minds. The transfiguration is a glimpse into the goal that has been and will be accomplished – our resurrection. 

LIVE IT: Here are 5 Tips and Tricks for a more fulfilling faith journey. No seriously, check out this new initiative called the Synod at Home from my Archdiocese. It is a plan for families, individuals, couples, whoever, to make a faith plan for their household. It is simple in it’s idea, but seemingly effective. It’s full of Tips and Tricks. 

Sunday Readings for February 28th, 2021.