Impossible Heights

Oct. 14th Sunday Readings.

jef-willemyns-520713-unsplash.jpgI am deathly afraid of heights. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a paralyzing fear. When I was in high school I went to a high adventure camp which included a high ropes course. It did not go well. I got about 15 feet up the 8 inch wide rope ladder which was the first station of the course and I totally frozen and couldn’t move. I had to quit and come back down. Not only could I not finish the course, I didn’t even really start it. 

I wasn’t the only one not to finish. Some others didn’t make it past the rope bridge or the climbing wall or even the zip-line. Each one of us who didn’t finish found one or another of the obstacles to be impossible for us to overcome.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus holds this conversation with a rich young man. By the end of the conversation Jesus tells the man to sell al his has, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. The young man can’t do it and went away dejected. 

For that man in the story it was his money, his many possessions that were his obstacle to following Jesus. Jesus, with great insight, knew that if he had just asked the man to follow him, that the man would always have this thing that he valued more tugging him back home. Jesus knew that if that young man would really want to follow Jesus, he would need to eliminate that obstacle.

In the decision to follow Jesus Christ, it is likely that we have at least one thing that keeps us from truly, fully following Jesus. Your obstacle that you can’t seem to overcome might be money or security or safety or status. Maybe it is control, pleasure, power, pride or despair. The list could go on. 

If you held this same conversation with Jesus what would he have you remove from your life?What is the thing that you hold on to that keeps you from following Jesus more closely?

Don’t worry if this question isn’t easy to answer. The true answer might be hidden from you. Sometimes it’s hard to know ourselves fully. So if you don’t know, what are you going to do to find out?

Once you figure out what this obstacle is, the next step is to remove it? I bet there is a reasonable change that you would struggle to remove it on your own. Maybe even you don’t want to remove it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus promises that what is impossible for us to remove from our life God can move easily. What keeps us from Jesus and from heaven, God can remove. All things are possible for God, even when we can’t see a way. 

LIVE IT:
Next time you go to Mass, bring with you your obstacle. Think about it during Mass and at some point offer it up to God. Give God the chance to do a miracle and do the impossible. 

Does this hurt?

September 9th Sunday Readings.

Whenever my kids get a minor bump or bruise and they are crying hurt, I have brian-patrick-tagalog-681929-unsplasha particular ritual that I go through to help them. It starts by having them sit down and put their injured limb up on the couch or chair in a unnaturally high way so I can get a better look. Then I examine the affected area. Next I start to poke and prod the clearly unaffected areas while I ask, “Does that hurt?” To which they usually answer a tearful but confused, “No.” Finally I ask them to show me where it hurts and I make a face like I finally see the real problem and give them a remedy of icepack, bandaid, or smooch (depending, of course).

This is all theater. I have virtually no medical training and have no idea what I am looking at. I am 100% sure my older children know that, but still allow for this farce because it seems to work. Somehow by the time I am done with my very serious and very scientific examination, most bumps and bruises feel better, tears have dried, and my kids are ready to get back to it. 

In our gospel this coming Sunday, Jesus is summoned to examine a man who the scriptures call deaf with a speech impediment. Jesus seems to go through a procedure about as effective as my examination except by the time Jesus is done sticking his fingers in the man’s ears, spiting and touching his tongue, and finally crying “BE OPEN!”, the man can hear and speak. The man is healed.

If you or I did the same procedure, I assure you nothing would happen. Why does what Jesus does heal this man? Clearly it’s because it was Jesus who did it!

Jesus has the power to heal our deepest injury. Jesus as the ability to restore our brokenness to the point where we don’t appear to ever have been broken at all. Jesus can save even the most abandoned places in your life. The gospel tells us a couple things about how this works if pay attention.

First, we can ask for healing. In fact, in this story the deaf man begs and his friends beg that Jesus lay his hands on him. When was the last time you asked Jesus to heal your inner brokenness? 

Secondly, Jesus might not heal you in the way you think. Things might get weird before they get good. Jesus will get all up in your face, literally in the gospel, in order to heal you. And Jesus is going to stick his fingers where you would rather they not go. The only way for this to work is to be docile and let Jesus heal. 

marcelo-leal-664865-unsplashThird, when Jesus has healed you the appropriate response is to be astonished. We read in the gospels that Mary is continually astonished by Jesus. She fully knows who Jesus is, but she is astonished because encountering God is astonishing, amazing, and dazzling.

It’s okay to be wowed by God. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or unsophisticated; it means you actually understand what God has done for you. 

Jesus is asking you where it hurts. Show him. Let him heal you. 

LIVE IT:
Right now, stop and tell God where there is pain in your life. Sometimes that pain is within. Sometimes it is in relationships in our life. If it is something you’ve done, then go to Confession. I promise you’ll find healing there. 

 

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.

 

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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.

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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.