Take a Deep Breath.

June 4th Sunday Readings.

If you are a parent, you know that the first time you heard your baby cry was a crying-newborn-baby-rexmoment of joy, relief, and gratitude. After nine months of anticipation and a bit of stress and labor at the end, the thing you are waiting to hear is that your newborn baby has taken his or her first breath. If you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you or been caught too long underwater, you know what is like to be without air in your lungs even for a moment.

We are so used to breathing and having oxygen delivered to our bodies, that we rarely think about what it would be like to go without. Yet, we jump for joy when we hear our newborn is “breathing fine.”

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus appears to his disciples and after they rejoice in being reunited with their Lord, it says in John’s gospel that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” At first glance this is kind of a strange moment. What did it look like? Did they think it was weird? Maybe after seeing their friend raised from the dead everything else was less strange. Why did Jesus do this?

The moment reminded me of Genesis 2:7 which says, “then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” It is literally God’s breath that gives humans life. What is Jesus doing? Jesus breaths his life into the lungs of the disciples. In this moment Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

3475873851_2ffb9ba865_bJesus breaths his Holy Spirit into the disciples and invites them to participate in the continuation of his ministry. This piece of scripture is a snapshot of the first breath of the Church. Just as a newborn takes it’s first breath in, the Church takes it’s first breath from Jesus himself. Jesus gives life to the Church with air from his lungs.

With lungs filled with the breath of God, the disciples go out into the world to tell of the good news that God loves us so much he sent his Son to conquer death forever. The chest of the Church still rises and falls as the Holy Spirit gives us breath. Want to serve God and change the world? Take a deep breath (of the Holy Spirit).

LIVE IT:
Pray this prayer sometime this week (or every day this week, you do you). During Mass on Pentecost would be a pretty sweet spot to pray this during as well.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Wait.

May 28th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever been behind someone at a traffic light that turns green and they don’t textingmove? Of course you have. It seems that often the light turns green and nobody moves because they are looking down at their phone. I have to admit I have no patience for that moment. I don’t think many of us enjoy waiting for others to move.

Yet, if we are honest with ourselves we know that there are times we are the cause of our own delay. As frustrated as I may get with a stop-light-texter, I’ve certainly been the one to hold up the whole line of cars (Also, DON’T text and drive. Don’t do it. Whatever it is, it can wait.)

In fact, I would say that more often than not, I’m the one tapping the breaks when it comes to something that asks something of me. I don’t know about you, but when I have a decision to make, it is easier for me to say, “Let’s wait,” instead of, “Let’s go!”

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says “Go.” Jesus gives his disciples and each and everyone of us a command to move, to go from where we are and make disciples. He doesn’t say, “Prepare more.” He doesn’t say, “After you know enough.” He doesn’t say, “After you are good enough.” He tells us to go.

Sharing that our faith matters to us and that Jesus is important in our lives isn’t always easy. And certainly we should be prudent in how we go about sharing our good news with the world. However, if we wait too long, in the name of prudence, we may never go.

This week, wherever you go, take your faith with you. Don’t leave the name of Jesus at HNOJ or the quiet of your own room. Bring Jesus to the soccer practice, ice rink, grad party, or family dinner. Go!

LIVE IT:
I dare you say the name of “Jesus” sometime this week in a positive way, in an unexpected place, and see what happens.

Thunder Stolen.

April 30th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever had someone steal your thunder? It happens when you have something CCPYfEmUkAA8PBr.jpggood or amazing to share and then someone else steps in first with their news or follows your story with an even better story. Nobody likes getting their thunder stolen, but it is just part of life. In the gospel Sunday we have maybe the worst stolen thunder moment of all time.

The Sunday after Jesus dies on the cross on Friday, two of his disciples are leaving Jerusalem to return to their home in the town of Emmaus. On the way they meet a stranger who opens scripture for them and explains Jesus’ death and resurrection. When the disciples arrive at their home, they invite the stranger in for dinner. When he blesses and breaks bread, their eyes are opened, they realize he is Jesus, and then he vanishes. The two disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ. Wow.

So amazed by their experience, they immediately leave Emmaus and head back to Jerusalem to tell their fellow disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead. I can only imagine their excitement with each step towards their friends. If it was me, I would have rehearsed what I was going to say to everyone. It would start like this, “You guys are never going to believe this and you probably want to sit down, because this is going to blow your mind…”

Then imagine walking in and before you can even start your friends blurt out, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Scripture doesn’t record what they immediately said next or what they were thinking, but my best guesses are, “Well, good for you!” or “Us too! Meh.”

What scripture does say is that the two recounted what had taken place along the way and how they encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Even if this may look like the most epic stolen thunder moment in all human history, in reality, the two share in the joy of their friends and fellow disciples in realizing that though Jesus died, he lives. The news of encountering Jesus overcomes any and all human jealousy or hurt in this moment.

With news this good, there is no stolen thunder or one-upping the other, simply shared joy.

Yet, most of the time we are scare or intimidated to share when we’ve had a close moment with Jesus. “What will people think?” But the reality is that if the person you are sharing your experience with knows Jesus too, or if they really love you well, they won’t be upset or jealous or feel badly, they will share your joy.

In this Easter season, we need to share our joy more often. We need to be over joyed when someone shares good news with us. There is no such thing as stolen thunder with news this good.

LIVE IT:
Think of the person who loves you the most. Got it? Now make a plan to do one of two things: 1) tell them about how you encountered Jesus this Lent/Easter, or 2) ask them how they encountered Jesus this Lent/Easter. Then rejoice because Jesus lives!

The Nuclear Option

April 23rd Sunday Readings.

My news feed is full of the phrase “The Nuclear Option.” We heard about the nuclear Nuclear-explosionoption when the Senate voted to end the use of the filibuster in approving Supreme Court nominations. That use was metaphoric. Now warships are headed to the waters around the Korean peninsula and Kim Jong-Un is threatening war with a more literal version of the nuclear option. Not good.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly have warm and fuzzy feelings toward this phrase. I grew up in the last moments of the cold war and the idea of the nuclear obliteration of humanity seems like a bad deal to me (insightful, I know)

In the gospel this weekend, we will hear about Jesus Christ coming back from the dead and appearing to his followers. I think we are so used to that idea or hearing this scripture that we usually fail to really think about what this means.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the nuclear option.

God was willing to becoming a human being and then die, just so that he could save you and I from our deaths. What was God willing to give up to get us? Everything. Literally his own life. God stepped over the separation we created through sin to bring us back into relationship with himself.

The Gospel this weekend is a witness to the fact that this really, truly, and actually happened. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus didn’t fake his death. Jesus died and three days later ate with his disciples. When they doubted, Jesus invited them to touch his wounds.

God was willing to go nuclear to save you. There is nothing God wouldn’t do to love you. God’s mercy, which we celebration this Sunday on Divine Mercy Sunday, is extreme.

The question is how do we respond. Do you believe? Will you accept God’s radical invitation to know him?

LIVE IT:
Do something extreme this Easter to meet God. Take a lunch break to come to Church and sit in silence in the main church. Come to daily Mass. Go meet the poor and pray with them, feed them. Find and read you Bible. Go do something “out of character” for you, something that would be your nuclear option to respond to God’s love.

You gotta play by the rules

February 12th Sunday Readings

I loved recess. I’m not saying it was the best part of my day or that I didn’t like actual class, but at recess I could play with my friends, do whatever we wanted to, and just have fun. For the first half of 4th grade, I spent most recesses arguing. My friends and I were trying to play football, but usually we would just end up arguing, sometimes about what happened, but usually about the rules. The reason was we didn’t develop or agree to any set of rules for our pickup football game. So after picking teams, we would just start and then something would happen that would cause us disagree. The lack of agreed upon rules kept us from being free to really have fun.

Sometimes rules get a bad rap. Rules are seen as the things that keep us from being free. Sometimes we even paint Jesus as the ultimate rule breaker and rebel. Yet, in the gospel for this Sunday Jesus says this, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”

When the rules come from God, they are rules made for our own good. If you believe in God and you believe that God loves you and you believe that he knows what is best for you, then the rules he sets are not restrictions to suffocate you, but, truly, rules to let you be free and happy.

G.K. Chester wrote this, “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.” He goes on to describe an island in the ocean with walls all around the cliff edge of the island. When the walls remained, children ran free and happy. When the walls were removed, the children silently huddled together in the center of the island. When we know our boundaries, we can have more fun, freedom, and happiness within them.

Live It:
What rule or moral guideline or teaching of the Church do you struggle to agree with? When was the last time you prayed about it and took your objection to prayer? Take 3 minutes this week (all at once or broken up into small segments) to pray about that rule or law that you struggle with. Offer it up to God, offer up your questions and objections, and then be silent and let God speak.

Get Salty

February 5 Sunday Readings.

saltandriceHave you ever seen a salt shaker at a restaurant or church basement that doesn’t just have salt in the shaker? Sometimes in addition to salt, people put white rice inside the salt shaker. Why? I’ve been told it soaks up moisture and keeps the salt from clumping. Who knew?

But I wondered if it ever happens that all the salt comes out of the shaker and all is left is rice. Does someone ever sit down at chicken dinner at Our Lady of Perpetual Church Dinners and goes to season their mashed potatoes, only to find a rice shaker instead of salt. Would be able to do it’s job?

This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says in this Sunday’s gospel, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Because, if you think about it, salt can’t loose it’s flavor. If a white granular substance doesn’t taste like salt, it isn’t salt. If it’s not salt, then it isn’t any good for seasoning or persevering food.

In the same way, Jesus warns his disciples to be authentic believers. If they go and try to season and preserve the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ, but they themselves don’t believe or practice it, well, they won’t be very effective. If we try to pass an authentic Catholic faith onto our children, but we don’t really practice or believe, will it work?

Jesus’ message is two fold in the gospel. First, be real. Really seek to grow your prayer practice, be close to God. Secondly, as that faith is grown, don’t hide it. Let it light the world.

LIVE IT:
It’s been said that if you want to change a behavior, two actions are essential. 1) Measure it. 2) Do it for 21 days straight.

So if you want to improve your lived relationship with Jesus, make a plan to pray consistently at the same time and in the same way for 21 days straight and find a way to measure it. A simple journal entry, to do list item, calendar item could help.

Who you calling “meek”?

January 29th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever been in a place where you had to follow rules you weren’t used to? After spending elementary school at the public school in my neighborhood, my parent and I decided I would attend Chaminade College Prepatory School, an all-boys Catholic school. As you can imagine there were a lot of things to get used to, but one of the most shallow and yet significant was the dress code.

We didn’t have uniforms, but our dress code was no joke. Kahkis, dress shoes, collard shirt, belt, all clean and free of tears, cuts, or frays. There was more to the code,business-casual-evolution.jpgbut the one rule that I struggled with most was that shirts must be tucked in at all time. It wasn’t like I didn’t try to tuck my shirt in, I just didn’t pay attention to it. I didn’t pay attention that was until Mr. Bayshore would catch me walking down the hall with my shirt out. “MR. KOSTELC! What leads you to believe that you are not subject to the same dress code as the rest of your cohorts? Do you need an hour detention to be reminded?” No, I did not.

This Sunday we hear the familiar gospel story of Jesus going up the mountain and preaching the beatitudes to the crowds. When I hear the beatitudes instantly my mind identifies the beatitude that is most difficult for me to embrace. Who wants to be meek or in poor spirit or persecuted? Yet Jesus’ central message is that in the midst of hardship, we can and will be happy. How?

Jesus is promising that in the midst of true and deep struggle we can be filled with a profound and lasting joy that isn’t subject to our circumstance. Jesus suggests something radical – our joy isn’t dependent on the moment, but on our lived relationship with God. If God is the source of our joy and God is unchanging, unwavering, and forever for us, then our joy can outshine any moment of struggle.

If you’ve been struggling lately, if you’ve felt tire or overwhelmed, if you wish for things to be made right in our world, this Sunday’s gospel is an invitation to find true happiness and everlasting joy in a lived relationship with Jesus Christ.

LIVE IT:
Read Matthew 5:1-12. Think about which of the Beatitudes would be hardest for you to accept. Ask God to help you grow in joy.