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.

 

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.