Do Not be Afraid.

alasdair-elmes-ZiCz-oW1LXA-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 22nd, 2019.

After St. John Paul II was elected Pope in 1978, he gave a homily to the crowds in Rome during which he said:

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.

For a long time in my life St. John Paul II was the only Pope I knew. I saw him, in person, a handful of times and each time he inspired those of us to grow in holiness and to serve God and the Church.

For all his homilies, letters, books, and even poetry, I think the first words of his pontificate still resonate most powerfully for me – Be not afraid. 

In the gospel this Sunday the angel of the Lord tells Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” The angel commands Joseph to not be fearful of doing this difficult, culturally dangerous, and surprising act. In essence the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid to show mercy, to love.

Joseph’s bold act of love for Mary and trust in the Lord ensured Mary and Jesus’ safety. More than that, it ensured that Joseph would be there to do what God put him on the earth to do – raise Jesus, the Son of God. 

In our lives and indeed our spiritual lives too, we can choose to act out of fear or to act out of love. Acting out of fear leads us to selfish, greedy, and short sighted living and believing. While, when we act with love as our main motivator, we are generous, selfless, and joyful. 

Be not afraid to love. Be not afraid to forget yourself this Christmas and instead welcome Jesus into your heart, your home. Be not be afraid to trust like Joseph and love well. Be not afraid!

Live It: Watch this short (1 min) video of St. John Paul II preaching “Do Not be Afraid” or read his inaugural Homily from 1978 here. 

Not Even the Bare Minimum.

Readings for Sunday Oct. 6th, 2019.

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I sleep pretty well. But every once in a while, when my head will hit the pillow and I am just about to drift off, my brain brings up some huge mistake from my past and I am wide awake again with worthless, unnecessary worry. No sleep for me.

One of those burdensome worries comes from my time in grad school over ten years ago. I had an experiential learning assignment at an elder care facility. My final assignment was to gather a list of potential actives and field trip opportunities for the residents. I started the process but never finished. I told my field supervisor that if he signed my form, I would complete the assignment after the semester was over. I never did. 

Oh man, even writing about this makes my skin crawl. Most of us aren’t the kind of people who dodge assignments or fail to complete at least what we are told. 

In the gospel Jesus gives an example of real faith is. servants who do the bare minimum, and just do what was commanded do get special rewards or extra thanks. No they did was they were supposed to and that is good, but it isn’t extraordinary. 

The reality is when it comes to our faith lives, we rarely even accomplish the bare minimum. When it comes to following Jesus, we so infrequently do even the simple things Jesus asks of us. Most of the times we aren’t even unprofitable servants, we a servants who fall short of the bare minimum. And that is why we need mercy. We have a God who is love and who loves us so much that even when we fail to do only what was commanded of us, Jesus completes the rest, forgives us, and still invites us to dine with him. Will you receive God’s mercy?

Live it: Go to confession. I know, this is the “Live it:” like, at least 4 times a year. That’s how important God’s mercy is. So just go. What is keeping you from God’s mercy?

What should I do?

Dec 16th Sunday Readings.

Three groups of people ask John the Baptist the same question in this week’s gospel, gianna-trewavas-740067-unsplash“What should we do?” The gospel doesn’t tell us if they listened to what he said or liked his answer or if they went and did what he directed. 

What we do know is that after he answered, the gospel says people were filled with expectation and wondered if John might be the chosen one of God. John’s teaching was so radical and life changing that they wondered if John could be Christ.
John’s response is beautiful and powerful. He says that while he purifies with water, the Messiah will purify with fire and the spirit. In other words, the work of Christ will bring about even greater transformation, even more complete purification. 

One way to think about this gospel. This gospel is a formula for how to repent and believe in the good news. 

Step 1: Ask “What should I do?” Be direct. Ask the big question. Expect a response.

Step 2: Listen. Actually wait for a response. God works in mysterious ways and on His own timeline. Ask and and keep listening.

Step 3: Look for the messiah who will cleanse you with fire and the Spirit. Receive the Sacraments. Go to confession. Let the love of God burn up the rough, tough, and gross parts of your life and behavior.

Step 4: Preach the good news. Share what you’ve been given. Every gift of God is good enough to be shared in some way.

LIVE IT: Take some time for an honest and earnest prayer only asking one thing, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Successful Advent.

December 9th Sunday Scripture.

When it comes to success in the world, we often believe that it depends more on talent than anything else. If you’re like me, you’ve read enough blog entries and business books to know that talent and luck matter, but not as much as hard work and fast failure. You’ve probably seen the “What people thing success looks like vs. What success lookslike” drawing.Cmv8o6sWYAAVaz8.jpg

Rarely do I think we apply these same principles to our spiritual growth. I wish I could tell you that as soon as you give your life to Jesus everything will go smoothly and be easy-peasy – that’s just not the truth.

In the gospel this Sunday, the gospel writer explains the ministry of John the Baptist using the words of the prophet Isaiah. The prophesy says there will be one who will make straight the paths, fill in the valleys, lower the mountains, all so that the messiah can come. 

The first and most important thing to recognize is that the road is rough. There are valleys and difficult mountain passes. The road of the Messiah is challenging. 

Our faith journeys are challenging. The road is rough at times and there will be setbacks. If you are serious about your faith, I’m sure you could name a time that you’ve had a faith setback or a particularly difficult climb. 

When it comes to faith, we run out talent. Faith isn’t a matter of luck. And, unlike the business world, it actually doesn’t rely all that much on hard work either. Instead success in faith falls on the shoulders of two things: persistence and docility. 

It isn’t so important that we add more and more to our faith practice, but that we try faith again. When we get knocked down either by sin or by daily life, we choose to get back up and try again. When the road gets rough, we may slow down, but we always keep going. 

Docility is as simple as being supple and humble and easily formed by the Holy Spirit. Are we open to God’s word and God’s work in our lives? When God speaks, do his words find a soft landing spots in our hearts? Faithful people are docile to Spirit. Docile people receive God and then answer with their lives. 

No matter where you are in your faith journey this Advent, God wants to make straight and smooth the paths to your heard. May he find a persistent and docile heart when he arrives. 

LIVE IT: If you are in the midst of a rough road, don’t take the next exit, but stay in the roughness and let Jesus come rescue you. How? When your temper flairs, when you inclined to selfishness, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you get anxious about shopping and baking and everything, when the work hours spill into family and faith time – take 3 deep breaths and invite God in. Acknowledge things are rough and let God love you right where you are. 

It’s a trap!

December 2nd Sunday Readings.

When I was a youth minister, I once got a speeding ticket with an 8 foot tall, 200 lbs cross in the bed of my truck. I was leaving a retreat house and didn’t notice when the speed dropped 15 mph without any discernible reason. It was no coincidence that an officer of the law was ready and waiting for me to pass at an advanced speed. After politely itsatrapreceiving my ticket and getting back on the road, I did my best Admiral Ackbar impression and exclaimed, “IT’S A TRAP!”

Getting caught in a speed trap has an element of surprise and unreadiness. Traps don’t happen on accident. To set a trap for someone else is a purposeful decision. 

In the gospel Jesus warns us to beware, to prepare because Jesus’ second coming will be a surprise to all. Why do we have to choose to be prepared? Jesus explains that everyday life can be a trap. We can be lulled into the belief that everything will continue as it always has and that our comfortable, if slightly boring, waking and working and sleeping will continue perpetually. 

In the list of 3 things that can distract us from being prepared, Jesus first names carousing and drunkenness, which make sense. Then Jesus names, “the anxieties of daily life” as a thing that can keep us from being ready. Getting bogged down in the drudgery of life as it always is can keep us from being ready for the Lord. 

So how do we avoid this trap? I think the answer is to be outward focused. When we are only focused inward, on our own needs and wants, we grow in anxiety about our own hungers and thirsts. But when we focus on others, I’ve found, we lose ourselves in serving and anxieties of our daily life seem so much less important. 

Beware! Prepare! (by looking to serve selflessly the people you encounter every day.)

LIVE IT: For the first week of Advent, try approaching every person you encounter by thinking, “How can I serve this person right now? How can our encounter leave them feeling happy, holy, or healthy?”

The Sun will die.

November 18 Sunday Readings.

william-malott-721211-unsplashLast winter in the middle of a 4 day period where the high temperature in Minnesota was below zero the entire time, my thermostat stopped working. We had installed a new fancy, smart thermostat, but the intense and lasting cold was too much for it, and it’s software malfunctioned. A thermostat isn’t something I think about too often, I just expect it to work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we depend upon it working without really worrying about whether it will or not. 

In the gospel Jesus says, “In those days after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The sun is another thing we just depend upon for light and heat. Without it, we would die. We don’t think about it too much and I think even fewer of us worry about whether or not it will rise in the morning. Yet, when it is darkened, it is a big deal (see total eclipse from 2017). 

Jesus says that the very things we depend upon every day, the very things we rarely think about but depend on for our very existence will be go away. On the one hand that is a horrifying prediction, but that’s not the whole story. jorge-vasconez-285707-unsplash

What Jesus is really saying is that even when something as necessary and as basic as the light from the sun and moon is taken away, he will still be there to save us. The light and heat from the sun is something we can’t imagine living without. Yet, Jesus promises that at the end of time, if that will be taken away and we will be okay because he will come to save us. 

In other words, do we put more trust in the sun or in Jesus? Do we depend more upon the heat and light of the sun than we depend on the saving love of Jesus Christ? It’s a crazy thing to ask ourselves. But that is the radical call to faith that Jesus asks of us – Depend on and trust more in Jesus than even the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky. The celestial bodies can’t save you, but Jesus will. 

LIVE IT:
Whether you are awake in the morning to see the sun rise or you witness the sun set (which in MN is about 4 in the afternoon), turn your mind to God and pray something simple like, “Jesus I depend upon you, more than the sun and the moon. I depend on you.”

The Blind and The Ballplayer

October 28th Sunday Readings.

Jim_Abbott_CannonsWhen I was growing up, there was a pitcher named Jim Abbot. Jim pitched 10 professional seasons on various MLB teams. He threw a no-hitter, as a Yankee, in 1993 and otherwise had a long but unremarkable career. What was remarkable was that he was born without a right hand. 

The game of baseball is essentially throwing and catching. Most players wear a glove on one hand and throw with the other. Jim could throw – there was no doubt about that. When he pitched he would have to quickly put on his glove in case a ball was hit to him. It was incredible to watch. He was one of the best in the world at a thing that he, in theory, wasn’t equipped for. Jim is remarkable. 

In the gospel, we hear about a blind man named Bartimeaus. While begging on the side of the road Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Again he called Jesus the “Son of David.” This simple turn or phrase was a title used for the coming Messiah. The prophesies had said that the promised savior would come from the house of David. By calling Jesus, “Son of David,” Bartimaeus was essentially calling him Messiah. 

This is only the 2nd time in the gospel of Mark that a human being calls Jesus, Messiah. It was literally a blind man who saw Jesus for who is he really is. Blind Bartimaeus saw through all earthly disguise and saw Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. 

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right gifts and talents to do what I think God is calling me to do. Sometimes we all doubt whether we have what it takes to live the life in front of us. The reality is that God will provide. When we trust in God and let him lead, the blind see more clearly than anyone else.

LIVE IT:
What is an area of your life that you struggle in. What do you dislike doing because you don’t feel very good at it. Take that thing or moment and offer it up to God in prayer. He just might surprise you with what he will do.