1 way to let go of CONTROL

Superstition is a funny thing. All kinds of humans practice it. Baseball players are notorious for it. I know grandmothers who throw salt over their shoulder if they spill during baking. Some people wear certain colors when they have important meetings. 

Some superstitions just make good common sense. Opening an umbrella indoors, especially in a small space, could be dangerous. Walking under a ladder is asking for something to fall on one’s head. While other superstitions have more spiritual origins. It’s said knocking on wood for good luck comes from the pagan belief that wood spirits will be awakened and come to your aid (or scare them off, depends I guess). 

What all superstitions do is seek to give us control. Some superstitions even seek to give us control over the uncontrollable. 

Humans want to be in control. We desire to have power and dominion over our existence. More and more it seems, especially for us in wealthy countries, people believe they have control over absolutely every aspect of their lives. Some folks learn through various experiences just how limited we are in controlling our lives. Others seek to hold onto control no matter what. We all probably know someone who considers themselves a control freak. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd. We’ve heard this gospel and the main sentiment countless times. The image of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one most Christians are familiar with. But there is curious message at the end. 

Jesus says,
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.

Jesus proclaims that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. What does this mean? Jesus is claiming to have power over life and death. Jesus is claiming control over the very forces of nature. Jesus is claiming to be God. 

Only God has power over life and death. Only God knows the length of our days. Jesus is explaining that he has been given a command from the Father to die and to rise. 

While we wish we had control and do a number of silly behaviors to try and gain control, we know that death is one thing we don’t have control over. No matter how advanced medicine gets, not matter how healthy we live, the death rate continues to be 100% ultimately.  

So what?

First this gospel and the fact that Jesus has power over life and death (and we do not) is a healthy and good reminder that Jesus is God and we are not. It is good for us to remember this. As we get more and more sophisticated and seem to have more and more control over what we eat, who we talk to, what we do, we need to be reminded we are not in actually in control and that is good. 

Second, this gospel is a reminder that we will die. Sorry if that is bummer of a thought. The good news is if we know Christ and growing in an intimate, loving relationship with him and seek spiritual communion with God through the Sacraments of the Church, this death won’t be the end. We have a God who conquered death through the cross. Jesus is in control. 

Live It: There is a great tradition in the Church that helps us to remember our death which helps us live for God now. It’s called Momento Mori. Check out this site all about Memento Mori written by a Catholic sister who used to be an atheist. Super Awesome.

Sunday Readings for April 25th, 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.

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.

(almost) Everyone Likes a Compliment

Listening to the radio the other day I heard something truly unexpected. Two comedian were engaged in what they called a “Compliment Battle.” I remember dis battles of the 90s where comedians would say mean things about each other, but a compliment battle is completely the opposite. Apparently it is a thing. There was a host and rules and at the end the audience voted as to who was the kindest, warmest, and most generous with their adversary. 

What was crazy was that I could hear the smiles through the radio. People were beaming with joy. Both participants cried at times for how blessed and amazed they felt in light of the other comedian’s words. Just listening to it (and even thinking about it now), I can’t stop smiling and feel like a million bucks. Compliment Battle – who knew?

Everyone likes receiving compliments (even when we pretend not to enjoy it – i.e. Midwesterners). Of course they are better from someone who really knows us and who specifically names things that are true about us. A good compliment is one of the simple, but powerful pleasures in life. Whether it is giving them or getting them, compliments fill us with light and life. 

So it is strange that in the gospel when an angel of the Lord comes to Mary and says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Mary doesn’t respond with joy. The gospel of Luke says that Mary was troubled by what was said. It wasn’t just that an angel appeared, but it was the words themselves that troubled her. What about the idea that she might be graced and near to the Lord would trouble her?

I’m not sure I know a great answer to that question. Rather than ask why she was troubled, I think it helpful to ask the question, “Why was she graced? Why did the angel say these things to her?” The answer is just a couple lines later on in verses 30-33. She is graced because she is about to bear a son named Jesus. That child of hers is about to save the world. 

Mary is especially graced and close to her Lord because of Jesus. It could be that Mary is troubled by the words of the angel because she doesn’t yet know why she is graced. Mary doesn’t think of herself as particularly blessed and holy because she doesn’t yet know the role she is to play in the salvation of all mankind. 

Mary is humble. She doesn’t see why she is so special. It is because of her closeness to Christ and her humble yes to bear the Son of the Most High that she is full of grace and near to the Lord. 

If we want to be humble and holy and blessed, then we must become like Mary – close to Jesus. At Christmas we too can say yes to God and welcome the Christ child into our lives. We too can say yes to Jesus being born into our everyday. Whether we thing we are worthy or graced or not, God wants to be near to us too. 

Live It: This Sunday, pray a simple prayer inviting God more into your life. Whether you’ve done this a hundred times, or never done it before, try it. If you go to Mass, say this prayer right before you receive communion. If you are streaming Mass at home, say it with your spiritual communion. The prayer can be as simple as, “Lord Jesus Christ come into my life.” or mirror the words of Mary, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Sunday Readings for December 20th, 2020.

Take a Hike.

In the midst of the pandemic this past summer my family decided to spend more time outdoors. We began going on hikes. It started small, but eventually we went on day trips to State Parks all across MN. We would do a longish hike, find some lunch (or bring it), and eat some ice cream on our way home. They were pretty good days. 

Hiking in the time of covid, especially in Minnesota’s numerous State Parks, feels pretty safe. While there may be people in parking lots and around picnic areas, once we got out onto the trail we rarely encountered people. So when we did, it was a surprise. 

It would often happen that we would be going up a steep incline with what seemed like endless fields of poison ivy on both sides of the path at a sharp turn so we couldn’t see very far ahead of us. All of a sudden some other family would be briskly walking towards us around the bend. They alway had like 3 large, overly friendly dogs, and aggressive looking children. We would try to jump out of the way off the path, they would do the same. Everyone would be polite and try to socially distance. It was fine, really. 

That pesky bend in the path not only obscured oncoming traffic, but it would keep us from seeing our goal. Whether it was the end of the trail, the top of a crest, or a facilities stop, a curvy trail made it harder to see where we were headed. Knowing and seeing your goal is often an encouragement and incentive to keep walking. If my kids could see the goal, they could do it. When they couldn’t see where they were going, they would get discouraged. 

In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist is asked who he is. He denies being the Christ or Elijah or a Prophet. Instead he quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John’s role, as he explains, is to prepare the way for Jesus to come. John’s job was to level the mountains and fill in the valleys and yes, to make straight crooked paths. 

In the spiritual life, straightening a path accomplishes a couple of things. First it aids us in being able to see obstacles and potential traffic on the path ahead. When the path is straight, we know what is coming and can plan better for those things that might push us off the path and interrupt our journey. 

Secondly, a straighten path helps us to keep our eyes on the goal. Often, I think we loose sight of our final destination and the reason we do all this religious stuff. The goal is Jesus. The destination is the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven. When we aren’t sure of our goal or can’t see what we are working for, we can easily be distracted and maybe even fall into despair. I think this is one of the reasons why the pandemic has been so difficult. We didn’t really have a clear goal for all that we were doing. We couldn’t see the end. 

One more thing, if you think that the on reason the paths are straightened are so that we can have a better spiritual hike, let dispel that misrepresentation. The paths are straightened so that Jesus can more easily get to us. The path is cleared and leveled and straightened so that nothing can separate God from us. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to climb the mountain and find him. No. Jesus gets out on the path and comes for us. He is willing trudge through any hardship, including death and the cross, in order to save you and me. 

Live It: Are there bends in the road of your life that makes it hard for you to draw closer to Jesus? Close your eyes. Imagine your life is a hiking trail. Where are the bends that aren’t spiritually helpful? Ask Jesus to make straight the path of your spiritual life. Ask God to inspire you to call out to him. If necessary, head to confession this week to fill in some valleys. 

Sunday Readings for December 13th, 2020.

The Question

Deacon Sam Catapano used to say that the central question of every single human person’s life was this, “Who do you say that I am?” And the person asking the question, as he does in this week’s gospel, is Jesus Christ. Deacon Sam used to say that the answer to that question and how seriously we take our answer determines everything else in our life. 

In the gospel, there are many rumors floating around about who Jesus is, but when he asks the disciples, Peter clearly and definitively states, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The result of Peter’s proclamation is that he is made the leader of the followers of Jesus and our first Pope.

Peter’s answer certainly influenced the rest of his life. Sure he failed at times, but in the end Peter spent the rest of his life telling other people about Jesus and eventually gave his life because of his faith in Jesus. 

If we say that Jesus is only a teacher or a revolutionary with radical ideas, then we can easily dismiss him and build our lives on something else. But if we say that Jesus is God, then what he says and how he lives must inform every one of our decisions, actions, and beliefs.

If Jesus is God, how can we keep that incredible reality to ourselves? Who is Jesus?

LIVE IT: Two stage live it this week. Stage 1: When you wake up tomorrow morning, say outloud, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Say it like you mean it. Stage 2: Say it to someone else. It will be awkward, I promise. But do it anyway. Stranger, spouse, children or otherwise, but say the words to them, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Trust the Leftovers

In the last year I’ve taken up a new hobby – woodworking. Yes it is the most “old man” of hobbies, but I really enjoy it. The temptation at every stage is to buy the very best of the best of every tool. The thinking goes, “If I could just have that new $400 smoother handplane, then I could make really fine furniture.” The reality is that there are many woodworkers who have thousands of dollars of the very best tools and very few finished wood items to show for it. 

This problem isn’t unique to woodworking. Photography, biking, sailing, cooking, and many other human endeavors have this issue, “If I had the best, I could do this activity better.” While this isn’t untrue, the reality is that most of the time, we just need to go for it and let our tool collection catch up. Often we need to go ahead and make something with the tools we have before we can move forward. 

In the gospel, a caaninite woman approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t even respond to her. He seems to ignore her completely. When she persists, Jesus tells her that his mission is to the children of the house of Israel. When she asks again he tells her that one shouldn’t give the children’s food to the dogs. How does she respond? She says she would take the scraps, the leftovers, if they came from him. 

Jesus responds by announcing her great faith. She is the only person in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus says has great faith. 

This gospel calls us to have the kind of faith that is okay with scraps. Sometimes we approach faith like we approach our hobbies. We need the best of the best. We need the newest book by a famed catholic writer. We need a cooler, nicer rosary. We need the slickest faith app for our phone. If only our tools were better and cooler and more engaging, then we could be people of great faith. 

The reality is that great faith means trusting that God will give us everything we need to be healed and saved. Great faith is not waiting till we have the best of the best or until things are perfect, but to believe now. Don’t wait until things are perfect, pray now. Great faith is trusting God’s scraps will be enough. 

LIVE IT: This sounds crazy, but after dinner when you are putting away your left over food, say this quick prayer (or something like it), “Dear God, than you for the abundance of food that we would have leftovers from our meal. Thank you for being so generous with the gift of yourself that we have an overabundance. Help us to trust in you so much so that we would be okay even with your scraps.”

Sunday Readings for August 16th, 2020.

Homage

I have a two and half year old little boy at home. My son is about as 100% summer boy as you can get. Despite plenty of sunscreen he has a great little farmer’s tan going. He’s got bumps and bruises from a summer of jumping off play sets, climbing on rocks, and chasing frogs and rabbits. At the end of the day he is usually pretty tuckered out from playing so much outside. I’m telling you, it’s the good life. 

The other day we were playing catch (more like fetch as his catching ability has room for improvement), and after a particularly good throw on his part, he got all excited and did a sort of running handstand on the downward slope of the driveway. He isn’t strong enough to hold his handstand for very long and consequently banged his face into the asphalt. A minor bloody lip and a bit of a surprise was all he had, but the look he gave me said, “Am I hurt?”

I learned long ago that the appropriate response to when one of your kids falls down is exuberant positivity.  Sometimes we yell, “Safe!” as if they just swiped second base in a baseball game. Sometimes we shout, “You’re okay!” Which is a terrible response for an adult, but perfect for a two year old. Most of the time we just say, “Whoopsie!” and pick them up and smile.

Learning the appropriate response to any situation or event is a key step in growing in maturity. For the same reason we bristle at the teenager who is disgusted when they encounter a homeless person, we snicker at the audience member who dozes off at a concert. Responding in the best way to a situation matters. 

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear about Jesus walking on water, inviting Peter out of the boat, teaching about faith, and calming the storm. What an incredible miracle. Simply because it is so amazing and radical, this walking on water miracle is the subject of many a comic strip, bad golf joke, and comedy sketch. Walking on water is so incredible that one way to respond to it is to make it a joke. 

However, the disciples don’t respond that way. Instead they “did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Mt 14:33). Following this miracle, they worshiped Jesus as God. The appropriate response to Jesus and to his miraculous work is homage. In our modern use homage means to publicly honor someone. In other worships, to worship him. 

However the historical use of the word is a reference to the public declaration that another person is your lord or superior. Homage originally made reference to the ceremony by which a feud would declare his loyalty and submission to his lord or king. 

So when we encounter Jesus, the right response is worship. When we experience a miracle, the fullest response is paying homage to Jesus Christ the miracle worker. 

Live It: When was the last time you declared your faith in Jesus publicly? If it’s been a while, come to Mass where we declare Jesus as Lord every time we say the Creed. 

Sunday Readings for August 9th, 2020.

It’s a Miracle! Why?

When I was in college and dating my future wife, we would go to crazy lengths to see each other. Summer between Junior and Senior year, I lived in St. Louis, MO and she lived in MN. Somehow we ended up seeing each other multiple times that summer. She drove down to visit me. I drove to go see her. We would do whatever it took to just be near each other. Hundreds of dollars and many tanks of gas, just to be close.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish, and he multiplies the bread until there was more than enough for 5,000 men (probably 20,000 – 30,000 people total). Jesus transgressed the laws of nature to create a superabundance of food. Why?

The miracle both harkened back to the Old Testament when God gave Manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It reminds us of the prophet Elisha multiplying meager rations to feed 100 hundred men. It looks forward to the Last Supper and Jesus instituting the Eucharistic celebration and to the heavenly banquet of the saints and angels.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle to demonstrate his power and to allow the people to witness a miracle of a messiah. Jesus multiplies the loaves, because the people are hungry. All of this is true. 

In this version in Matthew, Jesus multiplies the loaves to keep the people close. The disciples were ready to send the crowd away because they didn’t have enough food for them. But Jesus performs this incredible miracle because he doesn’t want to send the people away. Jesus wants to keep the people close to him. 

The truth this teaches us is that through the Eucharist, Jesus brings us close to himself. It is in and through the Mass that God draws nearest to us. In fact, we take him inside our bodies and we become one flesh with Jesus Christ King of Kings. Just as the multiplication of loaves was a miracle that allowed the people to stay close to Jesus, the Eucharist is a miracle that allows us to get intimately close to Jesus. 

If you feel far from God, one surefire way to get near him is to go to Mass. If your faith is wavering, it is in the Eucharist that you will feel closer to the God who loves you unconditionally. 

LIVE IT: Go to Mass. Whether it is a daily or Sunday Mass, get there and be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday Readings for August 2nd, 2020