Be Careful What You Ask For.

Oct. 21st Sunday Readings.

jim-halpertOne of my favorite episodes of the TV show “The Office” is when Jim, the cool, young, “normal” employee is left in charge of the office in the absence of Michael, the strange, self important, unaware manager. While Michael is gone, Jim tries to simplify the office’s process of celebrating birthdays and the whole thing blows up in his face. Everyone is mad at Jim and in the end his changes are thrown out and everything goes back to the way it was.

In nearly every episode Michael makes a puzzling or downright idiotic management decisions and Jim (and others) quietly thinks they could do better if they were manager. At the end of the episode, Michael sits down next to Jim and they share a moment discussing what it’s like to be in charge. It’s a classic example of, “Be careful what you ask for.”

In the gospel this Sunday, James and John ask Jesus if they can hold positions of power and honor when Jesus is finally in charge. Jesus’ response is probably not what they expect. Instead of yes or no, Jesus responds that they don’t know what they are really requesting. Jesus goes on to explain that if they really want what they are asking for, they will have to suffer and die just as Jesus will. 

Jesus wants James and John (and us) to understand that greatness, in the Kingdom of God, isn’t the same thing as earthly power or prestige. In the Kingdom of God, if one wants to be great, they have to be servants or even, as Jesus says, slave to all. If we ask for greatness, we are actually asking for the grace to serve others well. 

Live It:
Do something small this week that isn’t “your job.” Don’t claim credit or fish for a thank you. Just do it. 

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. 

 

Rush after Him.

July 22nd Sunday Readings.benny-jackson-222664-unsplash

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus and the disciples try to sneak away to a deserted place to rest, but the crowds came to know where Jesus was going and rushed ahead to meet them. Scripture says that a vast crowd had gathered. I can imagine Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat to get away while word of mouth spread of where they were heads. I can almost see the vast crowds of people pouring out of the towns and villages and gathering on the seashore, hungry to catch even a glimpse of Jesus. 

When was the last time you rushed to be close to Jesus?

If it was this past Sunday when you rushed your family out of the house and rushed into the parking lot and rushed into Mass 5 minutes late – God bless you. Extra gold star points for getting to Church. Just getting the family to Mass on Sunday can be a miracle. 

Many of us rush to meetings or the gym or dinner out or kids activities. However, when it comes to our faith we rarely show the same level of urgency. Rarely do we rush to confession when serious sin enters or life. Infrequent are the times we hurry to get prayer time started in the morning. 

The other thing about the kind of rushing that occurs in the gospel is that nobody in the story planned on hearing Jesus teach. It was spontaneous. The people who rushed to be near Jesus stopped what they were doing, dropped whatever was going on, and rushed to go where Jesus was going in order to be near him. 

Have you ever dropped everything to rush to Jesus? Do you think you could do that now? What would it look like to drop everything and rush to Jesus?

LIVE IT: Rush to see Jesus. Do something for your faith that is unplanned. Drop everything and stop by Church or the Adoration Chapel. Turn off the radio and pray for the entirety of a car ride. Take someone who is lonely out for coffee. Drop everything and go rush after Jesus. 

The Boy Who Cried “Trust Me!”

May 27th Sunday Readings.

michael-larosa-449701-unsplashThe boy who cried wolf is a real thing. I don’t mean the story is factual – wolf, boy, etc, but the idea that someone speaks falsely so many times that when they tell the truth, most don’t believe them. 

What if you met someone that always told the truth? Someone who didn’t, couldn’t lie? How would you react to the things they said. What would you ask them? Maybe more importantly, would you always believe them? Even when you know that they won’t lie, would you trust them?

Jesus always tells the truth. Jesus doesn’t life. In the gospel this Sunday he commands the disciples (and us) to go and make disciples of all nations. He give us direction on how to complete his command. Then Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Do you believe Jesus?

Do you trust Jesus that when he says he will be with you until the end of the age, that in fact, he is with you now?

Do you feel like the living God, Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead is with you?

If the answer is yes, then you believe and trust that Jesus told the truth then and is with you now. Awesome. Sounds like a prayer of thanksgiving or praise is coming soon. 

if the answer is no, what is keeping you from believing Jesus? What is your obstacle to trusting that Jesus meant what he said? 

In my experience, the times I’ve answered “no” in practice (even when I may have answered yes with my words), I’ve needed to go to Confession. I need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not because I was bad (though I was), but for of two other reasons too. First, I needed the Sacrament of Reconciliation because sin blocks me from really believing and trusting in what Jesus said. Second, going to confession is a moment of guaranteed grace, where I meet my savior face to face. Removing self imposed obstacles and looking Jesus in the face is the way back to believing Jesus again. These are the roads back to believing Jesus is alive and with us know. 

If you don’t feel like Jesus is with you, if you feel abandoned or alone, if you don’t believe Jesus, try going to Confession, and give Jesus a chance not only forgive and heal you, but also to show you that Jesus is trustworthy – you can believe what he says. 

Live It:
Make a plan to go to confession like this: 1) Look up confession times at your parish or nearby parishes. 2) Clear your calendar so you can go. 3) Prepare by reflecting on a examination of conscience like these ones. 4) Actually drive to church and make it happen. 5) Rejoice! (I do this with ice cream). 

On my own!

May 13th Sunday Readings.

“NO! I want to do it on my own!” Could very well be the motto of 4 year olds everywhere. child-542146_1280If you’ve ever tried to tie the shoelaces or put on an inside out coat of a 4 year old then you know what is like to be denied the ability to help. Just a little bit of learning and competency seems to embolden preschoolers maybe past their true ability. 

Of course, the same is true of us. A little bit of success in loving well or practicing faith and most of us are quick to say to Jesus, “Lord don’t worry, I’ve got this.” In my experience, that phrase whether uttered explicitly or lived implicitly always directly precedes a spiritually humbling moment which reminds me of my need for a savior. 

Mark’s gospel tells us this Sunday about Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples to go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This call extends to all of us. We are all invited to renew our efforts to spread goodness, love, and joy that can only truly be found in and through Jesus. If each new generation is a new continent to be evangelized, we still have much to do. 

After Jesus ascends the gospel says that the disciples went out to preach and scripture says, “…while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” I love this line. “The Lord worked with them.” The reality is that all that we do that is good and righteous, we do with God. Our actions cooperate with God’s work. And God works with us. 

Following Jesus Christ and inviting others to know Jesus is hard work. Maybe as hard or harder than fine motor skills for a preschooler. The good news is that we don’t do it on our own. The Lord works with us. Don’t try to go alone. Let God help. 

Live It:

Make your first prayer today, “Lord help me to pray.” Make your second prayer, “Lord work with me today.” 

Old is a bad word.

April 22nd Sunday Readings.

A week after Christmas (and 4 or so days after the birth of my son), I dropped my smart john-paul-joseph-henry-245902-unsplashphone into the toilet. To save you from unpleasant and unnecessary detail, I’ll just say this – it didn’t make it. We had an old flip phone in the junk draw and so I transferred my number to ol’ reliable and fired it up. The battery lasted for days. It was so small and fit so well in my pocket. I wasn’t chained to it’s screen expecting a constant drip of dopamine from likes, retweets, or texts. Of course it wasn’t all good, and when I finally broke down and got a new smart phone, I was relieved. 

There is nothing wrong with the latest and greatest. Often the reason the new replaces the old is because it’s better in some manner or degree. Innovation and improvement are good in so many ways. However, far too often, I think our predilection for “the new” is absolute. We are quick to flush the old anything in favor of the new for no other reason than it is new. Honestly, it feels like “old” is a bad word in our culture. 

Sometimes we desire new because of the shortcomings of the old, which is good. However, by the time we recognize the shortcomings of the new, the old is long gone. 

Is it possible to hold onto the old and embrace the new? I’m not sure yet, to be honest.

What I do know is that in the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This way of thinking about Jesus, as good shepherd, feels old. My grandparents had a painting of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders, in their home. Now, we hear about Jesus as bridegroom or Lord or Hurricane or Good Father, but rarely, shepherd. There is some simple beauty in this scripture even as it isn’t stylish or current to think about Jesus as shepherd.

zoltan-tasi-308658-unsplashJesus the shepherd cares for us. Jesus directs us. Jesus chases us down when we are lost. Jesus sometimes uses a stick to get us back on track. Jesus works out fights when we run into other sheep. Jesus picks us up when we are too small to walk. Jesus leads us to clean water and lush, verdant pastures. Jesus provides exactly what we need. 

Jesus is my shepherd. 

Live It:
Take some time with this piece of scripture. Pray through it. What would it look like if Jesus was shepherding you?

I’m so scared.

April 15th Sunday Readings.

 

denny-muller-534079-unsplashAre you the kind of person who is startled easily? I wish I could say no, but I’d be lying. A number of years ago, a friend of mine hid in a darkened closet to scare me. I opened the door, he harmlessly jumped out from behind a rack of chairs and barely uttered “boo” before I started screaming uncontrollably. I threw the music stand I was holding at him and nearly dropped by lap top. I was terrified. No real injury except for my dignity. 

In the gospel the resurrected Jesus comes into the presence of the disciples, and scripture says they were startled and terrified and thought they had seen a ghost. This was after Peter returned from the tomb, and after the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had recounted their experiences of the risen Jesus. 

Jesus goes on to inquire as to why they are so afraid. He even goes so far as to ask for something to eat. This thing before them isn’t a ghost, but Jesus, their friend, raised from the dead. Yet the disciples who saw all of Jesus miracles, were still shocked by his resurrection. 

How would you react if you encountered the resurrected Jesus? Would you be scared, startled, and spooked? I think how we react to Jesus the living God is directly related to who we think Jesus is and what we expect him to do.

If Jesus is just a good man and a good teacher, then seeing him appear after his death would be a frightening thing. If what we expected out of Jesus is that he would conquer the Romans, then we might just be terrified if he showed up after having been killed by the Romans. If Jesus is only our judge, then we might be a little worried when he appears. 

However, if we really believe that Jesus is God and if we believe that Jesus’ purpose was to conquer death and restore humanity’s relationship with God, then I don’t think we will be too worried about encountering the risen Jesus. If Jesus is on our side, and wants us to go to heaven even more than we do, then having him appear in our midst should be a relief for us. 

The other thing is this; as humans, we have a natural suspicion of strangers. If we were out to dinner with our family and some stranger sat down at our table, then we would probably be scared or at least a little on edge. Is Jesus a stranger for you? I don’t mean do you know who he is – of course you do. But do you know Jesus, personally? If really, truly encountering Jesus would be shocking and terrifying, I think it’s time to think about whether you know Jesus and why you think he wants to be near to you. 

Live It:
Invite Jesus into life. Whether it is at the end of the night before you go to bed or in the middle of Mass on Sunday, say a little prayer inviting Jesus into your heart and into your life. That way Jesus won’t be a stranger.