Crooked Path

December 10th Sunday Readings.

A couple years ago I took my family camping in a state park here in Minnesota thatgreg-duprat-381998 overlooks the Mississippi River. On Saturday morning the whole family decided to take a hike down to the river’s edge. We filled water bottles, tied our shoes tight, and headed down the 200 foot bluff face trail.

After a half hour of playing in the water and collecting driftwood, we decided to head back. That is the moment my children realized those who hiked down, must hike up. Trying to climb straight up the side of the bluff would have been impossible. Instead, the path was a series of switchbacks that took the height of the bluff and spread it out over a longer distance. The way the path was designed made the bluff easier to climb.

Both in our gospel and the first reading from Isaiah, we heard the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” Just like the path on the bluff was changed to make it passible, John the Baptist and Isaiah ask us to make the path to our hearts passible for Jesus.

This time of year more than almost any other time, it can feel like there are many obstacles to Jesus entering more deeply into my life. Whether those obstacles are a product of the lives we lead, our current culture, or our own decisions, the call is to remove those obstacles. Some of these obstacles may feel as difficult as moving a mountain or filling in a valley. The reality is that with God’s help, no obstacle is permanent. No valley too deep, no mountain too large, nothing stands in the way of God’s desire to be near to you.

Whatever is in our past and whatever is our present, there are actions we can take to make straight the path for Jesus to come more completely, fully, deeply into our hearts. Hidden within advent are behaviors that help us straighten paths. It’s really this simple. On a daily basis, light a candle (Advent Wreath), turn down your lights, turn off or put away all screens, and sit in total silence. Remove the obstacle of noice and stimulus and simply let God in.

LIVE IT: Commit to 10 minutes of silence every day for the next week.

I didn’t know.

November 26th Sunday Readings.

As humans we are aware of so many things. Our senses take in so much information thatMonkeys we ignore or process involuntarily most of it. We are inundated with information about our immediate environment. Through our devices, we take in more information about our world than ever before. We know so much.

Since we know so much, we can be fooled into thinking that we know all or most of what is going on around us. We can come away with the perception that we are 100% aware of our own motivations and actions, and the outcomes of those actions. We can erroneously believe we know the who, how, what, and why of everything we do.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus explains to his disciples that at the end of time the Son of Man will separate those who loved God from those who didn’t love God. The Son of Man will be able to tell who loves God by how they treat the least in our world.

What was interesting to me was that neither the sheep or the goats knew Jesus was present in the least. The sheep loved the least without being aware that they were serving the God of the Universe while doing so. The goats didn’t realize they were ignoring their Savior when they ignored the least.

At the end of the day, anyone will be good when it profits them. All will do good for the other when it ultimately benefits themselves. But that is what goats are willing to do.

Sheep love and serve when it is of no benefit to themselves. Sheep love the least who have no way to pay back what they receive. Sheep love like Jesus. Sheep love Jesus whether they know it or not.

Live It: Make a plan to help someone in the next 7 days who can’t help you back.

I learned it from you, Dad!

Sunday Readings for Nov. 5th.

“Do as I say and not as I do?” Have you ever heard that from a parent? Have you ever Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.04.57 AMsaid it as a parent? As a child of the 80’s, the anti-drug commercials from my elementary school days are permanently burned into my memory. There is one where a dad finds his son’s stash of illegal drugs and while asking his son where he learned to take “this stuff,” the son yells back, “From you, alright! I learned by watching you.” The idea behind the commercial is that even if you tell your kids not to do something, if you do it, they will likely pick it up.

In the gospel Jesus tells the crowds to act in the way that the Pharisees say to act but don’t follow their example. In other words, do as they say, not how they do. The thing is, that never really works does it?

As Christians, as Catholics, we don’t just do what Jesus says. We are called not just to follow his teaching, but to conform our lives to his life. If we are serious about being Christian Disciples, we have to live like Jesus. We have to model our behaviors off of how Jesus would have behaved.

As Catholics we also have the blessing of a whole host of Saints whom we can also model our lives off of. We can look to Saints great and small and try and live like they would in the way that they followed Jesus. We do this because we know and can trust that they modeled their lives off of Christ.

As parents, the reality is that the way we practice our faith forms our children’s ideas of how to practice their faith. The Church teaches that parents are “first teachers” of the faith. Sometimes we thinks this means that we “should” be teaching our kids the faith. But the reality is that the Church is saying that no matter what you are currently doing, that is what you “are” teaching your kids.

Faith is caught, not taught.

If your relationships with Jesus is the most important thing in your life and your daily actions reflect that, your kids will see that. If Mass, and the union with God that occurs during it, is the most important event of your weekend, your kids will see that. If you make financial and schedule decisions based on your faith, your kids will see that. My prayer for you and for me is that when I ask my kids why they are such strong disciples of Jesus, they will answers, “From you and mom, alright! I learned it from you.”

Live It: Take just 5 minutes and examine how you are currently practicing your faith (prayer, sacraments, daily life, etc.). Does it look like Jesus?

 

Make a Decision.

October 29th Sunday Readings.

My wife is a saint. She is near perfect. And there is one thing she does that I struggle toclothing-store understand. Here’s the scenario: We’re shopping, we check out, we are walking out, and then she will stop and look at more clothes. We already paid. Decision has been made. We’re done and onto the next thing. Pencils down. There’s no going back now. Exactly 0 times has she ever found something else and walked back in and purchased it. I think this comes from the different way we make decisions.

My wife loves making decisions. Seriously, she loves quickly analyzing a situation and making decisions. Also, she goes back on her decisions somewhat easily. If she makes a decision to do something and new information makes it clear that is the wrong decision, she happily and easily changes her mind. She is energized and feels freer with each decision.

I labor to make decisions. I can and do make decisions, but it sucks energy from me. And when I make a decision I detest going back on that decision. I’ve made my decision and changing my mind feels like I am betraying the work I did to make the decision in the first place. Making a decision feels like a burden.

Making decisions can be hard. Most decisions in life are either/or decisions. By choosing one thing, we decide against a different thing. Sometimes we are faced with an obvious decision between good and bad choices. But so much more in our life, we are presented decision-making-pic.jpgwith two bad or two good choices and we have a dilemma on our hands.

In our gospel this weekend, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment in the law is the greatest. The Pharisees are asking for one answer, one law, the most important commandment. But Jesus gives two answers. He says first love God with everything you’ve got. Then he says love others like you would like to be loved. Jesus gives two answers to the one question. Is Jesus’ double answer a copout? Is Jesus having a hard time making a decision which is the first and most important commandment?

I don’t think so. I think Jesus gives both answers because we can’t have one without the other. Our world will often put up a false dichotomy between following God and loving people. Here’s what I mean. We can’t give God our whole heart if we aren’t willing to love our neighbor. And trying to love out neighbor, without loving God first, often becomes a selfish and self-serving endeavor.

Want to love God? Love others well. Want to love others? Love God first.

Live It: Take some time this week to think about your answer to the questions, “What is the #1 rule in my life? What is the law that I follow above all other laws?”

Tuxedos and Rejection

October 15th Sunday Readings.

MW40_341R_10_CALVIN_KLEIN_FORMAL_MAINHave you ever been radically improperly dressed for an event? On my wedding day, my groomsmen and I arrived early to prepare for pictures before the wedding ceremony. One of my groomsman Joe, already had his tuxedo pants and dress shirt on when he pulled his rented jacket from the hanging bag. Instead of a jet black jacket matching the rest of ours, Joe held a marbled grey jacket with strange wavy black pinstripes. Hideous.

Miraculously the problem was solved when new jacket (which still didn’t 100% match, but at least was black) was driven to the church by the tuxedo rental company.

I don’t know what we would have done if there had not been a black jacket for Joe. We contemplated having Joe just go without a jacket. We talked about all the groomsmen not wearing jackets (no bad ideas in brainstorming). What we never talked about was Joe not being in the wedding because he didn’t have the right jacket.

Yet in the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable of King who after much effort in getting attendees to his son’s wedding banquet, kicks a man out for wearing the wrong clothes. It seems like a strange story for Jesus to tell. I don’t know about you, but it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I read this week that the wedding garment that Jesus describes in the parable was a metaphor for a righteous life. That the reason the wedding guest was excused from the wedding was not because he was improperly dressed, but because, after saying yes to the wedding feast, he didn’t change his life to conform to what was needed to participate.

Another way to interpret this parable is the idea that a King or wealthy individual throwing a huge wedding party would provide wedding garments for their guests. If someone showed up without the provided garment, it was a rejection of the hospitality of the King. Instead of the King rejecting the wedding guest for his clothes, it was actually the guest who was rejecting the hospitality of the King!
In other words, all are welcome to follow Jesus. All are invited to make the radical decision to make Jesus the Lord of one’s life. But just saying those words isn’t enough. The decision to follow Jesus has never been a one time thing. We must not only say yes to Jesus with our words; we must say yes to Jesus with our lives.

To that end, following Jesus is something, I hope, by God’s grace, we can get better at. During our lives we can learn to conform each decision, each action to the life and will of Jesus.

This, for me, is such good news. Yes it is challenging to think that I have to keep working on being a better follower of Jesus. But the good news is that I get to keep working on it. Tomorrow I can better than today when it comes to following Jesus.

I know Jesus has called me to follow him. I just hope that when my time comes, I am humble enough to accept the wedding garment he offers me.

Live it: Dress in some different way this week and do it as way to demonstrate your willingness to grow in your faith and grow closer to Jesus. If someone asked you why you are dressed differently, answer honestly.

Fear or Love.

June 27th Sunday Readings.

What motivates you? How often are you able to stop and ask “Why?” If you are anything like me, you don’t get the chance often enough to stop and truly evaluation your motivations. The busyness of life makes it difficult to stop and think about why we are doing what we are doing. Yet, if we want to grow as people, examining our motivations is essential.

At our best, we act out of love. Sometimes that love wells up from within us for someone else. Sometimes that love looks a lot like duty or obedience. When we sacrifice for another person, so that they have what they need, we are acting out of love. But we don’t always act out of love.

janet-leigh-psycho-fear

Sometimes, we act out of fear. If I’m honest, this motivates me more than I’d like to
admit. I’m not talking about fear of heights or spiders or clowns. More often the catchphrase of fear is, “What will they think?” If you’ve had that thought go through your head sometime this week (or this morning), you may have had a moment motivated by fear.

Yet in our gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “Fear no one.”

Why? Jesus is teaching us that we can’t be the best version of ourselves when we fear what others will think about us. How radical is this call to fear no one? Jesus tells us not to fear even those who can do us harm or kill us.

What is the benefit of fearing no one? Freedom.

When we choose to not fear others, we are choosing to be free to live a life of purpose. Only when we are free from fear of others, we are free to choose to live motivated by love.

When we are free from fear, we are free to love and that includes loving and being loved by God. Fear no one, love well.

LIVE IT: Choose a day this week to have a “Why? Day”. During the day at various times, ask yourself, “Why did I do what I just did?” Why did I wear what I wore today? Why did I eat that for lunch? Why am I working hard (or hardly working)? Ask God for the grace to choose love.

Why I’m Catholic.

June 18th Sunday Readings.

column735Every now and again, I get asked the question, “Why are you Catholic?” At the core of my answer is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I am Catholic because I want to have an intimate, life saving, lived relationship with the God of the universe through his Son Jesus and with the Holy Spirit and there is no better way to have that than the Eucharist. How do I know that? Two reasons: 1) I’ve experienced profound intimacy with God through the Eucharist. 2) Jesus says so.

In our gospel this week, Jesus is abundantly clear. Over and over again Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” or “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Jesus isn’t speaking symbolically. He speaks this same truth multiple times and when he is done, most of his followers abandon him. Only the disciples remain when Peter says, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus meant what he said.

If the goal of what I do as a Christian is to deepen in my relationship with Jesus, then I should do what he says is the ultimate way to grow my relationship with him – the Eucharist. Jesus Christ gave himself completely on the cross for us. And it is in the Eucharist that we are able to receive him. Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) said this, “We all know, when we look at the cross, how Jesus loved us.  When we look at the Eucharist we know how much He loves us now.”

I’m Catholic because I want to know, experience, and receive God’s unconditional love. eucharist-1591663_1280The Eucharist is how that happens most personally and intimately. Whether you are a regular Mass attender, haven’t been in a long time, or have never been, know this – every Mass is a miracle. Every Mass, the barrier between heaven and earth is removed, and the God of the universe comes into our midst. Jesus isn’t only there in spirit, but physically present in his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. How amazing.

LIVE IT:
Prep for Mass this weekend by reading John 6:22-69. This piece of scripture is a talk by Jesus called “The Bread of Life Discourse.” It’s awesome.

 

P.S. – Truly, I believe there is so much more to my answer as to why I am Catholic. However, given the purpose and length expectations here, I felt like I could only share this piece. Want to know more, ask me.