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.

What’s it going to take?

April 8th Sunday Readings.

Getting kids to eat whatever they don’t want to eat can be a monumental task. I realize Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplashthat there are strategies that work. Also, negotiation is not most effective way to get children committed to a power struggle to do what you ask them. And, there are times when getting a child to eat green beans or ham (depending on the kid or the moment) just boiling down to the questions, “What is it going to take?”

When faced with unbelief in the lives of our family or friends, or even in the dark corners of our own doubt, I think we could easily ask this question, “What is it going to take?” What is it going to take for you and I to really believe the good news of the gospel? What is it going to take for our sibling or parent or spouse or offspring to believe that Jesus is their Lord? What is it going to take?

In the gospel, we hear about Thomas who states clearly what it will take for him to believe. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It would appear that for Thomas it takes touching the wounds of Christ to believe. At first blush, this seems like a lack of faith. Thomas appears to be put conditions on what it will take for him to believe in the resurrection, but I think there is more going on here.

John, the gospel writer, never states whether Thomas actually touches the wounds of Christ. In fact, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” when he simply sees Christ. For Thomas encountering Jesus face to face is enough. Meeting Jesus is what it takes for Thomas to believe.

I believe this to be true for most of us. For most of us, we believe once we have had a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ. Christianity isn’t only a set of beliefs or a moral code, but it is a relationship with a person. To really meet the person of Christ (and not just the idea of Jesus) fundamentally changes us at our core.

When Thomas sees the resurrected Christ, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” This profession of faith is one of the most vivid and explicit in all the gospels. By giving Jesus the titles of both Lord and God, Thomas is proclaiming Jesus the same God as the God of his fathers, the Lord God of all Israel and the Old Testament. When we encounter Jesus face to face, we know Jesus is God.

Live It:
Jesus lives. If we really believe in the resurrection we will look for him now. Two suggestions: Look for Jesus in the Eucharist and in the poor.

As she wept.

April 1st Easter Sunday Readings. 

Have you ever cried, almost, against your will? My mom is fighting cancer and I’ll never tom-pumford-254867-unsplashforget when I told my children. I was fine. I wasn’t worried. When I told them they were understandably scared. I reassured them and comforted them. I was fine. Then, I tried to explain to them how I was feeling. I though sharing how “fine” I was would help fill them with hope too. I started to say, “And daddy is feeling…” and I burst into tears – huge, gloppy, free flowing tears. I sobbed-cried before I could stop myself. I didn’t know I was feeling this way until I started to cry.

In John’s gospel, we hear about the moment the empty tomb is discovered. Mary of Magdala sees the stone rolled away and goes and gets Peter and the Disciple whom Jesus loved. They enter. The gospel says that the Beloved Disciple saw and believed, but they still didn’t understand and returned home.

andreas-wagner-532692-unsplashMary stayed and wept. I think that is a beautiful moment. Mary is mourning the death of her friend, her leader, her teacher. God uses that sadness and emotion to do a great thing. Only because Mary lingered and wept did she see the two angels and eventually Jesus himself.

I think sometimes we are ashamed of our emotional response to spiritual or liturgical moments. We want to be clear-eyed and sober in our faithful prayer (and that is a good thing). Yet, at times God can use every aspect of us, even our emotions to help us to grow closer.

John’s account of the empty tomb is a story about Mary of Magdala’s transformation from follower of a teacher to believer in the resurrected, death-destroying, Jesus. She cries because she is mourning the loss of the way things were, the wonderful life of following Jesus. Yet God has even more in store for her.

At the completion of this story, after Mary has come to let go of her former way of knowing Jesus and accepted Jesus resurrected, Jesus sends Mary to go and share this good news with the disciples. Mary becomes the apostles to the Apostles. Apostle means one who is sent. Jesus sends Mary to the disciples who will go out into the world to share the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead and death is conquered forever.

This Easter it does us good to think about the areas of our life that need transformation. Where do we need to more fully believe that Jesus has risen. What tears do we need to shed for our old way of living so that we can enter more fully into the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? How are we going to draw near and hear Jesus say our name?

Live It:
Go to church sometime during Holy Week when you normally wouldn’t. Maybe that means attending an extra Mass or service Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Maybe that means going alone to the church to pray. Let God into your brokenness, your biggest loss, the place you wish you could instantly fix. Let Jesus call you by name.

Winners Fail.

March 18th Sunday Readings.

usp_olympics__curling_97910487-e1519497611791

Winners.

Nobody likes to fail. I don’t know about you, but I want to win every time. My reaction to Olympic events are a good example of this. When Americans won, like Team Shuster – the Men’s Curling team, I was elated and relieved and thought, “Good. Everything is right in the world.” When the Norwegians or Dutch easily captured the gold in a cross country skiing or speed skating event, I wondered what happened to my fellow Americans.

Yet Jesus says in this weekend’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus changes the paradigm. No longer is it winners and losers, but those willing to fall and die will bear fruit.

If we want to help others, if we want our friends and family to know the saving love of Jesus, we don’t win them, we die for them. Jesus is clear that the way the victory is won is through self sacrifice. St. John Paul II beautifully said, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” That sounds like winning to me.

Jesus is clear about one more thing. Jesus is going demonstrate and be the example per-excel-lance of this form of sacrificial love. Jesus will fall like a grain of wheat and die. Through that death will come life for us.

LIVE IT: Holy Week is coming. Start now to think about Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Remember God wants to do something for you this Easter. Healing, restoration, rest, peace, joy, whatever it is, Jesus wants to give you a tremendous gift this Holy Week and Easter.

What’s your slogan?

March 11th, Sunday Readings.

Billboard

 

When I was kid, I was a  Boy Scout. This was back in the day with the full on uniforms,
the high socks, the pocket knifes, and strict commitment to building a bigger fire than the troup next door. We had a number of dads who were leaders (my father being our Scout Master). One of our leaders was the king of the dad joke and his favorite was a simple question and answer that always elicited an eye roll or a confused look.

Dad: Hey scout, do you know why I can’t wait for tomorrow?

Scout: Why, sir?

Dad: Because I get better looking every day. Bwwaahhahahahh. 

He told this joke so often that it kind of became his personal slogan. It because what he was known for. In some small ways, it even formed how he lived, he was a joyful and eternally optimistic person. Even though he joked about looking forward to tomorrow, he really did look forward to each new day.

Do you have a slogan? Do you have a statement or phrase that helps both explain who you are and, as the same time, form your decision making? We might think of a slogan as shallow marketing, but what if we really lived by them?

If Christianity had a slogan, John 3:16, which is our gospel this Sunday, might just be it. At the core of our faith is Jesus Christ. The central story of our faith is that God loves us so much that sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so that death is conquered and we can live forever with God.

This basic story of our faith has a greek name – Kerygma. Pope Francis says this about the Kerygma:

We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation…It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. – Joy of the Gospel 165

What would change if this was your slogan? What if the central message of Christianity what you lived your life by? What if every decision, actions, even thought was made in light of Jesus on the cross?

LIVE IT:
Write a slogan for yourself! Write a simple, short slogan that explains who you are and helps you form how you live your life. Try it out for a week and revisit it. Edit as needed.

Unpredictable.

March 4th, Sunday Readings.

Turn the other cheek. Pray for you enemies. Forgive 70 times 7 times. Based on so many img_4553of Jesus’ teachings it would be easy to believe that Jesus’ main message was, “Be excellent to each other.”

Sunday’s gospel where Jesus makes a rope out of cords, flips tables, and clears the temple seems, well, out of place with nice guy Jesus. Doesn’t this “Bruce Banner” Jesus hurt his over Hulk1all nice guy image? Yes. Thank God.

Jesus is unpredictable because he didn’t come to teach us how to be nice. Jesus’ mission isn’t to civilize us or to fix our bad behavior. Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, he came to make us live. His actions in the temple aren’t nice, but they are good. Jesus clears the way for the poor and gentile to get closer to the Temple, to get closer to God.

Jesus isn’t just a nice guy, but he also isn’t an angry brute either. If I had done Jesus actions in the temple, I would have done them out of anger or maybe even revenge. I’ve always thought that Jesus was filled with righteous anger, but where does it say Jesus was angry? No, Jesus acts not out of anger, but out of love – love for those who feel like they can’t get close to God.

This story teaches us that Jesus isn’t nice or angry, but he is willing to do anything to clear a path between us and God. Jesus isn’t satisfied with us at a distance.

LIVE IT:
Name one thing that keeps you at a distance from God. Name it and figure out how you are going to let Jesus remove it this week.