There are good people in hell.

Sunday Readings for September 29, 2019

steve-knutson-lQ2BzDNmnHE-unsplash.jpgThere’s nothing wrong with being a good person. Being good is just fine. The problem lies in what we define as a “good person.”  For the most part, I think we label someone as a good person if they don’t upset someone else. Stay in your lane, support the status quo, keep your eyes ahead and don’t rock the boat. A good person is good to their own family, mostly, and does just enough to leave a good impression. A good person is someone who is nice and polite. 

I bet the rich man in this Sunday’s gospel was thought of as a good person. Go read the gospel (click here). He doesn’t commit any atrocity. He stays in his lane. He is just a good guy. He does what is expected of him. 

What this parable tells us then is that being a good person is not enough to enter into eternal life with God forever. Being simply good (i.e. nice, polite, not trouble), doesn’t mean a person is on their way to eternal glory. 

While the rich man from the parable doesn’t do anything horrible, he also doesn’t do what he could to care for his neighbor. And this is the crux of the matter. Salvation rests not on being morally neutral, but on being sold out for love. It isn’t enough to avoid evil, we also have to do good. Not because we earn heaven, but because our salvation resides with Jesus Christ. 

We say yes to Jesus with more than our words, but with our lives. We say yes to Jesus when we actively seek to love and to love well. The rich man might be a good person, but he doesn’t love well. To love is to sacrifice for the good of the other, and the rich man fails to do that for Lazarus. 

When it comes to our culture’s definition of a good person, the bar is pretty low. We were made for more. We were made for Love. 

Live It:
Identify and then do 1 thing that serves someone else that you don’t want to do or normally wouldn’t do. When you do, say this prayer, “Jesus, I don’t want to do this. But I do it for you.” 

Squandered.

Sunday Reading for September 22nd.

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Growing up my room was always a complete wreck. Depending on the year I had piles of clothes, dirty dishes, soccer cleats, baseball gear, empty CD cases, books, school papers, and an unnecessarily high number of legos strewn everywhere. It was embarrassingly messy. Even my friends would tell me my room looked trashed. 

Now, no matter what we say and do, no matter what consequences we cook up, my two girls can’t keep their rooms from looking like Old Navy dumped 3 clearance racks in the middle of their floor. They will clean them one day and two days later their entire closets and dressers are emptied onto the floor yet again. 

This summer both girls were home during the day so we tried to get them to clean their rooms during the 40+ hours of absolutely free time. We’d say something like, “Hey kiddos, you two aren’t going swimming at the lake on Saturday with us if you don’t get your room cleans by Friday afternoon.” With grim determination they will tell us that they will be done by Wed. Have no fear. Come Friday at about 1 pm. they will still be tucked away still trying to get things right. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t go try to do it. They would go up each day and turn on some music and start the process. Then each one of them would get distracted by a found toy or a group text the older one needed to respond to. It wasn’t that they ignored our wishes or actively disobeyed our command. They just squandered their time. 

In the gospel Jesus tells us about a steward who is summoned by his master for squandering his masters money. It wasn’t that the steward did anything particularly bad. He wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t kill or commit adultery or curse or lie. What he did do was not take advantage of the great gift of responsibility that his master had given him. He squandered his opportunity. For that, his master was about to fire him.

I think in the spiritual life more than actively rebelling against God, it is much more likely for us to squander the opportunity to grow in holiness. Choosing reading the paper over reading the Bible isn’t bad necessarily, but it is a squandered opportunity. Watching Netflix until we can’t hold our eyes open any longer and then skipping prayer before bed isn’t some horrible sin, but it is a squandered opportunity. Ignoring the poor and lonely in our midst because we have other responsibilities isn’t always bad, but it is a squandered opportunity. 

The reality is this, the master calls the squandering steward and asks him to make a full account for his actions. What if God called you tonight to make a full account for how you have spent your time, money, and energy this past week? What would you have to say?

LIVE IT:
Identify 1 minute (60 seconds) of squandered time this past week. Give that time back to God this week in prayer or service of other. Make note of it in your calendar. Try for 2 minutes next week. Keep going till you convert 10 minutes a day from squandered to profitable. 

Blue or White or Neither.

Sunday Readings for August 18th, 2019.

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Remember a couple years ago when there was a huge controversy about whether a particular dress was blue and black or white and gold? 

People used this moment to reflect on perspective and how different people see things differently. That’s all well and good. We do see things from different perspectives and we need to be aware of other’s perspectives. Yes. Do that. 
Also, the dress was one or the other. Right? The dress couldn’t and can’t be both. It is either white or it is blue. The dress could actually be a third thing – neither white or blue. However, the thing the dress couldn’t be was both. 

Jesus talked in the gospel this Sunday about how he is coming to bring division. This grates against our general perception of Jesus as nice guy and peaceful guru. Jesus doesn’t mince words, he will cause division. 

The division he causes will flow from the fact that he mere existence is a truth that is opposed. The division flows from opposition to his true and right teaching. Jesus’ mission is to save the world and establish the Kingdom of God, and there are those who work totally and completely against his mission. 

Being a follower of Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean we should seek or avoid conflict and division. In other words, we don’t cause division. However if we do follow Jesus, we are promised division and opposition. 

The question remains for us, what we will do in the face of opposition to our faith? What we will do when we have to pick between following Jesus and unity at all cost?

LIVE IT: Name a strongly held belief that you know is opposed by others? Now pray for them and pray for yourself that God’s truth reign. 

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. 

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?”

Don’t look the other way.

Sept. 25th Sunday Readings

In my first year of marriage, I had this conversation with my wife maybe 1,783,537 times:

Me: Honey, my love – look, I cleaned up after myself (spoken proudly).
Wife: Darling, really. Really?!
Me: What do you mean? I wiped this down and washed this and put these things away.
Wife: Yes, and yet, dust bunnies remain there and streaks over here and look under here, untouched by your cleaning.
Me: I, literally, didn’t see any of that.
(Okay, maybe I embellished the sweet talk a bit, but you get the idea.)

I don’t think it was that I was bad at cleaning (maybe), it was just that I didn’t notice any of those unfinished tasks. I didn’t see the dirt and dust. It wasn’t a matter of effort or desire, but of vision. I didn’t clean what I couldn’t see.

Honestly, I think after college and guy apartment living, I had trained myself to ignore the dirt in the corners. I learned, through repetition, that as long as you got the big stuff, everything was good to go. I practiced seeing the big stuff and ignoring the little stuff.

I think the same thing happens in the gospel this weekend. Jesus tells a story of a rich man (who traditionally is named Dives) and the poor beggar Lazarus who sat just outside the rich man’s door. I think it wasn’t that Dives was an evil man, but he practiced ignoring Lazarus for years. Day after day, Dives would leave his home and ignore Lazarus to the point that he didn’t even see him any more.

What’s the result of years of ignoring Lazarus? Dives experiences the eternal, fiery, torments of hell. In a plot twist, Dives sees Lazarus and Abraham far off. Dives asks if Lazarus will do for him exactly what he didn’t do for Lazarus – show him mercy.

I can’t speak for you, but I think I have trained myself to ignore the poor.

Like Dives, I’ve learned to look away from every Lazarus I encounter. Most of the time when we stop at the top of an off ramp, I purposefully ignore the people asking for a handout. When we encounter someone on the street downtown, I rarely even acknowledge they are a human being in need of help. I’m happy to write a check or attend a fundraiser, but I don’t know the truly destitute who are my neighbors.

How about you?

I think for me this story is a challenge to see with new eyes. Jesus is asking us to unlearn all that we have taught ourselves. Particularly, he is inviting us to really see the poor and vulnerable. Jesus is challenging us to stop ignoring those around us who are in real need.

How important is it that we see the poor and vulnerable? Jesus suggests our eternal future depends on it.

LIVE IT:

Look for and see the humanity of the poor and vulnerable. That may mean looking into the eyes and greeting someone asking you for money at an offramp or downtown. It may mean reading the stories of the poor. It may mean simplifying your life so others can simply live.

At HNOJ here is where you can learn more about the poor and vulnerable.

Good News?

The Good Word for Sunday November 15th ~ for the complete Sunday readings click here. 

“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” This Sunday at Mass we are all going to say this phrase together following this somewhat horrifying piece of scripture. In case you didn’t read the gospel before reading this reflection, Jesus says things like, “The sun will be darkened,” and “the moon will not give it’s light,” and “stars will be falling from the sky,” and “this generation will not pass away before these things have taken place.”

Yikes. People have long been afraid of the end of the world. R.E.M even had a top forty hit with the song, “It’s the End of the World (and I feel fine)” poking fun at those fearful of the end times.

So why does Jesus say these things? Believe it or not, but these words were probably comforting to the first people whoever read them. The gospel of Mark was written for a community of Christians who were being heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire. Those hearing these words would have understand that what was being said was a promise, a relief, and a call to hope in a future free of persecution.

Can you imagine living in fear that you or your family would be arrested, tortured, or killed just because you are Catholic? What if you had to attend Mass in secret, in the middle of the night? What would life be like if any day your next-door neighbor could turn you in for being a follower of Jesus? Now that is scary.

This is was the reality of life for the people who first read Mark’s gospel. For that reason, the idea that this too shall pass, that Jesus was coming again and soon was comforting. When the early Christians heard that the way the world was going to end, well, that was actually a message of hope.

Christian persecution is happening right now in 2015. Daily there are Christian martyrs, people killed, just for being Christian. Reports of whole towns being burned to the ground and men, women, and children being killed for their Christianity keep making the news.

When we hear the words of the gospel this weekend, instead of reacting in fear of the horrifying image of the last days, let us instead pray for our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters for whom and end of the current age would be a welcome sight.

Live It:
1) Learn about Christian persecution. Start by reading this short article about Pope Francis and Christian Persecution.
2) Pray for all persecuted Christians today.

Want to learn more? Check out the CNEWA.