It’s Not Fair.

If you are a parent, then it is likely that you’ve heard someone complain that something isn’t fair. If you are parent like me, you’ve heard this phrase yelled at you while one child gestures wildly at another child. I don’t need to explain to you that comparing ourselves to others is a death sentence to loving them well and being happy. If you want to lose your joy, then start comparing yourself to others.

When I would yell at my parents about the fairness of their parenting my younger sister and I, most often their response was, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.” I never liked that answer. I used to think that equal portions, the same rules, etc absolutely means equal, but then I started to say it to my kids and it started to make sense.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a man with a vineyard who hires workers throughout the day and at sundown pays them all the same wage. Whether someone worked twelve hours or one hour, they all got a full day’s wage. The workers who worked a full day complain that they didn’t get what they deserved. The vineyard owner explains that they were paid what was promised, which is true. Then he explains that it is his choice if he also decides to pay the partial workers the same amount.

As the person who holds strict rules about standing in line and always returns the shopping cart to the cart corral (yes that is their technical name), I still struggle with this answer. I want to shout at Jesus, “BUT THIS STILL ISN’T FAIR!”And maybe I’m right. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is love.

God isn’t fair, he is love. He is extraordinary love.

God is wild generosity and total self-gift especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve a full portion of God’s love? Me. You. All of us. Few of us started working at dawn in the vineyard and none of us have worked perfectly all day long. We don’t deserve the wage God wants to pay us. So who are we in the story? We are the workers who come at midday and the end of the day, and yet because of God’s generosity, we still get a full portion.

What is the wage we are paid? Paul says that the wages of sin is death. So what is our wage for working in the vineyard? Life. The reward at the end of the day of working is a life of eternal bliss with God Almighty! There is no half measure of Heaven. If Heaven is infinite joy and perfect communion with God, then those who receive it won’t have more or less than someone else. There is no comparison in Heaven because everyone there is perfectly satisfied. More and less no longer matter in a state of perfect communion with God. 

Finally, this gospel teaches us that it is never too late to receive that full day’s wage. If you are reading this, but have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are reading this and aren’t in full communion with God, now is the time to reach out and take the job. Say a prayer that puts yourself at God’s mercy and God’s will. No matter how far away you feel. No matter how long you’ve been gone, God will welcome you back with extraordinary love. 

LIVE IT: Tell God you want to work in his vineyard. Actively seek to commit yourself to God. Use whatever words come from you heart. 

Sunday Readings for September 20th, 2020.

You’re dead to me.

I give up on people. I do. Most of us do, I think. If someone burns us enough, we get to the point where we can no longer give them another second, third, fourth chance. I’m sure someone has given up on me too. It is very likely I failed someone, said the wrong thing, or didn’t say the right thing too many times for someone.

Conventional wisdom and, in fact, the cardinal virtues probably lead us to believe we can write them off. Prudence tells us that we probably shouldn’t trust that person any more. And yes, that is probably wise. Justice tells us they aren’t fulfilling their duty and so what we owe them has changed. Temperance would have us reach a reasonable amount of latitude before we write them off. Fortitude might invite us to be strong in our stern rejection of the other. 

While it feels wrong to speak of giving up on someone in the abstract, in the particular, I bet you and I can think of a least one person we gave up on because their actions didn’t follow their words. 

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs Peter that he not simply forgive someone, but that he should perpetually forgive them – seventy seven or seven times seven times. Jesus surely teaches virtue, so why can he teach this unlimited forgiveness? Perhaps it is because the most central virtue for Jesus isn’t prudence or justice, but it is Love. We forgive over and over again because of love. 

Of course that doesn’t mean we abandon the other virtues. God’s love is just. God’s love is prudent. Forgiving and loving doesn’t mean we fully trust someone not worthy of our trust. However love demands that we never write anyone off. 

God’s love is exactly that for us. We need God’s forgiveness every single day. God never gives up on us. God never writes us off. God gives us all the chances we need and then some. There is no amount of failure we can accomplish that will cause God to give up on saving us. 

In this Sunday’s gospel parable, the servant begs for forgiveness. This is an essential aspect of our forgiveness. God won’t force forgiveness on us. We must want it too. 

Live It:
Mini Challenge: Ask God for forgiveness or simply go to Confession. 

Big Challenge: Reach out to someone you have written off. Just make contact and say hello. See how God uses that act.

Sunday Readings September 13th, 2002.

Judgemental

I made fajitas the other night and they were delicious. Marinated, grilled skirt steak. Cast iron peppers and onions. Tortillas warmed on the grill. Fresh Pico de Gallo and Guacamole to top things off. Shared on a warm night with a slight breeze on a table set up in the shade of a tree in our beautiful backyard. It was nearly perfect. 

To name the food and atmosphere and company as enjoyable and good is to make a judgement. I made a judgement as to whether the food was delicious or not. I judged the weather and the shade and the table we ate on. I judged the company. I made judgements about the pleasurable aspects of my evening and judged it to be good. 

We live in a time when being judgmental has been seen as negative. I have worked on trying to be less judgmental. But the gospel this Sunday challenged this negative view of judgement. I am convinced that judging things is actually a good and necessary thing. We should be judgmental. Let me explain. 

Judging things keeps us safe. In the gospel, Jesus tells a parable of the farmer who plants good wheat, but an enemy sows weeds in the same field and they both grow up together. The weed that Jesus is describing is called darnel. When it is young, it looks just like wheat. It is difficult to distinguish the two. As it grows it wraps its roots around other plants. To pull up darnel would be to pull up other crops.

Also, it’s deadly poisonous. The farmer and his servants have to judge the difference between darnel and wheat if they don’t want to be poisoned. If we want to live, we have to make judgements between what is harmful to us and what is good for us. 

Only when we judge do we appreciate. We aren’t grateful for the wheat, the good things, in our lives if we don’t judge them as good. How do we know that Fajitas are good or bad? We judge them. We don’t know that something is Beautiful, Good, or True unless we make an assessment. 

While the gospel may give us good reason to judge, it also comes with clear warning about judgement. We can judge behaviors, material goods, or beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we should judge people. In the gospel, the harvester and the farmer judge the weeds from the wheat, but the farmer tells the slaves not to pull the weeds until harvest time.

To that end, it’s not our job to judge people. It isn’t the right time. God waits to judge people until their deaths and the end of time because he wants to give each of us every single opportunity to change. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate the time. I need it. 

Whenever we judge people we do it on way too little information. We are poor judges of the human heart because we just can’t know all the information we would need to make a sound judgement.

Also, we shouldn’t judge people because we often base that judgement off of the wrong or incomplete information. It is like judging whether the fajitas are good based on the shape of the pasture where the cow who became our meal grazed in. Not enough and wrong information to make a judgement. 

We should be judgmental. We judge to avoid evil and to choose good. How?

The judge of judgement should always be love. 

If we judge with anything other than love as our guiding principle, we will fail to judge well. God’s judgement and God’s love aren’t opposing forces, but in fact they work for the same end – our intimate and ultimate union with God forever. 

Live It: Next time you encounter someone, whether you know them well or not, use your power of judgement to ask this question, “What can I do to love this person well right now?”

Breath. Breath. Breath.

I rolled over the other night to find myself face to face with my beautiful, beloved bride. She was sound asleep and was, how shall I say it, melodiously breathing deeply. It was then that a warm gust of moist breath hit me in the face. It struck me that it felt like it had been a long time since someone breathed in my face. In this time of social distancing and mask wearing, I haven’t felt the warmth of someone else’s breath for a while, thank God. 

Truth be told, it’s not like I was getting explicitly breathed on a lot in the past either. It is such an intimate thing to happen, we just don’t normally feel other adults breaths on our face. Sure when you have kids it will happen that one of them will climb into your arms, say something cute, sigh, and then breath out deeply all over you. But how often would you purposefully share breath with another adult and know it, feel it? Rarely right? 

So it strikes me as odd that in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, in the midst of his post resurrection appearance, breathed on his disciples. Can you imagine being the disciples? Your best friend, leader, and messiah actually rises from the dead, he shows up, says a couple things, and then breaths on you. Why?

Jesus’ breathing onto/into his disciples reminds us of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:7 God made man out of the dust of the ground and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Just as God gave life to man by making this carbon bag filled with mostly water into a living, breathing, conscious thing, Jesus breaths the breath of life into the disciples. His breath gives them new life, a life in the Spirit and as the Church. 

When people talk about hearing a good talk or reading a particularly good religious book or quote, what do they call it? Inspiring. If someone shouts “Eureka! I’ve figured it out.” They have been inspired. Jesus literally expires his breath and by doing so  inspires the disciples, and indeed the whole Church, to complete his mission. Jesus has preached and commanded and now Jesus is giving inspiration to his followers one last time.

The Hebrew word for God’s breath that was used in Genesis 2:7 is ruach. This word can be used for breath and often is. The other meaning of ruach is spirit. By breathing on his followers, Jesus is literally giving them the Holy Spirit. He is breathing his very life and indeed his Spirit into the disciples and into the whole Church. The very next thing Jesus says is, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Boom. 

This Sunday we should probably refrain from receiving anyone else’s breath. But we can and should know the intimacy Jesus wants to have with us. How close? He wants to breath on us. We can know with confidence that Jesus Christ has and will breath his life, his inspiration, and his Holy Spirit into the Church – into us! Come Holy Spirit!

LIVE IT: On Sunday, take 12 big, deep, from your tummy, breaths. With each one pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”, either when you breath in or out. 

Enough Ice Cream

GoodWord.2May2020.jpg

Have you ever been to Nelson’s ice cream? I went to the St. Paul location a couple years ago. A friend of mine, Kory, and I went together. It was my first time, but not his. Kory and I both enjoy our ice cream and have been known to put away our fair share. So I was shocked when on our way in he asked, “Do you want to share a child’s size?”
What? First of all, I don’t want to share at all and much less the “child’s size.” I couldn’t believe he asked. That was until we walked inside and saw what Nelson’s calls the child’s size. If you don’t know, a child size at Nelson’s is like 10 heaping scoops of delicious, rich ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. I half expected Kory to look at me and ask, “Is that enough ice cream?” I finished mine and enjoyed every bite, but didn’t feel good about the decision later.
The word “enough” is a funny description. Enough seems to be predicated on our personal preference. What my wife and I think is enough ice cream is very very different. When I tell my 2 year old that he has banged his fork on the table enough times, he rarely agrees.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus is preaching to his disciples and assuring them that he will be going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. All they must do is follow his way. Thomas questions whether they know the way and Jesus emphatically tells them that Jesus himself is the way. Then Philip puts out a condition, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus admonishes him. Jesus says you already know the Father because you know him. Jesus and Father are one and the same.
The issue here, beyond Philip and the other disciples seemingly lack of understanding, is  that they are putting one more condition on Jesus. It’s akin to saying if you just do one more thing, then we will believe. Even in the context of the story, it seems rude. Jesus has preached with authority like no other man. Jesus has multiplied the loaves. Jesus has healed the lame and leper. Jesus has forgiven sins. By all accounts, Jesus has done enough. Yet, the disciples still ask.
One question this reading asks of us is, “has Jesus done enough for you and I to believe?” Are His miracles, preaching teaching, and promises enough for us to lay our lives down before Him forever? How about His resurrection? What would be enough?
Yet maybe this isn’t the right question. We aren’t asking about a business transaction – Jesus proves himself and we assent to His divinity. We are talking about love relationship. Jesus is inviting us into a deeply loving relationship that could last the rest of our existence. When it comes to love, the word “enough” doesn’t enter into the equation. We love by choice and by action. After all, Jesus loves us when we aren’t enough.
LIVE IT: Journal for 5 minutes even if it is just bullet points. Answer the following questions, 1) Has Jesus done enough to earn me? 2) Do I love Jesus?

Sunday Readings for May 10th 2020.

It was an accident.

GoodWord.April2020.jpg

As a parent, I have lots of moments where I try and teach my kids a lesson that I, myself, haven’t yet totally mastered. Don’t hit your sister (sorry Kate) – Maybe you should get the small ice cream – and please excuse yourself from the table next time – are just a few. But the lesson I feel like I am constantly teaching, and constantly failing at myself, is the lesson of purpose. 

The other day one of my children knocked a glass of water off the table. The glass shattered, the water sprayed everywhere. I helped them clean it up and when I asked them to be more careful, they responded with hurt in their voice, “But I didn’t do it on purpose!” I said in response, “Yes, but you didn’t do things on purpose to avoid the situation like moving the glass in from the edge of the table or going slow or not swinging your arms wildly while singing a show tune.” I tried to explain that there is a difference between an absolute accident, doing something on purpose, and not doing things to avoid a potential accident. They stared at me blankly and we moved on. 

I think this kind of thing happens to Thomas in our gospel reading for this Sunday. Thomas gets this horrible nickname of “doubting Thomas” simply because he wasn’t present when Jesus appeared the first time. He didn’t purposefully try to miss out, but he did. He just didn’t do the thing he could have to not have missed the resurrected Jesus. 

However, I think this missing out moment has even deeper meaning than a way I teach my kids not to spill glasses. In this story we see that Jesus was there. Jesus was present right at the moment that everyone thought it had gone. Jesus wasn’t absent from his friends and followers. It was Thomas who was gone. When we feel far from Jesus, it isn’t that he leaves us, it much more likely that it is us who have left him. 

Also, Thomas missed Jesus when he was away from the community of Christians. The same is true for us in a certain sense. When we are separated from our Church, we can miss seeing Jesus. 

I recognize that is a horrible thing to name in the midst of social distancing and the stay-at-home order that are all experiencing. The reality is that we are physically separated from each other, but we can be spiritually united. What we can do, is what we can do. We must do things on purpose to avoid an accidental separation from the Church and from Jesus. We must be Christians, we must be the Church on purpose. 

Live It: Reach out to a friend you haven’t connected with in the last month. Pray for them then give them a text message or phone call to connect. Maybe ask them “Is there anything I can pray for you on your behalf?” or just go ahead and offer to pray with them on the phone. See what happens.

Sunday readings for April 19th, 2020.

Absolutely Perfect.

image.png

Two kinds of people inhabit this big blue marble we call home – those who love the Olympics and those who don’t. I for one love the olympics. The grandeur and spectacle of the opening ceremonies. The triumph on the faces of the athlete replete with medals. The agony of the defeat of those who get edged out into 4th place. The celebration of the unlikeliest athletes from the unlikeliest countries just competing at all. It all is exciting to me. 

I much prefer the timed competitions, but there is something exciting about the judged sports like figure skating, gymnastics or diving. That moment when the culmination of years of work has just completed and the athlete is awaiting their scores – wow, high drama. It doesn’t happen often, but when the judges deem that performance to be perfect – exhilaration. 

While perfection is something we think we know and experience in this life, it is quite rare. The perfect morning, the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect kiss – we may say these things, but how do we judge something is perfect. Is it perfect until something better comes along? By perfect do we mean that it couldn’t be improved? How do we know?

That is why this gospel is so difficult to get our arms around. Jesus preaches about our need as his followers to no longer seek to fulfill the bare minimum of the law, but to seek the law’s radical and greatest expression. In the end Jesus says, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this seem impossible? I feel totally ill equipped to be perfect. Nothing in my life feels perfect. How am I supposed to be perfect?

In praying with this scripture I found some direction in the second half of the directive, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How is God perfect? Of course we could say he is perfect in every way. But I think Jesus is trying to say something specific. 

God is perfect in his LOVE. Each person of our triune God loves the others perfectly. That love spills out into creation and God loves his creation perfectly. God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son to save us from death. God loves us perfectly. 

If we are trying to be perfect as God is perfect. We must try to love perfectly. The kind of love we are talking about is the love that we choose. It is self-gift. It is the kind of love that is self sacrifice. This is the love that Jesus had for us when he died on the cross. This love is divine love. Since you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love in this way. It is the love that God can perfect in us. How should we be perfect? We must seek to love perfectly. 

LIVE IT: Take out your phone and set a reminder for right after your alarm goes off in the morning – ask God to help you love perfectly that day and to give you opportunities to love someone else. Then prepare yourself to love and be giving the chance to love. 

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 2020.

No Rules. No Right.

GWSteakImage.jpg

I have eaten my fair share of bloomin’ onions. I’ve sat and wondered if they actually have steak houses down under. I’ve sipped a frothy beverage and annoyingly repeated lines from Crocodile Dundee while waiting for my food. What I mean to say is, I’ve eaten at Outback Steakhouse. 

A while ago their tagline was “No Rules. Just Right.” This has always struck me as odd. Sure it captures what I can only presume is a rebellious Australian spirit. No rules. Yet, just as we are fully bought into the no rules aspect of dining, they get you with the just right. I think this was to give the impression that your steak would be cooked just right. It could also mean everything about one’s experience at Outback would be – just right. 

Both halves of this tagline are lies. The varied ways that Outback Steakhouses aren’t “just right” are probably self revelatory. But the real hypocrisy is first half of the line “No rules.”  The moment you get up from the table and try to leave without paying, you will quickly find that there are indeed rules. If you were to throw your cutlery on the floor or mistreat the staff or bother other patrons, they will show you the door for breaking the, well, rules. 

Further, If you order a steak Medium Rare (as one should), the only reason it would come out cooked to the state of Medium Rare is because the chef followed the rules of how long or hot to cook the steak. If your steak was black and charcoaly and you sent it back to the kitchen, you could do so only because there are, in fact, rules about steaks and steakhouses. 

Some people think Jesus threw out all the rules. Some believe Jesus tells us we don’t need and shouldn’t follow rules. They might even come to the opinion that rules are for pharisees and reactionaries (they would be partially right here). It is as if they believe the tagline of Christianity is “No Rules. Just Christ.”

As attractive as that line might be (especially to us Americans), it isn’t very Biblical and doesn’t follow our Tradition. This Sunday’s gospel shows us that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the rules, but to fulfill them. He preaches clearly and decisively that not only are the rules not too harsh and shouldn’t be abandoned, but in fact the rules don’t go far enough. If the old rule was that violence against your neighbor was bad, Jesus ups the ante to anger with your fellow man is wrong. He goes on to increase the demand in several other areas. 

Jesus teaches us that it isn’t that the rules should be dismissed, but the rules will never be enough to establish the Kingdom and save our souls. In fact, Jesus preaches the radical and difficult reality that we are not enough. He says that we can never do enough to earn salvation or approval. It is only God who is enough who can save us in the face of the high bar of following Jesus Christ. 

Should we follow the rules of following Jesus? Absolutely. Should we only follow the the bare minimum of the rules? Absolutely not. The rules are good and we must abide, but we must go on to love and love well. When asked what is the greatest rule, love for God and love for neighbor was Jesus’ answer. 

Live it: Make a rule for yourself to follow for one week. Try something like: Drink only water. or No TV. or Say “Hi!” to everyone you walk past. or Introduce yourself to strangers. See what works. Maybe you’ll fine something new for Lent this year. 

Sunday Readings for February 16th, 2020.

Do Not be Afraid.

alasdair-elmes-ZiCz-oW1LXA-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 22nd, 2019.

After St. John Paul II was elected Pope in 1978, he gave a homily to the crowds in Rome during which he said:

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.

For a long time in my life St. John Paul II was the only Pope I knew. I saw him, in person, a handful of times and each time he inspired those of us to grow in holiness and to serve God and the Church.

For all his homilies, letters, books, and even poetry, I think the first words of his pontificate still resonate most powerfully for me – Be not afraid. 

In the gospel this Sunday the angel of the Lord tells Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” The angel commands Joseph to not be fearful of doing this difficult, culturally dangerous, and surprising act. In essence the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid to show mercy, to love.

Joseph’s bold act of love for Mary and trust in the Lord ensured Mary and Jesus’ safety. More than that, it ensured that Joseph would be there to do what God put him on the earth to do – raise Jesus, the Son of God. 

In our lives and indeed our spiritual lives too, we can choose to act out of fear or to act out of love. Acting out of fear leads us to selfish, greedy, and short sighted living and believing. While, when we act with love as our main motivator, we are generous, selfless, and joyful. 

Be not afraid to love. Be not afraid to forget yourself this Christmas and instead welcome Jesus into your heart, your home. Be not be afraid to trust like Joseph and love well. Be not afraid!

Live It: Watch this short (1 min) video of St. John Paul II preaching “Do Not be Afraid” or read his inaugural Homily from 1978 here. 

BONUS: Apathy is death

nadine-shaabana-s0uqGHl2DTg-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for Dec 1st, 2019 –

BONUS because I didn’t get this written or published last week. So here she is, out of order, short, and doubled up. 

What’s the opposite of love? Some people would say that hate is the opposite of love. However if you truly hold hot-burning hate for something it is likely because of your love for something else. Some say the opposite of love is selfishness and that might be a little closer to the answer. You could say selfishness is inappropriate or poorly executed love of self.

For me the opposite of love is apathy. If love moves us to act, to sacrifice for someone else, apathy is the not caring enough to move.

In the gospel from Dec 1st, 2019, Jesus explains to his disciples that most people are apathetic towards the coming of a Messiah. People will go about their daily business without a thought to the end of things for their end in particular. 

Love for God isn’t just a feeling or an openness to God. Love for God is an active movement towards doing God’s will and preparing for his coming. 

Our love for God can be measured in what we are willing to do, change, prepare, sacrifice, or offer to and for him. Love is an action. If want to love God, we won’t be apathetic to his return, but instead actively seeking to prepare our lives and our hearts for his coming. 

The other option is death. God, love is life. Apathy is death.

Live It: Throw something away that keeps you from God. Make a decision and get rid of it. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as removing it will help you get closer to God.