Absolutely Perfect.

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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.

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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. 

 

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. 

Flight Madness

Read the September 23rd Sunday Readings

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Something about airline travel turns the kindest, most generous people into absolutely selfish monsters. Every time I fly, I seem to encounter all kinds of human selfishness and entitlement. There are moments of generosity and selfless gift, don’t get me wrong, but I amazed at the number of “me first” moments I witness while flying. 

Oh, by the way, I am 100% talking about myself. I’m the monster. 

A couple months ago I flew a certain airline that lets passengers choose their own seats. I actually like and appreciate this model because it appeals to my sense of fairness. If you check in early or pay a little extra you get to board first and every seat is yours to choose from. 

I boarded early and sat in an aisle seat in the 3rd row. Hundreds of people boarded after me and poured towards the back of the plane hoping for a “not middle” seat. Alas this was a nearly full flight. The seat next to me was still open as the plane filled and I secretly hoped it would remain so. Finally the last few souls entered and after stowing bags one standing passenger exclaimed, “Wow this is full, where is there an open seat?” 

Did I raise my hand? Did I call out, “Oh brother human, over here! Please take your rest next to me.” No. I kept my head down and hope against hope he would sit behind me? Absolutely. Why? Because I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted the open seat. I wanted to be first. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” I don’t know about you, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want that open seat on the plane and I want to follow Jesus too. I’m okay not being first, but I sure don’t ever want to be last. 

Jesus makes it abundantly clear again and again in the gospels, there is a choice between serving ourself and following Jesus. No middle ground exists. Either we follow Jesus and serve others or we serve yourselves. 

How do we do totally give up serving ourselves? First, we need to totally rely on God for the grace to do this. Left to my own devices, I will never offer the open spot next to me to the person looking for it on a plane. Second, we look to help people who can do nothing for us. We need to look to serve the helpless. Only by God’s grace can we hope put ourselves last. 

LIVE IT:
First of all, this week’s Good Word was particularly challenging to me. I constantly fail at this. So the Live It is most important this week. Turn to God each day from now until the next Sunday and ask God for the grace to be last. 

Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

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PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into.