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. 

Winners Fail.

March 18th Sunday Readings.

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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.

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.