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.

Zoned Out.

December 3rd Sunday Readings.

Do you zone out easily? To zone out is to kind of look off in the distance and think noah-silliman-136622random thoughts that don’t have much bearing on what is presently happening before you. Some people zone out in meetings or conversations or class. But when happens when the conversation partner, boss, or teacher catch us zoned out? Not good.

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to be watchful and alert. Jesus invites them to be like servants who stay awake and watch, waiting for their master to return from a long journey. He goes on to warn them against the dangers of being caught asleep and unprepared. In other words, he asks his disciple not to spiritually zone out.

What does it mean to spiritual zone out? I’m not talking about zoning out during Mass, though we should work against that too, no I am talking about zoning out during the most important and impactful moments of life. I think it is easy to become the kind of people who start zoning out during boring or lifeless or even painful moments, but then start to get so good at zoning out that we start doing it during the fun, exciting, and joyful moments too. We sometimes get so good at avoiding pain by zoning out that we never truly feel joy or love because we sleepwalk through those moments too.

Advent is the season of waking up. This weekend starts the process of becoming awake and aware and watching for the abundant gifts God has in store for us. But the key is to wake up and watch. Whether you zone out independently or by mindlessly scrolling through your phone, now is the time to wake up, to watch, to breath deeply of God’s good gift of life.

Live it: Wake up by actually waking up. Don’t hit your snooze at all this week. Plan on leaping out of bed and taking 5 deep breaths right away. If that means you are up 9 minutes early, spend those 9 minutes in prayer asking God to spiritually wake you up.

I didn’t know.

November 26th Sunday Readings.

As humans we are aware of so many things. Our senses take in so much information thatMonkeys we ignore or process involuntarily most of it. We are inundated with information about our immediate environment. Through our devices, we take in more information about our world than ever before. We know so much.

Since we know so much, we can be fooled into thinking that we know all or most of what is going on around us. We can come away with the perception that we are 100% aware of our own motivations and actions, and the outcomes of those actions. We can erroneously believe we know the who, how, what, and why of everything we do.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus explains to his disciples that at the end of time the Son of Man will separate those who loved God from those who didn’t love God. The Son of Man will be able to tell who loves God by how they treat the least in our world.

What was interesting to me was that neither the sheep or the goats knew Jesus was present in the least. The sheep loved the least without being aware that they were serving the God of the Universe while doing so. The goats didn’t realize they were ignoring their Savior when they ignored the least.

At the end of the day, anyone will be good when it profits them. All will do good for the other when it ultimately benefits themselves. But that is what goats are willing to do.

Sheep love and serve when it is of no benefit to themselves. Sheep love the least who have no way to pay back what they receive. Sheep love like Jesus. Sheep love Jesus whether they know it or not.

Live It: Make a plan to help someone in the next 7 days who can’t help you back.

What we can’t share.

November 12th Sunday Readings.

What is the first lesson most of us were taught when we began school? Share. Share yourshared toys with someone who wants to play with them. Share your lunch with a kid who is still hungry. Share your time, attention, joy, good news, and yourself with those who need those things. Share.

So when Jesus tells us a parable where the good guys don’t share, it can be a little unnerving. In the gospel this weekend the wise virgins, the hero of our story, don’t share their oil with the foolish virgins who don’t bring enough with them. How rude, right?  Why would Jesus tell the parable this way?

We need to remember that this story Jesus tells is a parable, a meaningful metaphor or allegory. Often when Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast, he is really talking about heaven.

In this particular metaphor the wise virgins don’t share because they can’t. They can’t share because the oil represents their love for the groom. The oil represents their willingness to prepare and go above and beyond in support of the groom. The foolish virgins did the bare minimum when it came to their duty, but the wise virgins did more. The wise virgins acted out of love, not fear in preparing to serve the groom.

Love is a choice each of us make. The wise virgins couldn’t make that decision for the foolish virgins. When the foolish virgins try and enter the dinner after the doors are shut the groom doesn’t say, “You weren’t there when I needed you,” or “why didn’t bring extra oil.” No, instead he says, “I don’t know you.” Entrance into the wedding feast is about knowing, loving, and serving the bridegroom.

When we are in love we don’t count the cost. When we love well, we don’t do the littlest we are able. In fact, when we love well, we don’t even ask the question, “How little can I do and still be okay?”

If we want to go to heaven, we won’t get there doing the bare minimum. We won’t get there doing just enough. If we want to go to heaven, we will only get their by love, by God’s love and our loving response.

LIVE IT: Pray this fantastic prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola for generosity.

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for reward

save that of knowing that I do your will.