Embrace

In the the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a brief, fleeting image that I will never forget. Jesus has already been scourged and is now carrying his cross to Golgotha. He falls hard to the stone paved ground. In his effort to lift up his cross again, Jesus embraces his cross. The scene makes reference to another moment when Jesus embraces his mother. The question left for us the viewers is this: “Does Jesus love his cross?” 

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus warns us that if we love anything, prefer anything to God and to Jesus’ mission, we are not worthy of the mission. Then Jesus instructs us that whoever doesn’t take up his cross isn’t worthy of following Jesus.

I think this tells us two things:

  1. Following Jesus is something we do on purpose. We don’t accidentally become disciples of Jesus. Whether it is one big decision or a hundred little ones (probably a little of both), if we want to follow Jesus we have to “take up” the mission. 
  2. It’s not enough to accept the idea that we will suffer and maybe suffer for our faith. We have to embrace our cross. 

I don’t suffer well. I am bad at suffering. I don’t want it and I will do nearly anything to avoid it. I think a lot of people I know are like this too. This makes us vulnerable to the temptation to chase comfort and ease. If I am constantly just trying to get comfortable and satisfied, then my comfort is my highest value. If comfort is my highest value, then I won’t embrace, much less love, anything that causes me to suffer. 

I think this is a daily battle for many of us. We are sold comfort, security, entertainment, and convenience on every screen, billboard, broadcast, and notification. If all day long I choose ease, ease will become my God and I will prefer it to Christ. 

Which leads me back to the first point – We have to embrace the Cross on purpose. Maybe that means fasting or giving or doing something beyond our comfort zone. Maybe that means actively accepting and owning the suffering we already face. Whatever the case, to follow Jesus means to take up our cross even if that means suffering. The only way to embrace suffering is to trust in God. The only way to trust in God is to embrace suffering. 

LIVE IT: Pick up a cross. Literally. Go a find a cross or crucifix and hold it for 5 minutes and during that time ask God to help you take up your cross that day. 

Sunday Readings for June 28th, 2020.

The Unexpected Missionary

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I recently read some non-fiction books about the American Revolution and the early 1800s. What I was most surprised by was the difficulty, but regularity of ocean travel. Last year my wife and I traveled to Boston and toured the USS Constitution, a retired tall ship that I actually read about this past week. While the ship was so large, the living quarters were very small. I couldn’t imagine signing on to traverse the Atlantic or even further.

Yet, for many centuries this is what it meant to be a foreign missionary for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Why would anyone get on a boat (maybe not as sturdy and glorious as the USS Constitution) and travel across the globe to tell people about Jesus?

Easy–Jesus told us to.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us, the Church, the Great Commission. Jesus tells us first and emphatically to “Go.” It is the mission of the Church to go out into the world and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to leave the confines of the safe harbor and strike out into open water. When we get there we are to make disciples of all nations, teach them to obey Jesus, and remember Jesus promises to be with us always.

The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I am writing this from the comfort of my finished basement. I have a space heater taking the chill out of the air and enough tea and afternoon snacks to keep me going. I am here because of our stay at home order, and the best way to keep each other safe is to stay home or stay safe. How can I be a missionary for Jesus Christ if my ship can’t leave the harbor?

When it comes to missionary activity we have two Patron Saints that the Church looks toward for intercession and inspiration. First, St. Francis Xavier sailed from Europe in 1540, and after sailing around Africa, founded missions in India, Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, and then died at age 46 off the coast of China where he was headed for missionary work. A brave and holy man, who has the resume for the job of Patron of Missions.

The Patroness of Mission is Saint Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese lived in a Carmelite Cloister and never left France on Mission. She died at age 24, never having set sail for the far reaches of the world. Yet, she is the unexpected Patroness of Mission and Missionaries. How did she accomplish the Mission of the Church while never leaving her home? St. Therese did three things that I think we can emulate and by doing so, accomplish the mission before us:

  1. Prayer. I am not an expert in St. Therese’s prayer life, but one thing I do know is her absolute dependence on God. When we pray during this time, we must pray as a people who are absolutely in need of God. We can do that.
  2. Love. St. Therese was humble and lived humbly in the cloister, but she did so with great love. While she didn’t travel the world on mission to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, she loved well those around her. She did the things of her day, dishes, prayers, chores, laundry, with great heart. She did these simple sacrifices with love and offered her work up to Jesus Christ. We can do that.
  3. Write/Record. St. Therese wrote “The Story of a Soul”, an autobiography which has converted (along with God’s grace) many hearts. She recorded her desire for God and for others to know God. We can write to our family and our friends. We can record what God is doing for and in us right now with a pen or keyboard or camera. We can do that.

Live It: If we want to emulate the great Patroness of Mission, St. Therese of Lisieux, then we must start with our prayer. St. Therese wrote many prayers, and this one for the start of the day is particularly beautiful in its simplicity (I think).

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.

Readings for Sunday May 24th, 2020.

All the Flavor.

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About 5 years ago, my dad and I tried to make our own, from scratch, Italian sausage. We found a recipe in an older cookbook that we thought sounded authentic. We ground up the pork shoulders. We prepared the casings. We added various spices and finally the kosher salt.

While we were adding it, I remember thinking, “This seems like a generous helping of salt, but I’m sure the author of this recipe has more experience and expertise than I do.” But something went wrong. 

After filling the sausages, we fried up a little of the bulk sausage meat just to taste it. WOW SALTY. No one could eat the sausages. We tried cooking them in tomato sauce, but even then we found our family suffering through dinner. This salt was salty and our sausage experiment was a failure. Bummer. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it should be thrown out. The thing is, salt can’t loose it’s flavor. Salt is salt. So what is Jesus talking about?

We, in the 21st century, have refined, pure salt in our spice drawer at home. But imagine a time when one bought salt from a neighbor who only sifted it enough to get the large chunks of dirt or rock out of the salt. As one used the container of salt and get near the bottom, one probably got to the point where one had less salt and more dirt. Thus it no longer was salt.

Salt seasons and salt preserves. Salt does particular things. If you tried to use something less than salt to do either of these we are going to end up with dirty or spoiled food. What we need in cooking and food preparation is authentic salt. We need the real deal.

When it comes to sharing our faith, we need to have the real and authentic faith. Can we have questions and moments of weakness? Absolutely, that is part of growing in faith. But when it comes to sharing our faith, we can only share what we actually own. When it comes to inspiring and preserving faith in our family and our friends, we can only do so to the extent that we hold true faith. 

You and I can fake it till we make in terms of our own faith life and devotion (and sometimes we must!), but we can’t fake it for anyone else. We can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t lead where we won’t go ourselves. If we desire or feel called to help influence the faith of our children, spouses, neighbors, coworkers, or friends, then the first person we must help grow in faith is us. We must get salty, if we are going to season the world. 

LIVE IT: For the next 3 meals add this following prayer to your food blessing. If you make these meals, saying the prayer when you season the food. If you are picking up food, say it during the blessing.

“God, Give me the true and authentic faith you desire for me. Help me to be salt for those around me.”

Sunday Readings for February 9th, 2020. 

Don’t be a Windsock.

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What is the purpose of a wind sock? 

Okay, so I guess I understand that a wind sock at small airfield could tell pilots which way the wind is blowing. I understand why on a golf course the holes have flags. The flags mark the location of a hole and help the players to see which way and the degree to which the wind is blowing at the green. But why do people sometimes have windsocks at their homes? 

The design of the windsock is such that it fills with wind and flutters in the direction away from which the wind is coming. It is controlled by the wind. It is blown directionally any which way the wind is blowing. I guess some people have them for decoration.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus asks those gathered why they went into the desert to see John the Baptist. One of the things Jesus asks is, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” In essence, Jesus is asking, “Did you come to the desert to see a windsock?”

The rhetorical answer that Jesus is looking for is a big NO. The crowds didn’t go into the desert because John dressed well or just because he was a prophet. They followed John because he wasn’t a bruised reed, but because he stood up to the winds of his time. John had backbone. 

People are attracted to people who believe in what they stand for. I have a friend who likes to say, I am passionate about passionate people. Other people’s enthusiasm and strong stance can be attractive at the right time and when expressed in the right way.

There might be nothing worse than someone who moves whichever way the wind is blowing that day. To just listen to the crowd and ignore the truth is cowardice and weak. 

John is attractive because he had backbone. John believed in something and was sold out for it. How sold out? He dressed in a hair-shirt and ate bugs because he thought that is what he would best serve the Lord. 

Following Jesus Christ, preparing a way from him is rarely convenient. If want to be people who serve God well and prepare a way, if we want to attract people to the gospel, we have to have backbone too. We have to chose the inconvenient path. We can’t be a windsock. 

Live It: Put on two different socks tomorrow. It isn’t as weird as a hair-shirt or eating locus, but us it a reminder to have backbone. Believe in the gospel. 

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. 

Perfect-ish

Sunday Readings for July 21st, 2019.

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Mary owes Martha. I don’t mean because Martha served while Mary sat. And not because Mary’s “better part” looked good compared to Martha’s complaining. No, Mary owes Martha for what Martha does at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

We are so familiar with this story we might miss Martha’s first action in the reading. The gospel starts with Jesus entering a village. In that village, a woman named Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Martha invites Jesus in. 

Scripture doesn’t say, but I would venture a guess that Martha eventually introduces Jesus to her household and to Mary. Wherever the story goes from here, the fact remains that Jesus enters into the home of these sisters because Martha invited him. 

The first two lines of this gospel story points to a truth about meeting Jesus. The people in my life who have introduced me to Jesus aren’t perfect. The people who first taught me about following Jesus don’t always follow him all that well themselves. 

In stead of that being a disappointment, I think it is a calling to us not to wait to introduce others around us to Jesus. We don’t and shouldn’t wait until we are perfect disciples to introduce others to Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we have our stuff together before we welcome Jesus into our home. Invite Jesus into your life whether you are Martha or Mary. 

LIVE IT: Next time someone asks you about your weekend plans, include the fact that will be going to Mass. Then follow that up by actually doing it. 

Home is

Sunday readings for June 30th, 2019.

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Five years ago my wife and I did a ten year anniversary trip to Europe, without our children (bless their hearts). We spent eleven glorious days in Florence, Italy and Paris, France. We ate incredible food, drank delicious wine, saw beautiful art, prayed in breathtakingly inspiring churches, and held hands more than we had in the previous ten years combined. About day four my wife started to miss our kids, but it wasn’t until day nine or so that I uttered, “I’m kinda looking forward to going home.”  

As wonderful as travel is, we humans seem to find such comfort in going home. In the midst of busy schedules there is something wholesome and heart warming when my family gets a night just to stay home and be together. I’m a pretty outgoing guy, but as I get older, I seem to appreciate more when my plans get cancelled I just have to stay home. 

In the gospel Jesus is denied entry into a Samaritan town. The disciples ask if he wants them to call down fire and destroy the town (can they do that?!?). Jesus rebukes them and eventually  responds to a follower stating his dedication, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” One way to read this is that Jesus is saying he doesn’t have a home. In so many ways this makes sense, Jesus is exercising his earthly ministry as an itinerant preacher. Jesus doesn’t stay in any one place for very long, but continues to heal, preach, and drive out demons on his way to Jerusalem and the cross.

Yet, I think it is wrong to say Jesus doesn’t have any place he calls home. Jesus finds his home in his mission. If Jesus’ mission is bringing God into the hearts of humans and bringing humans into the very heart of God, then whenever and wherever Jesus is seeking to fulfill this mission is home. 

Moreover, home for Jesus is the perfect unity of the Trinity. Jesus doesn’t have a home where he can rest his head because Jesus himself isn’t a building where he eats and sleeps. Jesus himself is home. 

If we want to follow Jesus like the eager disciple who exclaims, “I will follow you wherever you go,” then we must consider having the same home as Jesus. If disciples seek to imitate the master, then as disciples, we must seek to find our home in the mission of Jesus and the Church, not in a particular building. If we want to be like Christ, we must look for our home in the heart of God. 

Live It: Go to church 1 extra time this week. If you have an adoration chapel, pop in there. If not, just head into your main worship space.  Sit in a chair or pew, close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths, and then pray, “Lord make me at home in your heart and in your mission.” Repeat as necessary.