A couple years ago I took my family camping in a state park here in Minnesota that overlooks the Mississippi River. On Saturday morning the whole family decided to take a hike down to the river’s edge. We filled water bottles, tied our shoes tight, and headed down the 200 foot bluff face trail.
After a half hour of playing in the water and collecting driftwood, we decided to head back. That is the moment my children realized those who hiked down, must hike up. Trying to climb straight up the side of the bluff would have been impossible. Instead, the path was a series of switchbacks that took the height of the bluff and spread it out over a longer distance. The way the path was designed made the bluff easier to climb.
Both in our gospel and the first reading from Isaiah, we heard the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” Just like the path on the bluff was changed to make it passible, John the Baptist and Isaiah ask us to make the path to our hearts passible for Jesus.
This time of year more than almost any other time, it can feel like there are many obstacles to Jesus entering more deeply into my life. Whether those obstacles are a product of the lives we lead, our current culture, or our own decisions, the call is to remove those obstacles. Some of these obstacles may feel as difficult as moving a mountain or filling in a valley. The reality is that with God’s help, no obstacle is permanent. No valley too deep, no mountain too large, nothing stands in the way of God’s desire to be near to you.
Whatever is in our past and whatever is our present, there are actions we can take to make straight the path for Jesus to come more completely, fully, deeply into our hearts. Hidden within advent are behaviors that help us straighten paths. It’s really this simple. On a daily basis, light a candle (Advent Wreath), turn down your lights, turn off or put away all screens, and sit in total silence. Remove the obstacle of noice and stimulus and simply let God in.
LIVE IT: Commit to 10 minutes of silence every day for the next week.
August 20th Sunday Readings.
My kids are smart. When they want something, they have developed all kinds of tricks. Like all kids, they learned early on that if mom says, “No,” go ask dad. The learned to ask “on behalf of” the other one like, “It doesn’t matter to me if we eat ice cream, but I know my sister would really like it.” And most of all they are persistent. They know if they ask enough, but not in an annoying way, there is a reasonable chance we will say yes.
At the end of the day, I take these efforts as a compliment. I feel like they know that I love them and want to provide what is best of them. They truly believe that I am not a tyrant, but a loving father. They know if they ask and it isn’t bad for them, I will likely say yes. Eventually.
In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus resists giving into the request of the woman. Why? I don’t know. There are a thousand different theories, but that isn’t what matters to me in this story. For me it is the persistence of the woman that tells me how I should interact with Jesus. In the story, the woman asks that her daughter be healed of a demonic possession. Even after Jesus says, “No,” she keeps asking. Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,” and her daughter was healed.
If nothing else this moment from Jesus’ ministry teaches me that faith is persistence. It is not giving up. Faith is constantly turning back to God with our requests because we believe that he is a loving Father who will give us every good thing we need and not a tyrant. Faith isn’t dependent on whether we are worthy or good enough, but on how much we trust God.
Faith is persistence. If we persist in prayer, we will get what we ask for or we will get our answer.
Life It: What is something good you want in your life? Open your phone and add a reminder to pray a simple prayer for that request for 30 days.
Have you ever seen a salt shaker at a restaurant or church basement that doesn’t just have salt in the shaker? Sometimes in addition to salt, people put white rice inside the salt shaker. Why? I’ve been told it soaks up moisture and keeps the salt from clumping. Who knew?
But I wondered if it ever happens that all the salt comes out of the shaker and all is left is rice. Does someone ever sit down at chicken dinner at Our Lady of Perpetual Church Dinners and goes to season their mashed potatoes, only to find a rice shaker instead of salt. Would be able to do it’s job?
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says in this Sunday’s gospel, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Because, if you think about it, salt can’t loose it’s flavor. If a white granular substance doesn’t taste like salt, it isn’t salt. If it’s not salt, then it isn’t any good for seasoning or persevering food.
In the same way, Jesus warns his disciples to be authentic believers. If they go and try to season and preserve the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ, but they themselves don’t believe or practice it, well, they won’t be very effective. If we try to pass an authentic Catholic faith onto our children, but we don’t really practice or believe, will it work?
Jesus’ message is two fold in the gospel. First, be real. Really seek to grow your prayer practice, be close to God. Secondly, as that faith is grown, don’t hide it. Let it light the world.
It’s been said that if you want to change a behavior, two actions are essential. 1) Measure it. 2) Do it for 21 days straight.
So if you want to improve your lived relationship with Jesus, make a plan to pray consistently at the same time and in the same way for 21 days straight and find a way to measure it. A simple journal entry, to do list item, calendar item could help.
I watch more sports than I should. Honestly, I enjoy watching them all. It’s a thing of beauty when a baseball infield puts the shift on and the heavy hitting batter pulls the ball within reach of the 2nd basemen for an easy out. When a quarterback appears to have thrown a pass directly toward the free safety and he easily picks it off, I am impressed. When a strong forward kicks the ball out to the hot handed guard and he nails the long 3 pointer from the corner, I cheer. When the center wins a face off and the puck goes directly to the defensemen who blisters a shot to the upper corner of the net past the goalie, I wonder “How did they do that?”
The answer is almost always, “They were in position.”
Talent, practice, coaching, and hard work are all well and good, but the most immediate cause of a great play is that the player was in position. They were in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes, I suppose positioning is luck, and maybe those plays make the highlights. However, when a player is in position it gives him or her a better chance for success.
In our gospel this weekend we hear the familiar story of Zacchaeus who climbs a tree to see Jesus. The story doesn’t start with a big confession or tremendous conversion (that’s how it ends). No, the story starts with Zacchaeus putting himself in a position to see Jesus.
Scripture says that Zacchaeus was short in stature, and so to see Jesus he had to climb that tree. The fact that Zacchaeus put himself in position to see Jesus made the story possible. Only then does Jesus call to him and invite himself over for dinner. Only then does a conversation ensue during which Zacchaeus repents and seeks to make restitution.
Woody Allen is credited with saying, “80% of success is just showing up.” I think that is true for Zacchaeus and probably us too. So the question about our faith is, are we putting ourselves in a position to encounter Jesus?
What does it mean for you to be in a position to be close to Jesus? When was the last time you went out of your way to see Jesus?
Here are three ways to put yourself in a position to see Jesus:
- Get out of bed – when your alarm goes off, get out of bed and make the sign of the cross. That simple 4 second prayer will put you in a position to start your day with God.
- Kneel when you pray – okay, this one is going to be awkward the first time you try it. When I was a kid I used to kneel every night to say my prayers. Why did I stop? Try this again.
- Go to Mass – If you don’t go every week, try going every Sunday for a month. If you go every Sunday, try adding a weekday Mass. When you are at HNOJ for Mass, you are in a position to encounter Christ.
I’m a cruddy golfer. I don’t play very often, but when I do, I get as many swings as I possibly can out of 18 holes. If I quit my job and moved to Florida and played golf every single day, I bet I would get better. But no matter how many times I practiced or played, I probably wouldn’t ever be good enough play professionally. The same holds true for baseball, tennis, bowling, poetry, guitar playing, or wood carving (I don’t think I’d have to move to Florida for most of those, thank goodness).
Why? No talent.
Some things we do take practice and persistence, but they also take talent in order to really excel at them. My eldest daughter practices her flute regularly, but she is also blessed with her mother’s natural musical talent.
In the gospel Jesus uses a parable to tell us that prayer isn’t one of those things that takes both talent and practice. The story he tells is about a rotten judge and a motivated widow. The woman keeps bothering the judge to the point that he renders a decision in her favor. Jesus doesn’t mean to say that God is a rotten judge, but rather that if even a rotten judge would respond to persistence how much more would a God who loves us listen to our plea. In the story Jesus makes no judgement on the worthiness of the woman’s situation. The story isn’t about whether the judge is right or wrong in granting the woman’s request, but just that her persistence leads the judge to act.
For us it means that our prayers don’t have to be good. Honestly, I feel like is kind of a relief. We don’t have to pray well for God to hear us. It isn’t about having the magic words or the perfect petition; It’s about doing it every day.
A successful prayer life doesn’t consist of perfect prayer, but daily, persistent prayer. For me, this means praying when I don’t want to. I know this sounds funny, but I want to want to pray, but sometimes I don’t. My prayer life is going well when I pray when I don’t really want to.
How? Just do it. Set a time/place, schedule it, and do it.
One of my favorite quotes about prayer is by Peter Kreeft, “Less-than-perfect prayer is infinitely better than no prayer; more perfect prayer is only finitely better than less perfect prayer.” (Check out Kreeft’s full article here.)
If your prayer life is going strong add this 5 second prayer, “Jesus thank you for the grace to pray persistently.”
If your prayer life could use a start, restart, or jumpstart (like mine), try this:
- Take out your phone/calendar
- Open calendar or calendar app
- Pick a time and schedule 5 minutes everyday for the next 7 days (I suggest right away in the morning.)
- Assign a location (big chair in living room).
- Options for prayer: silence, read gospel of Mark, say words of thanks petition or praise directly to God.
- Try this consistent, persistent prayer each day for 1 week
The Good Word for January 17 ~ for the complete Sunday readings click here.
What’s the best advice you have ever received? I’ve received lots of advice and wisdom over the years. All of it was well intentioned; some of it was actually helpful. Statements like, “Never play cards for money with a man who has the same first name as a city,” seems to be helpful, but only for specific situations.
Other advice seems to apply more broadly. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been told is, “Go ahead and ask; let them say no. Don’t answer for anyone else. Ask anyway.” In other words, sometimes we don’t even ask for something we want or need because we believe the answer will be no. The answer could still be no, but ask. Following this advice is how I got my first girlfriend and probably why I often eat two cookies when the sign says, “take one.” So results may vary, I guess.
In the gospel, Mary asks Jesus to help with a very delicate situation. The wine has run out at this wedding feast. Wedding celebrations could last multiple days in ancient Israel; to run out of wine meant the party was over and was a major embarrassment. She went to Jesus, explained the problem, and he told her no. But then he helped.
A friend of mine asked the question, “Did Mary know that Jesus would make more wine? Did she know he could change water into wine? Did she know that he could do this miracle?” This got me thinking. I don’t think Jesus just regularly was doing miracles at home. He probably wasn’t transforming stuff around the house. “Look mom, I dusted by turning all the dust bunnies into real bunnies!” No. Mary didn’t know how Jesus would help. But she trusted that Jesus would help.
Sometimes we answer for God. We say, “God’s too busy for my little problem,” or, “God doesn’t actually do things just because he is asked.” Sometimes we use past experiences of not getting exactly what we want to stop us from asking now.
But what if we ask like Mary asked? What if we prayed, “God I don’t know how you are going to help this situation, but I put it in your hands. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
So let’s ask God. Let’s not keep any thing from Him. Let’s give him our good stuff, and our problems. Let’s ask for God’s help. And let’s do whatever he tells us to do.
Ask something of God. Don’t wait. Right now stop, ask God for something spectacular (or small if that is what you need).