Unsatisfied? Really?!

Sunday Readings for June 23rd, 2019.

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Last week a friend of mine and I went to dinner at one of the top restaurants in the state of Minnesota. When this restaurant opened, it was heralded as the number one new restaurant that year. The chef is a James Beard award winner. The room is elegant and simple, as is the food. Our meal was spectacular. One of my finest dining experiences ever. 

Later, when asked about my meal, I raved. But then I made some small critique of one of the salads and one of the opening plates. The food and the restaurant were phenomenal, but my small criticisms seemed to indicate that I wasn’t exactly satisfied. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel a certain pressure to be critical. It’s as if to demonstrate my sophistication, I need to criticize everything I experience. If I enjoy something or I am too positive, it almost feels like I haven’t really examined it yet. If I don’t hold a negative opinion, I am base, lowbrow, and simple. Negativity is the sign of the cultured sophisticate. 

Unfortunately I think this attitude and disposition towards negativity can invade our faith. I can’t tell you how many times in a Bible study I’ve heard someone (sometimes myself) critique the author and fail to examine what the text is trying to teach about God. It’s almost like we are saying, my opinion about this author or program or situation is proof I am a discerning Christian who cares. But in reality we are often so busy critiquing that we miss being blessed by God.

If I can be so bold, I think this attitude and behavior is most often exhibited by us when we talk about the Mass. I know people who always seem to have something negative to say about the homily or the music or the worship space or the vestments whenever they walk out of Mass. In fact, I think judging Mass has reached an epidemic level. And in all honesty, I’m the number one offender.

At Mass, Heaven and Earth meet. Really. The God of the universe becomes bread and wine for us to consume and we are physically united with our Creator. Really. God invites us into the inner life of the Trinity. Really. With every single Saint who has ever lived, we worship Jesus who died on a cross to save us from death. Really. We are drawn into intimate communion with all of our brothers and sisters in faith. Really. And after all that, we leave unsatisfied? Really?!

We eat donuts and complain about the length of this or the music of that, but in reality we are missing God smack in our faces. 

Do we have things we could do better? Sure, no doubt. And we all have preferences when it comes to what helps us encounter God at Mass. But do we really think that our satisfaction is an indication of whether God was present to us or not at Mass? Really?!

The reality is that God is powerfully, intimately, and transcendently present to us in the Mass. God is in the proclaimed words of scripture and the Eucharist. If we can be humble enough to put aside our sophistication, we can experience the same satisfaction of the 5000+ plus who were fed multiplied loaves and fish. If we want to be satisfied, we have to come on Sunday ready to worship God and seeking to forget ourselves. 

LIVE IT: On your way to Mass this week or when you enter your pew before Mass, Ask God to help you forget yourself, fully enter into worship, and to become more aware of how God wants to satisfy you. 

Post Script – I recognize my rant above (mostly directed at myself), is not the whole conversation. Certainly we can desire to celebrate Mass in a way that more perfectly demonstrates Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Volumes of books have been written about the Mass and what constitutes good liturgy. Today, this was the message I needed to hear and my gut (and the last 10 years of donut conversations) says many of you needed to hear it too. Thanks for reading and reflecting. Ck

 

Poor.

November 11th Sunday Readings.

jordan-rowland-716475-unsplashA number of years ago my friend was lamenting his current faith practice. He shared that when he was in college and right after college, he would attend daily Mass. He started and ended his day with Liturgy of the Hours. He had a weekly holy hour in an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel. He would stop and pray the Angelus in the middle of the day. He read scripture and studied theology. He had intense, spiritual conversations late into the night with faithful friends. But at the time he was sharing, he said if he prayed in the morning and said goodnight to God that was a good prayer day. 

I asked him what changed and he said, “I got married and had kids.” 

He explained that for a while he beat himself up about this. He was frustrated and tired and no matter what he tried, it was difficult to practice his faith like he did when he was in his early 20s. 

That was until a priest friend explained that after giving himself away to his family all day, whatever my friend gave to God was a treasure. In the gospel, Jesus admires the poor widow who gave what little money she had to the treasury. My friend wasn’t financially poor, but his poverty had to do with how much time he had. My friend was time poor. 

So when it came to giving God time, even though he felt like he was praying so muchandrik-langfield-426760-unsplash less than he used to, God was receiving an even greater treasure. He was receiving what little time my friend had as a gift of prayer. 

Where is your poverty? What do you lack? Do you wish you had more time, money, friendships, joy, faith, or focus? Where in your life are you like the poor widow? What would it look like if you gave that thing to God? What would it look like if you gave God your poverty?

LIVE IT:
Take out a sheet of paper. Write down 3 things you feel you are lacking in your life. Then write down a way you can give each to God. Do one of those things this week. 

The Impossible, Please.

February 11th Sunday Readings.

One of my children’s favorite books when they were little was “Papa, Please Get the 27454Moon for Me.” It is a beautifully written and illustrated book by Eric Carle. The basic premise is a child asks their father for the moon and he gets it. My children loved this book because they realized that the request was unreasonable and impossible. Yet, they also delighted in the idea that the impossible, just might happen. I liked the book because the dad is a hero.
What is interesting about he book to me is that it speaks to some truth of childhood. Sometimes small children will ask, without irony, for something that is seemingly impossible. When they ask they don’t hesitate. Whether it is a pony, a 2nd trip to Disney the day you get home from the last trip, or a new sibling, little children don’t shy away from asking for something big.
In the gospel, the man with leprosy asks Jesus for something impossible. Yes, he asks Jesus to heal his untreatable disease. But more than that, he asks Jesus to restore his place in society. He asks to be welcomed back into a community from which he was excluded because of his disease.
Jesus’ first miracle isn’t curing the man. Before Jesus removes his leprosy, he reaches out and touches the man. In reality, I bet there was a gasp from the crowd. People may have been shocked that Jesus poke to the man, but that Jesus would touch him was, well, impossible.
The man with leprosy asked for something that no one could do. He asked for the impossible. And Jesus fulfilled that request.
When we pray, what do we ask God for? Often we temper our requests before we even ask. We often ask God for the reasonable and possible. I think we temper our request because we are scared of being let down by God. We are fearful that if we ask big, God won’t pull through and our faith will be shaken. So how do we ask God for a God-sized miracle without risk? We can’t. Asking for the impossible takes a risk on our part.
What we can do is put all of it God’s hands. We can, like the leprous man, ask first that God’s will be done. Just as he says, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” we can say, if it is your will, grant this request Lord. Whatever we ask for, whether it is the moon or something just as impossible, we must do so with God’s will in mind.
LIVE IT:
What is the impossible that you would like to ask God for? A miraculous healing? Healing a broken relationship? Forgiving the unforgiveable? Whatever it is, ask. Ask for that God sized thing. Say something like, “God, I know if you will it, you can……..and in all thing Your will be done!”

Crooked Path

December 10th Sunday Readings.

A couple years ago I took my family camping in a state park here in Minnesota thatgreg-duprat-381998 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.

My kids are smart.

August 20th Sunday Readings.

GTY_child_at_chalkboard_doing_math_jt_140315_16x9_992My 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.

Get Salty

February 5 Sunday Readings.

saltandriceHave 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.

LIVE IT:
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.

Perfect Positioning

Oct. 30th Sunday Readings

la-sp-shift-illustration-20150718I 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?

LIVE it:

Here are three ways to put yourself in a position to see Jesus:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.