Abandoned.

As a 9th grader I was selected to be a headline and caption editor for my high school newspaper. I was excited about the role and looked forward to getting to know the much cooler upperclassmen who ran the newspaper. One night I had a particularly late editing session. Somehow there was a miscommunication and neither of my parents came to pick me up. They both thought I was with the other one. I sat out on the steps of the school for an hour, not really sure what to do as the school was locked and the only payphone was inside (needless to say I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.)

I felt abandoned. It is a horrible feeling. Eventually my parents picked me up, but the dread of what it felt like to feel abandoned is something I’ll never forget. 

To abandon something feels more intentional that just forgetting or leaving it. I lost a coat in 5th grade, but I wouldn’t say I abandoned it. When I think of abandoned cars or malls or towns, I have this sense that the abandoned item was left on purpose. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus calls his first disciples in Mark’s gospel. Jesus calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John who are all professional fishermen. These four men had jobs, livelihoods that supported their families. Jesus calls out to them and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Scripture tells us that they immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. 

The didn’t just leave their nets or forget about their nets. The first disciples didn’t wander into Jesus’ teaching. They intentionally and purposefully abandoned their jobs, their livelihood in order to follow Jesus. 

Fishing wasn’t bad for them. It wasn’t sin or evil they left behind. They abandoned a good thing to do a better thing. They were purposefully in laying down, sacrificing, their income in order to follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus takes radical abandonment. We can hem and haw and say we like Jesus. We can be fans of his work and preaching. If we want to really follow him and become like him, it will take a radical abandonment. We will very purposefully have to leave something behind. As difficult and sad and scary as that may be, we may need to abandon the thing we currently love the most to follow Jesus. 

Abandonment is hard. The gospel of John tells us that the first thing Peter did after Jesus died was to go back to his old job and start fishing again. It’s difficult to abandon security, control, or practical considerations. The reality is that for most of us there is something in our lives that we clutch desperately to that is keeping us from more fully following Jesus. Abandon it. 

Live It: Make a list of the top 5 most important things to you. Take that list and abandon it somewhere. Leave it in a trashcan in a park. Leave it at HNOJ on the front desk (I dare you). Leave it in the adoration chapel. When you do, tell Jesus you are abandoning these things because you want to follow him more fully. 

Sunday Readings for January 24th, 2021.

Take a Hike.

In the midst of the pandemic this past summer my family decided to spend more time outdoors. We began going on hikes. It started small, but eventually we went on day trips to State Parks all across MN. We would do a longish hike, find some lunch (or bring it), and eat some ice cream on our way home. They were pretty good days. 

Hiking in the time of covid, especially in Minnesota’s numerous State Parks, feels pretty safe. While there may be people in parking lots and around picnic areas, once we got out onto the trail we rarely encountered people. So when we did, it was a surprise. 

It would often happen that we would be going up a steep incline with what seemed like endless fields of poison ivy on both sides of the path at a sharp turn so we couldn’t see very far ahead of us. All of a sudden some other family would be briskly walking towards us around the bend. They alway had like 3 large, overly friendly dogs, and aggressive looking children. We would try to jump out of the way off the path, they would do the same. Everyone would be polite and try to socially distance. It was fine, really. 

That pesky bend in the path not only obscured oncoming traffic, but it would keep us from seeing our goal. Whether it was the end of the trail, the top of a crest, or a facilities stop, a curvy trail made it harder to see where we were headed. Knowing and seeing your goal is often an encouragement and incentive to keep walking. If my kids could see the goal, they could do it. When they couldn’t see where they were going, they would get discouraged. 

In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist is asked who he is. He denies being the Christ or Elijah or a Prophet. Instead he quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John’s role, as he explains, is to prepare the way for Jesus to come. John’s job was to level the mountains and fill in the valleys and yes, to make straight crooked paths. 

In the spiritual life, straightening a path accomplishes a couple of things. First it aids us in being able to see obstacles and potential traffic on the path ahead. When the path is straight, we know what is coming and can plan better for those things that might push us off the path and interrupt our journey. 

Secondly, a straighten path helps us to keep our eyes on the goal. Often, I think we loose sight of our final destination and the reason we do all this religious stuff. The goal is Jesus. The destination is the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven. When we aren’t sure of our goal or can’t see what we are working for, we can easily be distracted and maybe even fall into despair. I think this is one of the reasons why the pandemic has been so difficult. We didn’t really have a clear goal for all that we were doing. We couldn’t see the end. 

One more thing, if you think that the on reason the paths are straightened are so that we can have a better spiritual hike, let dispel that misrepresentation. The paths are straightened so that Jesus can more easily get to us. The path is cleared and leveled and straightened so that nothing can separate God from us. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to climb the mountain and find him. No. Jesus gets out on the path and comes for us. He is willing trudge through any hardship, including death and the cross, in order to save you and me. 

Live It: Are there bends in the road of your life that makes it hard for you to draw closer to Jesus? Close your eyes. Imagine your life is a hiking trail. Where are the bends that aren’t spiritually helpful? Ask Jesus to make straight the path of your spiritual life. Ask God to inspire you to call out to him. If necessary, head to confession this week to fill in some valleys. 

Sunday Readings for December 13th, 2020.

Useless.

The other day my two and a half year old son made a gigantic mess with flour. It wasn’t entirely his fault. He’s two, what did I expect? We had gotten out some flour for him to make homemade play-do with, but didn’t move fast enough and he started spreading the flour all over the table and floor and chair and himself. I tried my hardest to be cool and play it off as no big deal, but I failed when he started grinding the flour into the chair cushion with his tennis shoes. 

After I calmed down a bit, I got reflecting on the kind of children I want to raise. Of course I want them to be well behaved and cleanly. I desire for them to follow directions and be obedient. I also want them to have spirit and joy and fortitude and little twinkle of mischief. I want to raise kids who have gumption. 

I think God wants this in his children too. In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a master who has three servants. With each servant, the master leaves a large amount of money and then he goes on a long trip. When he returns he asks each servant to tell him how much money they earned with the wealth that he had given them. The first and second servants doubled their money, but the third servant says he was fearful of the master and so he hid the money and didn’t earn anything additional. At the end of the parable the master calls the third servant useless and throws out into the darkness.

The masters calls this third servant wicked, but in the end this servant is wicked because he is useless. 

Open rebellion against God isn’t the only way deny God. Few of us do rebel against God on purpose. Most of us think we lead pretty good lives and don’t sin too badly. The reality is that rather than commit real evil, we often fail to do real good. 

It’s not enough that we just avoid big sins. Following Jesus isn’t only about not doing the bad stuff. Following Jesus is about choosing to seek out the good stuff too. Jesus Christ made disciples who ended up being wild eyed radicals. Followers of Jesus have been intense and extreme and willing to do anything to follow Jesus for centuries. If you read the lives of the Saints you’ll see some wild stories and no shortage of gumption. 

Some think that opposite of love is hate. It’s not. The opposite of love is apathy. Hate is passion in the opposite direction. Apathy is nothing. Apathy is lame and boring and useless. If following Jesus means loving God and loving neighbor then we better make sure we are apathetic toward God and neighbor. 

If we are serious about following Jesus, then we should be serious about living lives of risk and adventure, lives full of love. We need to look forward to invest what God has given us. We shouldn’t wait for the perfect time to help or love. We should live with a little gumption. God help us if we are useless. 

Live it: Read the lives of some Saints. See if you can find some gumption. If you are looking for a list of saints, try this one

Sunday Readings for November 15th, 2020.

9 ways to be Happy

A quick glance at the magazine covers at the grocery store or a couple minutes scrolling through social media and you will see a lot of people who promise to make you happy. Whether it is by eating the right food, working out in the right way, having the best sex, doing the best hobby, believing the right things, or even just by buying the right magazine, the headlines or clickbait all promise happiness. 

Whether we want to admit it or not most of our human behavior is guided by a desire to be happy. Why do we cut our hair this way or that way? Because we think it will make us happy. Why do we get married to the person we marry? We think it will make us happy. Small things or big things, we often choose them because of our innate desire for happiness. 

This isn’t necessarily bad. God made us to desire happiness. The thing is that we can’t and won’t find true, lasting, real happiness here on earth. C. S. Lewis said it this way, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 

When Jesus preaches on the mountain top, he does the same thing that the supermarket magazines do, “If you want to me happy….” (What? The Savior of mankind can’t be good at marketing?)

Yes the beatitudes we read about this Sunday are a list of “if you want to be happy…” statements. The word translated as “Blessed” is Beatiudo, which is where we get name beatitudes. Ultimately, Jesus are saying, those who are __________ are happy, fortunate, or content.

What’s puzzling about Jesus’ preaching is that the things he promises will make us happy don’t seem very attractive. If you asked one of your kids how they were doing and they said, “Well I’m feeling pretty poor in spirit, sad, and meek. I wish the world was better than it is. I want to be merciful and have a clean heart and to be a peacemaker. I’m being bullied at school because I want to do the right thing and you should hear the things people say about me.” We wouldn’t instantly think that our kids are happy. Right?

Understanding what Jesus means by “happy” can help put together this puzzle. The original word in Greek that Jesus uses here is makarios which means good fortunate, happy, blessed. Jesus didn’t use eftihismenon which means blissful, feeling good. Jesus doesn’t promise pleasant feelings, but promises goodness. The things that will make us good and put us in a fortunate situation might not bring us blissful feelings. 

Another way to answer the seeming dissonance between happiness and suffering is that God’s goal for us often isn’t the same goal we seek when we want to be happy. If we seek happiness we will likely be left unsatisfied because we are bad at knowing what will make us happy and often follow the path of least resistance instead of the path to happiness. 

Jesus’ promise of happiness is actually a promise of goodness, beauty, and truth. In other words, if you are close to God, you will be happy. If you know God and God knows you, you will be happy. Happy is the one who has an intimate, lived relationship with Jesus Christ. 

LIVE IT: Make 2 lists. List 1 is all the things that make you momentarily, emotionally happy. List 2 are all the things that are good, beautiful, and true in your life. When you pray, pull out each list and thank God for each thing on each list one by one.

Absolutely Perfect.

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Two kinds of people inhabit this big blue marble we call home – those who love the Olympics and those who don’t. I for one love the olympics. The grandeur and spectacle of the opening ceremonies. The triumph on the faces of the athlete replete with medals. The agony of the defeat of those who get edged out into 4th place. The celebration of the unlikeliest athletes from the unlikeliest countries just competing at all. It all is exciting to me. 

I much prefer the timed competitions, but there is something exciting about the judged sports like figure skating, gymnastics or diving. That moment when the culmination of years of work has just completed and the athlete is awaiting their scores – wow, high drama. It doesn’t happen often, but when the judges deem that performance to be perfect – exhilaration. 

While perfection is something we think we know and experience in this life, it is quite rare. The perfect morning, the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect kiss – we may say these things, but how do we judge something is perfect. Is it perfect until something better comes along? By perfect do we mean that it couldn’t be improved? How do we know?

That is why this gospel is so difficult to get our arms around. Jesus preaches about our need as his followers to no longer seek to fulfill the bare minimum of the law, but to seek the law’s radical and greatest expression. In the end Jesus says, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this seem impossible? I feel totally ill equipped to be perfect. Nothing in my life feels perfect. How am I supposed to be perfect?

In praying with this scripture I found some direction in the second half of the directive, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How is God perfect? Of course we could say he is perfect in every way. But I think Jesus is trying to say something specific. 

God is perfect in his LOVE. Each person of our triune God loves the others perfectly. That love spills out into creation and God loves his creation perfectly. God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son to save us from death. God loves us perfectly. 

If we are trying to be perfect as God is perfect. We must try to love perfectly. The kind of love we are talking about is the love that we choose. It is self-gift. It is the kind of love that is self sacrifice. This is the love that Jesus had for us when he died on the cross. This love is divine love. Since you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love in this way. It is the love that God can perfect in us. How should we be perfect? We must seek to love perfectly. 

LIVE IT: Take out your phone and set a reminder for right after your alarm goes off in the morning – ask God to help you love perfectly that day and to give you opportunities to love someone else. Then prepare yourself to love and be giving the chance to love. 

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 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. 

Quit it now.

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Have you ever wanted to quit? On the TV show The Office, the longtime manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton, Michael Scott, quits. While being escorted out of the office, he makes an impassioned speech inviting everyone else in the office to go with him. Only one person takes him up on the offer, Pam Beasley the receptionist. Against all worldly reason she leaves a stable job working feet from her fiancé, Jim, to follow her irritating boss in starting a paper company in a bad and increasingly paperless economy. It’s the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. 

Why does Pam go? Why leave security and comfort for the unknown? 

Though there might be many reasons why people quit something, perhaps the most compelling reason is because we think we can be better, we can be great. That is how Michael Scott talks Pam into leaving.

In the gospel this weekend, we read the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. As a father and home owner, I am often mystified why these men who literally drop their nets, quit their stable sources of income, and follow this itinerant preacher. I think these men quit for the same reason Pam quits – they were called to greatness. 

Something about the call of Jesus sparked in them the realization that they were meant for more, made for greatness. Jesus also gave them a way to actualize that inner desire for greatness. 

One of the most famous quitters in history is St. Thomas More who quit being King Henry VIII’s chancellor because he disagreed with the Henry’s desire to divorce his wife and declare himself head of the English church. More’s greatness was found not in his power at chancellor, but in quitting. He was at his best when he quit. He was executed for his decision, but his story has been an inspiration to many in the 500 years since he quit. 

Jesus calls each of us to quit. Greatness isn’t only for the first disciples or ancient saints. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Not only are we all capable of greatness, God grants each of us all we need to answer the call to greatness. St. Benedict XVI said this, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

LIVE IT:

Okay, you don’t have to go quit your job today (then again…). But find something that brings you comfort and quit it, even if it is just for 1 day. With the new time, energy, silence, you receive, ask God to help you discover what greatness you are being called to. 

Sunday Readings for January 26th, 2020.

Special Recipe Brownies.

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My oldest daughter is quite the cook. I’m blessed to every now and again come home to dinner already started and little left for me to do. The way to learn to cook well is like a lot of things – practice. With practice comes mistakes. Most of the time the mistakes are small and usually just result in a bigger mess. Other times the mistakes are cataclysmic.

One time my daughter insisted upon making brownies all by her self. She was going to make brownies from scratch. After mixing, pouring, and baking, she pulled them out of the oven to find a pan of still gooey, syrupy chocolate sludge. I’m not really sure how to explain what these brownies were like. 

After a quick review we discovered that instead of 1/2 cup of oil, she added 1 1/2 cups. Also, she forgot the the baking powder completely. Even though it was such a small amount, 1/4 of a teaspoon, missing the backing powder made a huge difference in the brownies. Maybe nothing would have saved them from an extra cup of oil, but at least they would have risen. 

Missing the rising agent in baked goods significantly effects what we are trying to bake. The same is true our faith. If we forget to include the Holy Spirit in our faith lives, we are missing a major component in our growth with God.

How important is the Holy Spirit? When John the baptists describes Jesus’ baptism in this Sunday’s gospel, that Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and remaining with him is the very way that John knows that Jesus is the Messiah. For John, it is the Holy Spirit that indicates who Jesus really is and what Jesus has come to do.

If we want to know who we really are, if we want to discover our deepest identity, we need to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. If we want to know what our purpose or our mission in this life, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. 

LIVE IT: Want the Holy Spirit to be a more powerful factor in your life? Trying saying this prayer each morning when you wake up. 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Radical Dependence

Sunday Readings for July 7th, 2019.

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As an American, July 4th means fireworks, an abundance of grilled meats, unnecessary amounts of watermelon, and spending every moment of the day outdoors. My family wears an embarrassment of red, white, and blue apparel and we listen to both kinds of music – country and western (until John Phillip Sousa marches accompany fireworks, of course). 

While we say we are toasting our declaration of independence from stodgy ol’ Great Britain, I think secretly we are celebrating a world view that glorifies independence from jaden-hatch-b7BcALkirCc-unsplashanyone and everyone. Before we pretended to memorize the entirety of Hamilton, did any of us really think of the founding fathers on July 4th? Not really. No, our actions on
the 4th of each July, look more like a group of people ignoring the best advice of medical personnel. We eat meat and set off amateur explosives.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus calls all those who want to join his movement to a radical way of life. I don’t just mean the normal frivolous sacrifices we sometimes associate with comfortable Christianity. I mean that to really follow Jesus means to chose radical dependence. 

To follow Jesus is to sacrifice our independence. 

Jesus sends out his followers to heal and preach with out money, walking staff, or backpack. They will be totally and completely dependent on the people the encounter. Each community that accepts them and provides for them will literally be saving their life. That kind of dependence makes for committed missionaries. 

In another sense the Christian life calls for total dependence upon God. It almost feels silly to type such a simple and obvious statement. Yet as simple and obvious as this statement is to most of us, few of us actually act like it’s true. Few of us depend upon God in any significant way. Only when crisis hits do we really seek to depend upon him. As soon as that crisis is over or we feel comforted, most of us return quickly to our self serving independence. 

If, through some strange set of circumstances, you lost every single dollar and asset you owned, who would be your first phone call? Would it be your financial advisor? Parents? Friends? Your Church community or Priest?

Now, let’s say you fell to your knees in prayer, what would you say to God? Don’t wait! Say that now! If we are going to follow Jesus well, we need to depend upon God like we don’t have anything and need everything. Being a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ takes nothing short of radical dependence. 

Seek Jesus like you’ve got nothing to loose and I guarantee he’ll find you. 

LIVE IT: On July 4th morning when you open your eyes for the first time that day, slip out of bed  and fall to your knees and declare your dependence upon God, to God in prayer. Extra Credit – Tell someone about your prayer (humbly, of course). 

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Power.

Sunday Mass Readings for June 2nd, 2019.

vanveenjf-1167425-unsplash.jpgI wasn’t worried. I wouldn’t say panicked either, but I did have a 3+ hour flight and with less than 20% battery life, my phone wasn’t going to make it. I searched in my immediate gate area for an open plug, a source of electricity, but finding none, my pace quickened until, mercifully, I saw it – an open plug 2 gates away. I plugged in and power rushed into my device. 

My phone can’t generate power. It needs to pull power from another source to charge its battery. What happens if I don’t plug it in? The phone dies. 

In our readings this Sunday, we read about Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. In both Acts and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that when he leaves the disciples, he will send them power. That power comes from the Holy Spirit. In the gospel he says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus desires to give us power. Not just confidence or inner strength (which are good things), but true power. The Holy Spirit is the true source of power. Jesus has committed to us not just stories about his life or a set of teachings, but his very spirit so that we might live powerfully. As Catholics, we aren’t just supposed to follow the rules and be nice people – Jesus promises to give us the very power of God. We are called to act powerfully.

What exactly are we supposed to do with this power? Witness. Jesus leaves us the Holy Spirit so that we can bear witness to the truth about Jesus and about our faith. In Acts of the Apostles Jesus says it like this, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The source of power is the Holy Spirit. The purpose is for us to be witnesses of faith. The early Christians were witnesses during a time of great Christian persecution and often witnessed by dying for their faith. How are we going to witness about our faith? How have we received power from the Holy Spirit?

(Oh, one other thing. Without receiving power from the source, the Holy Spirit, our faith tends to become like phone that hasn’t been plugged in – dead. No connection to the source – no power and thus we can’t do what we were made to do, love and witness.)

LIVE IT: Want to feel powerful? Ask for power for the Holy Spirit in prayer. Whether it is in personal prayer time or at Mass as God to send his Spirit into your life so that you can live powerfully. Then offer God to use that power to help you witness.