Mary had it right.

December 24th Sunday Readingsangelico_annunciation

Life is complicated. Whether it is family or work or buying mustard, it seems like our daily decisions get more and more complicated each year. It can feel like the whole world is out to fool us out of our time or treasure. We’re constantly told that if we don’t do this or that, we are going to mess up our lives and miss out on being, owning, or having the best.

In the gospel this Sunday Mary shows us that faith is simple. Having faith is as simple as saying yes to God. When God asks something of us, we just say yes. It really isn’t more complicated than that. When we say no and turn away, we head down the road to unhappiness and death. When we say yes to God, we walk down the path of joy and fulfillment. Simple.

Mary doesn’t promise us it will be easy. In fact, to say yes to God is to love and to love is to sacrifice. Mary’s own life is an example of this truth. Mary watched her own son suffer and die, but her yes changed the world forever.

Mary didn’t just say yes to God with her words to Gabriel that are recorded in our gospel. Mary’s life was a yes. She eagerly strived, in her own way, to say yes to God. Saying yes to God isn’t just something we say; it is something we do.

How do we know what God is asking of us? Read scripture, pray daily, and go to Mass. What do we do when we mess up? Go to confession and give God another shot.

It’s not more complicated than that.

LIVE IT: Between today and Christ, say yes to God in prayer and ask God to show you how you can say yes with your life.

Rejoice! on purpose.

December 17th Sunday Readings.

“Rejoice always!” This Sunday we will hear this call to rejoice from St. Paul. The Churchjared-sluyter-342881 calls this Sunday Gaudate, the priests and deacons wear rose colored vestments, and we are reminded to Rejoice!

I know exactly what this looks like in children. I know what a little kid who is rejoicing looks like. Jumping up and down, boisterously shouting, maybe even fist pumps and high fives. Sometimes children even just sit and stare in unbelief in a stunned zombie like trance, overcome with joy.

While we know what it means to rejoice as a child, I think it is harder to judge what it looks like to rejoice as an adult. Sure, when our alma mater scores on the final drive to upset a hated rival, adults will jump and holler. On the day of a wedding adults will dance and raise glasses, but these are all culturally expected behaviors.

What does it look like when an adult spontaneously rejoices? I’m not sure I know the answer. But what I do know is that we have a whole host of behaviors that we do this time of year that I think are supposed to be the actions of rejoicing that seem to be so far divorced from their reasons that we forget they are actions of rejoicing all together.

As we rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent in anticipation of Christmas, what are we up to? We bake cookies, we decorate, we prepare a large meal, we exchange gifts, we see family and friends socially, we send cards, and more. Why? For me, sometimes, these actions become an end in and of themselves. We bake cookies because they are delicious and we always have. We put up a tree and decorate because we did it last year. We roast a silly amount of meat and buy much wine because people are coming over.

The reality for the Christian is that we bake, decorate, and feast because our Lord Jesus Christ has been born in Bethlehem. We rejoice because Jesus has become human. Jesus has become human to be close to us so that we can be close to God. Jesus has be born to heal, restore, and save us from death forever.

Nostalgia, pleasure, and habit aren’t good enough reasons to rejoice.

When those are our reasons for rejoicing, our joy ultimately falls flat. However, when we rejoice because the God of the universe love us so much that he puts our lives before his, then we rejoice for a right and justified reason. The reason for our celebration is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind! God is born to us!

Live It: Say a prayer of thanks when you serve the big meal, open gifts, or pour a glass of wine this Christmas. When rejoicing say, “Because of Jesus!”

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 learned it from you, Dad!

Sunday Readings for Nov. 5th.

“Do as I say and not as I do?” Have you ever heard that from a parent? Have you ever Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.04.57 AMsaid it as a parent? As a child of the 80’s, the anti-drug commercials from my elementary school days are permanently burned into my memory. There is one where a dad finds his son’s stash of illegal drugs and while asking his son where he learned to take “this stuff,” the son yells back, “From you, alright! I learned by watching you.” The idea behind the commercial is that even if you tell your kids not to do something, if you do it, they will likely pick it up.

In the gospel Jesus tells the crowds to act in the way that the Pharisees say to act but don’t follow their example. In other words, do as they say, not how they do. The thing is, that never really works does it?

As Christians, as Catholics, we don’t just do what Jesus says. We are called not just to follow his teaching, but to conform our lives to his life. If we are serious about being Christian Disciples, we have to live like Jesus. We have to model our behaviors off of how Jesus would have behaved.

As Catholics we also have the blessing of a whole host of Saints whom we can also model our lives off of. We can look to Saints great and small and try and live like they would in the way that they followed Jesus. We do this because we know and can trust that they modeled their lives off of Christ.

As parents, the reality is that the way we practice our faith forms our children’s ideas of how to practice their faith. The Church teaches that parents are “first teachers” of the faith. Sometimes we thinks this means that we “should” be teaching our kids the faith. But the reality is that the Church is saying that no matter what you are currently doing, that is what you “are” teaching your kids.

Faith is caught, not taught.

If your relationships with Jesus is the most important thing in your life and your daily actions reflect that, your kids will see that. If Mass, and the union with God that occurs during it, is the most important event of your weekend, your kids will see that. If you make financial and schedule decisions based on your faith, your kids will see that. My prayer for you and for me is that when I ask my kids why they are such strong disciples of Jesus, they will answers, “From you and mom, alright! I learned it from you.”

Live It: Take just 5 minutes and examine how you are currently practicing your faith (prayer, sacraments, daily life, etc.). Does it look like Jesus?

 

Who’s the Boss?

October 8th Sunday Readings.

When I was 23 years old I was hired to lead a group of adults in doing youth ministryboss with and for high school teenagers. Every adult was older than me and had more experience in parish life and youth ministry, but I was in charge.

Having taken over this ministry, one of the first things I had to do was take teens to a conference out of state. The permission forms needed to be reworked and I was asked to add information about dress code and behavior. Being the early 2000s the dress code clause needed to be specific and I made it so (think Brittany and N’sync).

The conference came around and most of the group, teens and adults, had gathered in our parish’s gathering space waiting to depart for the conference. The group suddenly became quiet as the doors opened and one of my key volunteers walked in. Art was in his early 60s, 6’ 2” and 300+ lbs. He was wearing a white shirt that he had cut the bottom 10 inches off of, exposing the bottom half of his ample belly. A clear and certain violation of my newly minted “No Midriffs” dress code.

The group didn’t know whether to laugh or wince, and they looked to me to do something. Before I could, Art bellowed, “Oh, is that what you meant by no midriffs? Sorry, I’ll go change.”  And we all had a good laugh together.

I’m not sure if Art was just trying to be funny, but what happened was that he cemented my authority in the minds of those present. It was as if he had said, “I’m going to follow Chris, even if I don’t like or understand because I trust he is going to lead us well.”  In 11 years of youth ministry, I never had a single significant behavior problem.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who has a very different experience with his tenants. The landowner invests significantly in a vineyard, wine press, tower, and wall. He leases the vineyard to tenants and when he goes to collect his rightful portion of the harvest, they rebel, refuse, and rebuke every attempt collect. The landowner finally sends his own son and the tenants kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

The question for me in the parable is this – Who is the boss? Who is in charge? The tenants don’t want to be beholden to anyone but themselves. They are willing to murder to protect their independence and personal authority. Unfortunately for them, this attitude results in their destruction and the vineyard being given to someone else.

The question for us is this – Who is our boss? Who do we answer to? I think it is important for us to consider carefully who has given us our “vineyard.” We must reflect on who has give us a life and breath and all that we have. We may be tempted to say that we worked for it; we earned and deserve it. But so did the wicked tenants. No, everything we have has ultimately been made by God and is a gift. In fact, the work to receive these things was a gift from God, as was the ability to work. All is gift.

Who is your boss? Who is your ultimate authority? Who do you give authority to day in and day out? Who sets your schedule, tells you how to spend your money, and how to treat others?

If it is anyone other than God, consider how to take a step toward returning to God what was always his to begin with.

Live It: This Sunday when you go to Mass, at the time of the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, pray simply for the grace to make God the boss, to give God authority over your life, and ask for the grace to change.

Are you busy?

May 7th Sunday Readings.busy-full-calendar.jpg

Are you busy? Yeah me too. I can’t wait for summer, but on the other hand I know that with it comes soccer games and running around and kids off school and maybe a different level of personally busyness. I don’t like complaining about busyness because complaining about being busy is like complaining about having too much food at dinner – it sounds ungrateful and not self aware.

If I’m honest, though, busyness is life sucking. Being busyness leaves me exhausted. Also, no matter how busy I am in a day, I still feel like I missed out on something during the day. Busyness leaves me unsatisfied. Somehow I don’t feel like God made me to be busy.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus offers us something related to, but different, from busyness. In the very last line Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus tells us that he came to free us to have an abundant life. Jesus didn’t come so that we could have a busy life.

I’m not sure what the difference is between busyness and an abundant life, but I know how each one feels. Busyness is exhausting and life draining. A life in absence is refreshing, inspiring, and feeling a good kind of tired. Its the difference between “getting everything done” and going on a beautiful hike in the mountains.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-17-at-5.34.05-PMI also don’t feel like it’s just the difference between fun stuff and hard, boring stuff. Sometimes after a full day of work where I feel like I got something done and contributed to the mission, I know I lived abundantly. Sometimes after a day of busy vacation, I’m not any more inspired or refreshed.

I’m not sure how to move from a busy life to an abundant life (If I did, I would have already done it). But I do know this – Jesus wants us to. The God of the universe came to give us an abundant, fulfilled, joyful life. I’m not sure how to make it happen, but I know the first step is to put my busy life into Jesus’ hands.

LIVE IT:
Take out your calendar or your phone or whatever you use. Hold it in your hands, look up and pray these words, “God, I give you my busyness. Jesus I want a life of abundance. Holy Spirit transform my life.”

Run like you’re being chased.

April 16th Easter Sunday Readings.

“Run like you’re being chased!” was a common mantra barked out by my high school baseball coaches. We used to run conditioning laps during the beginning of the season. When shaming us for running “like we had a piano on our backs” didn’t Runningmotivate us sufficiently, our coaches would try to move us with this phrase.

A couple summers ago, I ran my first 5k. I wasn’t being chased. I wasn’t running from anything. Actually I think I was running for something. I wouldn’t say I was running for fun, but maybe for the experience or for my wife because she wanted us to run together. I believe most of my friends who are big runners run for something as opposed to running from something.

In our Gospel, this Easter Sunday, we read the first moments when the disciples discovered that Jesus wasn’t in his tomb. In John’s gospel, Mary of Magdala, when she saw that the tomb was empty and the stone had been rolled away, ran to tell Peter and the beloved disciple. Then Peter and the beloved disciple both ran to the tomb. Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple all ran towards something. Why? What would motivate someone to run to somewhere or someone.

I think it was love. I think they loved Jesus Christ (though imperfectly like us), and they were loved by Jesus Christ (perfectly). I think we run toward the people or things we love.

I don’t know about you, but I want to run towards Jesus Christ. I want to run towards resurrection. I want to run towards ever lasting joy and perfect bliss in the arms of a God who loves me unconditionally. But sometimes, I run away.

This Easter can’t be just an end to Lent. This Easter isn’t just the relief of getting to do the things we gave up or stopping the things we began this Lent. This Easter, I want to continue to run towards Jesus, to the empty tomb, to a soul saved. Where are you running?

LIVE IT:
Running always starts with a decision. Decide now that this Easter is going to be different. Decided now that it won’t be a return to life before Lent, but a new celebration of Joy and Gratitude in the resurrection of Easter.