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. 

What should I do?

Dec 16th Sunday Readings.

Three groups of people ask John the Baptist the same question in this week’s gospel, gianna-trewavas-740067-unsplash“What should we do?” The gospel doesn’t tell us if they listened to what he said or liked his answer or if they went and did what he directed. 

What we do know is that after he answered, the gospel says people were filled with expectation and wondered if John might be the chosen one of God. John’s teaching was so radical and life changing that they wondered if John could be Christ.
John’s response is beautiful and powerful. He says that while he purifies with water, the Messiah will purify with fire and the spirit. In other words, the work of Christ will bring about even greater transformation, even more complete purification. 

One way to think about this gospel. This gospel is a formula for how to repent and believe in the good news. 

Step 1: Ask “What should I do?” Be direct. Ask the big question. Expect a response.

Step 2: Listen. Actually wait for a response. God works in mysterious ways and on His own timeline. Ask and and keep listening.

Step 3: Look for the messiah who will cleanse you with fire and the Spirit. Receive the Sacraments. Go to confession. Let the love of God burn up the rough, tough, and gross parts of your life and behavior.

Step 4: Preach the good news. Share what you’ve been given. Every gift of God is good enough to be shared in some way.

LIVE IT: Take some time for an honest and earnest prayer only asking one thing, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Born to do it.

November 25th Sunday Readings.

In the early 2000s before we had kids, my wife and I took a trip to visit relatives in New peter-lewicki-411606-unsplashYork City. While there, we saw the hit musical Wicked with most of the original cast. Yes, it was awesome. Idina Menzel wowed the crowed with her vocal range and huge voice. Kristin Chenoweth was a perfect compliment to Menzel and funny in a way that made the audience feel like they were in on the joke. When I watched those two perform, I couldn’t help but think that they were doing what they were born to do. 

When we see someone do something that they both really enjoy and are wildly good at doing, it is inspiring and beautiful. Whether it is watching a MLB infield field a ground ball or a James Beard award wining chef craft a meal or your neighbor cut his grass in a perfect diamond pattern, there is something rewarding about encountering someone doing what they were born to do. 

In the gospel for November 25th, Jesus outright states what he was born to do. Jesus was born to “testify to the truth”. Jesus came to tell us the truth. Jesus mission and purpose was to tell us (and to show us) that God loves us unconditionally and will do anything to get us to return to Him. Jesus exists to tell us that though we are sinners, we are loved and accepted by God. Jesus came to give us the Sacraments, establish the Church, and to create the path by which we all can be saved. 

Jesus was born to testify to the truth. Will we listen?

LIVE IT:
It’s a noisy time of year. Make 1 car trip this week without the radio on. Listen for God’s voice he might just tell you the truth.  

Everyone has a #1.

September 30th Sunday Readings.

stlI married a Twins fan, but I grew up in St. Louis, MO as a rabid Cardinals baseball fan. In 1987 when the Twins played the Cardinals in the World Series, my heart was broken by Kirby Puckett and those upstart Twins with dyYcFhRxtheir dome-field advantage. When I moved to MN I adopted the Twins as my American league team. People ask all the time who I root for when the Cardinals play the Twins. My answer is easy – the Cardinals are my team.

Everybody has a #1. Everyone has something that is most important in their life. As much as we might hope to have a short list of priorities that are all equally important to us, when push comes to shove, one of those things will come out on top. In fact before mid-20th century the word priority was almost never pluralized. We only had a priority, not priorities. Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 7.53.34 AM.png

When we try to hold multiple priorities in our hands we only deceive ourselves and set up a situation where our true priority might get lost in the shuffle. In fact, it happens more often than not that we don’t end up prioritizing the thing that we say or believe we hold most dear.

This is why Jesus Christ tells us that whatever causes us to sin we need to cut completely out of our lives. If anything confuses us about what is most important, we need to completely rid ourselves of it. It is better that we don’t have things that keep us from the most important thing.

What is the most important thing? God. If we truly want what was best for us, then our number one priority should be spending eternity with God, starting right now at this moment. 

How important should this priority be to us? So important we would be willing to loose a body part for it. How dangerous are the things that distract us from God? So dangerous that we should cut them out completely. 

I want to be clear, this isn’t easy. Christianity isn’t easy; it is good. The path is narrow. The way is hard. And it is worth it. God can do it, if we fully rely on Him. 

LIVE IT:
Take out your calendar (digital or paper), and figure out what is the thing that you build the rest of your life around. Work? Kids Activities? Gym time? Or could it be God/Prayer/Church? If someone never met you, but got to examine your calendar, what would they say is your number 1?

Oprah and Purpose

February 4th Sunday Readings.

I don’t hate Oprah. I don’t know her personally and I’m not a disciple of her lifestyle 1*LrhFwqqUEA4Dk4wAerERngempire. The most I’ve encountered Oprah in the last year is when she essentially reported on California mudslides from her backyard and then she told the world she probably wasn’t going to run for president. Maybe I’m not the best kind of person to comment on her but here you go.

Oprah is a tremendous guru. Her ability to lead others, curate a world view, and pass along a particular lifestyle is nearly unmatched. I don’t follow her or know what she says, but even I have had a passing interest in her “favorite things” and her book list because they usually contain something that would make the kind of life I lead more interesting, easy, or fun. Oprah’s purpose is help others lead a comfortable life.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus say, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus states that his purpose is to preach. What Jesus is preaching is the good news that God loves us so much he would do anything to bring us back into intimate relationship. Jesus’ ultimate act of preaching was his death on the cross and his resurrection. In his death and resurrection, Jesus doesn’t just tells us that God loves us, Jesus preaches that to die for other is love. Through the resurrection, Jesus teaches that the only way to live is to die. Jesus’ purpose is to preach that if we die to self and follow him, we will be saved from death itself.

Oprah and other gurus teach their followers how to live. Jesus teaches us how to die. Jesus teaches us how to die to self and that only in dying to self can we truly live and truly love. Jesus teaches us how to love and how to receive the perfect love of God. This is an entirely different mission than any other guru.

What is your purpose? Who do you receive your mission from? Everyday we wake up and make the decision between whether we want to live for self or die to self. Everyday we wake up and reset our purpose, our mission. Jesus’ mission wasn’t to help us live a comfortable life, but to help us survive death. That same mission, to preach the good news, Jesus left for the Church – to you and me. Will you make Jesus’ mission your mission? What is your purpose?

LIVE IT:
Are you living on purpose? Take 5 minutes and quick write a short statement of your purpose in life. Don’t over think it. Then examines your life up and against that purpose statement. What needs to change?