Almost spilled milk.

My three and half year-old son took the gallon of milk out of the fridge all by himself the other day. His plan was to pour himself a large glass of milk and savor every drop. The kid loves milk. The only problem is that the gallon of milk is about 30% of his body weight. After he successfully got it out of the fridge door, he couldn’t lift it, move it. He just dropped it on the ground and finally decided he needed help. 

He is at that age where he has decided he is a “big boy” and can do anything. Thus, he tries to do everything with various levels of success. I can’t judge him too hard for this as I think every single adult does this same thing at times. Let me explain. 

In the gospel Jesus is teaching about marriage, divorce, and, ultimately, authority. The Pharisees were asking if divorce is lawful. Jesus responds that it is not because what God has joined, humans cannot separate. 

I think we often fall into thinking that we have final authority. What we says goes. ”It’s my life.” It’s my beliefs.” “Its my body.” Fill in your favorite way to make the same statement – I’m in charge and there is no one in authority over me. Some people believe this. Some people think this statement is objectively wrong. Unfortunately, we all live like we believe it at times. 

No matter what we believe about this statement, we all encounter moments when we act like we are the ultimate authority in the universe. Sometimes we act as if the whole of existence depends upon us. 

The truth is that God is God and we are not. God is the author of truth, not us. The sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t just eating a pomegranate (not an apple, FYI). Their sin was disobeying God by trying to be the the author of truth. Their sin was trying to become God, to do God’s job instead of being a fully alive human being. 

When we try to write our own truth, we engage in the same sin as Adam and Eve. When we seek to be God, we aren’t being the beloved son and daughter of God that we were made to be. No matter how hard we try or how it may look, we aren’t the author of truth. That is a good thing.

LIVE IT: If we are going to believe that God is author of truth, we should read his book. Read just chapter 10 from Mark’s Gospel. It’s not long, but it is good. Find it here. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 3, 2021.

Whatever it takes.

Have you ever pulled an all nighter? For me it was only a handful of times in college (okay, and once or twice since). I would have a major paper due for a class. I would think I was farther along in the writing process the week before, but at about 11:30 p.m. I would discover I still had a long way to go before the paper was done. 

For me, 99% of the time all nighters happened because of poor planning or procrastination. However, some of the time life is such that an all nighter is just the thing that needs to happen to get the job done. Sometimes an all nighter is necessary. 

Doing what needs to be done is what Jesus is preaching about in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says if a hand or an eye causes you to sin, remove the eye or the hand. It is better to be maimed than to go to hell with your appendages in tact.

Of course, this seems crazy to us. I think it was meant to seem over the top to whomever heard it in the first place. Jesus is seeking to demonstrate that heaven is worth doing whatever it takes to spend eternity there. Jesus is seeking to show us that hell, separation from God, is so wretched that each of us must do what is necessary to avoid it. 

I think many people operate with this guiding question, “What can I get away with and still get into heaven?” This ultimately isn’t helpful. When we think of our faith as a loving relationship, this question does not give anyone the warm fuzzies. What is the least I can do and still be in love? Yuck. 

Rather this gospel invites us to think in the affirmative. What am I willing to do to go to heaven? What are you willing to do to love well?

Live It: I am going to take a wild guess and say if there was one appendage that you could cut off in order for you to become more holy it would probably be your cell phone. At least that is me. The challenge this week is a big one. Put your cell phone away for a week. Sure, carry it around for emergencies and calls/texts, but make a commitment for one week, to not search the internet, check out your fav apps, or look at social media. What are you willing to do for love, for heaven?

I bet you think you are right.

A friend of mine likes to say, “I’m wrong more often than I am right. But at least I am right more often than everyone else.” I can’t figure out if he is being humble or prideful. Either way it shows the basic human desire to be right. 

No one likes to be wrong. Especially when we are put in a position where we disagree with someone else. No, we want to be right and to show that the other person is wrong. There must be some survival of the fittest stuff going on there. 

In the gospel this weekend, Peter is about as right as person can be. Jesus asks his followers who they think he is. Peter boldly answers that Jesus is the Christ. Wow. He couldn’t be more right. It took a lot of guts to answer at all and much more to call Jesus the chosen savior of humankind. 

Jesus explains that he will have to suffer, be reject, and killed all by the people he is trying to save. Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus for saying these things. What does Jesus do? He turns right back around and denounces Peter in front of everyone by saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but has human beings do.” Yikes. Jesus says that Peter is so much of an obstacle to accomplish the Jesus’ mission, it is as if Peter is Satan. Rough. No one wants to be that wrong about anything. 

When it comes to being wright or wrong, I think the important thing to remember is that we don’t determine what is right and wrong. We are not the arbiters of truth. The gospel shows that it is Jesus who determines what is right and wrong.

Too often we try and focus on WHO is right and WHO is wrong. This takes truth and makes it subjective to the people involved. 

God is the one and only author of truth. If we want to be holy and happy, then we must submit to the reality that only God determines truth. 

Live It: Open your Bible and read John 8:31-32 ten times in a row. Read slowly and purposefully. Extra credit if you read it out loud. 

Don’t have a Bible? You can find John 8:31-32 here.

Sunday Readings for September 12, 2021.

Hi. I’m Chris and I’m a…

At the center of the dimly lit Church basement a group of flimsy folding chairs were arranged in a circle. Each one was filled with someone who appeared to be happy to be there. It wasn’t so much the space that made these individuals happy, but the fact that they were anywhere with other people. I was new. It was my first time attending this group. 

I was called upon and quickly stood, looked each and every one of the others in the eye and then said, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m an Extrovert.” Instantly everyone sprang up to meet me, no longer restricted by the social convention of circled chairs. I felt totally at home with a group of strangers. The small talk was exceptional

Okay okay, Extroverts Anonymous doesn’t exist. I googled it and could only find a covid pandemic short film and a twitter account. But if there was an Extroverts Anonymous, you could imagine that the meetings would never really start or end because everyone was too busy chatting. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a deaf and mute man with a speech impediment. However this healing story is different than many of the other healing stories in the gospel. Typically Jesus heals in public. This Sunday we hear, “He (Jesus) took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Why?

I think it shows that Jesus knows exactly the kind of healing and ministry each of us needs. While many would be fine to be healed in front of everyone, clearly Jesus perfectly adjusted his ministry to the needs of the man. 

Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, whether you get your energy from being alone or being with other people, all of us benefit from going off alone with Jesus.  Even when it is exhausting to be alone, the spiritual benefit of one on one time with Jesus outweighs any other cost. There is a reason God kept choosing shepherds to lead his people. Being alone with just the Lord and wide open spaces changes us and grows an intimate relationship with our Lord.

Live It:
Get some alone time with Jesus this week. Whether it is 20 minutes all at once or it is 5 minutes every day for this week. Find some time to step away and be alone with Jesus. (Even if you’re an extrovert)

What is Owed.

Which one of your parents do you look more like? Which one of your kids looks most like you? My kids look like collective mixes of my wife and I. A friend of mine who is a grandparent says that her grandkids look like her. She also admits that the other grandma says that the grandkids look like the other grandma. My friend admitted they are probably both right.

In the gospel this week Jesus answers a difficult question about whether or not to pay taxes. Remember the Romans were the occupying enemy force of the Jewish people. They hated the Romans and so to pay taxes was to support the enemy. But to not pay taxes was treason.

Jesus takes this difficult question and turns it into a lesson on our relationship with God. Jesus tells those gathered to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And what is Caesar’s? The coins with Caear’s face on them. Then Jesus says repay to God what is God’s. What is God’s? The logic flows that anything that has God’s face. Just as the coins that have Caesar’s face on them belong to Caesar, anything that has God’s face is God’s.

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” What has God’s image? You do. I do. We do. What are we supposed to repay to God? Us.

What God wants from us is us. He doesn’t want us for what we can do. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t want us for what we can offer, for he gave us all that we have. He doesn’t choose us because of what we deserve. He wants us because he loves us. Since God gave us everything, we owe him everything.

God loves us because we are his. What he wants from us is our whole selves.

Live It: Put a penny or other coin into your pocket tomorrow (even if you are wearing sweatpants at home). Every time you feel that coin in your pocket remember that you are made in the image and likeness of God and make a little prayer offering yourself to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 18th, 2020.

It’s a Miracle! Why?

When I was in college and dating my future wife, we would go to crazy lengths to see each other. Summer between Junior and Senior year, I lived in St. Louis, MO and she lived in MN. Somehow we ended up seeing each other multiple times that summer. She drove down to visit me. I drove to go see her. We would do whatever it took to just be near each other. Hundreds of dollars and many tanks of gas, just to be close.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish, and he multiplies the bread until there was more than enough for 5,000 men (probably 20,000 – 30,000 people total). Jesus transgressed the laws of nature to create a superabundance of food. Why?

The miracle both harkened back to the Old Testament when God gave Manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It reminds us of the prophet Elisha multiplying meager rations to feed 100 hundred men. It looks forward to the Last Supper and Jesus instituting the Eucharistic celebration and to the heavenly banquet of the saints and angels.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle to demonstrate his power and to allow the people to witness a miracle of a messiah. Jesus multiplies the loaves, because the people are hungry. All of this is true. 

In this version in Matthew, Jesus multiplies the loaves to keep the people close. The disciples were ready to send the crowd away because they didn’t have enough food for them. But Jesus performs this incredible miracle because he doesn’t want to send the people away. Jesus wants to keep the people close to him. 

The truth this teaches us is that through the Eucharist, Jesus brings us close to himself. It is in and through the Mass that God draws nearest to us. In fact, we take him inside our bodies and we become one flesh with Jesus Christ King of Kings. Just as the multiplication of loaves was a miracle that allowed the people to stay close to Jesus, the Eucharist is a miracle that allows us to get intimately close to Jesus. 

If you feel far from God, one surefire way to get near him is to go to Mass. If your faith is wavering, it is in the Eucharist that you will feel closer to the God who loves you unconditionally. 

LIVE IT: Go to Mass. Whether it is a daily or Sunday Mass, get there and be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday Readings for August 2nd, 2020

Worth it

What is precious to you? We all have something that is precious to us. Something of great value to us. Whatever it is, you probably don’t like when other people touch it or handle it. Maybe you are willing to pay a great deal of money to get or repair it. Maybe it has intrinsic value or maybe it just holds sentimental value to you. 

The word precious comes form the Latin root word pretium. Pretium means price. In other words, whatever is precious to you comes with a great price.

You or I would be willing to pay a great price for that precious item. In the first two parables in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. Both are precious. Jesus describes these hidden things which have incredible worth. The characters the parables sell everything to gain the treasure and the pearl pay a great price. How much is the hidden treasure worth? Everything.

Often we interpret these parables to mean that faith in Jesus, the gospel, is the hidden treasure and we need to sell everything in order to receive the gift. While that is true, I don’t think that is the only way to read these parables. 

The other way to read them is that you and I are the pearl, the treasure. You and I are the thing of immense value. What are we worth to Jesus Christ? Everything.

God is willing to trade it all to gain us. Jesus sold everything he had including his life in order to win us heaven. Jesus sacrificed everything his life, his dignity to bring us home. God values you and me, not because we deserve it, but because we belong to him.

We are hidden treasure. For some of us, the treasure is very hidden. But God knows what and who we really are. We are His. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are baptized sons and daughters of God. We are worth it.

LIVE IT: Take a little reflection time – figure out how much you are worth (like financially). Even if the bank still owns a big portion of your house or car or whatever, add it all up. Would you pay that amount of money to know Jesus? What is God worth to you? Pray in thanksgiving that Jesus gave up infinitely more than that just to win your heart. Thanks be to God!

To Deny the Gift

I can’t force my older kids to do things. They haven’t totally figured that out yet, which is nice. I think the oldest one suspects the truth and every now and again pushes a bit. For the most part they are obedient and respectful kids. I’m blessed and they are blessed because of it. Consequently, I rarely seek to make them do or not do something.

Sure there are times that I put my foot down, but usually we give our children choices and then make the alternatives we prefer the clear winner. Sometimes our outside the box thinker tries the alternative option. Usually it doesn’t work out well. We give options and make clear consequences. That’s what we are supposed to do right?

God doesn’t force anyone to do anything either. God doesn’t make us love him or make us worship him. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. We are free to go to heaven or no to go to heaven. Because grace is a free gift and we do nothing to earn it, we can sometimes erroneously get the idea that we also can’t deny it. But that isn’t how gifts work. Just because we didn’t earn it, doesn’t me we are forced to accept it. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” In other words, God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of his love. God freely gives grace, salvation, and love, but we can deny it, just like any other gift. 

If we can deny it, then it follows that to receive it we must accept it. The ability to accept it is a gift from God too, but that doesn’t mean that our choice to receive the gift is unimportant. No friends, if we want the free gift of God’s love and grace, we must cooperate with God’s action in our lives. 

The Good News is that God wants us to accept the gift of his love more than we want to. God wants to give us his grace more than we want to accept it. God wants us in heaven, in perfect intimate relationship with him, more than we desire heaven for ourselves. 

God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of his love and grace. This means we have to participate in the reception of that gift. Here are 3 ways to accept that gift today:

  1. Sacraments – Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Go to a Wedding or ordination or baptism. Pray for and receive grace. If you haven’t been in a while, start with confession. It’s personal, private, and easier than you remember. 
  2. Scripture – Read the Bible. It’s pretty straight forward. Start by reading a gospel, Mark. Just read one section. Do it 3 days in a row and then keep it going. God will reach out to you through the words on the page. 
  3. The Poor – Find a way to give to someone in poverty. Bring food to a food shelf (or HNOJ collects everyday). Check in with your neighbors. Give to someone’s poverty even if their poverty isn’t material. 

Live It: Try one of the three suggestions above on how to receive God’s grace and love. Make a plan and follow through before next Sunday.

I’m your huckleberry.

Quarreling is our current national pastime. Whether it is politics, covid/stay-at-home orders, race, religion, the environment, sex, parenting, sports, money or whatever – we quarrel about nearly everything. Not only do we like to quarrel, we enjoy watching other people quarrel. A significant portion of cable networks is just video of people quarreling about some topic. We have build vast online frontiers where we can pick a fight at a moments notice.

Somedays I wonder if people want to change the US motto from “In God we trust.” to “Well, actually…” It seems it would be more accurate. In the Gospel this week we read about Jesus teaching a truth that caused the Jews to “quarrel amongst themselves.” What caused them to quarrel? Jesus said that his flesh was bread and if they ate his flesh, they would live forever. Later Jesus preaches this:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. 
John 6: 52-59

Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor. Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Even those of us who enjoy quarreling won’t argue with a metaphor (though we might argue how accurate it is). Jesus teaches this truth over and over again in John 6. Jesus was so committed to this teaching that he was willing to loose every single follower if necessary. 

What would make this teaching necessary? It is true. Jesus gives us himself, his own body, both on the cross on Calvary and in every single Mass in the Eucharist. The truth is is that if we eat of his flesh, we can have eternal life with him forever.

If we have the true intimacy that comes with full communion through the Eucharist, we will draw ever closer to Jesus. Just as Jesus will enter into us through our consuming of his flesh and blood, we will enter into the inner life of the Trinity in Heaven. There is no more intimate relationship than this. 

People have and will quarrel about this truth. That doesn’t make it any less true.

The decision each of us has to make is whether we will walk away because that teaching is hard, not modern, and weird, or whether we respond like St. Peter and say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Do we believe what Jesus says is true or will we quarrel?

LIVE IT: 2 steps to this micro challenge: 1) Read the entire chapter of John 6. 2) Go for a walk and think about what happens and what Jesus teaches. 

Breath. Breath. Breath.

I rolled over the other night to find myself face to face with my beautiful, beloved bride. She was sound asleep and was, how shall I say it, melodiously breathing deeply. It was then that a warm gust of moist breath hit me in the face. It struck me that it felt like it had been a long time since someone breathed in my face. In this time of social distancing and mask wearing, I haven’t felt the warmth of someone else’s breath for a while, thank God. 

Truth be told, it’s not like I was getting explicitly breathed on a lot in the past either. It is such an intimate thing to happen, we just don’t normally feel other adults breaths on our face. Sure when you have kids it will happen that one of them will climb into your arms, say something cute, sigh, and then breath out deeply all over you. But how often would you purposefully share breath with another adult and know it, feel it? Rarely right? 

So it strikes me as odd that in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, in the midst of his post resurrection appearance, breathed on his disciples. Can you imagine being the disciples? Your best friend, leader, and messiah actually rises from the dead, he shows up, says a couple things, and then breaths on you. Why?

Jesus’ breathing onto/into his disciples reminds us of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:7 God made man out of the dust of the ground and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Just as God gave life to man by making this carbon bag filled with mostly water into a living, breathing, conscious thing, Jesus breaths the breath of life into the disciples. His breath gives them new life, a life in the Spirit and as the Church. 

When people talk about hearing a good talk or reading a particularly good religious book or quote, what do they call it? Inspiring. If someone shouts “Eureka! I’ve figured it out.” They have been inspired. Jesus literally expires his breath and by doing so  inspires the disciples, and indeed the whole Church, to complete his mission. Jesus has preached and commanded and now Jesus is giving inspiration to his followers one last time.

The Hebrew word for God’s breath that was used in Genesis 2:7 is ruach. This word can be used for breath and often is. The other meaning of ruach is spirit. By breathing on his followers, Jesus is literally giving them the Holy Spirit. He is breathing his very life and indeed his Spirit into the disciples and into the whole Church. The very next thing Jesus says is, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Boom. 

This Sunday we should probably refrain from receiving anyone else’s breath. But we can and should know the intimacy Jesus wants to have with us. How close? He wants to breath on us. We can know with confidence that Jesus Christ has and will breath his life, his inspiration, and his Holy Spirit into the Church – into us! Come Holy Spirit!

LIVE IT: On Sunday, take 12 big, deep, from your tummy, breaths. With each one pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”, either when you breath in or out.