Why I’m Catholic.

June 18th Sunday Readings.

column735Every now and again, I get asked the question, “Why are you Catholic?” At the core of my answer is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I am Catholic because I want to have an intimate, life saving, lived relationship with the God of the universe through his Son Jesus and with the Holy Spirit and there is no better way to have that than the Eucharist. How do I know that? Two reasons: 1) I’ve experienced profound intimacy with God through the Eucharist. 2) Jesus says so.

In our gospel this week, Jesus is abundantly clear. Over and over again Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” or “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Jesus isn’t speaking symbolically. He speaks this same truth multiple times and when he is done, most of his followers abandon him. Only the disciples remain when Peter says, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus meant what he said.

If the goal of what I do as a Christian is to deepen in my relationship with Jesus, then I should do what he says is the ultimate way to grow my relationship with him – the Eucharist. Jesus Christ gave himself completely on the cross for us. And it is in the Eucharist that we are able to receive him. Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) said this, “We all know, when we look at the cross, how Jesus loved us.  When we look at the Eucharist we know how much He loves us now.”

I’m Catholic because I want to know, experience, and receive God’s unconditional love. eucharist-1591663_1280The Eucharist is how that happens most personally and intimately. Whether you are a regular Mass attender, haven’t been in a long time, or have never been, know this – every Mass is a miracle. Every Mass, the barrier between heaven and earth is removed, and the God of the universe comes into our midst. Jesus isn’t only there in spirit, but physically present in his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. How amazing.

LIVE IT:
Prep for Mass this weekend by reading John 6:22-69. This piece of scripture is a talk by Jesus called “The Bread of Life Discourse.” It’s awesome.

 

P.S. – Truly, I believe there is so much more to my answer as to why I am Catholic. However, given the purpose and length expectations here, I felt like I could only share this piece. Want to know more, ask me.

Josh Groban Said No.

March 19th Sunday Readings.

Josh Groban tells a great story about being invited to sing a duet with Celion Deon at the 1f342816b7f861b1699e0605e21ad4381998 Grammy Awards rehearsals. Andrea Bocelli was delayed in travel and couldn’t make it to LA in time for the rehearsal. The producer David Foster called the 17 year-old Groban, a high schooler at the time, to see if he would step in and sing with Celion.

Groban told him no.

As Groban explained, he was a little intimidated by the offer and told Foster that he was busy and had a big social studies test to study for and so couldn’t sing at the Grammys. Needless to say after a second phone call and discussion with his parents, Groban said yes, and the rest is history. Have you ever said no when faced with a dream offer?

In the gospels this week we read the familiar story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Throughout the first several lines of dialogue the woman gives reason after reason why Jesus shouldn’t be speaking with her. She, or her culture, set up barrier after barrier to connecting with Jesus. We can almost hear her say, “Jesus, it’s not you; it’s me. We can’t be friends.”

Yet, Jesus, after each objection is stated turn back to her. Jesus doesn’t give up. He continues to engage her in conversation until finally he reveals to her that he is the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen one that she, her village, and all people are waiting for. At the heart of the matter Jesus reveals himself completely to her.

I think often we put up barriers to letting Jesus know us. I think we say things like “I’m not a church person,” or “I’m only human, I could never be a saint.” It’s as if we are being offered the best gift ever, the opportunity of a life time, everything we could ever want, but come up with some reason to say no. It’s almost as if we talk ourselves out of happiness.

Jesus never gives up.

No matter how many times we’ve said no – no matter how often we’ve denied God’s invitation –  No matter how far away we feel from Jesus right now, Jesus is always pursuing us and ready for when we to turn to him.

Could today be the day we stop resisting and let God love us without condition?

LIVE IT:
Make a list of all the things that keep you from being closer to Jesus. How many of them can you control or get rid of or cross off your list? Do it today.

Actually…

February 19th Sunday Readings.

I have a friend who owns the word “actually.”  Well, she doesn’t actually own it, but she actuallyuses it so much she might as well buy it for herself. In conversation, someone will say some inaccuracy and she will respond with, “Well, actually…” and then proceed to correct the person. She has become aware that correcting people by leading with the word “actually” can be obnoxious and tries her best to avoid it. (Especially since her daughter started actually-ing her.)

While she is an “actually” person, others are “supposed to” people. A “suppose to” person is someone who is burdened with what they are “supposed to” do. Sometimes that means that they make sure everyone else knows what they are “supposed to” do. Full disclosure, I can be a “supposed to” person. If I’m honest most of the time I feel the urge to “suppose to” something, it really is just a “supposed to” that I personally find important.

In the gospel Jesus twice says, “You have heard it was said…” and then he goes on to give a “suppose to” statement. It is as if Jesus is saying, “The way things are, we are all supposed to…” Then Jesus explains further and contradicts those “supposed to” statements, but not in the way we might expect. Instead of basically letting us off the hook and telling us that these “supposed to” statements are too hard to do, Jesus tells us we need to take them even further.

If we are supposed to make things equal for everyone, Jesus says we are supposed to sacrifice even if it isn’t fair. If we are supposed to love the people who support us and hate those trying to take us down, Jesus says we are supposed to love our enemies. Jesus isn’t just ratcheting up the commitment here, he is turning “supposed to” on it’s head, and in the process, he is explaining something beautiful about who God is and who we are.

Too often, we make God in our image. We give God our attributes and inclinations. We also can give him our shortcomings, problems, shortsightedness, and pettiness. This gospel reminds us that we are made in God’s image. God is perfect. God is holy. Everyday, we have the choice to go beyond our own “supposed to” to love like God loves.

LIVE IT:
Pray for your enemies. Who do you consider an enemy? Take 2 minutes to pray for them right now.

Who you calling “meek”?

January 29th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever been in a place where you had to follow rules you weren’t used to? After spending elementary school at the public school in my neighborhood, my parent and I decided I would attend Chaminade College Prepatory School, an all-boys Catholic school. As you can imagine there were a lot of things to get used to, but one of the most shallow and yet significant was the dress code.

We didn’t have uniforms, but our dress code was no joke. Kahkis, dress shoes, collard shirt, belt, all clean and free of tears, cuts, or frays. There was more to the code,business-casual-evolution.jpgbut the one rule that I struggled with most was that shirts must be tucked in at all time. It wasn’t like I didn’t try to tuck my shirt in, I just didn’t pay attention to it. I didn’t pay attention that was until Mr. Bayshore would catch me walking down the hall with my shirt out. “MR. KOSTELC! What leads you to believe that you are not subject to the same dress code as the rest of your cohorts? Do you need an hour detention to be reminded?” No, I did not.

This Sunday we hear the familiar gospel story of Jesus going up the mountain and preaching the beatitudes to the crowds. When I hear the beatitudes instantly my mind identifies the beatitude that is most difficult for me to embrace. Who wants to be meek or in poor spirit or persecuted? Yet Jesus’ central message is that in the midst of hardship, we can and will be happy. How?

Jesus is promising that in the midst of true and deep struggle we can be filled with a profound and lasting joy that isn’t subject to our circumstance. Jesus suggests something radical – our joy isn’t dependent on the moment, but on our lived relationship with God. If God is the source of our joy and God is unchanging, unwavering, and forever for us, then our joy can outshine any moment of struggle.

If you’ve been struggling lately, if you’ve felt tire or overwhelmed, if you wish for things to be made right in our world, this Sunday’s gospel is an invitation to find true happiness and everlasting joy in a lived relationship with Jesus Christ.

LIVE IT:
Read Matthew 5:1-12. Think about which of the Beatitudes would be hardest for you to accept. Ask God to help you grow in joy.

If I won the lottery

November 6th Sunday Readings

What would you do if you won the lottery?lottery

I don’t mean a $5 scratch off. What would you do if you won a life changing amount of money today? What would actually change? Some of us would quit our jobs, buy a car or house, or maybe even make a big donation to the charitable organization close to our hearts.

It’s kind of fun to fantasize about the things we could do with nearly unlimited amounts of money. What would I do? 1) Tricked out cj-7vintage Jeep CJ7. 2) Fantasy Baseball weekend in St. Louis watching my Cardinals. 3) Dream Kitchen (that one sounds like decorating, but really its all about the cooking.)

The only problem is that most of us (myself included) would probably end up putting all our desire for joy and fulfillment into that money. We may never say it (or even think it), but it’s likely we would start to act like that money could solve all our problems. I think, without intention or purpose, we would start to put our hope in our bank account.

Why do I think this? Because we already do it. We already say things like, “If I can just get this job…” or “Once I retire…” or “If I can just pass this class…” or “If my team can just win this game…” – “…then I will be happy”. We make our happiness dependent upon the next thing. We put our hope, in things of this world.

The truth is, we will always be disappointed if we put our hope in anything other than God. Even the very best things in life – like our children or friends or our beloved spouses – won’t ever be enough because we were made for more – we were made for God.

The readings this weekend are an invitation for us to put our hope 100% completely in God and in heaven. The brothers killed in the first reading gave their lives to be faithful to God and put their hope in heaven. Paul writes to the Thessalonians a prayer of encouragement to for them to put their hope in God. In the gospel, the Sadducees challenge Jesus’ notion of the afterlife. Jesus responds by sidestepping their question and instead, teaches us that the things of this world matter so much less than our relationship with God.

God desires us to be the kind of forever happy that only he can provide. Are we willing to put our hope completely in Him?

LIVE it:
Say this simple prayer today, “Jesus, help me put my hope in you.”

Enough.

Oct. 2nd Sunday Readings

I’ve run out of gas three times in my driving life. Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing. empty_gaugeWho runs out of gas multiple times? My first couple cars had “dummy” lights that turned on when I was getting close to empty, but my GMC pickup truck didn’t. Often I would try and push my truck’s range and three times, I went too far.

I don’t know if you’ve ever run out of gas, but fixing the situation can be complicated. Each time, I was too far away for my wife or a friend to come get me. Yes, I was that guy on the side of the highway who had to buy a $23, one gallon gas can in order to put enough gas in my truck to drive it back to the gas station and fill it up. I now have the most expensive collection of one gallon gas cans of anyone I know.

The gospel this week is about having “enough” faith. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They want more faith, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Jesus responds by saying that if they even had a speck of faith (as small as a mustard seed), they could do completely radical, miraculous things (tell a tree to move and be planted in the ocean). So this part of the gospel says that even a micro-speck of faith is enough to do miracles. Cool.

On the other hand Jesus tells the story of the servant who does what is expected and doesn’t receive any praise for it. Jesus seems to be saying that we shouldn’t be too proud of our faith lives because doing what is expected isn’t particularly exceptional.

So, how much faith is enough?

When I was out of gas on the side of interstate 94, one gallon was enough to get my car started (yay!), but it wasn’t enough to really go anywhere (sad face). When you go to the gas station do you just pump in one gallon or do you fill up your tank? We fill it up all the way, right?

Same needs to be true about our faith as well. We don’t just go to God to get one gallon of faith. Sure, that would be enough to move a mountain or command a tree to move or maybe make us feel good, but it isn’t more than the bare minimum. We aren’t filled up with just a gallon, our capacity to receive God’s love is greater.

How much faith is enough? A very little is a lot and we can never have enough.

God is infinite, and thus his capacity to love is infinite. God is always ready, willing, and able to love us more. The fact is, we are limited in how much we can receive. The good news is that we can increase our capacity. How? By going back to Jesus, again and again to be filled to over flowing with his love and mercy. Then, and only by God’s grace, can we continuously grow our ability to receive God’s love.

May you and I seek to be completely filled with God’s love and never settle for just enough.

LIVE IT:
Grow your capacity to receive God’s love this week. Whatever you “normally” do for prayer in a day, add 2 minutes of silence. If you don’t normally pray, start with 2 minutes of silence. If you have a robust prayer practice, add two minutes of silence at the end.

Like Magic.

The Good Word for Sunday March 20th ~ for the complete readings click here.

I like magic. I pretend like I don’t, as if I’m too cool for it and am not totally amazed. I often pretend to know just how the illusionist is performing his illusions, but I don’t. I know it is a total nerd thing to admit to liking magic, but when the climax of the card trick or the illusion finally happens, I am usually left astonished. I don’t look for magic shows to watch, but I’ve been known to stop and watch a show if I happen upon one while flipping through channels.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus suffers, is crucified, and dies. It is the story of what God was willing to do to win us back to him. At one point in the story, it says, “Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.”

Why was Herod glad to see Jesus? It says that Herod was hoping to see Jesus perform some sign. I think Herod is hoping to see some magic. Not illusions or tricks, but spiritual acts with real power. Herod doesn’t care for good to be done or for God to be glorified. Herod wants to be entertained by Jesus.

Herod questions Jesus for sometime, but apparently not getting the answers he wants, Herod mocks Jesus and sends him back to Pilate. Herod isn’t interested in finding out who Jesus is; Herod is interested in see what Jesus does. Herod cares about his own power and pleasure and only cares about what Jesus can do for him.

Sometimes, we run the risk of treating Jesus and Church like Herod does in the gospel. Sometimes we want Church to entertain us, not change us. Sometimes, we are only glad to see Jesus because we think we are going to see some signs and wonders. Sometimes we are more interested in what Jesus can do for us than who Jesus is. Sometimes, we are only interested in the idea of Jesus, instead of having an authentic relationship with him.

How do we avoid being Herod in our relationship with Jesus? Put Jesus in charge. Herod expects Jesus to do whatever he wants. Herod is looking for Jesus to serve him. If we want to have an authentic relationship with Jesus, we have to put and keep Jesus in charge.

Live It:
A good way to keep Jesus in charge is to dedicate some prayer time to silence. Take 5-10 minutes (or just 2 minutes if you can’t imagine being silent for longer than that), and sit in silence each day for the next week. Let God fill the silence of your prayer.