Crooked Path

December 10th Sunday Readings.

A couple years ago I took my family camping in a state park here in Minnesota thatgreg-duprat-381998 overlooks the Mississippi River. On Saturday morning the whole family decided to take a hike down to the river’s edge. We filled water bottles, tied our shoes tight, and headed down the 200 foot bluff face trail.

After a half hour of playing in the water and collecting driftwood, we decided to head back. That is the moment my children realized those who hiked down, must hike up. Trying to climb straight up the side of the bluff would have been impossible. Instead, the path was a series of switchbacks that took the height of the bluff and spread it out over a longer distance. The way the path was designed made the bluff easier to climb.

Both in our gospel and the first reading from Isaiah, we heard the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” Just like the path on the bluff was changed to make it passible, John the Baptist and Isaiah ask us to make the path to our hearts passible for Jesus.

This time of year more than almost any other time, it can feel like there are many obstacles to Jesus entering more deeply into my life. Whether those obstacles are a product of the lives we lead, our current culture, or our own decisions, the call is to remove those obstacles. Some of these obstacles may feel as difficult as moving a mountain or filling in a valley. The reality is that with God’s help, no obstacle is permanent. No valley too deep, no mountain too large, nothing stands in the way of God’s desire to be near to you.

Whatever is in our past and whatever is our present, there are actions we can take to make straight the path for Jesus to come more completely, fully, deeply into our hearts. Hidden within advent are behaviors that help us straighten paths. It’s really this simple. On a daily basis, light a candle (Advent Wreath), turn down your lights, turn off or put away all screens, and sit in total silence. Remove the obstacle of noice and stimulus and simply let God in.

LIVE IT: Commit to 10 minutes of silence every day for the next week.

Immediately.

November 19th Sunday Readings.

Are you a procrastinator? I’ll admit it, there is nothing quite like a deadline to help me procrastination.jpgcomplete my work. Part of the reason is that I like to keep my options open when it comes to tasks. What if new information comes and I’ve already done? I know that procrastination has got me in trouble more than once. Are you a procrastinator? Has procrastination ever gotten you in trouble?

In the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable about a Master and three servants. The Master gives an obscene amount of money to each servant while he is away. When the Master returned two of the guys have doubled their money, while the third servant has simply hidden the cash and hoped for the best. The Master praises the first two servants while the third servant is called wicked and lazy and is thrown out of the house and into the darkness.

The key to this reading for me is one word – immediately. When the Master gives the money to his servants and goes away Jesus says in the parable that, “Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two.”

The servants who get to share in the Master’s joy don’t wait. They don’t hesitate. They don’t put off their work until tomorrow or until they feel like it or until the circumstances are better or until they get invited or until….you fill in the rest.

If we wait or hesitate we may not have time to double our money. If we wait to invest spiritually in our life or our spouse or our children, we may not have enough time for our efforts to be fruitful. If we procrastinate working with the great gift of our life that God has given us, we may not be able to share in the joy we could have if we work not.

What’s the lesson? Don’t wait! Don’t wait until tomorrow to pray, go to Confession, give forgiveness, or serve someone else. Go, now!

Live It: Take 5 minutes (right now!) to decide what can you do in the next 24 hours to grow your faith, grow closer to Jesus. Then make a plan to do it in the next 24 hours.

What we can’t share.

November 12th Sunday Readings.

What is the first lesson most of us were taught when we began school? Share. Share yourshared toys with someone who wants to play with them. Share your lunch with a kid who is still hungry. Share your time, attention, joy, good news, and yourself with those who need those things. Share.

So when Jesus tells us a parable where the good guys don’t share, it can be a little unnerving. In the gospel this weekend the wise virgins, the hero of our story, don’t share their oil with the foolish virgins who don’t bring enough with them. How rude, right?  Why would Jesus tell the parable this way?

We need to remember that this story Jesus tells is a parable, a meaningful metaphor or allegory. Often when Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast, he is really talking about heaven.

In this particular metaphor the wise virgins don’t share because they can’t. They can’t share because the oil represents their love for the groom. The oil represents their willingness to prepare and go above and beyond in support of the groom. The foolish virgins did the bare minimum when it came to their duty, but the wise virgins did more. The wise virgins acted out of love, not fear in preparing to serve the groom.

Love is a choice each of us make. The wise virgins couldn’t make that decision for the foolish virgins. When the foolish virgins try and enter the dinner after the doors are shut the groom doesn’t say, “You weren’t there when I needed you,” or “why didn’t bring extra oil.” No, instead he says, “I don’t know you.” Entrance into the wedding feast is about knowing, loving, and serving the bridegroom.

When we are in love we don’t count the cost. When we love well, we don’t do the littlest we are able. In fact, when we love well, we don’t even ask the question, “How little can I do and still be okay?”

If we want to go to heaven, we won’t get there doing the bare minimum. We won’t get there doing just enough. If we want to go to heaven, we will only get their by love, by God’s love and our loving response.

LIVE IT: Pray this fantastic prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola for generosity.

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for reward

save that of knowing that I do your will.

Make a Decision.

October 29th Sunday Readings.

My wife is a saint. She is near perfect. And there is one thing she does that I struggle toclothing-store understand. Here’s the scenario: We’re shopping, we check out, we are walking out, and then she will stop and look at more clothes. We already paid. Decision has been made. We’re done and onto the next thing. Pencils down. There’s no going back now. Exactly 0 times has she ever found something else and walked back in and purchased it. I think this comes from the different way we make decisions.

My wife loves making decisions. Seriously, she loves quickly analyzing a situation and making decisions. Also, she goes back on her decisions somewhat easily. If she makes a decision to do something and new information makes it clear that is the wrong decision, she happily and easily changes her mind. She is energized and feels freer with each decision.

I labor to make decisions. I can and do make decisions, but it sucks energy from me. And when I make a decision I detest going back on that decision. I’ve made my decision and changing my mind feels like I am betraying the work I did to make the decision in the first place. Making a decision feels like a burden.

Making decisions can be hard. Most decisions in life are either/or decisions. By choosing one thing, we decide against a different thing. Sometimes we are faced with an obvious decision between good and bad choices. But so much more in our life, we are presented decision-making-pic.jpgwith two bad or two good choices and we have a dilemma on our hands.

In our gospel this weekend, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment in the law is the greatest. The Pharisees are asking for one answer, one law, the most important commandment. But Jesus gives two answers. He says first love God with everything you’ve got. Then he says love others like you would like to be loved. Jesus gives two answers to the one question. Is Jesus’ double answer a copout? Is Jesus having a hard time making a decision which is the first and most important commandment?

I don’t think so. I think Jesus gives both answers because we can’t have one without the other. Our world will often put up a false dichotomy between following God and loving people. Here’s what I mean. We can’t give God our whole heart if we aren’t willing to love our neighbor. And trying to love out neighbor, without loving God first, often becomes a selfish and self-serving endeavor.

Want to love God? Love others well. Want to love others? Love God first.

Live It: Take some time this week to think about your answer to the questions, “What is the #1 rule in my life? What is the law that I follow above all other laws?”

Tuxedos and Rejection

October 15th Sunday Readings.

MW40_341R_10_CALVIN_KLEIN_FORMAL_MAINHave you ever been radically improperly dressed for an event? On my wedding day, my groomsmen and I arrived early to prepare for pictures before the wedding ceremony. One of my groomsman Joe, already had his tuxedo pants and dress shirt on when he pulled his rented jacket from the hanging bag. Instead of a jet black jacket matching the rest of ours, Joe held a marbled grey jacket with strange wavy black pinstripes. Hideous.

Miraculously the problem was solved when new jacket (which still didn’t 100% match, but at least was black) was driven to the church by the tuxedo rental company.

I don’t know what we would have done if there had not been a black jacket for Joe. We contemplated having Joe just go without a jacket. We talked about all the groomsmen not wearing jackets (no bad ideas in brainstorming). What we never talked about was Joe not being in the wedding because he didn’t have the right jacket.

Yet in the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable of King who after much effort in getting attendees to his son’s wedding banquet, kicks a man out for wearing the wrong clothes. It seems like a strange story for Jesus to tell. I don’t know about you, but it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I read this week that the wedding garment that Jesus describes in the parable was a metaphor for a righteous life. That the reason the wedding guest was excused from the wedding was not because he was improperly dressed, but because, after saying yes to the wedding feast, he didn’t change his life to conform to what was needed to participate.

Another way to interpret this parable is the idea that a King or wealthy individual throwing a huge wedding party would provide wedding garments for their guests. If someone showed up without the provided garment, it was a rejection of the hospitality of the King. Instead of the King rejecting the wedding guest for his clothes, it was actually the guest who was rejecting the hospitality of the King!
In other words, all are welcome to follow Jesus. All are invited to make the radical decision to make Jesus the Lord of one’s life. But just saying those words isn’t enough. The decision to follow Jesus has never been a one time thing. We must not only say yes to Jesus with our words; we must say yes to Jesus with our lives.

To that end, following Jesus is something, I hope, by God’s grace, we can get better at. During our lives we can learn to conform each decision, each action to the life and will of Jesus.

This, for me, is such good news. Yes it is challenging to think that I have to keep working on being a better follower of Jesus. But the good news is that I get to keep working on it. Tomorrow I can better than today when it comes to following Jesus.

I know Jesus has called me to follow him. I just hope that when my time comes, I am humble enough to accept the wedding garment he offers me.

Live it: Dress in some different way this week and do it as way to demonstrate your willingness to grow in your faith and grow closer to Jesus. If someone asked you why you are dressed differently, answer honestly.

The Cookie Split and the Gospel

September 24th Sunday Readings.

Have you ever had to split a cookie or a piece of cake with a sibling? If you did, when youChocolate_chip_cookiewere a kid, then you may have heard what I heard as a kid, “Honey, you can split the cookie, but then your sister has the first pick of which half she wants.”

The precision to break that cookie perfectly in half so that I didn’t get cheated and my sister didn’t get more was off the charts. If I had access to a jeweler’s scale, I would have broken it out to make sure that the cookie halves were exactly even, down to the nanogram. May it was just me, but I thought even = fair.

Nobody likes to get cheated. We have a natural, God given, desire that justice is done. It’s why we get perturbed at the the guy who cuts up in the traffic back up. It’s why we can never seem to pick the right grocery store checkout line. It’s why we ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Life should be fair.

It’s why the people who work all day in Jesus’ parable get frustrated when the group that only works for a little while gets the same pay. The parable goes against our sense of fairness. So what exactly is Jesus getting at?

Jesus starts the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” Stop right there. Jesus is comparing the kingdom to a person. the kingdom of heaven is intimate lived relationship with Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is full communion and intimacy with the Trinity. So when someone works for the kingdom, the usual daily wage isn’t gold or power or a perfectly split cookie. No, the usually daily wage is unconditional love, perfect joy, and total fulfillment. Everyone gets paid the same because everyone gets paid more than they could even want or need.

When it comes to the cookie, there is a finite amount of cookie. The more my sister got; the less I got. But when it comes to God’s love there is no limit. I can have limitless unconditional love and you can have limitless unconditional love.

With that in mind the objections of the people who worked all day isn’t justice, but jealously. They are jealous of those who received what they received but for less sacrifice.

Does being jealous make you joyful?

Of course not. God is never out done in his generosity. We will only be joyful if we are willing to accept and celebrate God’s generosity and mercy to others.

Live It:
Celebrate someone else’s victory, even if it is a small one. Send a note, buy a coffee, or say a prayer of thanks giving on their behalf – whatever will honor them.

Don’t Keep Score.

September 17th Sunday Readings.

233 Fenway Park - Scoreboard (June 2, 2007)-L-2During my marriage preparation our mentor couple told us a beautiful piece of advice – don’t keep score. Despite not yet being married, we knew exactly what that meant. If your married or have a deep friendship, than you probably know what that means too. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeking to “earn points” by doing things our spouse wants us to do. It feels natural to take away points when our spouse disappoints or hurts us. Keep score comes so naturally to us in so many areas of our life that we just naturally apply it to our relationships.

The truth is that relationships are not a competitive endeavor. No seriously. I know it’s funny to joke around about it – I certainly do that with my wife. But the reality is when we treat our spouse as our competition, as our adversary, we both loose.

In the gospel Jesus is trying to teach us that our relationships with God and with others are not competitive endeavors. No matter how many times someone else hurts us, they aren’t loosing. No matter how deeply we harm God, we aren’t down for the count. Why? Because God isn’t the divine referee. God is our Father and wants, not to have a point system with us, but instead, an intimate, lived relationship. God desires to be closer to us than we can ever imagine and keeping score just gets in the way.

God forgives you. He does. He wants to, because he wants you. We don’t go to Confession to have the score reset or to reset the clock. He go to have a conversion of heart. To turn away from keeping score and turn to acting, responding to God’s love with love. We do that by worshiping God and serving others.

The wicked servant in the story does the exact opposite. He keeps score and thus is judged by his score. Don’t keep score, love unconditionally, because God loves you first.

Live It: Do something nice for your spouse. Doesn’t matter what it is – get their car washed for them, bring them flowers, empty the dishwasher, let them pick the movie. Whatever it is, pray that you don’t do it for points, but out of love.