My kids are smart.

August 20th Sunday Readings.

GTY_child_at_chalkboard_doing_math_jt_140315_16x9_992My kids are smart. When they want something, they have developed all kinds of tricks. Like all kids, they learned early on that if mom says, “No,” go ask dad. The learned to ask “on behalf of” the other one like, “It doesn’t matter to me if we eat ice cream, but I know my sister would really like it.” And most of all they are persistent. They know if they ask enough, but not in an annoying way, there is a reasonable chance we will say yes.

At the end of the day, I take these efforts as a compliment. I feel like they know that I love them and want to provide what is best of them. They truly believe that I am not a tyrant, but a loving father. They know if they ask and it isn’t bad for them, I will likely say yes. Eventually.

In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus resists giving into the request of the woman. Why? I don’t know. There are a thousand different theories, but that isn’t what matters to me in this story. For me it is the persistence of the woman that tells me how I should interact with Jesus. In the story, the woman asks that her daughter be healed of a demonic possession. Even after Jesus says, “No,” she keeps asking. Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,” and her daughter was healed.

If nothing else this moment from Jesus’ ministry teaches me that faith is persistence. It is not giving up. Faith is constantly turning back to God with our requests because we believe that he is a loving Father who will give us every good thing we need and not a tyrant. Faith isn’t dependent on whether we are worthy or good enough, but on how much we trust God.

Faith is persistence. If we persist in prayer, we will get what we ask for or we will get our answer.

Life It: What is something good you want in your life? Open your phone and add a reminder to pray a simple prayer for that request for 30 days.

Doubt.

August 13th Sunday Readings.

baseball-umpire-out.jpgEarlier this summer, I pulled a prank on a retreat. What I did doesn’t matter. It was non destructive. It wasn’t mean. It was funny (I was told). However, in the time between when I performed the prank and the time the recipient discovered it, I was freaking out. I was worried I had gone too far. I was worried they would have hurt feelings. I was worried they weren’t going to find it funny, and it would harm our relationship. But mostly, I was worried I was going to be kicked off the retreat.

I don’t about you, but I haven’t been kicked out of many places. I haven’t been kicked off or fired from many teams or communities. I don’t know what it is like to feel that level of rejection. I can imagine it hurts.

I know some people who have felt like they have been kicked out of Church. These people felt on the outside of Church simply because they doubted. They felt like all the other people in the pews on Sunday have it all together and believe without question or hesitation. They felt like they were on the outside because they had questions.

In the gospel this week, we read the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter falling in. A one point after fishing him out of the waves, Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” This is Peter, Saint Peter, the first Pope, martyr for the faith – doubting. I’ve always thought that though he doubted he could walk on water, but the moment he started to sink, he had enough faith to cry out to Jesus for help.

Believe me when I say, doubt doesn’t put you on the outside of the Church. Questions don’t make you a bad Catholic or an irreligious person. What isn’t good is giving up on seeking the truth. Giving up and resting in the doubt versus doubting and actively searching for truth are two different things. It is the different between Peter drowning and Peter calling out for Christ to save him.

Do you doubt? So did the St. Peter. You have questions? So did the saints. You aren’t certain? Keep searching for answers. How? Start by turning to Jesus in prayer. Jesus just doesn’t have the answers – Jesus is the answer.

LIVE IT: Two steps – Step 1) Close your eyes and say this prayer, “Jesus, I do believe; help my unbelief!” Step 2) Address one of your doubts by asking your question of someone you trust. Weigh the answer. Pray about it again.

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.”