Poor.

November 11th Sunday Readings.

jordan-rowland-716475-unsplashA number of years ago my friend was lamenting his current faith practice. He shared that when he was in college and right after college, he would attend daily Mass. He started and ended his day with Liturgy of the Hours. He had a weekly holy hour in an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel. He would stop and pray the Angelus in the middle of the day. He read scripture and studied theology. He had intense, spiritual conversations late into the night with faithful friends. But at the time he was sharing, he said if he prayed in the morning and said goodnight to God that was a good prayer day. 

I asked him what changed and he said, “I got married and had kids.” 

He explained that for a while he beat himself up about this. He was frustrated and tired and no matter what he tried, it was difficult to practice his faith like he did when he was in his early 20s. 

That was until a priest friend explained that after giving himself away to his family all day, whatever my friend gave to God was a treasure. In the gospel, Jesus admires the poor widow who gave what little money she had to the treasury. My friend wasn’t financially poor, but his poverty had to do with how much time he had. My friend was time poor. 

So when it came to giving God time, even though he felt like he was praying so muchandrik-langfield-426760-unsplash less than he used to, God was receiving an even greater treasure. He was receiving what little time my friend had as a gift of prayer. 

Where is your poverty? What do you lack? Do you wish you had more time, money, friendships, joy, faith, or focus? Where in your life are you like the poor widow? What would it look like if you gave that thing to God? What would it look like if you gave God your poverty?

LIVE IT:
Take out a sheet of paper. Write down 3 things you feel you are lacking in your life. Then write down a way you can give each to God. Do one of those things this week. 

First thing right.

November 4th Sunday Readings.

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A couple years ago a friend of mine was helping me tile my kitchen/dining room area. We had pulled up all the previous flooring. We had prepped and leveled the floor. We were all set to start the install.

My friend carefully and thoughtfully laid down the first tile. He checked and re-checked that it was square to the room. I was almost annoyed how long it was taking him. Then he turned to me and said, “We have to get this one right. If we get this first one
wrong, well we won’t get any of the rest of the tiles right.” 

When Jesus tells us the 2 most important things in life, he is very purposeful about the order. Jesus tells us that the most important thing in life is that God is God alone and that we are to give him everything we’ve got. Before we learn anything else, before we love or help anyone else, before we do good, or fall in love or change the world – We have to love God with our everything. 

I think Jesus puts the two commandments in this order because if we get the first one wrong, we’ll get everything else wrong too. If we don’t love God with our whole heart, mind, strength, then we won’t be able to fully love ourselves and others. If we don’t put God first in our lives, then we will ultimately put ourselves first and won’t be able to serve, sacrifice, and love well. 

Can you be a good person without God? I think you can do good things without God, but I think we get our identify from God or we don’t. If we don’t get our identity from God, we aren’t as good or perfect or excellent as we could be. 

If we want to be selfless, world changing, doers of the ultimate good, then we must love God with everything we’ve got. If want to follow Jesus, we have to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. If we get that right, by God’s grace, then we can get loving others right too.

LIVE IT:
Every time you start your car between now and Sunday Mass, pray this, “God grant me the grace to love you with my whole heart, mind, and strength. Help me love others as I love myself.” Then look to see how God shows you how to love him and love others. 

The Boy Who Cried “Trust Me!”

May 27th Sunday Readings.

michael-larosa-449701-unsplashThe boy who cried wolf is a real thing. I don’t mean the story is factual – wolf, boy, etc, but the idea that someone speaks falsely so many times that when they tell the truth, most don’t believe them. 

What if you met someone that always told the truth? Someone who didn’t, couldn’t lie? How would you react to the things they said. What would you ask them? Maybe more importantly, would you always believe them? Even when you know that they won’t lie, would you trust them?

Jesus always tells the truth. Jesus doesn’t life. In the gospel this Sunday he commands the disciples (and us) to go and make disciples of all nations. He give us direction on how to complete his command. Then Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Do you believe Jesus?

Do you trust Jesus that when he says he will be with you until the end of the age, that in fact, he is with you now?

Do you feel like the living God, Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead is with you?

If the answer is yes, then you believe and trust that Jesus told the truth then and is with you now. Awesome. Sounds like a prayer of thanksgiving or praise is coming soon. 

if the answer is no, what is keeping you from believing Jesus? What is your obstacle to trusting that Jesus meant what he said? 

In my experience, the times I’ve answered “no” in practice (even when I may have answered yes with my words), I’ve needed to go to Confession. I need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not because I was bad (though I was), but for of two other reasons too. First, I needed the Sacrament of Reconciliation because sin blocks me from really believing and trusting in what Jesus said. Second, going to confession is a moment of guaranteed grace, where I meet my savior face to face. Removing self imposed obstacles and looking Jesus in the face is the way back to believing Jesus again. These are the roads back to believing Jesus is alive and with us know. 

If you don’t feel like Jesus is with you, if you feel abandoned or alone, if you don’t believe Jesus, try going to Confession, and give Jesus a chance not only forgive and heal you, but also to show you that Jesus is trustworthy – you can believe what he says. 

Live It:
Make a plan to go to confession like this: 1) Look up confession times at your parish or nearby parishes. 2) Clear your calendar so you can go. 3) Prepare by reflecting on a examination of conscience like these ones. 4) Actually drive to church and make it happen. 5) Rejoice! (I do this with ice cream). 

Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

* * *

PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into. 

Dead or Alive.

April 29th Sunday Readings.

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Arbor day 1989, I come home from school with a runt-of-the-litter little sapling that I was determined to plant and grow in our yard. I had been convinced by a presentation at my elementary school that planting trees was the way to save the world. My mom was convinced this sad little sapling was going to die in the first week it was planted. It did not. 

Now the tree is so large that my parents have to regularly have it trimmed so that it doesn’t harm the house. It is a healthy, fully grown conifer. Why? Because it was connected to a good source of water and food. It was planted in good soil. 

Every single Arbor Day sapling my poor daughters have brought home has not been so lucky. Whether they rot in our fridge waiting to be planted or whither in the yard for lack of water, these poor things never make it. Why? They aren’t connected to a good source of water and food. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. The analogy that Jesus is making is so helpful for the spiritual life because it demonstrates clearly that being connected to Jesus Christ is a life or death reality. 

To be cut off from God doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. To be cut of from God is to be a dead person. 

Morality, right and wrong, isn’t some list of arbitrary rules that someone made up long ago that we have to reevaluate in each new generation. No, the purpose of leading a moral life is to be connected to the source of all life, Jesus Christ. The rules of the moral life don’t exist for their own sake. The rules exist to keep us connected to the source of life. One direction leads to life. One direction leads to death. 

The reality is that most who are away from God don’t have a defining moment they cut themselves off from God. Most people drift, slowly and painlessly, away from God. At some point they have forgotten what is like to even been connected with the source of life. At this point, sin and death feel normal. 

Yet, when we find ourselves disconnected from God and thus disconnected from his body, the Church, we may sense that something isn’t quite right. We may not notice it right away. We may not recognize it constantly, but in the small hours or when we are alone or when we are ambushed by a moment of unexpected silence, we can feel the withering, the drying out of our life. 

The good news is that we are never too far gone for God. The vine grower has the supernatural capacity to connect us again to the source of life and to fill us again with goodness, love, beauty, and grace. There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. God is willing to go the distance to give us life again. Not because we deserve it, but because of his unconditional love for us. 

Live it:
Go outside. Go find a tree and take 5 or more minutes in silence near it. Be reminded that just as it needs water, good soil, and sunlight, you need to be connected to God to live. Ask God to bring you close to him. 

What’s it going to take?

April 8th Sunday Readings.

Getting kids to eat whatever they don’t want to eat can be a monumental task. I realize Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplashthat there are strategies that work. Also, negotiation is not most effective way to get children committed to a power struggle to do what you ask them. And, there are times when getting a child to eat green beans or ham (depending on the kid or the moment) just boiling down to the questions, “What is it going to take?”

When faced with unbelief in the lives of our family or friends, or even in the dark corners of our own doubt, I think we could easily ask this question, “What is it going to take?” What is it going to take for you and I to really believe the good news of the gospel? What is it going to take for our sibling or parent or spouse or offspring to believe that Jesus is their Lord? What is it going to take?

In the gospel, we hear about Thomas who states clearly what it will take for him to believe. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It would appear that for Thomas it takes touching the wounds of Christ to believe. At first blush, this seems like a lack of faith. Thomas appears to be put conditions on what it will take for him to believe in the resurrection, but I think there is more going on here.

John, the gospel writer, never states whether Thomas actually touches the wounds of Christ. In fact, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” when he simply sees Christ. For Thomas encountering Jesus face to face is enough. Meeting Jesus is what it takes for Thomas to believe.

I believe this to be true for most of us. For most of us, we believe once we have had a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ. Christianity isn’t only a set of beliefs or a moral code, but it is a relationship with a person. To really meet the person of Christ (and not just the idea of Jesus) fundamentally changes us at our core.

When Thomas sees the resurrected Christ, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” This profession of faith is one of the most vivid and explicit in all the gospels. By giving Jesus the titles of both Lord and God, Thomas is proclaiming Jesus the same God as the God of his fathers, the Lord God of all Israel and the Old Testament. When we encounter Jesus face to face, we know Jesus is God.

Live It:
Jesus lives. If we really believe in the resurrection we will look for him now. Two suggestions: Look for Jesus in the Eucharist and in the poor.

As she wept.

April 1st Easter Sunday Readings. 

Have you ever cried, almost, against your will? My mom is fighting cancer and I’ll never tom-pumford-254867-unsplashforget when I told my children. I was fine. I wasn’t worried. When I told them they were understandably scared. I reassured them and comforted them. I was fine. Then, I tried to explain to them how I was feeling. I though sharing how “fine” I was would help fill them with hope too. I started to say, “And daddy is feeling…” and I burst into tears – huge, gloppy, free flowing tears. I sobbed-cried before I could stop myself. I didn’t know I was feeling this way until I started to cry.

In John’s gospel, we hear about the moment the empty tomb is discovered. Mary of Magdala sees the stone rolled away and goes and gets Peter and the Disciple whom Jesus loved. They enter. The gospel says that the Beloved Disciple saw and believed, but they still didn’t understand and returned home.

andreas-wagner-532692-unsplashMary stayed and wept. I think that is a beautiful moment. Mary is mourning the death of her friend, her leader, her teacher. God uses that sadness and emotion to do a great thing. Only because Mary lingered and wept did she see the two angels and eventually Jesus himself.

I think sometimes we are ashamed of our emotional response to spiritual or liturgical moments. We want to be clear-eyed and sober in our faithful prayer (and that is a good thing). Yet, at times God can use every aspect of us, even our emotions to help us to grow closer.

John’s account of the empty tomb is a story about Mary of Magdala’s transformation from follower of a teacher to believer in the resurrected, death-destroying, Jesus. She cries because she is mourning the loss of the way things were, the wonderful life of following Jesus. Yet God has even more in store for her.

At the completion of this story, after Mary has come to let go of her former way of knowing Jesus and accepted Jesus resurrected, Jesus sends Mary to go and share this good news with the disciples. Mary becomes the apostles to the Apostles. Apostle means one who is sent. Jesus sends Mary to the disciples who will go out into the world to share the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead and death is conquered forever.

This Easter it does us good to think about the areas of our life that need transformation. Where do we need to more fully believe that Jesus has risen. What tears do we need to shed for our old way of living so that we can enter more fully into the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? How are we going to draw near and hear Jesus say our name?

Live It:
Go to church sometime during Holy Week when you normally wouldn’t. Maybe that means attending an extra Mass or service Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Maybe that means going alone to the church to pray. Let God into your brokenness, your biggest loss, the place you wish you could instantly fix. Let Jesus call you by name.