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.

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.