It’s a Miracle! Why?

When I was in college and dating my future wife, we would go to crazy lengths to see each other. Summer between Junior and Senior year, I lived in St. Louis, MO and she lived in MN. Somehow we ended up seeing each other multiple times that summer. She drove down to visit me. I drove to go see her. We would do whatever it took to just be near each other. Hundreds of dollars and many tanks of gas, just to be close.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish, and he multiplies the bread until there was more than enough for 5,000 men (probably 20,000 – 30,000 people total). Jesus transgressed the laws of nature to create a superabundance of food. Why?

The miracle both harkened back to the Old Testament when God gave Manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It reminds us of the prophet Elisha multiplying meager rations to feed 100 hundred men. It looks forward to the Last Supper and Jesus instituting the Eucharistic celebration and to the heavenly banquet of the saints and angels.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle to demonstrate his power and to allow the people to witness a miracle of a messiah. Jesus multiplies the loaves, because the people are hungry. All of this is true. 

In this version in Matthew, Jesus multiplies the loaves to keep the people close. The disciples were ready to send the crowd away because they didn’t have enough food for them. But Jesus performs this incredible miracle because he doesn’t want to send the people away. Jesus wants to keep the people close to him. 

The truth this teaches us is that through the Eucharist, Jesus brings us close to himself. It is in and through the Mass that God draws nearest to us. In fact, we take him inside our bodies and we become one flesh with Jesus Christ King of Kings. Just as the multiplication of loaves was a miracle that allowed the people to stay close to Jesus, the Eucharist is a miracle that allows us to get intimately close to Jesus. 

If you feel far from God, one surefire way to get near him is to go to Mass. If your faith is wavering, it is in the Eucharist that you will feel closer to the God who loves you unconditionally. 

LIVE IT: Go to Mass. Whether it is a daily or Sunday Mass, get there and be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday Readings for August 2nd, 2020

Worth it

What is precious to you? We all have something that is precious to us. Something of great value to us. Whatever it is, you probably don’t like when other people touch it or handle it. Maybe you are willing to pay a great deal of money to get or repair it. Maybe it has intrinsic value or maybe it just holds sentimental value to you. 

The word precious comes form the Latin root word pretium. Pretium means price. In other words, whatever is precious to you comes with a great price.

You or I would be willing to pay a great price for that precious item. In the first two parables in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. Both are precious. Jesus describes these hidden things which have incredible worth. The characters the parables sell everything to gain the treasure and the pearl pay a great price. How much is the hidden treasure worth? Everything.

Often we interpret these parables to mean that faith in Jesus, the gospel, is the hidden treasure and we need to sell everything in order to receive the gift. While that is true, I don’t think that is the only way to read these parables. 

The other way to read them is that you and I are the pearl, the treasure. You and I are the thing of immense value. What are we worth to Jesus Christ? Everything.

God is willing to trade it all to gain us. Jesus sold everything he had including his life in order to win us heaven. Jesus sacrificed everything his life, his dignity to bring us home. God values you and me, not because we deserve it, but because we belong to him.

We are hidden treasure. For some of us, the treasure is very hidden. But God knows what and who we really are. We are His. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are baptized sons and daughters of God. We are worth it.

LIVE IT: Take a little reflection time – figure out how much you are worth (like financially). Even if the bank still owns a big portion of your house or car or whatever, add it all up. Would you pay that amount of money to know Jesus? What is God worth to you? Pray in thanksgiving that Jesus gave up infinitely more than that just to win your heart. Thanks be to God!

To Deny the Gift

I can’t force my older kids to do things. They haven’t totally figured that out yet, which is nice. I think the oldest one suspects the truth and every now and again pushes a bit. For the most part they are obedient and respectful kids. I’m blessed and they are blessed because of it. Consequently, I rarely seek to make them do or not do something.

Sure there are times that I put my foot down, but usually we give our children choices and then make the alternatives we prefer the clear winner. Sometimes our outside the box thinker tries the alternative option. Usually it doesn’t work out well. We give options and make clear consequences. That’s what we are supposed to do right?

God doesn’t force anyone to do anything either. God doesn’t make us love him or make us worship him. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. We are free to go to heaven or no to go to heaven. Because grace is a free gift and we do nothing to earn it, we can sometimes erroneously get the idea that we also can’t deny it. But that isn’t how gifts work. Just because we didn’t earn it, doesn’t me we are forced to accept it. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” In other words, God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of his love. God freely gives grace, salvation, and love, but we can deny it, just like any other gift. 

If we can deny it, then it follows that to receive it we must accept it. The ability to accept it is a gift from God too, but that doesn’t mean that our choice to receive the gift is unimportant. No friends, if we want the free gift of God’s love and grace, we must cooperate with God’s action in our lives. 

The Good News is that God wants us to accept the gift of his love more than we want to. God wants to give us his grace more than we want to accept it. God wants us in heaven, in perfect intimate relationship with him, more than we desire heaven for ourselves. 

God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of his love and grace. This means we have to participate in the reception of that gift. Here are 3 ways to accept that gift today:

  1. Sacraments – Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Go to a Wedding or ordination or baptism. Pray for and receive grace. If you haven’t been in a while, start with confession. It’s personal, private, and easier than you remember. 
  2. Scripture – Read the Bible. It’s pretty straight forward. Start by reading a gospel, Mark. Just read one section. Do it 3 days in a row and then keep it going. God will reach out to you through the words on the page. 
  3. The Poor – Find a way to give to someone in poverty. Bring food to a food shelf (or HNOJ collects everyday). Check in with your neighbors. Give to someone’s poverty even if their poverty isn’t material. 

Live It: Try one of the three suggestions above on how to receive God’s grace and love. Make a plan and follow through before next Sunday.

I’m your huckleberry.

Quarreling is our current national pastime. Whether it is politics, covid/stay-at-home orders, race, religion, the environment, sex, parenting, sports, money or whatever – we quarrel about nearly everything. Not only do we like to quarrel, we enjoy watching other people quarrel. A significant portion of cable networks is just video of people quarreling about some topic. We have build vast online frontiers where we can pick a fight at a moments notice.

Somedays I wonder if people want to change the US motto from “In God we trust.” to “Well, actually…” It seems it would be more accurate. In the Gospel this week we read about Jesus teaching a truth that caused the Jews to “quarrel amongst themselves.” What caused them to quarrel? Jesus said that his flesh was bread and if they ate his flesh, they would live forever. Later Jesus preaches this:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. 
John 6: 52-59

Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor. Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Even those of us who enjoy quarreling won’t argue with a metaphor (though we might argue how accurate it is). Jesus teaches this truth over and over again in John 6. Jesus was so committed to this teaching that he was willing to loose every single follower if necessary. 

What would make this teaching necessary? It is true. Jesus gives us himself, his own body, both on the cross on Calvary and in every single Mass in the Eucharist. The truth is is that if we eat of his flesh, we can have eternal life with him forever.

If we have the true intimacy that comes with full communion through the Eucharist, we will draw ever closer to Jesus. Just as Jesus will enter into us through our consuming of his flesh and blood, we will enter into the inner life of the Trinity in Heaven. There is no more intimate relationship than this. 

People have and will quarrel about this truth. That doesn’t make it any less true.

The decision each of us has to make is whether we will walk away because that teaching is hard, not modern, and weird, or whether we respond like St. Peter and say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Do we believe what Jesus says is true or will we quarrel?

LIVE IT: 2 steps to this micro challenge: 1) Read the entire chapter of John 6. 2) Go for a walk and think about what happens and what Jesus teaches. 

Breath. Breath. Breath.

I rolled over the other night to find myself face to face with my beautiful, beloved bride. She was sound asleep and was, how shall I say it, melodiously breathing deeply. It was then that a warm gust of moist breath hit me in the face. It struck me that it felt like it had been a long time since someone breathed in my face. In this time of social distancing and mask wearing, I haven’t felt the warmth of someone else’s breath for a while, thank God. 

Truth be told, it’s not like I was getting explicitly breathed on a lot in the past either. It is such an intimate thing to happen, we just don’t normally feel other adults breaths on our face. Sure when you have kids it will happen that one of them will climb into your arms, say something cute, sigh, and then breath out deeply all over you. But how often would you purposefully share breath with another adult and know it, feel it? Rarely right? 

So it strikes me as odd that in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, in the midst of his post resurrection appearance, breathed on his disciples. Can you imagine being the disciples? Your best friend, leader, and messiah actually rises from the dead, he shows up, says a couple things, and then breaths on you. Why?

Jesus’ breathing onto/into his disciples reminds us of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:7 God made man out of the dust of the ground and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Just as God gave life to man by making this carbon bag filled with mostly water into a living, breathing, conscious thing, Jesus breaths the breath of life into the disciples. His breath gives them new life, a life in the Spirit and as the Church. 

When people talk about hearing a good talk or reading a particularly good religious book or quote, what do they call it? Inspiring. If someone shouts “Eureka! I’ve figured it out.” They have been inspired. Jesus literally expires his breath and by doing so  inspires the disciples, and indeed the whole Church, to complete his mission. Jesus has preached and commanded and now Jesus is giving inspiration to his followers one last time.

The Hebrew word for God’s breath that was used in Genesis 2:7 is ruach. This word can be used for breath and often is. The other meaning of ruach is spirit. By breathing on his followers, Jesus is literally giving them the Holy Spirit. He is breathing his very life and indeed his Spirit into the disciples and into the whole Church. The very next thing Jesus says is, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Boom. 

This Sunday we should probably refrain from receiving anyone else’s breath. But we can and should know the intimacy Jesus wants to have with us. How close? He wants to breath on us. We can know with confidence that Jesus Christ has and will breath his life, his inspiration, and his Holy Spirit into the Church – into us! Come Holy Spirit!

LIVE IT: On Sunday, take 12 big, deep, from your tummy, breaths. With each one pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”, either when you breath in or out. 

There are two types of people…

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Have you ever heard someone start the phrase “There are two types of people in this world…”? The second half is usually something silly like, “Those who like Chicago style pizza and this who like New York Style pizza.” That, of course, is ridiculous. All pizza is amazing and delicious. Or maybe they say, “Those who like Star Wars and those who like Star Trek.” Also silly because most people actually either like both or neither (right?).

As much as I think that most of the time when we use this phrase we are setting up a false dichotomy, there is one topic that I think is true:

There are two kinds of people in this world, people who think God is active and working in our lives and people who don’t.

Of course there are many ways to categorize and break down each of these two groups, but in the end either you think God is working or you don’t.

It is tempting to think that maybe God exists and He started this whole existence thing and now we are on our own. This way of thinking is helpful when we consider why bad things happen if we supposedly have this good God. It even helps comfort people when they question why their prayers are not being answered. Some call this the Watchmaker God. As if God built the world and now it just runs on its own.

Of course there are problems with this way of thinking. The biggest issue is that if you believe this, then it is impossible to be Christian. In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us his word that he will not abandon us. He tells us he won’t make us orphans. Jesus promises us another advocate for us, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Further, Jesus himself is proof that God didn’t just make the world and abandon us. No, God sent his Son into the world and changes the course of history and salvation for us all. God’s interjection was the most profound and real example of God actively working in our world. And Jesus promises to never abandon us.

Do you believe God is actively working in our lives? Do you believe Jesus is the greatest example of God’s saving work? Do you believe Jesus when he says he will never abandon you?

If the answer is yes to all three, then be confident that you believe the truth, that you not only have a God that breathed the stars and invented gravity, you have a God who cares deeply for you personally and will never abandon you.

Live It: Jesus says he won’t abandon us and that he will send an Advocate – the Holy Spirit. So pray this prayer at least 1 time this week:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

(And then eat some pizza to celebrate.)

Sunday Readings for May 17th, 2020.

Enough Ice Cream

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Have you ever been to Nelson’s ice cream? I went to the St. Paul location a couple years ago. A friend of mine, Kory, and I went together. It was my first time, but not his. Kory and I both enjoy our ice cream and have been known to put away our fair share. So I was shocked when on our way in he asked, “Do you want to share a child’s size?”
What? First of all, I don’t want to share at all and much less the “child’s size.” I couldn’t believe he asked. That was until we walked inside and saw what Nelson’s calls the child’s size. If you don’t know, a child size at Nelson’s is like 10 heaping scoops of delicious, rich ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. I half expected Kory to look at me and ask, “Is that enough ice cream?” I finished mine and enjoyed every bite, but didn’t feel good about the decision later.
The word “enough” is a funny description. Enough seems to be predicated on our personal preference. What my wife and I think is enough ice cream is very very different. When I tell my 2 year old that he has banged his fork on the table enough times, he rarely agrees.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus is preaching to his disciples and assuring them that he will be going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. All they must do is follow his way. Thomas questions whether they know the way and Jesus emphatically tells them that Jesus himself is the way. Then Philip puts out a condition, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus admonishes him. Jesus says you already know the Father because you know him. Jesus and Father are one and the same.
The issue here, beyond Philip and the other disciples seemingly lack of understanding, is  that they are putting one more condition on Jesus. It’s akin to saying if you just do one more thing, then we will believe. Even in the context of the story, it seems rude. Jesus has preached with authority like no other man. Jesus has multiplied the loaves. Jesus has healed the lame and leper. Jesus has forgiven sins. By all accounts, Jesus has done enough. Yet, the disciples still ask.
One question this reading asks of us is, “has Jesus done enough for you and I to believe?” Are His miracles, preaching teaching, and promises enough for us to lay our lives down before Him forever? How about His resurrection? What would be enough?
Yet maybe this isn’t the right question. We aren’t asking about a business transaction – Jesus proves himself and we assent to His divinity. We are talking about love relationship. Jesus is inviting us into a deeply loving relationship that could last the rest of our existence. When it comes to love, the word “enough” doesn’t enter into the equation. We love by choice and by action. After all, Jesus loves us when we aren’t enough.
LIVE IT: Journal for 5 minutes even if it is just bullet points. Answer the following questions, 1) Has Jesus done enough to earn me? 2) Do I love Jesus?

Sunday Readings for May 10th 2020.

I can do it, daddy.

GW-2020-01-08-Meta-Image-v3-LARGE.pngSunday readings for January 12, 2019.

My 2 year old son wants to do everything himself. If you have kids you totally understand this stage. My toddler got a taste of independence and now desires with all his little heart to do absolutely everything for himself. Unfortunately his fine motor skills aren’t equal to his desire for independence. Multiple times a day he needs help and often he won’t accept it. 

Virtually everyday this same moment happens in my faith life – only I’m the toddler. My desire for independence way out distances my spiritual awareness, self mastery, and discipline. I desperately want to heal, help, or grow myself. The reality is that I don’t have the capacity to do this. Frankly, neither do you. 

In the gospel for this Sunday, Jesus goes to John the Baptist to be baptized. John, understanding who is standing before him, tells Jesus that he isn’t worthy and that their roles should be reversed. Jesus tells him that John must allow it to fulfill all righteousness. 

A key spiritual skill is allowing Jesus to work in our lives. Often I think we resist Jesus. We say, we need to be better or smarter or cleaner and then Jesus can come in. We sometimes even say, “Jesus, you shouldn’t have to lower yourself to my level, no let me come up to you.” But of course, we can’t. 

We need to be like John the Baptist and allow Jesus to come close. We need to actually listen to Jesus and let him do what he desires in our lives. If we want to be healed, at peace, and in love with God, we need to give God permission to work in our lives – today. 

Live It: Stop everything right now and pray this payer. “Jesus I allow you to work in my life. I give you permission to heal what is broken, help with what I cannot do, and give what I need. Come Holy Spirit!” Say it until you mean it. 

Are you ready?

Sunday Readings for August 11th, 2019.

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In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on a plane on my way to the Dominican Republic for a weeklong mission trip to an orphanage there. 30 souls from my parish will be immersed in the life of the children there. We’ll serve the house in whatever way they need and share the love and good news of the gospel with the children. 

Today in the office every single person has asked me, “Are you ready?” In a simple sense, yes. Travel is arranged, materials are prepared, donations are packed, and matching T-shirts are printed and distributed. We’re all set. 

In another sense, I’m not sure how to answer that question. Leaving home and family, traveling to a foreign country, flying 30,000 feet high in the air in a metal tube, giving a group of people an experience of Jesus Christ and grow in solidarity with the poorest of the poor – how could I ever really be ready to do these things? Being ready to do something and being prepared to do something are different. I’m prepared to go on the trip, but I wouldn’t say I am ready. 

In the gospel Jesus implores us to be prepared to come face to face with God. Jesus tells a parable of a group of servants who have prepared for the return of their Master. They are even prepared for his return at an inconvenient and unexpected hour. 

The question I think this parable asks of us is, “Are you ready to meet God?” Maybe we would all say that we aren’t ready for Jesus to come again and the world to end. Maybe we would say that we aren’t ready to give our lives to Jesus, leave everything we’ve held dear, and follow him. Maybe no one is ever really ready for those things. 

Yet, I think we can be prepared. I think we can prepare to meet God, to see him face to face. How? Two ways: First, we can start talking to God now. Be in daily communication with God so that we can learn what he desires for us, how he loves us, and what being with him will be like. Secondly, we care start to order our life for what it will be like when God is the only thing that really matters. If we live like God is the most important thing now, we will be prepared for a time when God is the only thing. 

LIVE IT: Make a checklist like you might make before you leave on a trip. Packing list, things you need to take care of before you leave, people you need to tell about your trip, etc. Only instead of going on a trip, imagine this is the list you’d make before the end of the world. After you’ve made the list, how prepared are you?

Perfect-ish

Sunday Readings for July 21st, 2019.

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Mary owes Martha. I don’t mean because Martha served while Mary sat. And not because Mary’s “better part” looked good compared to Martha’s complaining. No, Mary owes Martha for what Martha does at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

We are so familiar with this story we might miss Martha’s first action in the reading. The gospel starts with Jesus entering a village. In that village, a woman named Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Martha invites Jesus in. 

Scripture doesn’t say, but I would venture a guess that Martha eventually introduces Jesus to her household and to Mary. Wherever the story goes from here, the fact remains that Jesus enters into the home of these sisters because Martha invited him. 

The first two lines of this gospel story points to a truth about meeting Jesus. The people in my life who have introduced me to Jesus aren’t perfect. The people who first taught me about following Jesus don’t always follow him all that well themselves. 

In stead of that being a disappointment, I think it is a calling to us not to wait to introduce others around us to Jesus. We don’t and shouldn’t wait until we are perfect disciples to introduce others to Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we have our stuff together before we welcome Jesus into our home. Invite Jesus into your life whether you are Martha or Mary. 

LIVE IT: Next time someone asks you about your weekend plans, include the fact that will be going to Mass. Then follow that up by actually doing it.