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.

Ghost Written Life

Getting back into the swing after a month off, I wrote but didn’t get this published before Sunday Jan. 28th. Take a read to see what caught my eye in this past Sunday’s readings. 

I have a friend who wrote a book in 31 days. My friend followed this schema to help him write a book efficiently. Every step of the way, my friend got to make decisions about the book. He named the main character, developed the world in which this character lived, conceived of every action and wrote every word that the main character spoke. My friend not only decided the big stuff, but the patrick-fore-381196little stuff too. Every word of the story was a decision. As author no one decided anything about this story other than him.

In our gospel this Sunday, Jesus teaches and those in the audience are astonished. They say that he teaches with authority unlike the scribes. The word authority has some funny baggage for us. When we hear the word authority, we likely think of an iron fisted, difficult, bossy-McBossy-pants.  But the root of authority is the Latin word “auctor” which means “originator.”  In this way, Jesus doesn’t teach as heavy handed demander of submission, but as originator and the writer of the teaching. His teaching isn’t something he is repeating from someone else. He is the origin of that teaching. Even when Jesus is quoting the Old Testament, Jesus is the Word that existed then and inspired those sacred writings.

The question we have to ask ourselves is who authors truth in our life. Are you the soul originator and authority in your life? Everyday we have choice to make. Am I the sole author or am I willing to give authorship of my life to Jesus Christ? If we believe God loves us more than we love ourselves, if we believe God knows us better than we know ourselves, why do we make decisions without first consulting Jesus? If you want to be happy and lead the best life you can lead, make God the author. Let God write every word of your life.

Live It:
Let God help you make 3 small decisions today. Pray for his help in making those small decisions and then make those decisions. See how inviting God into small matters helps to make him the author of larger matters.

 

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?”