I’m Ignoring You.

I currently have a teenager and a toddler at home. Yes, a 16 year old and a 3 1/2 old. It is exciting times in my house. Any parent of a toddler knows that sometimes the best response to the “hilarious” antics of a “just old enough to be dangerous” little person is to completely ignore them. When I did this the last time I had preschoolers 8 years ago, it usually resulted in changed behavior and everyone just moving on.

This time, I have a teenager in the house. She is truly wonderful (honestly), and sometimes she questions my decisions and actions. Particularly she can’t begin to fathom why I would ignore the toddler’s inappropriate behavior. Shouldn’t I correct him? Shouldn’t I punish him? Shouldn’t I react in some way!? “If we don’t stop him, he’s never going to learn.” 

Little does she know that by reacting we teach him that this particular word or behavior will earn him loads of attention, which, of course, is exactly what he wants. Ignoring the bad doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it is exactly what is called for. 

In the gospel today Jesus learned of the very ill daughter of Jarius. When he heads to Jarius’ home to heal the girl they all hear, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” What does Jesus do next? He ignores them. He ignores the fact that the girl has died. It says that Jesus disregarded the message. Then Jesus goes onto explain that the girl is only asleep. He consequently heads into the house and heals her. 

As Christians it would do us well to follow in Jesus’ way at times. We too must disregards messages of death and failure. It would serve us to ignore the voice of the enemy inviting us to sin. We will grow in holiness if only we neglect fleshy temptations and invitations to despair. 

Whether it is our own minds, or the voice of another, we will look more and more like the saints if we too can disregard any message that doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus Christ. Learning to listen to the voice of God and ignore the whispers of the evil one is the life long work of the Christian. 

Live It: Next time a doubt, a moment of despair, or a negative thought enters into your mind, STOP, brush your shoulder off as if you are swiping a little monster off your shoulder and pray, “Not today! Help Lord Jesus Help!” 

Bigger is Better.

“Bigger is Better.” “Everything is big in Texas.” “She is a big deal.” “That was a huge mistake.” “He is a giant in the industry.” “I’m a huge fan of the local sport team.”

Written into our idioms, sayings, and colloquial language is the message that big is good. Not only is big good, but bigger is better, and, in fact, biggest is best. As much as we may want small computer chips, tiny carbon footprints, and minuscule mosquitos, in most things in our culture we want BIG. We desire grand romantic gestures, big wins, and gargantuan personalities. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. As Jesus states, mustard seeds are small. There is nothing big, grand, majestic, or huge about them. Mustard seeds are practically nothing. Yet they grow into the largest of shrubs in which the birds of the air can rest and nest. 

Through this analogy, Jesus Christ emphatically states that the Kingdom of God is a work of God and can only be accomplished by God himself. Why? Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something small, meaningless and make it into something large enough for the whole created world to reside within. Only God can take something that wouldn’t even register as worth anything and make it into a world wide phenomenon. 

Isn’t this what Jesus does with the Church? Jesus takes a small group of inconsequential peasants from a forgotten corner of the grand Roman Empire and creates the Church. The Holy Spirit moves maybe the most unlikely group of spiritual leaders into the great bishops, priests, and saints we know today. God takes virtually nothing and makes it world wide, universal. 

The lesson for us then is that God doesn’t need much from us to do great big things. All God needs is the tiny whisper of, “yes Lord.” God doesn’t need our success or our skills or our talents to do something great in our lives. God needs the smallest drop of surrender from us. A simple yes and God can and will do something great. 

Live It: Go into your room and turn off all the lights or go into your car and turn off the radio/podcast. Close your eyes (unless you are driving). Pray this simple prayer, “Yes, Lord.” Whisper it even. But say it out loud. See what God will do with it. 

Sunday Readings for June 13, 2021.

Making Peace with Rebels.

All couples fight. In fact, sometimes, when done fairly and well, it can be a sign of a healthy relationship. My wife and I are both passionate people who are fairly bad at hiding our emotions or reactions. We have been known to verbally spar a bit. 

If I am honest, we have even done this on the way to Church. Yes, I admit it, at times in our marriage, we will be in the midst of a disagreement or I’ve said something stupid or mean and we will actively fight on the drive to Mass. It isn’t a great way to enter into the Sacred Mysteries of Jesus Christ. 

Mass will proceed as mostly as normal and then we will all get to the Sign of Peace. I will turn to my wife, she will turn to me, and we will offer each other the Sign of Peace and without fail, we will be reconciled. Offering peace to each other works. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus Christ rises from the dead and appears to his disciples. The first thing he says to them is “Peace be with you.” In fact, he says it twice. For a long time I thought is was just because the disciples were actively freaking out because their dead friend and leader was standing, talking, and eating in front of them just 3 days after they watched him be publicly executed. I mean, com’on, we would be freaking out too. It makes sense that Jesus is inviting them to be at peace (calm down).

However, Jesus offers the disciples and, by extension all of us, something more than just an invitation to remain calm. Jesus is offering us the kind of peace that happens at the end of a war or battle. 

When we sin, we become rebels. We rebel against God’s divine plan of sheer goodness, perfect order, and overwhelming beauty. In a sense, our sin is a declaration of war against God and what God wants for us in our lives. To reject God’s plan for us is to form a rebellion. Certainly Jesus came to heal, teach, proclaim the kingdom, and restore Eden, in other words, to save souls. To do this he has to make peace with our rebel forces. Jesus Christ makes that peace by not only offering it to us unconditionally, but he makes all the concessions. Our only responsibility is to cooperate with Jesus and respond to his offer of peace. 

The peace Jesus offers the disciples in this Sunday’s gospel isn’t only an invitation to remain calm, but is an offer of peace to all us rebels in the human race. To receive that peace, and eternal peace, all we must do is surrender our rebellion and receive the Peace of Christ. 

Live It: This Sunday at Mass offer your family members an authentic and heartfelt Sign of Peace. (Maybe warn then ahead of time.) If you attend Mass alone, offer peace to those in your area and pray for them throughout the rest of Mass. 

Sunday Readings for May 23, 2021.

Abandoned.

As a 9th grader I was selected to be a headline and caption editor for my high school newspaper. I was excited about the role and looked forward to getting to know the much cooler upperclassmen who ran the newspaper. One night I had a particularly late editing session. Somehow there was a miscommunication and neither of my parents came to pick me up. They both thought I was with the other one. I sat out on the steps of the school for an hour, not really sure what to do as the school was locked and the only payphone was inside (needless to say I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.)

I felt abandoned. It is a horrible feeling. Eventually my parents picked me up, but the dread of what it felt like to feel abandoned is something I’ll never forget. 

To abandon something feels more intentional that just forgetting or leaving it. I lost a coat in 5th grade, but I wouldn’t say I abandoned it. When I think of abandoned cars or malls or towns, I have this sense that the abandoned item was left on purpose. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus calls his first disciples in Mark’s gospel. Jesus calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John who are all professional fishermen. These four men had jobs, livelihoods that supported their families. Jesus calls out to them and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Scripture tells us that they immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. 

The didn’t just leave their nets or forget about their nets. The first disciples didn’t wander into Jesus’ teaching. They intentionally and purposefully abandoned their jobs, their livelihood in order to follow Jesus. 

Fishing wasn’t bad for them. It wasn’t sin or evil they left behind. They abandoned a good thing to do a better thing. They were purposefully in laying down, sacrificing, their income in order to follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus takes radical abandonment. We can hem and haw and say we like Jesus. We can be fans of his work and preaching. If we want to really follow him and become like him, it will take a radical abandonment. We will very purposefully have to leave something behind. As difficult and sad and scary as that may be, we may need to abandon the thing we currently love the most to follow Jesus. 

Abandonment is hard. The gospel of John tells us that the first thing Peter did after Jesus died was to go back to his old job and start fishing again. It’s difficult to abandon security, control, or practical considerations. The reality is that for most of us there is something in our lives that we clutch desperately to that is keeping us from more fully following Jesus. Abandon it. 

Live It: Make a list of the top 5 most important things to you. Take that list and abandon it somewhere. Leave it in a trashcan in a park. Leave it at HNOJ on the front desk (I dare you). Leave it in the adoration chapel. When you do, tell Jesus you are abandoning these things because you want to follow him more fully. 

Sunday Readings for January 24th, 2021.

G.O.A.T.

When I was a kid, no one wanted to be a goat. During recess touch football, if you were the goat, that meant you were blamed for your team loosing. You were the scapegoat. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t call each other a goat, but we just knew it.

Now, people want to be the GOAT. As you may or may not know, GOAT is an acronym for Greatest Of All Time. Tom Brady is the GOAT. Michael Jordan is the GOAT. Muhammad Ali is the original GOAT. Everyone wants to be first and foremost. We want to be the best.

Sometimes we cloak this in language about being our best and competing against ourselves, but the reality is if we had a chance to be the absolute best at something we would take it. We revel in being the absolute greatest.

That is why John the Baptist’s statements in the gospel this weekend are so mystifying to us and our culture. John was at the top of his game. John was a tremendously successful prophet and spiritual leader. In the gospel it says that all of the Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem came out to be baptized by John. Can we even imagine what this was like? Literally everyone came to be blessed by this man. You could make a case he was the GOAT of his time.

In the midst of this greatness, he says, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” While he was at the top of the top, beloved and followed by an entire nation, he preached that we was #2 and it wasn’t close. John tells us he is worthy of the actions of a slave (loosening sandals), when it comes to the next spiritual leader.

Choosing second place is difficult for our culture. In fact, the way that we celebrate Christmas showcases this difficulty.  I see it in the way we give and receive gifts. We want the best gifts and we want to be the best gift giver. Some neighbors battle in Christmas light decorating. We want to make sure we have and give the best and greatest Christmas of all time!

This Advent, let’s seek to be a little more like John the Baptist. Let’s embrace second place. Let’s seek to let Jesus be the greatest in our lives. Let’s make our preparations and celebrations of Christmas all about Jesus and less about ourselves.

Live It: Choose to put someone else’s desires ahead of your own this week. Find a small way to be in second place. Pray that God gives you the grace and opportunity to do this in a meaningful way.

Sunday Readings for December 6th, 2002.

What is Owed.

Which one of your parents do you look more like? Which one of your kids looks most like you? My kids look like collective mixes of my wife and I. A friend of mine who is a grandparent says that her grandkids look like her. She also admits that the other grandma says that the grandkids look like the other grandma. My friend admitted they are probably both right.

In the gospel this week Jesus answers a difficult question about whether or not to pay taxes. Remember the Romans were the occupying enemy force of the Jewish people. They hated the Romans and so to pay taxes was to support the enemy. But to not pay taxes was treason.

Jesus takes this difficult question and turns it into a lesson on our relationship with God. Jesus tells those gathered to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And what is Caesar’s? The coins with Caear’s face on them. Then Jesus says repay to God what is God’s. What is God’s? The logic flows that anything that has God’s face. Just as the coins that have Caesar’s face on them belong to Caesar, anything that has God’s face is God’s.

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” What has God’s image? You do. I do. We do. What are we supposed to repay to God? Us.

What God wants from us is us. He doesn’t want us for what we can do. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t want us for what we can offer, for he gave us all that we have. He doesn’t choose us because of what we deserve. He wants us because he loves us. Since God gave us everything, we owe him everything.

God loves us because we are his. What he wants from us is our whole selves.

Live It: Put a penny or other coin into your pocket tomorrow (even if you are wearing sweatpants at home). Every time you feel that coin in your pocket remember that you are made in the image and likeness of God and make a little prayer offering yourself to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 18th, 2020.

We forgot how to Feast.

A friend of mine married into a wealthy family. His wedding day was 100% a feast. After Mass there was a garden party with served hors d’oeuvres and toasts of champaign. A cocktail hour followed with a buffet of appetizers which flowed into a seven course dinner with poured soup and perfect medium rare file mignon. Then we indulged in an incredibly moist and rich chocolate wedding cake. Just as I started to get hungry at 11 pm, huge trays of hamburgers and milk shakes were made available. We experienced a full on wedding banquet feast. 

I think we mostly don’t know what it is like to feast. Maybe that is because we don’t fast very well. There aren’t many days when I don’t get to eat something I enjoy much less a day I don’t get to eat enough. I don’t experience physical hunger very often. So something really has to be over the top for it to be considered a feast. 

To that end, partially because we don’t feast well, I don’t think we celebrate very well. We have few examples in our lives of true festival. While we might still celebrate holidays when they serve the consumer culture, we don’t throw festivals like we used to. We rarely gather with the larger community for true festival celebration.

Not knowing how to feast and not being good at fully engaging in festivals hurts our ability to look forward to and desire heaven. Heaven is a feast. Heaven is a festival. Heaven is a party that we never get tired of. Like any party, we receive an invitation to heaven and are expected to respond in some way.

How do you respond to an invitation to attend a feast, a festival? Sometimes we’re excited to go, but more often we kind of hem and haw as to whether we will attend. Imagine some getting the invitation to heaven but saying, “I’d like to go, but you know it is just going to be so busy. I don’t really know what the food is going to be like. I’m not sure I’m going to know anyone there. I mean, it sounds good, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll make an appearance and then get out quick. Then again, I’d have to get ready all over again. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort and I’m already in my comfy clothes. Maybe I’ll just stay home.” Sound familiar? 

While we should respond to any invitation with a yes or no, sometimes we don’t respond at all. Turns out, no response is a response.

In the gospel Jesus tells the story of a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. The people originally invited all bail on the feast for practical reasons. So the king sent his servants out onto the road ways and invites whomever hey can find to come to the banquet.

The question this parable asks of each of us is whether we have accepted God’s invitation to dine with him. In other words, do you want to go to heaven? 

Will you accept Christ the King’s invitation to the greatest, grandest, most fulfilling of banquets. If the answer is yes, what do you have to do to get ready to attend? At the end of the parable Jesus explains that the king comes across a guest who isn’t wearing the formal wedding attire. In other words that guest wasn’t ready to feast! What do you need to get ready in your life in order to attend the banquet? What do you need to do to prepare for the feast?

LIVE IT: Take out a piece of paper, any scratch paper will do. Write out the words, “I accept.” Now post this paper somewhere you will see it everyday. Every time you see it simply prayer, “God I accept your invitation to a heavenly feast.” Pray it until it becomes 2nd nature. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 11th, 2020.

Doesn’t apply to me

With a lot more time at home during this pandemic, my family has discovered or maybe developed some new habits. One of my kids always (I really mean always) leaves her breakfast dishes on the dinning room table. The dishes sit there all day. Often we have to ask her to clear them before dinner time. This drives my wife crazy, which, in turn, drives me crazy. 

I tried to remedy this situation by making a general announcement and setting an expectation for the entire family. “All dishes should be cleared within 30 minutes of the completion of a meal with water glasses being the exception.” To which the serial offender turned to her sister and said, “That means you!”

The kid who created the need for a new rule and who needed to receive the direction didn’t know it was her who was the problem. How often is it that those who cause the issue don’t think the new rule is for them?

This weeks gospel is a prime example of this. Jesus tells a parable that paints the chief priests and elders as the villains and yet when Jesus asks what the evil tenants’ punishment should be, the chief priests and elders pronounce a harsh and merciless judgement. They didn’t know the story was about them! Idiots.

Oh, also, the parable is about us.

At least, it’s about me. Of course, the parable is about Israel and how when God wanted to bear much fruit, those in charge rejected the prophets and eventually Jesus. Yes. But the parable is also about every single time that God wanted to harvest a beautiful bounty in our lives and we failed to give God his due. This story is about every time we reject the prophets in our own lives and are selfish. This story is about when we deny Jesus Christ and choose our own path. When we sin we throw Jesus out of our vineyard and our sin brings about the cross. 

Jesus tells this parable as an invitation to return to God, to repent, to confess our sins and give God what belongs to God. What do we owe God? Everything. What do we get from God in the first place? Everything. The only thing God doesn’t give us is our sin. So we need to give him that too. 

Just as the vineyard owner is ostentatiously merciful, giving the tenants chance after chance to repent and give over the fruit of the harvest, God gives us chance after chance to respond to him with love and surrender. Will you give God what you owe him? 

Aren’t convinced that this parable is about you? Neither were the chief priests or elders.

LIVE IT: You probably live a fruitful life. You have produced many things, experiences, maybe even people. Have you given them to God? Make a list of everything you have produced in the last 7 days – work, home, hobbies, children, etc. Take some time over the next 3 days to offer those things over to God. One by one offer them up in prayer to God. 

Sunday Readings for Oct 4th, 2020.

Words and Actions

When I was about 11 years old, I asked my parents if there were any ways I could make some money around the house. I wasn’t a big chores kid when I wasn’t getting paid, but a couple greenbacks changed everything. My dad hired me to wash the family car. I put soap and water in a bucket, grabbed some towels, and pulled the hose around to the driveway. 

After washing and rinsing the entire car, I got my dad to inspect. I was looking forward to his congratulations on a job well done and a handful of cash. Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t wash the car.” I ended up getting really upset. I did wash the car. I covered the thing in soapy water and rinsed it off with the hose. How could he say I didn’t wash it? Did he not see me out here?

He showed me on the front where there was still a bunch of dried, stuck-on bugs. He showed me where there was grime in the wheel wells. He pointed out dirt around the windshield wipers. I may have done all the actions of washing a car, but the outcome was a car that still needed to be cleaned. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells the story of a father and two sons. The father asks the first son to go work in the vineyard. This son says that he will not, but he changes his mind and eventually goes and works. The second son says he will go work, but never does. Then Jesus asks his audience which of these sons did the father’s will.  

God asks us every moment of everyday if we will do his will. That we exist at all, is an invitation to answer the question: what are you going to do with your life? Then the fact that we have received Sacraments where we promised, before God and the Church, that we would do God’s will, further invites us to answer the question: what are we doing with this short, single life we’ve been given?

We can say yes with our words, but still stay no with our lives. We can say all the right things, call ourselves Christian, but if we aren’t living it, are we disciples of Jesus? 

I was convicted reading this gospel this week. I feel like I say yes often with my words and fail to follow through on those words. It’s like promising to wash the car, but the final product isn’t a clean car. For these failures, I go to confession. I lean into the mercy of God. 

The reality is that we’ll never be perfect in both our actions and words. The more we rely on God to lead us, the more we will be able to do God’s will. The more we seek to make our actions match our words, the more we are going to need to depend on God.

LIVE IT: Read these short (really it is brief) couple of paragraphs from the Catechism. You will find what are called the Precepts of the Church. These Precepts are the very basic things we must do as Catholics. If you are looking for the 5 ways to make your actions meet your words in your Catholic faith, these are the absolute basics. Check out the Precepts here. 

Sunday Readings for September 27, 2020.

Cake is for Eating

My family used to be obsessed with cake/baking reality TV shows. Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, the Great British Bake Off, Cake Wars, Cupcake Wars, and Nailed It were just a few of our favorites. With the exception of Nailed It, at some point in many of these shows, the awesomely designed and physics defying confection would be carried or wheeled out and the recipient would undoubtably say, “It’s so cool/beautiful, I don’t know if I can eat it.” Without fail the baker then swiftly says that of course you have to eat it and promptly starts cutting pieces. 

The old saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” remains true in most cases. Many experiences in life require us to make a decision. The truth of the matter is that no decision is, in fact, a decision. And, at least when it comes to cake, even if we choose “cake” over “eat it,” we actually get neither because cake doesn’t last too long before it isn’t beautiful or delicious. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Peter wants to have his cake and eat it too. Peter wants Jesus to fulfill his mission and save mankind, but he doesn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die. Furthermore, Jesus says that if you want to be his disciple, then you must follow him even unto suffering and death.

We are presented with the same decision that Peter has here – do we want to follow Jesus? If we answer yes, then we must be ready to give up everything to do so. If we want to live, we must be willing to die. There is no half-way discipleship of Jesus Christ. St. Therese of Lisieux said this about sainthood, “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” 

This is a hard teaching. Most of my life has been spent working a situation so that I could get the best of both worlds. Being all the way committed to the point of no return isn’t something I do well. If you’re at all like me, the idea of making a complete and total decision and not trying to find a way to have your cake and eat it too is hard to swallow. So how do I do it?

When Captain Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World from Spain in 1519, it is reported that he ordered his men to burn the boats they arrived in. Why? Because he didn’t want to leave any option of leaving. The decision had been made. 

What are the faith or life style boats that we haven’t burnt yet? What are our easy ways out of being sold out for Jesus? I think if we can identify the ways we wiggle out of a firm commitment to Christ in our behavior or life, we can start to make the changes that demonstrate the decision that we’ve made. 

The reality is that we have a limited amount of time to make this important decision. Are you trying to follow Jesus with every aspect of your life? If not, what boats do you need to burn to more completely, totally follow him?

LIVE IT: Make a list of 3 reason you miss prayer or Mass or reconciliation. Burn one of them. If you need to literally write it on a piece of paper and set it on fire (outside, with a proper fire receptacle). Once you burn it (mentally or otherwise), you can’t ever use that excuse again. Then pray or get to Mass. 

Sunday Readings for August 30th, 2020.