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?

Radical Dependence

Sunday Readings for July 7th, 2019.

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As an American, July 4th means fireworks, an abundance of grilled meats, unnecessary amounts of watermelon, and spending every moment of the day outdoors. My family wears an embarrassment of red, white, and blue apparel and we listen to both kinds of music – country and western (until John Phillip Sousa marches accompany fireworks, of course). 

While we say we are toasting our declaration of independence from stodgy ol’ Great Britain, I think secretly we are celebrating a world view that glorifies independence from jaden-hatch-b7BcALkirCc-unsplashanyone and everyone. Before we pretended to memorize the entirety of Hamilton, did any of us really think of the founding fathers on July 4th? Not really. No, our actions on
the 4th of each July, look more like a group of people ignoring the best advice of medical personnel. We eat meat and set off amateur explosives.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus calls all those who want to join his movement to a radical way of life. I don’t just mean the normal frivolous sacrifices we sometimes associate with comfortable Christianity. I mean that to really follow Jesus means to chose radical dependence. 

To follow Jesus is to sacrifice our independence. 

Jesus sends out his followers to heal and preach with out money, walking staff, or backpack. They will be totally and completely dependent on the people the encounter. Each community that accepts them and provides for them will literally be saving their life. That kind of dependence makes for committed missionaries. 

In another sense the Christian life calls for total dependence upon God. It almost feels silly to type such a simple and obvious statement. Yet as simple and obvious as this statement is to most of us, few of us actually act like it’s true. Few of us depend upon God in any significant way. Only when crisis hits do we really seek to depend upon him. As soon as that crisis is over or we feel comforted, most of us return quickly to our self serving independence. 

If, through some strange set of circumstances, you lost every single dollar and asset you owned, who would be your first phone call? Would it be your financial advisor? Parents? Friends? Your Church community or Priest?

Now, let’s say you fell to your knees in prayer, what would you say to God? Don’t wait! Say that now! If we are going to follow Jesus well, we need to depend upon God like we don’t have anything and need everything. Being a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ takes nothing short of radical dependence. 

Seek Jesus like you’ve got nothing to loose and I guarantee he’ll find you. 

LIVE IT: On July 4th morning when you open your eyes for the first time that day, slip out of bed  and fall to your knees and declare your dependence upon God, to God in prayer. Extra Credit – Tell someone about your prayer (humbly, of course). 

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Unsatisfied? Really?!

Sunday Readings for June 23rd, 2019.

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Last week a friend of mine and I went to dinner at one of the top restaurants in the state of Minnesota. When this restaurant opened, it was heralded as the number one new restaurant that year. The chef is a James Beard award winner. The room is elegant and simple, as is the food. Our meal was spectacular. One of my finest dining experiences ever. 

Later, when asked about my meal, I raved. But then I made some small critique of one of the salads and one of the opening plates. The food and the restaurant were phenomenal, but my small criticisms seemed to indicate that I wasn’t exactly satisfied. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel a certain pressure to be critical. It’s as if to demonstrate my sophistication, I need to criticize everything I experience. If I enjoy something or I am too positive, it almost feels like I haven’t really examined it yet. If I don’t hold a negative opinion, I am base, lowbrow, and simple. Negativity is the sign of the cultured sophisticate. 

Unfortunately I think this attitude and disposition towards negativity can invade our faith. I can’t tell you how many times in a Bible study I’ve heard someone (sometimes myself) critique the author and fail to examine what the text is trying to teach about God. It’s almost like we are saying, my opinion about this author or program or situation is proof I am a discerning Christian who cares. But in reality we are often so busy critiquing that we miss being blessed by God.

If I can be so bold, I think this attitude and behavior is most often exhibited by us when we talk about the Mass. I know people who always seem to have something negative to say about the homily or the music or the worship space or the vestments whenever they walk out of Mass. In fact, I think judging Mass has reached an epidemic level. And in all honesty, I’m the number one offender.

At Mass, Heaven and Earth meet. Really. The God of the universe becomes bread and wine for us to consume and we are physically united with our Creator. Really. God invites us into the inner life of the Trinity. Really. With every single Saint who has ever lived, we worship Jesus who died on a cross to save us from death. Really. We are drawn into intimate communion with all of our brothers and sisters in faith. Really. And after all that, we leave unsatisfied? Really?!

We eat donuts and complain about the length of this or the music of that, but in reality we are missing God smack in our faces. 

Do we have things we could do better? Sure, no doubt. And we all have preferences when it comes to what helps us encounter God at Mass. But do we really think that our satisfaction is an indication of whether God was present to us or not at Mass? Really?!

The reality is that God is powerfully, intimately, and transcendently present to us in the Mass. God is in the proclaimed words of scripture and the Eucharist. If we can be humble enough to put aside our sophistication, we can experience the same satisfaction of the 5000+ plus who were fed multiplied loaves and fish. If we want to be satisfied, we have to come on Sunday ready to worship God and seeking to forget ourselves. 

LIVE IT: On your way to Mass this week or when you enter your pew before Mass, Ask God to help you forget yourself, fully enter into worship, and to become more aware of how God wants to satisfy you. 

Post Script – I recognize my rant above (mostly directed at myself), is not the whole conversation. Certainly we can desire to celebrate Mass in a way that more perfectly demonstrates Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Volumes of books have been written about the Mass and what constitutes good liturgy. Today, this was the message I needed to hear and my gut (and the last 10 years of donut conversations) says many of you needed to hear it too. Thanks for reading and reflecting. Ck

 

Successful Advent.

December 9th Sunday Scripture.

When it comes to success in the world, we often believe that it depends more on talent than anything else. If you’re like me, you’ve read enough blog entries and business books to know that talent and luck matter, but not as much as hard work and fast failure. You’ve probably seen the “What people thing success looks like vs. What success lookslike” drawing.Cmv8o6sWYAAVaz8.jpg

Rarely do I think we apply these same principles to our spiritual growth. I wish I could tell you that as soon as you give your life to Jesus everything will go smoothly and be easy-peasy – that’s just not the truth.

In the gospel this Sunday, the gospel writer explains the ministry of John the Baptist using the words of the prophet Isaiah. The prophesy says there will be one who will make straight the paths, fill in the valleys, lower the mountains, all so that the messiah can come. 

The first and most important thing to recognize is that the road is rough. There are valleys and difficult mountain passes. The road of the Messiah is challenging. 

Our faith journeys are challenging. The road is rough at times and there will be setbacks. If you are serious about your faith, I’m sure you could name a time that you’ve had a faith setback or a particularly difficult climb. 

When it comes to faith, we run out talent. Faith isn’t a matter of luck. And, unlike the business world, it actually doesn’t rely all that much on hard work either. Instead success in faith falls on the shoulders of two things: persistence and docility. 

It isn’t so important that we add more and more to our faith practice, but that we try faith again. When we get knocked down either by sin or by daily life, we choose to get back up and try again. When the road gets rough, we may slow down, but we always keep going. 

Docility is as simple as being supple and humble and easily formed by the Holy Spirit. Are we open to God’s word and God’s work in our lives? When God speaks, do his words find a soft landing spots in our hearts? Faithful people are docile to Spirit. Docile people receive God and then answer with their lives. 

No matter where you are in your faith journey this Advent, God wants to make straight and smooth the paths to your heard. May he find a persistent and docile heart when he arrives. 

LIVE IT: If you are in the midst of a rough road, don’t take the next exit, but stay in the roughness and let Jesus come rescue you. How? When your temper flairs, when you inclined to selfishness, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you get anxious about shopping and baking and everything, when the work hours spill into family and faith time – take 3 deep breaths and invite God in. Acknowledge things are rough and let God love you right where you are. 

The Blind and The Ballplayer

October 28th Sunday Readings.

Jim_Abbott_CannonsWhen I was growing up, there was a pitcher named Jim Abbot. Jim pitched 10 professional seasons on various MLB teams. He threw a no-hitter, as a Yankee, in 1993 and otherwise had a long but unremarkable career. What was remarkable was that he was born without a right hand. 

The game of baseball is essentially throwing and catching. Most players wear a glove on one hand and throw with the other. Jim could throw – there was no doubt about that. When he pitched he would have to quickly put on his glove in case a ball was hit to him. It was incredible to watch. He was one of the best in the world at a thing that he, in theory, wasn’t equipped for. Jim is remarkable. 

In the gospel, we hear about a blind man named Bartimeaus. While begging on the side of the road Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Again he called Jesus the “Son of David.” This simple turn or phrase was a title used for the coming Messiah. The prophesies had said that the promised savior would come from the house of David. By calling Jesus, “Son of David,” Bartimaeus was essentially calling him Messiah. 

This is only the 2nd time in the gospel of Mark that a human being calls Jesus, Messiah. It was literally a blind man who saw Jesus for who is he really is. Blind Bartimaeus saw through all earthly disguise and saw Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. 

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right gifts and talents to do what I think God is calling me to do. Sometimes we all doubt whether we have what it takes to live the life in front of us. The reality is that God will provide. When we trust in God and let him lead, the blind see more clearly than anyone else.

LIVE IT:
What is an area of your life that you struggle in. What do you dislike doing because you don’t feel very good at it. Take that thing or moment and offer it up to God in prayer. He just might surprise you with what he will do. 

You are not enough.

Oct 7th Sunday Readings.

A good friend of mine likes to say, “Either a man is humble or he is about to be humbled.” jose-morales-571859-unsplashThis friend should know. He was a highly touted, high draft pick, professional baseball pitcher (Mets, Royals, Twins, etc.). He was told all his life that he was the best of the best and that he had a real chance of making the big leagues. He had one major league win and then was sent to a Japanese team for cash considerations. He knows what it’s like to be humbled. 

I like this quote because it is clever and smart and sounds like something I should believe. However, the reality of this little turn of phrase is frightening. In reality it means that if in fact I am not currently humble, then humility is coming my way. Generally, growing in humility is painful. It’s painful because it is a correction of a wrong. It is painful because it is my mind conforming to reality. It hurts to let go of our misconceptions and embracing reality.

For me, at least, the primary way in which I am not humble is my belief that I can do it all. Most days I believe that if I just work a little harder, if I just gave a little more effort, if I just push myself, I can be perfect, I can save myself, I can be everything that my wife and children need. 

This is a lie. I am not enough. And here is the harder thing for me to say – You are not enough either. I am humbled almost daily because of my persistence in believing that I can do it all. I have a plethora of evidence to prove to me that I am not enough. Yet, I persist in my pride. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that if we want to go to heaven, we have to become like little children. Little children are helpless. They exist totally dependent on adults to care for them. They need someone else to change their diapers and give them hugs and cut the crusts off of sandwiches for them. And here is the key – they are okay with it. For the most part, very little children are okay with being dependent on others for even their most basic needs. 

Only someone humble enough to be completely dependent on another is ready for heaven. If we want to go to heaven, we have to be completely dependent upon God. We are not enough and that’s okay, because we are loved by a God who is so much more than enough. God is more than adequate. God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, overwhelming. 

Live It:
Tonight when you go to bed, pray like a child. Get on your knees, on the side of your bed (even if your spouse thinks this is weird), and pray, “God I need you.” 

Flight Madness

Read the September 23rd Sunday Readings

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Something about airline travel turns the kindest, most generous people into absolutely selfish monsters. Every time I fly, I seem to encounter all kinds of human selfishness and entitlement. There are moments of generosity and selfless gift, don’t get me wrong, but I amazed at the number of “me first” moments I witness while flying. 

Oh, by the way, I am 100% talking about myself. I’m the monster. 

A couple months ago I flew a certain airline that lets passengers choose their own seats. I actually like and appreciate this model because it appeals to my sense of fairness. If you check in early or pay a little extra you get to board first and every seat is yours to choose from. 

I boarded early and sat in an aisle seat in the 3rd row. Hundreds of people boarded after me and poured towards the back of the plane hoping for a “not middle” seat. Alas this was a nearly full flight. The seat next to me was still open as the plane filled and I secretly hoped it would remain so. Finally the last few souls entered and after stowing bags one standing passenger exclaimed, “Wow this is full, where is there an open seat?” 

Did I raise my hand? Did I call out, “Oh brother human, over here! Please take your rest next to me.” No. I kept my head down and hope against hope he would sit behind me? Absolutely. Why? Because I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted the open seat. I wanted to be first. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words in the gospel this Sunday. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” I don’t know about you, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want that open seat on the plane and I want to follow Jesus too. I’m okay not being first, but I sure don’t ever want to be last. 

Jesus makes it abundantly clear again and again in the gospels, there is a choice between serving ourself and following Jesus. No middle ground exists. Either we follow Jesus and serve others or we serve yourselves. 

How do we do totally give up serving ourselves? First, we need to totally rely on God for the grace to do this. Left to my own devices, I will never offer the open spot next to me to the person looking for it on a plane. Second, we look to help people who can do nothing for us. We need to look to serve the helpless. Only by God’s grace can we hope put ourselves last. 

LIVE IT:
First of all, this week’s Good Word was particularly challenging to me. I constantly fail at this. So the Live It is most important this week. Turn to God each day from now until the next Sunday and ask God for the grace to be last.