Family Resemblance

October 22 Sunday Readings.

The other day my parents were in town and were picking my youngest daughter up from2017-america-the-beautiful-quarters-coin-proof-obverse-768x768 Church. While we were all sitting together, a coworker of mine walked by who didn’t know my parents. After being introduced, they said,”Well of course your Chris’ parents. I can see the resemblance.”

Who do you resemble? I am not asking which of your parents or siblings or even celebrity do you look like (although the celebrity question is fun). What I mean to ask is who is it that you have modeled your life after? In other words, finish the sentence: I try to live like _____________. I am going to venture a guess that if you really thought about it, you could name a person or maybe a couple that you model your life after.

In our gospel this Sunday, Jesus is asked about paying taxes to the Romans. If he says the tax is lawful, he is essentially a supporter of the Romans and betraying his own people. If he says don’t pay the tax, well then he is fomenting a rebellion against Rome. Either way, he gets the answer wrong for some group. But Jesus avoids the question entirely, never actually answering if the tax is lawful, by telling his followers to pay the tax because it is Caesar’s face is on the coins. But then Jesus takes it a step further and tells all to give back to God what has his image.

At the point of creation of humanity described in the book of Genesis it says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Who do we look like? God. We are literally made in the image and likeness of God. And because of that what do we owe God? Our entire selves. We owe God everything.

How do we do that? How do we give back to God what is his? I think this is a lifelong process. There is no easy answer or simple instructions. However, it starts with an authentic prayer of surrender. It starts by finding a quiet moment and soberly, simple praying, “God, I give you my life. I give you my failures and my successes. I give you good and my bad. I give it all to you.” (or something like that.)

The next step is the part that will take the rest of your life. Then we conform our life to Jesus. We seek to model our life to the life of Jesus. We try to be more and more like Jesus every day. In other words, we try to look more like Jesus each day. As much as if you look at a quarter and see George Washington’s face, when people look at our lives, they should see Jesus.

LIVE IT: Surrender your life to God. Start by praying the simple prayer you see above. Second try and change some aspect of your life to look more like Jesus.

Who’s the Boss?

October 8th Sunday Readings.

When I was 23 years old I was hired to lead a group of adults in doing youth ministryboss with and for high school teenagers. Every adult was older than me and had more experience in parish life and youth ministry, but I was in charge.

Having taken over this ministry, one of the first things I had to do was take teens to a conference out of state. The permission forms needed to be reworked and I was asked to add information about dress code and behavior. Being the early 2000s the dress code clause needed to be specific and I made it so (think Brittany and N’sync).

The conference came around and most of the group, teens and adults, had gathered in our parish’s gathering space waiting to depart for the conference. The group suddenly became quiet as the doors opened and one of my key volunteers walked in. Art was in his early 60s, 6’ 2” and 300+ lbs. He was wearing a white shirt that he had cut the bottom 10 inches off of, exposing the bottom half of his ample belly. A clear and certain violation of my newly minted “No Midriffs” dress code.

The group didn’t know whether to laugh or wince, and they looked to me to do something. Before I could, Art bellowed, “Oh, is that what you meant by no midriffs? Sorry, I’ll go change.”  And we all had a good laugh together.

I’m not sure if Art was just trying to be funny, but what happened was that he cemented my authority in the minds of those present. It was as if he had said, “I’m going to follow Chris, even if I don’t like or understand because I trust he is going to lead us well.”  In 11 years of youth ministry, I never had a single significant behavior problem.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who has a very different experience with his tenants. The landowner invests significantly in a vineyard, wine press, tower, and wall. He leases the vineyard to tenants and when he goes to collect his rightful portion of the harvest, they rebel, refuse, and rebuke every attempt collect. The landowner finally sends his own son and the tenants kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

The question for me in the parable is this – Who is the boss? Who is in charge? The tenants don’t want to be beholden to anyone but themselves. They are willing to murder to protect their independence and personal authority. Unfortunately for them, this attitude results in their destruction and the vineyard being given to someone else.

The question for us is this – Who is our boss? Who do we answer to? I think it is important for us to consider carefully who has given us our “vineyard.” We must reflect on who has give us a life and breath and all that we have. We may be tempted to say that we worked for it; we earned and deserve it. But so did the wicked tenants. No, everything we have has ultimately been made by God and is a gift. In fact, the work to receive these things was a gift from God, as was the ability to work. All is gift.

Who is your boss? Who is your ultimate authority? Who do you give authority to day in and day out? Who sets your schedule, tells you how to spend your money, and how to treat others?

If it is anyone other than God, consider how to take a step toward returning to God what was always his to begin with.

Live It: This Sunday when you go to Mass, at the time of the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, pray simply for the grace to make God the boss, to give God authority over your life, and ask for the grace to change.

The Tyranny of Our Past

October 1st Sunday Readings.

My local hardware store needs more cart corrals. You know, the metal structures placed express-cart-dual-cart-corral.pngin the parking lot rows where one returns a cart after one has used it. Pushed up on medians and wedged between parked cars are loose shopping carts because if one parks in certain rows there isn’t a place to return one’s cart to with in 75 feet.

But my mom didn’t raise the kind of kid that feels even remotely okay with leaving a cart to freely blow around a parking lot. Thus after I’ve emptied my hardware store type materials into my car, I walk my cart all the way back into the store like modern super hero. I rightly accept your adulation and affirmations of my virtue.

Next time I go to that store I could just as easily just leave my cart in the parking lot. I could choose the other path. I could change my mind. There is nothing that keeping me from breaking with my current habit.

Far too often we submit ourself to the tyranny of our past. What I mean by that is that we like to be consistent, even when presented with other options. We tend to think of ourselves as this or that kind of a person and thus we continue in this or that way. I think of myself at the kind of person that puts a cart back no matter what, and that guides my behavior.

Sometimes that kind of thing limits our behavior. In fact, sometimes this tyranny of our past keeps us in cycles of sin and self destruction. Sometimes people justify habitual sin by saying this is just who I am or the classic, “Well, I’m only human.”

The gospel this week presents a totally different understanding of our decisions. Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of our past. Jesus tells the story of two sons. One who says he won’t obey, but does, and one who says he will obey, but doesn’t  I don’t know the heart of either son, but scripture says that the first one “changed his mind.”

Part of the message is that every single one of us has an opportunity and the capacity to change our minds. If you have told God no in the past, you don’t have to today. You can change your mind. If you have turned away from God again and again, you can change your mind and turn back. If you have heard a call from God to do or to stop doing something and have ignored it, you can still change your mind. Conversely if, in your past, you’ve chosen to follow God, obey, pray, serve others, etc., it doesn’t mean you can coast the rest of your life. We can change.

Jesus can set you free form the tyranny of your past. In fact, this is the spiritual journey, that tomorrow we let Jesus make us a little more free than we were today.

Live It: No later than tonight before bed, kneel and pray, “Jesus free from my past and give my the grace to say yes to you tomorrow.” Level 2 – Go to Confession and be totally freed from the tyranny of your past.

It Hurts.

September 3rd Sunday Readings.

hammer-thumb-ouch.jpgI’m not good at pain. When I get a cold, either I’m laid up at home and can’t do anything or I complain to my coworkers till the point they tell me to go home. My wife gently and lovingly mocks me for my over the top reactions to stubbing my toe or pinching a finger. I’m a little dramatic and I don’t handle pain very well.

The worst thing I do when I am hurt is to be upset that no one is helping me and, at the same time, tell people to stay away from me. I’ve been known to even yell at someone who is just trying to help. I know a number of people who struggle to let others help when they are hurting. Is that you too?

In our gospel this Sunday, after Jesus tells his disciples about the cross, Peter, with much gusto, tells Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes him and we learn that to follow Jesus means that we too must pick up our cross. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus not to try and fulfill his mission. It was as if Peter was telling Jesus to not help while humanity was hurting.

Before we judge Peter too harshly, I think we do this too. How often do we not let God help? How often do we try to manage our pain on our own? How often do we want to control everything around us?

More than all of that, unless we fully admit that we need Jesus’ death and resurrection, we denying Jesus’ cross just as much as Peter. By admitting that we are sinners in need of a savior, we are asking for God’s grace exactly when we need it the most.

So how do we do this? When we sin, instead of running away and figuratively yelling at God to “Leave me alone!”, turn to God in prayer. Go to confession right away. Admit that you need God, especially when you are hurting.

Live It: Pray this prayer, right now, “Lord, I need you.” Say it as many times as it takes to believe it.

You’re Glowing.

August 6th Sunday Readings.

1505CNS-popemarried-couplesWEB2“You’re glowing.” Have you ever heard this phrase used? I’ve heard people say this to grooms and brides on their wedding day. I’ve heard people say this to pregnant women. Something about moments of incredible joy that seem to have us radiating light.

A friend of mine once told me that in Mexico the traditional way to ask a pregnant woman when she is due is, “Cuado vas a dar luz?” or “When will you bring forth the light?” The birth is a moment of brightness, of light.

In the gospel and first reading this weekend, we read about God in his glory shinning brightly. Daniel describes The Ancient one as bright white as snow sitting on a flaming throne. In the familiar story of the transfiguration, Jesus’ face “shone like the sun,” and his clothes become “white as light.” In another moment from scripture, Moses encounters God on Sinai, comes down the mountain, and the skin of his face became radiant.

A couple years ago, an acquaintance of mine heard a talk about the Eucharist and went to Eucharistic Adoration and for the first time in her life, she believed that the Eucharist really is Jesus. She walked out of the church and the first person who saw her, before they even spoke, remarked, “Wow. You’re glowing.”

I think when we encounter God in an intimate and profound way, there is a fundamental The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896change within us. That change can manifest itself in a noticeable way. People can literally see the change in us. We radiate. That light is a manifestation of receiving and giving unconditional love. That is why the newly married couple glow. That is why the mother grown a human, with a soul, within her radiates light. That is why when we encounter this God of love who would do anything to be near us, we radiate his love into the world. Let your light shine.

LIVE IT: Take sometime this week to light a candle and sit in silence. You could do this at the Adoration Chapel or in your home. Let God speak to you in the silence.

I am not a farmer.

July 16th Sunday Readings.

I am not a farmer. I am barely a gardener. Mostly I feed the bunny rabbits that roam Anim_Homepage.gifmy neighborhood like an emboldened street gang looking to destroy plush vegetation wherever they go. My wife seems, naturally, to know how to grow things. I just do what she says.

Sometimes Jesus’ farming parables get a little lost on me – maybe I don’t have ears to hear. This Sunday’s gospel is the classic parable of the Sower and the Seed (which, to me, sounds like the name of indie band. I digress). It seems pretty straight forward that Jesus is saying only about 25% of people who hear the good news are going to get it and follow.

The problem for me, and maybe this is my ignorance of farming, is that I don’t think that the overall premise of the story makes sense. What I know about gardening is that you don’t just walk around your property randomly throwing seeds. Like I wouldn’t trying to plant tomatoes in my driveway.

No, a reasonable farmer/gardener would either only sow seed where it would likely grow well or change the bad ground into well tilled, fertile soil. What does that mean? The sower should be turning over the path, digging up the rocks, and pulling the thorns – then sowing seeds.

What I think it means for us is that we need to be preparing the soil in our own hearts and in our world where we are planning to plant the seed of hope in the gospel. Listening to preaching or reading a spiritual book is all fine and dandy, but if haven’t prepared ourselves to really listen and reflect on what we hear/read, we won’t bear as much fruit as we could.

The absolute best way, I’ve found, to till up the soil of my heart in order to receive the gospel, is to go to Confession. Not as punishment for my sin, but as the way that my heart is turned over and prepared to be a fertile place for God’s word. The rocky sin gets removed. The habitual thorny vices are ripped out. Then there is opportunity for the seed of virtue to grow without sin getting in the way.

If I’m trying to plant the good news of the gospel in a rock hard world full of thorny people, I’m not going to have much success until I’ve earned the right to be heard and made the kind of friendships that open others to my witness.

Having said all that, last year I had a fennel bulb grow in between my driveway and cement front porch. How? I’m not sure. Sometimes all it takes is a crack and brave soul with good aim to grow the good news even in the most inhospitable of environments. So go and be bold in sowing the seed of the gospel, but trying tilling the soil first.

Live It:
Go to Confession. If it’s been a while, tell the priest that. If you aren’t Catholic, tell the priest that. If you don’t know how to go to Confession, tell the priest that. Just do it.

 

Lose.

July 2nd Sunday Readings.

When was the last time you experienced something that made you say, “That was IMG_1552amazing”? Recently, I was at a concert where the lasers, lights, music, and performance were so overwhelming that I kind of forgot where I was for a moment and just stood in awe. This past weekend I stood on the beach of a beautiful lake and got lost in the sunshine and trees and water. Playing a game with friends recently, I laughed so hard I was concerned I might pass out (seriously), and I lost track of time.

I think the experience that these moments all hold in common is this sense of forgetting myself. I was so overwhelmed with awe or joy or beauty that I lost myself. If I really think back about the most memorable and profound moments of my life (wedding day, birth of my children, etc.) those moments also seem to be when I stop thinking about myself and focus on another.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” I think this experience of losing one’s self is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. In other words, when we are able to forget about what we think we want or need, only then do we get to experience a life fuller than we could ever hope for.

As good as the concert, the sunshine, and the laugher was in helping me lose myself momentarily, it is really in moments of profound prayer and in helping others that I truly forget myself. The music faded, the sun set, and the game ended, but 10 days later, I am still thinking about the moment at the end of Mass over a week ago when I prayed a prayer of surrender and I lost myself in the Eucharist and music of Mass. It’s the faces of the children in Mexico or my own children that push me outside of myself and move me to lose myself more than a mere memory.

If you want to live the fullest life possible, then give your life your life away. Lose yourself; find God.

LIVE IT: Make 15 minutes this week to go and sit in a quiet, empty Church this week. If it’s Holy Name of Jesus, make your way into the Adoration Chapel. Be silent.