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.

Trust the Leftovers

In the last year I’ve taken up a new hobby – woodworking. Yes it is the most “old man” of hobbies, but I really enjoy it. The temptation at every stage is to buy the very best of the best of every tool. The thinking goes, “If I could just have that new $400 smoother handplane, then I could make really fine furniture.” The reality is that there are many woodworkers who have thousands of dollars of the very best tools and very few finished wood items to show for it. 

This problem isn’t unique to woodworking. Photography, biking, sailing, cooking, and many other human endeavors have this issue, “If I had the best, I could do this activity better.” While this isn’t untrue, the reality is that most of the time, we just need to go for it and let our tool collection catch up. Often we need to go ahead and make something with the tools we have before we can move forward. 

In the gospel, a caaninite woman approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t even respond to her. He seems to ignore her completely. When she persists, Jesus tells her that his mission is to the children of the house of Israel. When she asks again he tells her that one shouldn’t give the children’s food to the dogs. How does she respond? She says she would take the scraps, the leftovers, if they came from him. 

Jesus responds by announcing her great faith. She is the only person in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus says has great faith. 

This gospel calls us to have the kind of faith that is okay with scraps. Sometimes we approach faith like we approach our hobbies. We need the best of the best. We need the newest book by a famed catholic writer. We need a cooler, nicer rosary. We need the slickest faith app for our phone. If only our tools were better and cooler and more engaging, then we could be people of great faith. 

The reality is that great faith means trusting that God will give us everything we need to be healed and saved. Great faith is not waiting till we have the best of the best or until things are perfect, but to believe now. Don’t wait until things are perfect, pray now. Great faith is trusting God’s scraps will be enough. 

LIVE IT: This sounds crazy, but after dinner when you are putting away your left over food, say this quick prayer (or something like it), “Dear God, than you for the abundance of food that we would have leftovers from our meal. Thank you for being so generous with the gift of yourself that we have an overabundance. Help us to trust in you so much so that we would be okay even with your scraps.”

Sunday Readings for August 16th, 2020.

Restored again.

In the midst of our state’s stay at home order and lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we got bored with screens pretty fast and were looking for things to do around the house. My wife looked at our backyard and decided that we should rebuild our raised vegetable garden beds. They aren’t anything fancy and we aren’t farmers by any means, but we’ve learned a thing or two trying to grow tomatoes and carrots and peppers over the years. 

So when I read Jesus’ parable of the sower from this Sunday’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but think about my new garden beds. Jesus describes four places where seeds fall – hard packed path, rocky, shallow soil, weed riddled soil, and fertile, good soil. 

I thought of the hours spent emptying the old beds, shifts to remove rocks and weeds. I thought about the bags and bags of new soil and manure we hauled from the driveway down to where the beds reside on the edge of our property. I thought about the feet of netting we put up to keep the rabbits away. A lot of work, but now we’ve got lush, verdant, and hopefully, fruitful plants. 

When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples he tells them that the seeds are the word of God which is sown into the hearts of those who hear Jesus and the disciples preach. Jesus explains that a great number of people are going to hear the preaching, but not everyone will have the right kind of disposition to have the seed take root in their life. 

Some might be tempted to say, “I’ve tried the religion thing and I just must be shallow or hard packed or weedy soil that won’t ever receive the word of God. I’m done. I’m never going to be good soil.” I don’t think that was Jesus’ point. 

The thing about all the unfit soil that Jesus describes is that it can change. Weeds and thorns can be pulled. Rocks can be removed. Hard packed soil can be tilled up. Jesus never mentions soil that is beyond restoration. 

For us that means that Jesus doesn’t give up on us. No one is beyond God’s ability to prepare soil that will receive his word. And it takes work to get ready to plant. No farmer worth his salt just throws seeds on the ground and hopes it works out for the best. If you want seed to sprout and grown and bear fruit, you have to prepare the ground first. 

Is your heart fertile soil? Are you as prepared as you could be to receive God’s word? What are the practical things we can do in our lives to prepare them for God? Here are a couple ideas. Pick one:

  1. Till the soil – In our spiritual life, this looks like examining and reflecting on our lives to find the places where we don’t let God in very easily. The best way I’ve found to do this is something called the Daily Examen. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this isn’t exactly an examination of conscience, but a moment each day to reflect on what happened that day. Here is a good source on how to go about making a Daily Examen
    1. Micro Challenge – Try this everyday for a week and see if your packed soil gets tilled up. 
  2. Remove the Rocks – In our spiritual life, this is when we loose excitement for the faith because of difficulty or tragedy in our life. This happens to nearly everyone and has probably happened to a lot of people this year. How do we trust in God when something difficult happens to us? I think finding out how others have done this is helpful. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Seek Counsel. Search out someone you think is spiritually wise. Maybe this is one of our priests or parishioner or maybe someone in your family. Ask them what they have done when it feels like troubles steal their faith. 
  3. Pull the Thorns – In the spiritual life, this is when pleasure, entertainment, power, control, or other things pull us away from our faith. We live in a culture that says discomfort is bad and if your every desire isn’t satisfied, something is wrong. This leads us to chase pleasure so that we will be happy, which, of course, makes us unhappy. We have to denounce this way of thinking and all the behaviors that lead us in that direction. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Go to Confession. Twice. Nothing like the Sacrament of Confession to pull the weeds of sin out by the roots. Why Twice? If it’s been a while, then the first time will feel strange and less like prayer than you might like. The second time can potentially bear more fruit. 

Sunday Readings for July 12th, 2020.

Embrace

In the the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a brief, fleeting image that I will never forget. Jesus has already been scourged and is now carrying his cross to Golgotha. He falls hard to the stone paved ground. In his effort to lift up his cross again, Jesus embraces his cross. The scene makes reference to another moment when Jesus embraces his mother. The question left for us the viewers is this: “Does Jesus love his cross?” 

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus warns us that if we love anything, prefer anything to God and to Jesus’ mission, we are not worthy of the mission. Then Jesus instructs us that whoever doesn’t take up his cross isn’t worthy of following Jesus.

I think this tells us two things:

  1. Following Jesus is something we do on purpose. We don’t accidentally become disciples of Jesus. Whether it is one big decision or a hundred little ones (probably a little of both), if we want to follow Jesus we have to “take up” the mission. 
  2. It’s not enough to accept the idea that we will suffer and maybe suffer for our faith. We have to embrace our cross. 

I don’t suffer well. I am bad at suffering. I don’t want it and I will do nearly anything to avoid it. I think a lot of people I know are like this too. This makes us vulnerable to the temptation to chase comfort and ease. If I am constantly just trying to get comfortable and satisfied, then my comfort is my highest value. If comfort is my highest value, then I won’t embrace, much less love, anything that causes me to suffer. 

I think this is a daily battle for many of us. We are sold comfort, security, entertainment, and convenience on every screen, billboard, broadcast, and notification. If all day long I choose ease, ease will become my God and I will prefer it to Christ. 

Which leads me back to the first point – We have to embrace the Cross on purpose. Maybe that means fasting or giving or doing something beyond our comfort zone. Maybe that means actively accepting and owning the suffering we already face. Whatever the case, to follow Jesus means to take up our cross even if that means suffering. The only way to embrace suffering is to trust in God. The only way to trust in God is to embrace suffering. 

LIVE IT: Pick up a cross. Literally. Go a find a cross or crucifix and hold it for 5 minutes and during that time ask God to help you take up your cross that day. 

Sunday Readings for June 28th, 2020.