On my own!

May 13th Sunday Readings.

“NO! I want to do it on my own!” Could very well be the motto of 4 year olds everywhere. child-542146_1280If you’ve ever tried to tie the shoelaces or put on an inside out coat of a 4 year old then you know what is like to be denied the ability to help. Just a little bit of learning and competency seems to embolden preschoolers maybe past their true ability. 

Of course, the same is true of us. A little bit of success in loving well or practicing faith and most of us are quick to say to Jesus, “Lord don’t worry, I’ve got this.” In my experience, that phrase whether uttered explicitly or lived implicitly always directly precedes a spiritually humbling moment which reminds me of my need for a savior. 

Mark’s gospel tells us this Sunday about Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples to go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This call extends to all of us. We are all invited to renew our efforts to spread goodness, love, and joy that can only truly be found in and through Jesus. If each new generation is a new continent to be evangelized, we still have much to do. 

After Jesus ascends the gospel says that the disciples went out to preach and scripture says, “…while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” I love this line. “The Lord worked with them.” The reality is that all that we do that is good and righteous, we do with God. Our actions cooperate with God’s work. And God works with us. 

Following Jesus Christ and inviting others to know Jesus is hard work. Maybe as hard or harder than fine motor skills for a preschooler. The good news is that we don’t do it on our own. The Lord works with us. Don’t try to go alone. Let God help. 

Live It:

Make your first prayer today, “Lord help me to pray.” Make your second prayer, “Lord work with me today.” 

Sleep and Discipleship.

March 25th Sunday Readings.alexandra-gorn-471463-unsplash

When I was in my 20’s I had a Holy Hour in the Adoration Chapel at HNOJ from midnight to one a.m. I really liked this time slot because I was usually the only one in the chapel, which allowed me to really focus. The only problem with this time slot was that it was at the end of what was usually a 12-14 hour work day in youth ministry with a gap between the end of ministry 10 p.m. and the start of my hour 12 a.m.

One night in particular I was so tired and as I knelt down at 12:02 a.m. in the chapel, I prayed that God would use that hour of prayer in whatever way he desired. The next thing I knew, I was awoken by the sound of the outside door unlocking. I bowed my head reverentially realizing that it was one a.m. and I had slept for my entire Holy Hour.

As I left the chapel and the next adorer settled in, I felt tremendous guilt because I could hear the words Jesus says to Peter in the gospel this Sunday, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I couldn’t stay awake for one hour with Jesus. Terrible.

Later that week, I was confessing this story to a friend. At the end, he simply said, “You’re wrong.” He went on to explain that I had prayed that God use that hour as he desired and the fact I slept the entire time seemed to indicate that the way he wanted to use it was for me to rest. My friend went on to say that rest and laziness are two, seriously different, things.

Rest is an essential aspect to discipleship. Jesus rested. If we are disciples of Jesus and disciples try and follow the example of the master, then we need to rest too. The problem is that we confuse rest with entertainment, amusement, and the satisfaction of our physical desires. Have you ever gotten back from a vacation and needed another vacation? Me too.

In addition, we can get all turned around on rest. Some people “work for the weekend.” In other words, they act as if the purpose of life is entertainment while work is just what we have to do in order to get to the good parts of life. When one lives like this, their “rest” actually becomes their work. And most of their life is spent doing something they despise.

Both of these traps keep us from actually seeking the kind of rest that we need and desire. When we seek amusement, we often don’t get the rest we need. When our time-off is our focus, it is a slippery slope towards constantly seeking pleasure and serving ourselves. Neither end well.

So how do we rest? It sounds overly simplistic, but the answer really is to rest near to God. The answer, like so many things, is to not only give God our work, burdens, and sufferings, but to give God our leisure, fun, and rest. The second thing that I think helps is actually resting. Turn off everything. Block out some time on Sunday afternoon to really, truly rest. (Don’t be ashamed to nap.)

Live It:
Prayer a blessing over each weekend. On Friday when everyone is home from work or school. Or when you are all in the car heading to whatever. Say a short prayer of blessing over your weekend, asking God to help you rest. Here is an example if you need one:

“Generous and loving God;
We thank you for this week of work and learning.
As we turn our attention to the weekend, we ask your Holy Spirit to come and bless us these next two days.
Be present Lord in our play, relaxation, and rest. Help us to rest in your Spirit so that we may love and serve you with our of our strength. Amen.”

Give up.

February 18th Sunday Readings.

What do you think of when you hear, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”?

For me, I get derek-story-306918worried and scared. I think, “I’m caught. He knows.” Sometimes, I even start to think of the things I’ve done wrong and worry about what Jesus, and maybe others will think once they know I am a fraud and a sinner.

It’s as if I am in a fortress and an invading general is calling for my surrender. It is as if he is calling for me give up, and open my doors so that his troops can come and take me away.
In the gospel and in our lives, the exact opposite is happening.

Instead of being the leader of the invading army, Jesus is the leader of the liberating army. In stead of screaming at the walls of my citadel for me to open my doors and receive my just punishment, Jesus proclaims with joy, “GOOD NEWS! It’s finally safe. You can come out, all will be forgiven.”

We still have to surrender. We still have to admit to my sins. We still have to give up and give in. But instead of surrendering to our enemy, we are surrendering to our savior. As long as the doors are shut to Jesus, the pestilence of sin persists. It’s not only safe to open the doors to Jesus, it is the only way we will survive.

Repent, and believe that when you do, God loves you unconditionally, and Jesus has saved you.

LIVE IT:
Repent! Step 1: make a list of the things you need to turn away from. Step 2: Confess it. (The best way, seriously, is in the Sacrament of Confession). Step 3: Believe the good news that God loves you unconditionally and you are forgiven.

Mary had it right.

December 24th Sunday Readingsangelico_annunciation

Life is complicated. Whether it is family or work or buying mustard, it seems like our daily decisions get more and more complicated each year. It can feel like the whole world is out to fool us out of our time or treasure. We’re constantly told that if we don’t do this or that, we are going to mess up our lives and miss out on being, owning, or having the best.

In the gospel this Sunday Mary shows us that faith is simple. Having faith is as simple as saying yes to God. When God asks something of us, we just say yes. It really isn’t more complicated than that. When we say no and turn away, we head down the road to unhappiness and death. When we say yes to God, we walk down the path of joy and fulfillment. Simple.

Mary doesn’t promise us it will be easy. In fact, to say yes to God is to love and to love is to sacrifice. Mary’s own life is an example of this truth. Mary watched her own son suffer and die, but her yes changed the world forever.

Mary didn’t just say yes to God with her words to Gabriel that are recorded in our gospel. Mary’s life was a yes. She eagerly strived, in her own way, to say yes to God. Saying yes to God isn’t just something we say; it is something we do.

How do we know what God is asking of us? Read scripture, pray daily, and go to Mass. What do we do when we mess up? Go to confession and give God another shot.

It’s not more complicated than that.

LIVE IT: Between today and Christ, say yes to God in prayer and ask God to show you how you can say yes with your life.

Immediately.

November 19th Sunday Readings.

Are you a procrastinator? I’ll admit it, there is nothing quite like a deadline to help me procrastination.jpgcomplete my work. Part of the reason is that I like to keep my options open when it comes to tasks. What if new information comes and I’ve already done? I know that procrastination has got me in trouble more than once. Are you a procrastinator? Has procrastination ever gotten you in trouble?

In the gospel this weekend Jesus tells a parable about a Master and three servants. The Master gives an obscene amount of money to each servant while he is away. When the Master returned two of the guys have doubled their money, while the third servant has simply hidden the cash and hoped for the best. The Master praises the first two servants while the third servant is called wicked and lazy and is thrown out of the house and into the darkness.

The key to this reading for me is one word – immediately. When the Master gives the money to his servants and goes away Jesus says in the parable that, “Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two.”

The servants who get to share in the Master’s joy don’t wait. They don’t hesitate. They don’t put off their work until tomorrow or until they feel like it or until the circumstances are better or until they get invited or until….you fill in the rest.

If we wait or hesitate we may not have time to double our money. If we wait to invest spiritually in our life or our spouse or our children, we may not have enough time for our efforts to be fruitful. If we procrastinate working with the great gift of our life that God has given us, we may not be able to share in the joy we could have if we work not.

What’s the lesson? Don’t wait! Don’t wait until tomorrow to pray, go to Confession, give forgiveness, or serve someone else. Go, now!

Live It: Take 5 minutes (right now!) to decide what can you do in the next 24 hours to grow your faith, grow closer to Jesus. Then make a plan to do it in the next 24 hours.

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.