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.

Why?

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In times of great suffering it is common to wonder, “Why is this happening to us?” It’s a question that at its core is asking, “Why do I have to suffer?” I have been asking this question a lot in these days. Rather than settling on a perfect or definitive answer, I’ve been left holding the question in my hands. 

The good news is that the scriptures we read or hear at Mass this Sunday give us a little help with the answer. We’ll find some meaning in these scriptures because the reason we suffer is intimately tied to the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to suffer?”

In the gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of the road to Emmaus. Two characters are leaving Jerusalem to return home after Jesus’ death. When they meet a stranger along the road, who asks the travelers what they are talking about, they say, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.” Jesus then calls them fools and explains the events.

For me the phrase that gets me is when the two travelers say “The things that happened to Jesus…” Certainly Jesus suffered and was killed and those events happened to him, but the way it is phrased, clearly missed the point that Jesus choose his path. Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim, but glorious sacrificial victim. He suffered and died because that was the way to accomplish his mission to save humanity from death and sin. 

This gospel is from Luke, but in John’s gospel, Jesus always seems to be in control. The things that happen to him happen because he ultimately wants to accomplish his mission of love. Certainly Jesus asked for the cup to pass, and then he submitted to God’s will. Maybe he didn’t desire the cross, but he absolutely embraced it. Jesus’ desire was for love and a suffering sacrifice was the only way to love enough.

None of us would choose suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. Love requires sacrifice which often means suffering. We see it in small ways like doing the dishes when it is our spouse’s turn. And we see it big ways when someone sacrifices their life to save another. 

The suffering that we are experiencing doesn’t make sense unless we unite it with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Unless we offer it up to him and embrace it so that others might be loved, we might just think it is all meaningless. 

So what do we do in the face of great suffering? Love. I know that seems overly simplistic and trite, but it is the right answer. It has always been the right answer from the beginning of time and no one teaches us that more than Jesus Christ. 

When correcting the two travelers Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Our salvation was dependent upon it. Now we can follow in Jesus’ example, and sacrifice, maybe even suffer, so that others might know love. 

LIVE IT: When it comes to loving the first battle ground is our own heart. This doesn’t mean just be nice to yourself, but instead it means sacrificing something so that you get what you really need – Jesus. While the world is upside down, find 10-15 minutes extra each day when you can give up what you would normally be doing in order to listen to Jesus. Speak his name and sit in silence. BONUS: Show your family you love them this week. If they are the only people you see, they are the people you are being called to love well. 

NEW & IMPROVED LENT!

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I read online recently about a new concept that helps people control weight, have more energy, have a clearer, focused mental state, and sleep better. This new behavior seems to fix a number of problems plaguing Americans today. I fell for the click bait and read the article. 

What was the new miracle behavior? Fasting. The article explained the various ways athletes and celebrities are fasting from food to solve all their problems. Whether they were not eating very many calories on a particular day of the week or only eating for certain hours of the day and going 16 or more hours in a row without consuming anything, the article examined the tactics and benefits of this brand new way of self mastery. 

As a Catholic I tried not to roll my eyes and instead tried to find joy in the fact that people are discovering the temporal benefits of a 2000 year old traditional practice of Catholicism. It reminds me of a couple years ago when it was fashionable (and may still be) to give up meat one day a week for the environment. Well, duh. 

We hear this Sunday of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and his temptation at the hands of Satan. The very beginning of this reading says, At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” I think it is good to note that it is the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the desert. It was God’s will that he enter into a period of testing and self denial.

Also, I think the fasting was something Jesus chose to do. Maybe that is obvious to you, but in the past I kind of thought it was a trick of the devil to make him hungry. But that isn’t what the text says. Jesus’ 40 day fast wasn’t part of the devil’s plan, it was part of what Jesus went to go do in the desert. So why did he do it? Why fast?

Jesus was about to embark on his ministry to save the world. He was about to teach, preach, heal, uplift, convict and minister to those he encountered. Jesus was about to allow the very humanity he came to save to crucify him on cross and kill him. Jesus was getting ready to open the gates of heaven and triumph over Satan and death once and for all. To prepare for this, Jesus went into the desert to fast and to pray. 

This is why we go into the desert of Lent to fast and pray. To prepare to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  We fast and pray to get ourselves ready for the most momentous moment of your year – the remembrance and celebration of when you and were saved from certain death and eternal suffering. 

Why fasting and prayer? Because these actions are powerful. Saint Pope John Paul II said this, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” My encouragement this Lent is to actually try purposefully fasting. Really do it. And do it tied to prayer. 

If you have something you are praying for, big or small, I would encourage you to try uniting that prayer with sacrifice. If you know someone struggling or who is sick and needs prayer, offer those prayers, but tie in some fasting with it too. It is powerful. 

LIVE IT: Add fasting into your Lenten practice in some way. It isn’t just giving up food (although there is something to be said for fasting from food), but purposefully going without in an intentional way. Whenever and whatever you sacrifice, offer that sacrifice up in prayer by simply telling God your reason why. It’s that simple. 

Sunday Readings for March 1st, 2020.

Good at Waiting.

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The other day I was sick and needed to get into Urgent Care as soon as possible. I looked on line at various Urgent care locations and discovered that they posted their wait times online. I drove past 2 locations with hour+ long wait time to arrive an an urgent care with no posted wait time. Why? Because no body likes to wait. We are live in a time and place with shortest and fewest wait times. We have the lowest levels of patience when it comes to waiting. Instead of waiting, we take out our phones and do something. Waiting in faith is hard for us. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Simeon who the Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw the savior of Israel. He had to wait. Simeon waited day in and day out in the temple for the Lord to come. He didn’t know when Jesus was coming, but he still waited. How many little babies did Simeon hold hoping and wishing for the Messiah only to realize he had more waiting to do?

Can you imagine Simeon’s joy, delight, and exhilaration when he finally Jesus in his arms? That experience of anticipation and fulfillment must have be the core of Simeon’s faith. Yet, Simeon’s faith didn’t come from God’s fulfillment of his promise, but front he promise itself. Simeon waited in faith because he trusted God. 

Far too often when we pray we expect God to answer prayers faster than Amazon. We want what we want, when we want it, which is now. We are high-demand consumers of God’s love and goodness and we want our demands/prayers met in a timely manner. 

God knows our hearts. He knows and desires what is best for us. God responds to all prayers with either yes, no, or wait. Sometimes the waiting is the best thing that could happen to us. It is in the waiting that the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes it is in the waiting where we meat God face to face. 

LIVE IT: Find someone you trust to ask the following 4 questions:

  1. Are you good at waiting? Why or why not? 
  2. Are you waiting for anything right now?
  3. What have you learned while waiting for something?
  4. Have you ever waited for God to do something? What happened?

Sunday Readings for February 2nd, 2020.

Quit it now.

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Have you ever wanted to quit? On the TV show The Office, the longtime manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton, Michael Scott, quits. While being escorted out of the office, he makes an impassioned speech inviting everyone else in the office to go with him. Only one person takes him up on the offer, Pam Beasley the receptionist. Against all worldly reason she leaves a stable job working feet from her fiancé, Jim, to follow her irritating boss in starting a paper company in a bad and increasingly paperless economy. It’s the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. 

Why does Pam go? Why leave security and comfort for the unknown? 

Though there might be many reasons why people quit something, perhaps the most compelling reason is because we think we can be better, we can be great. That is how Michael Scott talks Pam into leaving.

In the gospel this weekend, we read the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. As a father and home owner, I am often mystified why these men who literally drop their nets, quit their stable sources of income, and follow this itinerant preacher. I think these men quit for the same reason Pam quits – they were called to greatness. 

Something about the call of Jesus sparked in them the realization that they were meant for more, made for greatness. Jesus also gave them a way to actualize that inner desire for greatness. 

One of the most famous quitters in history is St. Thomas More who quit being King Henry VIII’s chancellor because he disagreed with the Henry’s desire to divorce his wife and declare himself head of the English church. More’s greatness was found not in his power at chancellor, but in quitting. He was at his best when he quit. He was executed for his decision, but his story has been an inspiration to many in the 500 years since he quit. 

Jesus calls each of us to quit. Greatness isn’t only for the first disciples or ancient saints. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Not only are we all capable of greatness, God grants each of us all we need to answer the call to greatness. St. Benedict XVI said this, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

LIVE IT:

Okay, you don’t have to go quit your job today (then again…). But find something that brings you comfort and quit it, even if it is just for 1 day. With the new time, energy, silence, you receive, ask God to help you discover what greatness you are being called to. 

Sunday Readings for January 26th, 2020.

I can do it, daddy.

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My 2 year old son wants to do everything himself. If you have kids you totally understand this stage. My toddler got a taste of independence and now desires with all his little heart to do absolutely everything for himself. Unfortunately his fine motor skills aren’t equal to his desire for independence. Multiple times a day he needs help and often he won’t accept it. 

Virtually everyday this same moment happens in my faith life – only I’m the toddler. My desire for independence way out distances my spiritual awareness, self mastery, and discipline. I desperately want to heal, help, or grow myself. The reality is that I don’t have the capacity to do this. Frankly, neither do you. 

In the gospel for this Sunday, Jesus goes to John the Baptist to be baptized. John, understanding who is standing before him, tells Jesus that he isn’t worthy and that their roles should be reversed. Jesus tells him that John must allow it to fulfill all righteousness. 

A key spiritual skill is allowing Jesus to work in our lives. Often I think we resist Jesus. We say, we need to be better or smarter or cleaner and then Jesus can come in. We sometimes even say, “Jesus, you shouldn’t have to lower yourself to my level, no let me come up to you.” But of course, we can’t. 

We need to be like John the Baptist and allow Jesus to come close. We need to actually listen to Jesus and let him do what he desires in our lives. If we want to be healed, at peace, and in love with God, we need to give God permission to work in our lives – today. 

Live It: Stop everything right now and pray this payer. “Jesus I allow you to work in my life. I give you permission to heal what is broken, help with what I cannot do, and give what I need. Come Holy Spirit!” Say it until you mean it. 

The Fruit of Repentance

marina-khrapova-GbY8Xg5iTOA-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 8th, 2019.

My wife’s brother used to have this large and prolific apple tree in his backyard in Utah. It wasn’t ugly but it wasn’t great to look at either. It took up a lot of the yard and wasn’t good for climbing or much of anything else. It attracted bees (good and bad), and many pests. But did it ever produce fruit. Somehow this single tree produced twice as many apples as my brother-in-law and his family of four could consume even while making loads of apple sauce, pies, apple butter, and much more. 

When my brother-in-law moved to another state he planted more fruit trees because of the abundance of fruit from that one tree back in Utah. He wanted to try and recreate the same experience of a fruitful fruit tree. Why? Because it worked. A fruitful fruit tree was worth the work. 

In the gospel John the Baptist admonishes the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Later he explains that if their lives aren’t fruitful, they will be cut down and burned in the unquenchable fire. Yikes. 

Most of the time we consider things of faith to be kind of squishy. What I mean is, faith is a difficult thing to quantify and measure. And it’s true, we aren’t called to be successful, we are called to be faithful (St. Theresa of Calcutta).

John reminds us of a valuable truth of our faith. Though it may be hard to measure conversion or faith, and though we may never see the results of our work, if our faith lives aren’t fruitful, if they don’t result in a measurable good, then our faith is nothing more than firewood. In other words, if we are truly repentant and faithful to God, he will use our faithfulness to produce good fruit. 

I find it fascinating in John’s speech that it is our repentance that will produce good fruit – not our prayer or ministry, not our evangelization or kindness. No it is our personal conversion, our turning away from sin and towards God that will produce fruit. It is our becoming saints that will produce the fruit of faith in others. 

Want to produce good fruit? Become a saint. 

Live It: Go eat a piece of fruit. While you eat it, thank God for the deliciousness of fruit. If you can, take your time and go slow, savoring each bite. When your done ask God to produce fruit in your life. 

Surprise!

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Sunday Readings for November 17, 2019. 

My two year-old is obsessed with Lemons. I know we aren’t supposed to let him have them because of teeth or enamel or something like that, but I pick my battles, okay? The other day he whined when he saw a lemon slice in my water. As I acquiesced and handed him the lemon slice I said, “Now, you know it is sour?” 

Immediately he popped it in his mouth, took a big bite, and then made the sourest, squintiest, puckeriest face of all time. Then he looked at me in total surprise like I had tricked him in some way. I laughed. He laughed. It was all fine, but I couldn’t help but think, “What did you expect?”

Sometimes I think good Christian men and women are surprised when we get the short end of the stick from the world. We are surprised when we actually follow Jesus, that we might get putdown, ignored, and dismissed. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I often think I can follow Jesus and still be fully, comfortably, completely embraced and loved by the world. Consequently, when someone thinks I’m a religious weirdo who is “way too into church,” I’m surprised and disturbed. 

Jesus promises us we will be hated – not only disliked or disapproved of, but straight up hated for our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the king of good news (life over death, all sins forgiven, unconditionally loved by God, etc.), but Jesus also reminds us that there are forces that oppose the gospel and those forces will encourage hatred of all who seek to do the will of God. 

The question we must all answer as followers of Jesus is whether we are willing to be hated because of our love for Jesus. the truth of the matter is that we answer that question with our actions and our words.

Live It: Turn off the radio or podcast or music for 1 drive this week and think about the question “Am I willing to be hated for my love for Jesus? Am I willing to endure hatred for how I share the good news of Jesus Christ?

How to get found

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Sunday Readings for Nov. 3, 2019

Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was, “If you ever get lost, put yourself in a position to be found.” When it came to getting lost in a JC Penny when I was 5 years old and bored with shopping for school clothes, it meant to sit down and stay in one place until I was found. When it came to getting lost in the woods outside of my neighborhood it meant following the creek until it passed under a road and then hiking up to the road and finding my way home. 

In the spiritual life I think this advice is even more valuable. We get lost. Whether it is because we hitch our wagon to someone or some people who lead us away or we make our own way through sin and selfishness, humans seem to get lost regularly. Sometimes it’s a simple couple steps back on the path. Other times we need a major intervention to find our way home. 

In the gospel, Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus who is a thief and exhorter and short fellow. When Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree and in the process puts himself in a position to be found. When Jesus dines at his house, Zacchaeus repents and promises to make restitution. 

Christianity is different than all the other world religions. Religion is sometimes defined as man’s search for God. But for Christians, our religion is actually God’s search for us. For while we were still a long way off, God sent his only Son to become one of us, to live like us, and die like us so that we too can be saved. 

Jesus came searching for you and for me. 

The good news is that all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to be found. 

LIVE IT: Go to Church. Come sit a pew. Whether it is for Mass, Confession, or just some silent time, come and put yourself into a position to be found.