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

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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. 

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