That’s Heavy.

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In the cinema classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses the 1980’s slang term “heavy” to describe the hi jinx he has unleashed with his unplanned trip to 1955. His friend Doc Brown responds by saying, “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

This is funny not only because of the mash up of 1955 and 1985, but also because Doc seems clueless to the meaning of the word “heavy” in this context and we the audience know exactly what Marty means. We know because the feeling of heaviness isn’t just 1980’s slang.  

We all know when a situation is heavy. We all know when we hear a story or statement that weighs upon us. We can feel it when we walk into a room and sense a heaviness among those already presence. 

On Monday I read the final three paragraphs of the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel at a Bible Study (online) in preparation for this coming Sunday. When I read about Jesus crucifixion and death you could feel the heaviness in the group. When we heard of Jesus’ suffering one could sense how heavy we all felt. When Jesus cries out and breaths his last, we paused, and we could feel the weight of this reality upon us. 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and Catholic Churches everywhere will read the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel. Granted it will be proclaimed to an online audience or to empty Churches in many places in the world. More than ever, it seems we know what it means to feel that somber weight of death and rejection. 

Another reality remains. While we may know what a heavy situation feels like, our God, the source of Light and of all creation, knows what our heaviness feels like. Jesus dying on the cross isn’t just about his suffering, but about ours as well. We have a God who knows what it is like to be us. We have a God who loves us so much that he wouldn’t let us persist in suffering without changing the story. In fact, he came to save us from suffering and death. Jesus died on the cross to conquer death forever. 

This week when you feel heavy, when the weight of the world falls on your shoulders, remember that you don’t bear the weight alone. Remember Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

LIVE IT: Let God give you rest. If it means an extra nap or a vigorous walk, when you feel light or rested, thank God for his gift to you. 

Read for your self: Sunday Readings for April 5th, 2020.

Faith Enough.

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A few days ago I read a tweet that said, “It’s easy to pray that God’s will be done when it lines up with what we want done.” I found this to be true. Recently I’ve found it much more difficult to accept what is happening in the world as either God’s will or what I want. For me at least it has been harder to pray that “God’s will be done.” 

Martha and Mary must have been scared and anxious when Lazarus got sick. They must have found a glimmer of hope that they knew a healer who they thought might be able to save him. Can you imagine what they felt when Jesus didn’t show up in time? Can you imagine what must have been like to be let down by Jesus? 

Jesus arrives too late and cries over the death of his friend. He asks them to take away the stone to Lazarus’ tomb. When the protest about the stench, Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

He then raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus prays to God out loud so that the crowds know that Jesus comes from the Father. Then he calls Lazarus out and the dead man rises. 

And that’s that. That’s kind of the end of the story. Many people came to believe in Jesus, but the scene changes in John’s gospel to the beginning of a plot to kill Jesus. 

When do we decide to believe? Do we believe Jesus and what he says about himself or do we believe only after Jesus has proved himself and do what we want? To be honest, I’m writing this question for myself because I need to hear it right now. 

We are living through the most uncertain of times. What I do know is that someone believed before they moved the stone and before Lazarus was raised. There’s nothing wrong with believing in Jesus after the miracle has occurred. However, someone has to trust God enough to believe him at his word and move the stone. Will it be us?

Live it: In Mark 9, a boy with a demon is cured and Jesus tell the boy’s father that things are possible for the one who has faith. The man responds, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Say that prayer as many times as it takes – “Jesus, I do believe; help my unbelief” “Jesus I trust in you; help me to trust you fully.” “Jesus I love you; help me to love you completely.”   

Do You Fear the Lord?

When my wife and I were first married but before we had kids, some friends asked us to family-sit their brood of children while they traveled out of town for a weekend. We had a blast. We fed them meals. We did their activities. We played games. The only thing was one of the boys wouldn’t talk to me. In fact, he usually rushed out of the room when I entered. Mystified we asked our friends what was he so afraid of. They told us, “He knows that you are friends with the priest and the priest is close to God on the altar. He figured that you are close to God and he is scared of God.”

Honestly, I’m pretty humbled by this. He thinks I’m close to God. As the tremendous sinner that I am all I could think about was how far away from God I usually am! Then it occurred to me that while it is true I can choose to turn my back on God, God chooses to be close to me.

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. He goes up on a mount with three of his disciples. His clothes insta-bleach themselves and the very voice of God speaks. They were walking next to God this whole time and only now understand exactly how close to God they had been.

The gospel writer says that they were very afraid. Jesus says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” The very disciples, the ones closest to Jesus, Jesus’ senior leadership group, were scared of God.

There is a way that we shouldn’t be afraid of God. Signs of this kind of fear of God can be if we pull away from him, if we hide from him, if we avoid church or prayer or even identifying as a church person. If we only see God as a spiteful judge ready to damn us for every mistake, that isn’t a real healthy vision of God.

However, I don’t think that is most of us. Most people don’t hold enough of a healthy fear of God. If you catch me in a moment of honesty, I will tell you that most of the time our understanding of God is far, far too small. God is too much like us in our minds. God is a “just bigger, smarter, more mysterious” version of a human. Because of that we don’t fear God. We don’t fear what we know as much as we fear the unknown. If we don’t fear God it might be because we feel like we know him much better than we really do. If we don’t have a healthy and holy fear of God, it’s because our understanding of him is just too small.

We do fear the powerful. We fear what could end our life like heights or snakes. Public speaking is the fear of the unknown – we don’t know what everyone thinks of us.

Acknowledging that God is marvelous and amazing and big and a little fear inducing while still trying to get close to him is an act of trust. Bowing down before him, holding the dual truths that God is far, far beyond us and yet desires to grow closer to us than we can imagine is an act of worship. Acknowledge the fear, draw close anyway.

LIVE IT: Take 3 minutes before bed tonight to think about your image and understanding of God. Answer these questions – Am I afraid of God? Why or Why not? How does my understanding of God influence my daily life?

Sunday Readings for March 8th, 2020.

All the Flavor.

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About 5 years ago, my dad and I tried to make our own, from scratch, Italian sausage. We found a recipe in an older cookbook that we thought sounded authentic. We ground up the pork shoulders. We prepared the casings. We added various spices and finally the kosher salt.

While we were adding it, I remember thinking, “This seems like a generous helping of salt, but I’m sure the author of this recipe has more experience and expertise than I do.” But something went wrong. 

After filling the sausages, we fried up a little of the bulk sausage meat just to taste it. WOW SALTY. No one could eat the sausages. We tried cooking them in tomato sauce, but even then we found our family suffering through dinner. This salt was salty and our sausage experiment was a failure. Bummer. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it should be thrown out. The thing is, salt can’t loose it’s flavor. Salt is salt. So what is Jesus talking about?

We, in the 21st century, have refined, pure salt in our spice drawer at home. But imagine a time when one bought salt from a neighbor who only sifted it enough to get the large chunks of dirt or rock out of the salt. As one used the container of salt and get near the bottom, one probably got to the point where one had less salt and more dirt. Thus it no longer was salt.

Salt seasons and salt preserves. Salt does particular things. If you tried to use something less than salt to do either of these we are going to end up with dirty or spoiled food. What we need in cooking and food preparation is authentic salt. We need the real deal.

When it comes to sharing our faith, we need to have the real and authentic faith. Can we have questions and moments of weakness? Absolutely, that is part of growing in faith. But when it comes to sharing our faith, we can only share what we actually own. When it comes to inspiring and preserving faith in our family and our friends, we can only do so to the extent that we hold true faith. 

You and I can fake it till we make in terms of our own faith life and devotion (and sometimes we must!), but we can’t fake it for anyone else. We can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t lead where we won’t go ourselves. If we desire or feel called to help influence the faith of our children, spouses, neighbors, coworkers, or friends, then the first person we must help grow in faith is us. We must get salty, if we are going to season the world. 

LIVE IT: For the next 3 meals add this following prayer to your food blessing. If you make these meals, saying the prayer when you season the food. If you are picking up food, say it during the blessing.

“God, Give me the true and authentic faith you desire for me. Help me to be salt for those around me.”

Sunday Readings for February 9th, 2020. 

Dwell.

Sunday Mass Readings for May 26th, 2019

When I was a kid, I used to love going to sleepovers. My friends and I would stay up late and watch movies and scarf candy. We’d sneak out of the house in the middle of night for no real important reason and then rush back inside when we got scared. In the morning, we’d sleepily eat pancakes made, usually, by the far too chipper dad of my friends. 

More than what we did, I loved the effects of a sleepover. Something about going to sleep and waking up in the same place seemed to bring me closer to my friends. I think this might be because sleeping in the same place is something that families do. Brothers and simon-matzinger-633741-unsplashsisters go to sleep and wake up all in the same house nearly every night growing up. So when we do this with our friends we begin to build family like connections. Maybe that is why freshmen year of college friendships seem to build so quickly. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus describes what it means to love God. Loving Jesus means following his word. Jesus promises that the one who follows his word will have Jesus and the Father come and dwell with him. 

Jesus is explaining that religion isn’t just a set of rules. There are rules. There is a way to be. But the rules are the purpose they are the means. They are the way to get God dwelling with us. God wants to go to sleep and wake up with us. Jesus promises God’s desire to be close to us. 

In our Catholic faith, God just doesn’t want to dwell with us. God wants to dwell in us. Through the Eucharist God shows he just doesn’t want to be around us, but he desires to literally enter into our very being and does so when we consume him. God does this so that we can also dwell in him.  

How important is this to Catholicism? When the bishops summarized what we believe in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the very first sentence in the very first paragraph says this:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.

Our very purpose in life is to dwell in God. Unable to do this perfectly, God reaches out and does this first by dwelling in us. 

LIVE IT: This Sunday, go to Mass, if/when you receive the Eucharist, pray, “God come dwell in me, so that I may dwell in you.”

 

“Glory” is an overused song lyric.

Sunday Mass Readings for May 19th, 2019.

Some have accused the writers of old-school Top 40 songs of using the word “baby” whenever they ran out of words or ideas. I think you could make the same accusation of Christian music writers of their wild overuse of the word “glory.” It seems whenever modern Christian lyricists want to make a vague mention of God’s general goodness, they tend to lean heavily on God’s “glory.” Glory

Though we may sing of God’s glory regularly, what are we even saying?

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus uses the word glory, in one form or another, five times in two short sentences. Take that Chris Tomlin. 

What is Jesus talking about when he says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”?

Glory is great honor or renown, brilliance or great beauty. In other words, Glory is something worthy of wow. Of course, for God, what is worthy of honor or renown is not what we humans tend to recognize. 

Jesus is glorified and glorifies the Father, not in his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, but in his degrading death on the cross. Jesus is glorified at the very moment that he is lowest by human standards. Jesus is brightest, at his darkest.  

The gospel quickly pivots from Jesus and God’s glory to Jesus writing a new commandment: love one another. Why? What’s the connection between Glory and Love?

True Love – self sacrificing, death on a cross kind of love – is maybe the only thing worthy of renown. True love glows with brilliance. Anyone who has seen a new parent hold their newborn infant, when that parent comes to realize they would happily give their life for this squirmy little thing, understands that love is brilliant and beautiful and glorious. 

Vainglory is selfish. Vainglory is seeking renown from anyone who will give “likes” to anything. Vainglory calls the truly ugly, beautiful. Vainglory serves the one who seeks it. 

Glory is the byproduct of self-gift, true love, self sacrifice.

We give God glory by recognizing his great gift of love, by worshiping him with our words and hearts, and by living our life according to his great commandment – Love one another. 

Live It: Try to Worship at Mass this Sunday. Seriously. Close your eyes and pray, “Glory to you, my God.” As many times as it takes. 

My Tribe Wears Red.

Sunday Mass Readings for May 12, 2019

I own 20+ pieces of St. Louis Cardinals clothing. Every 3979746363_c4fb638fc8_bmorning, after my morning prayers, I check the score of the Cardinals game and watch the highlight reel. This spring I flew to Florida for just 2 days worth of Cardinals Spring Training. I’m a fan of my St. Louis Cardinals. I belong to the Cardinals fan family. 

When I see someone wearing a Cardinals hat or shirt, I almost always say something and they almost always respond as if we know each other, simply because we are both fans of the Cardinals. My wife thinks this is a little crazy, and maybe she’s right. But these people are my people. St. Louis Cardinal fans are one of my tribes. 

What tribe do you belong to? What group do you identify with? How does that help you know who you are? 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus is saying that he has followers, a group, a set of people that he has called. This group knows who Jesus is, recognizes his voice, and follows him. What do they get for doing this? Eternal life. Followers of Jesus never perish, are saved from death, and live forever with him in eternal bliss. 

As much as I love my Cardinals, they aren’t the group that is most important in my life. In fact, they aren’t even in my top 3. The question we all have to ask ourselves is, “To whom do we belong?” Which group that you belong to is most important in your life? What association is most important to you? 

Do you belong to Jesus Christ?

Live It: How do you find out who you belong to? Listen for a voice to call you. Plan for 10 minutes of silence today or tomorrow. Listen in silence for no less than 10 minutes and try to listen for the voice of Jesus. He is calling. 

I love you, again (and again)…

Sunday Mass Readings for May 5, 2019

There are few things you only have to say once in life. When I got down on one knee and ben-white-167548-unsplashasked my future wife to marry me, I didn’t have to repeat myself. I only had to give my mom’s eulogy once. When my wife asked the gender of our 3rd child, I only had to tell her it was a boy once – after that, she knew. 

One thing we have to profess over and over again is our love for those whom we love. When we really love someone “having” to say I love you, isn’t a burden. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves. My 13 yo daughter wishes I could refrain, but most days, I can’t help but tell her how much I love and appreciate her. 

In the gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. If you read carefully you can almost hear Peter’s frustration when Jesus asks the third time. Why does Jesus do this? Peter denies Jesus three times, and this is his trifold moment of reconciliation and restoration. In another sense I think Jesus asks three times and Peter responds three times because telling someone we love them isn’t something we just do once. We have to do it again and again.

Interestingly enough, faith in God and trust in Jesus Christ isn’t something we just profess once, but something that we have to say over and over again. Why? Because faith in God and trust in Jesus is accepting and returning God’s love. Faith isn’t something we can just choose once, but something we have to choose each and every day. 

Maybe we have a moment, a story, when we, for the first time, seriously chose to make Jesus number one in our lives. The reality is that even if we have a first moment when we fell in love with the Lord, it wasn’t the last time we felt love for God. 

Why do we say the same words each week at Mass? Because these words are like saying, “I love you” over and over again to God. And more importantly, the words of the Mass is God saying to us, “I love you.” If you like hearing that you are loved, if you want to express to God that you do in fact love him, this is something we must do again and again. The best moment we do that each week is at Mass. 

Live It: Go to Mass this Weekend and when the Priest elevates the Eucharist whisper (or say in your head), “I love you, Jesus.”

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What’s your #1s?

Sept. 18 Sunday Readings.

I recently heard in a homily from Fr. Mike Schmitz (click here for podcast homilies), that 6a00d83451b36c69e201b7c87ccd69970b-600wibefore about 100 years ago the word “priority” was never pluralized. Like the word never had an “s” on the end of it. Now we talk about our “priorities,” but 100 years ago we never used the word like that. Why?

The word “priority” actually means “first thing,” and basic logic tells us we really can’t have more than one “first thing.” And yet, we try to hold onto many things as our first, most important thing.

Jesus calls us on our bologna in the gospel today. Jesus reminds each of us that, at the end of the day, only one thing can be our #1 priority. No matter what we do, no matter what we say, one thing always comes first. One thing will always end up being our most important thing. If we aren’t purposeful about choosing our priority, we might end up prioritizing something that actually enslaves us.

Jesus uses the example of money and possessions to explain that if we try and hold onto multiple priorities (with one being money) eventually, our money, our status, our possessions will work their way to the top and we will become slaves to wealth.

Honestly ask yourself right now – what is my priority? Stop reading and really think about it.

Ha! Caught you, you tried to list a number of things, like family, friends, church (cuz you thought you were supposed to), and maybe other things.

A simple (but not-so-easy) way to figure out your priority is to analyze where you spend your time and your money. It’s as straightforward as examining your calendar and your checkbook (or online banking statement).

Ask these questions:

  • How do you spend the most of your time?
  • If you have nothing else to do, how do you spend that time?
  • How do you spend the majority of your money?
  • If you have some extra money, how do you spend it?

Did you like your answers? Honestly, I didn’t like mine. Time to recommit to a new priority.

LIVE IT:
Figure out how you spend your extra time and money. If the answer isn’t the absolute best thing you could be doing with that time and money, consider fasting from spending money and time in those ways. Then pray about how you think Jesus would want you to spend that time and money. Tell me how this goes; I’d love to hear if anyone tries it.

Unexpected

For our first Valentine’s day after we got married, by wife told me she planned a surprise date. She said I needed to get dressed up nice and to have a light lunch because dinner was going to be memorable. My expectations were set for only the best of the best, the most interesting restaurant, the most creative food – she took me to White Castle. whitecastle2

You can imagine my disappointment. She thought it would be cute and funny and White Castle did a whole Valentines day thing with flowers and reservations, etc. My expectations were not met.

Usually when our expectations aren’t met, it’s something bad. When we say something is unexpected, it isn’t a good thing. If we are an ardent consumer of the news or twitter addicts, we might think that unexpected news is always horrible stories of terrorism, violence, or tragedy.

Our readings this Sunday say something different. Our God is the God of the unexpected. In the first reading, Moses seems to talk God out of destroying his chosen people (even if they deserved it). God unexpectedly listens to one of his creations. In the second reading, Paul explains that God took him, the worst of the worst, a blasphemer and killer of Christians, and have made him his missionary disciple to the world. God chooses the unexpected to serve him.

In the gospel, Jesus tells three stories that all feature an unexpected characteristic of God. The shepherd seems to abandon 99 sheep to save just 1. That isn’t what is expected of shepherds. The woman loses a coin, finds it, and then invites everyone over for a party that probably cost more than the coin. Not sound fiscal strategy. The betrayed and disrespected father is expected to punish his wayward son, but instead welcomes, loves, and restores him.

We think we know what to expect from God. Mostly, we’re wrong.

The readings this weekend invite us to be open to the unexpected love, mercy, and joy in our God. What do you expect from God? How do you expect God to respond to your sin? Are you willing to say yes to God and let him surprise you?

Live it:

Grab your phone and set a reminder – 7 a.m. tomorrow morning – to say this prayer, “God, surprise me today.”