Why is it Good?

The other day I was leading a group of Seniors (not high school students), in Bible Study. This is a pretty loose and casual group. A lot of jokes. Many of them at my expense. Fun. But this particular week we read an excerpt of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Mark.

Something was off. They were quiet, somber even. I asked what was wrong and didn’t get a full answer. It dawned on me, we had just read a Passion account and they were moved by Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus’ death is gruesome. He suffered much for us. It makes sense for us to be in a bit of a grim melancholy after hearing it. So why do we call Good Friday, good?

I heard a priest say that it is Jesus Christ and the Cross that makes this life good and wonderful and justified. Without Jesus and the Cross this life is meaningless and empty. The choices he says is either Jesus or nothing. 

If things in this world are good or true or beautiful, they are that precisely because of Jesus Christ and his suffering on the Cross. The Cross redeems us, certainly, but it also redeems a fallen, broken, and suffering world. 

Pain and suffering aren’t proof that a good God doesn’t exist, but instead are the very reason for which we need a God who will come and make these things make sense. God takes that which seemingly hurts us and uses it for good. He does this through the Cross. 

It is for this reason that we call Good Friday, good. The day that remembers the death of God and the great suffering of that very being who had come to save us from needless suffering and death is the ultimate good to us. It is through Jesus’ suffering that our suffering is redeemed. It is through Jesus’ death that our death is conquered. It is through Good Friday that Easter Sunday is possible. 

How much does God love you? Enough to die for you. How good is Good Friday? So good that it changes all that is bad and gives it meaning. Without Good Friday all is lost. With Good Friday all is gained. 

Live It: On Good Friday, from noon until 3 p.m. turn off any and all entertainment. No TV, no phone, no music (Mozart Requiem Mass is the exception). In the silence simply thank God for the great gift of the Cross. 

Good Friday Readings for April 2nd, 2021.

Note Bene: I will be posting an Easter Reflection on the Easter Gospel this Sunday, you know, like on Easter. Check back for that brief reflection on the Resurrection.

Material vs Supernatural

I’ve never felt the cold of Siberia. I’ve never climbed Kilimanjaro. I’ve never white water rafted down the Colorado River (but I have shot rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado!). I trust that the stories I’ve heard and the pictures I’ve seen are real. I put faith in the people who have recorded these things and reported them to me. I’ve never actually experienced them for myself.

Just being alive takes faith. 

Believing that my next breath will have enough oxygen for my to survive or that my next bite of food isn’t poisoned is an act of faith. In this way, everyone has faith. Everyone puts their faith into something.

Increasingly, people are only putting their faith in things they can experience. It seems that even people of Christian faith would prefer to only believe in a radically material Christianity. For the materialist, Jesus is just human and the miracles of the scriptures (and the last 2000 years) can all be explained away with “natural” explanations. 

But the truth is that this material faith isn’t Christianity at all. No matter how you slice it, Christianity is a supernatural faith. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in rational thought, nor does it mean that everything that seems to be weird or out of the ordinary is supernatural. But to follow Jesus and to believe in what he teaches is to believe in the supernatural. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus proclaims that his mission is coming to an end and it is time to glorify God on the cross. Jesus laments the suffering he is about to endure, but still assents to the will of the Father. With that, a booming voice from heavens proclaims that He glorifies and will glorify.

Those who heard the voice tried to explain it away. Some said it was thunder. Others said it was an angel. While both are common ways to represent God speaking to humanity, at its root, this represents an effort to explain away a supernatural event using natural means.

Many do this same action with every single miracle of the New Testament. Thomas Jefferson had a version of the Bible where he had all the miracles and supernatural things cut out so that only the sayings of Jesus remained. 

This way of understanding Christianity and Jesus is dangerous because it isn’t true. Removing the supernatural from Christianity is wrong not only because it is an inaccurate representation of what Christianity really teaches, but also because it makes it easy to interpret Christianity as simply a lifestyle choice.

Christianity isn’t a lifestyle choice. Following Jesus is the way to survive death and be happy forever. Following Jesus Christ isn’t a nice way to get through life, but it is the greatest of joys that totally and completely changes everything about what it means to be alive. 

LIVE IT: Tonight turn off all the lights in your room, get down on your knees and pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). Pray it until you mean it. 

Sunday Readings for March 21st, 2021.

I Declare Bankruptcy.

If I’m honest, I’m a big fan of the TV show The Office. I wish I was a better person and used my time for more noble pursuits, but I just really enjoy watching this show.

One of my favorite moments is when the regional manager Michael Scott runs out of money and stands up in the office and yells in a commanding voice, at the top of his lungs, “I DECARE BANKRUPTCY!!” See, he had just be told that bankruptcy was a get out of jail free card and that he wouldn’t have to pay back his debts if he just declared bankruptcy. 

Only after this public declaration did his employees explain that there is much more to declaring bankruptcy than just saying it out loud. 

You might know someone who is like this in their faith life too. Whether it is checking a box on a form or answering the new neighbor’s question about whether they belong to a Church, they will say they are Catholic. However, a simple examination of their life will show that they haven’t taken too many steps to act like a Catholic other than to declare it. 

Don’t get me wrong, a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Church is important to being Catholic. We do it every single Sunday when we stand in the middle of Mass and recite the Nicene Creed together. Yes that is our altar call, that is the moment we stand and declare we are Catholic. 

It’s just that saying we are Catholic isn’t enough. Not because we have to earn salvation or earn God’s love – of course not. But because if we really believe, if we really are choosing to follow Jesus Christ, then that choice demands more than just words. 

Catholicism, like love, is something we do, not just something we feel. Catholicism and following Jesus is an active pursuit. Not because God demands it but because if we really ascent to believing in God and in what Jesus taught, then we will change our lives in response to it. 

We declare our faith with our actions. 

If I tell my wife I love her, but never acted like it, what would she think? The same is true in our faith lives. If we say we believe in God, but don’t act like God really has any say in your lives, what do we really believe?

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the famous line from the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” What most people don’t realize is that later in the same speech Jesus explains that believing means acting. That if one believes in God and in the light of the gospel, then their actions will follow. He says this at the end of this Sunday’s gospel, “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

Do you believe? Live it. 

Live It: Want to know what you are supposed to go “do” as an active Catholic? You should check out what are called The Precepts of the Church. These are 5 things that the Church says are the very basic actions of Catholics. Check them out here.

Sunday Readings for March 14th, 2021.

Unexpected.

When I was about 11 years old, I was waiting outside of my elementary school. I was taking a summer science program and I had just completed my journal of native plant species. A shiny, silver, two door sports car pulls up and out of the driver’s seat pops Tony Pena. Tony was the starting catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. For a kid in St. Louis this was a big deal. It’s kind of hard to explain how amazing meeting a Major League baseball player was for me in this moment. 

Tony was picking up his son who was also there for a summer program. He graciously greeted all the children and was signing autographs. I got Tony’s signature on my native plant species project and walked home in a daze. I don’t think set that piece of construction paper down for about two weeks.

I didn’t expect to come face to face with a real, live St. Louis Cardinal that random summer afternoon. In reality nothing major actually changed in my life, but my day seemed to be totally upended and the next week was completely different than the previous or the next, just because of this unexpected encounter. 

The woman at the well in this Sunday’s gospel didn’t expect to meet anyone important when she went to go get water. In fact, she didn’t expect to meet anyone at the well. The gospel says it was about noon when she went to the well to get water. Noon wasn’t the normal time for women to get water. Typically they would do it first thing in the morning to avoid the midday heat and to have water for the day. 

Instead of no one, she encountered the most someone who has ever lived. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came into her life. He didn’t give her an autograph, but instead offered her living water. He knew her troubles and gave her peace.

God can break into and show up in the most unexpected places in our lives. 

Imagine if we actually looked for and expected to find God. How could God work in our lives if we actually invited him in and sought to have him show up not only in the unexpected times, but always? 

Often we don’t do this because we don’t want to be disappointed. If we ask for God to come into our lives and don’t find him, we are fearful we will loose faith or have a reason to be angry at God. This is a real concern. 

The reality is that if we humbly invite God in, he will come. If we let go of our desire for the kind of control that seeks to know when and how God works and instead lets him love and heal us without us even knowing – God will do this. God wants to intimately act in our lives. God isn’t some distant Olympian deity just watching and occasionally throwing a lightning bolt. God is wildly present in our lives. If we will pay attention and invite him in, we will find him. And he will find us. 

LIVE IT: Every time you unlock your phone today say this 3 word prayer, “Come Lord Jesus.” OR Pray the prayer “Come Lord Jesus.” 100 times today. Do whichever one is more. 

Sunday Readings for March 7th, 2021.

A Tip or Trick that Works.

I’m a sucker for a tip or trick. When I see a link from a DIY magazine and the article is titled, “21 Tips and Tricks to Keep your Garage Clean,” or “13 Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Lawn,” I can’t help but click. 

The worst is when those titles are just click bait and the tips and tricks don’t work or are unrealistic. When I find that gem of an idea, go try it, and it works, oh the glory! When I find a tip or trick that actually works, it can make the difference. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus brings his executive committee of Peter, James, and John up a mountain, and before them he is transformed. How so? He was radiant. So white, no one on earth could have bleached his clothing to that shine. With him was Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets of the Old Testament. It was a sight no human had seen to this point in history. But they would see it again. 

The Transfiguration is a prefiguring, a taste of the resurrection. It is a glimpse into the future reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter’s natural inclination is to want to erect tents and stay on the mountaintop because he understandably wants to stay in the goodness of the resurrection. Of course they must go down the mountain and complete the mission. 

The transfiguration is a reminder to us now and to the disciples then that Jesus accomplished what he came to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus works. Christianity works. God saves us. Jesus’ mission was and is a success. When we read the account of the resurrection, we are reminded that Jesus saves and the result of that salvation is glorious. 

In the midst of our daily grind and the ups and downs of our faith it can be hard to keep the goal in the forefront of our minds. The transfiguration is a glimpse into the goal that has been and will be accomplished – our resurrection. 

LIVE IT: Here are 5 Tips and Tricks for a more fulfilling faith journey. No seriously, check out this new initiative called the Synod at Home from my Archdiocese. It is a plan for families, individuals, couples, whoever, to make a faith plan for their household. It is simple in it’s idea, but seemingly effective. It’s full of Tips and Tricks. 

Sunday Readings for February 28th, 2021.

When the Desert is Good.

I was shocked to recently learn that the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic Desert. Yes, like the south pole and all that. The 2nd largest is the Arctic Desert (aka where Santa lives). They qualify as a deserts because they get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. Usually when I think of a desert I think of sand, cactus, and tumble weeds. But the largest deserts in the world are full of ice, wind swept rocks (no sand), and are cold. 

Whether the frigid polar deserts or the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserts are not comfortable places. Typically people who are caught in a desert want to get out as soon as possible. In movies when someone is caught in a desert, they are shown trying to walk out as soon as possible. We even use the metaphor of the desert to describe unhappy or uncomfortable times in our lives and in our faith. 

So it is a bit shocking in the gospel this Sunday when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…” Capital “S” Spirit. It is the very Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the desert. In the desert Jesus will be tempted and tried by the devil. Jesus will suffer and sacrifice for 40 days while in the desert. Yet this is all part of God’s plan. God chose for Jesus to be put into a deserted place and to be subjected to temptations from Satan. 

The thing is Jesus doesn’t run from the desert. Jesus could have walked out in 40 days. Jesus didn’t flee from God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus even allowed himself to be challenged by his enemy in that place.

I think this teaches us something about the role of desert in our life and how we should respond to it. First we shouldn’t flee. When we encounter hardship and dry times in our life, we may be tempted to flee from them. This may lead us to seek comfort in the world. Instead, I think the answer is to be still. Rather than run, we should quiet our hearts and minds and be still right where we are. This will allow God to find us. This puts us in the place to experience what God wills for us in the desert. It also demonstrates that we trust God. If God wills a desert time, then show we trust God by leaning into it instead of running from it. 

Secondly, when we encounter a desert period in our life, we should be bold. When Jesus does leave the desert following the arrest of John the baptist, he begins to boldly proclaim his role and mission in the world. Jesus comes to call us to repent, join the movement of the Kingdom of God, and boldly believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from death. Whatever reason the Spirit of God has for driving us into the desert, we are being formed to go and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord. 

If the desert is ultimately a gift from God to form us into courageous sons and daughter in faith, then when we experience it, we must be still and when we exit, be bold. 

Live It: Take out our phone, open whatever calendar app you use, and schedule a 30 minute meeting with you a God for sometime this week. During that time, sit in silence, be still, and wait for God to speak to you. Make some intentional desert time this week. (If you haven’t figured out what you are doing for Lent this year, maybe commit to this once a week or 15-20 mins a day?)

Sunday Readings for February 21st, 2021.

Go-To Guy

If my snowblower won’t start, I call Brandon. When I need to haul a bunch of stuff, I call my friend Jim. When I have a question about how the economy works (or which piece of scripture best suits a question), I text Todd. These are just some of my Go-To Guys. To be honest, my list of Go-To Guys is really quite long. 

A Go-To Guy is the someone you call when you need help with something for which you are not the expert. More than that, a Go-To Guy is someone you can 100% rely on and you know that they will are willing to help even when it isn’t convenient for them. When something goes wrong, you can lean on a Go-To Guy. When something goes right a Go-To Guy is someone you want to celebrate with. And of course, Go-To Guys aren’t just gentlemen. We have plenty of Go-To Gals as well. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus goes to Simon and Andrews house. Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. This fever was life threatening. Mark’s gospel tells us, “They immediately told him about her.” When it comes to the sick, possessed, or ailing, Jesus is the disciples Go-To Guy. 

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and she gets up and starts making dinner. 

When word spreads the entire town starts bringing their possessed and sick to Jesus. He heals and frees one person after another. Later after spending the pre-dawn hours in prayer, Jesus explains to his disciples that preaching and healing is the purpose for which he has come. Jesus’ mission is to be the world’s Go-To Guy. 

The word that got me in this Sunday’s gospel is “immediately.” It wasn’t just that Jesus was the Go-To Guy for the disciples. They went to him immediately. 

What is our first instinct when it comes to going to Jesus? When do we go to him? Why do we go to him?

It seems to me that Jesus is our Go-To Guy for life and death. When it comes to eternal joy in the face of suffering and death, Jesus is our Go-To Guy. The key is that we turn to him immediately. He is the first call. Jesus is our primary healer. Don’t wait, run to him, immediately. 

Live It: For 1 week try a new way to pray – micro prayers. In addition to your normal prayer routine, go to Jesus with your prayers immediately and briefly. For Example: When you go to drive somewhere – Thank God your car started. Pray for someone you pass on the street. Pray for everyone inside a medical building you pass. Pray for the children when you pass by a school. Thank God for beauty when you see a snow covered tree. Make Jesus your Go-To Guy in the small stuff too. 

Sunday Readings for February 7th, 2021.

Abandoned.

As a 9th grader I was selected to be a headline and caption editor for my high school newspaper. I was excited about the role and looked forward to getting to know the much cooler upperclassmen who ran the newspaper. One night I had a particularly late editing session. Somehow there was a miscommunication and neither of my parents came to pick me up. They both thought I was with the other one. I sat out on the steps of the school for an hour, not really sure what to do as the school was locked and the only payphone was inside (needless to say I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.)

I felt abandoned. It is a horrible feeling. Eventually my parents picked me up, but the dread of what it felt like to feel abandoned is something I’ll never forget. 

To abandon something feels more intentional that just forgetting or leaving it. I lost a coat in 5th grade, but I wouldn’t say I abandoned it. When I think of abandoned cars or malls or towns, I have this sense that the abandoned item was left on purpose. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus calls his first disciples in Mark’s gospel. Jesus calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John who are all professional fishermen. These four men had jobs, livelihoods that supported their families. Jesus calls out to them and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Scripture tells us that they immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. 

The didn’t just leave their nets or forget about their nets. The first disciples didn’t wander into Jesus’ teaching. They intentionally and purposefully abandoned their jobs, their livelihood in order to follow Jesus. 

Fishing wasn’t bad for them. It wasn’t sin or evil they left behind. They abandoned a good thing to do a better thing. They were purposefully in laying down, sacrificing, their income in order to follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus takes radical abandonment. We can hem and haw and say we like Jesus. We can be fans of his work and preaching. If we want to really follow him and become like him, it will take a radical abandonment. We will very purposefully have to leave something behind. As difficult and sad and scary as that may be, we may need to abandon the thing we currently love the most to follow Jesus. 

Abandonment is hard. The gospel of John tells us that the first thing Peter did after Jesus died was to go back to his old job and start fishing again. It’s difficult to abandon security, control, or practical considerations. The reality is that for most of us there is something in our lives that we clutch desperately to that is keeping us from more fully following Jesus. Abandon it. 

Live It: Make a list of the top 5 most important things to you. Take that list and abandon it somewhere. Leave it in a trashcan in a park. Leave it at HNOJ on the front desk (I dare you). Leave it in the adoration chapel. When you do, tell Jesus you are abandoning these things because you want to follow him more fully. 

Sunday Readings for January 24th, 2021.

Hyper Critical to Well Pleased

When was the last time you were a jerk? Maybe your answer is never because you are good and pure. For me, it was probably right before I wrote this sentence. My primary mode for jerkiness is being hyper critical. On the one hand, if one isn’t critical at all they may lead a pretty mediocre life. If all is good and fine, then it seems that noting is excellent. On the other hand, being hyper critical can lead to radical dissatisfaction and a fore mentioned jerkiness. 

While being hyper critical can weed out the hidden broken and soiled aspects of anything, being hyper critical also tends to find something wrong with everything. 

I think many modern folks tend towards being hyper critical. It seems to show sophistication to disapprove and disparage everything. To be critical is one of the ways modern people seem to show care, as in, “I care enough about this thing to criticize it.” Food critics hate most food it seems. Movie Critics hate most movies. Sports Talk radio is mostly ripping the local squad. It’s almost as if the only way we know how to engage with something is to criticize it. 

In the gospel we hear about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. The heavens open, a dove descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God himself says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

Well pleased. 

When was the last time you were well pleased? Maybe the answer is all the time because your life is perfect, but I’m guessing not. God is well pleased, I think, for two reasons. First of all, God is talking about Jesus. Jesus is perfect. Jesus is holy. Jesus is about to embark on the rescue mission of preaching, healing, and saving. God is well please because Jesus is obedient and submitting for the work he was brought into this world to do. 

Secondly, God says this because he is God. God isn’t hyper critical. God is hyper forgiving. God is hyper healing. God is hyper patient. God is hyper loving. Yes, of course, we can be critical of things we love, but the way I think most of us are critical is not done with the kind of love that God has for us. No, God is well pleased with Jesus because God is God. 

While none of us are Jesus and don’t deserve the praise Jesus received in the gospel, the God who was well please with Jesus is the same God who loves you and me. God was well please with you at your baptism as well. God loves you and can’t wait for every moment he gets to pour love and grace upon you. God wants to be well pleased with you and I every single day we take breath. By our Baptisms, may we be saved and may we hear God say to us, “This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” 

Sunday Readings for January 10th. 2021.

(almost) Everyone Likes a Compliment

Listening to the radio the other day I heard something truly unexpected. Two comedian were engaged in what they called a “Compliment Battle.” I remember dis battles of the 90s where comedians would say mean things about each other, but a compliment battle is completely the opposite. Apparently it is a thing. There was a host and rules and at the end the audience voted as to who was the kindest, warmest, and most generous with their adversary. 

What was crazy was that I could hear the smiles through the radio. People were beaming with joy. Both participants cried at times for how blessed and amazed they felt in light of the other comedian’s words. Just listening to it (and even thinking about it now), I can’t stop smiling and feel like a million bucks. Compliment Battle – who knew?

Everyone likes receiving compliments (even when we pretend not to enjoy it – i.e. Midwesterners). Of course they are better from someone who really knows us and who specifically names things that are true about us. A good compliment is one of the simple, but powerful pleasures in life. Whether it is giving them or getting them, compliments fill us with light and life. 

So it is strange that in the gospel when an angel of the Lord comes to Mary and says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Mary doesn’t respond with joy. The gospel of Luke says that Mary was troubled by what was said. It wasn’t just that an angel appeared, but it was the words themselves that troubled her. What about the idea that she might be graced and near to the Lord would trouble her?

I’m not sure I know a great answer to that question. Rather than ask why she was troubled, I think it helpful to ask the question, “Why was she graced? Why did the angel say these things to her?” The answer is just a couple lines later on in verses 30-33. She is graced because she is about to bear a son named Jesus. That child of hers is about to save the world. 

Mary is especially graced and close to her Lord because of Jesus. It could be that Mary is troubled by the words of the angel because she doesn’t yet know why she is graced. Mary doesn’t think of herself as particularly blessed and holy because she doesn’t yet know the role she is to play in the salvation of all mankind. 

Mary is humble. She doesn’t see why she is so special. It is because of her closeness to Christ and her humble yes to bear the Son of the Most High that she is full of grace and near to the Lord. 

If we want to be humble and holy and blessed, then we must become like Mary – close to Jesus. At Christmas we too can say yes to God and welcome the Christ child into our lives. We too can say yes to Jesus being born into our everyday. Whether we thing we are worthy or graced or not, God wants to be near to us too. 

Live It: This Sunday, pray a simple prayer inviting God more into your life. Whether you’ve done this a hundred times, or never done it before, try it. If you go to Mass, say this prayer right before you receive communion. If you are streaming Mass at home, say it with your spiritual communion. The prayer can be as simple as, “Lord Jesus Christ come into my life.” or mirror the words of Mary, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Sunday Readings for December 20th, 2020.