There are good people in hell.

Sunday Readings for September 29, 2019

steve-knutson-lQ2BzDNmnHE-unsplash.jpgThere’s nothing wrong with being a good person. Being good is just fine. The problem lies in what we define as a “good person.”  For the most part, I think we label someone as a good person if they don’t upset someone else. Stay in your lane, support the status quo, keep your eyes ahead and don’t rock the boat. A good person is good to their own family, mostly, and does just enough to leave a good impression. A good person is someone who is nice and polite. 

I bet the rich man in this Sunday’s gospel was thought of as a good person. Go read the gospel (click here). He doesn’t commit any atrocity. He stays in his lane. He is just a good guy. He does what is expected of him. 

What this parable tells us then is that being a good person is not enough to enter into eternal life with God forever. Being simply good (i.e. nice, polite, not trouble), doesn’t mean a person is on their way to eternal glory. 

While the rich man from the parable doesn’t do anything horrible, he also doesn’t do what he could to care for his neighbor. And this is the crux of the matter. Salvation rests not on being morally neutral, but on being sold out for love. It isn’t enough to avoid evil, we also have to do good. Not because we earn heaven, but because our salvation resides with Jesus Christ. 

We say yes to Jesus with more than our words, but with our lives. We say yes to Jesus when we actively seek to love and to love well. The rich man might be a good person, but he doesn’t love well. To love is to sacrifice for the good of the other, and the rich man fails to do that for Lazarus. 

When it comes to our culture’s definition of a good person, the bar is pretty low. We were made for more. We were made for Love. 

Live It:
Identify and then do 1 thing that serves someone else that you don’t want to do or normally wouldn’t do. When you do, say this prayer, “Jesus, I don’t want to do this. But I do it for you.” 

Squandered.

Sunday Reading for September 22nd.

jakob-owens-Np_nvRuhpUo-unsplash.jpg

Growing up my room was always a complete wreck. Depending on the year I had piles of clothes, dirty dishes, soccer cleats, baseball gear, empty CD cases, books, school papers, and an unnecessarily high number of legos strewn everywhere. It was embarrassingly messy. Even my friends would tell me my room looked trashed. 

Now, no matter what we say and do, no matter what consequences we cook up, my two girls can’t keep their rooms from looking like Old Navy dumped 3 clearance racks in the middle of their floor. They will clean them one day and two days later their entire closets and dressers are emptied onto the floor yet again. 

This summer both girls were home during the day so we tried to get them to clean their rooms during the 40+ hours of absolutely free time. We’d say something like, “Hey kiddos, you two aren’t going swimming at the lake on Saturday with us if you don’t get your room cleans by Friday afternoon.” With grim determination they will tell us that they will be done by Wed. Have no fear. Come Friday at about 1 pm. they will still be tucked away still trying to get things right. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t go try to do it. They would go up each day and turn on some music and start the process. Then each one of them would get distracted by a found toy or a group text the older one needed to respond to. It wasn’t that they ignored our wishes or actively disobeyed our command. They just squandered their time. 

In the gospel Jesus tells us about a steward who is summoned by his master for squandering his masters money. It wasn’t that the steward did anything particularly bad. He wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t kill or commit adultery or curse or lie. What he did do was not take advantage of the great gift of responsibility that his master had given him. He squandered his opportunity. For that, his master was about to fire him.

I think in the spiritual life more than actively rebelling against God, it is much more likely for us to squander the opportunity to grow in holiness. Choosing reading the paper over reading the Bible isn’t bad necessarily, but it is a squandered opportunity. Watching Netflix until we can’t hold our eyes open any longer and then skipping prayer before bed isn’t some horrible sin, but it is a squandered opportunity. Ignoring the poor and lonely in our midst because we have other responsibilities isn’t always bad, but it is a squandered opportunity. 

The reality is this, the master calls the squandering steward and asks him to make a full account for his actions. What if God called you tonight to make a full account for how you have spent your time, money, and energy this past week? What would you have to say?

LIVE IT:
Identify 1 minute (60 seconds) of squandered time this past week. Give that time back to God this week in prayer or service of other. Make note of it in your calendar. Try for 2 minutes next week. Keep going till you convert 10 minutes a day from squandered to profitable. 

An honest reaction.

Sunday Readings for September 15th, 2019.

I want to direct a short film which depicts the 3 lost parables of Luke 15 (spoiler alert, kal-visuals-6JNdQAitqWU-unsplashthis is the gospel for this coming Sunday.) 

The reason I want to artistically represent these parables is because I think most people’s reaction to hearing them is fake, lame, and personally dishonest. It’s not our fault really. We’ve heard these parables so many times that I think we tend to ignore their je ne sais quoi. I think we easily dismiss them as a lesson in acceptance and general nice-ness.

When it comes down to it I want to show the part of the story that Luke leaves out – namely, the honest and real reactions of everyone listening to Jesus. 

When Jesus says, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” and then have one of the Pharisees say, “Hey Jesus. No one. Not a single one of us would do that. That is stupid. That man is a bad shepherd. Why are his sheep in a desert anyway?” 

Then when Jesus describes the woman who loses a coin and throws a party to celebrate the finding of said coin, I want catch on film, the emphatically confused and questioning glances shared between Scribes (and maybe between the disciples too). Why waste more money than the coin is worth celebrating finding it? Please someone with a finance background talk to this woman about retirement planning. 

Then when Jesus really goes for it and tells his audience about the dignified Jewish man who gives away his inheritance and then runs (like a common slave) to meet his now gentile son (you know – the one who not only wasted his financial inheritance, but also his very identity as a Jew), I want to see half the audience roll on the ground laughing at the wildly unlikely story while the other half shout with great support for the righteous older son. 

God’s mercy is crazy. It doesn’t make sense. We don’t deserve it. But he offers it to us. God gives it freely because we don’t deserve it. The moment we think we don’t need God’s mercy is likely the moment right before we do something that proves our need for mercy.

I need mercy and need it badly. I need mercy to be excessive and irrational and free. I don’t just want God’s mercy and love – I need it. Without it, sharing a trough with a sounder of swine would be a dream. 

Do you need God’s mercy? Why? How do you know?

LIVE IT: Go to Confession. There is no greater moment of mercy than a full, rich, specific, honest, life giving Confession and the absolving of sins. Even if you’re not sure you have any mortal sins on your heart, go and receive the grace given in the sacrament. 

 

Blue or White or Neither.

Sunday Readings for August 18th, 2019.

blue-black-gold-white-dress.jpg

Remember a couple years ago when there was a huge controversy about whether a particular dress was blue and black or white and gold? 

People used this moment to reflect on perspective and how different people see things differently. That’s all well and good. We do see things from different perspectives and we need to be aware of other’s perspectives. Yes. Do that. 
Also, the dress was one or the other. Right? The dress couldn’t and can’t be both. It is either white or it is blue. The dress could actually be a third thing – neither white or blue. However, the thing the dress couldn’t be was both. 

Jesus talked in the gospel this Sunday about how he is coming to bring division. This grates against our general perception of Jesus as nice guy and peaceful guru. Jesus doesn’t mince words, he will cause division. 

The division he causes will flow from the fact that he mere existence is a truth that is opposed. The division flows from opposition to his true and right teaching. Jesus’ mission is to save the world and establish the Kingdom of God, and there are those who work totally and completely against his mission. 

Being a follower of Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean we should seek or avoid conflict and division. In other words, we don’t cause division. However if we do follow Jesus, we are promised division and opposition. 

The question remains for us, what we will do in the face of opposition to our faith? What we will do when we have to pick between following Jesus and unity at all cost?

LIVE IT: Name a strongly held belief that you know is opposed by others? Now pray for them and pray for yourself that God’s truth reign. 

Are you ready?

Sunday Readings for August 11th, 2019.

hal9001-AKYjr-kmYtQ-unsplash.jpg

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?

Are the Avengers, real?

Sunday Readings for August 4th, 2019.

clement-m-JIOP2qvo8yk-unsplashIn addition to long walks, running through sprinklers, and late night bonfires, my family has been watching all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer. Good versus evil, superheroes, mostly quippy dialogue, self-sacrifice – everyone in my family finds something they enjoy in these films. 

Last night we watched Avengers. In the middle of an intense battle scene, Captain America jumps between two uneven pieces of the flying Helicarrier. When he lands and then saves the day, both of my daughters snickered. They giggled. And I heard their eyes roll in unison (I’m a dad, I can hear eye rolls). 

I asked them why they were snickering and almost in unison they both replied, “Ha, well, that isn’t real.” I ignored for a second the desire for reality while watching a movie about superheroes, interdemensional travel, and Norse gods, and I asked them why they thought it wasn’t real. My older daughter said that it just didn’t look real. Like you could tell it was computer animated. It just didn’t look authentic. 

This 2 seconds of video from a 90+ minute movie that is almost entirely unreal was the only time my kids scoffed at how real things looked. When an army of aliens, with 4 thumbs each, attacked New York City, my children didn’t bat an eye.  

We aren’t as good as we think we are at recognizing what is real and what is not. Even in our own lives, we can find countless examples of times we perceived something incorrectly or were tricked into seeing something that wasn’t there. This is the whole basis of the TV show Brain Games. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus warns against greed. Not only because greed rots the soul and drives us mad with self obsession, but also because greed causes us to care deeply about things that aren’t real. Greed puts value on what isn’t ultimately valuable. 

In C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce, when the main character goes to heaven, he finds a place more real than Earth. Heaven is so real that the people who were flesh and blood a mere moment ago are now ghost like. The grass is so hard, so real, that it cuts into people’s now ghost like feet. 

All we take for granted as real, we perceive through our senses. We see, hear, taste, and the rest what we consider reality. 

Jesus comes to tell us that there is something even more real than what we perceive now. Jesus warns us that if we care too deeply about what we believe to be real now, we will put far too much value on what is truly nothing more than dust. When we value what isn’t valuable, we will miss what is truly real and valuable.

My prayer is that each of us grows rich in what matters to God. May we fall in love with that which is most real. 

LIVE IT: Take a screen fast for 24 hours. No TV, no phone for entertainment, shopping, etc., just use it as a phone as necessary. During that time consider praying, asking God to show you what is real. 

Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama

Sunday Readings for July 28th, 2019.

marco-albuquerque-EyItxWgbefc-unsplash.jpg

“Mama   Mama   Mama    Mama   Mama MamaMamamamamamamamama.” – my 19 month-old son. 

My poor wife. I mean honestly. My toddler son only knows a few words. Sometimes “yes” means “no.” Sometimes “no” means “if you say so.” When he says “dada,” it almost always means, “Yay! Look, it’s my dad over there.” But when my son wants something he says “Mama.”

Sometimes he does this to actually get her attention, but most of the time I think he chants this mantra as a reminder to us and himself that he is need of something. And he almost always needs something. If you are a mama or you live with a mama, who has a toddler constantly calling for mama, then you know what a burden this can feel like.

In my toddler’s defense, he’s learned this behavior. He’s learned that if he doesn’t get what he needs/wants when he points to it or screams or just tries in silence, he has learned that if he says mama again and again and again, something will happen. 

Needless to say, my wife doesn’t always give him what he wants. No, of course not. But she always turns to him and somehow responds “Yes” “No” or “Wait”.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in this Sunday’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t just teach us what to say, but how to pray – with persistence. 

Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Midnight Caller (just made up that title ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), that the owner of the house will get up to help his friend just becasue his friend is annoying. While we might think this doesn’t make God sound very good, the core of this parable is about our action, our prayer. Jesus knows that persistence is more important to fruitful prayer than perfect diction. In other words, if we think we can craft the perfect prayer that will convince God to give us what we want, then who we believe in is ourselves. 

Praying with persistence reveals that we know we can’t attain what we are asking for. To pray with persistence demonstrates our need for God. Persistent prayer ultimately shows that we know that what we really need is God himself. If we keep calling God’s name, he hears and he answers. 

LIVE IT: Set a timer on your phone for 2 minutes. Start that timer and then begin saying the name of JESUS over and over. Say it slowly. Say it as a prayer. Pray the very name of Jesus.