Gift Giving is an Art.

Gift giving is an art. Some people are world class artists in gift giving. Others try hard and fail harder. Most of us have winners and the occasional dud of a gift. The worst gift I ever received was a pair of maroon socks when I was 6 years old from my grandparents. What were they thinking? These days I really enjoying a new pair of high quality socks for Christmas. Funny how time changes the success of that gift giving. 

In addition to the art of gift giving, there is an art to gift receiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t have that gift. When I received those aforementioned maroon socks, I couldn’t hide my displeasure and disappointment. Later my mom explained that saying thank you for an unexpected gift is not only polite, but it’s wise because you never know if you actually will want or use that unwanted gift, eventually. 

In the gospel, we hear about Jesus Christ giving us an incredible gift. This Sunday we will hear Mark’s account of Jesus instituting the Eucharistic Feast at the last supper. Jesus gives us his body and his blood to eat and drink. As challenging as it is the understand, Jesus isn’t speaking metaphorically when he says, “Take it; This is my body,” and “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

This gift of his body and blood is mirrored in his final moments on the Cross, when Jesus offers up his body and his blood on our behalf. It is in the cross that Jesus totally offers himself on our behalf. And so, when he gives us the gift of his body and blood at the last summer and at every Mass since then, we know he is offering himself completely to us. 

What did Jesus give us? Everything.

What does the ultimate gift giver look like? Jesus. What does a good gift receiver look like? Going by my mom’s advice a good gift receiver hubby receives the gift and doesn’t try and deny it. They offer thanks sincerely and explicitly. They put that gift to good use as soon as makes sense. They don’t waste or neglect the gift. 

For us that means that humbly receive Jesus in the Eucharist as Mass each Sunday. We don’t deny the gift either by skipping Mass or receiving unworthily. We offer out thanks to God during the entire Mass, but especially after receiving communion. When we leave Mass we go out and seek to live Christ centered, holy lives. In other words, we put the grace of receiving Jesus’ body and blood to good use. We love our neighbors as Jesus would love them. We don’t waste the grace or neglect God’s continued love and faithfulness. 

If you need a more concrete example, there is no better one than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary perfectly, humbly receives the gift of having the Devine within her (she was the first!). She is grateful. He puts the gift to good use. She never neglects Jesus, even when he was dying on the cross and it was painful and inconvenient to remain near to him. 

We all want to be good givers. As Catholics we need to grow to become good gift receivers as well. 

Live it: Go to Mass this Sunday and make the following prayer your single priority during Mass, “Jesus, Thank you.” 

Sunday Readings for June 6, 2021.

Hometown Kid.

As a sports fan, I am particularly moved when a player gets to play for his or her hometown team. When a young person grows up idolizing players on the local squad and then they join that team, it can be a powerful expression of realized dreams and hometown pride. 

Where we are matters.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus’ Great Commission of his disciples. He tells them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the mission of the Church. This is what we, the Church, are supposed to do with our lives. This is why the Church exists. 

With an important command like this, you would expect to be proclaimed from a mountain top or in the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus gives it to his disciples in Galilee. This region is literally the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for Jesus and the disciples, we wouldn’t even know it’s name. So why does Jesus give this important command in Galilee?

Galilee is where many of the disciples are from. It is their home region. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry began. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus’ saving work began in Galilee and ended in Galilee. 

When we think of missionary work, we usually think of going to a far off land in the middle of jungle or desert and speaking to groups of indigenous people who have never heard the name Jesus. The reality is that most of us are called to be missionaries to our own hometowns. We are called to minister and reach out and love the very people we live next to, whom we have known, and who know us. 

While some of us are called to go away to move to make the road our home and our ministry territory, the truth us that most of us are called to grow where we’re planted. To water the gardens that surround us. 

St. Therese of Liseux desperately wanted to the join the missionaries from her holy order who were being sent from France to Asia. She wanted nothing more than to “go and make disciples.” St. Therese never left the convent or France after she joined. Though selected to be a missionary her poor health kept her in France. She led a hidden life of prayer for the remainder of her life. At her death at 24, she is said to have told those around her God granted all of her desires.

Despite never going out on mission, St. Therese is the Patroness of Missions and Missionaries. She was a missionary where she was. She watered the gardens around her (she is also patroness of gardens and gardening). The Church could’ve have chosen any number of missionaries who traveled the globe to spread the gospel, but they chose a woman who never left her convent.

We are called to fulfill this Great Commission and we are called to do it right where we are. 

Live It: Jesus says love your neighbors as yourself. Who are my neighbors? How about the people who live next to you? You know, you’re actual neighbors. Whether you are in a house, an apartment, or a dorm, reach out to your neighbors, learn their names if you don’t know them and find a way to grow in friendship. After this past year, it might just be the best way to follow Jesus’s command. Be the gospel right where you are. 

Sunday Readings for May 30, 2021.

Making Peace with Rebels.

All couples fight. In fact, sometimes, when done fairly and well, it can be a sign of a healthy relationship. My wife and I are both passionate people who are fairly bad at hiding our emotions or reactions. We have been known to verbally spar a bit. 

If I am honest, we have even done this on the way to Church. Yes, I admit it, at times in our marriage, we will be in the midst of a disagreement or I’ve said something stupid or mean and we will actively fight on the drive to Mass. It isn’t a great way to enter into the Sacred Mysteries of Jesus Christ. 

Mass will proceed as mostly as normal and then we will all get to the Sign of Peace. I will turn to my wife, she will turn to me, and we will offer each other the Sign of Peace and without fail, we will be reconciled. Offering peace to each other works. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus Christ rises from the dead and appears to his disciples. The first thing he says to them is “Peace be with you.” In fact, he says it twice. For a long time I thought is was just because the disciples were actively freaking out because their dead friend and leader was standing, talking, and eating in front of them just 3 days after they watched him be publicly executed. I mean, com’on, we would be freaking out too. It makes sense that Jesus is inviting them to be at peace (calm down).

However, Jesus offers the disciples and, by extension all of us, something more than just an invitation to remain calm. Jesus is offering us the kind of peace that happens at the end of a war or battle. 

When we sin, we become rebels. We rebel against God’s divine plan of sheer goodness, perfect order, and overwhelming beauty. In a sense, our sin is a declaration of war against God and what God wants for us in our lives. To reject God’s plan for us is to form a rebellion. Certainly Jesus came to heal, teach, proclaim the kingdom, and restore Eden, in other words, to save souls. To do this he has to make peace with our rebel forces. Jesus Christ makes that peace by not only offering it to us unconditionally, but he makes all the concessions. Our only responsibility is to cooperate with Jesus and respond to his offer of peace. 

The peace Jesus offers the disciples in this Sunday’s gospel isn’t only an invitation to remain calm, but is an offer of peace to all us rebels in the human race. To receive that peace, and eternal peace, all we must do is surrender our rebellion and receive the Peace of Christ. 

Live It: This Sunday at Mass offer your family members an authentic and heartfelt Sign of Peace. (Maybe warn then ahead of time.) If you attend Mass alone, offer peace to those in your area and pray for them throughout the rest of Mass. 

Sunday Readings for May 23, 2021.

Did Jesus Oversell Discipleship?

While some struggled with the daily requirement to wear a mask during the Covid pandemic, few suffered deeper inconveniences than those who wear glasses everyday. I don’t wear glasses, but I watched daily as coworkers and friends would don a mask and their glasses would immediately fog up. 

To the rescue was a anti-fog spray that supposedly eliminated this first world problem. I bought some, applied it to my sunglasses, and sure enough the first time I used it, MAGIC! It worked. Unfortunately it didn’t work more than a couple more times before I was reapplying it. The daily reapplication was too much and I soon abandoned the practice. I was a victim of the classic oversell.
An oversell is when the reality of the benefits of a product or experiences don’t live up to the marketing or advertisements. This can happen with huge ad campaigns and it can happen in our private lives. If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by a restaurant after a friend just raved about it, you know what I am talking about.

Does Jesus oversell in the gospel this Sunday?

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. Then he goes on to say all those who believe will be able to drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink poison, and heal the sick. 

I don’t know about you but to this point I have been avoiding drinking poison and handling venomous snakes. I have prayed for people to be healed, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laid hands and healed someone. I speak about 25 words of Spanish and I can’t name a time I drove a demon out of someone. How about you?
So are we not believers? Are we believers, but Jesus oversold on the effects? 

First, I am a believer, and I’m sinner (a tremendous sinner, in fact). I try everyday to avoid evil and do good, but I fail everyday too. I got to confession often. I share all this to say that I am a believer who falls everyday. Take a beat and ask yourself, are you a believer (and maybe a sinner too)? 

If you answered yes as I did, then the next question is why can’t we do all the stuff Jesus promised? One answer is that I haven’t really tried to do all of that. It’s probably not the prudent choice to test the Lord by leaning into these items just to see if I make it. So I am going to continue to avoid drinking poison and holding snakes. 

I think Jesus’ point here is that being a believer, following Jesus and joining the mission to save the world, has life and death implications. Being a believer doesn’t mean we will be saved from physical death. What it does mean is that the choice to follow Jesus is a life or death decision. If we want to live forever with God in perfect delight, then we need to be a believer now. It matters what we believe, what we think, what we do. Not because we earn heaven or earn God’s love, but because when we believe in the Lord of life, the result is life. When we are in love with God, we life life to the fullest. Faith is life! Believing in Jesus doesn’t disappoint; it isn’t a oversell. It is life!

Live It: Take 10 deep, deep breaths. Breath slowly and purposefully. With each one, pray this simple prayer to Jesus, “Jesus I believe.” Breathe and Believe. 

Sunday Readings for May 12, 2021.

Are you antsy?

By nature, I am a fidgeter. The 2nd most common question of my childhood was “Chris are you feeling antsy.” (The most common was, “Are you hungry?” I could eat.) Sitting still just isn’t something I take to easily. As a younger person, if you would have given me the option of sitting on the beach or hiking in the mountains, I would have picked the mountains every time. How about you? Are you antsy?

As I get older I am getting better at remaining still. I no longer do a little dance while I brush my teeth. I don’t get up from my desk every five minutes while trying to work. I play an imaginary kick drum under the table during dinner. I might even pick the beach over mountains sometimes. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

In our culture we don’t often glorify the act of remaining. In fact, more often than not, we vilify people who remain. It’s as if the act of remaining grates against our need to produce or to move forward. Remaining is seen as the act of the coward who isn’t bold enough to head out on adventure. Maybe in some sense that is true at times. 

However, Jesus commands us to remain in his love. It isn’t a suggestion or invitation, it is a commandment to remain. Then Jesus explains that the way to remain in his love is to keep his commandments just as he has kept God the Father’s commandments. Follow Jesus. Do what he says. Remain in his love. 

The reality is the we fail to do this every day. Instead of remaining in Jesus’ love, we venture out in sin and selfishness. We get spiritually, morally antsy. 

If you are the kind of person who struggles to sit still, you understand the feeling of restlessness. I think we sometimes get this feeling when it comes how we practice our faith too. We feel like we must not be doing enough. We feel like we haven’t earned God’s love. We feel like we gotta go do something to be a better Christian. 

Jesus tells us this Sunday that what we really need to do is remain in his love. If we are seeking to follow Jesus’ commandments, then we just need to stay where we are. If we are receiving the Sacraments and engaging in daily prayer, remain in that. If we living lives of service and sacrifice that aids our fellow humans, we should stay right there. 

Don’t over complicate our faith by getting antsy. Avoid evil. Do good. Pray. Remain in Jesus’ love. 

Live It: Practice remaining in Jesus’ love by practicing sitting still. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes and then simple sit in silence and listen for God. Do it once today or once a day for three days and see what happens.

Sunday Readings for May 9, 2021.

1 way to let go of CONTROL

Superstition is a funny thing. All kinds of humans practice it. Baseball players are notorious for it. I know grandmothers who throw salt over their shoulder if they spill during baking. Some people wear certain colors when they have important meetings. 

Some superstitions just make good common sense. Opening an umbrella indoors, especially in a small space, could be dangerous. Walking under a ladder is asking for something to fall on one’s head. While other superstitions have more spiritual origins. It’s said knocking on wood for good luck comes from the pagan belief that wood spirits will be awakened and come to your aid (or scare them off, depends I guess). 

What all superstitions do is seek to give us control. Some superstitions even seek to give us control over the uncontrollable. 

Humans want to be in control. We desire to have power and dominion over our existence. More and more it seems, especially for us in wealthy countries, people believe they have control over absolutely every aspect of their lives. Some folks learn through various experiences just how limited we are in controlling our lives. Others seek to hold onto control no matter what. We all probably know someone who considers themselves a control freak. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd. We’ve heard this gospel and the main sentiment countless times. The image of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one most Christians are familiar with. But there is curious message at the end. 

Jesus says,
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.

Jesus proclaims that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. What does this mean? Jesus is claiming to have power over life and death. Jesus is claiming control over the very forces of nature. Jesus is claiming to be God. 

Only God has power over life and death. Only God knows the length of our days. Jesus is explaining that he has been given a command from the Father to die and to rise. 

While we wish we had control and do a number of silly behaviors to try and gain control, we know that death is one thing we don’t have control over. No matter how advanced medicine gets, not matter how healthy we live, the death rate continues to be 100% ultimately.  

So what?

First this gospel and the fact that Jesus has power over life and death (and we do not) is a healthy and good reminder that Jesus is God and we are not. It is good for us to remember this. As we get more and more sophisticated and seem to have more and more control over what we eat, who we talk to, what we do, we need to be reminded we are not in actually in control and that is good. 

Second, this gospel is a reminder that we will die. Sorry if that is bummer of a thought. The good news is if we know Christ and growing in an intimate, loving relationship with him and seek spiritual communion with God through the Sacraments of the Church, this death won’t be the end. We have a God who conquered death through the cross. Jesus is in control. 

Live It: There is a great tradition in the Church that helps us to remember our death which helps us live for God now. It’s called Momento Mori. Check out this site all about Memento Mori written by a Catholic sister who used to be an atheist. Super Awesome.

Sunday Readings for April 25th, 2021.

I could eat.

“I could eat,” is my favorite response to the question “Are you hungry?” I like this response because of how much I appreciate the act of taking a meal. There is something human about having a meal or sharing food with someone. Also it acknowledges the truth that sharing a meal and physical hunger are only weakly correlated. A meal is about so much more than simply meeting a caloric need. 

My family of origin and the family I married into understand the importance of sharing food. Okay that may be the understatement of the week for me. When I broke some rules and got in trouble my senior year of high school my punishment was that I had to be home for dinner every single night of the week. What genius. It was a painful punishment for an active and social high school kid and by it’s very nature I reconnected and my family sought to heal the broken relationship caused by my breaking of trust. 

In the gospel reading this Sunday we hear about another appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Jesus shows them his wounds and then asks for some food. They give him a baked fish and he eats in front them. What a strangely specific detail. Why would Luke include this aspect of the event? I think it is because of the importance for two things: Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the effects of sharing a meal. And I think they are related. 

It would be easy to misunderstand the resurrection. I think most of our culture does. It is assumed that Jesus was kind of like a ghost or some sort of spirit when he appeared to the disciples. The gospel writers go out of their way to demonstrate this isn’t the case. Jesus was physically, bodily resurrected. Luke even says the disciples thought he was a ghost, showing that they knew he was truly dead. Then they physically touch Jesus and even watch him eat food. Spirits don’t eat. Spirits don’t have wounds you can touch. Jesus does. The dead man really is alive again. 

Jesus eats more than once while appearing to his disciples. He eats cooked fish and breaks bread with his disciples. He wants to show them that sharing a communal meal is at the very center of Christian community. He want to show us that sharing a meal is at the center of our faith community as well. It is in these meals that Jesus’ identify is revealed to to those who don’t recognize him. It is in this meals that the reality of his bodily resurrection is confirmed. The post resurrection meals recorded in the gospels matter to the Church and to our faith. 

Mass isn’t extra. It isn’t nice that we get to do it (I mean, it is). Mass, a shared meal, is necessary for the Christian life. Mass is where we most vividly encounter the resurrected Jesus! Our communal meal is where we are fed and fortified and prepared to go try and save the world. Mass is where we realize our faith in the Father, resurrected Son, and Holy Spirit is real. Live it: Go to Mass. I get it. It may have been a while. You may not be going out to eat or going to Costco, traveling, or going to kids sporting events – in other words, avoiding crowds are all costs. But make this the first thing you do when you come back. You need Mass. 

Sunday Readings for April 18th, 2021.

You don’t even know.

I could say that I’ll never forget getting my wisdom teeth removed, but that would be a lie. Sure I remember going to St. Luke’s hospital in St. Louis, Missouri to the dental surgery floor. I remember the medical person talking to me about the Cardinal’s off season moves while she started the IV that would eventually knock me out. I remember waking up very loopy and making my parents ride the elevator up and down before heading to the car. I remember getting home and my buddy Drew bringing me a cookies and cream milk shake from Steak-n-Shake. 

I remember all that, but I don’t actually remember the removal of the wisdom teeth. I was unconscious, thank goodness. When I woke up the teeth were gone. It happened even though I didn’t remember it. The truth is that some of the details of my wisdom teeth removal, I only remember because my parents told me about them later. It’s kind of like when we remember the color of the carpet in the room where we were a baby, but only because someone showed us a picture of us in the room as an infant. 

In the gospel this week we will hear incredible stories of the resurrection. The Church remembers these stories. Not only through them being recorded in Sacred Scripture, but also in the lived Tradition of the Catholic Church. People like you and me remember these moments. They just happened to be followers of Jesus in the 1st and 2nd centuries. 

John writes at the end of this piece from his gospel that, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” In other words there are many other things that Jesus did between his resurrection on Easter Sunday and his Ascension that aren’t recorded. Jesus performed many more miracles. He appeared to more people and in more places. 

I think this doesn’t just apply to the disciples and his immediate followers but there are many, many other moments when Jesus appears that aren’t recorded in scripture. In fact, I would say Jesus has appeared, healed, preached, ate with his followers countless times in the last 2000 years and we’ve recorded and remembered publicly very, very few of these moments.

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He acts in the lives of his faithful followers. He speaks to us. He heals us. He forgives us. He really is truly alive and active in our lives today just as we read about in the Bible. 

A significant majority of the moments, maybe even most moments, we experience the resurrection haven’t been recorded. Just like not remembering the extraction of my wisdom teach, we don’t always remember or even realize the moment that the resurrected Lord comes into our lives and acts with saving grace. Sometimes we do feel and experience the effects of the resurrection even if we didn’t see it happen. We can know the change in our lives, even if didn’t recognize at the time how the resurrected Christ came to us. 

Do you believe that Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead, is working in your life? Do you believe he is actively preaching, healing, changing, and calling you? Do you believe in “many signs…not written” in the book of your life? Is Jesus alive?

Live It: Say this simple prayer tonight when you go to bed, “Jesus, thank you for loving and caring for me, even when I am not aware.”

Sunday Readings for April 11th, 2021.

That’s Unbelievable.

“That’s UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!” If you are sports fan you’ve probably heard the word “unbelievable” throne around a lot. Maybe the most famous USA sports call of all time was a question from Al Michaels asking, “Do you believe in miracles?” Believing the unbelievable seems to be an important aspect of the fan experience. 

When we say something is unbelievable, we often mean unlikely. When the Vikings are down by nearly a touchdown in the final seconds of a football game it is unlikely that they will win. Yet, the Minneapolis Miracle happened. Some things do happen that are so unlikely that we just can’t believe they really occurred. 

Jesus’ empty tomb could easily be labeled as unbelievable. 

What a miracle. What an incredibly unlikely thing. Maybe the most unlikely outcome of Jesus’ life from simply a human perspective. When people die, they generally stay dead. Yet, when Mary of Magdala and then Peter and John arrive at the tomb they find it empty except for the burial clothes. 

I think most of us take the reality of the empty tomb for granted. We don’t stop and think about exactly how unbelievable the resurrection really is. The truth is if there is not resurrection, if the tomb isn’t empty, then our faith is significantly impacted. Some would go so far as to say that if the tomb isn’t empty then our faith is empty. 

In the face of such an unbelievable, unlikely reality, we have to make a decision. Do we believe? Are we willing to ascent to the reports of the gospels that Jesus was raised from the dead? We have two choices. Either he rose from the dead, conquered death forever, saved all humanity, and is worthy of our worship and total devotion, OR Jesus didn’t raise from the dead and he is a dead man. Everyday you and I pick between these two choices. 

If we believe the unbelievable, we then walk into a deep and abiding relationship with the God who loves us enough to die for us. If we state with our whole being that tomb is empty and Jesus is risen, then we will be a people truly free from the bonds of death and slavery to sin. If we believe, then we can live as a people free from fear. 

If you want to be free, if you want to be truly alive, if you want to believe the unbelievable then say it with me this day, “THE TOMB IS EMPTY! ALLELUIA!! HE IS RISEN ALLELUIA!!!” 

Live It: Listen to this song Because He Lives from Matt Maher. It’s a good one. 

Easter Sunday readings for April 4th, 2021.

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.