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.

NEW & IMPROVED LENT!

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I read online recently about a new concept that helps people control weight, have more energy, have a clearer, focused mental state, and sleep better. This new behavior seems to fix a number of problems plaguing Americans today. I fell for the click bait and read the article. 

What was the new miracle behavior? Fasting. The article explained the various ways athletes and celebrities are fasting from food to solve all their problems. Whether they were not eating very many calories on a particular day of the week or only eating for certain hours of the day and going 16 or more hours in a row without consuming anything, the article examined the tactics and benefits of this brand new way of self mastery. 

As a Catholic I tried not to roll my eyes and instead tried to find joy in the fact that people are discovering the temporal benefits of a 2000 year old traditional practice of Catholicism. It reminds me of a couple years ago when it was fashionable (and may still be) to give up meat one day a week for the environment. Well, duh. 

We hear this Sunday of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and his temptation at the hands of Satan. The very beginning of this reading says, At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” I think it is good to note that it is the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the desert. It was God’s will that he enter into a period of testing and self denial.

Also, I think the fasting was something Jesus chose to do. Maybe that is obvious to you, but in the past I kind of thought it was a trick of the devil to make him hungry. But that isn’t what the text says. Jesus’ 40 day fast wasn’t part of the devil’s plan, it was part of what Jesus went to go do in the desert. So why did he do it? Why fast?

Jesus was about to embark on his ministry to save the world. He was about to teach, preach, heal, uplift, convict and minister to those he encountered. Jesus was about to allow the very humanity he came to save to crucify him on cross and kill him. Jesus was getting ready to open the gates of heaven and triumph over Satan and death once and for all. To prepare for this, Jesus went into the desert to fast and to pray. 

This is why we go into the desert of Lent to fast and pray. To prepare to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  We fast and pray to get ourselves ready for the most momentous moment of your year – the remembrance and celebration of when you and were saved from certain death and eternal suffering. 

Why fasting and prayer? Because these actions are powerful. Saint Pope John Paul II said this, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” My encouragement this Lent is to actually try purposefully fasting. Really do it. And do it tied to prayer. 

If you have something you are praying for, big or small, I would encourage you to try uniting that prayer with sacrifice. If you know someone struggling or who is sick and needs prayer, offer those prayers, but tie in some fasting with it too. It is powerful. 

LIVE IT: Add fasting into your Lenten practice in some way. It isn’t just giving up food (although there is something to be said for fasting from food), but purposefully going without in an intentional way. Whenever and whatever you sacrifice, offer that sacrifice up in prayer by simply telling God your reason why. It’s that simple. 

Sunday Readings for March 1st, 2020.

Absolutely Perfect.

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Two kinds of people inhabit this big blue marble we call home – those who love the Olympics and those who don’t. I for one love the olympics. The grandeur and spectacle of the opening ceremonies. The triumph on the faces of the athlete replete with medals. The agony of the defeat of those who get edged out into 4th place. The celebration of the unlikeliest athletes from the unlikeliest countries just competing at all. It all is exciting to me. 

I much prefer the timed competitions, but there is something exciting about the judged sports like figure skating, gymnastics or diving. That moment when the culmination of years of work has just completed and the athlete is awaiting their scores – wow, high drama. It doesn’t happen often, but when the judges deem that performance to be perfect – exhilaration. 

While perfection is something we think we know and experience in this life, it is quite rare. The perfect morning, the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect kiss – we may say these things, but how do we judge something is perfect. Is it perfect until something better comes along? By perfect do we mean that it couldn’t be improved? How do we know?

That is why this gospel is so difficult to get our arms around. Jesus preaches about our need as his followers to no longer seek to fulfill the bare minimum of the law, but to seek the law’s radical and greatest expression. In the end Jesus says, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this seem impossible? I feel totally ill equipped to be perfect. Nothing in my life feels perfect. How am I supposed to be perfect?

In praying with this scripture I found some direction in the second half of the directive, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How is God perfect? Of course we could say he is perfect in every way. But I think Jesus is trying to say something specific. 

God is perfect in his LOVE. Each person of our triune God loves the others perfectly. That love spills out into creation and God loves his creation perfectly. God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son to save us from death. God loves us perfectly. 

If we are trying to be perfect as God is perfect. We must try to love perfectly. The kind of love we are talking about is the love that we choose. It is self-gift. It is the kind of love that is self sacrifice. This is the love that Jesus had for us when he died on the cross. This love is divine love. Since you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love in this way. It is the love that God can perfect in us. How should we be perfect? We must seek to love perfectly. 

LIVE IT: Take out your phone and set a reminder for right after your alarm goes off in the morning – ask God to help you love perfectly that day and to give you opportunities to love someone else. Then prepare yourself to love and be giving the chance to love. 

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 2020.

No Rules. No Right.

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I have eaten my fair share of bloomin’ onions. I’ve sat and wondered if they actually have steak houses down under. I’ve sipped a frothy beverage and annoyingly repeated lines from Crocodile Dundee while waiting for my food. What I mean to say is, I’ve eaten at Outback Steakhouse. 

A while ago their tagline was “No Rules. Just Right.” This has always struck me as odd. Sure it captures what I can only presume is a rebellious Australian spirit. No rules. Yet, just as we are fully bought into the no rules aspect of dining, they get you with the just right. I think this was to give the impression that your steak would be cooked just right. It could also mean everything about one’s experience at Outback would be – just right. 

Both halves of this tagline are lies. The varied ways that Outback Steakhouses aren’t “just right” are probably self revelatory. But the real hypocrisy is first half of the line “No rules.”  The moment you get up from the table and try to leave without paying, you will quickly find that there are indeed rules. If you were to throw your cutlery on the floor or mistreat the staff or bother other patrons, they will show you the door for breaking the, well, rules. 

Further, If you order a steak Medium Rare (as one should), the only reason it would come out cooked to the state of Medium Rare is because the chef followed the rules of how long or hot to cook the steak. If your steak was black and charcoaly and you sent it back to the kitchen, you could do so only because there are, in fact, rules about steaks and steakhouses. 

Some people think Jesus threw out all the rules. Some believe Jesus tells us we don’t need and shouldn’t follow rules. They might even come to the opinion that rules are for pharisees and reactionaries (they would be partially right here). It is as if they believe the tagline of Christianity is “No Rules. Just Christ.”

As attractive as that line might be (especially to us Americans), it isn’t very Biblical and doesn’t follow our Tradition. This Sunday’s gospel shows us that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the rules, but to fulfill them. He preaches clearly and decisively that not only are the rules not too harsh and shouldn’t be abandoned, but in fact the rules don’t go far enough. If the old rule was that violence against your neighbor was bad, Jesus ups the ante to anger with your fellow man is wrong. He goes on to increase the demand in several other areas. 

Jesus teaches us that it isn’t that the rules should be dismissed, but the rules will never be enough to establish the Kingdom and save our souls. In fact, Jesus preaches the radical and difficult reality that we are not enough. He says that we can never do enough to earn salvation or approval. It is only God who is enough who can save us in the face of the high bar of following Jesus Christ. 

Should we follow the rules of following Jesus? Absolutely. Should we only follow the the bare minimum of the rules? Absolutely not. The rules are good and we must abide, but we must go on to love and love well. When asked what is the greatest rule, love for God and love for neighbor was Jesus’ answer. 

Live it: Make a rule for yourself to follow for one week. Try something like: Drink only water. or No TV. or Say “Hi!” to everyone you walk past. or Introduce yourself to strangers. See what works. Maybe you’ll fine something new for Lent this year. 

Sunday Readings for February 16th, 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. 

Good at Waiting.

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The other day I was sick and needed to get into Urgent Care as soon as possible. I looked on line at various Urgent care locations and discovered that they posted their wait times online. I drove past 2 locations with hour+ long wait time to arrive an an urgent care with no posted wait time. Why? Because no body likes to wait. We are live in a time and place with shortest and fewest wait times. We have the lowest levels of patience when it comes to waiting. Instead of waiting, we take out our phones and do something. Waiting in faith is hard for us. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Simeon who the Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw the savior of Israel. He had to wait. Simeon waited day in and day out in the temple for the Lord to come. He didn’t know when Jesus was coming, but he still waited. How many little babies did Simeon hold hoping and wishing for the Messiah only to realize he had more waiting to do?

Can you imagine Simeon’s joy, delight, and exhilaration when he finally Jesus in his arms? That experience of anticipation and fulfillment must have be the core of Simeon’s faith. Yet, Simeon’s faith didn’t come from God’s fulfillment of his promise, but front he promise itself. Simeon waited in faith because he trusted God. 

Far too often when we pray we expect God to answer prayers faster than Amazon. We want what we want, when we want it, which is now. We are high-demand consumers of God’s love and goodness and we want our demands/prayers met in a timely manner. 

God knows our hearts. He knows and desires what is best for us. God responds to all prayers with either yes, no, or wait. Sometimes the waiting is the best thing that could happen to us. It is in the waiting that the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes it is in the waiting where we meat God face to face. 

LIVE IT: Find someone you trust to ask the following 4 questions:

  1. Are you good at waiting? Why or why not? 
  2. Are you waiting for anything right now?
  3. What have you learned while waiting for something?
  4. Have you ever waited for God to do something? What happened?

Sunday Readings for February 2nd, 2020.

Quit it now.

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Have you ever wanted to quit? On the TV show The Office, the longtime manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton, Michael Scott, quits. While being escorted out of the office, he makes an impassioned speech inviting everyone else in the office to go with him. Only one person takes him up on the offer, Pam Beasley the receptionist. Against all worldly reason she leaves a stable job working feet from her fiancé, Jim, to follow her irritating boss in starting a paper company in a bad and increasingly paperless economy. It’s the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. 

Why does Pam go? Why leave security and comfort for the unknown? 

Though there might be many reasons why people quit something, perhaps the most compelling reason is because we think we can be better, we can be great. That is how Michael Scott talks Pam into leaving.

In the gospel this weekend, we read the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. As a father and home owner, I am often mystified why these men who literally drop their nets, quit their stable sources of income, and follow this itinerant preacher. I think these men quit for the same reason Pam quits – they were called to greatness. 

Something about the call of Jesus sparked in them the realization that they were meant for more, made for greatness. Jesus also gave them a way to actualize that inner desire for greatness. 

One of the most famous quitters in history is St. Thomas More who quit being King Henry VIII’s chancellor because he disagreed with the Henry’s desire to divorce his wife and declare himself head of the English church. More’s greatness was found not in his power at chancellor, but in quitting. He was at his best when he quit. He was executed for his decision, but his story has been an inspiration to many in the 500 years since he quit. 

Jesus calls each of us to quit. Greatness isn’t only for the first disciples or ancient saints. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Not only are we all capable of greatness, God grants each of us all we need to answer the call to greatness. St. Benedict XVI said this, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

LIVE IT:

Okay, you don’t have to go quit your job today (then again…). But find something that brings you comfort and quit it, even if it is just for 1 day. With the new time, energy, silence, you receive, ask God to help you discover what greatness you are being called to. 

Sunday Readings for January 26th, 2020.

Special Recipe Brownies.

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My oldest daughter is quite the cook. I’m blessed to every now and again come home to dinner already started and little left for me to do. The way to learn to cook well is like a lot of things – practice. With practice comes mistakes. Most of the time the mistakes are small and usually just result in a bigger mess. Other times the mistakes are cataclysmic.

One time my daughter insisted upon making brownies all by her self. She was going to make brownies from scratch. After mixing, pouring, and baking, she pulled them out of the oven to find a pan of still gooey, syrupy chocolate sludge. I’m not really sure how to explain what these brownies were like. 

After a quick review we discovered that instead of 1/2 cup of oil, she added 1 1/2 cups. Also, she forgot the the baking powder completely. Even though it was such a small amount, 1/4 of a teaspoon, missing the backing powder made a huge difference in the brownies. Maybe nothing would have saved them from an extra cup of oil, but at least they would have risen. 

Missing the rising agent in baked goods significantly effects what we are trying to bake. The same is true our faith. If we forget to include the Holy Spirit in our faith lives, we are missing a major component in our growth with God.

How important is the Holy Spirit? When John the baptists describes Jesus’ baptism in this Sunday’s gospel, that Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and remaining with him is the very way that John knows that Jesus is the Messiah. For John, it is the Holy Spirit that indicates who Jesus really is and what Jesus has come to do.

If we want to know who we really are, if we want to discover our deepest identity, we need to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. If we want to know what our purpose or our mission in this life, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. 

LIVE IT: Want the Holy Spirit to be a more powerful factor in your life? Trying saying this prayer each morning when you wake up. 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

I can do it, daddy.

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My 2 year old son wants to do everything himself. If you have kids you totally understand this stage. My toddler got a taste of independence and now desires with all his little heart to do absolutely everything for himself. Unfortunately his fine motor skills aren’t equal to his desire for independence. Multiple times a day he needs help and often he won’t accept it. 

Virtually everyday this same moment happens in my faith life – only I’m the toddler. My desire for independence way out distances my spiritual awareness, self mastery, and discipline. I desperately want to heal, help, or grow myself. The reality is that I don’t have the capacity to do this. Frankly, neither do you. 

In the gospel for this Sunday, Jesus goes to John the Baptist to be baptized. John, understanding who is standing before him, tells Jesus that he isn’t worthy and that their roles should be reversed. Jesus tells him that John must allow it to fulfill all righteousness. 

A key spiritual skill is allowing Jesus to work in our lives. Often I think we resist Jesus. We say, we need to be better or smarter or cleaner and then Jesus can come in. We sometimes even say, “Jesus, you shouldn’t have to lower yourself to my level, no let me come up to you.” But of course, we can’t. 

We need to be like John the Baptist and allow Jesus to come close. We need to actually listen to Jesus and let him do what he desires in our lives. If we want to be healed, at peace, and in love with God, we need to give God permission to work in our lives – today. 

Live It: Stop everything right now and pray this payer. “Jesus I allow you to work in my life. I give you permission to heal what is broken, help with what I cannot do, and give what I need. Come Holy Spirit!” Say it until you mean it. 

Do Not be Afraid.

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After St. John Paul II was elected Pope in 1978, he gave a homily to the crowds in Rome during which he said:

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.

For a long time in my life St. John Paul II was the only Pope I knew. I saw him, in person, a handful of times and each time he inspired those of us to grow in holiness and to serve God and the Church.

For all his homilies, letters, books, and even poetry, I think the first words of his pontificate still resonate most powerfully for me – Be not afraid. 

In the gospel this Sunday the angel of the Lord tells Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” The angel commands Joseph to not be fearful of doing this difficult, culturally dangerous, and surprising act. In essence the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid to show mercy, to love.

Joseph’s bold act of love for Mary and trust in the Lord ensured Mary and Jesus’ safety. More than that, it ensured that Joseph would be there to do what God put him on the earth to do – raise Jesus, the Son of God. 

In our lives and indeed our spiritual lives too, we can choose to act out of fear or to act out of love. Acting out of fear leads us to selfish, greedy, and short sighted living and believing. While, when we act with love as our main motivator, we are generous, selfless, and joyful. 

Be not afraid to love. Be not afraid to forget yourself this Christmas and instead welcome Jesus into your heart, your home. Be not be afraid to trust like Joseph and love well. Be not afraid!

Live It: Watch this short (1 min) video of St. John Paul II preaching “Do Not be Afraid” or read his inaugural Homily from 1978 here.