BONUS: Apathy is death

nadine-shaabana-s0uqGHl2DTg-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for Dec 1st, 2019 –

BONUS because I didn’t get this written or published last week. So here she is, out of order, short, and doubled up. 

What’s the opposite of love? Some people would say that hate is the opposite of love. However if you truly hold hot-burning hate for something it is likely because of your love for something else. Some say the opposite of love is selfishness and that might be a little closer to the answer. You could say selfishness is inappropriate or poorly executed love of self.

For me the opposite of love is apathy. If love moves us to act, to sacrifice for someone else, apathy is the not caring enough to move.

In the gospel from Dec 1st, 2019, Jesus explains to his disciples that most people are apathetic towards the coming of a Messiah. People will go about their daily business without a thought to the end of things for their end in particular. 

Love for God isn’t just a feeling or an openness to God. Love for God is an active movement towards doing God’s will and preparing for his coming. 

Our love for God can be measured in what we are willing to do, change, prepare, sacrifice, or offer to and for him. Love is an action. If want to love God, we won’t be apathetic to his return, but instead actively seeking to prepare our lives and our hearts for his coming. 

The other option is death. God, love is life. Apathy is death.

Live It: Throw something away that keeps you from God. Make a decision and get rid of it. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as removing it will help you get closer to God. 

 

Talking to Yourself

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Sunday Readings for Oct 27, 2019

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the backseat of the car and watching my dad talk to himself. I don’t mean in unsettling or mental health sort of way. Rather in the kind of way I think most of us do. I’ve been caught by my children rehearsing a conversation before it happens or working out a problem and not realizing how public I am being about it. I’ve even been known to win arguments with not so present adversaries. 

In the gospel tells a parable about a prideful Pharisee and a humble sinner. In the story, the Pharisee stands in his regular pew and offers up a prayer “to himself.” I used to think this meant he said it quietly, but more recently I think this means that was actually praying to himself. He wasn’t actually thanking God, but in fact thanking himself for his own self determined goodness. 

I think sometimes we do pray to ourselves. We think or speak prayers in such a way that glorifies us. We utter intentions that ask ourselves to make something happen or to be okay with a situation. We ask for our own favor so that we can do whatever we were going to do anyway.  

Jesus taught us so many lessons with this simple parable, but for me, I think the lesson this year is to make sure I am praying to God and not myself. That means I need to offer praise for what God has done, not me. I need to thank God for what he has given me. I must ask him for things only he can provide. If we actually learn to pray to God and not ourselves, I think we won’t have to worry about whether we are prideful or humble, self-righteous or justified by God alone. 

LIVE IT: Make tonight’s prayer the name of Jesus. Just pray the name of Jesus over and over as slowly and with as much meaning as you can muster. Do this for as long as you need to. 

 

Scream at God.

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Readings for Sunday Oct 13th, 2019

I don’t remember the circumstances, but I remember the prayer. I was having a rough time in my college years. I was home for summer and I was frustrated and mad and not happy. I was driving home and I shut off the radio and I screamed – I screamed at God. 

No one would have called it reverent or pious. But it was real. I was really upset. I screamed and cried and let God have it. I was angry and blamed God at lease partially. Of course it wasn’t his fault, but I couldn’t see that at the time. Afterward I just sat in my car and cried for a while. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to handle my situation, but strangely, I felt like God heard me. I felt like he heard my cry. 

In the gospel on Sunday Oct 13th, Jesus heals 10 lepers. To get Jesus’ attention the lepers “raised their voices, saying ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’” Later when the one returned he glorified God “in a loud voice.” My point is this when we are in distress and need God it doesn’t do us any good to be quiet.

If you are in a tough spot, shout at God. If you are struggling or suffering or don’t see any end to your difficult situation, let God know about it. God is big and strong and can take it. Raise your voice to God. If you’re angry at God, be angry. Be authentic in your prayer.

(Obviously I’m not advocating irreverence or rudeness towards God, just loud voices.)

And…when healing occurs and joy is restored and we feel grateful and blessed, we can shout with that same force. We don’t have to hold back in some false piety when God blesses us, but be loud and strong with our praise of the God who loves us. 

Whether you are struggling or celebrating, shout it out!

Live It: Sometime today pray out loud to God. Whether it is in your car or your home, speak the words you mean to say to God, out loud. 

Reach, He’s closer than you think.

Sunday Readings for July 14th, 2019.

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My eighteen month old son isn’t very good at jumping. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it is because is actually pretty bad at landing and he knows it. If he leaves his feet, it’s a near certainty that he will face plant. 

His lack of jumping and landing confidence leads to some humorous moments. Sometimes he won’t grab something above his head, even if it isn’t beyond his reach, because he just isn’t sure. My son will sometimes reach up with a crooked, alligator arm and strain towards the sky all while bending over. If he just stood straight up and extended his arm, he could easily reach his goal. 

I think we are like this in our faith lives far more often than we would like to admit. In the first reading this Sunday, from Deuteronomy, it is written,

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.

It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’

Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’

No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

When Jesus is asked in our gospel about what must we do to inherit enteral life, his answer is simple (paraphrased), “Love God all the way and Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Not complicated. Difficult at times, but not so far from us that we can’t imagine doing it. 

Sometimes we spook ourselves out of following Jesus Christ. Sometimes we imagine that loving God is so complicated and beyond our ability that we don’t do exactly what we can with what we’ve been given. 

For us baptized Christians, we have been made sons and daughters of God. We have been welcomed into God’s own family. As Catholics we receive the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ at Mass. God gives us his very Spirit over and over. When we mess up, he gives us healing and grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And yet, we whimper at trying to know God and follow Jesus. Really!?

Maybe it is as simple as this – Pray everyday. Read your Bible. Receive the Sacraments. Love (self sacrificially) whoever comes before you each moment. Standup straight and reach. 

LIVE IT: Go somewhere were you can be alone (or do this in public if you are into that kind of thing). Stand up straight. Reach up. Look up. Stretch. Keep reaching!! Up!! Whisper, “God I want to be near you!” Now say it louder if you dare. Go up on your tip toes! Now relax. Take a deep breath. Smile.  

You cannot bear it now.

Sunday Readings for June 16th, 2019

ray-fragapane-1483223-unsplash.jpg“Wait, everyone, I need to know what the plan is today!” This phrase is a pretty common request in my house these days. On a busy Saturday morning as we are dressed and heading out the door, it isn’t uncommon for one of my children (or me), to request to know what all the plans are for the day. 

I don’t think this is an inappropriate request. We all like to know what is planned for our days. This seems to be especially important when we aren’t the one in charge. When someone else is in control, it makes sense we would want to know what is happening.

I think the more we trust the person making the decisions, the more are willing to let go of knowing what is happening. If the person in charge has proven their ability to lead well, we are more likely to not need to know every single detail of our day. 

In the gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” He explains that he has more to reveal to them, but they can’t hear it yet. I wonder how the disciples felt in that moment? What is like to be told they can’t handle all that Jesus wishes to tell them? 

Do you think God has told you everything you want to hear? Has God revealed perfectly his plan for your life? Have you received a detailed itinerary for the rest of your life? Yeah, me neither. 

So how do we react knowing that God isn’t telling us everything? I think the answer depends on how much we trust him. 

I think there are three general categories in which our answer can fall.

First, we trust God as much as he is willing to share his plan with us. Reflecting on my late teens and early twenties, I think I trusted God, as long as he told me what the plan was going to be. It was as if I was saying to God, “Lord, I trust you completely, now just tell me what it is I need to trust you with.” 

Second, we don’t really trust God at all. We believe we are the best judges of what is best for us and no one else, even God, should be in charge of our own life. I might not ever think this sentiment, but I certainly act like I believe it. 

Third, we trust God with control and with knowledge of the plan. In this way we might say, “God, I not only trust you with my future, but I trust that you know what is best for me and give up the desire to know what the plan is.” I think when I vowed to love my wife for the rest of our lives, I was gifted with this level of trust. 

If we want to grow in trust with God, how do we do it? Jesus clearly says that it is the Holy Spirit that helps us grow in trust and the knowledge of the truth. Lean into the Holy Spirit and ask for a spirit of trust.

LIVE IT: Trying praying this prayer from St. Augustine for 7 days straight. See what happens to your trust in God!

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy. Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy. Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy. 

 

What should I do?

Dec 16th Sunday Readings.

Three groups of people ask John the Baptist the same question in this week’s gospel, gianna-trewavas-740067-unsplash“What should we do?” The gospel doesn’t tell us if they listened to what he said or liked his answer or if they went and did what he directed. 

What we do know is that after he answered, the gospel says people were filled with expectation and wondered if John might be the chosen one of God. John’s teaching was so radical and life changing that they wondered if John could be Christ.
John’s response is beautiful and powerful. He says that while he purifies with water, the Messiah will purify with fire and the spirit. In other words, the work of Christ will bring about even greater transformation, even more complete purification. 

One way to think about this gospel. This gospel is a formula for how to repent and believe in the good news. 

Step 1: Ask “What should I do?” Be direct. Ask the big question. Expect a response.

Step 2: Listen. Actually wait for a response. God works in mysterious ways and on His own timeline. Ask and and keep listening.

Step 3: Look for the messiah who will cleanse you with fire and the Spirit. Receive the Sacraments. Go to confession. Let the love of God burn up the rough, tough, and gross parts of your life and behavior.

Step 4: Preach the good news. Share what you’ve been given. Every gift of God is good enough to be shared in some way.

LIVE IT: Take some time for an honest and earnest prayer only asking one thing, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Who’s the Boss?

October 8th Sunday Readings.

When I was 23 years old I was hired to lead a group of adults in doing youth ministryboss with and for high school teenagers. Every adult was older than me and had more experience in parish life and youth ministry, but I was in charge.

Having taken over this ministry, one of the first things I had to do was take teens to a conference out of state. The permission forms needed to be reworked and I was asked to add information about dress code and behavior. Being the early 2000s the dress code clause needed to be specific and I made it so (think Brittany and N’sync).

The conference came around and most of the group, teens and adults, had gathered in our parish’s gathering space waiting to depart for the conference. The group suddenly became quiet as the doors opened and one of my key volunteers walked in. Art was in his early 60s, 6’ 2” and 300+ lbs. He was wearing a white shirt that he had cut the bottom 10 inches off of, exposing the bottom half of his ample belly. A clear and certain violation of my newly minted “No Midriffs” dress code.

The group didn’t know whether to laugh or wince, and they looked to me to do something. Before I could, Art bellowed, “Oh, is that what you meant by no midriffs? Sorry, I’ll go change.”  And we all had a good laugh together.

I’m not sure if Art was just trying to be funny, but what happened was that he cemented my authority in the minds of those present. It was as if he had said, “I’m going to follow Chris, even if I don’t like or understand because I trust he is going to lead us well.”  In 11 years of youth ministry, I never had a single significant behavior problem.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who has a very different experience with his tenants. The landowner invests significantly in a vineyard, wine press, tower, and wall. He leases the vineyard to tenants and when he goes to collect his rightful portion of the harvest, they rebel, refuse, and rebuke every attempt collect. The landowner finally sends his own son and the tenants kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

The question for me in the parable is this – Who is the boss? Who is in charge? The tenants don’t want to be beholden to anyone but themselves. They are willing to murder to protect their independence and personal authority. Unfortunately for them, this attitude results in their destruction and the vineyard being given to someone else.

The question for us is this – Who is our boss? Who do we answer to? I think it is important for us to consider carefully who has given us our “vineyard.” We must reflect on who has give us a life and breath and all that we have. We may be tempted to say that we worked for it; we earned and deserve it. But so did the wicked tenants. No, everything we have has ultimately been made by God and is a gift. In fact, the work to receive these things was a gift from God, as was the ability to work. All is gift.

Who is your boss? Who is your ultimate authority? Who do you give authority to day in and day out? Who sets your schedule, tells you how to spend your money, and how to treat others?

If it is anyone other than God, consider how to take a step toward returning to God what was always his to begin with.

Live It: This Sunday when you go to Mass, at the time of the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, pray simply for the grace to make God the boss, to give God authority over your life, and ask for the grace to change.