The Good Word for March 22nd

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

avocadoWhen I was in elementary school and we were studying earth science, I was given the “Avocado Pit” experiment. The experiment was simple. Basically it involved putting an avocado pit in water and letting it sprout. Eventually the pit would break open, a small shoot would come out and begin to grow. The next step was to plant it and start an avocado farm, but I never really got that far.

The key to that experiment is also present in our gospel today. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” For the avocado pit to make an avocado tree, the pit must break open and die. It is only by being broken open is it able to grow.

Each Sunday when we attend Mass we hear four pieces of scripture. The 1st reading is from the Old Testament. The psalm, which is usually sung, is one of the 150 Psalms. The 2nd reading is from a letter or Acts. The Gospel is from one of the four gospels in the New Testament.

I don’t know about you, but far too often I just sit there while this abundance of scripture is read. Then I wait for the homily to wow me. I put the responsibility for this part of the Mass to be fruitful, all into the priest’s hands. I make it his job to make scripture come alive for me.

See, all this scripture is like the grain of wheat or the avocado pit. Like the seed, the Sunday scriptures must be broken open. If we really believe that scripture is the living word of God, then it truly is a seed ready to be broken open. When we take the time to really break open the Sunday scriptures, then the word of God can grow and give us life.

Great metaphor, but what does it mean? For me it means two things – Reading and Silence. For me to break open the Word, I need to read it before I get to Mass and I need to sit in silence while the scripture is fresh in my mind. One way to do this is an ancient prayer form called Lectio Divina. Pope Benedict said that if the Church (you and me) practiced Lectio Divina we would set the world on fire with our faith.

What if every reading at Mass moved you and grew your faith? They can, just break scripture open a little ahead of time – you won’t regret it.

Live It:
Read the Sunday readings before you get to Mass this weekend, by clicking here. Want to try Lectio Divina? Try out HNOJ’s Lenten Prayer Guide. It contains instructions on Lectio and has a short version of the Gospel for each Sunday to use in Lecto Divina.

The Good Word for March 8th

Mark_TwainFor the complete 3rd Sunday of Lent readings click here.

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished how much he had learned in seven years.” I love this quote because it is so true. I can’t tell you how many things my father, really my parents, said to me that I dismissed as a younger man and have only come to appreciate now many years later. Have you ever had this experience?

In the gospel today, we get a little insight into the developing faith of the disciples. We get to see them have one of these moments when they come to realize something Jesus said, which looks almost crazy, is actually true. This little glimpse into the interior life of the early Christians is often overshadowed by the big dramatic story of Jesus’ temple kerfuffle.

After turning over the moneychanger’s table and driving out the animals, Jesus declares that the very temple they are standing in will be destroyed and he will rebuild it in three days. Can you imagine how crazy this sounded to the 1st century person? It would be like saying you could build the Vikings stadium in three days. What?! We had to rent this super huge crane and construct custom built steel pieces. We couldn’t even get everything delivered in three months! Three days? You’re crazy. I am sure the disciples dismissed this saying too.

So it is amazing to read about how only later did they come to understand how this saying was true. It was true because Jesus was talking about the temple of his body and his ressurection. Jesus was replacing the temple and the sacrifice with his sacrifice on the cross and with his flesh of the Eucharist. The disciples were Jesus’ closest followers, but we get to see that they didn’t understand everything Jesus said instantly or perfectly. Only over the course of time did they come to understand and believe.

If there is something that the Church or Jesus teaches that is hard for you to believe or understand, know this: you are not alone. The disciples had the same experience. They heard things they didn’t get until later. The great saints of the Church all had growing faiths. From Augustine to Francis to Teresa, they all grew in their belief and understanding.

If there is something you don’t believe, you have to choose if you are going to actively pursue the truth or comfortably remain where you are. The difference between saints and sinners is that saints keep searching for what is true.

The only authentic reason to believe something is because it is true.

Keep searching for truth, Jesus is confident you will find him.

Live It: This week: Make a list of questions you have about Catholicism or Jesus. It can be 1 question or 100. Next week: do something to find the answer. Email Chris if you want help with your search.

The Good Word for February 15th

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

A friend of mine just told me that she is expecting. She couldn’t wait to share the good news. She was so excited to expand her family and bring a new life into the world. When she told me, her face lit up and she could barely get the words out she was so over come with joy. Have you ever had such good news you couldn’t wait to share?

In the gospel today, Jesus heals a leper. But this wasn’t just a simple healing of a skin disease. This wasn’t even saving the man’s life from leprosy. We hear in the first reading that lepers were required to live away from society. They were to demonstrate that they were unclean by dressing differently. And when they approached someone, they were to yell out the words, “Unclean! Unclean!” Can you imagine that today? Now imagine being healed. This man wasn’t just healed; his place in society was restored. He could again live with family and friends. He could enter the market place. He could actually practice his Jewish faith again. Jesus didn’t simply save this man’s life. Jesus gave back his life, dignity, and worthiness.

Receiving such a great gift, the man couldn’t be silent, even though Jesus tells him to. The former leper goes and immediately begins to tell other people that Jesus healed him. He was so vocal about it that Jesus couldn’t enter a town openly.

By Jesus’ healing action, he actually traded places with the man in a way. Now Jesus has to live in the deserted places just as the leper used to. Now Jesus gets announced every town he enters just like the leper used to have to do.

Jesus doesn’t want to just improve our lives. He doesn’t want to make us better. He wants to radically change everything. Jesus wants to turn our lives completely upside down and the result will be that our lives will be saved. Jesus wants to change everything because only a radical reorientation of our lives will lead to eternal life. This change is such good news that when we truly experience it, we too won’t be able to contain ourselves. Instead, we will shout the good news from the rooftops, “Jesus saved me! My life is completely different because Jesus healed me!”

Live It:
From now until Ash Wednesday (Feb 18th), pray this simple prayer every night, “Jesus if you wish, you can change my life.”

The Good Word for January 25

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

In the gospel today two things happen. First, Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is at hand. Second Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him. Though it doesn’t seem like it, these two sections of the gospel are very much interrelated.

When Jesus declares the kingdom and invites us to repent and believe, he really is announcing good news! In the kingdom of God the hungry are fed, the broken are fixed, the angry are calmed, the sick are healed, the lonely are included, the thirsty are given water, the tired are given rest, the naked are clothed, and much more! This is great news, but lets make it more tangible. By the time you are done reading this blog, 3 people, likely children, will have died from unclean drinking water (get the facts on clean water.) In the kingdom of God that Jesus is declaring, that won’t happen. This really is good news.

Jesus then invites us to repent, which is another way of saying that we have the opportunity to repent because in the kingdom of God, the sinner can be forgiven. He then ends his statement by saying that we can trust this good news to be true.

The very next story is about Jesus going out to call people to follow him, see the good news first hand, and then continue to spread the good news through their lives. Jesus declares the kingdom and then calls people to live it.

The thing is that you and I are also called. Jesus Christ is calling us to not just be Christian in name, but to be true believers of the kingdom of God, the good news that sins are forgiven and all will be made right. And as disciples, just like Simon and Andrew, James and John, we are called to go out and tell others about the good news.

Live It:
Sometimes it’s hard to really hear the good news because we’ve heard stories about Jesus our whole life. This week take out your Bible (or look it up here) and read John 3:16-17 and pretend you are reading it for the first time. It really is good news.

The Good Word for Dec 7th – The Second week of Advent

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Pretty River Pic This past summer my family went camping in southern Minnesota at beautiful Frontenac State Park. The park is situated on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River where the river widens into Lake Pepin. Saturday morning we decided to go on a hike down to the river. The trail was one of those switchback trails that ultimately went down the side of a very steep bluff. After some time playing by the river, we started back up the trail to the top of the bluff. After about the second switch back my five year-old daughter suddenly blurted out, “Wait! We have to walk all the way back up?!”

Up and down into a deep river valley is tough hiking and our kids were troopers, but tired troopers. They probably would have voted for an easier path if they had the chance. Both our first reading and our gospel talk about making the trail easier to travel. The reading from Isaiah talks about filling in valleys and making mountains and hills low. In the gospel from Mark, John the Baptist is identified as the messenger preparing a way and making straight the paths for the Lord.

John doesn’t regrade roads or level hilly interstate for Jesus’ physical travel, but instead straightens and prepares the pathways into people’s heart. That way when Jesus arrives, his way into people’s hearts and lives is straight and easy.

If you’ve had an encounter with Jesus Christ, I bet there is someone who straightened the path to your heart. Who helped to prepare you to know Jesus Christ? Who has helped you to meet and fall in love with God? Who has removed the obstacles to a deep faith that were in your life?

This year it would be easy celebrate a beautiful but private Advent and Christmas. But Continue reading

The Good Word for Nov 30th – First week of Advent

For the complete Sunday readings click here. 

Do you remember the classic Folgers Coffee commercial called, “Peter Comes Home for Christmas.” (Watch it here.) I loved this commercial growing up and it was on every Christmas. In it, Peter makes his way home on Christmas and surprises everyone. It’s clear that no one expected him and yet there he was. And he made coffee.

The commercial is a little idyllic. I wonder if Peter’s parents prepared for him to come home? They weren’t expecting him and were happy he was there, but were they ready for him to come home? If they didn’t expect him to come home, I bet they didn’t do anything to prepare.

The question today’s gospel asks us is this – do we believe that God is coming to be near to us? Do we really expect God to come? If not, then nothing in our lives has to change. We don’t have to change anything about how we live or what we do day to day if we don’t expect God to come.

The message of the gospel on this the first Sunday of Advent, is that God is coming. God will return to his people. God is on his way and we should prepare, be ready, and be alert to his return. The key we can’t expect to know when God is coming, but we can be certain that God is coming.

If we believe that God is coming, what are we willing to do about it? How do we stay alert and ready? Jesus’ key word is “watch.” We have to look for God. My dad would say that we must keep our “eyes pealed.” We must look for God’s coming to us with the eyes of our heart.

Live It:
Pray everyday for this first week of advent this simple prayer: “God, open my eyes to see how you are coming into my life.”

The Good Word for Nov. 23rd

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

My wife is amazing. The other day we had some of our couple friends over. We all have elementary-aged kids. The adults were all down stairs in our living room talking and the kids were upstairs playing in our playroom. All of a sudden we hear this shrill scream and instantly, all the moms start to get up until my wife says, “Ohh, that’s mine,” and runs upstairs to care for our 5 year-old.

Out of the fifteen kids who could have been screaming, how did she know it was Sophia? Because my wife is Sophia’s mom and Sophia is her child. Liz knows her children and her children know her.

In our first reading, from Ezekiel, God explains that he is a shepherd who really knows his own sheep. He knows them so well, that when they are scattered and separated, he will still go after them and find them. The lost he will find. The injured he will help. The sick he will heal. And those who are a little too full of themselves, he will humble.

The key to this passage is that we belong to God and he will do anything to bring us back into relationship with him. So the question is, if God wants to be close to us, how do we get close to him? Jesus answers this question in gospel.

Jesus says whenever we have helped the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, ill, or imprisoned we have helped him. And whenever we have been near to the least, we have been near to him. So, if you want to be close to Jesus, get close to the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized. It’s that simple.

Live It:
Make a plan to be close to the poor, vulnerable, or marginalized sometime this Advent. Need some help making your plan? Check out our website on ways you can reach out. https://www.hnoj.org/outreach

The Good Word for November 16th

For the complete Sunday readings, click here.

huffyOne Christmas I received an amazing gift – a Huffy White-Heat Bike. It was rad. (Okay, the year was 1991. Totally rad.) That year I road my new bike everywhere. My neighborhood was my domain. That summer I road my bike to Aaron’s house for wiffle ball, to Jason’s house to play the original Nintendo, and to swim practice nearly every morning. Short of a few rainy days, I think I road my bike everyday.

The three servants in the gospel reading for this weekend are also given a gift. Each is given a sum of money. The first two servants take that money, and through investment, make back more money then they started with. The third servant is afraid of the master, so he digs a hole and hides his gift.

Why is the master so upset with the last servant when he comes home? The third servant doesn’t really use the gift he is given. The third servant doesn’t take full advantage of the incredible generosity of the master. The third servant acts out of fear and hides his gift. By not using the gift he is given, it’s as if the third servant doesn’t really accept the gift at all.

Jesus tells his parable as both an encouragement and a challenge. Continue reading

The Good Word for Nov 2nd

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

BlueVotivesHNOJWide

One time flying back from a Mexico mission trip, we were an hour late getting into Atlanta, and our connecting flight to Minneapolis was supposed to take off before we actually landed. We ran from gate to immigration to baggage claim to customs to the gate. It was foolish to hope we could possibly make our flight. Somehow we did.

It is easy to be cynical. It’s also easy to believe that the more sophisticated, grown up view of the world is one without much hope. It is easy to believe that when we die that is the end. It’s so easy to believe in death as the end that it seems foolish, silly, or childish to hold out hope for life after death.

The readings today take what many believe is reality and flips it upside down to show what is true. While it appears crazy to believe in life after death, it is actually foolish not to believe in eternal life because the souls of the just are in the hands of God. While it will appear that Jesus looses everything on the cross, it is actually by dying on that cross that Jesus saves the whole world. And while it makes sense to die for a good man, Jesus dies for us while we are still sinners, still a mess. The readings today affirm our belief that death is the not the end and that Jesus wholeheartedly desires to save us and welcome us into eternal life with him.

This time of year we as Catholics remember our loved ones who have died. We honor them and reaffirm our hope in life after death. On All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) take time to reaffirm your hope in life after death and pray for those who have passed before us.

Live It:
Make a list of all the people you know who have died since Nov 1 last year. Bring that list to Mass this weekend and pray for them silently. If you have children give them each a name of a person to pray for during Mass.

The Good Word for Oct 19

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

MLB: NLDS-Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis CardinalsI am a St. Louis Cardinals fan and this time of year is like Christmas to me. My Cardinals are usually in the playoffs and are almost always a contender for a World Series title. The only issue is that almost every night is a baseball night. I stay up watching games. There is no chance any other TV will be watched. Plans get cancelled or rearranged. Baseball rules all.

In the readings today, we heard some pretty powerful statements. In the first reading from Isaiah we hear God say, “I am the LORD, there is no other.” Isaiah is talking specifically about Israel not being ruled by other kings and princes. God is God and there are no other gods. No one rules but God.

Then in the Gospel Jesus tells those Pharisees trying to trick him that they should give “to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.”

The thing is that we often let a lot of things rule our life other than God. Just like how baseball rules my schedule in October, I choose to make things that aren’t God be LORD of my life. I often, sometimes unintentionally, put something ahead of God. Honestly, today it was work. Instead of taking solid prayer time this morning, I jumped right into email and I haven’t stopped working since.

Often we think of sin as doing or saying bad things. In reality, sin is sometimes putting good things in the wrong order.

God wants to be our priority, not just one of our many priorities. Priority means “first thing.” We literally can’t have multiple first things. Either God is first or something else is.

The good news is that we can change. The process of making God first is life long. But every long process starts with one small decision.

Live it:
Take out your phone right now. Look at this week (or maybe today if you are a crazy busy person). What rules your life? What takes a majority of your time? Make a plan to put God first tomorrow in some small way. Schedule 5 minutes of prayer in your calendar.