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.

When the Desert is Good.

I was shocked to recently learn that the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic Desert. Yes, like the south pole and all that. The 2nd largest is the Arctic Desert (aka where Santa lives). They qualify as a deserts because they get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. Usually when I think of a desert I think of sand, cactus, and tumble weeds. But the largest deserts in the world are full of ice, wind swept rocks (no sand), and are cold. 

Whether the frigid polar deserts or the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserts are not comfortable places. Typically people who are caught in a desert want to get out as soon as possible. In movies when someone is caught in a desert, they are shown trying to walk out as soon as possible. We even use the metaphor of the desert to describe unhappy or uncomfortable times in our lives and in our faith. 

So it is a bit shocking in the gospel this Sunday when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…” Capital “S” Spirit. It is the very Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the desert. In the desert Jesus will be tempted and tried by the devil. Jesus will suffer and sacrifice for 40 days while in the desert. Yet this is all part of God’s plan. God chose for Jesus to be put into a deserted place and to be subjected to temptations from Satan. 

The thing is Jesus doesn’t run from the desert. Jesus could have walked out in 40 days. Jesus didn’t flee from God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus even allowed himself to be challenged by his enemy in that place.

I think this teaches us something about the role of desert in our life and how we should respond to it. First we shouldn’t flee. When we encounter hardship and dry times in our life, we may be tempted to flee from them. This may lead us to seek comfort in the world. Instead, I think the answer is to be still. Rather than run, we should quiet our hearts and minds and be still right where we are. This will allow God to find us. This puts us in the place to experience what God wills for us in the desert. It also demonstrates that we trust God. If God wills a desert time, then show we trust God by leaning into it instead of running from it. 

Secondly, when we encounter a desert period in our life, we should be bold. When Jesus does leave the desert following the arrest of John the baptist, he begins to boldly proclaim his role and mission in the world. Jesus comes to call us to repent, join the movement of the Kingdom of God, and boldly believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from death. Whatever reason the Spirit of God has for driving us into the desert, we are being formed to go and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord. 

If the desert is ultimately a gift from God to form us into courageous sons and daughter in faith, then when we experience it, we must be still and when we exit, be bold. 

Live It: Take out our phone, open whatever calendar app you use, and schedule a 30 minute meeting with you a God for sometime this week. During that time, sit in silence, be still, and wait for God to speak to you. Make some intentional desert time this week. (If you haven’t figured out what you are doing for Lent this year, maybe commit to this once a week or 15-20 mins a day?)

Sunday Readings for February 21st, 2021.

Go-To Guy

If my snowblower won’t start, I call Brandon. When I need to haul a bunch of stuff, I call my friend Jim. When I have a question about how the economy works (or which piece of scripture best suits a question), I text Todd. These are just some of my Go-To Guys. To be honest, my list of Go-To Guys is really quite long. 

A Go-To Guy is the someone you call when you need help with something for which you are not the expert. More than that, a Go-To Guy is someone you can 100% rely on and you know that they will are willing to help even when it isn’t convenient for them. When something goes wrong, you can lean on a Go-To Guy. When something goes right a Go-To Guy is someone you want to celebrate with. And of course, Go-To Guys aren’t just gentlemen. We have plenty of Go-To Gals as well. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus goes to Simon and Andrews house. Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. This fever was life threatening. Mark’s gospel tells us, “They immediately told him about her.” When it comes to the sick, possessed, or ailing, Jesus is the disciples Go-To Guy. 

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and she gets up and starts making dinner. 

When word spreads the entire town starts bringing their possessed and sick to Jesus. He heals and frees one person after another. Later after spending the pre-dawn hours in prayer, Jesus explains to his disciples that preaching and healing is the purpose for which he has come. Jesus’ mission is to be the world’s Go-To Guy. 

The word that got me in this Sunday’s gospel is “immediately.” It wasn’t just that Jesus was the Go-To Guy for the disciples. They went to him immediately. 

What is our first instinct when it comes to going to Jesus? When do we go to him? Why do we go to him?

It seems to me that Jesus is our Go-To Guy for life and death. When it comes to eternal joy in the face of suffering and death, Jesus is our Go-To Guy. The key is that we turn to him immediately. He is the first call. Jesus is our primary healer. Don’t wait, run to him, immediately. 

Live It: For 1 week try a new way to pray – micro prayers. In addition to your normal prayer routine, go to Jesus with your prayers immediately and briefly. For Example: When you go to drive somewhere – Thank God your car started. Pray for someone you pass on the street. Pray for everyone inside a medical building you pass. Pray for the children when you pass by a school. Thank God for beauty when you see a snow covered tree. Make Jesus your Go-To Guy in the small stuff too. 

Sunday Readings for February 7th, 2021.

Abandoned.

As a 9th grader I was selected to be a headline and caption editor for my high school newspaper. I was excited about the role and looked forward to getting to know the much cooler upperclassmen who ran the newspaper. One night I had a particularly late editing session. Somehow there was a miscommunication and neither of my parents came to pick me up. They both thought I was with the other one. I sat out on the steps of the school for an hour, not really sure what to do as the school was locked and the only payphone was inside (needless to say I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.)

I felt abandoned. It is a horrible feeling. Eventually my parents picked me up, but the dread of what it felt like to feel abandoned is something I’ll never forget. 

To abandon something feels more intentional that just forgetting or leaving it. I lost a coat in 5th grade, but I wouldn’t say I abandoned it. When I think of abandoned cars or malls or towns, I have this sense that the abandoned item was left on purpose. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus calls his first disciples in Mark’s gospel. Jesus calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John who are all professional fishermen. These four men had jobs, livelihoods that supported their families. Jesus calls out to them and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Scripture tells us that they immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. 

The didn’t just leave their nets or forget about their nets. The first disciples didn’t wander into Jesus’ teaching. They intentionally and purposefully abandoned their jobs, their livelihood in order to follow Jesus. 

Fishing wasn’t bad for them. It wasn’t sin or evil they left behind. They abandoned a good thing to do a better thing. They were purposefully in laying down, sacrificing, their income in order to follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus takes radical abandonment. We can hem and haw and say we like Jesus. We can be fans of his work and preaching. If we want to really follow him and become like him, it will take a radical abandonment. We will very purposefully have to leave something behind. As difficult and sad and scary as that may be, we may need to abandon the thing we currently love the most to follow Jesus. 

Abandonment is hard. The gospel of John tells us that the first thing Peter did after Jesus died was to go back to his old job and start fishing again. It’s difficult to abandon security, control, or practical considerations. The reality is that for most of us there is something in our lives that we clutch desperately to that is keeping us from more fully following Jesus. Abandon it. 

Live It: Make a list of the top 5 most important things to you. Take that list and abandon it somewhere. Leave it in a trashcan in a park. Leave it at HNOJ on the front desk (I dare you). Leave it in the adoration chapel. When you do, tell Jesus you are abandoning these things because you want to follow him more fully. 

Sunday Readings for January 24th, 2021.

(almost) Everyone Likes a Compliment

Listening to the radio the other day I heard something truly unexpected. Two comedian were engaged in what they called a “Compliment Battle.” I remember dis battles of the 90s where comedians would say mean things about each other, but a compliment battle is completely the opposite. Apparently it is a thing. There was a host and rules and at the end the audience voted as to who was the kindest, warmest, and most generous with their adversary. 

What was crazy was that I could hear the smiles through the radio. People were beaming with joy. Both participants cried at times for how blessed and amazed they felt in light of the other comedian’s words. Just listening to it (and even thinking about it now), I can’t stop smiling and feel like a million bucks. Compliment Battle – who knew?

Everyone likes receiving compliments (even when we pretend not to enjoy it – i.e. Midwesterners). Of course they are better from someone who really knows us and who specifically names things that are true about us. A good compliment is one of the simple, but powerful pleasures in life. Whether it is giving them or getting them, compliments fill us with light and life. 

So it is strange that in the gospel when an angel of the Lord comes to Mary and says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Mary doesn’t respond with joy. The gospel of Luke says that Mary was troubled by what was said. It wasn’t just that an angel appeared, but it was the words themselves that troubled her. What about the idea that she might be graced and near to the Lord would trouble her?

I’m not sure I know a great answer to that question. Rather than ask why she was troubled, I think it helpful to ask the question, “Why was she graced? Why did the angel say these things to her?” The answer is just a couple lines later on in verses 30-33. She is graced because she is about to bear a son named Jesus. That child of hers is about to save the world. 

Mary is especially graced and close to her Lord because of Jesus. It could be that Mary is troubled by the words of the angel because she doesn’t yet know why she is graced. Mary doesn’t think of herself as particularly blessed and holy because she doesn’t yet know the role she is to play in the salvation of all mankind. 

Mary is humble. She doesn’t see why she is so special. It is because of her closeness to Christ and her humble yes to bear the Son of the Most High that she is full of grace and near to the Lord. 

If we want to be humble and holy and blessed, then we must become like Mary – close to Jesus. At Christmas we too can say yes to God and welcome the Christ child into our lives. We too can say yes to Jesus being born into our everyday. Whether we thing we are worthy or graced or not, God wants to be near to us too. 

Live It: This Sunday, pray a simple prayer inviting God more into your life. Whether you’ve done this a hundred times, or never done it before, try it. If you go to Mass, say this prayer right before you receive communion. If you are streaming Mass at home, say it with your spiritual communion. The prayer can be as simple as, “Lord Jesus Christ come into my life.” or mirror the words of Mary, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Sunday Readings for December 20th, 2020.

The Pleasure of Anticipation

When I was growing up, my mom used to say, “Often the anticipation of something is more enjoyable than the thing itself.” The older I get the more true I find this to be. Whether it is taking the kids to Disney or waiting for date night, the anticipation of something is a significant part of the enjoyment for me. 

These days in the midst of this pandemic the thing that I most often anticipate is online delivery orders. I know this sounds a little crazy but I have developed a whole system of anticipation so that I get the maximum amount of enjoyment from my order. Doesn’t matter if it is long desired wood shop tool or just a bottle of vitamin C, I try to maximize my anticipatory enjoyment.

Here is what I do. As soon as the website where I made my online purchase gives me a tracking number, I click on it. Usually all they’ve done is printed a shipping label, but no movement yet. That’s okay because then the next time I check the tracking number SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED! YAY IT’S COMING! Get it? Then everyday I click on that tracking number and watch my package travel from wherever in the USA slowly making its way towards my house. Then when my package is “out for delivery,” I watch the front door for a brown box. I listen for the talking computer that lives in my kitchen to tell me a delivery has arrived. As silly as this sounds, it is really enjoyable for me.  

With this in mind, I think the gospel this Sunday is less of a threat and more of an invitation to enjoy Advent/Christmas more. Let me explain.

In the gospel Jesus says we need to actively wait for the end of the world. He says, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” What does he mean? Jesus explains it is like a rich man who travels abroad and leaves his servants in charge. Jesus explains that they have to be ready for him to return any time. God forbid he return and find them not ready. 

My whole life, I read this scripture like a threat. It’s as if, Jesus is threatening us with the end of the world. If not the end of the world maybe Jesus is threatening us with our coming death! I always felt like he was saying, “Better be good, because you never know when you’re going to die! Better watch out!” Yikes! But that is how I read it. I don’t think that is the whole story and the way we can know this that we read it on the first weekend of Advent. 

Advent is all about preparing to welcome Christ again this Christmas. Advent is all about waiting and watching. Advent is all about Anticipatory Enjoyment! Instead of dreading the end of the world or our end, Jesus is trying to given us clues as to best enjoy this life!

Jesus is inviting us to live lives of anticipation. Jesus is telling us to wait and watch because good things are coming and we will lead the good life now by anticipating the good life of heaven. 

What do you hear when Jesus says, “Be watchful! Be Alert!” I hope you hear his invitation to have the best Advent you’ve ever had. Don’t worry, anticipate with joy!

LIVE IT: Figure out a way to anticipate Christmas this year. Advent calendar, Jesus Tree, countdown calendar, traveling wisemen, put one decoration on your tree everyday, etc. When you do these anticipatory actions, say a simple prayer asking for Jesus to come and to fill your life with joy. 

It’s Not Fair.

If you are a parent, then it is likely that you’ve heard someone complain that something isn’t fair. If you are parent like me, you’ve heard this phrase yelled at you while one child gestures wildly at another child. I don’t need to explain to you that comparing ourselves to others is a death sentence to loving them well and being happy. If you want to lose your joy, then start comparing yourself to others.

When I would yell at my parents about the fairness of their parenting my younger sister and I, most often their response was, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.” I never liked that answer. I used to think that equal portions, the same rules, etc absolutely means equal, but then I started to say it to my kids and it started to make sense.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a man with a vineyard who hires workers throughout the day and at sundown pays them all the same wage. Whether someone worked twelve hours or one hour, they all got a full day’s wage. The workers who worked a full day complain that they didn’t get what they deserved. The vineyard owner explains that they were paid what was promised, which is true. Then he explains that it is his choice if he also decides to pay the partial workers the same amount.

As the person who holds strict rules about standing in line and always returns the shopping cart to the cart corral (yes that is their technical name), I still struggle with this answer. I want to shout at Jesus, “BUT THIS STILL ISN’T FAIR!”And maybe I’m right. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is love.

God isn’t fair, he is love. He is extraordinary love.

God is wild generosity and total self-gift especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve a full portion of God’s love? Me. You. All of us. Few of us started working at dawn in the vineyard and none of us have worked perfectly all day long. We don’t deserve the wage God wants to pay us. So who are we in the story? We are the workers who come at midday and the end of the day, and yet because of God’s generosity, we still get a full portion.

What is the wage we are paid? Paul says that the wages of sin is death. So what is our wage for working in the vineyard? Life. The reward at the end of the day of working is a life of eternal bliss with God Almighty! There is no half measure of Heaven. If Heaven is infinite joy and perfect communion with God, then those who receive it won’t have more or less than someone else. There is no comparison in Heaven because everyone there is perfectly satisfied. More and less no longer matter in a state of perfect communion with God. 

Finally, this gospel teaches us that it is never too late to receive that full day’s wage. If you are reading this, but have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are reading this and aren’t in full communion with God, now is the time to reach out and take the job. Say a prayer that puts yourself at God’s mercy and God’s will. No matter how far away you feel. No matter how long you’ve been gone, God will welcome you back with extraordinary love. 

LIVE IT: Tell God you want to work in his vineyard. Actively seek to commit yourself to God. Use whatever words come from you heart. 

Sunday Readings for September 20th, 2020.

You’re dead to me.

I give up on people. I do. Most of us do, I think. If someone burns us enough, we get to the point where we can no longer give them another second, third, fourth chance. I’m sure someone has given up on me too. It is very likely I failed someone, said the wrong thing, or didn’t say the right thing too many times for someone.

Conventional wisdom and, in fact, the cardinal virtues probably lead us to believe we can write them off. Prudence tells us that we probably shouldn’t trust that person any more. And yes, that is probably wise. Justice tells us they aren’t fulfilling their duty and so what we owe them has changed. Temperance would have us reach a reasonable amount of latitude before we write them off. Fortitude might invite us to be strong in our stern rejection of the other. 

While it feels wrong to speak of giving up on someone in the abstract, in the particular, I bet you and I can think of a least one person we gave up on because their actions didn’t follow their words. 

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs Peter that he not simply forgive someone, but that he should perpetually forgive them – seventy seven or seven times seven times. Jesus surely teaches virtue, so why can he teach this unlimited forgiveness? Perhaps it is because the most central virtue for Jesus isn’t prudence or justice, but it is Love. We forgive over and over again because of love. 

Of course that doesn’t mean we abandon the other virtues. God’s love is just. God’s love is prudent. Forgiving and loving doesn’t mean we fully trust someone not worthy of our trust. However love demands that we never write anyone off. 

God’s love is exactly that for us. We need God’s forgiveness every single day. God never gives up on us. God never writes us off. God gives us all the chances we need and then some. There is no amount of failure we can accomplish that will cause God to give up on saving us. 

In this Sunday’s gospel parable, the servant begs for forgiveness. This is an essential aspect of our forgiveness. God won’t force forgiveness on us. We must want it too. 

Live It:
Mini Challenge: Ask God for forgiveness or simply go to Confession. 

Big Challenge: Reach out to someone you have written off. Just make contact and say hello. See how God uses that act.

Sunday Readings September 13th, 2002.

The Question

Deacon Sam Catapano used to say that the central question of every single human person’s life was this, “Who do you say that I am?” And the person asking the question, as he does in this week’s gospel, is Jesus Christ. Deacon Sam used to say that the answer to that question and how seriously we take our answer determines everything else in our life. 

In the gospel, there are many rumors floating around about who Jesus is, but when he asks the disciples, Peter clearly and definitively states, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The result of Peter’s proclamation is that he is made the leader of the followers of Jesus and our first Pope.

Peter’s answer certainly influenced the rest of his life. Sure he failed at times, but in the end Peter spent the rest of his life telling other people about Jesus and eventually gave his life because of his faith in Jesus. 

If we say that Jesus is only a teacher or a revolutionary with radical ideas, then we can easily dismiss him and build our lives on something else. But if we say that Jesus is God, then what he says and how he lives must inform every one of our decisions, actions, and beliefs.

If Jesus is God, how can we keep that incredible reality to ourselves? Who is Jesus?

LIVE IT: Two stage live it this week. Stage 1: When you wake up tomorrow morning, say outloud, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Say it like you mean it. Stage 2: Say it to someone else. It will be awkward, I promise. But do it anyway. Stranger, spouse, children or otherwise, but say the words to them, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Trust the Leftovers

In the last year I’ve taken up a new hobby – woodworking. Yes it is the most “old man” of hobbies, but I really enjoy it. The temptation at every stage is to buy the very best of the best of every tool. The thinking goes, “If I could just have that new $400 smoother handplane, then I could make really fine furniture.” The reality is that there are many woodworkers who have thousands of dollars of the very best tools and very few finished wood items to show for it. 

This problem isn’t unique to woodworking. Photography, biking, sailing, cooking, and many other human endeavors have this issue, “If I had the best, I could do this activity better.” While this isn’t untrue, the reality is that most of the time, we just need to go for it and let our tool collection catch up. Often we need to go ahead and make something with the tools we have before we can move forward. 

In the gospel, a caaninite woman approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t even respond to her. He seems to ignore her completely. When she persists, Jesus tells her that his mission is to the children of the house of Israel. When she asks again he tells her that one shouldn’t give the children’s food to the dogs. How does she respond? She says she would take the scraps, the leftovers, if they came from him. 

Jesus responds by announcing her great faith. She is the only person in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus says has great faith. 

This gospel calls us to have the kind of faith that is okay with scraps. Sometimes we approach faith like we approach our hobbies. We need the best of the best. We need the newest book by a famed catholic writer. We need a cooler, nicer rosary. We need the slickest faith app for our phone. If only our tools were better and cooler and more engaging, then we could be people of great faith. 

The reality is that great faith means trusting that God will give us everything we need to be healed and saved. Great faith is not waiting till we have the best of the best or until things are perfect, but to believe now. Don’t wait until things are perfect, pray now. Great faith is trusting God’s scraps will be enough. 

LIVE IT: This sounds crazy, but after dinner when you are putting away your left over food, say this quick prayer (or something like it), “Dear God, than you for the abundance of food that we would have leftovers from our meal. Thank you for being so generous with the gift of yourself that we have an overabundance. Help us to trust in you so much so that we would be okay even with your scraps.”

Sunday Readings for August 16th, 2020.