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.

It’s a Miracle! Why?

When I was in college and dating my future wife, we would go to crazy lengths to see each other. Summer between Junior and Senior year, I lived in St. Louis, MO and she lived in MN. Somehow we ended up seeing each other multiple times that summer. She drove down to visit me. I drove to go see her. We would do whatever it took to just be near each other. Hundreds of dollars and many tanks of gas, just to be close.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish, and he multiplies the bread until there was more than enough for 5,000 men (probably 20,000 – 30,000 people total). Jesus transgressed the laws of nature to create a superabundance of food. Why?

The miracle both harkened back to the Old Testament when God gave Manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It reminds us of the prophet Elisha multiplying meager rations to feed 100 hundred men. It looks forward to the Last Supper and Jesus instituting the Eucharistic celebration and to the heavenly banquet of the saints and angels.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle to demonstrate his power and to allow the people to witness a miracle of a messiah. Jesus multiplies the loaves, because the people are hungry. All of this is true. 

In this version in Matthew, Jesus multiplies the loaves to keep the people close. The disciples were ready to send the crowd away because they didn’t have enough food for them. But Jesus performs this incredible miracle because he doesn’t want to send the people away. Jesus wants to keep the people close to him. 

The truth this teaches us is that through the Eucharist, Jesus brings us close to himself. It is in and through the Mass that God draws nearest to us. In fact, we take him inside our bodies and we become one flesh with Jesus Christ King of Kings. Just as the multiplication of loaves was a miracle that allowed the people to stay close to Jesus, the Eucharist is a miracle that allows us to get intimately close to Jesus. 

If you feel far from God, one surefire way to get near him is to go to Mass. If your faith is wavering, it is in the Eucharist that you will feel closer to the God who loves you unconditionally. 

LIVE IT: Go to Mass. Whether it is a daily or Sunday Mass, get there and be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday Readings for August 2nd, 2020

Judgemental

I made fajitas the other night and they were delicious. Marinated, grilled skirt steak. Cast iron peppers and onions. Tortillas warmed on the grill. Fresh Pico de Gallo and Guacamole to top things off. Shared on a warm night with a slight breeze on a table set up in the shade of a tree in our beautiful backyard. It was nearly perfect. 

To name the food and atmosphere and company as enjoyable and good is to make a judgement. I made a judgement as to whether the food was delicious or not. I judged the weather and the shade and the table we ate on. I judged the company. I made judgements about the pleasurable aspects of my evening and judged it to be good. 

We live in a time when being judgmental has been seen as negative. I have worked on trying to be less judgmental. But the gospel this Sunday challenged this negative view of judgement. I am convinced that judging things is actually a good and necessary thing. We should be judgmental. Let me explain. 

Judging things keeps us safe. In the gospel, Jesus tells a parable of the farmer who plants good wheat, but an enemy sows weeds in the same field and they both grow up together. The weed that Jesus is describing is called darnel. When it is young, it looks just like wheat. It is difficult to distinguish the two. As it grows it wraps its roots around other plants. To pull up darnel would be to pull up other crops.

Also, it’s deadly poisonous. The farmer and his servants have to judge the difference between darnel and wheat if they don’t want to be poisoned. If we want to live, we have to make judgements between what is harmful to us and what is good for us. 

Only when we judge do we appreciate. We aren’t grateful for the wheat, the good things, in our lives if we don’t judge them as good. How do we know that Fajitas are good or bad? We judge them. We don’t know that something is Beautiful, Good, or True unless we make an assessment. 

While the gospel may give us good reason to judge, it also comes with clear warning about judgement. We can judge behaviors, material goods, or beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we should judge people. In the gospel, the harvester and the farmer judge the weeds from the wheat, but the farmer tells the slaves not to pull the weeds until harvest time.

To that end, it’s not our job to judge people. It isn’t the right time. God waits to judge people until their deaths and the end of time because he wants to give each of us every single opportunity to change. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate the time. I need it. 

Whenever we judge people we do it on way too little information. We are poor judges of the human heart because we just can’t know all the information we would need to make a sound judgement.

Also, we shouldn’t judge people because we often base that judgement off of the wrong or incomplete information. It is like judging whether the fajitas are good based on the shape of the pasture where the cow who became our meal grazed in. Not enough and wrong information to make a judgement. 

We should be judgmental. We judge to avoid evil and to choose good. How?

The judge of judgement should always be love. 

If we judge with anything other than love as our guiding principle, we will fail to judge well. God’s judgement and God’s love aren’t opposing forces, but in fact they work for the same end – our intimate and ultimate union with God forever. 

Live It: Next time you encounter someone, whether you know them well or not, use your power of judgement to ask this question, “What can I do to love this person well right now?”

Restored again.

In the midst of our state’s stay at home order and lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we got bored with screens pretty fast and were looking for things to do around the house. My wife looked at our backyard and decided that we should rebuild our raised vegetable garden beds. They aren’t anything fancy and we aren’t farmers by any means, but we’ve learned a thing or two trying to grow tomatoes and carrots and peppers over the years. 

So when I read Jesus’ parable of the sower from this Sunday’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but think about my new garden beds. Jesus describes four places where seeds fall – hard packed path, rocky, shallow soil, weed riddled soil, and fertile, good soil. 

I thought of the hours spent emptying the old beds, shifts to remove rocks and weeds. I thought about the bags and bags of new soil and manure we hauled from the driveway down to where the beds reside on the edge of our property. I thought about the feet of netting we put up to keep the rabbits away. A lot of work, but now we’ve got lush, verdant, and hopefully, fruitful plants. 

When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples he tells them that the seeds are the word of God which is sown into the hearts of those who hear Jesus and the disciples preach. Jesus explains that a great number of people are going to hear the preaching, but not everyone will have the right kind of disposition to have the seed take root in their life. 

Some might be tempted to say, “I’ve tried the religion thing and I just must be shallow or hard packed or weedy soil that won’t ever receive the word of God. I’m done. I’m never going to be good soil.” I don’t think that was Jesus’ point. 

The thing about all the unfit soil that Jesus describes is that it can change. Weeds and thorns can be pulled. Rocks can be removed. Hard packed soil can be tilled up. Jesus never mentions soil that is beyond restoration. 

For us that means that Jesus doesn’t give up on us. No one is beyond God’s ability to prepare soil that will receive his word. And it takes work to get ready to plant. No farmer worth his salt just throws seeds on the ground and hopes it works out for the best. If you want seed to sprout and grown and bear fruit, you have to prepare the ground first. 

Is your heart fertile soil? Are you as prepared as you could be to receive God’s word? What are the practical things we can do in our lives to prepare them for God? Here are a couple ideas. Pick one:

  1. Till the soil – In our spiritual life, this looks like examining and reflecting on our lives to find the places where we don’t let God in very easily. The best way I’ve found to do this is something called the Daily Examen. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this isn’t exactly an examination of conscience, but a moment each day to reflect on what happened that day. Here is a good source on how to go about making a Daily Examen
    1. Micro Challenge – Try this everyday for a week and see if your packed soil gets tilled up. 
  2. Remove the Rocks – In our spiritual life, this is when we loose excitement for the faith because of difficulty or tragedy in our life. This happens to nearly everyone and has probably happened to a lot of people this year. How do we trust in God when something difficult happens to us? I think finding out how others have done this is helpful. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Seek Counsel. Search out someone you think is spiritually wise. Maybe this is one of our priests or parishioner or maybe someone in your family. Ask them what they have done when it feels like troubles steal their faith. 
  3. Pull the Thorns – In the spiritual life, this is when pleasure, entertainment, power, control, or other things pull us away from our faith. We live in a culture that says discomfort is bad and if your every desire isn’t satisfied, something is wrong. This leads us to chase pleasure so that we will be happy, which, of course, makes us unhappy. We have to denounce this way of thinking and all the behaviors that lead us in that direction. 
    1. Micro Challenge – Go to Confession. Twice. Nothing like the Sacrament of Confession to pull the weeds of sin out by the roots. Why Twice? If it’s been a while, then the first time will feel strange and less like prayer than you might like. The second time can potentially bear more fruit. 

Sunday Readings for July 12th, 2020.

Overheard

Have you ever been in a crowded restaurant (not lately…), and overheard the conversation at the table next to you. One time my wife witnessed the breakup of a long term relationship. It was messy and horrible to be a part of. Another time we accidentally sat in on a business meeting of a local pro sports team, and heard that they weren’t planning on bring the coach back the follow year (can’t make it up).

Overhearing an intimate conversation or an intimate moment is a little cringy. Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes to eavesdrop, but for me the more intimate the conversation or moment, the more I just want to run away or plug my ears. One of the reasons I don’t like is because that means there has probably been a time when some overheard an intimate conversation I was a part of. No one wants that. 

When a conversation is general or mundane, I don’t have the same reaction. Who cares if I overhear someone talking about trash day or the weather?

In the gospel this Sunday we overhear Jesus making an intimate prayer to God. Only three times in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus pray like this. One time is when he is suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Another is when he is dying on the cross. This Sunday we hear the third time Matthew records Jesus’ intimate prayer. 

Jesus is praying in thanksgiving to God for his disciples, in fact, for all people who believe in him. He calls them (us), the little ones. What do these little ones know that the wise and the learned don’t know? Him. The little ones know Jesus. If you know who and what and why Jesus is, Jesus says then you know the Father. If you have intimacy with Jesus, you have intimacy with God Almighty. Jesus reveals who God is. Wow. Awesome. 

I think overhearing someone’s prayer is a lot like overhearing someone’s conversation. When I am praying in a group, my prayers are more what you would expect me to say in front of other people. But when I am alone and really in need of my Lord, my prayer is intimate, personal, and not something I would love for someone else to overhear. 

Maybe this is why Jesus says “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).

I think there is a time a place for all kinds of prayer (no wrong way to pray, honestly). Yet I do think our goal in life is intimacy with God (heaven) and that means our prayer needs to move in that direction too. Pray like Jesus – intimately. 

LIVE IT: Go somewhere totally alone – Car, a hike in nature, basement, bedroom, bathroom. Say to God a prayer from your deepest place. Tell him what is really going on. Ask the thing you can’t imagine asking him. Say the prayer to him you wouldn’t say in front of anyone else. 

Sunday Readings for July 5th, 2020.

Embrace

In the the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a brief, fleeting image that I will never forget. Jesus has already been scourged and is now carrying his cross to Golgotha. He falls hard to the stone paved ground. In his effort to lift up his cross again, Jesus embraces his cross. The scene makes reference to another moment when Jesus embraces his mother. The question left for us the viewers is this: “Does Jesus love his cross?” 

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus warns us that if we love anything, prefer anything to God and to Jesus’ mission, we are not worthy of the mission. Then Jesus instructs us that whoever doesn’t take up his cross isn’t worthy of following Jesus.

I think this tells us two things:

  1. Following Jesus is something we do on purpose. We don’t accidentally become disciples of Jesus. Whether it is one big decision or a hundred little ones (probably a little of both), if we want to follow Jesus we have to “take up” the mission. 
  2. It’s not enough to accept the idea that we will suffer and maybe suffer for our faith. We have to embrace our cross. 

I don’t suffer well. I am bad at suffering. I don’t want it and I will do nearly anything to avoid it. I think a lot of people I know are like this too. This makes us vulnerable to the temptation to chase comfort and ease. If I am constantly just trying to get comfortable and satisfied, then my comfort is my highest value. If comfort is my highest value, then I won’t embrace, much less love, anything that causes me to suffer. 

I think this is a daily battle for many of us. We are sold comfort, security, entertainment, and convenience on every screen, billboard, broadcast, and notification. If all day long I choose ease, ease will become my God and I will prefer it to Christ. 

Which leads me back to the first point – We have to embrace the Cross on purpose. Maybe that means fasting or giving or doing something beyond our comfort zone. Maybe that means actively accepting and owning the suffering we already face. Whatever the case, to follow Jesus means to take up our cross even if that means suffering. The only way to embrace suffering is to trust in God. The only way to trust in God is to embrace suffering. 

LIVE IT: Pick up a cross. Literally. Go a find a cross or crucifix and hold it for 5 minutes and during that time ask God to help you take up your cross that day. 

Sunday Readings for June 28th, 2020.

The Unexpected Missionary

GoodWord.May20204

I recently read some non-fiction books about the American Revolution and the early 1800s. What I was most surprised by was the difficulty, but regularity of ocean travel. Last year my wife and I traveled to Boston and toured the USS Constitution, a retired tall ship that I actually read about this past week. While the ship was so large, the living quarters were very small. I couldn’t imagine signing on to traverse the Atlantic or even further.

Yet, for many centuries this is what it meant to be a foreign missionary for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Why would anyone get on a boat (maybe not as sturdy and glorious as the USS Constitution) and travel across the globe to tell people about Jesus?

Easy–Jesus told us to.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us, the Church, the Great Commission. Jesus tells us first and emphatically to “Go.” It is the mission of the Church to go out into the world and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to leave the confines of the safe harbor and strike out into open water. When we get there we are to make disciples of all nations, teach them to obey Jesus, and remember Jesus promises to be with us always.

The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I am writing this from the comfort of my finished basement. I have a space heater taking the chill out of the air and enough tea and afternoon snacks to keep me going. I am here because of our stay at home order, and the best way to keep each other safe is to stay home or stay safe. How can I be a missionary for Jesus Christ if my ship can’t leave the harbor?

When it comes to missionary activity we have two Patron Saints that the Church looks toward for intercession and inspiration. First, St. Francis Xavier sailed from Europe in 1540, and after sailing around Africa, founded missions in India, Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, and then died at age 46 off the coast of China where he was headed for missionary work. A brave and holy man, who has the resume for the job of Patron of Missions.

The Patroness of Mission is Saint Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese lived in a Carmelite Cloister and never left France on Mission. She died at age 24, never having set sail for the far reaches of the world. Yet, she is the unexpected Patroness of Mission and Missionaries. How did she accomplish the Mission of the Church while never leaving her home? St. Therese did three things that I think we can emulate and by doing so, accomplish the mission before us:

  1. Prayer. I am not an expert in St. Therese’s prayer life, but one thing I do know is her absolute dependence on God. When we pray during this time, we must pray as a people who are absolutely in need of God. We can do that.
  2. Love. St. Therese was humble and lived humbly in the cloister, but she did so with great love. While she didn’t travel the world on mission to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, she loved well those around her. She did the things of her day, dishes, prayers, chores, laundry, with great heart. She did these simple sacrifices with love and offered her work up to Jesus Christ. We can do that.
  3. Write/Record. St. Therese wrote “The Story of a Soul”, an autobiography which has converted (along with God’s grace) many hearts. She recorded her desire for God and for others to know God. We can write to our family and our friends. We can record what God is doing for and in us right now with a pen or keyboard or camera. We can do that.

Live It: If we want to emulate the great Patroness of Mission, St. Therese of Lisieux, then we must start with our prayer. St. Therese wrote many prayers, and this one for the start of the day is particularly beautiful in its simplicity (I think).

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.

Readings for Sunday May 24th, 2020.