That’s Heavy.

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In the cinema classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses the 1980’s slang term “heavy” to describe the hi jinx he has unleashed with his unplanned trip to 1955. His friend Doc Brown responds by saying, “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

This is funny not only because of the mash up of 1955 and 1985, but also because Doc seems clueless to the meaning of the word “heavy” in this context and we the audience know exactly what Marty means. We know because the feeling of heaviness isn’t just 1980’s slang.  

We all know when a situation is heavy. We all know when we hear a story or statement that weighs upon us. We can feel it when we walk into a room and sense a heaviness among those already presence. 

On Monday I read the final three paragraphs of the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel at a Bible Study (online) in preparation for this coming Sunday. When I read about Jesus crucifixion and death you could feel the heaviness in the group. When we heard of Jesus’ suffering one could sense how heavy we all felt. When Jesus cries out and breaths his last, we paused, and we could feel the weight of this reality upon us. 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and Catholic Churches everywhere will read the Passion of Jesus Christ from Matthew’s gospel. Granted it will be proclaimed to an online audience or to empty Churches in many places in the world. More than ever, it seems we know what it means to feel that somber weight of death and rejection. 

Another reality remains. While we may know what a heavy situation feels like, our God, the source of Light and of all creation, knows what our heaviness feels like. Jesus dying on the cross isn’t just about his suffering, but about ours as well. We have a God who knows what it is like to be us. We have a God who loves us so much that he wouldn’t let us persist in suffering without changing the story. In fact, he came to save us from suffering and death. Jesus died on the cross to conquer death forever. 

This week when you feel heavy, when the weight of the world falls on your shoulders, remember that you don’t bear the weight alone. Remember Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

LIVE IT: Let God give you rest. If it means an extra nap or a vigorous walk, when you feel light or rested, thank God for his gift to you. 

Read for your self: Sunday Readings for April 5th, 2020.

Faith Enough.

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A few days ago I read a tweet that said, “It’s easy to pray that God’s will be done when it lines up with what we want done.” I found this to be true. Recently I’ve found it much more difficult to accept what is happening in the world as either God’s will or what I want. For me at least it has been harder to pray that “God’s will be done.” 

Martha and Mary must have been scared and anxious when Lazarus got sick. They must have found a glimmer of hope that they knew a healer who they thought might be able to save him. Can you imagine what they felt when Jesus didn’t show up in time? Can you imagine what must have been like to be let down by Jesus? 

Jesus arrives too late and cries over the death of his friend. He asks them to take away the stone to Lazarus’ tomb. When the protest about the stench, Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

He then raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus prays to God out loud so that the crowds know that Jesus comes from the Father. Then he calls Lazarus out and the dead man rises. 

And that’s that. That’s kind of the end of the story. Many people came to believe in Jesus, but the scene changes in John’s gospel to the beginning of a plot to kill Jesus. 

When do we decide to believe? Do we believe Jesus and what he says about himself or do we believe only after Jesus has proved himself and do what we want? To be honest, I’m writing this question for myself because I need to hear it right now. 

We are living through the most uncertain of times. What I do know is that someone believed before they moved the stone and before Lazarus was raised. There’s nothing wrong with believing in Jesus after the miracle has occurred. However, someone has to trust God enough to believe him at his word and move the stone. Will it be us?

Live it: In Mark 9, a boy with a demon is cured and Jesus tell the boy’s father that things are possible for the one who has faith. The man responds, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Say that prayer as many times as it takes – “Jesus, I do believe; help my unbelief” “Jesus I trust in you; help me to trust you fully.” “Jesus I love you; help me to love you completely.”   

Absolutely Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 2020.

No Rules. No Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Readings for February 16th, 2020.

Quit it now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVE IT:

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

Sunday Readings for January 26th, 2020.

Offended.

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Sunday Readings for November 24, 2019

A good friend of mine once told me, “The Christian should never be personally offended by a private critique. Either what the other person says is true and we should receive it as correction or it is false and we should dismiss it as inaccurate.” Whoa. 

That was hard for me to hear and has been even harder to live out since then. How do I not let my feeling be hurt when someone says something negative about me, even if it is untrue? At the same time, maybe it is worse when someone critiques me and I know what they are saying is true. Admitting that someone knows my faults and shortcomings is difficult.

We hear in the gospel this Sunday that while Jesus hung on the cross, he was accused over and over of the same thing. He was mocked for what he had preached about himself. First the rulers, then the soldiers, and then even a convicted criminal all accuse Jesus of the same thing – being the Christ, the chosen one of God and the savior of the world. 

Of course, we know that they were right. They mocked him and asked him to save himself. The rude thief asked Jesus to save both of them. The reality is that Jesus was doing exactly that by dying on the cross. 

Who spoke the truth about Jesus while he suffered on the cross? Jesus’ enemies. Who named him Christ and King? Jesus’ accusers. They didn’t know the truth of their sneers. They didn’t know the accuracy of their description of Jesus’ mission. They thought Jesus was delusional and they ripped him for his claims. 

I think this scripture calls us to two things. First, we’re invited respond to sneers, jeers, and reviling critiques like Jesus. We accept what is true, ignore what is false, and stick to our mission. Secondly, I think we would do well to imitate the good thief in asking Jesus to remember us. In other words, we are called to depend completely on Jesus because he is God, he is the chosen one, he can save us from death and sin, and he can bring us to Paradise. Jesus remember me!

Live It: Reflect on the last time someone insulted or critiqued you. How did you react? How would you have preferred to react? What would relying completely on Jesus look like in that moment?

How to get found

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Sunday Readings for Nov. 3, 2019

Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was, “If you ever get lost, put yourself in a position to be found.” When it came to getting lost in a JC Penny when I was 5 years old and bored with shopping for school clothes, it meant to sit down and stay in one place until I was found. When it came to getting lost in the woods outside of my neighborhood it meant following the creek until it passed under a road and then hiking up to the road and finding my way home. 

In the spiritual life I think this advice is even more valuable. We get lost. Whether it is because we hitch our wagon to someone or some people who lead us away or we make our own way through sin and selfishness, humans seem to get lost regularly. Sometimes it’s a simple couple steps back on the path. Other times we need a major intervention to find our way home. 

In the gospel, Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus who is a thief and exhorter and short fellow. When Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree and in the process puts himself in a position to be found. When Jesus dines at his house, Zacchaeus repents and promises to make restitution. 

Christianity is different than all the other world religions. Religion is sometimes defined as man’s search for God. But for Christians, our religion is actually God’s search for us. For while we were still a long way off, God sent his only Son to become one of us, to live like us, and die like us so that we too can be saved. 

Jesus came searching for you and for me. 

The good news is that all we have to do is put ourselves in a position to be found. 

LIVE IT: Go to Church. Come sit a pew. Whether it is for Mass, Confession, or just some silent time, come and put yourself into a position to be found.