Don’t be a Windsock.

marino-bobetic-_O_jDkWRN3U-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 15th, 2019.

What is the purpose of a wind sock? 

Okay, so I guess I understand that a wind sock at small airfield could tell pilots which way the wind is blowing. I understand why on a golf course the holes have flags. The flags mark the location of a hole and help the players to see which way and the degree to which the wind is blowing at the green. But why do people sometimes have windsocks at their homes? 

The design of the windsock is such that it fills with wind and flutters in the direction away from which the wind is coming. It is controlled by the wind. It is blown directionally any which way the wind is blowing. I guess some people have them for decoration.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus asks those gathered why they went into the desert to see John the Baptist. One of the things Jesus asks is, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” In essence, Jesus is asking, “Did you come to the desert to see a windsock?”

The rhetorical answer that Jesus is looking for is a big NO. The crowds didn’t go into the desert because John dressed well or just because he was a prophet. They followed John because he wasn’t a bruised reed, but because he stood up to the winds of his time. John had backbone. 

People are attracted to people who believe in what they stand for. I have a friend who likes to say, I am passionate about passionate people. Other people’s enthusiasm and strong stance can be attractive at the right time and when expressed in the right way.

There might be nothing worse than someone who moves whichever way the wind is blowing that day. To just listen to the crowd and ignore the truth is cowardice and weak. 

John is attractive because he had backbone. John believed in something and was sold out for it. How sold out? He dressed in a hair-shirt and ate bugs because he thought that is what he would best serve the Lord. 

Following Jesus Christ, preparing a way from him is rarely convenient. If want to be people who serve God well and prepare a way, if we want to attract people to the gospel, we have to have backbone too. We have to chose the inconvenient path. We can’t be a windsock. 

Live It: Put on two different socks tomorrow. It isn’t as weird as a hair-shirt or eating locus, but us it a reminder to have backbone. Believe in the gospel. 

The Fruit of Repentance

marina-khrapova-GbY8Xg5iTOA-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for December 8th, 2019.

My wife’s brother used to have this large and prolific apple tree in his backyard in Utah. It wasn’t ugly but it wasn’t great to look at either. It took up a lot of the yard and wasn’t good for climbing or much of anything else. It attracted bees (good and bad), and many pests. But did it ever produce fruit. Somehow this single tree produced twice as many apples as my brother-in-law and his family of four could consume even while making loads of apple sauce, pies, apple butter, and much more. 

When my brother-in-law moved to another state he planted more fruit trees because of the abundance of fruit from that one tree back in Utah. He wanted to try and recreate the same experience of a fruitful fruit tree. Why? Because it worked. A fruitful fruit tree was worth the work. 

In the gospel John the Baptist admonishes the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Later he explains that if their lives aren’t fruitful, they will be cut down and burned in the unquenchable fire. Yikes. 

Most of the time we consider things of faith to be kind of squishy. What I mean is, faith is a difficult thing to quantify and measure. And it’s true, we aren’t called to be successful, we are called to be faithful (St. Theresa of Calcutta).

John reminds us of a valuable truth of our faith. Though it may be hard to measure conversion or faith, and though we may never see the results of our work, if our faith lives aren’t fruitful, if they don’t result in a measurable good, then our faith is nothing more than firewood. In other words, if we are truly repentant and faithful to God, he will use our faithfulness to produce good fruit. 

I find it fascinating in John’s speech that it is our repentance that will produce good fruit – not our prayer or ministry, not our evangelization or kindness. No it is our personal conversion, our turning away from sin and towards God that will produce fruit. It is our becoming saints that will produce the fruit of faith in others. 

Want to produce good fruit? Become a saint. 

Live It: Go eat a piece of fruit. While you eat it, thank God for the deliciousness of fruit. If you can, take your time and go slow, savoring each bite. When your done ask God to produce fruit in your life. 

More than a Prophet

Dec. 11th Sunday Readings.

sjn-sports-center-2

I already had my St. John’s University sweatshirt, hat, and red socks on when my wife Liz said to me, “You know…I think I might be pregnant. I’m going to take a test.” Sure enough the test said Yes! and we had to keep our mouths shut at the Johnny-Tommy football game we were attending with many of our friends from college. We were so excited, nervous, in shock, and overjoyed with the news.

As good as that moment was, it was nothing compared to the next year when we held our little Ella in our arms for the first time. As good as the news of a coming child was to us; actually holding that child was so much better.

Whether you have kids or not you know the feeling of finding out something is going to happen vs the thing actually happening. You know what it like to anticipate a gift and then to actually receive it.

For the second week in a row the gospel is about John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. While last week John talked about “one mightier than I” who is coming, this week Jesus asks the crowds, “What did you go out to the desert to see?” He gives a number of ridiculous answers and then says, “Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

Jesus suggests that as amazing a prophet as John the Baptist is, John is just that – a prophet. John’s job is tell people the good news that the savior of the world is coming. John’s job is to prepare the way for the Chosen One. John’s job is to point to the Messiah.

Jesus is that Savior, Chosen One, and Messiah.

Jesus is more than a prophet.

Jesus isn’t the promise of a better life; he is new life. Jesus doesn’t just tell us the good news; he is the good news. Jesus isn’t an idea or symbol or policy; Jesus is a person whom we can know intimately.

John tells the world that a Savior is coming, and, at Christmas, Mary holds that Savior nativityin her arms. In our preparation for Christmas, let’s not settle for just the idea that we can draw close to the God who loves us unconditionally. No, let’s actually do it. Come near to Christ. Let go of whatever keeps us away and know that God is with us.

Live It:
Make a firm commitment to give God time to meet you where you are in these last two weeks of Advent. Go sit in the Adoration Chapel or the empty main church at HNOJ for 1 hour. Go to a weekday Mass wherever you can. Set up a Confession by calling the main office or asking our priests. Whatever the case, give God a chance to be more than idea for you this Advent.

First or Nothing.

The Good Word for Sunday January 10th ~ for the complete readings click here. RickyBobby

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” – Ricky Bobby

Engrained in our culture is the idea that we all must strive to be first. If we aren’t working towards becoming #1, then we are doing our “best.” College football coach Henry Russell Sanders is famous for saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!”

Like most of you, I deny buying into this worldview, but a simple review of my driving habits would demonstrate how easily I default to seeking to be #1. Maybe you’re different than me, but I bet, if you took a couple minutes, you could find some aspect of your life where you can’t help but desire to be better than everyone else.

John the Baptist speaks in stark contrast to our culture’s push for first place. Think about it. In our gospel this weekend we hear, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”

People thought John was the Messiah. John could have assumed the role of anointed one, savior. He could have used people’s loyalty to serve himself. But he didn’t.

John chose second place. John witnessed to the fact that no matter how important, no matter how many good things he did, he wasn’t the best. John put Jesus first.

Sometimes we even complete to be best at being good. We make church a competitive sport. If you’ve ever felt like you weren’t good enough or thought someone else wasn’t good enough to come to God, then you’ve experienced pious competitiveness.

If we want to follow Jesus more perfectly, then we need to take a page from John the Baptist and choose second place. Jesus first; everything else second.

Live It:
Give up your pew this week. Whether you normally sit in the front or in the back (or normally don’t come at all), make a conscious choice to sit somewhere different, so that someone else can take your normal spot.

Oh good, you’re here.

The Good Word for Sunday Dec. 20th ~ For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Less than a week until Christmas and the preparations are winding down, just as the feelings of good cheer and joy are really ramping up. Besides the gifts and the tree and the lights, at Christmas we get to see family and friends we don’t normally spend time with. Sometimes this is stressful, but sometimes it’s a reason to celebrate.

A couple years ago my wife’s sister, who is just a year younger and my wife’s best friend, decided to surprise her at Christmas time. Victoria, my sister in law, lives in Arizona and keeps in good contact, but it’s always great when she comes in town. I knew that when we went up to my mother in law’s house for family Christmas that Victoria would be there, waiting.

We walked in the house, taking off boots and coats at the door, and just as Liz was making her way towards the living room, Victoria came out from the hallway to the bedrooms. My wife was in shock. She just stood there frozen. At first she didn’t say anything; she didn’t move. After many hugs and questions, the rest of the celebrations continued. My wife was so overjoyed that Victoria was there, she couldn’t stop smiling all day.

In our Gospel, John is so overjoyed to be in the presence of Jesus that he leaps in his mother’s womb. John’s reaction to being in the presence of God is to dance with joy. In the Old Testament, when David was brought the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God for the people of Israel, back to Jerusalem, David danced for joy so vigorously that he scandalized some people of Jerusalem.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: how do we react when we come into the presence of God? How do we react when we come in contact with the child Jesus at Christmas?

This Christmas we are going to stand in the presence of God. Wow. Think about that. The same Jesus born to Mary. The same Jesus in the manger. The same Jesus venerated and worshiped by Shepherds and Magi. We get to be near and, in fact, touch that same Jesus in the Eucharist.

At Christmas Mass, whether you attend 4, 6, 10 or 9:30 on Christmas morning Mass, the God of the universe will be physically present in the Eucharist. When you go to Mass, Jesus, the same Jesus who was born to Mary and caused John to leap, will be truly and really in our midst. Our God and Savior is coming. How will you react when you meet Jesus this Christmas?

LIVE IT:
Leap for Joy at Mass this weekend! Okay, maybe that is too much for a Minnesotan. Let your heart leap for joy when you meet Jesus in the Eucharist. When you go up to receive Jesus, smile, be happy on the inside, and let your heart leap for joy just like it would seeing your best friend.

Hiding.

The Good Word for Sunday December 6th ~ For the complete readings click here. 

Goodwill-Retail-Center-Colorado-Springs-South-Circle-8-300x168Have you ever lost a child in a store? I did for about 43 seconds and it was the longest 43 seconds of my life. I was in JC Penny’s with my wife and two daughters. I was assigned to stay near the kids, when all of a sudden I couldn’t find the younger one. She was just gone.

Eventually we found her hiding in the middle of one of those round racks of clothes. When I asked her why she didn’t answer when I called out for her, just shrugged and laughed at me. I tried to explain that I couldn’t see her because of the clothes on the rack she plainly stated, “I know; that’s why I hid there.”

I think in our faith life we imagine that God is that child and we struggle in our search for him. As Catholic Christians we believe the exact opposite. God is actually searching for us, while we hide in the middle of a clothes rack. In other words, most religions can be described as man’s search for God, but Christianity is God’s search for man.

So why can’t God find us? He is all knowing and all-powerful, right? What’s the problem?

God is a gentleman and won’t force himself on any of us. God respects our free will. If we want nothing to do with him, that is exactly what we will get. But he also isn’t complacent and constantly and perfectly reaches out to us. And the good and amazing news is that the moment we want to grow closer to God, we can.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, John the Baptist is described as going through the whole region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. How do we let God find us? Repent our sins.

The reading from Luke’s gospel goes on to quote Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, to say that in order to get ready for God to come, we prepare the way, make paths straight, lower mountains, and fill in valleys. If we want God to find us, we need to clear a path for him to come to us. We must remove the obstacles between God and us.

How do we do that? We ask God to remove the obstacles. We ask God to clear a path. We invite God into our messy and messed up moments. We start this by simply calling out to him. We say whatever simple prayer makes sense to us. It could be, “Jesus, come help me with my mess” or “Jesus, have mercy on me” or just “Jesus, I need you.”

And if we really want to nuke the obstacles between God and us, there is no better way than the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you want to clear a wide and perfect path to God, then the Sacrament of Reconciliation is your answer.

Live It:
For one week, make the simple prayer, “Jesus, I need you,” the first thing you say in the morning and the last thing you say at night. And/or go receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You’ll be glad you did.

The Good Word for the Baptism of the Lord January 11th

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Who is the best? Who is #1? This is a question we ask often in our society. Sports analysts argue over who is the current best NBA player. Then they argue about who is the best of all time. Cable news stations air endless discussions about which politician and which political party is on top. Minnesotans delight in one-uping each other in stories of bad weather and scary low temperatures.

John the Baptism witnesses to a different way of approaching life when he says, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” John the Baptist rightly knows, believes, and teaches that he is number 2.

In the spiritual life it is vitally important that every now and again we ask ourselves this simple but powerful question, “Who is my #1?” For some of us, it is our kids. We would lay down in traffic for them. For others it may be our parents, as they need so much of our attention and care. Still others, it may be our community or our jobs. If we are completely honest with ourselves, many days we are our own #1.

John shows us in this short Gospel reading that when we are at our best, Jesus Christ is our #1. When Jesus is #1, then we are able to give our very best to our kids, our spouses, our parents, our jobs, and ultimately ourselves.

Live It:
Make Jesus #1 tomorrow by give him the first 5 minutes of your day. Set your alarm for just 5 minutes earlier and when it goes off, sit up, say this simple prayer, “Good morning Jesus. I give you my day. I give you my first 5 minutes. Do with it what you will.” And then mindfully go about your day.