Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

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PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into. 

Rejoice! on purpose.

December 17th Sunday Readings.

“Rejoice always!” This Sunday we will hear this call to rejoice from St. Paul. The Churchjared-sluyter-342881 calls this Sunday Gaudate, the priests and deacons wear rose colored vestments, and we are reminded to Rejoice!

I know exactly what this looks like in children. I know what a little kid who is rejoicing looks like. Jumping up and down, boisterously shouting, maybe even fist pumps and high fives. Sometimes children even just sit and stare in unbelief in a stunned zombie like trance, overcome with joy.

While we know what it means to rejoice as a child, I think it is harder to judge what it looks like to rejoice as an adult. Sure, when our alma mater scores on the final drive to upset a hated rival, adults will jump and holler. On the day of a wedding adults will dance and raise glasses, but these are all culturally expected behaviors.

What does it look like when an adult spontaneously rejoices? I’m not sure I know the answer. But what I do know is that we have a whole host of behaviors that we do this time of year that I think are supposed to be the actions of rejoicing that seem to be so far divorced from their reasons that we forget they are actions of rejoicing all together.

As we rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent in anticipation of Christmas, what are we up to? We bake cookies, we decorate, we prepare a large meal, we exchange gifts, we see family and friends socially, we send cards, and more. Why? For me, sometimes, these actions become an end in and of themselves. We bake cookies because they are delicious and we always have. We put up a tree and decorate because we did it last year. We roast a silly amount of meat and buy much wine because people are coming over.

The reality for the Christian is that we bake, decorate, and feast because our Lord Jesus Christ has been born in Bethlehem. We rejoice because Jesus has become human. Jesus has become human to be close to us so that we can be close to God. Jesus has be born to heal, restore, and save us from death forever.

Nostalgia, pleasure, and habit aren’t good enough reasons to rejoice.

When those are our reasons for rejoicing, our joy ultimately falls flat. However, when we rejoice because the God of the universe love us so much that he puts our lives before his, then we rejoice for a right and justified reason. The reason for our celebration is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind! God is born to us!

Live It: Say a prayer of thanks when you serve the big meal, open gifts, or pour a glass of wine this Christmas. When rejoicing say, “Because of Jesus!”

You’re Glowing.

August 6th Sunday Readings.

1505CNS-popemarried-couplesWEB2“You’re glowing.” Have you ever heard this phrase used? I’ve heard people say this to grooms and brides on their wedding day. I’ve heard people say this to pregnant women. Something about moments of incredible joy that seem to have us radiating light.

A friend of mine once told me that in Mexico the traditional way to ask a pregnant woman when she is due is, “Cuado vas a dar luz?” or “When will you bring forth the light?” The birth is a moment of brightness, of light.

In the gospel and first reading this weekend, we read about God in his glory shinning brightly. Daniel describes The Ancient one as bright white as snow sitting on a flaming throne. In the familiar story of the transfiguration, Jesus’ face “shone like the sun,” and his clothes become “white as light.” In another moment from scripture, Moses encounters God on Sinai, comes down the mountain, and the skin of his face became radiant.

A couple years ago, an acquaintance of mine heard a talk about the Eucharist and went to Eucharistic Adoration and for the first time in her life, she believed that the Eucharist really is Jesus. She walked out of the church and the first person who saw her, before they even spoke, remarked, “Wow. You’re glowing.”

I think when we encounter God in an intimate and profound way, there is a fundamental The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896change within us. That change can manifest itself in a noticeable way. People can literally see the change in us. We radiate. That light is a manifestation of receiving and giving unconditional love. That is why the newly married couple glow. That is why the mother grown a human, with a soul, within her radiates light. That is why when we encounter this God of love who would do anything to be near us, we radiate his love into the world. Let your light shine.

LIVE IT: Take sometime this week to light a candle and sit in silence. You could do this at the Adoration Chapel or in your home. Let God speak to you in the silence.

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.

Happy and Pink.

The Good Word for Sunday December 13th ~ For the complete readings click here.

It’s pink candle time! The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday.

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You may or may not see your pastor in these “joyful” vestments this Sunday.

Gaudete means “Rejoice!” in Latin. We are over halfway to Christmas and so we take a little break from our quiet preparing for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and rejoice because Jesus is coming at Christmas.

Personally, this Sunday has taken me by surprise. I don’t know about you, but all-of-a-sudden, it’s the third week of Advent. All-of-a-sudden, it is almost Christmas. I think this Sunday is a great opportunity to snap us out of whatever rut we may have fallen into in Advent. The pink candle and the readings at Mass demand us to ask ourselves one simple question, “Am I joyful?”

Well, are you? Hare you happy right now?

Or are you, like most of America it seems, stressed, worried, and anxious? Do you feel overwhelmed or so busy you can’t imagine how everything is going to get done?

Are you happy?

Since we are about to spend an entire Sunday rejoicing, I thought I would find out a little more about what makes people happy. Several large, scientific studies on happiness have been in the works the last couple years and they found two things I think are tremendously interesting.

  1. Happiness is a choice. We decide when we are happy. We make a decision about what will make us happy, sort of a target happiness, and then when we approach it we are happy and when we are far away, we are stressed or sad. That is why the littlest things can overwhelm us with joy and the biggest, most wonderful moments can miss the mark.
  2. Because happiness is a choice, we can reset what makes us happy, and the way to reset what makes us happy is gratitude. According to a Harvard study, backed up by a U Cal Berkley study, it isn’t happy people who are grateful; it is grateful people who are happy. Gratitude resets our happiness target to a place where we already are. We come to recognize that we have exactly what we need to be happy. Grateful people are healthier, happier, and have better relationships. Turns out, gratitude is good for your marriage!

When we go to God with gratitude or thanksgiving, as the second reading says, we will rejoice. The Harvard study gave a couple ways that people in the study successfully cultivated gratitude. Make this the week, in the midst of whatever craziness is coming your way, to try one of these gratitude behaviors out. You will be happy you did.

Live It:

Write a thank you note: Your mom was right. Writing a thank you note can improve a relationship and bring you greater happiness. Send it, deliver it yourself, or even write yourself one! Write one note sometime before Christmas.

Thank someone mentally: Can’t do the note thing? Mentally thank someone. If you recognize someone does something kind or generous for you, mentally thank them.

Keep a gratitude journal: Write one to 5 thinks that you are grateful for each day. Or make a habit of writing in your gratitude each Sunday and then bring those grateful thoughts to Mass and pray through them.

Count your blessings: Same thing as the journal, but without the writing. Doing this each night before bed is a great practice.

Pray: Thank God specifically for the things you are grateful for. The Harvard study specifically mentioned this as a powerful way to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate: Take time in silence to listen for the things that come to mind. Then turn those distractions into prayers or thoughts of gratitude. Use a mantra like, “Thank you, Jesus” to focus your silent time.

 

Black Friday vs. Happiness

The Good Word for Nov. 1st ~ for the complete Sunday readings click here.

Black Friday has become kind of a big deal. If Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the good gifts in our life, Black Friday has become the day to buy ourselves more and more and more good gifts. People spend a lot of money on Black Friday. Which is why hearing that a store has decided to forgo the Black Friday money rush and instead close and then still pay their employees comes as a bit of a shock. REI, which is an outdoor gear co-op, has decided to closeOutdoors all 143 of its stores, but still pay their employees. What are they paying their employees to do? Go outside.

Their rational is that they have always been a company that is about getting people outdoors. With that goal in mind they are inviting their employees, and whoever wants to join, to head outside on Black Friday instead of spending the day shopping. Obviously REI wants to make money. They sell goods and services. But they have decided there is something more central to who they are and what they are about.

The readings this week point to a similar reality. Sunday is All Saints Day when we celebrate those who have examples of obedient discipleship of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the Beatitudes, which Jesus preached during the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s gospel.

Each beatitude starts with the phrase “Blessed are the…” This “blessed” can be translated as deeply, perfectly, or supernaturally happy. Not pleasure or minor good feelings, but true lasting happiness.

Who gets this deeper level of foundational joy? Those who abandon minor goods for still greater things. The Saints sacrificed money, control, security, and even sometimes their lives, to receive an even great joy – life with God forever.

Just as REI is sacrificing some profits in order to stay true to their identity, when we, the Sons and Daughters of God, sacrifice some minor convenience for the greater glory of God, we too are staying true to our identity.

What would you be willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus Christ? Last week Bartimeaus gave up his security and source of financial income. This week the Saints give up their control, popularity, or even their lives. What is deep, beautiful, and profound joy, found in following Jesus, worth to you?

Live It:
Throw off your cloak. Just for 3 days this week, give up something that makes you feel secure and replace it with something that brings you closer to Jesus. (Example: instead of checking email/social media first thing in the morning, start your day by saying the Our Father or another prayer of your choosing).

The Good Word for December 14th The 3rd Sunday of Advent

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

What is the happiest moment of your life? Most people answer one of a couple answers. Some people say it was the first moment they met the love of their life. Others say it was their wedding day. And a lot of people say it was the birth of their children. Of course there are other answers, but many, if not most people, name one of these moments.

What do these moments have in common? They are all the start of a life long relationship. Whether it was a marriage relationship or meeting one’s child face to face, something about the beginning of our families that brings use immense and beautiful joy. When we look back, those moments are joyful in and of themselves and represent so man moments we have with those people afterward. Even when those relationships end, the great sorrow of their ending says something about happy they made us to begin with.

The readings this weekend point to that first moment of the beginning of a really joyful and important relationship. The reading from Isaiah and the words of John the Baptist hold up the coming of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, as the epitome of the joyful introduction. Isaiah describes Jesus coming as being like a wedding day, like being released from prison, or like the first day of spring. Isaiah couldn’t say it more plainly than this, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.”

In the ten or so days of advent, these readings remind us to look forward to Christmas 2014, like we would look forward to the happiest moments of our lives. More importantly, we are being invited to recognize that our relationship with Jesus, whether we’ve been at it 90 years or we’re just beginning, is the source of joy and happiness. Jesus being born in a manger and Jesus coming deeply into our hearts in 2014 are worth of overwhelming joy and happiness. Rejoice!

Live it:
Smile! Take a couple minutes to think about Jesus, your faith, or the coming of Christmas and smile wide.