Who are these older people?

Oct. 23rd Sunday Readings.

The other day I was online and saw a picture of a group of people posted by one of my

compare

Funny, cuz I pick the Chocolate Chip Cookie every time.

Facebook friends. I didn’t recognize the name of the person or anyone else in the picture and when I looked at the people’s faces I thought, “Who are these older people and how do I know them?” Turned out they were all people I graduated college with who are basically my same age. How did these classmates of mine age so much, while I have stayed the same?

Comparing ourselves to others is dangerous and not in a good way. When we use comparing ourselves to others to build ourselves up or comfort ourselves, we can actually become addicted to the practice. Needless to say, when we compare ourselves to others with more or better or prettier or funner, it’s hard to feel good, to be grateful for our life. Sometimes we compare ourselves to how we used to be, and we can take pride in that, but it can also lull us into a false sense of accomplishment or perfection.

In the gospel this weekend, Jesus tells a parable of two different people who went to the temple to pray. The pharisee extols his good deeds and thanks God that he isn’t like the sinners of the world. Meanwhile, the tax collector bows his head as he humbly asks for mercy. One man spends his prayer comparing himself to others, while the other focused solely on his own need for God.

Here’s the funny twist – the pharisee is doing all the right things. He is exceptional at following the law. He gives alms, prays well, and even fasts more than the law requires. Compared to others he is “better” at following the law. The twist in this parable is that our relationship with God isn’t dependent on how good we are at pulling it off; it is dependent upon how much we are willing to rely on God.

The pharisee is comparing himself to other sinners and consequently felt pretty good about himself. However, if we compare ourselves to perfection, we all fall short. Both the pharisee and the tax collector aren’t good enough to be justified with God. Neither are perfect. As good as the tax collector is; he isn’t perfect. Thus both are in need of mercy. If our measuring stick isn’t other broken people, but in fact perfect holiness; we all need mercy.

Are you perfect? No? Then our prayer is this, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

LIVE IT
Take 1 day to try and stop comparing. Here is a method: Whenever you find yourself comparing to another (good or bad), thank God for this person. Instead of comparing ourselves to them, thank God for them. When in doubt, start and end your day with the prayer, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Real Change.

The Good Word for Sunday March 13 ~ for the complete readings click here. 

Change. Nobody likes it. Okay, I guess some people like it, but once people get comfortable it is hard to change. My dad has had the same haircut for 50+ years. It’s kind of like behavioral inertia. Once we stop moving or once we get moving it’s hard to start or stop.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written about change. Some explain how we change. Others give steps for organizational change. Still other books are all about how to avoid change.

Even when something is really bad for us, it is hard to stop doing it. Even when something is really good for us, it is hard to start (and keep going). In Lent some of us have given up something or added a new behavior. I bet most of us will fall right back into our old ways after Lent is over no matter how good our Lenten promise has been for us.

That’s why the readings today are so amazing. The first reading references the Exodus out of the slavery of Egypt and into the promised land. But the reading is from Isaiah who is writing many, many years later during the time of the Babylonian exile, when the people of Israel were conquered and moved hundred of miles to Babylon. The people had been freed from the slavery of Egypt, but had fallen away from God and ended right back in slavery to a different master. Change is hard.

In the gospel, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus to catch him disagreeing with the law of Moses. Instead, Jesus does some extraordinary; Jesus shows mercy.

He not only shows mercy to the woman, but he using the moment to teach those gathered about who is need of mercy. Who is a sinner? Everyone. Who needs God’s mercy? Everyone. Who needs to change? Everyone.

The thing is when Jesus turns to the woman and tells her to go and sin no more, he is really talking to everyone. When one is shown mercy, the appropriate response is to change. When mercy is given, the one receiving mercy gets a do-over. Wouldn’t it be crazy if someone got a do-over and then did the exact same thing again?

We get a do-over every time God shows us mercy. We get another chance to be better, to do good and avoid evil. We get the chance to change.

If you had a second chance to live your life again, how would you choose to live differently? Do that.

Live it:
With just two weeks left of Lent, make a plan to make a change following Lent. If you gave up something consider what it might mean to continue to abstain in some way. If you added prayer, think about how you may continue that practice.

The rest of the story.

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

The late, great radio host and social commentator Paul Harvey used to sign off his broad cast with the phrase, “And now you know…the rest of the story.” If you ever heard him on the radio you probably just imagined him speaking those very words in his gruff, but kind voice.

I want to know the rest of the story when it comes to our gospel today. We are all very familiar with the story of the prodigal son that Jesus tells in our gospel. We may be so familiar with it that we simply assume we know what it says. Younger son asks for his inheritance, goes off, feels bad, returns home, dad welcomes him, older son upset, and that’s it.

But I want to know what happened next. What happened the next morning when the older son went out to work the fields, all of which were his? What did the father say to the younger son then? What happens in 15-30 years when the Father dies?

Of course we’ll never know because it is parable, a story told by Jesus to make a point. The point is that no matter what, father shows mercy to his younger son. Yes, even though asking for his in heritance is like the younger son telling his father he wishes his father were dead. Yes, he squandered his money on licentious living. Yes, when he returns home he really isn’t sorry, he is just hungry. Yes, the son never really apologies. Nonetheless, the father loves unconditionally and welcomes home his son with open arms. The point is that no matter what we’ve done (even if we were tax collectors and prostitutes, the very people Jesus is telling this story to) God will welcome us home if we return to him.

I get that. But I can’t help but wonder about the next day. See for the father to give his son half of his inheritance, he didn’t just write him a check. No the son’s inheritance was the father’s land. So to give it to him, the father had to sell it. The next morning when the younger son stood in the kitchen with a cup of tea and looked out the window at his father’s property, he probably saw a new fence and strangers (or the neighbors) farming what should have been his land. What was that like for him?

God is merciful. The theme of this Holy Year is “Merciful like the Father.” Yes, God is merciful in a profound and almost irrational way. He loves us more than we can even understand. And there will still be consequences when we turn away.

The good news is that though this is the last we hear of the brothers, our story isn’t finished yet. When we do return, God will welcome us with open arms. If you are feeling burdened by the consequences of your sin, go back to God anyway. If you are worried you won’t be good enough, go back anyway. If you can’t imagine a God who would want you in heaven with him forever, return to him because God desires to be with you more than you know.

Live It:
Who do you miss? Think about someone you miss and what you would do to be reunited with them. Then thank God for his unconditional love for you.

 

We all need this.

The Good Word for Sunday February 28th ~ for the complete readings click here.

If you have kids you’ve probably been asked this question, “Do you really ‘need’ that thing, or do you ‘want’ it?” If you have a 3 year old, the answer is usually absolutely I need this candy bar and lip gloss and ninja PEZ dispenser. Duh.

But what do we really need?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow created what he called the “Hierarchy of Needs.” The basic premise is that one needs to have their most basic needs met before the next set of needs matter. For example, what we are going to eat for lunch in 2 hours doesn’t matter much if we can’t breath. And what we are going to wear to work the next day doesn’t matter much if we haven’t eaten in 3 days.

Maslow theory states that our most basic needs are physiological. We need air, then water, then food. Without these we can’t go on to care about things like which fonts to use on our blog. Everyone needs air and water and food, if they want to survive.

In the gospel this weekend Jesus explains that there is something that everyone needs: Mercy.

Jesus comments on two different “news” stories of the day in which people were killed. He asks the audience if the victims deserved death because of their sin. You probably already know that if Jesus had let crowd answer they would have said, “Of course their sin was greater; they died didn’t they?”

Instead Jesus says this, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Jesus is trying to explain that those poor souls who died violently either in the temple or because of the building collapse weren’t any worse sinner than us, not because they weren’t sinners, but because we are! Everyone is a sinner. You. Me. Pope Francis. Mother Teresa. And if we are sinners, then we all need God’s mercy.

I recently heard in a funeral homily the priest say that when there is a funeral of a really good and admirable person it is easy to just spend the whole time talking about how amazing they are. It is easy to forget that they were also a sinner in need of God’s mercy, just like us. In other words, every saint was a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

The good news is that God is ready to give you and I all the mercy we need. God can’t wait to pour his mercy upon us. He won’t hesitate to show us mercy when we don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Live it:
Go to Confession. If you haven’t gone in a while or don’t see the point or don’t feel comfortable telling a priest, I really encourage you to pray about it first. Want to check out a sweet talk about Confession? Check out “The Healing Power of Confession” By Dr. Scott Hahn by visiting formed.org, use our parish code, log in and then check out the talk. How to do all that can be found here.