I Declare Bankruptcy.

If I’m honest, I’m a big fan of the TV show The Office. I wish I was a better person and used my time for more noble pursuits, but I just really enjoy watching this show.

One of my favorite moments is when the regional manager Michael Scott runs out of money and stands up in the office and yells in a commanding voice, at the top of his lungs, “I DECARE BANKRUPTCY!!” See, he had just be told that bankruptcy was a get out of jail free card and that he wouldn’t have to pay back his debts if he just declared bankruptcy. 

Only after this public declaration did his employees explain that there is much more to declaring bankruptcy than just saying it out loud. 

You might know someone who is like this in their faith life too. Whether it is checking a box on a form or answering the new neighbor’s question about whether they belong to a Church, they will say they are Catholic. However, a simple examination of their life will show that they haven’t taken too many steps to act like a Catholic other than to declare it. 

Don’t get me wrong, a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Church is important to being Catholic. We do it every single Sunday when we stand in the middle of Mass and recite the Nicene Creed together. Yes that is our altar call, that is the moment we stand and declare we are Catholic. 

It’s just that saying we are Catholic isn’t enough. Not because we have to earn salvation or earn God’s love – of course not. But because if we really believe, if we really are choosing to follow Jesus Christ, then that choice demands more than just words. 

Catholicism, like love, is something we do, not just something we feel. Catholicism and following Jesus is an active pursuit. Not because God demands it but because if we really ascent to believing in God and in what Jesus taught, then we will change our lives in response to it. 

We declare our faith with our actions. 

If I tell my wife I love her, but never acted like it, what would she think? The same is true in our faith lives. If we say we believe in God, but don’t act like God really has any say in your lives, what do we really believe?

In the gospel this Sunday we hear the famous line from the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” What most people don’t realize is that later in the same speech Jesus explains that believing means acting. That if one believes in God and in the light of the gospel, then their actions will follow. He says this at the end of this Sunday’s gospel, “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

Do you believe? Live it. 

Live It: Want to know what you are supposed to go “do” as an active Catholic? You should check out what are called The Precepts of the Church. These are 5 things that the Church says are the very basic actions of Catholics. Check them out here.

Sunday Readings for March 14th, 2021.

Simple.

In a popular TV comedy one female character is remarking about the male character that she is romantically entangled with by saying, “(He) is the most complicated man that I’ve ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kind of game is that?” We live in a world so used to misdirection and filtered conversation that to encounter someone who actually says what they are thinking can be startling.

In the gospel this weekend, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a simple question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He isn’t trying to trick Jesus, but is testing to see if Jesus knows the answer.

Jesus responds by reciting the Shema, a Jewish law found in Deuteronomy. Then he adds the law of love for others. What is the greatest law? Love God. Love others. Love well. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words or talk about how this may be interpreted. No, the law of God is straightforward and simple. Love. 

We struggle with this in three ways. First, we often get the word love wrong. In English we use the word love to mean a number of different emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. In the last week I’ve said I love pizza and I love my wife. I do not love them in the same way. I think it’s helpful to understand the Greek word for love that is used by Jesus here. 

Agape is a self sacrificial love. It is a self giving love. This is love that wills the good of the other. It isn’t affection, friendship, or romantic love (though they can and should have forms of Agape within their practice). What kind of love should we have for God? One that put’s God’s will above our own. What kind of love should we have for others? The kind of love that wants what is best for them even if it is difficult for us.

Second, we tend to complicate things when they seem simple. It’s as if we say, “Well, that can’t be all there is. It must be more complicated than that.” And then we go and muddy the waters of the commandment. We rationalize and theorize the kind of behavior we would prefer rather than what Jesus prescribes.

Third, the command is simple, but follow through on it is challenging. Even if we know, we fail to do it. It’s hard to make a gift of self to someone else. Love is costly. To love someone else costs us greatly and to love God costs us everything.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we are going to seek to follow Jesus’s simple command to love God and love others? Once we make that decision, now comes the work of loving well. 

LIVE IT: Double challenge this week. You can do this for a person or for God.  First, tell someone you love them. Stop them, look them in the eye and tell them. Second, show them that you love them. 

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.

Be Careful What You Ask For.

Oct. 21st Sunday Readings.

jim-halpertOne of my favorite episodes of the TV show “The Office” is when Jim, the cool, young, “normal” employee is left in charge of the office in the absence of Michael, the strange, self important, unaware manager. While Michael is gone, Jim tries to simplify the office’s process of celebrating birthdays and the whole thing blows up in his face. Everyone is mad at Jim and in the end his changes are thrown out and everything goes back to the way it was.

In nearly every episode Michael makes a puzzling or downright idiotic management decisions and Jim (and others) quietly thinks they could do better if they were manager. At the end of the episode, Michael sits down next to Jim and they share a moment discussing what it’s like to be in charge. It’s a classic example of, “Be careful what you ask for.”

In the gospel this Sunday, James and John ask Jesus if they can hold positions of power and honor when Jesus is finally in charge. Jesus’ response is probably not what they expect. Instead of yes or no, Jesus responds that they don’t know what they are really requesting. Jesus goes on to explain that if they really want what they are asking for, they will have to suffer and die just as Jesus will. 

Jesus wants James and John (and us) to understand that greatness, in the Kingdom of God, isn’t the same thing as earthly power or prestige. In the Kingdom of God, if one wants to be great, they have to be servants or even, as Jesus says, slave to all. If we ask for greatness, we are actually asking for the grace to serve others well. 

Live It:
Do something small this week that isn’t “your job.” Don’t claim credit or fish for a thank you. Just do it.