A Good Word for the Election

I read the quote below this morning and found it convicting.  Like Calvin’s bad mood, convictions are fun to share (and that is where the analogy breaks down).a747c-calvinandhobbesbadmoodcomic

The conviction’s source for me is two-fold.  I am convicted by what the quote calls me to do.  I’m also convicted that we have been so bad at doing this thus far, that what should have been obvious has to be spelled out for us.  Check it out:

usccb“Finally, while this document is about the civil order, we cannot fail to call the faithful to prayer. The struggles that we face as a nation and as a global community cannot be addressed solely by choosing the ‘best candidate’ for political office. No, in addition to forming our consciences, we must fast and pray, asking our loving and gracious God to give us the ability to effectively proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our daily witness to our faith and its teachings. Let us all take to heart the urgency of our vocation to live in the service to others through the grace of Christ and ask humbly in prayer for an outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit on the United States of America.” (Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship, “Introductory Note”)

Bubble Wrap

“Spend my nights with a roll of bubble wrap
POP POP!” – White and Nerdy, Weird Al Yankovic

2790566367_a25b088baf_bWho doesn’t love bubble wrap?  Do you have to be white and nerdy to love it?  As I am both white and nerdy, I can’t say for sure.  However, I remember loving Weird Al’s bubble wrap line when I first heard it in college.  Bubble wrap is good stuff.  Want to send a vase to Aunt Myrtle? Bubble wrap.  Want to annoy your siblings?  Bubble wrap.  Want to make friends with little kids?  Bubble wrap.  And let’s not forget that it is the poor man’s whoopee cushion.  I, like Weird Al, like bubble wrap.

Sometimes, though, we want bubble wrap at the wrong times.  We want a life without negative consequences.  We like consequences when they benefit us but we want to be shielded from the effects of poor decisions.  We want ‘casual safe sex,’ porn without lasting impact, gossip without broken relationships, love without heartbreak, substance abuse without poor health, procrastination without stress, and popularity without peer pressure.  Kids, teenagers, college students, and adults want to pull out the bubble wrap all the time.  Sometimes we even want to bubble wrap each other.  Parents desire to shield their children.  We’ve met bubble wrap parents, we might even have bubble wrap parents.

God is not a bubble wrap Father.

8599421294_4ef495d492_bGod does not wrap us up in plastic bubbles.  Not because he is negligent or cruel but because He wants us to experience the great joy of loving.  A movie from my high school days captured this reality in a very worldly way.  In the movie Bubble Boy (this is not an endorsement), the main character was shielded from any potential source of harm.  It worked, he could not be harmed.  He also couldn’t love.

God doesn’t bubble wrap us, but he still protects us from the consequences that are too big for us.  He rejects those temporary, unfeeling plastic bubbles for the arms of the Eternal Son.  Next time you look on the wounds from Christ’s scourging, don’t imagine him hunched over a pillar while he is being struck.  Instead, know that he was shielding you.

He is far better than bubble wrap.

Buzzkill (9.24.2016)

My two-year-old has already decided that anything that can be said in two words should be said in four (he takes after me in that regard).  For instance, instead of settling for either “soon” or “almost,” Ignatius says “almost soon”.  “Almost soon we drive the car.  Almost soon I sit on the potty.  Almost soon I get off Hosanna (his little sister)”.  Despite his bizarre redundancy, it is good that he understands some things are now and some are not yet.  Unlike Iggy’s now or almost soon, we, as Christians live under a now and almost soon mindset.  A disciple, you could say, wears spiritual bifocals, both nearsighted and farsighted; now but not yet.

To see the world this way is not a burden when we are walking in the opening line of today’s Gospel, “While they were all amazed at his every deed.”  When we are honeymooning with God it is not hard for us to say, “God is doing great things now, and has greater things in store.”

The going gets tougher though when we meet the ‘reality check Jesus’.  The Jesus, who said to the disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you.  The Son of Man is to be handed over to men” while the disciples were standing in amazement of all he had been doing. What a buzzkill.  With that kind of mood changing statement, are we surprised they didn’t understand him and “were afraid to ask him about this saying”?  I don’t think so.  You can almost imagine one of the other Apostles clamping a hand over Peter’s mouth as he was bout impetuously blurt out a question because they didn’t want to hear more of the ‘depressing stuff.’

However, as we pursue Christ’s called to be peacemakers, we know that an important peacebuilding tool is truth-telling.  We need to hear about injustice and our contributions to it, about division, strife, poverty, unbelief, etc.  We need the reality check Jesus to help us have peace and be peacemakers.

In what part of your life do you need to hear truth-telling?
What plugs your ears from hearing the Truth?
Where do you need to encounter ‘Reality Check Jesus’ today?

Great Expectations (9.17.2016)

calvin-on-lowering-expectations2“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”  These are the words that end a Calvin and Hobbes strip as Calvin gloats about the C his school work earned to Susie.  Susie, who earned an A, is understandably perplexed.  As usual, though, Bill Watterson uses this devious 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger to make us think.  This particular statement brings to mind the burden of carrying other’s expectations.  The flipside of this is expressed when we lower our own expectations in order to avoid the displeasure of disappointment.  Both of these realities fly in the face of our first reading today.

Our first reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  In this passage, St. Paul calls his brothers and sisters back to a Christian view.  A view that declares that death has been conquered.  Our reading ends too early, but this section of the letter ends with the short hymn, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).  Paul is calling us out from our temptation to set low expectations.  He is reminding us that the resurrection is not a gift from this world, but from our God who conquered death.  Shoot for the stars (cf. 15:40-41)!  Yes, we will face disappointments this side of heaven, but we will not be disappointed when we see God face-to-face.  Heaven will not be boring.

This call to raise our expectations of eternity in God brings us back to Calvin’s observation.  Unrealistic expectations can be a substantial burden.  We can crush one another under them.  As fellow sinners leaning on the mercy of God, it is wrong for us to pile unrealistic expectations on one another’s shoulders.  But we do this.  We demand perfection of others and clemency for ourselves.  We want understanding when we are misinterpreted and gossip about the stupid thing someone said.  We treat our spouses as if loving us is the equivalent of being loved by us, and then demand affection when we feel stretched.  We have weighty expectations, but praise God we know someone who can carry them.  The Lord promises that his burden is light and his yoke is easy because he can bear the weight of our foolishness.  As believers we should not be casting our great expectations upon anyone but the Lord who constantly brings us back to His promises.

Our walks are not easy, we carry real burdens and realistic expectations that challenge us.  But we walk in the promise of eternal life, a reality that will greatly exceed our wildest expectations.  Nothing for our God is impossible, so let us stop laying our impossible expectations upon one another and instead bring them to our God who laughs merrily at how cute our ideas are and how magnificently he will exceed them.

Pastoral Fruit (9.10.2016)

I like books.  For a while, books were my main friends in the faith.  I would hang out with them until it was late at night.  I would eat lunch with them and grab a cup of coffee with them.  They were the best.  I thought they were the way to learn about my faith.  Then I went to Reconciliation and the priest essentially said, “That’s great that you like reading, but you need some friends”.  he meant friends whose spines were actually in their bodies and that I couldn’t put in a backpack with ease.  So, I got some friends and thought I had found the cream of the crop for learning about my faith.  Then I had kids.  Now, I’m learning about God and my faith in ways that are challenging and amazing.

Just this past Wednesday my son helped me see into a dilemma that I have often tried to enter.  Maybe I’m not alone here, but I struggle to find the balance between rigidness and wishy-washiness that we call being pastoral; the balance between enablement and coldness that we call mercy.  Then, in one 5 minute exchange some of that was revealed to me.

I was getting Iggy (my son) his breakfast.  Now that he is a big boy (2 ½) he likes to be the one that puts his fruit in his granola.  I know he shouldn’t have half of carton of blueberries in his bowl (my wife told me that was a bad idea), so I rinsed some off, put them in a second bowl, and plopped them down in front of him.  Boom!  Dadding like a boss.

I went back to doing dishes and heard his sweet voice saying he doesn’t want those blueberries.  I must not have heard him correctly.  He doesn’t want the blueberries he just asked for, are you serious?  I asked him and he repeated that he doesn’t want ‘those’ blueberries.  Wait a second, what was wrong with ‘those’ blueberries?  There was nothing wrong with ‘those’ blueberries.  Then he said, “Those your blueberries.”  But, I didn’t have blueberries, I was doing dishes.

That’s when I saw it.  His granola was in a kid bowl and his blueberries were in an adult’s bowl.  Thank the Lord for showing that to me before the battle of wills began.  I quickly switched the blueberries to a suitable plastic bowl covered in blocks and letters and he made quick work of putting them in his granola.  Then God told me, “That is what it means to be pastoral.”

Did the blueberries change?  No.  Iggy still got blueberries, but he received them in such a way that he knew they were meant for him.  Does being pastoral or merciful mean that the Gospel, the Church, the Sacraments, the Moral life, or any of the other blueberries get thrown out of the bowl in place of M&Ms and Skittles?  No.  It means that the bowl in which they are presented is considered with empathy so that the recipient can see, “This is for me.”

But how do we make sure our efforts are keeping the blueberries in the bowl?  We do exactly what Christ said in today’s gospel, we look at the fruit.  Is the fruit conversion, discipleship, joy, and a desire to bear witness and serve others?  Or is it a refusal to be challenged, abandonment of Christ, a lack of joy, entitlement, embarrassment about one’s faith, or coldness toward others?

We need to look at the fruit and identify where our pastoral approaches are ripe and where they are rotten.  We need to identify when we are so rigid that someone believes that the Gospel is for someone else?  Or when we are so wishy-washy that people are left wondering if we really believe what we are sharing?  This isn’t a mathematical formula, but to be a Church of Mercy that pastorally goes to the fringes, we need to see through others’ eyes and judge our success by Christ’s criteria.  And if we are expecting to see conversions in others’ lives, we need to be able to turn from our own rigidity or wishy-washiness when we see that our approach isn’t bearing fruit.

Golden Ticket (9.3.2016)

I’m counter intuitive all the time.  I stay up later than I should and then am bummed when my kids wake up at the same time they always do.  I forget to say please when telling Iggy to say please and I say things like “No, Iggy, we say ‘no thank you’.”  I am counter intuitive in a foolish and often illogical way.  Paul also speaks of counter intuitive living in the first reading, but his comes from wisdom in grace.

The second half of our selection from Corinthians contains these words, “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and men alike. … When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.”  This is Paul’s description of what life looked like for an apostle, ending with the very attractive, “We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.”  He is describing the driving force of the early church.  These are the ones that were traveling across the known world spreading the Gospel, founding churches, breaking down walls between Jew and Gentile, and opposing Jewish sanctions and Roman persecution.  And for what?  To become the world’s rubbish, some translations even render this ‘refuse.’  That seems awfully counter-intuitive, but they do it because of the giver, the gift, and so that others may receive.

As we look at these three I want you to hold this phrase in mind, the counter intuitiveness of grace.  First, the giver.  The apostles lived as they did, because that was how Christ lived.  Christ not only called them to that counter intuitive ministry, He walked it first.  He was and is the first and most counter intuitive.  That call is not a relic of the past, but is also laid before every disciples.  We are all called to bless when ridiculed; endure when persecuted; and respond gently when slandered.

Then there is the gift.  The gift of Christ’s life in us, which means we are given eternal life, a place in the Father’s house as children, and the honor of being coheirs with Christ.  What a gift!  But we aren’t supposed to approach this gift like employees trying to earn a commission.  We have been given the gift and are to live it out.  The Apostles walked in the confidence of their faith and hope in the love of the Lord.  We are called to do the same.  We can think of disciples like Olympians.  We are not in the Olympic tryouts seeing if we can make the cut.  God’s grace put us in the Olympics and then He asks us to strive for the best.  None of us have made it to the Olympics on our own.  This is the point Paul is making in the first half of the reading.  It is all grace.

maxresdefaultFinally, disciples know that God’s grace is for everyone.  We are in on a great secret, everyone’s Wonka Bar has a golden ticket in it!  What we are trying to do is help them to open it, find it, and respond to it. This is where the counter intuitiveness of grace comes in.  Not everyone sees this as a Wonka bar analogy.  Instead it is easy to find the discouraged, the apathetic, the proud, the scandalized, and so many others that don’t see the Golden Ticket as a gift.  That is why how we live our lives helps others reevaluate the Golden Ticket. We, through our modeling, can help others see that it is about so much more than rules, regulations, feeling self-important, or some faceless and heartless deity.  We are called to live as the Apostles, to live counter intuitive lives so that others see what is offered to them and see that it is the same gift that we have already received.

Obviously, this starts by looking at grace in our own life, our own Golden Ticket.  Do we see it as a gift or a burden?  Do we see the demands of the Gospel as loving sacrifices or stringent prerequisites?  Do we lover the giver?  Do we realize we are already being given the gift?  Are we ready to welcome others into the family?

Lord, where our answers fell short of Your example, please make our hearts more like yours.

Monica – Model Youth Minister/Model Disciple (8.27.2016)

I recently spent three days at a ‘Youth Ministry Boot Camp’ provided by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  The pace left time for processing and conversation without lulling us to sleep.  The topics were familiar enough for us to approach them with confidence, but with a fresh spin from which we could grow.  All-in-all it was the rejuvenating, refreshing reboot many of us needed.  As I sit down to write today’s reflection I realize that a little of St. Monica was present throughout the three days.

She first showed up as we were reminded to not blame our way to a clear conscience.  What do I mean by this?  I mean, everyone involved in forming teen disciples is tempted to believe “I’m doing everything I can, if only the parent/coaches/teachers/catechist/youth ministers would get on board then we could really make a difference.”  This is a lie and an accusation, it is from the Accuser.  It also runs counter to the spirit of St. Monica.  She could have written Augustine off.  She could have said, “I did what I could, if only my pagan husband had done better, Augustine would be a believer.”  Instead, she constantly pursued her son.  She met him on his level by enlisting the aid of St. Ambrose.  And she prayed for him, diligently.St-Monica

It was in our emphasis on prayer that you could see St. Monica being modeled again.  Particularly, as we talked about prayer as a legitimate action step.  See the temptation is for a parish to desire youth ministry and to look at someone and say, “Do something.”  What we normally don’t mean is pray for, pray over, pray about it.  Instead, we commonly mean have an event.  As St. Monica sought the best for St. Augustine for all those years through her unceasing prayer, she reminds us that prayer is ‘doing something.’  It might be the most important action step we take.  Sometimes we skip it though because we are impatient.

Working against our impatience was the reminder that youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.  Once again this is modeled by St. Monica.  For 17 years she tried to draw her son back into the Faith.  This was not a sprint.  This was not St. Paul running into a city with his hair on fire converting people and founding churches.  This was the long, arduous, slow road of accompaniment.  But in the end, grace prevailed.

Before you write this all off because you’re not a ‘youth minister’ remember that all three of these are relevant for any disciple.  We can often blame every issue in the world and church on someone else without ever looking in the mirror.  Prayer can become the thing we get to if we have time instead of the foundation of all our endeavors.  And fast results in 5 easy steps can be so tantalizing.  However, Monica reminds us to take responsibility, start on our knees, and stick in it for the long haul.  She reminds us to be disciples.

A Rabbi, a Father, and a Master Walk into a Gospel (8.20.2016)

The series of three “do nots” in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is pretty well known.  The middle one, “Call no man on earth father,” is likely the most familiar.  That one catches our ear the most and is sometimes leveled against Catholics as evidence that we violate scripture.  The first and third might be less familiar, “Do not be called rabbi,” and “Do not be called master.”  Shall we completely reinvent our language because of these three passages?  I will venture to say no, but I think Christ does challenge us to not let these words sideline God.

Webster can leave teacher, father, and master in his dictionaries because Christ is not asking us to be legalistic about this.  To know this we just need to look at the context of the passage.  Christ is setting how his disciple’s should live in contrast to how the Pharisees do things.  This is important because the Pharisees (well-intentioned as some of them were) were intensely rigorous about fulfilling the externals of the law.  They were legalistic.  People have actually come to call this kind of legalism, pharisaical.  Now, it would be a discredit to Christ’s skill as a rabbi to believe that his train of thought went like this: “Do not be like the Pharisees, except in regard to these three words, be really pharisaical about these.”  Rather, it makes more sense, and the text provides evidence for this, that Christ is asking them to change the way they let these words impact their walk, not refrain from ever saying them.  The words aren’t bad, but if seen incorrectly, they all provide room for sidelining the Lord.  This is where I believe Christ is challenging us.

Christ is first reminding us that we are a work in progress.  We cannot be the rabbi because we have encountered the one from whom we will always learn more.  We can certainly teach and help others learn, but the passage from disciple to rabbi has ceased with the coming of the eternal Word, and we are called to be his disciples.

Now that call might be problematic for our status quo, so Jesus naturally undermines our ability to make excuses.  So before the words, “Sorry, Jesus, my dad won’t let me follow you,” can leave our lips he reminds us that God is not a distant arbiter of rules, or an impersonal force, but is our one and true loving Father.  Jesus doesn’t stop there.

He closes with these words, “you have but one master, the Christ.”  He is reminding us that He has the right to call us, to interrupt our status quo because work, sin, this or that habit, none of those are our master.  We are not even masters of our own lives as he establishes in the Sermon on the Mount.

Yes, we can use words like rabbi, teacher, master, doctor, father, etc.  For Jesus’s message is not about what words we can and can’t say but what they do to our relationship with Him.  He never wants us to exclude or forget that the Christ is our master.  He has the right to call us and our Father wants us to respond.  God desires us to discover our walk with him as disciples of the Word.

Go Big and Go Home (8.13.2016)

My wife and I have the great pleasure of watching our daughter, Hosanna, become more and more interactive every day.  She is no longer just smiling and giggling, but waving and pointing.  One of her cutest interactions is when you tell her no.  She looks at you smiles and shakes her head.  She may have no idea what no means but she is too busy showing you that you shake your head when you say no that she stops what she was doing.  Just as my wife and I sometimes tell Hosanna no, like when she is breaking Olympic records trying to touch Iggy’s potty before we pick it up off the floor, God tells us no too.

Like Hosanna we think we know what is going one, but unlike her we don’t think this is a smiling matter.  When we hear God say no, we don’t start smiling, we stop smiling.  We act like St. Debbie Downer the Archangel of the fun police as just shown up to put the kibosh on happiness.  But is that what is really happen when we hear a divine “no?”  Is this an ordinance to restrict our joy or to draw into deeper happiness?

0a24a9d9d725c38b26f923a0bf6ad824Before we ride this train of thought to our reading from Ezekial today, I think there is time for short stop with some words from C.S. Lewis.  See I want you to approach Ezekial and my reflection with Lewis’ words ringing in your ears.  Here is what he wrote in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I held those words in my mind as I read Ezekial.  When I did, the line, “cast away from you all the crimes you have committed and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” called a phrase to mind.  We’ve all heard it, “Go big or go home.”  But in this passage from Ezekial and Lewis’ words the message is not “Go big or go home,” instead it is “Go big and go home.”  As disciples, when we are called up from our mud pies the slums we cannot – dare not – stuff any in our pockets in case the beach I boring.  We are not called to half-hearted repentance.  God wants us to leave out mud pies behind, whatever they are.  Not so we can return and sulk, but that we can return and live!

And this is the role of our childlike discipleship.  Watch a toddle walk down the sidewalk.  They’ll pick up a rock or stick every 2 minutes and their parent will be trying so hard not hustle them along.  But it isn’t just the picking up I want you to notice, the lesson lies in the laying down.  Every time my son finds a better stick or a better rock, the old one just gets left behind.  He doesn’t have my adult propensity to connive and strategize so I can try to keep everything I might, someday, want or desire.  No, he finds something better and he let’s go of the old.

Brothers and sisters, we have been called by the face of God’s mercy, the Prince of Peace, God incarnate.  We have found something far better.  But unlike my son we don’t know how to put the old rocks and sticks down.  We can’t imagine going to the shore without some mud in our pocket.  We are far too easily pleased.  We need to go big and go home.

Eclipsed (8.6.2016)

My son, Ignatius just got a pile of kid’s science books.  They are awesome.  I immediately tried to convince him that he wanted to read all of them.  I didn’t win him over, but he did find his interest piqued by the ‘sun and moon’ book (Eclipses).  After reading it (during which Bess continually sang “A Total Eclipse of the Heart”) I felt like an accomplished father doing all I can to teach my son that the sun isn’t gone forever during an eclipse.  Imagine my surprise when the book came rushing back to me as I sat and read today’s Gospel.

Before I connect science for three-year-olds to the Transfiguration I want to call our attention to the other readings the Church offers us today.  Don’t miss the intentionality behind their selection.  Now, on to other pursuits!the-transfiguration

The connection that struck me regarding Jesus and eclipses is that the Transfiguration is like a reverse eclipse.  Instead of the moon moving in front of the sun, the moon is getting out of the way and the sun is being revealed, or rather the Son is being revealed.  In many ways we struggle with Christ’s identity as fully human and fully God because we wonder “if God is so much bigger than humanity, why isn’t Christ’s divinity more self-evident?”  This question is not far from the one posed in my son’s book, “The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon.  So how can the moon cover it?”  Just as the sun is eclipsed by the moon’s closeness, so too Christ’s humanity eclipses his divinity.  He comes so close to us that we don’t always see him as he is.

Why does God allow himself to be eclipsed?  Is this God enforcing distance between us?  No, rather a closing of the gap and drawing us close for God’s similarity to the sun is not that both are far away, but that both are too bright for unaided eyes.  God was always close, but the Lord eclipsed himself to aid our eyes so we could look upon him.  For God is a brilliant mystery.  However, God’s mystery is one of light not of darkness.  He is hidden in a grand brightness beyond our ability to pierce, not lurking in the shadows like a thief.

The eclipse has not ended.  Christ tells us clearly that He will continue to approach us behind the shadow of humanity.  In the same way that the moon “wears” the sun’s crown during a solar eclipse, try to see the Son’s crown on those you interact with this week.20th_March_2015_total_solar_eclipse_cropped