Straight to Business (10.15.2016)

Scripture Readings

My oldest sister is a religious sister with the Nashville Dominicans.  Her state of life has humbled me, guided me, and even perplexed me.  I experienced disbelief one day as she explained how we would be communicating once she entered.  She told me that texting, phone calls, and emails were out unless it was an emergency. Instead we’d be writing letters; real, snail mail letters.  Now, I don’t write many letters.  I write emails, send text messages, and keep up with Facebook messages but don’t really write letters and unfortunately I haven’t gotten much better just because she is a sister.  Then, as I read today’s first reading, I was really convicted by Paul’s letter-writing and my own written correspondence in the first place.

So much of my written correspondence is based on what someone else can do for me.  Sure, I might open with pleasantries about family and health but at the end of the day I’m trying to take care of business.

Paul on the other hand, spends 8 verses at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians proclaiming the Gospel and praising God for the Ephesians.  This is a man that knows he is writing to other Christians, but he still starts this way.  This practice reminds us of a few things.

ephesians-1-6-i-do-not-cease-to-give-thanks-black-copyFirst, we must never forget that we are called to encourage one another.  We are walking in free — but costly — grace and we aren’t walking alone.  We need the support and gratitude of one another.  This doesn’t mean we have to open every text or email paraphrasing Ephesians.  However, we could be better at expressing gratitude just for someone’s presence.  In a society where so many question their worth and value can we afford to skip this step as often as we do?

cfsk937weaanxp5Second, we dare not let the Gospel be implied or leave Jesus assumed.  It is never a waste of time to re-articulate the Gospel. Besides, so much of what we do doesn’t make sense without it.  Without a common understanding of the Gospel, the letter to the Ephesians would fall short, the same is true of our instruction, catechesis, and encouragement.  This can be done simply.  If we have a quote, passage or something like AMDG at the bottom of our email, we could think about putting it at the top instead.  Not in an obnoxious way, but as a reminder of what we are about.  For example the top of every page in one of my sister’s letters has a Cross with an M at the bottom.

0ee406a78d68d412d957e8e36f20005bThird, we should be praying for one another’s spiritual growth.  Not only should we be praying for it, we should be telling each other that we have their back in prayer.  Paul does this, why can’t we?

We live in a busy world and are often serving in an understaffed church.  Those circumstances tempt us to be straight to business without faith.  We need to let people know they are valuable; to remind them that all of this is flowing from Christ; and to ensure them that we are praying for them to grow closer to the Lord (and ask them to pray for us as well).

A Catholic Responding to the WikiLeaks Emails

ebe353bef3122a95242093c30d2a26b2My facebook has been overwhelmed by political posts and stories.  The controversies of the election have truly taken over my feed (there are the handful of birthday wishes and cute dog, cat, and kid pictures to remind us that facebook was created to reunite old friends, not destroy present friendships).  Within this cacophony, I’ve seen some posts about ‘terrible’ things that Clinton staffers said about Catholics.  I’ve read them and I’m wondering why people are acting like this is a big deal.  Here they are if you have not read them: Conservative Catholicism and opening for a Catholic Spring? just musing.

First, I recognize that many people don’t speak ‘churchese’ and we need to admit that we are bad at turning it off.  We exclude people by using untranslated church terms and phrases.
Do most people know the difference between subsidiarity and solidarity?
Does Thomistic vs Augustinian mean anything to most people?
The Pope writes us a letter to encourage and challenge us and we call it an Apostolic Exhortation.  Heck, I work at a church and had to have someone tell me that the Parochial Vicar was otherwise known as the Associate Pastor.  We use uncommon language.  It is true.  Deal with it when we get called on it.

1592d69f5b3419cffd6b567c010ec68eSecond, there are the ‘controversial’ remarks about Catholic beliefs being backward.
Have you never heard that before?
Did you not realize some people think that?
Have you never been on facebook or scrolled down to the comments section, or as I like to call it, “the near occasion of sin? The stuff you read there is way more insulting than any of this!
Lots of people think we are a backward church stuck in the dark ages.  If that causes you outrage you might need to go back and read where Christ tells us to bless and pray for those who persecute us.  Actually, we would do well to remember that we are told “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me” (Matt 5:10-11).
Are the emails persecuting us for the sake of righteousness?
Are we being insulted falsely because of Jesus?
Sometimes that answer is yes and sometimes it is no.  We were never promised acceptance.

As for the emails regarding starting a revolution in the Catholic Church.
So what?
Don’t we say that the role of everyday Catholics (the laity) is to revolutionize the world by witnessing to their faith in Christ at home, in the workplace, in their communities, and everywhere else?
Aren’t we supposed to evangelize the world?
Those emails are nothing but evangelization strategies, just for a different gospel.

As a Catholic, I love my faith, and my Church.  I’m saddened by the view these individuals seem to have of my faith and in turn me.  That said, we follow a man who was accused of blasphemy, abandoned, and crucified, who literally had his skin torn off during the scourging.  I think we need some tougher skin people.

Additionally, I want to say, I forgive the people who sent those emails if they were meant maliciously.
I pray that they can better understand my reasons for holding to my faith (“Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the Catholic church” – opening for a Catholic Spring? just musing).
I apologize for the times that I’ve confused others because I assumed they knew my Catholic words.
I repent of those times I’ve sought comfort, expediency, and acceptance over authentic discipleship.

Wearing Brand Names (10.8.1016)

As far back as I can remember I had a love-hate relationship with buying brand name stuff.  I knew it was important to some people whether your shirt had a little bird on it or if you really liked these Abercrombie and Fitch people.  Now that I am older, I only wear name brands if they come from the thrift store (I’m doing what I can to rock my dad-style).  However, I find myself torn about brand names when I get sent on food retrieval missions or grocery store runs when I’m not feeling imaginative.  I also struggle with what brand is better when buying power tools and the like.  And I am persnickety about my paint brushes.  I want Purdy or I don’t want it.  I’m sure I’m not the only who struggles with the question “In what should clothe myself?”  Our first reading gives us the answer.

In today’s first reading St. Paul wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  To our modern sensibilities, this means we have bought into the brand name.  Through our Baptism, we are supposed to be a walking billboard for Jesus.  We don’t have to be obnoxious like Abercrombie and Fitch.  It might be more synonymous with the North Face logo on someone’s back shoulder or the Hollister bird where a pocket should be.  Either way, we should be about Christ and for Christ.  We should swear by Christ’s reliability and staying power with more zeal than people talk about Toyota or Honda.  I should be as ready to make the investment for Christ as I am for a Purdy brush.  We should be all in for Christ.  And that is just the connection from our modern perspective.

When we look at the ancient connection we remember that clothing was not a loose insinuation of status, but a declaration.  Today I can wear nice clothes and not have status, but in the ancient world, your clothes communicated who you were, what your standing was, and how you should be treated.  Paul declares Christ the great equalizer.  When we are Baptized, we are clothed in Christ.  We become co-heirs to the throne.  We share Christ’s mantle of priest, prophet, and king.  It doesn’t eradicate the structure of the society in which we live but does place a demand upon how we see one another.  Paul essentially tells us that our first impression of another Baptized Christian should be Jesus.  Here is a person to whom I must be Christ and a person who can be Christ to me.

In Baptism, we are clothed in Christ.  It is a marvelous gift of grace that demands a costly lifestyle.

A Thank You to English Teachers

Dear English Teachers,

You are great!  Thank you for what you do and have done.

no_passivesParts of my life might not exist without your contribution.  I get excited about the texture that parentheses, commas, and dashes can add to writing.  I love bookshelves as decoration.  I read G.K. Chesterton, Neil Gaiman, and J.R.R. Tolkien to my kids (all under 3). I spent an entire summer reading the Iliad for fun after failing to read the Odyssey for class.  You taught me that my grammatical errors are more than broken arbitrary rules.  Instead, they muddle my words.  They turn my writing into mumbling.  Now, I know that you made corrections to help my voice be heard and understood (that doesn’t stop me from imagining you pick up your red pen and say, “Set phasers to passive voice,” right before you filled my paper with “p.v.”).

Thank you for respecting that my papers and ideas were new to me, even if you’ve read similar ones your entire career.  Thank you for your paragraphs of wisdom and encouragement that followed the comma splice and fragment corrections.  I love the written word because you showed me that it could be mastered.

At the same time, you taught me humility.  I often learned the hard way that my best work only existed if it was ‘our work.’  Whether that required a proof-reading friend or came when I read your corrections and comments that “the paper was good but suffered from simple mistakes”.

Questions such as, “Where is all of this coming from?” “Why this post now?” might arise.  It is coming from a sincere place.  Those thoughts came to mind as I picked up The Lord of the Rings to read it again.  As I read the “Foreword to the Second Edition” (thank you for encouraging me to read the whole book)  I came across this line, “I think many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author” (xvii).  After processing that line and agreeing with Tolkien, I immediately and unfairly thought, “I don’t remember being taught that difference.”  Then, the humility lesson hit.
the-lord-of-the-ringsWithout your influence, I wouldn’t have read that line this morning.  I wouldn’t read forewords, understand allegory, or give a hoot what J.R.R. Tolkien had to say.  I wouldn’t be distracted all morning thinking about what impact the confusion between applicability and allegory has on how we interact.  Thoughts like: is that why Ray Bradbury walked out of lecture hall after students told him what his book ‘really’ meant (  Has that confusion led to this false dichotomy between objective and subjective truth?  Would it help if we understood that there is an objective truth to a book and a subjective way that the book speaks to me?  Would that allow us to read people in context, listen to people in context and make us better at dialogue?  I don’t know.  However, I love that a single line in the foreword of a book that I have no business trying to read while brushing my teeth sends me down a rabbit hole.

Thank you, for teaching me to think.


A Perpetual Student

Blazes & Cairns (10.1.2016)

cairn-featuredPeople who know me would agree that I am easy to sidetrack.  Students and friends know that I am one derailed train of thought away from twenty minutes of tangential, and likely trivial, conversation.  This tendency sheds light on my affinity for blazes.  I don’t mean fires, I mean trail markers.  I love that purple square painted on a tree or the cairn (small pile of rocks) that guides your hike through a barren region.  It is these trail markers that keep you on track.  They are a sign reminding us how we got here, where we are going, and why we are on this journey in the first place.

downsized_0717151331-791927This call back to purpose, back to the trail, happens in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ disciples were reveling in the authority and power that had been granted to them.  Jesus celebrates with them for a moment, entertaining their tangent.  Then with these words he called them back, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven”.  Great things were happening around them and through them.  But without the right perspective those things would sidetrack them from the path.  It could lead to childish competition, inflated egos, lust for spiritual power, or an easy to tempt desire for the next spiritual thrill.  Jesus called them back from that, he reminded them where the trail was.

In this passage, and many others, Jesus is revealed as the greatest trail marker of them all.  St. Therese, whose memorial we celebrate today, knew this, which is why she is a Doctor of the Church.  She knew that when we look at that blaze on a tree we call a crucifix or that cairn we call the empty tomb we would be reminded of how we got here, where we are going, and why we are on this journey in the first place.

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.