Keeping Up Appearances

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is going off on the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. Again.

Jesus is on them for being good at outward appearances. To the total neglect of their inner lives, their relationship with God.

Most of what Jesus is saying to them has the same meaning, the same feeling for us as it does for them.

Then there’s this odd line, “You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” So why does that line seem to cut the deepest?

Because the people Jesus is talking to don’t walk on graves. Not out of respect for the departed.

But to avoid being contaminated by what’s rotting away down there.

Jesus isn’t just calling them out, because their insides don’t match their outsides. He’s doing it in a way that they’ll remember. And it’s kind of gross.

But He’s not over-stating the case.

Because that’s exactly where we end up when we neglect our inner lives, our relationship with God.

Rotting away from the inside.

From a self-inflicted wound that only God can heal.

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Alone

It doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with.

One of the most powerful ways to make it worse? Feeling like you’re alone. Like you’re the only one dealing with something like that. Or that nobody cares.

Or both.

Whether it’s actually true or not, really doesn’t matter. Because simply feeling that way hurts. A lot. 

Which is why Sunday’s second reading is so important. It tells us something that’s all too easy to miss.

Everything that can go wrong. Everything that hurts. Jesus gets it.

Because Jesus has been there too.  

Whatever you’re dealing with. Whatever it is, you don’t have to do it by yourself. There’s someone else who has been there.

And He’s waiting for you with open arms. 

More on this Thursday.

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The season to come

In the last few days, there’s been a change in things. The air is colder, crisper in the morning. The colors that the trees were only hinting at are now in their full glory.

Finally, it’s Fall.

A season in its own right. But one that also heralds the season to come.

Almost on cue, there’s a change in the Sunday readings as well.

Oh, there’s still the focus on what it means to live the Christian life. But there’s something else there as well.

Readings about who Jesus really is. About what the love of God means in practice. The very heart of living the Christian life.

But also heralding the season to come.

More on this tomorrow.

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Focus

A Moment before the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday’s readings point towards one thing. Focus. On God.

Sunday’s first reading really cuts through the clutter. It shows us why we would want to have that focus. And even what we get out of it. 

It makes so much sense. 

And yet, I still don’t focus. Not on God. Even though I know better. 

But I’m so stuck on myself, it’s almost like I’m focusing on…anything but God. 

Like the rich young man in the Gospel. He’s not a bad person. In fact, he’s pretty good. He’s so close to getting it right. 

But he can’t let go of the things in his life that come between him and God. Not by himself.

God is there, waiting for each of us. We’re so close.

And just like the Gospel, it comes down to whether we focus on Him. Or turn our focus back onto ourselves.

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Camels, needles, and snark

Sunday's Gospel is a conversation. Between Jesus and a rich young man. 

Because it ends with the famous "easier-for-a-camel-to-go-through-the-eye-of-a-needle" line, it's easy to hear it as a snarky dismissal of the rich by Jesus. 

But if that’s all we get out of it, we’ve missed the point.

This isn’t one of those “set-up” questions by the Pharisees. This is a real question. From a real person.

The young man asking knows there's something more. That something has come between him and God.

And Jesus goes right to the heart of it with His answer. Naming what's come between the young man and God. 

The young man’s response? He knows Jesus is right. But he can't let go.

Not by himself. 

The young man is so close. But he just can't bring himself to reach out to the One who can help him.

And when he finally walks away from Jesus, it's one of the saddest moments in the Gospels.

More on this tomorrow.

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Google Translate

You see it all over social media. Google Translate gets used to translate some familiar lines from English into another language. Spanish, French, Tagalog, Hindi, pick one.

Then used again to translate it back into English. And what comes out is very different.

The syntax is off. Phrases are out of order. Familiar words replaced by new ones. Maybe there’s some unintentional humor.

Usually it just sounds odd.

I bring this up, because if we’re used to the classic version of the Our Father that we pray at Mass, the NABRE version of the Our Father (in today’s Gospel) can sound like this is what someone did to the Lord’s Prayer.

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.

So what do we do with something like this, something that sounds so odd?

We can reject it.

It lacks the charm of familiar things.

We can let it pass by.

It has no rhythm to help it stay with us.

Or, we can take a moment to think about what it’s saying. To let its very oddness unpack the Our Father for us.

Until its irregular lines and strange phrases crack the shell of familiarity. Renewing the prayer taught by Jesus.

So that the version we all know by heart can be again the source of grace that Our Lord meant it to be.

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Our Lady of the Rosary

The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was last Sunday. Meaning that it wasn’t observed in most parishes. But I can’t to pass up the chance to clear the air about it.

Growing up Protestant, I was told about the dangers of the Rosary. 

I was told that the Bible warned against "babbling" and using "many words" when praying (Matthew 6:7). And the many words of the Rosary? They just proved that Catholics didn't read the Bible. 

The Rosary repeats. Mostly two basic prayers (both right out of the Bible). The Our Father and the Hail Mary. But the repetition is anything but "babbling." 

It’s repetition with a purpose. 

No matter how frantic your day has been, no matter how much your mind is racing, the repetition of the Rosary brings peace. 

But there’s more to it than that. When you pray the Rosary, without even trying, you find your focus is where it needs to be. 

On God. 

Which is why no matter what you're facing, it's the one thing you should always take with you.

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Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences.

They happen when we don’t think things through.

We think we know what we want. But when we get it, we find out that it comes at price.

Maybe there’s a side effect. Something we didn’t want. Something we said, but didn’t really mean.

Truth be told, we kind of expect this to happen.

We’re used to things working out badly. So much so that when they don’t, it’s almost like we can’t see them.

Like we’re just not able to process the fact that something could have positive consequences.

That’s why it’s really easy to miss what’s going on in Sunday’s first reading. And why we need to give it a second look.

More on this tomorrow.

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Get out of God’s way

A Moment before the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Sunday's first reading, God calls Eldad and Medad. But they mess it up. They aren’t there when the Holy Spirit comes to rest on everyone else. 

And yet God works through them too. 

In Sunday’s Gospel, someone the Apostles don’t know is doing God’s work. Jesus is fine with it. Because God is working through them too. 

What Jesus is more concerned about? Making sure the Apostles get out of God’s way.

All of this really points towards the question that you and I need to be asking: Am I doing what God has called me to do? 

If I am, then God will take care of the rest. I just need to do my part, to let God work through me too. 

And then get out of God’s way.

Something tells me God can handle things just fine. 

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Toxic

You've got it all figured out. You're going to make it big, and you've got the plan to get there.  The right school, the right major, the right internship, the right first job, the right career.

And then it's all yours. 

Don't think about anything else. Don't let anyone distract you. Don't worry about who you have to step over.

You can have it all. 

Loving things and using people. We don’t usually state it that blatantly, but it's a popular message.

And one that couldn't be more toxic. Especially for the person who's doing it. 

Which is the point of Sunday's second reading.

More on this tomorrow.

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Honest prayer

Proverbs has one of the most honest prayers ever, with this ask:

    Give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need;
    Lest, being full, I deny you, saying, "Who is the LORD?"
    Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.

This is the prayer of someone who knows themselves well. All too well.

Someone who knows that they are able to take any circumstance, any situation they find themselves in. And abuse it, to separate themselves from God.

This is someone who is so aware of the danger that they present to themselves, that they don’t even know what to ask for.  

It’s like driving a car. The windshield seems fine. Clean enough to be able see where you’re going.

But turn into the sun, and you get a surprise. You get to see the real condition of your windshield. All of the dirt and bugs. Maybe even a crack.

When you start praying regularly, it’s easy to feel good about yourself. Spending time with God will do that to you.

But as you get closer to God, at some point you get a surprise. You get to see yourself against the glory of a holy and perfect God.

Which means you get to see the real condition of you. All of the dirt and bugs. Maybe even a crack.

When that happens, our natural impulse is to turn away. Because seeing our real condition isn’t something we like to think about.

And that is exactly what makes this such a powerful prayer. Because at that very moment when it would be easier to turn away, or not think about it, this prayer doesn’t even blink.

It says “God, you know me better than I do. How easily I can screw this up. Give me not what I think I want, but what you know I really need. God, I trust you.”

It’s one of the most honest prayers ever.

One that needs to be yours and mine.

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God doesn't wait

Sometimes everything goes smoothly in the morning. Other times, not so much. My aunt politely calls them "the days when you wish your bed was already made." 

More like the days when you can't find your shoe. 

In Sunday's first reading, God called Eldad and Medad. But they missed the meeting. Afterwards, people checked on them and they were a mess. The tent collapsed on Medad. And Eldad can't find his shoe.  

The impact of all of this on God? None at all. 

God doesn't say I'll see you when you've got it all sorted out and everything's perfect. 

God doesn't wait. God starts working on them - and through them - right in the middle of their mess. 

More on this Thursday.

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Ready to give in

One popular notion about Catholicism is that it involves a lot of not doing. Of denying impulses. Of not giving in.

For no clear reason. And with no joy.

A lot of fallen away Catholics see it that way. Even some practicing Catholics see it that way.

But it’s simply not true.

Make no mistake, Catholicism has its rules, its ways of doing things.

Those may represent some of the more visible parts of the Catholic Church. But none of those things are an end unto themselves.

Like the practical wisdom found in the book of Proverbs, the rules and ways of doing things in the Catholic Church are nothing short of practical.

Because they serve the very practical purpose of providing a certain order.

About that order. It’s not order for its own sake. Or, as some would misrepresent it, a stifling order that crushes creativity.

Rather, as we see lived out in the wildly different and endlessly inventive lives of the great saints, it is a divine order. An order whose chief aim is nothing less than driving back the grey monotony of a life focused on itself, of a life without God.

To create a space in each one of us for good things to run wild, for God.

To foster our first and best urges. So that when that impulse to help others strikes, we will be ready to give in.

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Let go, and let God

A Moment before the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday’s first reading is a warning. 

When we live out our relationship with God, some people will be drawn to us. But others will see us as a threat. How do we handle that? 

We can try to deal with it on our own. Or we can do it God’s way. 

By focusing on God. So we can let go, and let God handle it. 

Which is the point of both the second reading and the Gospel. 

If we focus on God and our relationship with God, James shows us the peace that comes from that focus.

It’s not the fragile peace of a problem-free moment. Waiting to be shattered by the next thing that happens.

But God’s powerful, active peace. In the middle of our problems.

It’s a peace that doesn’t depend on us. Because it comes from God abiding with us, even during life’s worst. With a calm that can only come from the One who knows our problems better than we do.

If God’s peace is what you want, it’s there for you. 

And the Gospel? It’s the road map. It’s Jesus showing us what it takes to let go, and let God handle it.

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De-junkification

So it happened. Again. 

I lost the charger for my phone. And had to buy another one. Again. 

What is this, the 4th one? 5th maybe? However many it is, I know the reason why. 

There's stuff everywhere, mostly junk. So much that I can't find what I need. It's past time. I need some hardcore de-junkification. 

Sunday's second reading is all about consequences. 

If I fill myself with junk - like jealousy and selfishness - I will be a mess. 

But if I fill myself with what ought to be there, what I actually need (St. James calls it the wisdom from above), I will be at peace. 

It sounds simple. But it's harder than it looks. Because it's easy to fill yourself up with junk, especially if you're not paying attention. 

If I'm honest, I need some hardcore de-junkification. 

More on this tomorrow.

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Expectations

If you’ve got an old house, you know there’s always something that needs to be done.

I was getting the radiators ready for winter. A job that requires a special tool, called a radiator key. And I couldn’t find mine anywhere.

After a few days of fruitless looking, I gave up, went online, and bought one. Only it was back-ordered. They said it wouldn’t be available until sometime in late October.

So I was stunned when it was delivered 3 days later.

It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. But it was exactly what I needed. And I was happy to have it.

Today’s Gospel is all about expectations. And how easy it is to become lost in our expectations. To become fixed in our expectations, our preconceived notions about how things are going to work.

So much so that we close ourselves off to other possibilities.

Making us miss what God is doing in our lives. Keeping us from the joy that comes from receiving God’s grace. Because it doesn’t exactly match up to what we were expecting.

Even though it’s exactly what we needed.

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What God does

When you do something really well, especially when you get recognized for it, you find out who people really are. 

Some will be happy for you. Some may even want you to teach them how you did it.

But to others, you’re a threat. Your excellence makes them look bad.

Instead of trying to do well themselves, or maybe learn something from you, they’ll work to keep you from ever doing it again. 

Sunday’s first reading shows how things look to people who see the success of others as a threat. And it’s not pretty. 

But it’s also kind of hard to take it seriously. Here’s why… 

The mocking about God taking care of His own?

It’s said with hate. It’s meant to hurt. But it falls flat.

Because that’s exactly what God does. 

More on this Thursday.

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Faith without works is dead

Faith without works is dead.

It’s one of those sayings that we’ve heard a lot. So many times, that it’s easy for it to go in one ear and out the other.

And even if we do try to grab it as it goes past, it can sound a little over done. Like every other “something-is-dead” pronouncement. Like St. James is being a little over dramatic – about the relationship between faith and works.

But really, he isn’t.

So what does it mean, that faith without works is dead?

(continued)

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Not taking the easy way out

A Moment before the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

When you first hear them read, Sunday’s readings seem like they’re all over the map. 

The first reading continues the focus of the last few weeks on God’s relationship with His people, His beloved. 

The second reading is St. James’ famous one liner – “faith without works is dead.” 

Then there’s the Gospel. Peter gets it right. Then gets it wrong, and Jesus calls him out for it. 

So what’s the point?

Once you get past first impressions, all of the readings for Sunday really point to the same thing. Jesus tells us what that is in the Gospel. 

It’s all about thinking as God does. 

Not taking the easy way out. But going exactly where God has sent us. Doing the hard work that God has called us to do. 

And knowing that through it all, God is with us. 

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Not thinking as God does

One of my big problems is being the smartest person in the room. Not literally being the smartest person in the room. But, without really thinking about it, I act like I’m the smartest person in the room. 

I’m not showing off or trying to make anyone look bad. I’m just very busy figuring out how I’m going to handle things. I have the best intentions.

But it never occurs to me that someone else might have a better idea. 

Much less God. 

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is telling Peter and the others some pretty scary stuff about His impending crucifixion. Peter loves Jesus. Which is why Peter pulls Jesus aside when Jesus starts off on all the suffering and death stuff. 

Peter has the best intentions. But it never occurs to Peter that God might have a better idea. So when Jesus calls Peter out for not thinking as God does, Peter needs to take it to heart.

And I do too. 

More on this tomorrow. 

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