But wait, there’s…

The classic format for infomercials has two parts. First, the problem. Followed by the wonder product that solves it. 

But before we get the price, there’s part two. Where they throw in something that makes the wonder product even more betterful.

With the same lead-in every time, so we don’t miss it.

Last Sunday’s Gospel is all about John the Baptist. Unlike infomercials, nobody had to hype John. John simply was extraordinary. And people got it. 

So much so that John has to calm them down. To let them know that more is coming.

And, unlike the infomercials, what’s coming is actually better. 

Which is what this Sunday is all about. 

More on this Thursday.

Read More

A life-changing sandwich?

(by request, my homily from Sunday)

You have never had a life-changing sandwich.

I don’t care what you have for lunch. And I’m not putting down your favorite thing. But I do know this about you.

Think about the most amazing lunch you have ever had. The very best. When you were done eating, you did not say to yourself – much less anyone else:

“That was the best sandwich I have ever had. No. It was better than that. Here begins the new life. I have to go re-think everything now. All because of that sandwich.”

No one has ever said that. You have never had a life-changing sandwich.

Why?

(continued)

Read More

Truly important things

A Moment before the 3rd Sunday in Advent

Most things in life happen. And then we move on to the next thing.

But not Sunday’s Gospel. Whatever John is doing, it isn’t like most things.  The people aren’t moving on. 

They get that this is something different.  They want to know what it means. They want details. 

Pick one of the big-ticket events in life. Graduation, marriage, birth of child, etc.

They change our lives. Not just status-wise, but down to the level of daily living.

The truly important things do that. 

Which is why the people are asking John about how to live their lives.  Even down to the level of daily living. 

Because this is one of those things. 

Read More

Repent!

Prophet. Old Testament prophet. One of the world’s worst career choices. 

The pay? Bad to none. The message? For most the prophets, it’s stuff like... 

“Bad things are going to happen!” 

“Sackcloth and ashes!” 

“Repent!” 

Stuff like that won’t get you many friends. For most prophets, what it does get them is run out of town, hunted by soldiers. And thrown into wells. 

Which is why Sunday’s first reading sounds a little off. Because it’s so, well, positive. It’s all about good stuff that God is doing. 

It’s an unusual message for a prophet. It’s completely different from what we usually get from prophets. And a perfect introduction to a most unusual prophet. 

More on this tomorrow.  

Read More

Through her eyes

When you and I pass by someone day after day, if we don’t have to interact with them, it can be easy to ignore them.

Oh, we see them. We know where they are. But we’re not really paying attention to them.

Except maybe to make sure we don’t bump into them.

With barely a thought, they become more like things than people for us.

The exact opposite of what we see with Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose Feast we celebrate today.

Just like her appearances at Lourdes, Fatima, and so many other places, Our Lady of Guadalupe makes herself known to those least visible to society. People on the margins. Those that we think of least.

If we think of them at all.

For those of us who all too easily ignore those least visible to society, Our Lady of Guadalupe stands as a gentle rebuke.

Her loving attention to those we barely notice is a powerful reminder that we’re missing something. Something worthy of our time and attention.

Maybe it’s time for us to start seeing things through her eyes.

Read More

Consent?

So this shows up on Twitter. A tweet condemning the virgin birth. Concluding that “there is no definition of consent that would include that scenario.”

There are many, many problems with this assertion.

It makes you question whether this person actually read the text for himself. Because the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-28) is an ask. Nothing happens until Mary gets her questions answered. And until after she says yes.

Maybe this tweet is really just “mansplaining.” With a supposedly better-informed man telling a woman what she really meant. Because Mary’s words of consent (which border on poetry - “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”) didn’t match up to a formula that he in his wisdom has determined is the only valid way to express consent.

Or maybe the thought is that because Mary was conceived free from original sin (the Immaculate Conception), Mary was God’s perfect robot. That Mary really had no choice.

Which means it’s time for a fact check. Here’s the history of choices made by people conceived free from original sin.

Mary. Free from original sin. Said “yes” to God.

Jesus. Free from original sin. Said “yes” to God.

Adam. Free from original sin. Said “no” to God.

Eve. Same thing.

That’s 50%. Half the people conceived free from original sin used that freedom to say “no” to God. Clearly, lack of a sinful nature does not mean lack of a free choice.

This is an accusation that just doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

In your charity, pray that God will open the hearts and minds of both the author and his readers to the truth.

That the Love that came down at Christmas was freely given. For them.

And that God’s love and forgiveness is greater than whatever it is any of us might place between ourselves and God.

Read More

Be the hands

Today’s Gospel is the story of the paralyzed man. The one whose friends tried to take him to see Jesus to be healed. But they couldn’t get anywhere near Jesus because of the crowds.

So they went up on the roof. Removed some tiles. Opened a hole in the roof. And lowered him down to Jesus.

Where was God in all of that? That’s easy. Jesus was right there.

But there’s something else that’s easy to miss.

Where else was God in all of that? In the friends of the paralyzed man.

The people who were willing to help. Ready to haul a stretcher up onto a roof. Ready to do a little impromptu carpentry.

They were willing to do what needed to be done. To help someone who could not help himself.

This is exactly what St. Teresa of Avila was talking about when she said:

     “Christ has no body now but yours.

     No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

     Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.

     Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

     Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

You may not see it when you respond to the call of the Holy Spirit. To be the hands. To be the feet.

But, just like the friends of the paralyzed man, you will find Jesus.

When you do what needs to be done. To help those who can’t help themselves.

Read More

Truly free

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Right in the middle of Advent. We’re supposed to be waiting in hope. Focused on the One who is to come.

But no.

We’re messing it up. With some random Holy Day of Obligation. About Mary. Because, why not?

Just more of the Mary stuff we do as Catholics. We drag Mary into everything. Why not Advent, even if it makes no sense, right?

Actually, the truth goes something like this:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,”

Today, we celebrate the first heart to “prepare Him room.”

The Immaculate Conception is about Mary. That Mary was conceived free from original sin. Why?

So that Mary’s answer to the angel, the one we heard in today’s Gospel, could be a truly free choice. Not clouded by ego and pride. Not made desperate by separation from God through sin.

But an answer freely given. From a heart that was truly free.

Some people think that Mary, being conceived free from original sin, means that Mary was God’s perfect robot. That Mary really had no choice.

Okay. Let’s look at the history of choices made by people conceived free from original sin.

Mary. Free from original sin. Said “yes” to God.

Jesus. Free from original sin. Said “yes” to God.

Adam. Free from original sin. Said “no” to God.

Eve. Same thing.

That’s 50%. Half the people free from original sin used that freedom to say no to God.

Clearly, lack of a sinful nature does not mean lack of a free choice.

Great, but what does this have to do with Advent?

Advent has its roots in the Prophets. Isaiah, Elijah, and the others who foretold the One who is to come. The longing of age after age for a Savior.

Mary is the patron saint of Advent.

Because the Immaculate Conception grabs hold of the longing of the ages. And takes it from dreamtime. To our time.

Mary’s “yes” to God takes it from someday. To today.

Because she said “yes.” Because she first, prepared Him room, we can say,

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Mary shows us the power of saying yes to God.

Imagine what could happen if we said yes.

Read More

Prepare the Way

A Moment before the 2nd Sunday in Advent 

This Sunday’s first reading reaches back to last Sunday’s first reading.

Last Sunday, the first reading was all about God’s promise of salvation. This Sunday, the first reading doesn’t wait for the obvious question. “When?” 

Without even being asked, we get the answer to the unspoken question. With the only thing you really want to hear after a “when” question. 

Now. 

Sunday's Gospel puts it all in context. The front half puts things into the larger (secular) historical context.

The back half of the Gospel ties into the history of God's people. And God's promise of a Messiah to deliver them. It tells us when. And it tells us why.

So what’s being put into context?

John’s baptism of repentance. Cleaning things up on the inside.

To prepare the way for the Lord.

Read More

Firehose clean

Sunday's Gospel is the first time baptism shows up in the Bible. 

So John's baptism of repentance is something new? Sort of. But not exactly. 

God's people had been doing all kinds of ceremonial washings (baptisms) for centuries.  Washing things to make them ritually clean. Washing Gentiles who converted. 

But whatever/whoever was being washed, it was always about the outside. Dealing with something outside that was keeping whatever/whoever from being clean. 

John's baptisms are different.

They're about repentance. About cleaning people up where it really matters. On the inside.  

More on this Saturday. 

Read More

No illusions

Today’s Gospel is about who comes to hear what Jesus has to say. It calls them “great crowds.” And makes a point about just who is part of those crowds - “the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others.”

People in need.

Whether through illness or disease that left them no doubt. Poverty or bad choices that branded them as failures. Problems or differences that others were all too happy to hammer home for them.

These are the people with no illusions.

People who don’t lie to themselves. About being able to handle things. People who know they can’t do it on their own.

How does Jesus respond to all of the people in need? With nothing but love.

No finger-pointing. No lectures about how they did this to themselves.

Nothing but love.  

Who’s missing? The successful liars.

The people who are able to fool themselves. The people who think they’ve got this. That they don’t need anybody’s help.

And they miss the gift.

Not because Jesus doesn’t love them.

But because they’re so sure of themselves. So wrapped up in themselves, they never come.

Or if they do, they don’t see that what’s waiting for them is nothing but Love.

Because they think they’ve got this.

Not realizing that they’re really only one illness, one accident, one bad choice, one missed paycheck away from being one of the people they so easily ignore.

May God give us the grace this Advent to be people with no illusions.

Read More

Once upon a…

Sunday’s Gospel starts with a string of names. 

People and places we’ve never heard of. Plus years of service for people holding public offices. It’s pretty dry.

Like somebody decided to write the least interesting thing they could. With only the slightest connection to Jesus. But there’s actually a reason for all of it. 

The people Luke was writing to tracked time by the year of an emperor’s reign.

Tiberius started in 14 AD, this stuff is happening in his 15th year as emperor. Okay. But why do we care?

Because most stories about gods and heroes don’t have dates. For good reason. They’re made up. 

The dates and historical details make it clear that whatever is about to happen, it’s anything but “once upon a time.” 

More on this Thursday. 

Read More

Think about it

Whenever somebody greets me, I usually say, “good, and you?”

It works. Whether they say “How’s it going?” “How’re you doing?” or something else like that.

“good, and you?” Usually it works.

Last week it didn’t.

They said, “It’s good to see you.” I was on autopilot, so I said “good, and you?”

They knew what I had said before I did. The silence was awkward.

Not that I said anything bad. I just said it without thinking.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

We say that at every Mass. Today’s Gospel is where we get it from.

The next time you’re at Mass, think about it while you say it.

When you say it, what are you really saying? You’re really saying two things.

“Lord, I am not worthy…”

First, it’s a reality check. A moment of honesty. Understanding that we are none of us worthy of the gift that we are about to receive. Because that’s when we say it. Right before we receive the Eucharist.

Understanding that this is not something we have to earn. Or even can earn. This is a gift. A gift given for each one of us.

“…but only say the word…”

Second, it’s trust. An absolute certainty that God is good for His word. That we can rely completely on God.

Again, this is not something we can earn. This comes from the heart of the Giver. From the heart of God. A heart that we can trust. No matter what.

May God grant us the grace to think before we speak. And the peace that only comes from trusting in the heart of God.

Read More

Christmas-ish

A Moment before the 1st Sunday in Advent

Sunday is the start of Advent. The season where the Church gets Christmas-ish. Just a little.

But not too much. 

With everybody else rocketing towards Christmas (or already there since Arbor Day), the Church looks really out of step.

Not singing Christmas songs. Being dragged into the “Holiday Spirit.” Desperately trying not to have fun.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Nobody loves Christmas like the Church. Nobody does Christmas like the Church.

The Church is so into Christmas, the Church does Christmas for 12 days. And then some.

Which is why the Church takes a whole month to help us get ready.

Because Christmas is too important to stumble through it. Or hit it in fast forward.

And you don’t want to miss a thing.

Read More

Keeping Christ

A friend of mine worries about people missing the point of Christmas.

He does a lot of thoughtful things around Christmas to make that meaning visible. And he has a “Keep Christ In Christmas” magnet on his car. 

When I asked him if he thought anyone noticed, he said “Well, you did.”

Keeping Christ in Christmas is very important. But it’s not about seasonal greetings (“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever).

Keeping Christ in Christmas begins in Advent. 

And it begins with me. With what I put into my Advent. 

Am I preparing my heart for Who’s coming? 

Am I making a place for the Holy in my life during Advent? 

If not, then there won’t be much Christ in my Christmas. 

More on this tomorrow. 

Read More

The crisis cycle

The daily Mass readings for last week and this week are full of stuff from the Book of Revelation. Striking images that are all over the place. Sometimes odd, sometimes scary. Sometimes even beautiful.

It feels kind of random. Yet it’s somehow familiar.

That’s because it mirrors the pattern of our lives. Take away all of the visuals. The images of plagues, and angels, and seals. And it becomes a lot clearer.

Andy Andrews describes it this way, “All people – all lives – are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis.”

Why should our life in Christ be any different?

And yet, it is.

That’s the point of all the stuff in Revelation. That our life in Christ is different.

It’s different in that, in Christ, the crisis cycle does not get the final word.

That is the promise of the Book of Revelation.

That there is hope. Because there is more to your life than the crisis cycle of this life.

That even though you and I are not home yet. There is a home waiting for us.

The constant presence of the crisis cycle in this life can make it hard to see that. Can make it seem like the crisis cycle is all that there is.

Which is why the daily work – and it must be done daily – of keeping our eyes on Jesus is so important.

So that you and I can stay grounded in hope.

Knowing that the crisis cycle does not get the final word.  

Read More

Coming soon

Sunday is the start of Advent. The season where the Church desperately tries to keep itself from putting up the Christmas decorations and singing Christmas carols (“Purple. Not red and green. Purple. Guys.”). 

Actually, waiting for Christmas is what Advent’s all about. 

Not in the sense of being a kid and knowing that somebody got you an amazing Christmas present (exactly what you always wanted). Vibrating with anticipation. Obsessively focused on the thing that you are going to get.

Because Advent isn’t about waiting for something. Advent is about waiting for someone. 

But Advent does share something with the kid who’s getting something amazing for Christmas.  The wait is completely worth it. 

More on this Thursday. 

Read More

The best

We were making a pumpkin pie for a contest. One she wanted to win.

Which meant that it had to be her grandmother’s recipe.

She asked me to make her a crust. So I did it the way my grandmother taught me. The best way I know.

When someone means something to you, it’s easy to give them your best.

Usually, you and I just do that. When it’s someone who really means something to us. Someone who we really mean something to. We just give them our best. And they give us their best.

Let’s be clear, that best isn’t the reason for the relationship. It’s a sign of the depth and importance of that relationship.

Because we have that kind of connection with them, the best is just how things are between us.

And that’s what we see in today’s Gospel, the story of the widow’s mite. What God is looking for. From each one of us. Our best.

Not because God needs anything.

But because that’s the kind of relationship that God wants to have. With each one of us. The kind of relationship where God means than much to us.

Because each one of us already means that much to God.

That is what God wants from you. That kind of connection. The kind where the best is just how things are. Between you and God.

Read More

Movie trailer Sunday

A Moment before Christ the King Sunday

A good movie trailer tells you just enough of the story to make you want to go. Without blowing the plot twist. Or giving away the big reveal. Or the best lines.

The ones that really get it right, are rare. They don’t just make you want to go. They give you the key to getting even more out of the movie.

More often than not, movie trailers spoil everything.

Sometimes a trailer mangles the film so badly that what you thought was a Jurassic Park sequel turns out to be a Jane Austen novel. Other times, a trailer just gives all the good stuff away.

No matter how trailer goes bad, when it does, it spoils the movie.

This Sunday is Christ the King. The last Sunday before Advent.

The readings? They’re all over the map.

The first two readings and the Psalm throw together images that are conflicting. And yet complimentary. Old Testament Apocalypse stuff. God as king. The Second Coming. Final Judgment.

Then there’s the Gospel. With Jesus explaining things to Pilate. Just before He’s condemned to death. On Good Friday.

Yet somehow, this odd mix of stuff is the key to everything that’s about unfold. Through Advent and into Christmas.

If you and I really want to get more out of Christmas this year, here’s where we need to start.

With Christ the King Sunday. A trailer that gets it right.

Read More

Thanks

It’s not enough to do the right thing. It’s got to be done for the right reason.

Jesus warns us time and again about this. About the dangers of doing things for the wrong reasons.

Which is why I don't say much about my Eucharistic Adoration.

I go late most Thursday nights. I'm usually the only one there. Which is fine. I'm not there to be seen. I'm there to spend the time with Jesus. 

And to pray for you.

At Adoration, I pray for the intentions of everyone who follows Moments Before Mass.   

So why I am I telling you this?

Not to impress you. But to let you know how much I appreciate all of your support and encouragement. For this blog. For my preaching.

And to say thanks the best way I know.

Read More