Good Friday

On Holy Thursday, at the end of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, there’s a procession. Taking the reserved Sacrament from the tabernacle out of the church.

The procession out of the sanctuary looks a lot like the joyful procession with the Eucharist for Corpus Christi. But there’s no joy in the procession on Holy Thursday.

There’s an unspoken feeling. More like impending loss. Like saying goodbye for the last time.

Followed by an odd ritual. Called the stripping of the altar. With no formal order or words, everything that can be moved is taken out of the church. And everything else is covered up.

It begins in a flurry of activity, folding this and carrying that. As it goes on the mood and the tempo slowly change. Conversations fade. Motion slows. People gradually leave as the work winds down.

Until everything, and everyone, are gone.

Returning to the church early this morning, I stood in the back. And just took it all in.

The soft red glow of the presence light? Gone.

With colors dull in the cold, predawn light, the dim outlines of the barren sanctuary, the empty tabernacle spoke only these words.

Non est hic.

He is not here.

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Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday. The start of Triduum. And it begins with Mass.

Not just any Mass. But the Mass. The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

A once a year Mass that is both a call-back to the very first Eucharist, the Last Supper. And also a moment of unity with the Last Supper.

Not simply in the sense of an emotional or spiritual connection. But on a much deeper level, a literal, tangible connection with the Last Supper. Through the Eucharist.

In the Gospel for Holy Thursday, Jesus asks the Apostles “do you realize what I have done for you?” It’s pretty clear they don’t fully understand.

And yet, that’s no bar to the deeper relationship with Him that Jesus is calling each of them to, through the Eucharist. That doesn’t keep them from taking their seats at the table for the Last Supper.

After all, Jesus’ command is to take and eat. Not to take and understand.

Holy Thursday interrupts our lives. With an invitation. To take a seat at table for the Last Supper.

The seat that He prepared just for you.

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Betraying Jesus

Judas got 30 pieces of silver. About $3,000. For betraying Jesus.

So what did we get, for our betrayals of Jesus?

And you’re thinking, wait a second. I never betrayed Jesus. I never sent Jesus off to His death.

No. Our betrayals are much less dramatic.

The chance that you and I had to help someone who was hungry, who was homeless, that we passed up?

That’s a betrayal.

The time that someone was grieving or just lonely and needed someone to talk to, that we let slip away?

That’s a betrayal.

When someone was being treated like a thing, not a person, and we did nothing?

That’s a betrayal.

When gentle, loving correction was needed for someone’s misunderstanding of the faith, but we stayed silent?

That’s a betrayal.

Our betrayals are such small, petty things.

Maybe that’s why we have so little to show for them.

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He knew

There’s a lot going on in the Gospel account of the Last Supper.

Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet. Jesus predicting Peter’s denial. Jesus sharing the Passover meal with the Apostles.

But none of those things really stay with me. The moment that always hits home for me?

That odd moment when Jesus identifies Judas as the one who will betray Him. Because it shows us something about Jesus.

Jesus knew.

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him on Good Friday.

With the complete and perfect knowledge of God, Jesus knew what they would do to Him. Jesus knew that He would be abandoned. And how much all of it would hurt. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.

Knowing all of that, He still went through with it.

In case you ever wonder how much He loves you.

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He never asked

As a group, the Apostles are a mess.

James and John are better than everyone else. Just ask them.

Peter talks big. But when it’s time to actually do something, he’s gone.

Judas holds the money bag. So he can steal from it, as today’s Gospel tells us.

The rest of them? More of the same. No shining examples here.

But there’s one thing that separates Judas from the rest of the Apostles.

Eventually, everyone else walks it back.

Eventually, everyone else for forgiveness.

James and John get over themselves. Peter starts living up to his big talk.

But not Judas.

Instead of dealing with it, Judas doubles down on what’s coming between him and Jesus.

That’s what separates Judas from the rest of the Apostles. And from Jesus.

Everyone who asks Jesus for forgiveness is welcomed back with open arms.

Except for Judas. Who never asks.

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Palm Sunday

A Moment Before Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week.

Where everything in church gets, well, different. Even when compared to the normal of Lent, Palm Sunday is unusual.

It’s not just the palms or the procession that makes Palm Sunday different from everything else.

The thing that stands out the most – and the reason for the palms and the procession – is the double Gospel. On Palm Sunday, in addition to the Gospel during Mass (like every other Sunday), there’s another Gospel before Mass.

And the contrast between the two of them couldn’t be more stark.

With the Gospel before Mass, everything’s great. Everyone’s cheering for Jesus. He’s the hero.

The Gospel during Mass? It’s the Crucifixion. Jesus’ betrayal and death.

Having the two of them together at the same Mass can be a like a mirror. Of how we act towards Jesus.

Happy to identify ourselves with Him when it’s easy. When everyone else is doing it.

Ready to turn on Him in heartbeat. When it gets tough.

That we so often act just like that – usually without really thinking about it – isn’t all that surprising. We’re good at taking the easy way out.

The surprising part? That Jesus doesn’t pay us back in kind. That He doesn’t take the easy way out.

That even when we’re faithless, He doesn’t turn away. Knowing full well the cost, He still loves us.

In case you wondered what Palm Sunday was all about.

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Fear

“Fear is the pain of anticipated evil.”

Aristotle said it. The moment you hear it, you know it’s true. Because Aristotle was just spelling out something that all of us know on a gut level.

That things could go wrong? It’s a source of fear for all of us. Because we all know that it’s going to happen. The only questions are what and how often.

What makes it worse? Knowing that people will turn on you.

Either by taking advantage of you when it all goes wrong. Or making sure everyone knows about it. Maybe both.

Scattering the pieces of everything that broke. As if nothing ever went wrong in their lives.

When someone you thought was a friend turns on you? It’s even worse.

When it all falls apart, you find out who your true friends are, who loves you unconditionally.

Jeremiah shows us time and again that no matter whether it all breaks down because of something that happened to us. Or it’s something that we did to ourselves. Maybe both.

No matter why things went wrong.

God still loves you. Unconditionally.

No matter who turns on you.

God won’t.  

No matter how things fall apart.

God will always be there to help you pick up the pieces.

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Afraid

One of the joys of being Catholic is helping others return to their faith.

I’ve been talking with someone who drifted away for several months. Discussing her problems with the Church. Up to now, it’s all been very technical. Centered on difficult questions about bioethics.

Important. But, at least in the way she seemed to approach them, also kind of impersonal.

So I was a little surprised earlier this week. When she started asking about Reconciliation/Confession. Most of it was pretty basic. Stuff she already knew.

After a few minutes, I realized that her questions weren’t really the questions.  

I know, call me slow. So I started listening to her. Not just her questions. 

She was afraid.

Of what would happen in Reconciliation. Of what the priest would think of her. Of what he would say. 

She knew all the technical stuff. How to prepare for it. What to do. What to say. 

But she didn’t know what was waiting for her in the confessional. And she was scared.

If you want Reconciliation to do all the good it can do for you. To deal with the things that are coming between you and God. Then you have to be honest.

Open. Vulnerable. 

Anyone would be worried about something like that. Even more so if you don’t know what’s going to happen. Or haven’t been in a long time. 

So what is waiting for you in the confessional?

Just a moment when a priest is most like Christ. 

Listening in love. While it all comes tumbling out.

Just like Christ.

Offering gentle guidance back to God.

Just like Christ. 

With nothing but God’s love and forgiveness.

With the heart of last Sunday’s Gospel (“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”). 

Just like Christ. 

Reunion with the One who loves you unconditionally.

That’s what’s waiting for you in the confessional.

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Mirror

I love medieval churches.

Especially the perspectives on our faith that they give us. Through art and architecture that is often so different from what we’re used to.

One of the classics of medieval church art? Paintings of the final judgment.

Called “dooms,” they’re visual representations of the eternal consequences of our actions.

Vividly playing out what happens when we ignore the Gospel warning “I was hungry, and you gave me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you did not take me in…”

I was appreciating one of the larger surviving dooms. When someone in our group went off. About which politicians were missing from the people marching off to Hell.

Totally missing the point.

A ready, fire, aim response. The same sort of misfire that we see in today’s Gospel.

So what is the point?

Whether it’s the words of Jesus, or the doom, both serve the same purpose.

Not as tools of condemnation – not to condemn others. Or condemn ourselves.

But as a mirror.

For us to stop, and take a good look at ourselves.

To see how far we have strayed from God’s call. From God’s love.

For us to turn again.

And rush headlong into the arms of the One who is waiting to welcome us home.

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Focus

Growing up, I played little league baseball. My first year was a season where my favorite team – the Dodgers – were basically a homerun machine.

I wanted to hit just like they did. So I did everything I saw them do.

I stepped in and out of the batter’s box just like they did. I knocked on my cleats with my bat just like they did. One game, I even wore my blue Dodgers t-shirt.

And got yelled at by my coach when he saw it peeking out from under my red uniform.

None of it made any difference. Because I was focused on the wrong things.

Having the wrong focus is a problem. Not just in little league. But in life.

It’s a problem that Jesus comes back to time and again in the Gospels.

Having the wrong focus is one of the most frustrating ways to sabotage yourself.

You’ll work just as hard as if you had the right focus. But without the right focus, all of your effort will never deliver the goods.

If you want God’s best. If you want everything that God has planned for you.

Focus on God.

Focus on anything else, and you’re just another little kid in a blue t-shirt. Swinging behind the pitch.

Focus on God. And everything else will fall into place.

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Move into the light

Some years ago, I was living in a place that didn’t have much of a yard. With just a tiny strip of land that I could use for a garden.

But I really wanted a garden. So I tried to find something that could grow on that little patch of land. Something that didn’t need a lot of room. That would do well in that kind of soil.

It seemed like cabbages would work best. So that’s what I planted.

I did everything I was supposed to do. I checked on them every day. Watered them when they needed it. Fertilized them. Weeded them.

Which is why I was so disappointed. The little wispy tufts of leaves that sprouted eventually formed half-hearted clumps. But that was all they did.

They never grew into the dark purple centers surrounded by broad green leaves like the picture on the seed packet.

Talking to experienced gardeners, I found out what was wrong. I had planted them too close to the fence. The fence was blocking the light the cabbages needed to grow. I needed to move the cabbages into the light, if I wanted them to amount to something.

Without the light they needed, all of the other stuff I was doing didn’t matter. Without the light, they would never be what they were supposed to be.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light that we need to be who God has called us to be.

But too often, it can be a struggle even to be in the light of Jesus’ love for us.

Maybe we’re holding on to things like anger or resentment that are throwing shade between us and the light of Jesus’ love. Maybe we’ve got people in our lives that are pushing us into the shadows. Maybe we’ve let the busyness of life get in the way.

Whatever is in the way, make today your day to move. To get away from whatever is blocking your light.

To move out of the shadow. To move into the light of Jesus’ love.

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It couldn’t hurt more

A Moment Before the 5th Sunday in Lent

We all have things that we never want to think of again.

Whether it’s something that happened to us, or something we did. There are somethings in life that hurt just to think about now. Because they hurt us so much at the time.

If we’re honest with ourselves, too often those things are self-inflicted.

Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time. Or didn’t want to realize it at the time. But all too often, the choices we made set things in motion.

But it’s that awful moment of clarity, when we admit the truth to ourselves. That we have met the enemy, and he is us. That’s what makes it hurt the most.

That moment. When you hit bottom. When it couldn’t hurt more.

That’s the moment we see in Sunday’s Gospel, for the woman caught in the act of adultery.

That’s the moment she never wants to think of again.

Made even worse. By being turned into a public spectacle. It’s the 1st century version of having her worst moment go viral on YouTube.

And it’s at exactly that moment that Jesus shows up.

The way that He always shows up. When things couldn’t get any worse.

When everyone else is too busy enjoying watching you burn. Or bolstering their own fragile egos by blaming. Jesus is running into your fire.

That is the true nature of God’s love.

God meets you where you are. God loves you too much to leave you there.

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Real

It’s happened to all of us at some point.

Someone you thought was a real friend. Who you were there for, when they really needed you. Who you helped without counting the cost, because that was what they needed. Someone you really felt close to because of that.  

Who, you later realized, had no interest in being there for you. When you really needed them. Who was only interested in you, for what they got out of you.

That moment of realization, when you figured out that their only interest was in what you could do for them. That whatever you had with them, it wasn’t a real relationship.

That moment of realization hurts.

It’s a death. The death of your relationship with them. Or, at least, the death of what you thought was your relationship with them.

Because we know how much it hurts, none of us want to be the one doing that to someone else.

Yet how often do we keep ourselves from having a real relationship with God, by doing just that?

Readily taking everything that God freely gives. When it’s convenient for us. While ignoring what God desires from us. Insisting that God should be satisfied with what we were already going to do for ourselves.

If that’s what we’re doing – whatever we think we have with God, it’s not a real relationship.

Today, take moment to reboot your relationship with God.

Start by looking at all that God has done for you. And all that God is doing for you. Every day.

Make a list. If you’re honest, it will be huge.

Then take the time give thanks, one thing at a time, for each item on your list.

It’s the first step. If you want a real relationship with the One who has always loved you.

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Real

It’s happened to all of us at some point.

Someone you thought was a real friend. Who you were there for, when they really needed you. Who you helped without counting the cost, because that was what they needed. Someone you really felt close to because of that.  

Who, you later realized, had no interest in being there for you. When you really needed them. Who was only interested in you, for what they got out of you.

That moment of realization, when you figured out that their only interest was in what you could do for them. That whatever you had with them, it wasn’t a real relationship.

That moment of realization hurts.

It’s a death. The death of your relationship with them. Or, at least, the death of what you thought was your relationship with them.

Because we know how much it hurts, none of us want to be the one doing that to someone else.

Yet how often do we keep ourselves from having a real relationship with God, by doing just that?

Readily taking everything that God freely gives. When it’s convenient for us. While ignoring what God desires from us. Insisting that God should be satisfied with what we were already going to do for ourselves.

If that’s what we’re doing – whatever we think we have with God, it’s not a real relationship.

Today, take moment to reboot your relationship with God.

Start by looking at all that God has done for you. And all that God is doing for you. Every day.

Make a list. If you’re honest, it will be huge.

Then take the time give thanks, one thing at a time, for each item on your list.

It’s the first step.

If you want a real relationship with the One who has always loved you.

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In all things

Growing up, one of our family friends was a Franciscan sister. I know, kind of odd for someone who grew up Protestant. But she was a friend of my parents.

She was one of those people you couldn’t help but be drawn to. Kind. Patient. Radiating a certain quiet joy.

With a seemingly endless supply of truly awful dad jokes.

As I got older, I discovered that her seemingly effortless grace wasn’t the byproduct of having an effortless life.

She was a nurse. What she had seen in the hospital where she worked inspired her to start the first hospice in her city.

Seeing the lack of resources for parents who had lost a child led her to start a support group at the hospital she worked at. One that she grew into a ministry that reached out to grieving parents across the county and beyond.

All the while dealing with the health issues that would eventually lead to her death.

On my way into the Catholic Church, I asked her how she did it.

How – with all of her health issues, with ministries that were so focused on some of life’s hardest moments – she kept that quiet joy.

Her answer was simple. We see it at the end of today’s Gospel.

She sought God’s will. In everything.

Not just the big stuff, like major life decisions. But literally in everything.

From what she was going to do on Tuesday. To what she should say to someone she was talking to.

And the quiet joy? It’s the unavoidable consequence of trusting God.

Not just trusting God enough to seek His will. But trusting God enough to actually do it.

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Almost

The Gospel shows us Jesus talking to a lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

Bethesda wasn’t just any pool. It was a place where people were healed. At different times during the year, the water in the pool would be stirred. Whoever got into the water first after it was stirred – would be cured of whatever they were suffering from.

The man was waiting by the pool. Waiting for his chance to be healed when the water got stirred. But with no one to help him, he could never get there in time to be healed. Someone else always got there first.

For him, it was almost, but not quite.

For the last 38 years, every time the water got stirred, it was always the same thing. With no one to help him, someone else always got there first.

For him, it looked like it was always going to be that way - almost, but not quite.

Until Jesus breaks the cycle of almost, but not quite. And heals him.

As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus’ example. To pattern our lives after His.

That includes following His lead by breaking other people’s cycle of almost, but not quite.

How many people do you know who are stuck in a cycle of almost, but not quite?

Things haven’t quite worked out for them. They’re one break away from everything coming together. But that one break never seems to come.

Today, follow Jesus’ lead. Let Him show you how to break their cycle of almost, but not quite.

It may be something as simple as visiting them a month after the funeral, when everyone else has forgotten about them.

Or giving them a ride, so they can apply for that job in person.

Or texting them, and letting them know they’re not alone.

Let them see Jesus in you. Help them break the cycle of almost, but not quite.

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Really good things

It’s funny what we remember.

When it comes to the really good things in life, we all have selective memories.

Ask a couple who have a long, happy marriage about their wedding day. You’ll hear about things that were beautiful from that day. Or heartwarming. Or funny. Or maybe a little of all three.

And even if something went terribly wrong that day, the way they tell you about it will show you that it had no lasting impact. Or if it did, it became something that brought them closer together.

Because that’s how the really good things in life work.

It’s what Isaiah is telling us. That’s how you know when things are from God.

When they’re from God, the good that they do for us is so powerful that it works in both directions. Not only do the really good things in life work forwards, making our lives better. Making us better.

When they’re from God, the really good things in life work backwards as well.

Changing our understanding, our perspective on everything that went before them. So that even the hard parts on the way to the really good things – the things we would have given anything to avoid at the time – make our lives better, make us better.

In fact, when it comes to the really good things in life, often it’s the hard parts that, in the long run, do us the greatest good.

That’s how the really good things of God work.

When you stay in faith, when you seek God’s will. The really good things of your life will never be just good moments.

With God, the really good things of your life will work in both directions. Making your life better. Making you better.

Even if it’s hard to see that right now, stay in faith. Because what God has planned for you are really good things.

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The best argument

A Moment Before the 4th Sunday in Lent

G.K. Chesterton said that “the best argument against Christianity is Christians.”

It’s an observation that always hits me hard. Both when I do something stupid. And when someone who is publicly identified as a Christian weaponizes their faith, uses it to hurt and to harm.

The thing is, the opposite is also true. The best argument for Christianity is also Christians.

It’s what St. Paul is talking about when he says that in Christ, our old lives are passed away. That we are new creations in Christ. That we are reconciled to God through Christ.

Because we have been reconciled to God, we have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation.

It’s a ministry that isn’t just for people with a collar or a title. The ministry of reconciliation is entrusted to each one of us who have been made new in Christ.

It’s a ministry that calls us to a life that is the opposite of a weaponized faith. It’s a life that shows out our reconciliation to God. In big things and small things alike.

By reaching out in love in all that we do. By letting the joy that flows from our reconciliation to God infuse us. And all that we do.

By not even trying to hold back or hide our joy.

When we make that ministry of reconciliation part of everything we do, the Spirit moving in our lives will show out. Our lives will become the best argument for Christianity.

And nonbelievers will question their disbelief in God.

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Every Sunday

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Lent.

It’s called Laetare Sunday (Latin for “random color”). So the priest and the deacon will be wearing rose vestments.

But everything else in Church will still be purple.  Why? 

To lighten Lent, just a little.

To remind us that while it’s still Lent, the things we do for Lent aren’t an end to themselves. To help us remember why we’re doing them in the first place. 

And to let us know that if what we tried to do for Lent didn’t work out, it’s okay to take a do-over.

Or if we haven’t even tried to have a Holy Lent, it’s okay to start now.

In a way, every Sunday is Laetare Sunday.

Because with God, it’s always the right time for a do-over.

More on this tomorrow.

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Once you know the why

I love pizza.

My favorite part? A really good crust.

Here’s my test for a good crust - if you baked it with nothing on it. You could tear it up in pieces and serve it with a little olive oil for dipping. If that crust would be a good appetizer, all by itself.

Which is why people were surprised to catch me having lunch at a local pizza place, one that I regularly trash. For having a completely forgettable crust.

If I’m so into good bread, why would I even bother?

Because it’s one of the few places in town that also has a gluten-free crust. And I was having lunch with someone who has celiac disease.

To have a place where we can both have pizza, I can deal with a little crust type meh.

Once you know the why, it all makes perfect sense.

It’s the same principle that Jesus is pointing us towards in today’s Gospel.

From the outside, sometimes all of the “Catholic” stuff that we do can look pretty random. Especially the extra, stereotypical “fish-on-Friday” Catholic stuff that we add in during Lent.

People have all kinds of ideas about why we do what we do. Some of which are pretty nasty.

So why do we do all of the Catholic stuff?

Because we are masters at cluttering up our lives with all kinds of stuff. Work stuff. Personal stuff. Random stuff.

Stuff that easily overwhelms us. Stuff that keeps us from having the space for the relationships that really matter.

The point of all of the Catholic stuff?

To push back against all of the other stuff. To make a space in our lives. Where there’s room for God. To intentionally create a place within us.

For a relationship with the One who has always loved us. 

Once you know the why, it all makes perfect sense.

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