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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If you try not to...

When you're into something, really into something, it changes you.

Your game is on? You’re there. Because you were already there for the pre-pre-game show.

A TV channel has all your movies back-to-back? That's your whole weekend.

A casual mention of your team or fandom? You explode with an amazing in-depth analysis. Almost before you know you're doing it.

If you try not to, it's like it's physically painful. 

Sunday's second reading has the famous line "faith without works is dead."  

A little dramatic perhaps, but St. James is explaining faith and works. And that would be?

Faith changes you. And works flow out of faith. 

If you have a living faith, you will find yourself doing good works. Almost before you know you're doing them.  

If you try not to, it's like it's physically painful. 

More on this tomorrow.

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Classic Blunders

In the movie “The Princess Bride,” one of the villains mocks the hero, saying “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!” And then launches into his personal list of classic blunders.

I bring this up not because “The Princess Bride” is one of my favorite movies (although it is). But because the back half of the Beatitudes (today’s Gospel) is all about one of the real-life classic blunders.

It’s a warning that we often miss. But it’s one we need to hear. Because the danger to us is so subtle.

After all of the “blessed are you’s” in the Beatitudes comes a warning from Jesus. About trusting in riches. Instead of God.

But how does that apply to you and me? Since no one would mistake us for being rich.

Being rich depends on your perspective. You and I don’t have much compared to the wealthiest people in the world. But in the eyes of the homeless people that we serve at the shelter and with our street ministry? We’ve got it made.

And there’s the danger. As soon as we get comfortable. As soon as we feel like we have what we need. That’s when we’re at risk.

Of falling for one of the classic blunders.

Of thinking that we can handle things on our own. Of drifting away from God (often without meaning to). Because we think we’ve got this.

If we could see ourselves falling for this one, it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Because we’ve tried to go it alone so many times before.

And it always ends badly.

Instead of that closeness with the One who loves us best. Instead of letting God lead and being open to God’s best in our lives. We let things come between us and God.

We settle for things we think we can control. For good enough. And, without really meaning to, end up trusting in ourselves. Or what we have. Instead of God.

Which works. Until it doesn’t.

Of course, drifting away from God because we think we have what we need, that we’ve got this, isn’t the only way we set ourselves up for a fall.

It’s just one of the classic blunders.

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Trust in God

Trust.

You only get it if you deserve it. And even then maybe not.

Trust has to be earned. 

The great saints aren’t just radically different from most of us. They’re radically different from each other. 

But whether they’re modern saints like Mother Teresa, saints martyred in the Holocaust like Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, or medieval saints like Joan of Arc and Francis of Assisi, they all have one thing in common. 

Complete trust in God.

This Sunday’s first reading shows us the relationship between God and His beloved. From the view of God’s beloved. 

It’s got some pretty hard stuff in it, but one thing runs through it all. 

Complete trust in God. 

For so many different people (with such different lives and deaths) to have complete trust in God means one thing. God must have done something to earn that trust. 

More on this Thursday.

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Relationship

Some people look at Christianity and see a bunch of does and don’ts. Stuff you can’t do. 

Out of context, it makes Christianity feel like it’s not meant for adults. 

Or people with working brains. 

And that would make sense, if it were true. 

We wouldn’t judge a couple’s relationship by looking at their fandoms or favorite movies.  We know better.  There’s a lot more to any relationship. 

Judging Christianity by looking at a few of the externals is just as pointless. Because it’s a relationship. 

And no relationship makes sense - if all you’re looking at is its outside. 

The focus of Sunday’s first reading?

That relationship with God. And what it looks like from the inside. 

More on this tomorrow.

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You are His Beloved

A Moment before the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Last Sunday we saw the beginning of God’s relationship with His people, His beloved. This Sunday's first reading shows us God’s view of that relationship. 

Which can sound a little scary at first. Because the reading is full of stuff about vindication and recompense. But it's not what we might think. It's God's version of vindication and recompense. 

It’s how God makes things right. Not by striking anyone down. But by making His beloved whole. 

And Sunday’s Gospel? It shows us what that means in practice. 

When Jesus heals the man, Jesus takes him aside.  Jesus focuses on him and what he’s dealing with. Jesus doesn’t heal him as part of some crowd of “His beloved.” 

He is the beloved. Jesus heals him. 

Which tells us a lot about God.

God isn’t content with knowing us at a distance. Or knowing us as just another a member of a group. God became one of us, to be with each one of us.

Because with God, it’s personal.

You are His beloved.

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It's personal

At your favorite restaurant, you order your usual. The server is really busy and barely has time to take your order.

When you get your usual, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s nothing like last time. 

Last time, the server took her time. Found out just how you like it. When you got it, you knew she had talked to the cook. It wasn’t just another one.

It was yours, it was personal. 

In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus heals a man who is deaf and who has a speech impediment. 

But notice how Jesus does it. Jesus takes him aside. Focuses on him, and the problems that he is having. This isn’t just another healing. 

It’s his healing, it’s personal. 

Which tells us a lot about Jesus, and how Jesus works. With Jesus, none of us are just another one.

With Jesus, it’s personal. 

More on this tomorrow. 

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Seeing people as things

It’s really hard to avoid labeling. It’s something that you and I do that’s kind of automatic. The first time someone says or does something, without even thinking we go for a snap judgment. Then a label.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s something we like or something we don’t like. As soon as we get that impression, we tag them. And then we’re done.

Done thinking, that is.

Because once we get them labelled, we’re going to view everything they say or do according to that label.

It’s a real time saver.

Because once we sort someone out, you and I can just go with the label. We never have to really listen to what they’re saying again. Much less actually hear the person who is saying it.

We just go with the label.

That convenience does come at a price.

We end up judging the worth of others. Something that’s always dangerous. Something that we would never want done to ourselves. But it’s something you and I are all too ready to do to each other.

Based on an unchangeable snap judgment.

Which is why labelling always leads us to seeing people as things. Separating us from each other. And ultimately from God.

Exactly what St. Paul is warning us about in today’s first reading.

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Judging on appearances

You’re in line at the grocery store. 

Behind (apart from physical abuse) the worst mother in the world. When she’s not ignoring her kids, she’s snapping at them for getting out of hand. And she’s even nastier to the clerk. 

But maybe she’s not always like this. 

Maybe she’s rushing home after work. Maybe she just picked up the kids from daycare. And she’s trying to get them dinner. Before she drops them off with her mom and heads back to the hospital. 

Maybe those bags under her eyes are because she’s been up the last 3 nights with her husband at the hospital. The cancer they thought was in remission has come back. And the treatments don’t seem to be doing anything. 

We can’t always tell just by looking. 

And that’s what Sunday’s second reading points us towards. 

Are we judging based on appearances, on what we think we know? 

More on this Thursday.

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What's wrong with the Church?

What’s wrong with the Church?

Me. I am exactly what’s wrong with the Church.

Every time I take my eyes off Jesus.

Every time, with the best of intentions, I go do what I think needs to be done.

Instead of asking God. Handing over my idea, prayerfully waiting for God to show me what to do. And how to do it His way.

Every time I speak without listening.

Instead of keeping my heart open to God, letting His words guide me and be mine.

Every time I protect my carefully crafted delusions of perfection.

Instead of seeing the needs of others, and binding their wounds.

Every time I love things and use people.

Instead of loving the people that God sends my way, the ones who trust that His deacon will be there for them.

Every time I take my eyes off Jesus.

If you want to know how things got this bad, that’s the recipe. Just do it consistently.

Never let someone’s needs call you back to God. Never let their grief cut through your personal BS.

Never confess your sins.

Never beg God for yet another do-over.

Over time, the damage that you to other people and to the Church (and to yourself) will be horrifying.

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Virtue signaling

A Moment before the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading for Sunday, we're listening in on part of a larger conversation. One where the most famous relationship in the Bible – God and His people – is being sorted out. It’s all about things like what does it mean for them to be God’s people? And what does it mean for God to be their God? 

You wouldn’t get married without a lot of deep conversations with your intended. You’re not stupid. Neither is God. 

Since this is going to be a relationship for the ages, they've got a lot to talk about. 

The reason we’re reading it? It’s the backstory for Sunday's Gospel. 

All of the unusual things that God's people do, their special observances, etc., all of that stuff flows from this relationship. And they are meant to support that relationship.

They’re supposed to be offerings to God. Out of love. As well as everyday reminders. To call them back to God in the busyness of life. 

But that’s not what their special observances have become.

God’s people have lost touch with the reasons behind what they're doing. And with the One they're doing them for.

They’ve turned what was meant to deepen their relationship with God into little more than smugness and virtue signaling.

Which is why Jesus is calling them out.

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The "Why"

You come home, and this is waiting for you. 

One look at those big brown eyes and you race to fill the dog's dish. Now the happiest dog in the world can't decide whether to eat dinner or lick your face. He just made your day. 

Or your mom bugs you. And bugs you. And bugs you. Until finally, grudgingly, just-to-get-her-to-shut-up-for-5-minutes, you fill the dog's dish.

You end up doing the same thing. 

But the "why" makes all the difference. 

In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus calls out the Pharisees (again) for what they're doing. Not that they're doing anything bad. Jesus is calling them out for their "why." They've forgotten why they do what they do. 

Their observances aren't the signposts they’re supposed to be. Pointing them back to God in the middle of the busyness of life.

Much less offerings to God. Given out of love. 

What was supposed to call them (and others) back to God – now it’s just stuff they do to feel superior.

The "why" makes all the difference. 

More on this tomorrow. 

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The Judas Problem

Most of us struggle with separating the message from the messenger.

When someone we like is a regular source of good ideas or useful information, it’s easy for us to mix up the message and the messenger. For you and I to get things backwards.

To stop letting the message rise or fall on its own merits. And without really meaning to, drift into an unspoken assumption that it must be good.

Because of the messenger.

Once that happens to us…well, that’s why it feels like such a betrayal when a messenger we’ve come to trust goes horribly wrong. Because, even if our trust was misplaced, it’s still a betrayal.

And that means it’s going to be a real struggle for you and I to separate the message from the messenger in that moment of betrayal. But it’s absolutely critical that we do.

So that the truth of the message doesn’t get sucked down in the undertow of a horrifyingly failed messenger.

As Christians, this problem has been with us from the very beginning. It’s the Judas problem.

The reactions of the other Apostles show us that their faith was shaken when Judas betrayed Jesus. Why wouldn’t it be?

And yet, that betrayal didn’t change the truth of what Jesus said. Or who Jesus is.

It didn’t diminish the power of His all-sufficient sacrifice on Calvary.

So is it okay to be upset over all of the scandals in the Church? Yes.

It’s okay to feel betrayed. To be sad. To mourn. To get angry. To take action.

But never confuse the message with the messenger.  

Don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.

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Do something

Like most of us, every New Year’s, I make resolutions. About things I want to change in myself and in my life.

About this time each year, I like to take a moment to appreciate how impressively better my life has become. All because of my resolutions. 

Not really. 

I knew what to do. And I had good intentions. But (like most people) I never got around to actually doing anything.

Because I didn't really mean it. 

Sunday's second reading is all about this problem. We've heard the message. We know how much God loves us.

So if it really means anything, we'll actually do something with it. 

If we don't, James is pretty clear. We're just fooling ourselves. And whatever good intentions we might have, they're just more New Year's resolutions. 

More on this Thursday.

Sunday’s Readings

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Signposts

Years ago, when I was trying to avoid God’s call to holy orders, I went to a discernment weekend hosted by a seminary.

The workshops and talks were pretty forgettable. Except for one.

It was a talk given by an auxiliary bishop. He talked about all of the things that needed to be done in the Church.

Good and holy things. The Mass. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Things Jesus told us to do, like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.

Needful things. Like taking care of the buildings. Wise choices like fixing small things now to prevent larger problems later. Not to mention the emergencies you can’t prevent.

Other things. Things we might like to avoid. Like the politics of the parish. The politics of the larger Church. And even scandals.

He labeled these, and other things, as the dangers of the Church. And he was right.

Because it’s far too easy to get busy with these things. To get distracted. To lose our way in all of these things.

For us to become so caught up in all of the things, that we lose sight of what those things really are.

Signposts. Pointing us to the One who is the reason we came here in the first place.

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