Focus on What Matters

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Back in January I started a “Chapter a Day Challenge” with some friends online to read a chapter of the Scriptures every day. When she was a kid, her dad use to say “A chapter a day keeps the devil away.” I thought, “well, I want the devil to stay away, so I’ll give this a go.” We started with Proverbs, then read through the 4 Gospels, and beginning May 1st we ventured into Acts. (Romans is next.)

So throughout the season of Easter I’ve been reading a chapter of Acts each day and it has begun to coincide with the daily readings from Acts, more or less. Each day as I dive into the formation of the early Church I can’t help but think that the problems they had are similar to the ones we’re having today.

Today’s reading is about circumcision, no one’s favorite topic. But the point is more that some “followers of The Way” believe it to be “absolutely essential for salvation” while others just don’t. Who’s right?

Although in the Catholic Church today we don’t equate circumcision with a requirement for salvation, we have similar conversations about other, just as innocuous, topics.

What makes “good enough” to be called a Catholic? Are you kneeling the whole time during the consecration or resting your bottom on the edge of your pew? Do you receive communion on the tongue, in the hand, kneeling, standing, after a bow, or following a genuflection? Are you praying enough Rosaries? Reading enough Scripture? Interceeding with enough Saints? Have you fasted enough days this week? Was your Lenten fast ‘hard enough’? Do you show up for Mass 2 minutes early or 15 minutes early? Do you wear a veil? Are you dressed ‘nice enough’ for Mass?

As you read through that list it feels pretty petty, I’m sure. As I was writing it I thought “those are such silly things.” But the truth of it is, I heard these conversations all the time. And those are just the questions about particular devotions.

What strikes me most about this reading from Acts is that these fights have been happening since the beginning of the Church. And also that they take away from the actual important work of “sharing the Good News and making disciples” that we are called to do.

We’re caught up in what this person looks like, not if they’ve had an encounter with Christ and are working on their relationship with Him through the Sacraments and prayer. Let’s get back to what really matters in our faith. Focus on Christ. Go where He’s leading you. Find a way to share that Good News with others.

Today’s reflection first appeared on Carpe Verbum.

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Crafting Lies & Being Afraid

Reflection on Today’s Gospel: Matthew 28:8-15

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Two things stand out to me in today’s Gospel from Matthew. The first is Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus on the way and being greeted with “Do not be afraid.” What did they have to be afraid of? Was it the fact that Jesus, a man they just watch die, was speaking to them as if nothing ever happened? Was it that they were running from something already? Were they afraid for their lives?

I want to say that they were not afraid for their lives, but everyone knew they were members of Jesus’ group. People were out to kill Jesus and all those associated with Him.

Which brings us to the second thing that stands out to me. The chief priests and the elders assembled to bribe the soldiers to tell a lie. They were scared that it would get out that Jesus had risen from the dead and was no longer in the tomb. We don’t craft lies about events no one will even believe happened.

So were Mary Magdalene and the other woman afraid because Jesus was risen or because they were scared they were going to be killed as well. I’d venture to say the second. Nevertheless, they persisted in believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

They declared the truth even when their lives were at risk.

Do I do the same? Is my life even at risk? Not my physical life, but how I’m seen, perceived, and looked upon by the world. Those areas of my life might be at risk for declaring that Jesus rose from the dead and He is alive in our midst.

So instead of believing the lie the chief priests and elders paid the soldiers to spread, let’s embrace the message of Christ who says “Do not be afraid.”

This post first appeared on Carpe Verbum today.

They Knew He Was Talking About Them

Reading: Gospel – Matthew 21

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Today’s Gospel always cracks me up. Jesus is telling the people a parable about a vineyard owner who has leased his land. He sends back some people to collect the fees, but they are all killed. He then decides to send his son, who he says “surely they will respect my son, He’s My Son.” Of course they kill him too.

What does this mean? Well Jesus is telling them the story of Salvation History and predicting His own death. The Father created the earth and gave it to us to live on and enjoy and take care of. He then sent us his prophets to guide us back to His plan. We killed or ignored them all. So He sends us His only Son. What will we do with Him?

Spoiler Alert: We kill Him too.

At the end Matthew writes:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

They knew it and they still sought out a way to kill Him.

Isn’t that the same with us though. We know what’s good for us. We know that the Lord has great plans for us. Yet we still ignore Him on purpose. We still deny Him in the areas of our life where we just want to do our own thing.

I always thing there’s more time. He’ll send me another sign if that’s what He really wants me to do. But today is the day to start following Jesus. Today is the day to return to Him. Today is the day to renew my relationship with Him. Today is the day. Carpe Diem as they say!

This post first appeared on CarpeVerbum.org today.

Blessings from the Lord

Today’s Reading: Genesis 4:1-15, 25

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Cain gets jealous, and then he kills Abel. He believes he was completely and utterly justified because Abel showed him up to the Lord. Cain brought an offering and Abel brought a better offering.

What made Abel’s offering better? He gave to the Lord before he took for himself. He gave from his first fruits instead of his leftovers. Cain saw that the Lord was pleased with his brother and that the Lord showed favor on Abel instead of Cain.

This question always comes to my mind when I read this: Was there only ‘so much favor’ to be given out that Abel got it instead of Cain? NO, there is no limit to the Lord’s favor. It was there for everyone who gave their first fruits to the Lord.

Is there only ‘so much favor’ when it comes to the Lord blessing others over blessing me? No. There is no limit to the love of God and His blessings upon us. Just because someone else got a great blessing doesn’t mean that there won’t be a blessing for you.

As most of parents have told us over and over when we were children, “don’t worry about what someone else has, just worry about what you’re doing.” That applies here too. Don’t worry about the blessings someone else has … that leads to destruction like Cain … roaming the wilderness restlessly.

Keep your eyes on your own paper, if you will. Concern yourself only about giving to the Lord what He has asking of you. Concern yourself only about how much of your life you are giving to Him. This is a lot easier said than done, but you will not be unsatisfied with your blessings from the Lord if you give Him your first fruits every day.

This reflection first appeared on carpeverbum.org.

Recognizing Him

Reflection on Today’s Gospel: Matthew 17:9A, 10-13

As I’m sure you know, Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas started the weekend before Halloween with a different Christmas movie every day. I believe it’s 37 new ones this year to be precise. If you’ve seen one Hallmark Christmas movie, you’ve seen them all. Girl meets boy, girl doesn’t like boy because she’s dating someone else/sworn off dating entirely/has a feud with boy or his family/doesn’t live in the same state/is disappointed in men, either girl or boy aren’t really *into* Christmas, boy falls in love with girl by accident, boy helps girl decorate Christmas tree/make Christmas cookies/throw Christmas gala – in general save Christmas, boy and girl kiss and live happily ever after.

I mean, they’re all the same. So what’s the point of this?

I’m not someone who watches all of the Hallmark movies, I don’t even have a TV or cable to be able to sit down every night with a cup of hot chocolate and be transported to a land (usually Canada, that’s where they are all filmed) where Christmas is in danger and then saved in less than 2 hours. But I do hold out for a few of them each year because I like some of the actors and let’s face it, they’re cute and sweet. No one gets to a battle, has their gut punctured with a sword, and you see their insides come out (actual movie I watched at a friend’s house a few weeks ago … not my style at all). 

So, again, back to the point. Advent, Christmas, Hallmark, and Jesus! Candace Cameron Bure starred this year in a Shoe Addict’s Christmas which had a sweet story buried in the end about sleighs and how the Lord is there but He disguises Himself. It’s a reinterpretation of the man who dies in a rainstorm. The snow starts coming down and piling up. A man starts praying to the Lord to save Him. A sleigh comes by as the snow is about 2 feet and asks if he needs help. He says, “No, the Lord will save me.” Then the snow rises and a bigger sleigh comes by asking if He needs help. He says, “No, the Lord will save me.” Then he’s on the roof, the snow’s super high, and a giant sleigh comes by and asks if He needs help. He says, “No the Lord will save me.” Then the man drowns, and he meets the Lord face-to-face and says, “Why didn’t you save me?” The Lord replies, “I sent you a three different sleighs – what were you waiting for?” 

How many times does the Lord come to us and we don’t recognize Him? How many prophets have come throughout the Old Testament and the people of God continued to say, “When will you save us from this oppression/famine/heartache?” How many times do we dismiss the Lord when He doesn’t come how we’ve decided He should? 

Recognize Him today. He’s coming to be with you today! It might not be in the exact way you thought it would be. It might be a Hallmark movie telling you to “Wake Up, it’s time to save Christmas!” (Okay, probably not – but maybe!) He’s revealing Himself to you every day in the sunrise, via your family and friends, in the good works of other people, in the way the clouds are different every day, in the sunset, in your prayer, in the Mass! He’s here, are your eyes open?

This reflection originally appears on Carpe Verbum today.

Fulfilling Obligations

Reading: Gospel Luke 17:7-10

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We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.

“Congratulations, you’ve done the bare minimum and now you want a gold sticker.” That’s a little what it feels like the Gospel is saying today.

At the end of my life I want to go to Heaven. Why? Well, the other option seems not so great, extraordinarily hot, and lonely since God’s love is never there. So I continue to ask myself “what do I need to do to get to Heaven?”

There are the basics: Mass on Sundays & Holy Days of Obligation, Fast 2 days of the year (Ash Wednesday & Good Friday), and Go to Confession once a year. This list is from the precepts of the Church.

There are also the ten commandments: no swearing, no killing, no cheating, no lying, no coveting.

But have I just ‘met my obligation’ if I interpret them so simply? Am I approaching the Lord and say “what’s the least I can do to be saved?” or “what’s the least I can do and it still counts as loving you?”

I think this attitude will probably be what keeps me from Heaven. Love doesn’t ask “what’s the least I could do.” Jesus doesn’t say “what’s the least I could do to show Katie that I love her today? Let’s see, she’s awake and breathing, that’s about enough.” He doesn’t say that because He Is Love and Love gives everything.

He GAVE and continues to GIVE everything to us because He LOVES us.

Am I giving everything out of love for Him? Am I asking “how can I serve you today with my whole heart?” Am I seeking to know, love, and serve Him with my whole being to give glory to Him? Or am I just doing what I’m obliged to do? Are you?

This reflection appeared on CarpeVerbum.org today.

Persistence

Gospel: Luke 11:5-13

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I’ve been asking the Lord for the same thing for almost 20 years now. Persistently, without fail. I always think of this Gospel passage and then want to whine to the Lord and say “am I not being persistent enough?”

I’m sure He loves the whining. I’m also always sure to say “I’ve been so good recently. I’m going to Mass most days of the week. I pray the Rosary. I’m nice to people.”

Because this prayer hasn’t been answered, does that mean that God doesn’t hear me? No, I don’t think so. Is He punishing me because of all of my whining? I sure hope not. Do I need to be a better person before I will be rewarded with a yes to my request? Nope, that’s not how it works.

I’ve been watching The Good Place and discussing it a lot recently with friends (the only show on tv that’s all about ethics!). One of the things they talk about on the show is the moral philosophy concept of moral dessert. What’s that? Well, it’s not made out of chocolate, that’s for sure. Moral dessert is the idea that if you do good things, you will get good things in return – like the concept of karma.

So, does the Lord only answer prayers of those people who do good things? A heavenly dessert for those who have eaten all of their heavenly vegetables? No, that’s not how it works.

The Lord answers our prayers in a way that brings us closer to Him. In ways that refine our soul and prepare us for Heaven. Any good things we receive from the Lord are intended to draw us closer to and deeper into His will for us.

So is He refining my desire to be only for Him? Yes, I believe so. In another place of the Gospel he says, “you don’t receive because you don’t ask or you don’t ask rightly.”

So how do we ask rightly? I’ve come to see that “asking rightly” is ensuring that what I’m seeking is in line with His will for me. It’s also ensuring that I’m not making an object out of what I’m asking for. If the “thing” I’m petitioning the Lord for has become more important than the Lord in my life, then it will not bring me closer to heaven. Not right now at least, not until my desires become more rightly ordered.

Petitioning the Lord isn’t a science experiment though. It’s a relationship. We are in relationship with Him. We are told to be persistent, persistent in pursing a relationship with the Lord, persistent in striving to do His will in our lives, persistent in sharing His love with others. It is in this persistence to do His will, love Him more, share Him with the world that we will receive all that we ask for.

This reflection appeared on Carpe Verbum today.