Feet Fit for a King

Feet Fit for a King

On Monday we wrapped up another amazing EDGE middle school night. It was truly a blessed night touched by the Spirit in every way. Then I went to leave. As I was turning off the lights I heard a small and but unmistakable voice say, “Please use your iPhone flashlight.” As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was my feet. Specifically, my toes.  

Let me back up here and explain.

See, EDGE gathers in the lower church meeting space. And the lower church was not designed in a way that anticipated my exact needs (the nerve). The light switch is at the front of the room. The exit is at the back. When leaving, you have to switch off the light and then make your way to the back in complete darkness. It’s a treacherous journey fraught with perils such as Folding Chairs, Round Tables, and of course Solid Oak Pews On Which You Can Whack Your Knee.  Each time I make the journey I feel like Frodo going through Mordor with Sam to destroy the One Ring.

And each time I make this journey I have the same internal trialogue. My toes say, “Kindly use your flashlight app,” and my knees agree wholeheartedly. My eyes say, “Nonsense, I’ll adjust to the darkness in no time and see just fine.” And my brain, who is probably the worst of the three, comes up with these grand ideas about memorizing the position of each chair prior to shutting the lights off, creating a mental map and then using its superior Spatial Relations Skills to make an incident free exit.

And almost each time my toes (and knee) are right to worry. My eyes and brain don’t have evil intentions (though they do suffer from the sin of pride), they’re just not down there at the bottom where the impact of what they do is felt the most. It makes so much more sense to think of the concerns of the member of my body that stands to suffer the most by my inevitably fallible decision making.

In Catholic teaching on social justice we have this principle called the Preferential Option for the Poor. What that means is as Catholics we must, in all circumstances, consider the full impact of our actions on the poor and act in a way that promotes their well being. Or in other words, think first of the concerns of the members of the human family who suffer the most. That’s the rule of Christ’s Kingdom. In His Reign the first are last and the last are first. Jesus Christ is our Lord, King of the Universe and His vast and cosmic Kingship begins with and sees from the viewpoint of the toes.

If we are to be faithful stewards of Christ the King then we need to be more aware of who the toes are in every situation. Poverty is not merely about money. That’s far too narrow a view. There is material poverty all around us, true. The young, especially the very young, most especially the unborn are among the poor. The elderly, and people suffering from illness of mind and body are also among the poor. Immigrants, ethnic, racial and religious minorities, people who identify as LGBT, people suffering from addictions, people imprisoned whether justly or unjustly—all are counted among the poor. Even more, there is spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is far more pervasive in our society—those who suffer a poverty of love, a poverty of joy, who are deprived of peace. These suffer the greatest poverty of all—to not know and trust Jesus.

There are countless spiritual poor who have never heard the Good News that there is more to this life, that the God who made them desperately loves them, that He entered into the state of being a fellow toe, died on the cross for their sin and brokenness, rose again on the third day and calls them to Life Eternal. In Jesus’ reign the needs of the poor, both the spiritual and material, come first. And not their needs as they perceive them to be, but as He knows them to be. The hungry need food, the ostracized need a loving embrace, the lost sheep need the Good Shepherd.

We must avoid the temptation to see Christ and His Church as the means to ultimately ending poverty. That makes an idol of social justice and thwarts any effort to build His Kingdom. The noble pursuit of true and lasting justice can only flourish when we realize that life in Christ is the greatest good. If only we could live life fully devoted in service to Him, longing for the day when we hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy!” (Matthew 25:21) Because Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe doesn’t long for a kingdom of servants and slaves, but of friends— of Saints.

God of the Living

God of the Living

This past summer I took Caleb on his first major hike. We had done a bunch of other hikes in the Blue Hills, but none of them were more than a few hundred feet in altitude. This hike was decent. We went up Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH.  Loon is just over three thousand feet (3064’ to be precise) so I’m proud to say Caleb has summited a three thousand footer. He did a fantastic job too.

I did have some initial reservations about whether he could make the climb. I didn’t know what the weather was like up there or if some parts of the trail would prove to be too steep or treacherous. So to put my mind at ease as to its “doability” I decided to first hike it without him. It was a rainy day and everyone was watching Netflix at our rental home, so I stepped out into the mist alone and climbed up Loon Mountain as a trial run. The view was terrible img_2665

The next day I decided it would be possible for Caleb to make it to the summit. Having been up that trail and on the mountain top I was confident he could go there too. Of course, I also carried him on my back the whole way. For the most part he enjoyed the hike. His favorite part seemed to be pulling my hair, but to be honest I think he was trying to steer me like a horse.

Following Jesus in this life also leads to a mountain top. And being His disciple is scary, because that mountain top is Calvary. To follow Jesus necessarily means denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and dying to sin and selfishness. Not all of us will be called to the bloody martyrdom that was the fate of so many of our saints, and is still the fate of so many Christians in the world today. But all are called to loving sacrifice. Saint Maximilian Kolbe taught that there is no love without sacrifice. And following Jesus up this trail of sacrificial love isn’t always easy. It can mean rejecting pride and embracing humility,  or going beyond what is comfortable, or letting worldly measures of success fall by the wayside, or charitably expressing difficult truths to friends and family. And we know that the Cross is what waits at the end of the trail. But we can take heart. Our Lord knows the trials of this trail but He has confidence in our ability to walk the narrow and difficult road. After all, He did it first. And Jesus reminds us in the Sacraments, in Sacred Scripture, in the friendship of fellow disciples and in the refuge of prayer that He is willing to carry us.

One last thought: This Sunday’s readings are a reminder that while the journey of discipleship leads inevitably to the cross, it doesn’t end at the cross. We know that God who called us along this trail will again call us forth to eternal life.  And on that day when His Glory appears, our joy will be complete.

 

And Heaven Meets Earth Like a Sloppy Wet Kiss

And Heaven Meets Earth Like a Sloppy Wet Kiss

I hate boogers. I have a pretty strong stomach. There are very few things that gross me out. Before I worked for the church I was an EMT at a private ambulance company. People would always ask what was the most disturbing or disgusting thing I had ever seen. Blood? No. Broken bones? Easy to handle. Burns? Nope. That disgusting distinction went to mucus and anything else that emerged from the nose. I’m getting sick just writing this.

I’ve noticed something about my son Caleb. His desire to give me kisses is in direct proportion to the amount of runny nose that has made its way to his mouth. I wish I were making this up. Dry and clean nose? Get away from me dad! Slimy, salty river of snot? You’ve never seen such an affectionate child. But you know what? Much to my surprise it doesn’t gross me out. I’ll take the gross kisses. After all, I love him. If love is stronger than death I have to believe it’s stronger than boogers. So when Caleb leans in for a kiss with a shiny upper lip, he gets a kiss. Then I wipe his face clean. But always love first, without delay, without condition. I’m compelled to. It’s never even a question.  What if I demanded a clean face first? That would place conditions on my love for him. “I love you, but only if…”

Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors are corrupt traitors to their people. Their faces are absolutely covered in snot. Zacchaeus knew this, but he also knew he needed Jesus, who had come to town. Zacchaeus raced ahead of the crowds and climbed into a sycamore tree to get a better view. And then Mercy was compelled to act. Mercy is what Love looks like when it meets brokenness, messiness and sin. Listen to Jesus’ words, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus steps out in faith, literally “goes out on a limb” for Christ and the response is immediate. Jesus must draw closer to Zacchaeus, quickly and without condition. Zacchaeus’ decision to repent of his sin and make amends for any dishonesty is not the cause of Jesus’ love, but the fruit that comes from it. His encounter with Jesus transforms him in an instant.

Jesus calls us to run to him quickly. He must come to dwell with us because He loves us. He wants me and you, snots and all, to know Him. By faith we go out on a limb like Zacchaeus and with the grace we receive through the sacraments “God makes us worthy of his calling.” I pray you have that same transformational encounter with God, who is love and mercy, in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

The Big Cuppers

The Big Cuppers

Does God love some people more than others? In one sense, no, He doesn’t. After all, God is love. When we love each other we are actually participating in God’s love. Because of this we can choose to participate in that love more or less or even not at all. But God is infinite and God is love. Saying God loves one person more than another makes no sense because His love is already infinite. Infinity plus one is still infinity.

On the other hand, God seems to make more of His infinite love available to some people. There are some people who feel a near constant awareness of God’s love for them and many who don’t. Saint Therese made an analogy to explain this. Even though she was talking about the different glories that await each of us in Heaven, I (hopefully with the Little Flower’s blessing) want to paraphrase her here. Imagine a large cup and next to it is a thimble. They’re both filled  to the brim with water. They hold different amounts but it would be impossible to add anything to either container. Our capacity to experience God’s love is like that. Some of us have big cups, some have thimbles. Some have oceans, some have eye droppers. But all are full. So what is the secret that the big cuppers hold?

I don’t think the secret is trying to get God to love you more. That’s impossible. Our list of accomplishments, merits, awards, talents, important jobs, good grades, the number of friends we have, big paychecks, good deeds—none of it can increase God’s love for us, which is already infinite. Jesus gives us the secret to having a greater capacity to be loved by Him with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In the parable Jesus tells us about two men praying in the temple: a self-righteous Pharisee who thanks God for making him better than everyone else and a humble tax collector who asks God for mercy. The Pharisee falls short not just because he is judgmental and dismissive of the tax collector. If we get caught up on the “judge not” message alone we will miss something hugely important. Yes, the Pharisee is wrong to judge, but he misses the mark even further by thinking he has earned God’s love by his tithing, fasting and self-righteousness. He is completely blind to his unworthiness and closed off to mercy. We can often be like the Pharisee in this second sense. True, we tend not to judge the “tax collectors” in our lives because we are good and decent people. But we can fall into the trap of believing that everything is ok. That we don’t need Jesus’ mercy every hour of every day. That crying out to God is for other people, people with problems. Not us. We too can be closed off to mercy.

The tax collector, aware of his brokenness, is open to receive mercy. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the motto of the big cuppers. The saints (just a fancy word for big cuppers) all had in common a profound awareness of their own sin and brokenness. From the outside this can look like hand-wringing guilt, but nothing could be further from the truth. Declarations like “Lord I need You!” and “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” are the secret to experiencing the fullness of God’s love and the freedom from anxiety, abundant joy and peace that only Christ can give.

Healer

Healer

When I was a kid I thought Jesus healed leopards. They called them leopards because their skin was covered in spots. Obviously. And a leopard can’t change his spots (that saying actually comes from Jeremiah 13:23) so Jesus preformed the miracle of changing their spots for them. I really did believe this until I learned what leprosy really was (and still is). It’s generally accepted that the ancient disease was caused by the same bacteria as the modern one, mycobacterium leprae. It is still around in many parts of the world but unlike in Jesus time, it is extremely treatable. Leprosy was so feared that people suffering from it were exiled from their community and forced to warn others when they approached. Many other skin conditions were lumped in with leprosy too. It makes me think twice before I complain about my psoriasis. After all, I don’t have to live in a leper colony (although living in a leopard colony would be kinda cool).

There is a biblical connection between leprosy and sin. In the Old Testament leprosy is seen as a punishment for sin. The gospels point to leprosy not as an effect of sin, but as an analogy for it. Like sin it is ugly, it disfigures, it can spread and it separates us—separates us from each other and from God. And just as Jesus, in his mercy, desired to free the ten lepers of their physical disease, he also desires to free us from our spiritual disease. If only we have the courage to echo the words of the lepers, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Christ wants to set us free, wants to heal us. But he waits for our permission to act.

Saint Francis of Assisi, whose memorial we observed this week, was absolutely repulsed by leprosy and sufferers of leprosy. Early in his radical conversion he met a leper on the road and knew what he had to do. He gave the man money, embraced him and kissed his sores. In that moment he realized that he was embracing and kissing Jesus. In an instant Saint Francis’ sin of indifference and aversion to suffering was healed. We have access to the same sanctifying grace and healing in the sacraments. We only need to ask.

 

Made for More than Mammon

Made for More than Mammon

Dear Lord,

I know that love of money is the root of all evil and that many people can be corrupted and changed for the worse by it.  But I believe I can overcome the temptation with Your help.  So please let me win the $200 million Powerball in order to prove how great You are. I know I am up to the challenge. Ka-ching. I mean A-men.

I have prayed something similar to this before. I know, it’s a really shallow prayer. After all, money can’t buy happiness. Actually, I would argue that it can buy happiness. The word “happy” has at it’s root “hap” which means luck or fortune. We all agree with this idea of happiness as luck to some degree. Ever notice that when you see someone with a huge smile on their face you immediately assume some external good fortune came upon them. And it’s true. If I get a new pair of shoes, I’m happy. If I step in something messy, I’m unhappy. If I go to Chipotle, I’m happy. If they’re out of guacamole, I’m unhappy. The worst thing about investing so much self in the pursuit of happiness is not just that it is hard to hold on to (it is) or that even when you can grasp it it fails to truly satisfy. Jesus tells us that the pursuit of mammon—which is worldly happiness, or wealth, or pleasure or comfort etc.—ultimately prevents us from pursuing the greatest Good. Himself.

Because we weren’t made for these passing things. We were made for Christ. And He cannot be second place in our lives to anything else.  Mammon is really whatever we place ahead of Jesus. And mammon can be anything. It doesn’t have to be money. Saint Augustine gives a little test to discern what mammon is to each of us: imagine God comes to you offering whatever you desire and nothing is out of bounds or off limits and it’s not a trick either (e.g. you ask for a million dollars and end up receiving the life insurance pay out from the death of a loved one). Whatever you request He will grant but there is one catch—once your desire is granted you will never again, in all eternity, see His face. If there is something for which you would take that deal, that’s your mammon.

I know that I say in my words and many of my thoughts that, no, there is nothing worth that deal. But I also know that my actions can tell a different story. I know that sometimes the way I live my life and what I choose to pursue betray the fact that I often put things before Jesus. Sometimes it’s money (that I don’t even have!), sometimes it’s a desire for acceptance and esteem, sometimes it’s a desire to stay in my comfort zone. I flit around from one fixation to another hoping to find something that satisfies. Following Jesus, being His Disciple, has taught me little by little that He is all I need. In Him I live and move and have my very being. In Him I find rest.

 

 “…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

-Saint Augustine

Wherever Your Treasure Is…

Wherever Your Treasure Is…

 

This morning I walked into the living room where Caleb was playing in his play pen to give him a kiss goodbye when I had four simultaneous thoughts (well, three observations and a thought):

  1. What’s that dark mark on his face?
  2. Smells like someone needs a diaper change!
  3. Speaking of diapers, where is Caleb’s diaper?
  4. Oh dear God…

There. Was. Poop. Everywhere. I called out to my wife, “Katie! He’s playing with poop!” I can only imagine what the Amazon Customer Service Representative I was on the phone with at the time thought. And so began a 45 minute adventure. Katie took Caleb and thoroughly cleaned him while I went on a seek and destroy mission for . . . particles.

As Katie and I set about to take care of our duty (really Caleb’s duty) we could only laugh. And we did laugh. I wondered what else besides love could bring about a situation where two fairly normal human beings are scouring someone else’s poo off the ground and various toys with an irrepressible joy causing fits of laughter. It’s not like the poop wasn’t so bad. It smelled like, well, poop. And it really was everywhere. But love changes things. By knowing our Father loves us, and reflecting that love to the world we can see with the eyes of faith what our greatest treasure is. Today my greatest treasure was to spend the better part of an hour sanitizing my living room.

Jesus talks about what it is we should truly treasure in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. He offers us a parable of a man who believes he is set for life. He has enough to never have to work, never be uncomfortable, never have to worry about his next meal and he believes this will give him a life of contentment. And he is a fool. Not because food or drink or comfort or happiness are bad things—they aren’t. But they’re not the ultimate ends for which we were made either. They don’t represent the treasures our hearts were designed to seek. We are images of God who is Love and the greatest expression of that love is Jesus Christ Crucified. Our greatest treasure is to be that kind of selfless love and not just for our own family. Even the wicked know how to love their family (Luke 11:13). The real treasure is a “poo-scrubbing-with-a-smile-on-your-face” type love for everyone—for those who can do nothing for you, for those who dislike you or even hate you.

This Sunday, 23 teens and 7 adults from Saint Mary of the Hills depart for Mexico, ME to do a week of Christian service at Beyond Sunday Missions. Please pray that their motivation be a “poo-scrubbing-with-a-smile-on-your-face” type love. Or more simply, and more accurately, a crucifixion type love. Let a crucifixion type love be what leads them to step outside of their comfort zone, to work despite fatigue, frustration, self-doubt or uncertainty, to smile and show kindness even when smiles and kindness haven’t been earned and to bring the lessons learned home to our parish so that we may be inspired to do likewise. This is the lived faith the whole world desperately needs to see.