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.

The One Thing Needed

The One Thing Needed

I prefer to do obvious chores. I’m guilty of doing the most noticeable housework first. Empty the sink, clear out the dishwasher, do the laundry. I even leave folded clothes out on the bed so Katie knows how wonderful I am. (Because what’s the point of putting the clothes away? Then no one will notice you did laundry. Duh.) I don’t sweep unless the floor is crunchy and I don’t vacuum unless the rug is visibly dirty. I certainly don’t dust. Where’s the reward in that? And I find I’m not alone in my need be doing and doing in a visible way.

Every year, when dozens of our teens go on a summer mission trip, they have the opportunity to select the work site they want to be at all week. Without fail people are drawn to the home where the work is more visible (construction or painting) and the family circumstances are most dire.  I remember one year where this became almost a competition between work teams (“Today we framed three walls for our host Tony who has diabetes, heart disease, gout, his kids don’t talk to him, he’s super poor, he has terrible halitosis…”). We reinforce this as a society with a great focus on “doing” at all times. Especially in ways that are measurable. Think, in this Year of Mercy, how much attention we pay to the corporal works of mercy and how little attention is given to the spiritual works of mercy. We give awards of recognition, require service hours and do write ups in the Milton Times for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. I wonder if any high school student has ever turned in a service hours form for 10 hours of “bearing wrongs patiently.”

This brings me to this Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42). In it we see Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Martha, burdened with much serving. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong. What she was doing was very good. She was serving her family and her guest, who happened to be her Lord. It’s not that Martha was wrong and Mary was right. What Martha did was good, but what Mary did was better. It was the only thing that needed to be done.

The message for us is to choose the better part like Mary did. What I want is to be doing. I want to do a work that is a visible accomplishment. And not even so I can receive credit or boast—I want to look at what I did and know I did something.  But that isn’t the better part. That isn’t what Jesus knows I need. He wants me to come to Him and simply be in His presence. To sit at His feet, under His loving gaze. To pray, to be healed in Reconciliation and receive Him in the Eucharist. There are no awards and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is so much more—there is grace and the unconditional love of God that strengthens all of our efforts; there is mercy and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us.  I firmly believe that Mary, after spending time at the Master’s feet, went out and was able to do the works of Martha better than Martha ever could.

O Mother Where Art Thou?

O Mother Where Art Thou?

Recognize this picture? If you’re unfamiliar with the Saint Mary of the Hills upper church, this is the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother. She’s currently missing (not to worry, the statue has been taken for repairs). I was standing here with Caleb during the 10:15 Mass this past week and my eye kept being drawn to this empty space. The “Marylessness” of the side altar—it got me thinking about my life as a Catholic before I discovered true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2014. The spiritual “before” and “after” photos would be jaw dropping if you could photograph such a thing.  I could talk about her without end, but I won’t. I hope to share a simple and practical rationale and method for starting a devotion to Mary.

Why devotion to Mary? I can think of a number of great reasons:

  1. Jesus gave His own Blessed Mother as our mother from the cross (John 19:26-27)
  2. She is the perfect disciple and evangelizer. If our job is to bear Christ into the world then who better to show us the way than the one who did it first.
  3. Mary makes personal holiness easier. If I stand at the foot of the cross alone it can seem impossible, almost unimaginable, to love as Christ loves. But when I realize Mother Mary is there, holding my hand, it becomes attainable. And I don’t have to reinvent the wheel in becoming a saint. I can simply follow her model of submitting to God’s will and doing whatever Jesus commands. (Luke 1:38 and John 2:5)

You can start easily by praying with Mary to her Son Jesus. There are a number of traditions for this. You could intersperse your day with Marian prayers such as the Hail Mary, the Magnificat, and the Memorare. Of course there is also praying the Rosary daily, which is such a great blessing if you can find time. I’ve found some useful tips to make a daily Rosary possible:

  1. Do it first thing. I try to begin my prayer before I even have my socks on. Ok, that’s a lie. I sleep with socks on. But placing time in prayer at the beginning of the day makes it less likely that it will get pushed off the day’s to do list.
  2. Start small. If a full five decades is too much try just one. Use a recording to get you in the habit. There are a number of great ones out there. I like Gretchen Harris’
  3. Don’t do something else (like driving, housework, working out) while praying, but feel free to pray while doing something else (like driving, housework, working out). Very often my morning Rosary coincides with emptying the dishwasher. I’ve hiked and run with the Rosary. There’s even a DVD series of yoga and (Pontius?) pilates type movements to accompany the Rosary called Soul Core. The key difference is mindset. Am I allowing activity to become a distraction to my prayer vs. am I offering up the activity to God through prayer.

End Marylessness* and make praying the Rosary an important part of your prayer life this summer! I hope that you are blessed by this devotion as much as I have been.

* I’m pretty sure I invented a new theological term here

Freeeedommm!

Freeeedommm!


Depending upon my mood when you ask me, Braveheart is my favorite movie (or Shawshank Redemption or Glory). The movie reaches its climax when the protagonist, Scottish rebel William Wallace, is being tortured in the public square for treason. He indicates to the executioner that he wants to speak and renounce his treasonous actions and ask for mercy. Instead, he cries out one word: “Freedom!” It is a remarkably moving scene. It’s almost enough to make one wish they were a Scotsman (almost). Freedom is a powerful idea that so many have fought and died for. With our Independence Day coming up we will certainly hear a lot about freedom. Whether the wars waged for independence were just wars is up for debate, but the power of freedom to stir many to make the ultimate sacrifice is unquestionable.

So what does freedom mean in the context of our Catholic faith? The dictionary definition of freedom is “the right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” I think Catholics need to reject this definition as false. To have rights without responsibility is license, not freedom, and it is beneath the dignity of a human person. Consider someone who struggles with an addiction to drugs, or alcohol, or pornography. They could be provided with unlimited access to the object of their vice “without hindrance or restraint” but this would hardly qualify as freedom in any true sense. If anything it’s an example of slavery to a disordered will. Or, think of a factory owner who pollutes water with all kinds of toxins without government regulation to restrain them. Are they exercising the sort of freedom that inspires so many people? I tend to think not. But this popular notion of freedom—being allowed to do whatever we want—seems to be the dominant view in our society and we suffer for it.

As fallen humanity we can’t be free by doing whatever we will because our wills are corrupted. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) And we can’t be free by doing the will of other mere human beings because the corruption of the will affects all of us “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) That means everyone, even the very best of us. Then how can we be free?

This Sunday’s second reading challenges our idea of what it means to be free and helps us to understand the truth about freedom. Saint Paul tells us that it was “for freedom” that Christ set us free. What is the freedom that Christ brings us to? Service in love to one another. True freedom is life as a disciple of Jesus Christ and only by sitting at His feet can we possibly be free. It might seem counterintuitive that surrendering our will to another person frees us, but Jesus isn’t just any person. He made us and knows the deepest desires of our hearts. He is the Divine Physician who heals our disordered passions and gives us the freedom to which we were called.  The only way to truly declare our independence is to declare complete dependence on Jesus Christ.

“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

-Saint John Paul the Great

Good Good Father

Good Good Father

Last month, for Mother’s Day, I offered a reflection on the idea that a domestic Church (the family) can be analogized to a ship at sea. We are the pilgrim Church on earth, bound for our Heavenly homeland and the family is a microcosm of the Church. In the analogy I said that Mom was represented by the sails of the ship. If Mom is the sail then Dad is the rudder. The rudder, submerged in the water, gives the ship direction. This direction is the spiritual headship of the father and it is rooted in Scripture and Church teaching (notice I said “spiritual” headship, not “tv remote” headship or “I don’t have to do any housework” headship). Dads have the duty to bring family to God through a style of leadership that is modeled by Jesus and his adoptive father, Saint Joseph.

Saint Joseph has no lines in all of scripture. Like a rudder he remains mostly obscured. What speaks most loudly are Joseph’s actions, specifically his obedience to God. Even when he was told that God’s will for him was to risk public shame in marrying Mary, or to display humility in accepting less than ideal conditions for his wife to deliver Jesus, or to risk life and limb by escaping King Herod or to risk it again by returning to Nazareth, in all these instances Joseph obeyed. As head of his family Joseph gave Mary and Jesus the best thing he could give—subordination to God’s will without complaint or compromise. The same is required of all good fathers.

Christ shows what it means to be husband and father by dying for his Bride, the Church. Nothing Jesus said or did was to glorify himself or assert his own authority. Jesus only ever did the will of the Father. He was obedient to God even unto death, due to love for his Father and love for us. It is only through the lens of this kind of servant leadership shown by Christ and Saint Joseph that Ephesians 5:28-33 makes sense (the infamous “wives be subordinate to your husbands” passage). I encourage you to look it up and reflect on it in light of Christ and his Church, or Joseph and the Holy Family.  There’s a tendency, especially in our more progressive and egalitarian society, to dismiss this passage as an embarrassing vestige from a lesser time. And while it is true that many men have been guilty of abusing their headship and “lording it over others” in the past and some still do today, I think it would be a mistake to throw a truth away because of a corruption of that truth. In this week’s gospel Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Despite the way headship can be misconstrued, a father is still called to lead his family to Christ by denying himself and taking up his cross first.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe the family dynamics of raising children to be faithful disciples of Jesus. In my experience the faith of a child can have a coldness and rigidity when mom’s input is muted or absent. When dad doesn’t take up his role as spiritual head there is almost no faith to be found at all.  My father and mother worked together in a complementary way to raise us as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ. We participated in Holy Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation. We prayed the Rosary as a family. We talked about Jesus openly and often. My father and I would go camping and have some really great talks about what about our faith in God meant. It is because he took his duty as spiritual head seriously that I have a relationship with Jesus. I never got that football scholarship to Notre Dame. I didn’t graduate at the top of my class. I have yet to earn my first million. But I know who I am and I know am loved. I know Who made me and why He made me. And thanks to my dad, I know what kind of father I must be.

“‘Remember that one day your child will follow your example instead of your advice.’

-Unknown”

-Frank Connell

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

I like to think if I were a follower of Jesus in his earthly ministry I would have been able to pick up on the pattern:

  1. Jesus encounters people suffering and in need
  2. Jesus performs a miracle and meets their need
  3. Jesus gives us a teaching about who He is and why He is here among us

I’m smart like that.

So when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 men, not counting women and children, I’d knowingly look over at one of my apostle friends and smile, “Watch this Bartholomew, now he’s going to say something awesome.” This time is a little different though. This time Jesus goes to pray alone while we all pile into a boat and cross the sea (just an aside, there was a huge storm and Jesus walked on water to us. No big deal).

The next day all the people come across the sea to where we are. They’re curious, seeking and excited. I see what you did there Jesus. Make them wait a day and come to you. Nice touch. John, get ready to write this down.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

Well played Jesus. We should hunger for a relationship with you and thirst for righteousness like we hunger and thirst for food and water! Still, these new disciples are taking your analogy a bit too literally. Maybe you should clarify?

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died…I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Lord, that might be taking things in the wrong direction. See, the people are confused because they think you mean this “eating and drinking” literally. If you explained that this is just a metaphor for meditating on your teachings or that its symbolic of learning to share better that might help.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Now the people are leaving. “This saying is too hard. Who could believe it?” Jesus, call them back! Tell them it’s all an analogy! It is all an analogy, right? You wouldn’t let people leave you because they couldn’t understand a metaphor, would you?

Now Jesus looks at us. At me.

“Do you wish to leave also?”

Peter speaks up, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This changes everything.

Because Jesus isn’t some ancient teacher whose wise words remain with us today.

He is with us today.

In the Eucharist we can actually know the risen Jesus—not a long dead historical figure. He is alive and wants an intimate and eternal relationship with you and me.

Our God comes to us in the appearance of simple bread and simple wine. The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are really and truly present in the Eucharist we receive, because that is the promise He made.

The Holy One of God, for whom and through whom all things were made, desires to dwell within you and me.

His grace transforms us. We become what we eat and, by this Eucharistic miracle, Jesus abides in us.

“When you approach the tabernacle remember that God has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.”

-Saint Josemaría Escrivá