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

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

The other night Katie and I were having one of those important, deeply profound, life changing, heart to heart conversations. This one in particular was about who Hollywood director Judd Apatow is married to. Is it Jenna Fischer? No, Isla Fisher? At some point one of us said “Why are we discussing this, let’s just Google it and be done.” It’s Leslie Mann, if you’re wondering. Google is great for that. Often times friends or family will be sitting around having trivial conversation and a question will come up that just has to have an answer right now. So someone grabs their phone and Googles it, problem solved. I think that’s fine when dealing with trivia. But there’s also a temptation to that same “problem solved” mentality with nontrivial things. The success of the scientific method and the technologies science produces has led us to conclude that everything is merely a problem that can be solved. But not every truth has a simple summation that our intellect can grasp.

We have a beautiful word for these Truths that can’t be simply summed up or solved—mystery. I used to think calling something a mystery was a graceful way of admitting ignorance of a thing that should be understood but wasn’t. Mystery is so much more than that. A mystery is not something that can’t be known at all, it is something that can’t be known completely. The central mystery of the Catholic faith is the Most Holy Trinity. Scripture is pretty clear on four things:

     The Father is God (Philippians 1:2)

      Jesus is God (Titus 2:13)

     The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)

     There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4)

We first learn this truth by various analogies, though none of them are the complete truth. The temptation to apply a problem solving sort of “Google it and be done” approach to the Trinity is much older than Google. Oversimplifying the truth to make God more manageable can lead to a number of material or accidental heresies, some of which I have been guilty of believing in the past. Here’s a short list of Trinitarian heresies:

Sabellianism: God is one person, but reveals himself to us in three different ways. For example, a man is one man but also a father, a husband and an employee. However, this heresy denies the Threeness of God. Another example: H2O is water, ice and vapor.

Arianism: The belief that only the Father is truly God and that the Son and the Holy Spirit are his creations. The sun is a common example: the sun represents the Father, and the sun’s light and heat represent the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Tritheism and Partialism: Tritheism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are actually three gods who work as one. Partialism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three parts or divisions of God. A common example of partialism is the shamrock (sorry Saint Patrick). Another is an egg—one egg made of shell, yolk and white.

The mystery is that God is one nature and three distinct Persons. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father or The Son. The three Persons share one divine substance (consubstantial).  The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. I really hope that makes very little sense to you as it makes very little sense to me. Because the tension created by this mystery is beautiful.

I was one of the six people who bought a Wii U. I used it a lot when I first purchased it. It was fun to figure out its features and get new games to play on it. But then I had it all figured out and it became boring to me. It was, after all, just an object. Persons are not objects and we can’t fully know them simply by knowing about them. That would be like thinking you know someone because you know their name, favorite movie and where they see themselves in five years. The greatest aspect of being in relationship with another person is the mystery that they are so wonderfully other.

Our God is not just one Person but three Persons equal in glory, coequal in majesty. We could (and hopefully will) spend an eternity coming to share in the inner life of the Trinity and never reach its depths—never fully grasp the mystery, and never grow bored. If you’ve ever been blessed to read a book (or binge-watch a series on Netflix?) that pulled you in and totally engrossed you and you never wanted it to end then you might understand this. If you’ve ever had a deeply meaningful conversation that lasted hours but felt like minutes that’s even closer. But books and people are finite. We have to avoid the temptation to make God a problem to be solved or a question to be Googled—small and understandable. I hope this Trinity Sunday finds you diving into the reality of a God who is deeper than we can imagine, beyond comprehension and beckoning us all to enter into the perfect communion of life and love that is our God —the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threenessthrough confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”

-Saint Patrick