Monday, September 1, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

Readings for Sunday, August 31/22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Romans 12:1-3
Matthew 16:21-27

What Would Jesus Do?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the question and maybe have or had the catchy little WWJD wristband, t-shirt, or bookmark. What Would Jesus Do? It seems like a perfectly good question and it caught on quickly as a way of focusing in the moment on the idea that if Jesus were here, what would He do in the situation and then to do that for ourselves. But I’ll be honest with you, I have a couple of bones to pick with ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

First, it presupposed that Jesus ISN’T present. A priest at the seminary one time pointed out that it might be more appropriate to say ‘What Is Jesus Doing?’ because in every situation we find ourselves, God is there at work and wants of us some particular response. It’s just phrasing, but I think it’s important.

My second bone is much more significant and that bone is the fact that sometimes what we THINK Jesus would do is exactly the opposite of what Jesus actually WOULD do. Our imperfect humanity makes it easy to imperceptibly move from knowing what God wants to thinking to saying what we want as if God wants it. Case in point: Simon Peter.

Last week we heard Jesus asking the Twelve who the people thought He was and their responses of ‘Jeremiah, John the Baptist, or one of the prophets’ and Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” When Peter gives his response the Lord praised him, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my heavenly Father.” I’m sure Peter was rather pleased with himself, allowing that pride-monster to well up in his heart and bring him to think he was better and brighter than the others because the Gospel passage we hear today is the very next line. It’s not a new chapter, not a new conversation. The reality of Jesus as the Son of God is directly connected with the mission of the Cross, which we just heard. And so Peter, who just a moment ago was highly praised by the Lord, asserts himself in his supposed authority and rebukes the Son of God Himself and says “God forbid! It shall never happen to you.” And just like that the rollercoaster of Peter’s journey went from an incredible high to a disastrous low – “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does but as men do!” Imagine the heart of Peter at that point. Imagine the shock at the rebuke of Jesus. He thought he knew ‘What would Jesus do?’ and if it happened to Peter in his journey, it surely happens to us in ours.

This reality is why the words of St. Paul to the Romans are so important for us to hear and heed today: “Do not be conformed to this present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may know what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

The reality is that all of us are born sinners and part of the consequence of original sin is that our minds struggle to see things as God sees them. We get focused on the things around us, this earthly life, and fail to see the bigger picture at work. This is what God wants to renew and transform within us; He wants to stretch our minds to be more inclusive, to be more receptive to the eternal instead of just the small world around us. Ultimately, He wants us to be transformed so that over time our mind comes to resemble more and more that of Christ.

How do transform our minds? Or rather, how do we let God transform them for us? The same two ways when we wants our physical bodies to get in better shape: diet & exercise. Fortunately, I talked about the exercise portion last week; that in order to keep our souls in good shape we need to have time for prayer daily, Holy Communion weekly, and confession monthly and that if we want to grow stronger, quicker, then we need only increase the frequency of those three things. Today I want to hit on the other aspect: diet.

We know that everything we put into our bodies affects us in some way: it either makes us healthier or unhealthier. In much the same way, everything we put into our minds – every movie, song, tv show, book or online article – affects our souls. They either make our minds more like that of Christ or less. We must choose wisely, so I want to suggest to you three concrete things to help in the diet for your soul that are basically the same: read good books.

Catholic author Matthew Kelly once said, “Read great books. Books change our lives. Why? Because we become the books we read.... I'd like to come to your house sometime. I'd like to see your books. You show me your books and I'll tell you what sort of person you are. You tell me the ten books you're going to read in the next twelve months and I'll tell you how your life is going to change in the next twelve months.” And it’s absolutely true. Books have power not because they are magical, but because they plant seeds in our souls. This past Thursday we celebrate the feast of St. Augustine. You know how he was converted? He read a book. Recently we also celebrated St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. You know how he was converted? He read a book. I could go down a whole list, but the simple fact is that books can change our lives for the better.

So my first suggestion is to find good Catholic books and read them. There is something for everyone: lives of the saints, theology, history, spirituality, prayer, personal conversions, living daily life, and the list goes on. Read good Catholic books. I’m not talking about these people whose gospel message is the power of positive thinking. I’m talking solid Catholic literature that feeds your soul and challenges you in the process. If you want suggestions, just ask me.

Second, but more importantly, read the Bible! If we want to have our minds become more like that of Christ, we need to read the Word of God where the Lord reveals His thoughts and shows us how His plans unfold. We need to familiarize ourselves with the Divine Word and the story of salvation, which helps us to make sense of this life and find encouragement in the figures of faith from years past. Not only that, the Word of God is living and just as it was written to speak to people’s hearts 2000 years ago, God intended it to be able to do the same for us today.
Lastly, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you want to know anything about what the Church teaches on a specific topic, it’s there. It is admittedly thick and I want to speak to that real quick. A lot of time we Catholics get a bad rap for being a ‘religion of rules’ that people have to follow (usually from Catholics who have been enlightened and left the Church). The simple truth is this: there are lots of rules because the road to heaven is narrow and the road to hell is wide. It is easy to get lost on the way and think we’re on the right track, when we’ve strayed far away, just like Peter. And rules aren’t bad things. If I want to take a road trip to Washington state, I would plug it into my GPS and get a list of directions I have to follow in order to get there. Never have I met a person who got upset at the GPS for all of it’s rules that they had to follow in order to get to their destination. But when it comes to rules to get us to Heaven, the tables turn quickly – all these rules! The rules aren’t there to make life difficult. The rules are there to show us how to love God, neighbor, and self. The rules are there to mold our minds to resemble that of Christ and the process of molding is sometimes painful. This is where we have to listen to Christ and deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and keep following Jesus.

If you want to know how to get to Heaven, read the Bible and read that handy instruction manual given to us by the Church. Because the simple reality is this: we will all be judged. We don’t like to think about it and we don’t often hear about it, but the reality is that Jesus will come to judge us on our life’s deeds. The good news, if you read the rest of the books, is that He wants to show us mercy and He can if we but open our hearts and minds to be transformed. Peter struggled to grasp the mystery of the Cross, but with God's grace he came to understand it in a profound way. He himself died by crucifixion just like Our Lord, but Peter then knew how important the Cross was and asked to be crucified upside-down on his because He wasn't worthy to die in the same way as the Lord Jesus did. May God grant us the grace today to experience the conversion of mind that Peter did as we come to receive the Lord Jesus once again in the gift that is the Eucharist. 

If you don't have one already, you can purchase the Catechism from (Kindle available) or (NOOK available) or view it free online HERE!

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