Why we do this

We spend hours wrapping, and seconds unwrapping. Days cooking, and minutes eating. Season's decorating, and hours putting it all away.

Amidst it all, it can be tempting to see Christmas as something of a commodity, or "something we just do this time of year."

It's not.

We welcome family and friends, eat delicious food, and decorate our homes as a way to celebrate the greatest gift God could give us: Himself.

But he's not done. The Lord of the Crib is waiting to break into your life anew this Christmas season. Together, let's open our ears and hearts to the wonder of his love.

Merry Christmas!

Full-court press

If you're a basketball fan, you know what the term "full-court press" means. If you're not, let me explain:

Instead of the defense scaling back to the other end of the court to defend their basket, they "press(ure)" the offense the full length of the court, hoping to force a turnover. This usually happens when the defense is desperate, with little time left in the game.

A week from today is Christmas. And perhaps these last few weeks of Advent you wish you'd done more to prepare your heart for the birth of The Lord.

If that's you, I want you to stop hanging your head and know there's still time.

Break out the spiritual full court press these next seven days and...

1. Go to confession.

2. Schedule (and I do mean schedule) 10 minutes, each day, to pray by yourself or with your family.

3. Call or visit someone you know who feels lonely or forgotten.

4. Take a water break if necessary.

Go.

This is a special week for our family.

Our son Joseph turns two on Friday. That's also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (And as many of you know, that wasn't a coincidence.)

Many months before, we prayed her novena asking for her special protection for him. We also asked that he be born on her feast, Dec. 12th.

Our Lady's words to St. Juan Diego rang true for us that day and they will for you as well.

In your brokenness, in your prayers, run to Our Lady. Ask her to guide you in your journey to her Son, as she forever reminds the Church and the world those beautiful words she spoke to St. Juan Diego in the year 1531:

"Am I not here, I who am your Mother?"

My new pair of shoes.

Years ago, I remember buying a new pair of running shoes thinking they would make me faster. They were expensive, highly marketed, and promised so much.

The strangest thing happened a few weeks later...I realized I was just as slow with my new pair of shoes than I was with my old ones.

Sure, they were a little more comfortable (and a lot cleaner), but nothing else really changed.

And though I wanted to blame the shoes, I knew I couldn't.

See, I didn't actually put any extra work into getting faster. I just convinced myself that buying a new pair of shoes would do the work for me.

What does this have to do with our faith?

That older Bible, plastic rosary, and free prayer app for your smart phone (I like this one) work just fine. The question is, are you putting the work in?

All I can say

I know you don't have to open these blogs.

But for some reason or another, many of you do.

You make time in your busy schedule to stop what you're doing, open the email I send, look at a picture taken of me when I had more hair, reflect and pray on who matters most in our lives––Jesus Christ and his Church.

For that, all I can say is...thank you.

Thanks for making room in your life in order for me and my family to serve you.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Not that's more like it.

Our Catholic faith is not measured on what you know.

It's measured on who you know.

"You know a lot about Catholicism," is not what I like to hear.

"You seem like you're passionately in love with Jesus and his Church."

Now, that's more like it.

What's it going to take?

If you're like me, you enjoy getting the newest app on your phone. It's fun, it's new, and we convince ourselves that it can add a lot of value to our lives.

But after awhile, the same thing always happens. We rarely look at the app again, going back to the same three or four that we enjoy.

It can be the same way in our prayer, too. We seek many ways to pray, changing the time or style overnight. The problem with this is we become perpetual beginners, struggling to advance.

But there is that one way of prayer that you enjoy the most. And the one time of day (or night) you're at your best.

If you've found that way and that time, you know how to advance. What it takes now is discipline and commitment.

Just as the flower grows, slow and steady, so too will your soul.

You know this by now...

By now, you probably know how much I love Our Lady.

She's Queen of Heaven––and she's my Mom. 

And just like any mother who loves her children, Mary desires to give us the best––her Son.

Blessed Mother Teresa said that in times of distress call upon Our Lady saying, "Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now." I want you to remember that, today.

The saints loved Mother Mary. And we should, too.

Invite Our Lady into your prayer. Invite her into your family. Invite her into your parish. Introduce her to your friends.

And always, ask her to teach you how to love. After all, that's what Mothers do best.

Long-term investing

I don't write these weekly blogs to, as they say, "pump-you-up" (in fact, it's more for the opposite).

Conversion is not like winning the lottery. It's more like investing in a retirement plan.

Conversion is a long, disciplined, time-consuming, non-compromising, growing, friendship with God in His Church.

Somedays we crawl, others we walk, and still others we sprint.

But we never, ever, stop.

His first feast as a saint!

Karol Joseph Wojtyla––remember him?

Sure you do.

We know him now as St. John Paul II, and today is his first official feast day after being canonized less than six months ago.

St. John Paul II was pope for over 26 years (third longest of any pope in history).

He also traveled a lot. In fact, if you add up the miles he traveled, they would circle the earth 30 times.

He was seen by more people, in person, than any other individual that's walked the planet.

And he canonized more saints than the last five centuries of his predecessors combined (here's the list if you're wondering).

More importantly...he was uncompromising in his love for Jesus Christ.

We will do well to imitate him, read his biographies (this one's my favorite), and ask for his prayers.

St. John Paul II, pray for us!

Some of the most powerful words I've ever read

Today is the feast of St. Terese of Avila.

By now, you know of my devotion to her. She was feisty, funny, and holy--and wrote a book that changed my life forever. (This book was great, too.)

I could go on, but I won't.

Instead, read her powerful words below, and together, let's do our best to remember them always.

"Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices."

The Upside?

I debated on what to write today. Much more than I normally do.

I try and get these weekly emails perfect.

I get angry when I make a typo and I toil on whether the emails are too long or too short.

It's all just noise. And I'm very distracted by it.

Isn't that true with life as well? It's easy to get distracted by all the noise. Especially the sounds that don't really matter.

The upside?

God can break through. But we have to let him.

When you're stressed, anxious, or spending too much time on what doesn't matter, do what I did...marry a spouse that keeps you on track (that part's optional), take a step back and invite God in.

He's waiting.

'The Little Flower'

Today's the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. And if you've ever heard me speak, you know where I'm going.

She's popularly known as "The Little Flower" because of her meekness and humility. 

You see, Therese didn't see herself as a Rose or Lilly, Tullip or Orchid. Therese saw herself as the flower no one was to notice, growing quietly and without compromise for the love of God.

She taught "The Little Way" of holiness to those closest to her, a way that's now widely practiced in the Church today.

In fact, Therese once said that even something as small as picking up a pin for love "can convert a soul."

If you want to learn more about her, read her autobiography, Story of a Soul. Her words have changed countless lives, and they can change yours, too.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

"But I can't be Mother Teresa!"

You're right, you can't.

You also can't be St. John Paul II or St. Therese or St. Pio or St. Catherine.

But you can be you.

They couldn't do that. They could only change the world with the gifts God gave them.

Now it's our turn.

It's The Best Burger In Town!

When we find "the best" restaurant, see a good movie, or save money on our car insurance, we tell everyone we know.

We say things like: "You've gotta try the burger!" Or, "You have to see this movie!"

We share what excites us with those we love. Why? Precisely because we love them and want them to share in our joy.

Sharing our faith is no different.

What most excites you as a Catholic? What saint has changed your life? What devotion strengthens your love of God?

Tell those you love––tell them everything––and invite them to share in your joy.

If…

If staying physically healthy is important to you, you'll exercise. 

If sports are important to you, you'll watch sports.

If learning is important to you, you'll read.

If God is important to you, you'll pray.

Babble and Joy

I often write these with my son in the same room. He's usually pushing a truck or flipping through a book. He's never quiet (go figure), and more than once I've had to move into the other room to finish an article. But usually I just go on writing.

How can I concentrate with all that noise? Teresa asks me that all the time. Well, it's not easy. You probably know that already. But it's worth it.

You see, I would take his babble and his whiny tears and our scratched coffee table over anything else this world could offer to simply be with him and hear his voice.

There's an old saying that if the whole world were full of books, the sea turned to ink, and every living creature were employed in writing about just one of God's perfections--his mercy, his love, his goodness, his justice, his wisdom--the books would be filled, the sea would be drained and writers would be exhausted before any one of his perfections could even be remotely explained. That's how big our God is.

When I heard that the other day, it just floored me. I mean, if it's true, then why do I even try?

But then I think of my son babbling on the floor, and I realize that, as much as I love him, God loves me more. No matter how far short we fall in trying to express the truth about God, our Father takes joy in our babble.

Don't Even Think About It!

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"––that's what St. Paul says (Ephesians 5:25).

Well, that's a tall order, isn't it? Let me tell you what it means in daily life.

I'm forbidden from drinking milk straight from the carton and dipping my bread into the butter jar. Wife's orders. I know, it's rough.

While I could get away with it when she's not around, I choose not to even think about it.
It's not much to ask, is it? 

If we can get the seemingly insignificant stuff right first, the hard stuff becomes a little easier.

Jesus died on the cross for his bride, the Church. I can at least be a little more careful with the milk carton.

Curtailing Complexity

Pray often.

Frequent the sacraments.

Read good books.

Keep good company.

Stay close to Our Lady.

Work tirelessly for what is good.

Let's get back to the basics, and God will take care of the rest.

Your Inbox Is Full

Is there a better feeling than cleaning out your inbox? Probably, but it ranks right up there. Or perhaps clearing out all those voicemails from 6 months ago? Yeah, awesome.

Clutter makes us miserable. It also keeps us from spending our time on what's most important.

Today, let's make room for God.

1 Thing You Should Know About Jesus

He made people uncomfortable.
And if there's one thing we know, it's that "we weren't made for comfort––we were made for greatness." (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)
It's why Pope Francis reminds me so much of Jesus. Oh, it's comforting to see him bless the sick and smile at the crowds. But when Pope Francis talks––he calls us out––out from our ways and into God's.
So, if you're comfortable in our faith, it's time to "venture into the deep and let down your nets for a catch!" (St. John Paul II)
That's where greatness is born. That's where sanctity lives.

Let me think about it

God did not create us to merely wonder or think about his existence––he created us to be partakers in it.
God is the first community of love––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he, who is love, calls us into himself for all eternity––which is Heaven.
But can we experience Heaven now?
Because of our fallen nature, we can't experience the full effects of Heaven here on earth. However, we've certainly seen over the centuries––through the lives of the saints––that God can more than whet the appetite if the human heart is open.
It may not be the way you think, but he never disappoints.

The most common misunderstanding

Love.
That's it? That's it. We've misunderstood love.
And if you've ever heard me speak you know I spend a good deal of time trying to untie the knots.
True love is the cross––the cross Jesus asks us to carry with him. Mother Teresa reminded her sisters of it constantly––Love hurts.
Will there be joy? Yes! There'll be lots of joy. I experience joy in love everyday. But most of the time those joys come when I'm willing to move out of the way––and serve.
It's not easy––I'm more than sure you're better at it than me––but it's necessary in order to fulfill Christ's mission within us.
If you want to read more, here is an article I wrote for a larger blog this week.

This will be read at my funeral

It's my birthday today.
And while I generally like to reflect on the gift of these years God has given me and how thankful I am for his grace in my life, I decided instead to reflect on death. (I bet you didn't see that one coming.)
"That's a little morbid for your birthday, isn't it, Jon?" Probably. But it's my party and I'll cry if I want to.
You see, I pray a lot that God will give me a long life. A life to see 50+ years of marriage, my kids all grown up and the graduations of my grandchildren.
And while that may happen, I also know it may not.
What I do know for sure, however, is that someday--hopefully a long time from now--my heart will give way and my body lay still.
And while, for some, it's easier to cast this reality aside as some inconvenient truth, I say with many who have gone before me, memento mori (remember death).
Everyday, remember that this most precious gift of life is but the very means to our salvation--life eternal with God.
So, don't be afraid. Thank God for another day and live it to the full.
Most importantly, join me in praying that the prayer of Jesus in today's Gospel (which will be read at my funeral) will ring true in our souls.

God bless you.

Stop crossing your fingers

Stop crossing your fingers and hoping.
Start folding your hands and praying.
To often we "wish" and "hope" for things to go our way.
The Lord Jesus gives us a different path to follow. And that path is him.
Do you have a big decision that needs to be made? Are you struggling to find a new direction for your life?
If so...
"Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!"
(Psalm 24:7)

Wife, Mother, Widow, Nun.

St. Rita of Cascia is one of my favorite saints. No, not just because she’s the patroness of impossible causes. More so because she exemplifies what it means to give one’s life fully to Christ.

It would be impossible to list everything about her life here––though we could ask her intercession (see what I did there?), so I want you to read her story instead.

Things don’t always go the way we plan them. In fact, sometimes things go the complete opposite.

St. Rita teaches us to never lose hope, knowing it’s about God’s will rather than our own.

Realizing this is the first step. Living it is the last.

St. Rita, pray for us.

You need to know this man

You know the story, but do you know the replacement?

One of the twelve (Judas) betrayed Jesus.

That left eleven.

And that’s where a saint steps in.

St. Matthias was a disciple from the beginning. And like so many others died professing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He was chosen to lead. And many followed.

Today, the Church honors St. Matthias as an apostle of Jesus Christ. A model of conviction and witness to hope.

Get to know him in your prayer and let his example guide us to Christ.

St. Matthias, pray for us.

Friends be confident in Christ's mercy and love.

Don't forget!

After his mother died St. John Paul II knelt in front of a statue of our Lady and asked her to be his mother now.
St. Therese of Lisieux said Mary is "more mother than queen."
Blessed Mother Teresa would direct anyone who was distressed to say the prayer, "Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now" commenting later that the prayer has never failed her.
Appearing to St. Faustina Mother Mary once said she is not only the queen of heaven, "but the Mother of Mercy."
Pope Francis repeatedly entrusts the whole Church to "our mother" Mary as our protection and guide to her Son.
This Sunday, as you celebrate the life of your earthly mother, don't forget to celebrate the life of your heavenly mother, thanking Jesus for sharing her with you and all the world.

I'll tell you why

Why do so many people account for crying when they saw St. John Paul II in person?

Why did so many people flock halfway around the world to see Mother Teresa?

Why do people wait for hours in pouring rain to catch a 5 second glimpse of Pope Francis?

I’ll tell you why...

We are attracted to beauty. And holiness is beautiful.

The right kind of heartburn

I was once asked by an atheist how I'm so sure there's a God.

"Because I know Him." I said.

Our Holy Fathers on down have made it clear: Our Catholic faith is first and foremost an encounter with a person–a living person–Jesus Christ. When we know him, everything else makes sense.

However, this isn't the kind of encounter where I pass by a familiar face in the office giving a head nod and a smile.

Rather, it is the kind of encounter that fosters a relationship. A relationship with Jesus that changes me, leaves me in awe and makes my heart burn for more.
Friends, be confident in Christ's mercy and love.

Never Before

Never before has there been so many resources to help you grow in your Catholic faith.

Books, articles, CD's, blogs...keeping you in the know and helping you grow.

Are you using them? How are you using them? Are you growing? How are you growing?

Challenge yourself with these resources. Set goals each week. Have someone hold you accountable. And share them with the people close to you.

We make time for what we love.

It’s a small investment on the front end with an eternal return on the other.

Why I'm Catholic

You may've heard it said, 'the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.'

And it’s true.

If you know me, or have ever heard me speak, you know I’m passionate about my Catholic faith.

I like to scream it from the mountain tops--which today just means posting it all over Facebook or Twitter. I like to talk about it with virtually anyone--I’m the guy you hate sitting next to on the plane.

Yep, I’m Catholic.

No, not simply because my parents raised me so--after all, I know plenty of people who are no longer Catholic whose parents still are or at least were (statistically speaking very few adults continue to practice the Faith for the sake of their parents).

I’m not Catholic because it’s popular (it’s not).

I’m not even Catholic because it makes sense to me (it does).

I’m Catholic because I know it’s my best shot of getting right with God.

I believe Jesus.

Life is messy--really messy. And Jesus knew it. He knew the struggles of his own day, and he knows the struggles of today. And in that messiness he gave us a Church--a hospital--that offers the healing I think the rest of the world is looking for.

It's the kind of healing that brings freedom. No, not the kind of freedom where we can do whatever we want, but the freedom, as John Paul II said, to know and do what we ought.

It's also the kind of healing that brings mercy and forgiveness. In my experience of giving talks around the country, I've met many who have a hard enough time forgiving themselves, let alone believing that God can. The Church has offered this from the beginning (John 20:23) and continues today.

You see, I need a little help along the way.

And that’s just what the Church has been for me and countless others both living and dead.

Maybe you’re in that boat, too. Or maybe, you’re just unwilling to admit it.

Don’t you think maybe it’s time you did?