Saturday, November 22, 2014

Worthy is this King

Solemnity of Christ the King
Christ the King Parish Topeka
22 November 2014

Because our great United States of America was founded through the toppling of a tyrant King, and we elect a president to serve us instead, talk of kingship might sound anachronistic. But it's not.  We still love kings.  When there is a king lacking, we want one.  That's how Michael Jackson becomes the King of Pop and LeBron James the King of basketball.  We love to see who dominates in their area of reality, and who has power and fame.  We love it.  What is more, we love seeing Kings fall.

But today, we are the ones who fall down before our King.  We might love toppling Kings, but today we are here to worship a King that is unstoppable and unbeatable.  Jesus is the greatest King, for having existed before the world began, He is more powerful than the Big Bang, and his kingdom alone being universal and eternal, even a nuclear weapon cannot touch it.  So we are powerless to beat Him.  But we come not merely out of submission to this King, not against our will  because we have no other choice.  No, we choose this King, we worship him with all our heart and will, because the most powerful King imaginable shows His power by standing powerless before us His beloved.  We come today in worship not to be dominated by our King, but first of all to be served by Him who loves us His subjects beyond all measure.  We come to be judged by Him not merely because we have no other option, but willingly, because our King has been found worthy to judge the world.  For before He is judge, He is the lamb that was slain.

So we worship Jesus as King not temporarily in hopes that one day He might be toppled, but begging Him to allow us to  participate in his eternal and universal Kingdom of truth and love.  We know that any other kingdom to which we belong is temporary and illusory, especially any Kingdom we would fashion for ourselves, unless it participates in the Kingship of Christ.  For more powerful than the power of the Big Bang, or the power of a nuclear weapon, is the power to lay down one's life in love.  It is sacrificial and merciful love that is the heart of God, and the ground of all reality. It is because God is love that there is something rather than nothing, that there is me instead of not me, and it is this merciful love that alone is stronger than death.

Jesus showed his ultimate power through vulnerability.  He was powerful enough to be born in the cold, in abject poverty, powerful enough to ride into his capital city not with a secret service, but on a donkey.  Powerful enough to allow himself to be judged by his enemies, and for his Kingdom to be spat upon and mocked.  The more vulnerable He became, the stronger and more sure His kingdom grew, and in the Resurrection it was confirmed that sacrificial love alone is stronger than death.

As we see clearly in today's Gospel, He is powerful enough to identify himself with the weakest of human persons, his subjects, and when He does so, His Kingdom only grows.  We will ultimately be judged as belonging to His kingdom, or not, by whether we see ourselves, and Him, in our brothers and sisters.  It is by showing charity and mercy that Jesus has been found worthy by His Father as judge of the world.  It is by the standards of charity and mercy that we will be found worthy of belonging to Him, and His eternal Kingdom . . and rightly so!  Amen!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Radical Investment of Faith

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Parish Topeka
15 November 2014
Daily Readings

Archbishop Naumann was in town for a fundraiser for Hayden High School, and engaged in a very frank discussion with supporters of Hayden about the current condition and future fate of the high school.  Lots of things were discussed that affect Hayden, but the Archbishop cut through the conversation by stating that above all, his number one concern was whether the high school was forming real Christian disciples.  Specifically, are the young people encountering the person of Jesus Christ, the source of all learning and goodness, in a personal, life-changing way.  The Archbishop said that if they are, then everything else will take care of itself.  But if they are not, then the whole mission of the high school was pointless.  It doesn't matter how many national merit scholars or state championships are won; what matters for the long term, in God's eyes, is discipleship.  Are these young people becoming the disciples that Jesus is calling them to be?  The Archbishop said he is sick and tired of people telling him that their sons and daughters are fallen-away Catholics, that they no longer go to Church.  This is his number one concern - that our Church has to find a way to make fervent and real disciples.

The parable of the talents is about investing our faith in risky, radical ways.  Nothing is clearer in the parable than the fact that faith buried is faith lost.  Faith lived privately, or in fear, is faith that is worthless.  So often, our Church remains in maintenance mode, or yields only a portion of the fruit that the Lord is calling us to bear, because we live our faith at a minimum.  Faith has to be daring and radical - our biggest conversion is never behind us - it is always ahead of us.  Otherwise, it is not faith, it is a hedging of our bets . . a giving only insofar as it works for me and I get something back.  But Christianity - discipleship - the Gospel - and stewardship - is a zero sum game.  Either we recognize that everything is a gift from God, and all that I have belongs to him, or I'm not living faith at all.  Either I find myself giving more of my time, talent and treasure than I ever thought I would , in order to multiply the talents I have been given, and to build up God's kingdom, or I'm not living faith.  Either I'm all in, or I shouldn't be in at all.  Either I am in the business of making disciples, either I am a radical evangelizer myself, or I am slowly but surely losing what little faith I claim to have.  The parable couldn't be clearer.

I am asking the parish to pledge time, talent and treasure, and to invest in the mission the Lord has entrusted to Christ the King parish, in a formal way for the 2015 calendar year.  It has been some years since Christ the King has done a formal stewardship drive.  I am sure some of you will hate it.  But we have to push forward as a faith community, always risking more of our time, talent, and treasure in response to what we have received from God, praying desperately with our pledges that our parish will be able to bear the fruit that God has given us to bear.  This fruit will not come to pass if we simply ask people to give whatever they feel the parish is worth to them; no, every one of us, starting with myself, must be challenged and pushed to be more radical in our discipleship, and in our giving.  Everyone must give more and more, and to give priority and planning to their proportional giving to the parish.  We see the alternative in the Gospel of giving cautiously . . it is to accept a slow and steady decline in our faith.

Of course the parish has a responsibility not just to challenge you to give, but to be a good steward of what is given.  I pray that I will be a more effective leader in using the leadership gifts of the parish to be more transparent and engaging with everything that is shared with Christ the King.  Your parish and finance councils are available the next two weekends to answer your questions.  We have been blessed with a lot at Christ the King, so much is expected of us.  I hope you will agree with me that with all the good that is already done at our parish, still we are called to do more; specifically, we must find a way to make every parishioner a radical disciple and evangelizer  - our parish must be an engaging and misisonary parish - one that is not afraid of losing its young people or in simply maintaining the faith, but a parish that will not settle for anything less than producing saints and holy vocations, and a parish that is always in aggressive growth mode.

You all know that as your pastor, I love change.  Change is hard, and I've been hard on the parish in some ways, and this stewardship drive is yet another example of how much I expect out of you.  But I promise you this, as much as I am asking you to change and to do more as a parish, I pledge as your pastor to change even more myself.  In cutting my teeth as a new pastor, I have made a lot of mistakes.  I have been rash in changing some things, and have not been as patient and as vulnerable, nor a good listener, that a pastor has to be.  I have not heeded the call of Pope Francis for the shepherds of the church to first cry for and with their people, to take on the smell of the sheep in service, and to sacrifice until the people know that you love them.  I have a lot of growth to do as your pastor.  I humbly ask for your forgiveness for my own mistakes, and the ways I have hurt the parish by my own selfishness, or tried to change things only to fit me.  Of all the people in the parish, your pastor is the one who needs to give more, and to sacrifice more.  I did not come into the nicknames of Fr. Spends a lot, talks a lot, changes a lot, and is gone all the time for nothing . . I probably earned them.  As much as I am asking you to change, and to pledge in this year's stewardship drive more than you ever thought you would pledge, I pledge to you that I will lead the way in changing even more.

Christ the King parish has to bear the fruit the Lord has given us to bear.  I need your help.  Let us pray for each other, and do this together.  Amen.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pray for your beloved dead!

All Souls Day
2 November 2014
Christ the King Topeka

I've never enjoyed running, but I got on a fitness kick the last couple of years, and have done more running than ever in my life.  A couple weeks ago I crossed an item off the bucket list, running a marathon with my friend Fr. Scott Wallisch.  Honestly, I can't say that I enjoyed it that much. I'm glad I finished.  Happy with my time. But the training and the race itself was time-consuming and painful.  I love being in shape and having energy.  But at times the training seemed prideful and selfish.  I may or may not be retired from marathons at this point.

An exception to the doldrums of training, however, were the runs I made in Hoxie, Kansas.  A couple of the longer training runs I made in the town where I grew up.  Hoxie has a sister parish in Seguin, Kansas about 10 miles to the west, and so my favorite training run was from Catholic Church to Catholic Church on country roads.  I ran by a piece of ground my dad owns that we call Green Acres!  Great dove hunting there!  More importantly, however, was the chance I had to run by the Catholic cemetery, where my mom is buried.  I visit my mom's grave every time I'm in Hoxie, usually by going on a run and taking a break there to say hi to my mom.  Other times I'll go and offer a rosary.  My favorite training run for the marathon was a 20 mile run that I dedicated to my mom.  I had a long time to think about her.  You all know what's it like to remember a loved one.  The happy memories come back.  The struggles too.  You try to remember what their voice sounded like.  I ask my mom always how she thinks I'm doing, and I try to listen to her response.  Then I ask mom how things would be different if she were here, and think about what it would be like to kiss her, to hold her, to tell her I love her, and to enjoy the journey of life with her.  I ask God why he took her, because life would be better if she was still here.  And I wait for God's response.   I love visiting my mom's grave.  I know many of you love visiting your beloved dead as well.

Because Jesus himself spent three days in a tomb, the graves of our loved ones are signs of hope, that promise resurrection.  It is important that we visit the graves of our loved ones.  I have my grave picked out as well, in a good spot where I hope people will pass by and say a little prayer for me.  As Christians, we must not live in fear of death.  Death is something that has been entered into and conquered by Christ.  We give our lives away in love, and sacrifice to the point of our own death in imitation of Christ.  Death is not to be avoided, it is something we actively choose long before death has a chance to choose us.  Priests wear black to signify that they have entered into the noble death of our Lord.  We should not avoid cemeteries.  Instead, we should visit them often, and draw close to the vulnerability that is part of being human, and meditate on the shortness of our lives.

Most of all, though, we should pray for our beloved dead.  And this is where I confess that I fall short, especially with my mom.  I consider my mom a saint, not a soul in purgatory.  She was amazing, and such a better person than I will ever be.  I don't idolize her.  She would be the first to say that she wasn't perfect.  But especially through her battle with cancer, I experienced a love and courage and faith worthy of heaven.  I think that she is there.  So I ask my mom to help me, and to interceded for me, which only makes sense if she is among the communion of Saints.  In fact, on November 1st, All Saints Day, I think of my mom in a special way, knowing that she hasn't been canonized I still can't think of anyone more saintly who has helped me more.  On All Saints we celebrate that the holy ones with God are able to share spiritual goods with us, and we pray for them to help us!

I neglect however, my responsibility to help my mom get to heaven.  I assume she's there, but I shouldn't. None of us should assume that our loved ones are there.  We can hope for it, and believe in it, but we should never stop interceding for them.  I need to keep saying Masses for my mom.  It is my responsibility, and my great privilege, to share any merits or suffering or graces with her.  I should spend a lot more time asking my mom what I can do for her, and if she needs any help in her final purification and journey, and I should give anything I have to her rather than keeping it for myself.  That's what love does, and my mom if she is in that final purification is dependent upon the merits and sacrifices shared with her.  The final purification or journey through purgatory is the most difficult journey of our lives.  The passover from being good to becoming holy and perfect is much more difficult than the conversion from bad to good.  I shouldn't assume that my mom is in heaven.  That's a bad way to love her.  Instead, I should be particularly sensitive that my mom can no longer work out her own merits and salvation.  She is dependent, like one going through surgery, upon the skill and care of others.  If still on her way to heaven, my mom is vulnerable, and I should not neglect to pray for her as much as I can. As Catholics, we celebrate that Jesus shared his spiritual treasure, the merits of his paschal victory, first of all with the one dearest to him, his mother, and we celebrate both her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption into heaven as the highest example of the sharing of spiritual goods from Christ to Mary, a sharing that we are all invited to enter into when we pray and sacrifice for one another.

That's what All Souls Day, and the month of November is all about for us Catholics.  It's an intense sharing of spiritual goods with our beloved who have gone before us.  November is the time, at the end of the liturgical year, when we meditate about final things.  It is a time to think especially about death and the final judgment. Then Advent will be here when we begin searching for the light that announces the beginning of our salvation.  But for this month, we think about final things.  Knowing where we want to end up shows us precisely the intense purification that we must begin now.  And we pray intensely for our beloved dead who can no longer pray for themselves, and we enter their names into our parish book of the dead as a holy remembrance.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace.  May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Being Royal!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Church Topeka
25 October 2014
Daily Readings

Well, I'm the pastor of Christ the King Parish.  So it's totally legitimate, at any time of year, to talk about being Royal.  The namesake of our parish is all about our Lord's Kingship, a royalty that He seems to be sharing, if we dare speculate that God's favor has finally shone on our favorite team, on our beloved Kansas City Royals!  It's all I can do to wear the required green vestment for this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, when in my closet I have a gorgeous vestment dedicated to our Blessed Mother that has an embroidered crown and is a beautiful deep Royal blue.  Yes, our Lady is Royal too, for the Lord has crowned Her as Queen of heaven and earth.  What a great time to be Royal!  Go Royals!

This weekend's Gospel however are not about being Royal, but about love.  So we should ask the question - do we love the Royals?  I confess that I was at game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday.  I was also at game 4 of the Baltimore series, when we clinched the World Series.  I've loved the Royals all my life.  I used to cry as a kid when they lost to the Yankees in the playoffs.  I was at the Baltimore game with my 11 year old godson, who was exactly the same age I was when the Royals last won the World Series.  The whole scene got to me.  I can't believe what is happening.   I don't cry much, but with this run of my favorite team ever, the tears of joy almost come readily, so much do I care about the Royals, and so long have I waited hoping that this day would come, and in the last few years, despairing that it may never come.  Now it all seems like a dream . . too good to be true. They just keep winning, and it's unbelievable.  I have no idea what I'll do when they win it all.  It is beyond my imagination what that moment will mean to me personally.

But all that being said, I wouldn't trade my faith for a World Series ticket, or even a championship.  Not even close.  I love the Royals, and the crown would be amazing, but it doesn't compare to my love of God, nor should it for any Christian.  Shame on me if it does.  My love for the Royals and my love of God need not be in competition . . I can love both . . but still, there can't be a comparison.  And shame on me if there is.  There was a point in my life when I would have traded being a priest for being the starting second baseman for the Kansas City Royals.  But no more.  Being a priest is my vocation . . it is God's gift to me and the Church, Christ the King parish, is the spouse He has chosen for me to love.  I wouldn't trade being a priest, being your priest, for anything.

Furthermore, the World Series crown is a crown that fades, but the gift of eternal life won for us by the love of Jesus is a crown that only shines more and more brightly  The World Series might feel like the greatest happiness one can have on this side of heaven.  Winning the Series might feel for a bit like we've died and gone to heaven!  But it can't compare, has no chance of competing really, with the love Jesus speaks of in the Gospel.  The greatest commandment has a richness and depth and meaning that no World Series chase can match.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And your neighbor as yourself.

As great as the Royals are this year, they are not worthy of loving with all our heart, and mind and strength.  Nobody puts themselves under obedience to the Royals out of love.  We don't do whatever the Royals ask us to do, even to the point of death, because we love them.  That sounds silly, and it should.   But that is what love is, when we speak of love of God.  It is so much more than love of a team, no matter how deeply we are falling to this incredible World Series run.  I know many ladies are falling in love with Eric Hosmer, but again, this doesn't compare . . it's infatuating and fun, but nothing more.   It's great that we love the  story of the Royals and we feel a solidarity with them, and are inspired by what they are about to accomplish.  All this is good and can give glory to God!  I'm not telling you not to waste time rooting for the Royals.  But we reserve the term love with all of its depth to the love of God . . we respond to the love that Christ has for us by being obedient to His will, and loving the cross that He shares with us with all our heart, and mind and strength.  As a Christian, this love of God with all our heart and mind and strength cannot be contained . .it necessarily spills out to seeing the image and likeness of God in our neighbor, and falling in love with them as God does, and putting their will and needs above our own as well.

We don't talk about loving the Royals in this way, nor should we.  For God alone is worthy of total love.  Jesus gives us the simple test of whether we have allowed Him to love us, and whether we have responded tepidly or wholeheartedly to His love, by how we treat our neighbor.  If we are deeply connected to God, the source of love, and if we have surrendered to His love in our life, we will have this great capacity to love our neighbor as God loves them, and to see ourselves in them, especially in the most vulnerable around us, and will have this capacity, given us by the love Christ has poured into our hearts, to love them more than we love ourselves.

Jesus is Royal - He is our great King because of his almighty dominion and power, but His Father has made him Royal most of all because He has this ability to fall deeply in love with those that He is called to serve.  He is Lord of all, reigning in Heaven with our Blessed Mother, because they teach us how to fall in love 1000x more deeply than anything we could feel for the Kansas City Royals.  On this weekend, when we meditate on the ultimate commandment, which is the ground of our origin, our mission, and our destiny to be made perfect in heaven, let us remember to keep being a Christian utterly simple.  To be a Christian is to allow God to be madly in love with us, and to love Him and our neighbor in kind with all our heart, and mind and strength.  That is how to truly be Royal . . and share in the kingdom of love that will never fade.  Amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Double Down on Life

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
5 October 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

Now is the time to double down on the Church's teaching on sex, marriage, life and the family.  It is not the time for the Church to shy away from her challenging yet true and life-giving teachings, entrusted to her by Christ.  It is not the time for the Church to shy away from building the culture of life and love that is her privilege and duty to build with Christ.  It is not the time to water down out of fear that her teachings are out of date with modern morality, that they are unrealistic, or that they offend many and distance others from the Church.  We should be afraid instead that we are telling our children to make good choices in an environment where we are afraid to stand up for, and to point out to them, what is true, and good and beautiful and holy and worth striving for.  Now is the time to double-down on the Church's teaching on sex, marriage, life and the family, for the sake of our society, for the sake of our future, and most especially, for the sake of our children.  It is time to double-down.

To give this homily on Respect Life Sunday in the Church is never easy.  Because to preach against abortion, artificial contraception, sex before marriage, artificial methods of producing children, and same-sex marriage is to preach against things that have personally affected all of us in this Church, to one degree or another.  It is never my intent to judge anyone or their actions.  God's mercy is bigger than anything we can do to go away from his mercy.  Everyone in this Church, no matter what we have done, is loved radically by God, beginning at our weakest point.  Mercy is God's deepest attribute, and he wants to heal and strengthen us always, and is always ready to forgive and to help people move on and bear the fruit in their lives no matter what.  So I want everyone to feel loved, not judged, especially on Respect Life Sunday.  I willingly count myself as the greatest sinner in this Church, for I have failed in so many ways to be a good steward of the life that God has given me.

Yet it is not loving to fail to preach the truth on matters that affect the lives and happiness of so many.  It is never either to preach God's mercy or his truth.  It is always both.  There are some who say I should focus instead on war, violence, poverty, health care, immigration, or the death penalty instead, and certainly all of these issues touch on the fullness of life outside the womb.  In preaching about the more fundamental issues pertaining to life, it is never to the neglect of anything else.  Again, it is never either/or, but both/and.  The enormous amounts of food brought by Christ the King parishioners last month shows that you all know the importance of elevating and sustaining human life.  But until we get the fundamentals right regarding our witness to life, our support of life in other areas will always be incomplete and will limp.

We can't shy away from focusing on abortion, contraception, and marriage because these are more personal.  Our defense and promotion of life must begin here, must be strongest here, because it is in these areas where life is threatened at its smallest, most vulnerable stage.  The strength of any country lies in how it supports its greatest resource, its children, and by this analysis, the United States is a cowardly country. We have discarded 50 million of our children now, and have shied away from the obvious and fundamental truth that an unrepeatable human life begins at conception.  Your life started there and was protected beginning there.  So was mine.  If you do not say that every child has the same right to life that you had, and fail to stand up for that right, then you should lose your voice.

We have discarded our children because our society and Church have failed to produce courageous and sacrificial men who desire to become husbands and fathers.  We have done this because we fail to recognize the truth that children have a right to be conceived as much as possible within marriage, within the loving embrace of a man and woman who are promised to each other and their children for life.  We have failed to promote that children are safest, and do best, when they have a mom and a dad, and we welcome children into the world, or discard them, based on the will and convenience of adults, not based upon whether God wants to bring children into the world, or whether their are children wanting to be born.  We do this because we dilute the meaning of family to whatever adults change it to be.  So too we have diluted the meaning of marriage to whatever two adults want it to be, and so have not added to the definition, but subtracted from it,  We shy away from the truth that marriages do so much better when there is chastity before marriage and no artificial contraception, and assume instead that everyone is the exception to the rule.  It is is this confusion that we tell our kids to go out and make good choices, and to do whatever makes them happy.  We are preparing them for unhappiness, because we do not have the courage to form them anymore in what we once knew to be true.

We wonder why our vineyard is producing sour grapes.  We shouldn't, nor should we be surprised if the Lord takes the vineyard away from us, and gives it to others who will produce its fruit.  The Church teaches clearly that our bodies are not our private possessions, they are gifts from God, and we cannot ignore or kill the teachings of the Church, which are the key to fruitfulness and happiness and love.  None of us lives these teachings perfectly.  Yet we must love and welcome them.  They are not to control us, but for our good!  Not all is lost, but woe to us if we shy away from the Church's beautiful and life-giving teachings, that strengthen our country, our society, our families, and most of all, are essential to the happiness of our children.  For the sake of our kids, now is not the time to shy away.  It is the time to double-down. Amen.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

praying for our Pope

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Topeka
24 August 2014
Daily Readings

Catholics don't elect their Pope, the visible head and authoritative voice and the recognized Papa or father or the family that is the Catholic Church.  Catholics don't elect their pope, they pray for their pope.  When a new pope is to be elected, Catholics pray for the election, that they would receive through the work of the Holy Spirit a holy pope, a good shepherd who teaches and governs and acts after the heart and mind of Christ.  For the Pope is the vicar of Christ, given as we see in Matthew's Gospel the authority of Christ himself, to bind the faithful together and to forgive sins, and to unlock the very gates of heaven.  Such a role given to a sinful man, first. St. Peter, and then to his successors, is absurd when we think about it.  Yet as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, how inscrutable are the ways of God.  God is amazing.  He is good.  But he is also strange. God is impossible to figure out.  His ways are not our ways.  He goes right when we think He should go left.  He writes straight with crooked lines, as we often say.  His ways are not our ways.  He has entrusted his Church, and the message and means of salvation, to sinful men throughout history.  He chose Peter, who at one moment is courageous, the next fearful.  Who at one moment is stepping out obediently in faith, and walking on water, and the next telling Jesus how things should go, and that Jesus will never wash his feet.  Peter confesses Jesus, then denies him, then confesses his love for him again.

What a dramatic and strange figure Peter is.  The history and tradition of the Catholic Church is strange.  How she still exists is a miracle.  Yet stranger are the ways of God.  Jesus heals and forgives many in establishing that the kingdom of heaven is near, yet only to Peter does he give the supernatural ability to walk on water, and to confess the truth faith on behalf of all disciples.  Only to Peter does he give a new name, calling him the Rock of faith, a term usually reserved for describing the Lord himself, and a Rock that will prevail against every evil.

How strange are the ways of God - entrusting and guaranteeing his Church and the truths and means of salvation to sinful men, and choosing only celibate men to re-present the saving sacrifice of Christ who appeared and was crucified and rose in his male body.  Only men are chosen for this leadership role of ruling, teaching and sanctifying, and we must be obedient to them to be Catholic, and yet strangely, that same Church that relies so much on the role and ministry of the Pope and priests, does not celebrate Peter as the most important member of the Church.  The Pope is our papa and visible head, but he is not the most important.   No, strangely, the Catholic Church above all world religions celebrates a lady as the first and greatest and most powerful member of the Church.  The Catholic Church celebrates and honors Mary not Peter as playing the greatest role in the history of salvation, a role that She still has today interceding for the Church as our mother and our queen, showing the world how to receive and give birth to  Christ, and interceding and winning for her children the gift of life, the gift of eternal life, as only a mother can.

In today's Scriptures we are invited to pray for our Pope, for we know that it is God's will that the faith of the Church rises and falls with the confession of St. Peter.  God's ways are strange.  We do not always receive a holy Pope.  In God's strange ways he might accomplish his purposes without a Holy Pope, or without holy bishops or priests for that matter.  But we pray for our leaders.  It is the greatest privilege of my life that I was able to meet in person my hero, the one I want to be more like than anyone else, our late Holy Father Saint John Paul the Great, Saint John Paul II.  I would not be a priest were it not for his courageous and holy example of what a priest should be, and what the Church is called to be.  As soon as I encountered him, I wanted to be like him.  After I met him in person, I had to try the priesthood as potentially the greatest thing I could do with my life, and my deepest calling.  I loved Pope Benedict XVI as well, and considered him a holy man, although that opinion was not shared universally.  I feel prophetically challenged by Pope Francis, who is encouraging me, and all of us, to get bloody and dirty in showing Christian charity, knowing that the world will not believe in Jesus or his Church unless Catholics humbly and sacrifically serve the most vulnerable in imitation of Christ.

Catholics don't elect our Popes.  We pray for them, and all our leaders, that through their confession and service our Church might become stronger, strong enough to bring the message of salvation against every obstacle in our modern times.  Strong enough to prevail against the gates of hell.  Amen.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

mercy begets Easter faith

Divine Mercy Sunday
26/27 April 2014 Year A
Christ the King Catholic Church Topeka
Daily Readings

Jesus Christ is Risen!  The Lord is truly Risen!  We are to be proclaiming in this incomparable season of Easter with all our heart and mind and strength that the most important victory in history - the victory over sin and death themselves, has been won!  Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  There is a real love that is stronger than sin and death - the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! And we are to proclaim this intensely into the world for 50 days - for the entire season of Easter!

But the world oftentimes says 'so what' - or 'prove it' to me!  Even though the historical truth of the Resurrection has been passed down carefully and with great sacrifice, including by the two great popes who will be canonized this weekend John Paul II and John XXIII - still fear and doubt are always available to us.  Even though we proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus as the most real and powerful and true thing out of everything we know to be true, still fear and doubt creep in.  We see fear and doubt on display always on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, as we listen to the story of the disciples locked in fear in the upper room, and the doubt of Thomas.  There is as much or more fear and doubt today as there was then, as agnostics and atheists are the fastest growing segments of the religious landscape.  Fallen away Catholics will one day outnumber practicing Catholics unless we turn things around - fear and doubt are on the increase, which makes our meditation on this Gospel this weekend all the more important.

We can shout into the world that Jesus is truly Risen, and that this truth has been passed down and confirmed by the enormous witness of the Church through the centuries.  We can say that it is too convincing to be ignored.  We can also shout out that anyone who has actually tried being a Christian - anyone who has entered deeply into the suffering and death of Jesus, has found a new and distinctive kind of life on the other side of the cross that we call eternal.  Every Christian should confess personally that our life grows bigger and deeper and younger whenever we dare to follow Jesus' commandment to lose our lives in order to save them.

Still, even with our shouting the Easter proclamation into the world, many people will still ignore and avoid and doubt - because Christianity is not ultimately an argument between those of us who say Jesus is truly Risen, and those who say No He's Not!  Christianity at its core is less of a dogma and more of a dialogue - less an argument and more of a relationship.  And every relationship at its best is a dynamic interplay between faith and love, between trust and mercy.  In today's Gospel we see not just a simple crescendo of last week's Easter proclamation that He is Risen - today we also contemplate what it means to be visited by mercy itself, in the person of the Risen Christ.

For the Christian proclamation of Easter to grow stronger, what happens in today's Gospel is something that must happen personally and intimately, from the inside out, within each Christian.  The Risen Christ with his victory over sin and death comes to convince people not by overwhelming them from the outside in, but in the same way he visited people before his suffering, death and resurrection - by serving them and by loving them from the inside out.  We see the Risen Christ breaking through the fearful defenses of his disciples locked  in the upper room, and then he allows Thomas to place his doubts intimately into his very wounds, so that Thomas can experience on our behalf what a broken human person redeemed completely by mercy from the inside out really looks and feels like.

We are to have this same experience when we receive the Eucharist during Easter.  For we take the Risen Christ deeply within us when we receive the Eucharist, allowing him to break through the inner recesses of those doubts and fears that still need to be healed within us.  At one time in our tradition some people only received the Eucharist once a year during the Easter season . . and prepared all year for this perfect experience of being visited by grace and mercy from the inside out in the person of the Risen Christ.  Without a doubt receiving the Eucharist during the Easter season is supposed to represent our biggest opportunity for change throughout the year - because we have prepared in Lent to receive the Eucharist more fruitfully.  We have humbled ourselves so that grace and mercy can visit us more deeply.  And until we have this experience of being visited by Christ where our deepest fears and doubts still remain, our Easter proclamation will limp.  We can proclaim Christ to be truly Risen, but it will be more of a guess or a bet or a vain hope, than a proclamation of the one thing I have most perfectly experienced and know to be true out of everything I know to be true.  For only when we know we are loved beyond a doubt, can we respond with greater faith.  And responding in faith keeps us on the path of perfect love paved by our Lord, a path on which we follow him with ever greater devotion.

John Paul II, who is canonized this weekend, renamed this 2nd Sunday of Ester Divine Mercy Sunday.  The Lord himself seemed to confirm this development of our tradition, as John Paul II died on the eve of this Solemnity in 2005, after having allowed the world to see his vulnerability and his complete dependence upon God's mercy in those last weeks of his life.  John Paul II begged us as Christians not to contemplate the minimum amount of mercy that we need to pay back what we owe God, and to sheepishly ask for mercy from Jesus out of his treasury of mercy.  Mercy doesn't just pertain to the penitential season of Lent for the forgiveness of sins.  No, John Paul placed our deepest contemplation of mercy, God's perfect love beginning at our weakest point where we need it most and cannot change or heal ourselves - he placed our celebration of mercy not in Lent, but in Easter, and proclaimed that we receive the most mercy when we are visited by the Risen Christ.  The image of divine mercy is an image of the Risen Christ dispensing grace and mercy in the form of white and red rays, from his sacred heart, and the fruit of the divine mercy devotion is greater faith, greater trust.

We receive the greatest love when allowing Christ with his victory over sin and death to break through our fears and doubts.  God's mercy, as Thomas learned is not just about saying we're sorry and paying back what we owe - no, it is allowing ourselves to be healed and loved by Christ in powerful ways, for when we are healed and loved then we respond with greater trust and faith - and proclaim Jesus as Lord and God as Thomas did - with absolute faith - that out of everything we know to be true - Jesus is Lord - Jesus is God - Jesus is truly Risen - these are the things we most know to be true.  Amen.