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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

powerful words

Christ the King Church Topeka
19/20 April 2014
Daily Readings

Jesus Christ is Risen!  He is truly Risen!  Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Surprise!  Oh wait - you were probably expecting to hear those words today.  That's why you came, right?  To hear that Christ is truly Risen?  So you're probably not surprised. Still, how do these words hit you today?  Are they more true, more dramatic, more exciting, than anytime you have heard them before?  Better yet, are you ready to say them yourself more personally, and with more heartfelt meaning, than you have ever said them before.

If these words hit you this morning with any less intensity than that first proclamation to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, with any less force than the words that made Peter and John run to the tomb, then you might as well go home.  Really, I mean it.  If these words do not move you at all, and if you are not ready to repeat them with great intensity on Easter morning of all mornings, then we really are wasting out time.  For these words - Jesus Christ is truly Risen - are the most mysterious and dramatic and profound, and yes, TRUE - words that have ever been spoken or could ever be spoken in human history.  There is no middle ground with these words - I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.  Either these are the most important words in your life, or they are not.  Either these words are everything, or they are nonsense and are nothing.

Without these words - Jesus Christ is truly Risen - there is no point in our repeating the most profound words that Jesus Himself ever uttered - this is my body, this is my blood - because without the words of the Resurrection even the words of the Eucharist lose their meaning and lead us nowhere new.  Without the words of the Resurrection, even the most profound love the world has ever seen - the love manifested on the cross - ends up meaning nothing.  For without the Resurrection, even the most powerful love, the love of the cross, is powerless in the face of death.  Without the truth of the Resurrection, the Church cannot proclaim for certain that she has found and experienced a love that is stronger than death.

Thankfully, we do not have to generate the faith to say these words of Resurrection this morning out of nowhere.  Easter Sunday is the easiest day of the year to proclaim that the Resurrection of Jesus is the thing I most know to be true out of all the things I know to be true.  Nature herself sets the stage, as winter gives way to new life.  The Church provides the sights and sounds and smells in Her sacred liturgy to pave the way for the Easter proclamation.  And we profess not alone but with the whole Church throughout the world, led by the historical cloud of witnesses from the first apostles to  the latest martyr, all of whom professed the truth of the Resurrection to the point of death, so that this faith might reach use safely here in Topeka, Kansas on April 20th, 2014.  It is in this amazing context that we profess with all our hearts and minds and strength today the beautiful Easter proclamation - that Jesus Christ is truly Risen!

All of this support is great, but it does not make our proclamation this morning any less personal or risky.  For being a Christian is never to go with the flow.  We are pathetic beyond imagination if we only renew our baptismal promises this morning because everybody else is doing it.  For professing faith is never something small.  If the renewal of our baptismal promises today is no big deal, or is boring, than mercy we are doing it wrong - we are doing it all wrong!  Today's proclamation is not to simply show up and buy a ticket at the eternal life lottery - no today is about dramatically going against the flow, and to bet our entire life on the truth of the Resurrection.

For what we profess today is a faith that is exciting and dramatic - as is the paschal mystery of Christ - his suffering, death and Resurrection is the most intense human story ever told.  What we profess is a faith powerful enough to shake any person who has become anesthetized to Christianity.  For no proclamation, no words - have ever shake the history of the world like an earthquake, or so changed the dignity and destiny of man - no victory has even been won that possible compares - as the proclamation that Jesus Christ has defeated death itself - and is truly risen from the dead..  That proclamation can't be something that limps out of our Church on Easter Sunday . . if so, forget it - let's just all go home and eat Peeps!  No, the Easter proclamation of the Church has to be a proclamation impossible to ignore by those who think we are the weak ones who need a myth to cope with the reality of life and death.

Against anyone out there who might think the Christian proclamation of Easter is a myth for cowards or weak thinkers, we disciples of Jesus must be known as those who more radically and intensely and courageously are search for that love that conquers all things, even death itself.  That search for the deepest love that is the source of life led us first not to the empty tomb but to the cross, where perfect love is perfectly revealed.  On the cross we see a love that is ultimate truth and that casts out fear.  It is at the cross that with our Lord real Christians avoid nothing and fear nothing.

To be a Christian then must be the antithesis of being a naive coward, for the wisdom of the cross compels Christians to be soldiers who live the truth that suffering and death are not to be avoided, but are to be welcomed, redeemed, filled and conquered with love itself.  A true Christian then does not proclaim the Resurrection as a vain hope for the future, but as the real fruit of the cross that he has already begun to experience.  For we begin to live the truth of the Resurrection right now, whenever we dare to live the radical truth given by Jesus that whoever loses his life through love, saves it for eternal life.

So we gather to profess this faith in the Resurrection today not only because the faith has been passed down to us, not only because everyone else is doing it, but because we have actually tried being Christians, and have found the Resurrection to be true.  We are the most pathetic of people, and our faith is completely in vain, if the Resurrection is something that we have to pretend to be true, instead of something that I have discovered with great effort to be true.  Woe to us if we cannot profess our life getting bigger, and our growing younger, every time I lose myself in the adventure of following Christ through His suffering and death, to the glory of His Resurrection!

So I beg you this morning - don't say something pitiable with our profession of faith. Don't say something easy.  But with sharp minds, and pure hearts and courageous wills, let us say personally and together the most profound and dramatic and mysterious words that have ever been spoken, or that can ever be spoken.  Jesus Christ is truly Risen from the dead. Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Friday, April 18, 2014

kissing in Church

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
Christ the King Catholic Church Topeka
18 April 2014
Daily Readings

Who knows the rules for kissing in Church?  Really, what are they?  I usually tell couples that I marry that they can't kiss without permission, and then if I let them kiss in the Church, they can kiss only one time!  No do-overs.  No second chances.  No matter how bad that first kiss in Church is, they only get one.  Admittedly, I can get kind of bossy when it comes to what happens in Church . . I can be a control freak.  The Church lets me be.  Sorry.

Maybe a lot of you kiss in Church.  People don't necessarily know the rules. We have the kiss of peace, or the exchange of peace, which can range from spouses and families kissing each other on the lips to a handshake to a grunt and a tiny wave, and everything in between.  Are you allowed to kiss in Church? Well usually we are to focus intensely on the love of God revealed in Jesus and give our attention and affection to God alone, and to each other only secondarily.  So there's no easy answer to this question. Some say you shouldn't kiss in Church - that's its a show of romantic love when we should focus on something deeper. Some people say priests, who would be expected to be the worst of kissers because of their lack of practice, should be the only ones allowed to kiss in Church.  The priest's kissing of the book of the Gospels and the altar are signs of where the devotion of all of the people should be - on word and sacrament.  Others aren't so careful or inhibited - some of you are not embarrassed to share the love of God right during the liturgy by kissing those they love.  It's ok either way.

Tonight however we come to deliver the most dramatic and unique kiss of the year.  Tonight we all kiss in Church, or all are invited to anyhow.  I think it's an amazing custom here in the United States, that the vast majority of you have come to kiss the cross directly with your lips.  Of course you are permitted to venerate the cross from your seat, or genuflect instead, or kiss your fingers and touch them to the cross - all of these are equally good and right forms of veneration of the cross.  But 99% of you will probably smack your lips right down on the most brutal instrument of torture ever invented - the crucifix.  We reserve our deepest sign of affection that we ever show in Church - a kiss - for the holy cross. We do not kiss any other religious object of devotion at any other time throughout the year.  Only once a year.  Only now.  Only the wood of the cross.

We do this for two reasons at least. First of all, the cross shows us that God himself knows the worst of the human experience, and has taken it to himself most perfectly on the cross.  God has joined himself to the most isolating of human experiences - suffering and death - and has filled it with his presence.  Suffering and death do not separate us from God or one another then - the emptiness of suffering and death have been filled by Love itself.  The cross tells us the one thing that we most all need to know and to hear and feel to have faith in God - that no matter what, no matter how bad it gets - we are not alone.  God is with us.  He will never abandon us.  The cross delivers this truth better than anything we can imagine.  For this reason we kiss the cross.

The second reason is a deeper, more theological reason.  It is precisely from the cross that God has decided to recreate the world. The cross which at first look appears as the victory of hatred and sin and death,  when transformed by love itself becomes the tree of eternal life.  Paradoxically, it is on the cross that Jesus hands over his original power to create everything out of nothing, to create life out of dust, a power that was his at the dawn of creation, so that he can once again create everything out of nothing, out of the nothingness of the cross.  Jesus trades his original right to create everything out of nothing by sharing a piece of himself, to assume the position of the cross, where he begins to create everything out of nothing by sharing all of himself.  The cross is our great object of devotion because it is there, and precisely there, and only there, that God completely empties himself, and thus it is precisely from the cross that the new creation, and the creation of a new kind of life, are born.

The second creation, begun from the tree of life that is the holy cross, is unfathomably greater than the first creation.  In the first creation of everything from nothing, a light was shared that could be touched by darkness.  A goodness was shared that could be touched by evil.  Happiness was shared that could be touched by sorrow and pain.  The breath of life was shared that could one day be conquered by death.

But beginning at the cross, darkness and evil and pain and death are conquered overwhelmingly by the love of Christ.  Using his power to lay down his life and take it up again - at the cross, Jesus again creates everything out of nothing.  But it's a different nothing.  Out of the nothing that is evil he creates everlasting goodness.  From the nothing of darkness he creates unquenchable light.  From the nothing of pain he creates irreducible joy.  From the nothing of death, he creates eternal life.

It is precisely at the cross, and nowhere else, that the only victory that matters - the only victory that never fades - is won.  That is why it is right for us to kiss the nothingness of the cross with the most passionate kiss of our entire year, of our entire lives.  For

the place our lips hit that is the location of the creation of everything that lasts forever.  The cross is not where life ends.  It is where life truly begins.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

only one Church need exist

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Topeka
9 February 2014
Daily Readings

Catholicism is dead in the water.  Christ the King, our parish, is dead in the water.  Don't get me wrong.   We're a nice Church . . it's just that nice doesn't cut it.  It never has.  It never will.   It's not that I'm discouraged or pessimistic.  I have nothing but hope and enthusiasm for where our parish is headed.  I love our Catholic tradition and the opportunity to bring Christ who I know to be the way, the truth and the life more tangibly and fruitfully into our world.  I know there are thousands of points of light in our parish and in our Church.  Pope Francis has been an amazing boost, for one.  Pope Francis shows us how to get bloody and dirty in the pursuit of holiness, so that the Church is known first and above all for her charity! I know I'm speaking in generalities, not in particulars.  But in general, the Church, and our parish, is treading water.  We're not declining, but we're not setting the world on fire either.

Jesus reminds his disciples in the sermon on the mount, however, that treading water is unacceptable.  Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Salt was used in Jesus' time to preserve what is good and to kill what was bad.  Salt has a great potency.  Light highlights what is good and exposes what is evil.  Light can be the most powerful of forces.  That is what Christians are supposed to be  - not weak, but potent.  Christians are to be salt and light.  They are to be nothing less.  Not relatively good compared to other people.  Not a nice part of the world.  No, Christians exist for one reason, and for one reason only - to serve and to save the world by being its salt and its light. If Christians are not showing the full flavor and beauty of what it means to be human, and are not co-redeeming the world by participating in divine life and love, then we should fold up our tents.

Our Church is supposed to be so much more than a nice gathering of nice people saying nice things and doing nice things for each other and for their community.  Nice is nice.  But being nice doesn't meet the standard of being salt and light.  Nice doesn't convert anyone.  You don't have to be a Christian to be a nice person . . there are plenty of good people who don't care to go to Church.  No, there is only one reason, and there can be only one reason to be a Christian . . and that is to become a saint.  The only reason to be a religious person is to make possible something new . .being a Christian must be entering into a great adventure of trying to become more, and do more, than was thought possible before.  If being Christian isn't about reaching new heights and exploding old categories of what it means to be a human person, than it's nothing more than anesthesia for the scared.

The Church then exists only to produce saints. It cannot be a holding pen for those who are superstitious or too afraid to live.  If that is what agnostics see in the Church, then why would they ever become Catholic? Agnostics don't care about the truth or the global or personal impact of religion, and if they have never met a saint, why should they?  Personally, I would rather see agnosticism grow than lukewarm Catholicism, because agnosticism holds out the challenge that unless you can show me that Jesus Christ has enlightened your mind and heart in incredible ways, and made the impossible possible, then I don't care.  Agnosticism challenges the Church to produce saints or to fold up her tents.  The growth of agnosticism could eventually be the foil for the renewal of the Church.

Just like athletes try to set new world records, and scientists never stop asking questions about the universe, and just as telling an engineer than he can't do something makes no impact on his desire to do it anyway, so also saints strive to do something in God, with God and for God, that has never been done before.  St. Paul says that saints take their cue from the cross of Jesus Christ.  Whenever the challenge comes that you don't have to be religious to be a good person, whenever you think that human reason can provide a better rationale for morality than religion, Christians look to the cross.

On the cross we see that even though God didn't need to create or love the world, and the world did not add one iota to his glory, that God created and loved anyway, loving to the point of forsaking Himself.  The cross shows that even though the redemption of one sinner added nothing to God's glory, still He redeemed us anyway.  The cross always speaks then to true freedom born from a transcendent and spiritual source, and to a goodness and love not imposed on us from below because of our nature, but a goodness and love from above toward which we strive and which makes new things possible.  Saints are holy not because they conform to the goodness that lies below us, but because they go far beyond a love that is reasonable, and lose themselves totally by striving in spiritual freedom for the goodness that lies beyond us. Saints conform their lives to the mystery of the cross, where the source of truth and goodness and love is perfectly revealed.

There is only one Church that deserves to exist.  That Church is an evangelizing Church - one that shows the world the new things that are possible through the transcendent and spiritual freedom and power and goodness and love of God working in us, and with us and through us.  We shouldn't expect to stay open, if we fail to become this Church here at Christ the King.  The only Church that should continue on is one that produces saints - those who aren't afraid to take Jesus at his word, to become the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome CTK visitors!

Welcome CTK visitors!

Thanks for visiting our website - this is my blog where I post homilies and other news about the parish!  I sincerely pray that you will find the information you need on our website, and that you will feel welcome to be a part of our faith community if you are not already a member!  A special welcome to those of you who are interested in becoming Catholic!   I am excited about the opportunities for knowing Christ and for serving Him in our Topeka community.  Please contact me personally at or at (913) 220-8809 if I can make your CTK experience better!  I'm happy to respond to your questions and feedback!

Welcome to all!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

core identity

Feast of the Presentation
1/2 February 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

So, who are you?  It's a simple question . . . but sometimes not simple to answer. In life sometimes the hardest thing is to keep simple things simple.  So who are you?  Do you have an identity statement?  If someone asked you to describe yourself, as simply and exactly as possible, what would you say?

In asking this question, I'm asking about your core identity.  I'm not asking about the peripherals - where you grew up, what you do for a living, what your hobbies are - etc. etc. etc.  These things are vitally important, but no, I'm not asking about those things.  I'm asking about your very core . . if you could describe who you are in one sentence, or even if a few words, what would you say?  Have you ever tried this?  My favorite identity statement of all time is the motto of the late and great John Paul II.  Talk about a guy who knew how to keep things simple . . who knew who he was at his core.  John Paul described himself in just three words.  Totus Tuus Mariae.  Totally yours Mary.  That was who John Paul was, plain and simple.  That was his life and his spirituality and his identity . . in all of his complexity as a person, he found a way to keep a simple question simple.  He could tell you who he was . .  distilled into three words.

I've tried to do this myself . .  though not as successfully as John Paul II.  It's been a good exercise.  My own identity statement has actually stayed pretty consistent over the last few years.  When people ask me who I am - who is Fr. Mitchel - I don't immediately go to my birthplace or family or education or profession or hobbies . .  although those are all significant parts of my life.  All of them are important.   But in simplicity, I just say this - I am a child of God loved by Christ where I could never love or change myself.  I could give a witness talk about how I came to this identity statement, and how hard it was to settle upon it.  Yet it's one I've stuck with for awhile, for many reasons.  That is who I am . . as simply as I can put it . .I am a child of God loved by Christ where I cannot love or change myself.  That's who I am before I'm a priest or a KU fan or a long homilist, or anything like that.

This identity that is still the core of who I am is an identity that I received 40 years ago in baptism.  My core identity was received on the day I was dedicated in the temple.  I've just now at 40 years old begun to understand what happened to me that day, and I am still growing in knowledge and in gratitude for the identity I received that day.  This year the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced by the Presentation of the Lord . . a nice surprise and privilege.  There are two traditional ends to the Christmas season - in the western Roman Catholic Church we end Christmas with the Baptism of the Lord, but in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches  Christmas lasts even longer, up until today's Feast of the Presentation.  In our tradition, we are baptized and presented to the Lord at the same time . . our baptism occurs not outside in a river like Jesus', but in the temple, where we are also dedicated.  On this occasion, we receive our deepest and most perfect identity as human persons.  We become children of God - we become those who as part of God's family in the Church are visited and known and loved by God.  The day of our baptism and presentation if it is anything is the most important day of our lives. It's either the most important or it's nothing . . baptism and presentation can't be something in between.  For on this day we make visible that we belong to God - we are consecrated to him, and most of all we proclaim that God delights in us his children.  He gets a kick out of us and the adventure of our lives, and takes an intense interest in the dignity and destiny of all his children.  So much did he love us that he sent his only begotten Son to share in everything that it means to be a human person, except sin.

The identity we received on the day of baptism and presentation is an identity that we more deeply understand as our resumes get longer and our human experiences multiply.  No matter where we go in life, and what choices we make, or what experiences come our way . . it all can be incorporated into this identity that we received in baptism.  There is room in this simple identity for every human experience . . it is the thing that as we say, is an indelible mark on the soul . . something given by God and received by us that cannot change.  We can either enter into the adventure of more deeply claiming and knowing this identity, or we can go away from it and try to become something else, but the identity itself never changes, and nothing can replace it or become more central to us.  There can never be anything more perfect or deep than belonging to God completely, and his invitation through his Son to belong to his eternal family.  That is why John Paul II's identity statement is so perfect . .Totus Tuus Mariae . . .it is about devotion and relationship and belonging . . to Christ through the intercession of his mother Mary.

Again, the identity we received in baptism is an identity that we are meant to more deeply understand and grow into, not something we move away from the further we are away from baptism.  Being baptized into Christ's death, and receiving a destiny to live with God in heaven where alone all of our desires might be fulfilled, frees us from resume building in this world, of having to earn being loved and noticed,  No, instead, we are able to focus instead on choosing death fearlessly before death chooses us, and to grow younger as we give our lives in this world away, entering into the transformation of death that leads to eternal life.  This dignity we claim in baptism thus leads into our mission in life.  Knowing who we are, and getting that right and keeping it right, shows us precisely what we are supposed to do with our lives.

Today we celebrate the Lord's entry into the temple.  This day is much more important than groundhog day or Super Bowl Sunday . . the Presentation of the Lord and his entry into his temple reminds us that it is in our churches, filled with the presence of the Lord, that we are to reclaim our true identity through an encounter with the living God.  Today we bless the candles that will be used throughout the year to remind us when we come into Church that this is a living temple - our Church houses the presence of the Lord, especially and most perfectly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and it is in our churches where the Lord promised to be most consistently and perfectly present until he comes again in glory!  When asked our favorite places to visit in the whole world, our temple, our parish church, should always be at the top of the list.  We should be visiting our churches as often as possible, dropping by here and in our adoration chapel throughout the week, to reclaim as much as possible the dignity that we first received here at our baptism and presentation.  It is especially here that we come to meditate upon the central question we must all answer - who am I?  It is here that we first received, and will continue to receive, our core identity.  Amen.