Wednesday, November 7, 2018

art of invitation

Tuesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time
Election Day 2018
6 November 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
Votive Mass of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the USA

What invitations do you accept and which do you reject?  Specifically, what is the Lord inviting you to right now?  Whatever it is, we have to make time in our schedules for these invitations.

If we avoid invitations because we are busy, or we bail on our commitments because we don't feel like it or something better comes up, we are not preparing ourselves for accepting the invitation we have from God to be with him forever in heaven.

When is the last time your bailed on somebody or something important, when they were counting on you to come and your presence meant a lot?  It is true the plans can change, but as much as we can, we should make commitments according to God's will, and hold fast to those commitments.  It is good practice for accepting the invitation to eternal life that comes to each of us most personally from Jesus Himself.

When is the last time you rejected or bailed on an invitation that you received directly from God?  Now is a good day to repent and to get ready for the next invitation that will surely come.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

compete for last

Saturday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time IIB
3 November 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
Koinonia Retreat 28

Chad was my archnemesis as I grew up.  Many of you are familiar with sibling rivalries.  I have 4 brothers and one sister.  My competition was always with the first-born of our family - Chad - who is 11 months older than me.

I shared a room with Chad until he left for college.  It was 17 years of constant competition.  I wanted so badly to beat Chad in things that I even tested out of freshman algebra so I could jump into into my brother's sophomore math class.  I am sure I was super annoying to Chad, the younger brother always nipping at his heels.

My brother Chad is great at almost everything.  I couldn't really beat him in anything.  Most of all, he could always kick my butt physically.

I hope the sibling rivalry brought out some good in both of us.  My calling to the priesthood might be explained by my trying to win the sibling rivalry once and for all. I found something that my brother couldn't do.  In fact I found something that few guys could do - become a priest.  So I did it.  It is part of the competition for a place of honor that Jesus warns about in today's Gospel.

I pray there was also a call from Jesus in the equation as well.  My calling was inspired too though, by my fascination with St. John Paul II, and my wanting to be more like him.  After meeting John Paul II I remember thinking the priesthood is the greatest thing I could do with my life.  Since becoming a priest I find myself comparing my priesthood to superstar priests like Bishop Robert Barron or Fr. Mike Schmitz.  I am competitive to the core, and unfortunately, very attracted to ranking and places of honor.

Jesus says clearly in the Gospel that if we are going to get into comparisons, only one competition matters - taking the lowest place.  While we may never be the best in the universe at any one particular skill, we can and should be the best in the universe at giving our precise life away, a life that will only uniquely exist once in the history of the universe.

I might not be the next St. John Paul II or Bishop Barron or Fr. Mike, but I can give my life away in a place and manner that none of them could.  So Jesus reminds me to quit worrying about comparisons, and to compete in the only thing that matters - taking the lowest place.

St. John Paul II referred often to a passage in Gaudium et Spes.  It says simply that man only finds himself through a sincere gift of himself.  So if you want to be unique and to have honor, then make yourself last, and God will exalt you more than you could ever exalt yourself.  

Friday, November 2, 2018

give your merits away

Friday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
2 November 2018
Commemoration of All Souls

I've wrecked my Ford Fusion twice in the last 3 years.  Both times I hit an animal.  The first time it was a deer.  This last time a couple weeks ago it was a dog.  Both accidents were at high speed.  The car survived both times.  God's creatures did not, unfortunately.

This last time the accident happened as I was leaving a tour of a maximum security prison in El Dorado, Kansas.  Fortunately, my classmates from Leadership Kansas were right behind me.  Six cars stopped to help me . . and the dog if they could.  It was a flood of instantaneous support.  As I needed a 80 mile tow to Topeka since my radiator was punctured, I was grateful that one of my classmates offered me a ride home to Lawrence, and my delay back home was only 20 minutes at the most.

You're probably like me . . pretty independent and reluctant to ask for help.  But we all know that when unpredictable things happen, and we're in a bind and need help, it stinks when no one is there for us.

Our dear Church reminds us on All Souls Day, and throughout November, that the most important thing we can do for our Catholic family is pray for the dead.  Of all the people in our family who need help right now, our friends making their final journeys to heaven, and unable to help themselves, are most in need.  Our focus on helping our neighbor next to us must never come to the detriment of neglecting those most in need of God's mercy.

Yesterday we celebrated the Church triumphant - the saints in heaven, who are rooting us the Church militant on to victory.  Today the Church militant is urged to do the same for the Church penitent . .the souls in purgatory, and not only today, but everyday, and especially throughout the book of November.  You are invited to place the names of your beloved that you are especially praying for in our Chapel Book of the Dead.

I hope you die a saint.  I hope I do too.  Let's keep working on that.  But in case we one day find ourselves in trouble, and unable to help ourselves, let us remember that we will be completely dependent upon the prayers of the Church that comes after us.  The Church in her piety recommends that we offer any and all merits and graces that we have to the souls in purgatory, or even the most forgotten souls, or to our Blessed Mother, who may dispense these merits to her children most in need.

Only if we give all our merits away to those in need, should we hope that someday a member of the Church militant family will do the same for us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

selfish coward loser

Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I have a sticky note on the mirror of my bathroom.  Two actually.  The first has three words - selfish coward loser.  The second is more positive.  Also three words - play to win.

The first sticky note more truly describes my life.  I wish it didn't.  But it does.  Last Sunday was priesthood Sunday, and I received from those who prayed for me in the adoration chapel at the sisters a series of notes.  The notes were awesome.  My preferred love language is words of affirmation. I love atta-boys!  So the words were super meaningful and appreciated . . and sincere.

Yet I was struck more by what the students who prayed for me didn't say.

The notes said thanks for being here.  Thanks for your preaching. Thanks for your faithfulness and sacrificial service.  And it's true . . I'm not a total schmuck . . at least I hope not.  There is a lot of goodness to my life and priesthood and I am grateful for everything that was written that is true.

But none of the notes said what I most wanted to hear . . and want I want my life most to say and mean.  None of the notes said . . thank you for showing me how to become a saint. Thank you for challenging me to be a saint.

So I have work to do.  I bet you do too.  The first sticky note on my bathroom mirror is more true than the second . . and I can admit that without hating myself or being ungrateful.  I am more of a selfish cowardly loser than one who plays to win.  I'm not the saint I was created to be.

When I became a priest I promised I would not quit until I became like my hero John Paul II.  But I lied. I've never meant to lie, but I have . . lied to myself and to God.  I've quit.  I've gotten scared.  And I've settled.  I've said too often that good enough is good enough, rather than staying true to my original dream - sainthood or nothing!  To be a hero - and saints are heroes - those who have demonstrated heroic virtue - you have to dare greatness, live a life of real consequence, engage the obstacles in your way, trust a guide, devise a plan . . and execute the plan!  Too often I've run away from conflict and been my own guide . . and settled.  And guess what . . it didn't work.  I'm not a saint . . in case you haven't noticed.

I'm not a saint . . .yet . . but now is no time to give up.  Definitely not on All Saints Day!

Halloween is great . . we get to dress up to be outwardly somebody or something we are not. Yet Halloween - All Hallow's Eve, - the night before All Saints Day - is but the precursor and vigil, to the greater celebration that follows - the opportunity to become fully human and fully alive, to become a saint!  Which is nothing less than to perfectly fulfill our destiny to grow into the perfect image and likeness of God.  Halloween is great . . but the Solemnity of All Saints is far greater . . if we dare to celebrate this outstanding feast.

The pivotal question for this week is . . what do you want more than anything in the world?  I asked this in RCIA on Tuesday, and the answers were awesome.  I want to be happy.  I want to become fully myself.  And two people wanted dogs.  So be it - man's best friend.

I repeated to the class what was on the second sticky note on my bathroom mirror - I want to play to win.  What's your answer?  What do you want more than anything in the world?

Here's a second question.  What is the most urgent and necessary thing in the world right now?  I'm going to answer it for you .. sorry!  Here's the answer . . It is for you to become a saint.  That is the most necessary and urgent thing in the world right now . . and it depends upon you.

Nobody wrote that I have dared them to become a saint. . . and for this I am sad and truly sorry.  ter.  But what about you?  For just as all the saints before us have opened up for us new and real pathways to become the saints of this generation, so with their great example and irresistible intercession for you comes the great responsibility for you to become fully human and fully alive and fully who you were created the be - the next Catholic saint. 

Once again, and always in Catholicism,  we rise and fall together, and once again we have come today to claim our common destiny, which is this - that when you embrace your call to holiness dare to walk the path that leads to real happiness, you open up a path for the person next to you.  And when you settle for being a selfish cowardly loser, you LET THE WHOLE TEAM DOWN!

Don't let the whole team down.  If I dare to enter back into the full adventure of my life, and to play to win in this Mass, will you join me?  Will you pray for me to dare greatness as I pray the same for you?

All the dreams that I have for the St. Lawrence Center - that the Lord may guide the next generation of great stories that the world so desperately needs  - that the most urgent and necessary thing might be accomplished right here right now on this holy hill, through our core values of embracing our true destiny, living in deep communion with each other, daring to stand out, and not quitting or settling until we are fully alive . . all my dreams depend on your response to the call to holiness that goes out to the whole Church today.

90% of our peers will stay away from Mass today.  Why?  I dare say it is because they have never met a saint.

Will you be the first saint that they meet?

Friday, March 30, 2018

the place where life begins

Good Friday 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
30 March 2018

Daily Readings

March Madness.  KU is in the Final Four.  Simply incredible.  What a fun time to be a Jayhawk!  KU fans are out of their minds.  Even the most devout Catholics are tempted to skip the Triduum to focus instead on the big story that is the Jayhawks run to the national championship.  Admittedly, what comes next is my fault for being addicted to sports, and making no apology for it, but I've been asked countless times this week - Father, are you going to the Final Four? Give Easter to somebody else - we need you to beat Sr. Jean!  I actually think a lot of my friends expect me to skip Good Friday and the Vigil to get to San Antonio in time to root on KU.  Shame on me that they could even think that - that my love of KU basketball is greater than my love of the cross.

Even you might be thinking - there he goes again!  We are here to honor the excruciating suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to confess that our sins crucified him - and there goes Fr. Mitchel  - all he can think about is the Final Four . . how pathetic.  Even on Good Friday he preaches about basketball.  But bear with me, I beg you.

When was KU last in the Final Four?  I bet many of your don't care, and many others have forgotten, and among those who know, the glorious victories of 2012 have faded.  2012 was just like 2018  - hardly anyone could think straight, the excitement surrounding KU was so great . . but even now, those incredible accomplishments that inspired so many back then, are slowly but surely fading away into the trivia of history.

In 2012 KU eventually lost in the national championship game - but that same year, a victory was won that was much greater than any of the victories won by that impressive Final Four team.  It is that victory, that is still mysteriously gaining strength 6 years later, that I want to focus on tonight.  I watched every KU basketball game in 2012 - I'm sure of it - but this other victory, was one I almost missed.

Does anyone remember facebook?  Yea, it was a social media craze back in 2012 . . before Snapchat.  All the cool kids were using facebook . . before it became old.  Well, I reposted a story on facebook back in 2012 that I thought would inspire people.  The headline was about an incredible 4 star basketball recruit from St. James Academy in Lenexa that was on his way to an accomplishment that millions of players can only dream of . .a scholarship offer to KU.  Yet the headline I posted was this . . Connor McCullough loses battle with cancer.  That's right.  Connor is dead.  He never played for KU.

I posted the story on facebook with the comment - rip Connor - wanting people to read about this kid but having no idea that my repost would be so offensive.  Many of Connor's friends and family hated the headline - Connor loses battle to cancer.  One particularly 'offended' friend of Connor's made this poignant comment on my post - more like Connor OWNS his battle with cancer.  Last time I checked, cancer didn't make it to heaven.

Shame on me again for not recognizing that cancer was the cross given to Connor by Jesus so that he could give his entire life - and give all of himself - even at age 17.  Me, a priest, promised to conform his life more closely each day to the mystery of the Lord's cross, had to be taught by Connor's 18 year old friend, that the cross on which all of us are called to die and give all of ourselves, is never a place of defeat, but only a place of victory.  It's never a shame for us to kiss the cross of Jesus, even as it appears on the outside to be the place of horrific torture, the triumph of evil and injustice, and the death of God.  For the cross is paradoxically always just the opposite.  Maybe you need to be taught too tonight, that the cross is never where our life ends, but is where our life truly begins.  That's why we venerate the cross with the only liturgical kiss of the year.

This year at least, many more people locally will be focused on the epic battle on the court between KU and Villanova, a Catholic school,  than on the battle between good and evil fought on the axis of the cross.  People will pour heart and soul into every play, give into every superstition imaginable, and ask the team to lay it all on the court, for a victory that indeed can and should inspire many.  Yet despite what we say, you can't actually give it all on the court, and nobody dies in pursuit of a national championship.  After every game, there is still life to live, and more to give. So just like in 2012, the glory of 2018 will fade.  Because the court is not a cross.

The glory of the cross, however, can only increase - it cannot fade..  For it is precisely at Calvary that the one who once created everything out of nothing by once sharing a piece of Himself, decided to make all things new and create everything out of nothing by giving all of Himself.  It is at the cross that Jesus gave his power to create and rule into the hands of evil men.  At the cross Jesus Himself becomes the new nothing from which everything will be created.  From the nothing of sin comes the new beginning of goodness.  From the nothing of defeat comes a victory that endures.  From the nothing of pain and suffering is created a joy that cannot be touched.  From the nothing of darkness springs a light that cannot fade.  From the nothing of the death of God, resurrects a life that can only be eternal.

Woe to us then, is we love anything more than the nothing of Christ crucified, if we do not beg him to share his cross with us so that we can quit tinkering with giving pieces of ourselves. For the cross is the only place where we too can give all of ourselves, and out of love for God and His mercy give to Him the only things we have that He doesn't have - the only things He wants and needs - our sinfulness, our weakness, and our nothingness.

Woe to us if we miss this chance tonight - woe to us if we do not kiss the cross of Jesus with the most passionate kiss of the year, the most honest kiss of our lives. For only from the nothing of the cross can come something that is eventually everything. In 2012, Connor and his friends knew this truth of the cross that I too easily forget.  The cross is never - I repeat NEVER - the place where our lives end.  It is only, and always, and truly, where our life begins.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

the word made flesh

3rd Day of Christmas IIB
Feast of St. John, Apostle
27 December 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

The Church today celebrates Christmas especially with St. John, the beloved disciple.  It is good that another apostle appears as a special friend and help during Christmas alongside our Blessed Mother.  St. John wrote the Gospel chosen for Christmas Mass during the day - codifying the language of Word made Flesh as perhaps the Church's most apt description of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Today's Gospel selection interestingly zeroes in on St. John's faith in the empty tomb, reminding us even in the heart of the Christmas season of the necessary connections between faith in the Incarnation and faith in the Resurrection.  The first mystery leads ultimately nowhere new without the second.  John wrote about the first.  He was a witness to the second. 

John's close association with Mary makes him a beautiful friend as the Church tries to engage the Christmas mystery through the body, heart, eyes and mind of our pre-eminent member, our dear mother.  As the Lord seeks a place to be born in the Church this Christmas, it is so fruitful to remember John taking the Mother of God under his roof right in the midst of the paschal mystery.  It is no accident that this special relationship with the spouse of the Holy Spirit gave rise to the deepest and most spiritual contemplation of the Word Made Flesh. 

May John help us deepen our contemplation of Christmas.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

the most certain visit

Gaudete Sunday - 3rd Sunday of Advent
17 December 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Are you ready for Christmas?  I bet this question caused some guilt and anxiety in you.  I pray that you don't hate this question as much as I do.  If you were to ask me the same question, I would resent your having asked it.  No, I'm not ready for Christmas.  I'm not even close - practically, spiritually, emotionally - the whole bit.  I'm not trying to be a scrooge, but it's hard to be ready for Christmas.  It's a hard question posed to us by the Church and by the great prophet John the Baptist on this Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

It doesn't help that pink Sunday falls just 8 days before Christmas this year.  Pink Sunday is supposed to be about rejoicing that the Lord is drawing ever nearer.  Just as often, and perhaps moreso, it's a painful reminder of what we already know to be true - we're not ready, and the chance that this Christmas will pass without it being our best Christmas is real.  Then the guilt can set in . . cause we know we cannot let this Christmas pass us by without anything changing in our heart.

Gaudete Sunday is a gift to us, not a threat . . so let's spend a bit of time getting this right, at least.  John the Baptist reminds us that of all the visiting that we are preparing for, the visit of the Lord is the most sure and the most important.  Rejoice in the Lord, always - again, I say rejoice - the Lord is near!  More certain than any other visit we make or receive this year, the visit of the Lord on the door of our hearts, his begging to be born in you and me, is the most dramatic and the most certain.  This is incomparably great news, and the proper response is not one of anxiety or fear, but one of joy.  The Church begs us to get this spiritual attitude right as we enter the home stretch of our Christmas preparations.

The Lord's visit this year at Christmas will not me that things are about to outwardly go perfectly for us.  The Lord's visit does not mean that we will win the lottery, nor does it mean that all of our problems will magically be whisked away. It does mean that everything that it means to be human is familiar to the Lord, and everything matters.  Watch It's a Wonderful Life if you don't believe me.  The Incarnation of Jesus, and His ensuing paschal mystery, ensure that nothing that happens to us is outside of God's providence or grace.  Jesus is present to everything, and everything matters.  This is the good news of Christmas for which we prepare.

More personally for you and me, Jesus wants to visit each one of us precisely where the prophet Isaiah says He will come.  Where is that place?  It is where we are brokenhearted or trapped.  Jesus wishes to be born in the weakest and smallest place in our hearts.  He begs us to allow Him to be born there this Christmas.  For if we know anything about the story of Bethlehem, the remaking of the world from the inside out begins very small.  Will you allow Jesus to visit you, and be born, in the smallest place of your heart?  You have 8 more days to figure it out.

The very thought that Jesus wants to be born in that place in your heart, is cause for great rejoicing.  St. Paul can confidently say then, that no matter what evils or darkness befall us, Jesus is present to all.  Pure religion is less about what you do and more about who you are with.  St. Paul leaves us with the proper spiritual attitude in these finals days of Advent - Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.  In all things give thanks!