Saturday, December 2, 2017

tell him to mess with your mess

1st Sunday of Advent B
3 December 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

You call me Father Mitchel.  I am humbled by that.  I want to be a great father.  I want to be worthy of that title.  I want to shepherd the best Catholic family the world has ever seen.

Yet try as I might I can't do it.  I need help.  I need God.  I can't do it without him.  It won't happen unless he does it within me.  To be a great father I need God to come closer, and to come sooner.  I need to have my best Advent.  Do you too?

The truth is that not only am I not a great father, I'm first of all a lousy son and a lousy brother.  To be a great father you have to put in the work and spend a ton of time with your family.  You have to put them first and sacrifice your own desires.  You have to build trust and vulnerability and do a ton of listening.  I do none of these things.  I am very prideful and selfish.  I am addicted to control, honor and pleasure.  I take my dad and siblings for granted.  And left to myself, I will not change.  I need help.  I want to be a great father, but not enough to first be a great son and a great brother.

My favorite question that gets asked here at St. Lawrence is this: what are you struggling with right now?  It's my favorite question because it names the human condition accurately.  We are all struggling with something, and the less we hide it, the better off we are.  Life is hard, and that's ok.  Our student leaders, who rarely wallow in self-pity or discouragement, but are super-fun and joyful people, when asked if they struggle significantly with body image, anxiety, loneliness, pornography, laziness, just to name a few, report that they struggle a lot.  And that's ok.  It's normal to struggle, and you're not alone.  This doesn't mean that life sucks or isn't worth living.  Not at all.  But it names the reality of original sin.  Life is amazing, but it's also hard.  It's both.  And we don't have to pretend otherwise.  We all participate in the dysfunction.  People who struggle are never alone.  We are all addicted to something that enslaves us, and we are all powerless to change.

But believe it or not, that's not bad news.  If everyone was ok, we wouldn't need each other.  Much less would we need God.  Yet it's good to need each other and to need God.  Self-sufficiency and self-improvement and do it yourself are boring.  Needing be loved and to love makes for much better stories.  We are made for relationship and love and dependence.  That good news of Advent is that the Lord, who is like us in all thing but who alone can rescue all from the dysfunction, is near.  He is coming, especially to those who watch and wait for him.  Advent is begging Jesus to come closer, and to come sooner, and actually meaning it.

Don't fear the Lord's coming into your life.  That's backwards.  Knock it off.  Our prayer of Advent is the opposite.  Instead of telling God we're not ready, that we need more time to fix ourselves, we trade this nonsense to beg God to get down here like he promised and to do something. Right here and right now.

Yes, that's right.  In Advent we tell God to hurry the hell up, and to mess with our lives as much as possible.  Cause what we're doing now isn't working.  Quit tinkering with your self-improvement projects.  Instead have the guts to pray a good Advent.  Tell God you need him.  Tell him you can't do it without him.  Tell him that what you're most afraid of is that he will leave you to your own devices.  Tell him he is welcome to mess with your mess.  Tell him to come closer, and to come sooner, and actually mean it.  Amen.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

worship because you want to

Solemnity of Christ the King
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
26 November 2017
Daily Readings

Today's a good day to get over yourself!  Yes, I'm talking to you, and I'm talking to me.

Today's a good day to get over yourself.  For you are not the center of the universe.  You cannot create the meaning of your existence.  Even if the meaning of life is inside you, it was put there as a gift that you received.  For you are not necessary.  You are not God.  You are not the King of the universe.  Are you catching my drift?  And neither am I.

We can try to worship ourselves, but it's a dead end.  Everyone who has tried has failed.  And believe me, almost everyone has tried it!  Yet we know that we are not God.  Religion is thus a universal human phenomenon.  We know that we must ultimately place faith and obedience in something and someone outside of ourselves.  Manufacturing the meaning of life out of nothing and subjectively is a luxury of the so-called smart, the prideful or the laxy.  It leads nowhere.  However, discovering the meaning of and rule of life outside of ourselves is instead a great adventure.  Worship we must.  What we worship is up to us.

Today's Feast rejoices that the King of the Universe has revealed himself! Just as LeBron is known as the king of basketball.  Michael Jackson the king of pop.  Elvis the king of rock.  Simba the king of the jungle, the Royals were truly royal in 2015, the Chiefs are not yet kings of the NFL,  etc. - so the king of the universe is universally known.  That king is Jesus Christ, who is also Lord of our hearts.  Today is a celebration of great joy, for the universe in all its awe and wonder has revealed its full meaning and rule of life, in a person who shares our human nature!

Today the Church rejoices that just as all creation is received as a gift, so the universe also receives and proclaims its King.  The great news is that our need for a King, and our need to be kings, is simultaneously fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  What is more, our joy grows deeper because we not only have an unstoppable King, who can and will conquer all sin, death and evil.  We also have an irresistible king, whose power grows when he lays down his life in merciful and sacrificial love.

That's right, dear friends.  Today we exalt a king that we worship not simply because we have to, but every moreso because we want to!  Today we show the world our king, a most irresistible and beautiful king.  For the rule of this king that commands universal obedience is the law of merciful and sacrificial love.  If it sounds too good to be true, let me repeat that again.  The fundamental law of the universe, that holds it together and makes kings and kingdoms prosper, is the command of our king to love one another just as he first loves us.  This law is embodied in our king who chooses always and everywhere to be poor, vulnerable, dependent and obedient.  The law is enforced by the parable of the sheep and goats, where those who most resemble Christ, and who do not have the proud luxury of pretending to be kings themselves, are the judges of the universe.

So again, today is a really good day to get over yourself.  Don't be a NONE because you are proud and lazy.  So you don't get to be a king unless you act like the true king.  Nobody is going to feel sorry for you.  Instead, exalt in the great news of today's Feast.  We could not have created a King for ourselves better than the lamb who has been slain for us His subjects.  Worthy is this King.  Holy is this King!  Bow down before Him not because you have to, but because you want to.  Amen.  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

playing with house money

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
19 November 2017
Daily Readings

Are you fearless?

You should be.  It's the attitude that characterizes a real Christian.  Someone who knows a love that casts out all fear.

Are you fearless?  You should be.  It is really the only way to live your faith.

Thursday night here at St. Lawrence the Jayhawks for Life group hosted a national speaker on the topic of 'Lies Feminists Tell.'  It was a provocative title for a talk.  I was scared on how it might go.  They should have hosted the talk in the Union because the topic and content wasn't dependent upon faith or Catholic moral teaching.  Yet because of lack of space they decided to have it here.  There were pro-choice protesters.  There was tension.  It was a risk.  Yet it led to the dialogue that is proper to a university. The protesters were welcomed in, served cookies and doughnuts, and invited to ask questions and share views.  It was a risk, but it worked.  It was a risk, but one that broke through the disintegration, separation and hate that only deepens when real dialogue is stifled.

My favorite students to talk to at KU are actually not conservative orthodox Catholics who do what the Church expects and believe and practice their faith.  I never take our core students for granted, and I love them very much, and depend on them.  Yet without regarding them any less, I relish conversations with students who don't practice their faith and who are inoculated to Catholicism.

I had such a conversation this Friday who a student who is completely inoculated.  He thinks it a total accident that he was born Catholic, and has summarized all religion as mythology that points people toward being nice and generous.  Yet because he thinks truth claims of religion are dubious and you can be nice and generous without being religious, there is no point in going to Church.  End of story.

Of course I disagree with this student on every point, and would love a chance to talk it all through if God allows.  Yet one thing stood out in the conversation.  The student did not see me, nor any religious person he has ever met, as the most fearless and generous person he has ever known, nor does he think religion can and does produce such people.  He's wrong of course, but that's the inoculation that is his reality.

Which is why Jesus teaches today's parable.  There really is only one reason and one way to be a Catholic Christian, and that is to risk everything.  To be fearless.  Anything else is pointless and unconvincing.

The parable begins in generosity.  The man gives his talents away.  The talents we receive from God include not only our natural abilities, but most importantly His life, His mercy, His grace. . ultimately, the gift of His very self in the self-sacrificing total love of Jesus on the cross.  We have received the talent of a love that has conquered sin and death, a love that casts out all fear

Fearlessness then is the gift we have received from God, a love that did not fear God's will, his plan nor the corss.  So fearlessness is the gift we must make with our lives.  If you are not taking huge risks to live and and share your faith, what little faith you have will be taken away.  The parable is hard to hear.  Really hard.  Which is why it's so good.

I preach to myself here first.  I fear failure everyday.  I want to settle and pull back and pull inward all the time.  It's a constant demon.  I fear sharing the faith with outsiders, instead of sticking with the sure thing of creating a cliq with Catholics who are most like me.  I fear asking for the money and resources we need to actualize the most aggressive and fearless evangelization to the souls, minds and hearts that are here at KU, that are God's gift to me.  I instead want to settle for what is safe, predictable, controllable, sustainable and realistic.  Shame on me.  That's so boring, and will never break through any inoculation.

There is no talent that you or I have that is not to be risked.  5 talents, 2 or 1.  They must all be risked.  The redistribution of talents will go to the biggest risk takers.  We think in fairness that God should redistribute his talents from rich to poor.  But in matters of faith, the opposite holds sway, and God shows himself very demanding and most unfair.  The talent of faith is taken away from the one who has little, and given to the one who has much.

Pathetic then is the Christian who calculates the minimum amount of faith and generosity that they need to poke a toe into heaven.  That person has no chance.  None.  Our faith is a zero sum game.  All or nothing.  Which is what makes the dare of the Christian faith so unique and exciting.  If you live your faith in a miserly and boring way, it will and should be taken from you.

Now this is not to say that we are to throw away the virtue of prudence, which orders our zeal and passion according to right reason, so that our risk-taking bears great fruit.  Yet it does mean that within the lines drawn by the Church, and having been made secure in our lives by the gift that is God's providence, mercy and grace, we really have nothing to lose as Christians, except the things that we bury.  We're playing with house money, kids, and it's supposed to be exciting and fun.  How foolish is it of us to live our faith in fear of punishment, when we have a God who is literally dying to instead forgive us?  We have nothing to fear.  We can be nothing other than the most fearless and generous people the world has ever seen.  Or we should all go home.

This is the only way to wake the sleeping giant that is a Church that was born for only one reason, to set the world on fire, and yet allows herself to be ignored because of her fear.

How mad would we all be in KU played tight, played in fear of their opponent, played not to lose, and buried it's talents rather than laying it all on the court, glorifying God by playing with sheer joy and trust and teamwork rather than fear?  If we can get disappointed in a team playing a game the wrong way, so much moreso should we be mad at ourselves, if we are playing not to lose in the only game that is truly for keeps.  Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

guys are slow . . so what

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
12 November 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

How about a little battle of the sexes for today's homily?  Everybody ready?

Ok, here's the contest, and the question.  Who is slower, girls or guys?

Well, if you take the question at a surface level, guys are faster.  They are faster athletes.  They are faster eaters.  Guys are much faster at getting ready to go out.  Wedding days kill me.  It's still the tradition for the bride to take her time, to take all day to get ready, and minutes before the wedding there are still details to finish.  The groom usually takes less than 30 minutes to get ready, and stands around all day with his groomsmen looking at his shoes.  So at an initial glance, guys are faster.

Yet today's Scriptures tell us that it's gals who are faster, who are more ready.  The first reading speaks of feminine wisdom, searching for a groom ready to marry her.  St. Paul is anxious in today's second reading to explain why Jesus seems long-delayed in his second coming.  Then there is the dramatic delay of the groom in the Gospel parable.  The three readings seem to agree.  Guys are slower.  They are not ready.  I dare say they are late.

As a former vocation director celebrating the end of vocation awareness week in the Church, I have to agree with the Scriptures.  Guys take a long time to develop.  I was always worried that guys would never grow up and mature into men capable of being the priests the Church needs.  In their formation, I grew impatient at how immature they were.  My impatience as vocation director, however, paled to the impatience of women desperate to meet a guy ready and worthy to be a groom, a husband and a father.

 It holds true at St. Lawrence as much today as ever.  Gals are way, way, way ahead of the guys.  Not only in middle school, but into college as well.  Ladies are much more ready and prepared for a holy vocation, to make a commitment of their lives.  I see many ladies give up on the virtuous and prayerful and patient waiting for their bridegroom to come.  Too many college students settle and compromise who they are too quickly, because there just aren't enough good guys out there.

So where does that leave us in the battle of the sexes?  Well, it's clear, that in the things that really matter, gals are faster, and guys are slower.  Case closed.  So let's move on to the next question, what are we to do about it?

The parable suggests that anyone who waits with vigilance, anyone who perseveres in prayer and virtue, will be rewarded.   The groom will come.  He will indeed come.   Those who wait will not be disappointed.  A Church that waits for the Lord will not be confounded in her expectations.  A bride who does not cut corners, but waits for her husband, will be rewarded. My dear friends, that is good news, if only we do not doubt or fear.

It's a lot to ask, I know.  I am the most impatient person I know.  You are the most impatient generation in history, as the dopamine drip from the constant barrage of messages and pleasures cripples us all and renders us nearly incapable of waiting for greater things.  Yet wait we must.  There is no other way.  If there was I would tell you.

Yet the parable tells us something that we know to be true, and something that we cannot afford to ignore.  That just as you can't pour knowledge at the last second into the brain of someone who hasn't studied, and just as you can't pour energy at the critical moment of the game into someone who hasn't trained, and just as you can't pour courage into soldiers like our veterans unless they have prepared, so too you cannot pour faith, hope, patience, and perseverance into a person who has not practiced receptivity and readiness.  There is no substitute for practicing our faith, friends.  Practice we must.

I'm sorry if I'm asking the impossible.  Yet nothing will be impossible with God.  We know that guys are slow, and that the bridegroom will be late.  So what.  Let's not shy away from the challenge of faith.  Let's not fall asleep or be foolish or give up, but light our lamps with works of piety and mercy, and go out to greet Him when He comes. Amen. 

be a team

Saturday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time IA
+Martin of Tours
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Veterans Day
11 November 2017

Teamwork.  Unity.  Communion.   It is perhaps the most convincing transcendental.  And perhaps the most lacking and most needed.

St. Paul introduces his team in today's reading.  I wonder how this year's Koinonia team stacked up with St. Paul's group of all-stars.  If you went head to head on proclaiming the mysteries of Christ, who would win?  Well, you know me.  I'm competitive.  I would want you guys . . us, rather, to win!  Why not?  Who says St. Paul is always and forever the GOAT?  Is there a rule that we can't pass him in zeal?

Competition for holiness, and for loving God and glorifying Him, is worthy and contagious.  So is teamwork and unity.  People are always looking for that deepest and most powerful unity that produces the greatest love, the greatest life, and the greatest fruitfulness and joy.  There are powerful forces always trying to destroy unity.  There are more powerful forces that create it, if only we put our trust in them.

Forces like the grace and mercy of today's Eucharist, the most powerful and unifying force ever given to man.  The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's Koinonia.  It is right and good that the review of this year's Koinonia is centered here.

Because we are here we have the chance for the deepest and most lasting unity.  The unity that the hearts of all students at KU were made for.  A unity that is the GOAT.  Do you have the faith now to live that unity, and dare to increase it, outside the parameters of this year's retreat.

Teamwork.  Unity, Communion.  This is perhaps the greatest transcendental because unlike truth, and goodness and beauty, unity more immediately involves getting to know and trusting the person next to us, made in the image and likeness of God.

I dare you to not retire from Koinonia, but to double down on it, from this point forward.  Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

transcend labels

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
22 October 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

"Do you have to be Catholic to get coffee here?"
"No!" Actually I'd prefer it if you weren't Catholic."

This is a dialogue that I have heard at our Slow Drip coffee initiative on Fridays this semester.  It's a dialogue I'd like to hear more and more.

The reason that we're serving free gourmet coffee on Fridays here at St. Lawrence is to meet new people.  We especially want to meet those who do not agree with us.  A culture shift for St. Lawrence would mean that our center is not just for orthodox Catholics who behave in an expected way, a way that makes everyone comfortable.  Mind you, those people are most welcome - but our mission cannot end there.  Instead, the center should be for everyone, especially for those who make us uncomfortable.  Wouldn't it be great if we were engaging new students at the university everyday, discussing questions that really matter.

The predominant religion at KU these days is the religion of tolerance.  It is a religion of isolation and distance.  You do you, and I'll do me, and unless we can agree on everything and affirm each other at every turn, we will avoid each other.  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  Except that a religion of tolerance backfires every time.  It has no choice but to descend further into a religion of hatred.  What do I mean? I mean exactly what we see all around us.  That tolerance never works, because we as human persons are meant for relationship and closeness, not isolation and distance.  Avoidance rarely works long-term in the area of conflict management, and insofar as tolerance is avoidance, it is destined to fail. 

Because we are created for relationship and closeness, when we lack conversations and spaces that allow us to engage those different than us, tolerance necessarily becomes hatred.  When avoidance fails, than anyone who does not affirm me in everything I think, do and say, becomes a hater.  What does this mean for Catholic Christians?  Even if you have not a ounce of hatred in your heart, you are labeled a hater.  When it comes for example, to gender identity, marriage, and the moral paths to authentic love and happiness, Christians have settled understandings that cannot and will not change. Ten years ago they were the norm.  Now these very same commitments are labeled as hate.   It's a irrational transformation and a false narrative of hate.

We see our Lord escaping such a false narrative of hate in today's Gospel.  He escapes the trap deftly, and so should we whenever anyone tries to label us as haters.  When supposedly forced to choose either Rome or Israel, either the Herodians or Pharisees, Jesus choose neither, or rather, both.  This is not because Jesus is weak or sees gray instead of black and white, but because He calls out a false narrative of hate and chooses to stay close to all people while still holding fast to the truth.

Such is our challenge today.  We must imitate our Lord's ability to escape labels, and to both go deeper in our commitments to truth and authentic love, and yet in mercy be more engaging to those who disagree with us.  There can be no labeling or 'campiness' within our dear Church family to start.  From there we must must model to the world not a church of isolation and distance, but one of  relationship and closeness.  We do this by listening over coffee to someone who disagrees with us.

All this is done not by hiding or watering down our Christian faith, but by becoming real Christians, by remembering whose image and likeness we ourselves bear.  Catholics must render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and for the common good of all participate fully in the political process of building up a just society where human persons can flourish.  Yet such participation yields little fruit unless those of us who participate politically are ourselves fulfilling our destiny to grow in the likeness of God.  The point in the Gospel is subtle but profound. The coin bears Caesar's image, so give it to him.  We bear God's image, and are to become a living sacrifice, a gift to God alone!  And this is the far, far greater thing.  We give God glory when we become virtuous and mature persons, when we grow in his likeness by following Christ more closely.  We render to God what is God's when we embrace responsibilities before rights - when we become capable of great love - to make commitments to family, Church and society that give life rather than take it.

So what are we to do and why does it matter.  Simple things that destroy false narrative of hate. 
Transcend and escape the labels people put on you.  Do not hate or label your neighbor.  Make your life a gift to God.  Have a cup of coffee with someone who disagrees with you.  When everyone and everything is inviting you to hate, instead draw closer to God and your neighbor.  Amen.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

treasure Christmas in your heart

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
8th Day in the Octave of Christmas
1 January 2017
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Happy New Year, or Merry Christmas?  Which is more important to say?

We might rather ask the question of what event is more important - the birth of Jesus or the dropping of the ball in Times Square.  As glittery and glamorous as that ball is, the birth of Jesus caused the world to explode much more dramatically.

So it's more important to say Merry Christmas today than to say Happy New Year.  Don't be bashful or awkward about saying Merry Christmas!  For to say Merry Christmas on January 1st is to say that the Christmas celebration gets deeper and more fruitful and more full and joyful, as it gets to its 8th day.  The number 8 is huge, remember.  In 7 days, God created the universe out of nothing.  But on the 8th day, he did something even more miraculous - he showed his face!

As the Gospel tells us, Mary pondered all these things in her heart.  As we should know, we are to contemplate Christmas for a minimum of 12 days!  So on the 8th day of Christmas we turn especially to her, knowing that we will not have a better Christmas than Mary is having.  Nobody knows how to welcome Jesus, how to allow Him to be born in the deep recesses of our souls, or allow our lives to be changed by contemplating his face, more than Mary.  So as Catholics we entrust the 8th day of Christmas to her, knowing that being with her is the surest path to our best Christmas ever.

The turning of the new year, and the 8th day of Christmas, is also Catholic Mother's Day!  Today's Marian celebration specifically names Mary as Theotokos - God bearer!  We honor as the Mother of God, which is to say so much more than Mary simply giving a human nature to Jesus.  It means that all of God the Father entrusts Himself to this daughter, all of God the Son is completely dependent upon this mom, and all of the Holy Spirit is espoused and made perfectly one with this woman and bride.  There is no greater honor given to motherhood than to say that Mary is the mother of a God who is a Father but has no father.  So Happy Mother's Day!

So don't just say Happy New Year this year - celebrate Christmas - to the end and in all its fullness, and with Mary, ponder these great mysteries in your heart!