Saturday, December 29, 2018

survive and advance

6th Day in the Octave of Christmas
Solemnity of the Holy Family
30 December 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas

Survive and advance.  That's the key to March Madness.  You don't have to win pretty.  You just have to win, and live to play another day.

We too often think of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a icon to put on the shelf and admire.  Yet they too had to survive and advance.  Just like you and I do.  It's really not a terrible motto for living a holy life.

Yes, the Holy Family is an icon, but that doesn't mean that their lives weren't a risky, bloody mess like our families are.  An immaculate mother, a fearless father who always finds a way to do the right thing, and the Son of God who cannot be anything but perfectly obedient are good ingredients for a Holy Family.  Yet we must remember equally that the Holy Family was non-traditional in many other ways - they were homeless refugees on the run from murderous threats and setting off amber alerts. They also fought - in a holy way!  Jesus talks back to his parents who accuse him of disobedience, and this won't be the last time that Jesus outwardly ignores his mother.

What makes a family holy?  That's our pivotal question that comes to us each Christmas.  Is your family holy?

Most of us laugh at the thought, right?  Are you surviving and advancing this Christmas season.  I spent 9 hours on the road and 7 hours visiting my family.  I got in and got out.  I survived and advanced.  I saw my three grandparents, my dad and all my siblings, nieces and nephews, alongside various other aunts, uncles and plus ones.  It was great to see everyone and to wish everyone well, but my goal was to survive and advance.  I didn't want to reveal my mess or ask about theirs - only to pray that everyone finds a way to persevere in knowing, loving and doing God's will.

Most, if not all great human stories, run through the family.  If you don't believe me, meditate on today's Feast, and Jesus' story as written in relationship to his family. First, with his mom and dad. Next, through the family that is his Body and Bride, the Church, which He feeds with his won blood.  Think about all the great Christmas stories and movies that touch our hearts.  They all run, one way or another, through the family.  You see, families are the indispensable schools of love, through which every person learns to write their stories.  Is it any wonder that of all places that Jesus wants to be born this Christmas, the Church celebrates with Her first Solemnity of Christmas that He wants to be born in our families.

He wants to born in our families as they are, as surely as His own family was marked with tremendous risk and vulnerability at every turn.  Woe to us if this feast is celebrated merely as the admiration of the impossible standard that is the icon of the Holy Family.  The real good news is that Jesus wants to born in our families as they really are.

The Holy Family didn't get to sing Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm all is bright for very long. Many times they just had to survive and advance.  That's what can make our families holy as well.  Not that they are outwardly perfectly, but that inwardly we still year to know, to love and to do God's will.

Sometimes, we simply need to survive, and advance.

Friday, December 28, 2018

bloody Christmas is happy Chrsitmas

4th Day in the Octave of Christmas IC
Feast of the Holy Innocents
28 December 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Have yourself a bloody little Christmas!  First the martyrdom of Stephen, on day 2.  Next, the blood-curdling screams of the holy innocents on day 4.  So much for silent night, all is calm, all is bright. 

Is the Church trying to steal our Christmas joy?  Hardly.  For us, a bloody Christmas is always a happy Christmas.  Celebrating martyrdom during Christmas highlights an ultimate reason that Christ was born.  Christ was born to die.  He was born to transform death to victory.  So today is a preeminent and glorious feast of victory, the triumph of the holy innocents who died not only first for Christ but uniquely in his stead.

So too we disciples of Jesus are born to die, and this is part of the happy Christmas message.  Our joy is lessened if we instead fear and kill like Herod.  We are like him whenever we kill those who threaten our control.

Children are the key to Christmas - welcoming children and remaining like children - this is the Christmas and the Christian story.  Our stories gain strength through relationship, not fear.  So let's heed the Christmas message of the angels - do not be afraid of this baby!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

not seeing but believing (at Christmas)

3rd Day in the Octave of Christmas
Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
27 December 2018
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Strange, isn't it, that the Church celebrates not a Feast of St. Joseph, but a Feast of St. John, during the days of Christmas.  St. Joseph, poor guy, who was not afraid to take Mary under his roof and who busted his tail to provide us the Christmas mystery, gets lumped in with his Holy Family this Sunday.  Yet St. John, who was nowhere to be seen at Bethlehem, gets day number three all to himself.  Why celebrate an apostle or evangelist at all during Christmas? The dudes were not around.  Only St. Joseph and mangy beasts and shepherds.

The Church begs us to recall by this Feast that every Mass, while perhaps highlighting a particular mystery, always contains all the mysteries of Christ.  Bethlehem is always joined to Calvary and the empty tomb, and vice versa, with the mysteries always interpenetrating during the Mass.  Was John physically and historically present at Bethlehem?  No, of course not.  Was Bethlehem present in the upper room, when John rested his head on the breast of the Word Incarnate?  Absolutely.  Was Bethlehem present at Calvary, the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross informing each other, with John alone among the apostles standing with Mary?  Yes, for sure.  Was Bethlehem present when Jesus himself asked John to replace Joseph, and take her into his home?  I dare say so.

St. Joseph is necessary for the best Christmas contemplation for sure, but so is St. John.  Why? Because when we say Merry Christmas, we can translate this popular phrase piously as - to Christ in the Mass through Mary. Mary-Christ-Mass as it were.  Since the Mass always joins all mysteries, the Church gives us not only the eyes of St. Joseph but also the eyes of St. John.  Yes, even during Christmas, and especially so. 

It is no accident that John gives the Church her deepest spiritual expression and contemplation of the Incarnation in the prologue to his Gospel, read on Christmas day.  John the evangelist writes from , from the unique vantage point given in today's Gospel, from the empty tomb.  Looking at the manger from the tomb and with Mary disposes us all for the deepest receptivity for the Eucharist as we say Mary-Christ-Mass.  That's why we need St. John today.

So John is like us.  He wasn't there, but Bethlehem came under his roof and deeply into his heart, his family and his Church.  Is it any wonder that John alone among the evangelists records the words of the incarnate and resurrected Jesus that we most need to hear, not only at Easter but too at Christmas - Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed!

Monday, December 24, 2018


Christmas Mass at Night IC
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
25 December 2018

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Have we come to adore tonight?  What does it mean to adore?  I hope you will agree it means the deepest form of love and affection.  It means a ridiculous and uncontrollable falling for another person.  When we are invited at Christmas to adore the Lord, we are invited to an experience that is strong enough to break through any fear, doubt and indifference that is in our hearts.  Is this what you came for at Christmas?  If so, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

For the scene we celebrate and contemplate at Christmas is much too absurd to do anything less.  The author of the universe, the one whose almighty power is beyond comprehension, and the one who does need any one of us for anything whatsoever - that one - shows his ultimate power in making himself small.  Irresistibly small.  Helplessly small.  Ridiculously small.

So well does Jesus know our capacity to resist love and fall out of love, to resist God and fall out of love with God, that tonight he does everything he can to break through our indifference and defenses.  I know he needs to break through my pride and selfishness and stubbornness.  How about yours?  Will this be a night when God breaks through your fear of loving?

Do not be afraid, the angel says first to Mary.  Do not be afraid, the angel says next to Joseph.  Do not be afraid, the angels say next to the shepherds.  Do not be afraid, they say finally to you and to me.  Do not be afraid of this baby.

Jesus cannot make himself any smaller or irresistible than in the ridiculous scene of Bethlehem.  Born in perfect vulnerability and humility and poverty at the darkest hour of the darkest night, recognized at first only by the mangiest of beasts and shepherds, Jesus shows how ridiculously he is in love with everything that makes up a human life, beginning with weakness. 

Yet it is precisely where loneliness, fear, doubt, complacency, addiction, poverty, insignificance, selfishness, rejection and humiliation have touched our story that we have fallen out of love.  But why?  All these things that destroy our love are in play at Bethlehem. It is into these real human circumstances that Jesus came, and where He so desperately wants to come again.  Jesus wants to visit me where I have fallen out of love. That's what makes this Christmas the most dramatic and exciting Christmas ever, in all of history.  Jesus wants to be born precisely there, in the Bethlehem that is my story and my heart.

So let's put the Mass in Christ-Mass this year, and admit that Christmas takes it's name not from the scene of Bethlehem that sets the stage for tonight, but from the stage that is this altar. It is on this stage that Jesus will be born even more humbly and beautifully than He was 2000 years ago.  It is from this stage that Jesus will fall ridiculously and hopelessly in love with you again, and ask you not to be afraid of your place in the greatest love story ever told.

Is that what you want for Christmas this year?  It's what I want.

If so, let's come, each one of us, and together. Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Monday, December 3, 2018

be an outsider

Monday of the 1st Week in Advent IC
3 December 2018
+St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier was the very first Jesuit missionary, having been sent by the founder himself, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to evangelize the Far East.  A fearless missionary he was, traversing the Asian continent for 10 years, risking everything, all the while lamenting those in Europe who risked nothing for their faith.  St. Francis Xavier was irked by complacency, and by those who had no zeal, whose faith was surely dying behind the facades of cozy libraries and cafes.  He sought instead to fill up Jesus' prophecy in today's Gospel, that many will come from the East and the West to recline at the same table as the patriarchs of Israel - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - in the kingdom of God, whereas those already reclining at table will one day be shut out.

The Gospels are ripe with stories and example of outsiders shaming the faith of insiders.  So how about you - do you want to be an outsider or an insider?  Today's story is that of the Roman centurion, presumably, an enemy of Israel.  But the Roman centurion, like St. Francis Xavier's converts, is the one who will one day dine with the patriarchs.  This Roman shames the faith of all Israel by trusting that only a word or thought from Jesus is enough to cure his servamt, and he is worthy of nothing more.

Each Gospel story like today's is a powerful reminder of why we must evangelize.  If we do not, our faith will very quickly get stale, and be taken from us.  The only things we have in life are the things that we have given away.  To live the law of the gift then, is to evangelize, for the law is especially true when it comes to the gift of faith.

Shame on us for assuming that we need to evangelize because others need to be saved.  This is true enough, but it doesn't get to the heart of the matter.  The Gospel demonstrates that we must evangelize because we need this encounter with outsiders much more than they need us.  The kingdom of God always belongs to outsiders, not insiders.  Even if you don't believe that, believe that the kingdom belongs to those who do not consider themselves worthy.  So as soon as we consider ourselves insiders, our faith becomes an entitlement and thus stale.  Our faith must constantly be renewed by outsiders if it is to be saved from complacency.  So we evangelize more because we have something we need to receive, rather than having something we must give.

Monday, November 26, 2018

notice the little things

Monday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time IIB
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
26 November 2018

I get more excited for big gifts than for small ones.  Boy am I wrong.  Jesus notices small gifts, and says that they are more than the large ones.  Smaller gifts are usually given from poverty, whereas large ones come from surplus.  So the small gifts are almost always more generous.

St. Therese of Lisieux had a heart of zeal for the missions, yet she was confined to a cloister her entire life as a Carmelite.  I marvel at how she was able to make more converts than those missionaries who risked life and limb and traveled tens of thousands of miles in search of converts.  How did she do it?  By doing small things with great love.  She did what the widow did. She gave herself without reserve, and this small gift became worth more than any large ones.

Shame on us for thinking only big things matter.  Even moreso, if we think nothing happened today that was very big.  Jesus sees small things.  He prefers small things.  He will make himself smaller and an even more complete gift, than the 2 cents offered by the widow, by placing his entire self in the Blessed Sacrament.  Will we dare to ask for his eyes in place of ours, that we might see His completeness in something so small?

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.