Sunday, July 10, 2016

compassion is surrender to God's mercy

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Year of Mercy
10 July 2016
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I'll never forget my first spiritual direction appointment in seminary.  My spiritual director asked me which character I was in the parable of the good Samaritan.  I was initially relieved when after accusing myself of being either the priest or Levite, because I don't always have compassion or like to get dragged down by other people's problems, that he told me I was neither or those characters.  Since I was a new seminarian and had left a lot behind to be of service to God's people, the next option I hoped and thought, was for the Lord to use me as a Good Samaritan to heal and care for his people as a shepherd.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  After telling me that I was neither the priest or the Levite in the story, my spiritual director told me bluntly that I was the man in the ditch.  He told me that until I identified myself in that role, I would never be a good shepherd!

Boy was he right!  The key of course to being a compassionate person is to be able to see Christ, or one's self, in the suffering of others.  As a pastor, I was asked many times to accompany people through their suffering.  I would oftentimes ask God why there was so much, and why the suffering last so long, and why it was so unfair.  The answer continues to haunt me.  So big and stubborn is my pride, so persistent is my desire to be self-sufficient and independent like the priest and the Levite in the story, that I need the presence of constant suffering and vulnerability lest my soul be lost.  To put it another way, when I ask God the question of why there is so much suffering, he asks the question back of me - why are you so proud and stubborn?  Again and again, I see that I need the suffering of others more than they need my care.  Even after 17 years now since my admonition from my first spiritual director, I still don't see myself as the man in the ditch.

Jesus tells the proud young man who wishes to justify himself that if he wants life, he must love with everything that he has and everything he is.  Love is the ground of life.  There is life because God is love and He through Christ loves everything into existence.  So Jesus says it plainly.  If we love, we will live, and there will be a superabundance of life, welling up to life eternal.  If we do not love, we will die.

Moses told the people that the commandments of the Lord, the demands of loving God with all your heart, mind and strength, are not written in the sky.  They are written on the human heart.  They are closer to us than we are to ourselves.  The reason we are sinners is rather simple.  It is not so much that we resent the commands of God that are imposed on us from without. It is rather we do not have the humility to pray and to discover the commands of God that are written within ourselves.  St. Augustine perhaps put it best of all in his Confessions, saying that the Lord was within him, but he was outside of himself, and it was there that Augustine searched for God.

Certainly God can be found be looking at his creation, for as St. Paul says in his high theology for today Jesus Christ is the author of all creation.  Yet more intimately, perfectly and personally, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He is the one who is forgiving our sins, and binding up our wounds.  The reason we fail to be compassionate to our neighbor is really quite simple.  We are afraid to admit that we are the man in the ditch, that we need the Lord, and are afraid of being healed and set free by him.  Compassion can certainly be cultivated as a virtuous habit of the heart and will.  It is more spiritually and originally a surrender to the mercy of God.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

celibacy is for many

Wednesday of the 14th Week of Ordinary Time II
Year of Mercy
6 July 2016
+Maria Goretti
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU


So far in my 12 years in being a priest, my ministry has been centered around youth. At my last parish, Christ the King, I spent Sunday nights starting a new Mass and a youth group, trying to engage the young.  Before that I spent three years in a young parish, was chaplain of a high school, and spent six years calling forth vocations, as we see Jesus doing in today's Gospel in calling and sending the first apostles.

I have greatly greatly enjoyed the work I have done with married couples and families, and with those valiantly striving to live marriage, and with those preparing for marriage.  I have loved what few weddings I have been able to do.  Yet the vast majority of my ministry has been to the young, the unmarried.

Such unmarried young people have a champion in today's saint given us by the Church, St. Maria Goretti.  She is a 20th century saint, relatively new!  She was one of the first saints of the 20th century.  She died at age 11, showing that holiness is not just for the old after their passions have run out.   Quite the contrary, some of the greatest saints in the Church have been teenagers, or in this case, even younger!  Holiness is for every stage of life.

The Catholic Church's sure teaching on sexual morality is quite simple actually.  The world needs the light of the Church's teaching amidst all the shifting sands and confusion regarding gender, marriage, etc.  Let me restate the teaching as simply as possible.  Some people are called to holy marriage, which is the total communion of one man and woman promised for life to each other and to any children that may result from this union..  Everyone else is called to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and so that the meaning of our sexuality may attain and retain its highest honor and fruitfulness within marriage.

It matters not whether you are young or old, straight or gay, or even your gender identity.  You are either called to traditional marriage or celibacy, depending on your state in life.

No one called to celibacy has reason to complain or to charge discrimination!  Celibacy is for many, not for the oppression of a few.  There is solidarity in marriage, and in celibacy.  No one is called to something harder than the great martyr St. Maria Goretti, who gave the entire potential of her life on the altar of chastity, so that love in its fullest meaning, as witnessed to us by Christ Himself, may reach us safely in today's modern times!

St. Maria Goretti, may you be remembered forever - thanks for pointing out the way to us!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

send workers!

Tuesday 14OTII Year of Mercy
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU
5 July 2016

Today I will begin to meet with the staff at my new assignment at KU.  They are workers in the Lord's vineyard, and there are too few of them!  In many ways, my new assignments is off to a 'quiet' start. Compared to the hectic daily schedule and many visitors to Christ the King each week, the campus center in July is slow.  But the mission entrusted now to me is to connect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ the students of KU, their families, and the extended network of alumni and friends of KU and St. Lawrence.  Though somewhat invisible in comparison to a parish, the network and opportunity is vast.  We need workers for the harvest.

I'm thinking of all those today whom I have had a chance to work with in my 12 years as a priest, and even before as an employee and seminarian of mother Church.  I'm grateful for each of them, but as Jesus says rightly, there are never enough workers.  There is opposition to be overcome, and so many souls that are lost, that need the light of the Gospel to enter into their full dignity and destiny as persons, revealed to them personally and intimately by Christ Himself.

May our reception of him personally, perfectly and intimately in the Eucharist today be a mandate for evangelization.  May those who love Him, and are loved by Him, be willing to be sent by Him.  Amen.

Monday, July 4, 2016

don't quit on America

Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time II
Year of Mercy
4 July 2016
Independence Day USA
AMDG +jmj +m
Daily Readings

I'm not pessimistic about our country.  I see too many signs of hope all around, too many signs of the resurrection.  I see the renewal of the church at its core among our young people, a real thirst for holiness and greatness.  The call of Jesus and the teaching of His Church are clearer and brighter when the culture is darker.  Yes, there are reasons to fear and doubt.  There are plenty of signs that our country is headed in the wrong direction.  Yet we should remember that holiness is forged most often not in times of complacency, but in times of adversity.  We should welcome the challenges before us, as each great generation has before.

Jesus chastises those in the Gospel today who give up!  He is short with those who had given up on the little girl who was merely sleeping.  It would have been easy for the woman with hemorrhages to have given up, afflicted as she was for such a long time.  But she didn't quit - she mustered the faith and strength to get near Jesus.  His touch made all things new for her, and the girl whom everyone else had given up on.

Don't quit on yourself
Don't quit on the United States of America!  Her promise is ever new for those who believe and act with integrity and courage.

Happy 4th of July friends!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

God Bless the USA

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Independence Day Weekend USA
First Homily as Director of St. Lawrence Catholic Center KU

Rejoice with Jerusalem, be glad because of her, all you who love her, for lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.

Happy Birthday America!  240 years young!

Now I know we don't have a history as a country like the history of Jerusalem.  For the ancient city of Jerusalem, so lauded by the prophet Isaiah in today's first reading, 240 years is but a blip on the radar.  Isaiah's great exuberance is related to the hope of the restoration of Jerusalem to its glory, to its destiny given and guaranteed by God Himself.  Our country in her brief history has had her ups and downs, but has never been conquered nor its people enslaved and exiled.  We have been down but not out, at least not yet.

Yet today's first reading has some relevance to a country that is in many ways the new Jerusalem and the hope of the world.  God has blessed the United States as an exceptional nation.  We say as much when we sing 'God Bless America.'.  There is a feeling of joy, gratitude and responsibility in being 'blessed' as the most prosperous, powerful and free nation the world has ever seen.  Shame on us if we do not appreciate that we live much differently than most men and women in history, who have lived under slavery and tyranny.

To say that the United States is a light to the nations today, much moreso than the ancient city of Jerusalem, is a great understatement.  Our country's greatness has been produced by the most heroic, generous and virtuous people the world has ever seen, and we give exceeding thanks for those who have believed in our country and sacrificed greatly to make Her the greatest nation.  Yet there is also the sense that God has ordained the United States to be the new Jerusalem, and that His hand is upon us.

I know all that is hard to believe if you just put on the news and see the bickering between Trump and Hilary.  You might even ask yourself where the greatness of our country has gone, and whether we are in sharp decline.  This is why St. Paul says in the reading to the Galatians that everything that the world considers valuable - prosperity and power and popularity - is vanity unless it is grounded in something deeper.  St. Paul says that Christians must boast in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Compared to the cross, even circumcision, which marked one as a member of the nation of Israel, means nothing.  Nothing.

Does St. Paul forbid anyone being a proud Israelite, or for that matter, a Christian being a proud American?  By no means!  Yet he points out rightly that there is something more fundamental than one's nationality.  It is one's relationship with God.  Our Church has thus been trying to remind our country the last few years of the most fundamental and important rights that a country can and must give her citizens, the freedom of religion that must not be compromised in a nation that purports to serve its citizens, not be served by them.

A worthy nation only exists, then, to produce the citizens of highest virtue.  Jesus Christ is the measure of man - and whether we are a selfish people, or a people who can give their lives totally to a mission greater than themselves - whether we find something worth dying for and something that produces life in greater abundance.  To put it another way, the United States exists for one reason, and for one reason only - not to provide the most prosperity and license to its people, but to enable true human flourishing.  The United States is exceptional only if she encourages citizens to choose the spiritual goods that lead to human happiness - truth and goodness, beauty and unity (from the mission statement of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center).

St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that nothing else matters save the opportunity he has to witness to the love of Christ and complete his mission.  The Catholic Church exists for one reason, and for one reason only, to produce saints - men and women of heroic virtue.  Jesus Christ sends the 72 ahead of him to proclaim a Gospel of truth and goodness, made effective by the presence of God Himself, that will produce the happiest, most free people that world has ever seen, people destined for the kingdom of heaven.

I have been sent here to St. Lawrence Center as its new Director to proclaim that presence of God and that call to heroic virtue and sacrificial love that helps every person find their best self.  Jesus Christ alone reveals man to Himself.  I pray that I can serve this University community with the same humility and credibility demanded by Jesus in the Gospel.  I humbly ask for your prayers.

Thanks be to God, that we have a chance to pursue the greatest truth, goodness, beauty and unity in what is still for today the new Jerusalem, the nation that has not yet lost her destiny to be a light to all nations.  Happy July 4th everyone. May God bless the USA.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fr. Agustin Martinez
First Mass of Thanksgiving as a Priest of Jesus Christ
29 May 2016
St. Agnes  Church, Roeland Park, Kansas

Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross.

Let's get this party started!

Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross.

Dear Fr. Agustin, not to take anything away from the glorious and exceedingly beautiful day yesterday that was your ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, a joyful day for you, for your family, for the entire Church.  A culmination of so many things, all from God!  Not to take away either from the perfect day that is your first Mass of thanksgiving today.

Still, those words pronounced to you by His Excellency Archbishop Naumann colored yesterday's celebration, and still haunt us in this happy occasion.

Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross.

Yesterday, Fr. Agustin, the Archbishop threw down on you, like a good father should.  The Archbishop issued a challenge, most of all because he loves you and believes in you.  He threw the great Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney right in your face because he is the shepherd of God's people, and he needs you to be a holy priest.

It is my great intention and privilege today to 'pile on' Fr. Agustin.  I love you and so I tease you.  But more than that, I believe in you.  The church that I love needs your heart.  So I beg for it today at your first Mass - for God's people - I beg for your heart.  More than that, you know that Jesus begs for your heart.  He has always thirsted for yours.  Today as you begin service as one of his beloved priests, he begs for your heart even more.

The Archbishop said rightly that even though you have so many more gifts, Fr. Agustin, than the great patron saint of priests St. John Vianney, that his prayer is that you become half the priest he is.  Ouch!  That had to sting, Fr. Agustin!  It has been joked among priests that our dear pope Francis loves and forgives everyone except his priests!  He is hard on us.  Yet he too knows that his mission of unity in the Church cannot be accomplished without holy, humble, zealous priests.  Jesus himself trusted his ministry to the apostles.  Every good pope and bishop entrusts his ministry to his priests.  He has to, in imitation of the Lord Jesus Himself, who wanted things this way.  Pope Francis disciplines us priests because he loves us and he needs us.  Whenever we do not have the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis loves us enough to tell us so.

This is what the Archbishop told you Fr. Agustin.  You will have a hard time giving your heart.  By the grace of God you have received the gift of the priesthood.  By only giving a small piece of yourself, in saying the holy words of the sacraments, you will effect new miracles and new realities.  Yet the hard part - dare I say the impossible part - will be for you to give your heart - when you say these sacred words.  The Archbishop predicted rightly that it is one thing to get A's and to show great promise and to look the part, and to be capable of the myriad duties of the priesthood.  You are very capable!  It is quite a different thing to be a priest in name and a priest in heart, for the priesthood is exactly what our patron the Cure says it is - the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.

Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross.  Have fun with that Fr. Agustin!

Don't get me wrong, the priesthood will be a happy life for you because the Lord desires it for you.  In many ways, the Lord spoils his priests - putting them at the intersection of so many personal, spiritual and material riches.  Even though if you work as hard as Fr. Jerry your new pastor plans on you working, you will make only $.10 an hour, nobody here is worried about you starving Fr. Agustin! Whatever you give to the Lord will come back to you a hundred fold.

Yet in the end the priesthood must be a way not of fulfilling your dream or destiny or even your myriad desires but must be a death to self.  The priesthood is a uniquely mysterious vocation, and a deeply personal gift of Jesus to those He chooses and loves, to give your entire life away.  Never will the reality of your priestly identity be more intense than when you utter the words of consecration - today for the first time as principal celebrant - the words of sacrificial and total love - the words of Jesus Himself - over the sacred species of bread and wine.  Corpus Christ, the solemnity of your first Mass of Thanksgiving, is the Sunday of the year when we intentionally intensify our faith and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.  The opportunity before you, Fr. Agustin, is that each time you will be privileged to say Mass, to say not only the words, but to also give your heart - not just a piece of your heart, but all of it!

It sounds like great hyperbole when the Cure says that if a priest realized what He was doing at Mass, he would die.  But it's not.  It's precisely true.  The problem is that most priests will always remain afraid to pass over and to give their whole heart.  The Archbishop knows it.  I know it.  Fr. Agustin - even now you can feel the fears and doubts in your heart - you know it too.

If a priest realizes what He does, He will die.

The sacraments of the Church flow from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Your office of priesthood, Fr. Agustin, is but the place where Jesus places his own sacred heart.  Never make your priesthood anything else, or anything less.

I entrust you, without hesitation, Fr. Agustin, to our beautiful Lady of Guadalupe.  Jesus gave his Mother to the Church, and more especially to be the Mother of Priests.  Entrust yourself completely to her.  Those to whom much is given much is expected.  Our Blessed Mother, who receive the gift of the Immaculate Conception, received the greatest responsibility, to be the Mother of the Church.  She filled this role Fr. Agustin, in your native land like nowhere else, as she became at Guadalupe the apostle and evangelist of the Americas.  Her thirst for souls led to the conversion of your native land.  Allow her thirst for your soul to make possible the biggest conversion that lies ahead of you, the gift of your entire heart to the priesthood.  Mary makes Jesus present like no one else . . ask her to give you the courage to replace the fears and doubts still present in your heart with Her Son's sacred and priestly heart.

This you must do, Fr. Agustin, if you dare to be not just a good priest, not just a successful priest, but a holy priest.  This last step is the great adventure of your life.  This last step very few priests ever make.  When you say Mass the rest of your life, always try to give your whole heart.

Conform you life to the mystery of the Lord's cross.  Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Come Let Us Adore Him!

Christmas Eve 2015
Christ the King Church Topeka
24 December 2015
Daily Readings

O Come let us adore Him!  Christ the Lord!

Why are you here tonight?  Have you come to adore the Lord?  What does it mean for us to adore our Lord?  My dearest friends, on this most holy night, coming to adore the Lord Jesus can only mean one thing. It means that we have come tonight - each one of us - to fall in love again!  It means that we have come tonight - each one of us - confessing that we have fallen out of love with God and each other, confessing that we need this night - each one of us - to fall in love again.  If you have come to Church tonight for any other reason that to fall madly, completely, hopelessly in love with God, then you are in the wrong place!  For the scene of Bethlehem that we contemplate together tonight is way too absurd for any kind of lukewarm response from us.  The biggest and most invincible person imaginable, the one through whom everything was made, the one before whom the entire universe is but a speck of dust, the one who doesn't need any one of us for anything - that person shows his ultimate power in allowing Himself to be made small.  Irresistibly small.  Helplessly small - begging us to hold Him and take care of Him.  Our Lord at Christmas desperately wants to break through our fears and indifference.  He shows tonight that He is ridiculously in love with each of us and everything it means to be a human person, especially our weaknesses.  Knowing that we have an amazing capacity to resist love and to fall out of love and to fear love, even rejecting the depth of His love revealed on the cross, Christ comes as a baby at Christmas, begging our love, pleading that if He comes among us poor, naked and helpless that we may no longer fear God. Do not be afraid, the angel told Mary.  Do not be afraid, the angel told Joseph.  Do not be afraid, the angel told the shepherds.  Do not be afraid of this baby. God is desperately in love with you.  Yes you!  He loves every circumstance of your life exactly where you are this Christmas. Do not be afraid to allow Him to be born in your heart tonight, and if you have come tonight to do anything less than to fall madly, completely and hopelessly in love with God tonight, so much so that after tonight you can never be the same, then you are in the wrong place!  Come, let us adore Him!  Jesus Christ our Lord!

Tonight we fall in love with God more than ever, and we come to rediscover what it means to be a human person.  For not only have we fallen out of love with God, we also confess tonight that we have forgotten who we are.  Our smart phones make us capable of so much more, and we are busier than ever, but we are horrible at keeping things simple.  We are worse and worse at communicating with God in prayer and having intimate, personal and spiritual conversations with each other.  We are less capable of falling in love, being in love and staying in love, and making and keeping promises to God and each other!.  We have forgotten that to be a human person is to be known and loved and desired beginning at our weakest point.  We don't become persons by getting big and smart and important - we do not become persons by gaining the freedom and intelligence to create our own reality and the meaning of our own existence.  We do not become more human by pretending that we do not need God!  No, we become persons by remembering where we came from, and by finding a way to remain small and poor and vulnerable.  We become persons only insofar as we remain like children, by keeping things simple, and by entering with awe and wonder into the great adventure of discovering reality and who we are rather than giving into the temptation of trying to manufacture or control it! Man has forgotten how much He needs God - and by giving into the agnosticism of the day we are making ourselves miserable.  Man needs God - not as a slave needs a master, but as each one of us needs to be known and desired and loved at each moment of our life to reach our highest destiny and happiness.  Love is man's origin, love is his constant calling, and love is his perfection in heaven!  And only God can know us, desire us and cherish us in the deepest parts of our soul, where we cannot love or change ourselves.  Man needs God - this Christmas cannot pass with our giving into the pride and laziness of pretending we can manufacture the meaning of our own existence.  It's a lie that makes our world increasingly miserable.  Tonight we come to remember who we are, and if we remain like a baby - poor, and vulnerable and dependent upon God and each other, we will always be able to realize the meaning of our life - that for which we were created - to fall in love, to be in love and to stay in love.

When we remember who we are and fall in love again, we participate as well in the remaking of our poor world from the inside out.  Tonight is a night chock full of hope! The sign of a baby born of a Virgin mother is THE SIGN that a new creation has dawned on the earth, a creation stronger and meant to last longer than the first creation of everything out of nothing by our virgin Father! Jesus who alone has the power to recreate our poor world, makes himself as small as possible, being born through a tiny, insignificant mother, with complete vulnerability and poverty, at the darkest hour of the darkest night, adored at first only by the most uneducated and mangiest of shepherds, to show us that our world is being remade beginning with the weakest.  Jesus walks every second of his earthly life in perfect humility, always taking the lowest place and preferring the poor, the weakest and most neglected, the greatest sinners, to show us that the recreation of our world will follow a different path.  For the first creation of everything from nothing began big but will be reduced to nothing.  It started in goodness but has been touched by evil.  It started with life but will end in death.  But the new creation is different.  It starts small but ends big.  It starts weak but ends strong.  It starts in poverty but ends in riches. It starts with sinners but ends with saints.  It embraces death, but rises to everlasting life.  Caesar's kingdom that seemed so intimidating when Jesus was born is now gone, as will every kingdom that does not belong to Christ. But Jesus' kingdom that started with nothing is still gaining strength, and His kingdom celebrates with exceeding joy throughout the whole world each Christmas.  Whenever you choose the path of sacrificial love you participate with Jesus in building this kingdom that will last forever.  Do not fear or give into discouragement regarding the evils that threaten our world and our lives and our souls.  Choose to love, no matter what, and the hope of Christmas will continue to grow until the enemies of evil and sin and death are destroyed forever!

All that would be enough for tonight - falling in love, remembering who we are, accepting our mission to build with Christ a kingdom of love, truth and peace that will last forever, but those three things are not the final and full meaning of Christmas! Christmas takes its name not from the birth that took place in Bethlehem, but from the birth about to take place on this altar.  For as small as Jesus made Himself at Bethlehem, He makes Himself much smaller, and more vulnerable, and more beautiful to fall in love with, as He allows Himself to be born on this altar.  We fall in love with Jesus tonight not just by remembering Bethlehem, but in encountering Bethlehem becoming real for me at Christ's Mass.  It is through Christ's Mass that with Joseph we allow Jesus to be born under our roofs, and with Mary allow Jesus then to be born in the deepest recesses of our hearts.  The precise and original meaning of Christmas is what changes in our lives when we receive the Eucharist at Christ's Mass.  Let's put the Mass back in Christmas this year!  Let us recognize the richness of our faith, and confess that Christmas makes no sense at all without Christ's Mass.  Let us be present to the reality that Mary, the mother of our Church, is more excited for this Christmas than she was for the first Christmas, for what is happening tonight, yes even here in Topeka, Kansas - is more dramatic than what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, if any of us, yes if even just one of us, humbly accepts Jesus' desperate plea to be born in our hearts.

Jesus is begging us to receive Him worthily in tonight's Mass.  Do not be afraid, my dearest friends, of this Christ who once came among us as a helpless baby, but who comes to you now - yes you - even more helplessly at Christ's Mass.  This is the meaning of Christmas - right here, right now!  The stage is set now for you - yes you - to receive the Eucharist with greater devotion than ever.  If you resist Him tonight, can you honestly say that you will ever receive Him?  I beg you!  Do not let this Christmas moment pass with fear or indifference.  Do not be afraid to fall helplessly, desperately and completely in love with God tonight, so much so that your life will never be the same.

Now is the time for Christ's Mass!  This most irresistible of babies begs YOU

to hold him now, and allow Him to reach a place in your life where you have never let Him be born before!

Come, let us adore Him - Christ the Lord!