Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday at KU

This was an exciting day as always, at KU. So many students come for Ash Wednesday who do not normally come to Sunday Mass. This is in part because so many students travel on the weekends, but also because Ash Wednesday is for some reasons that are constantly under scrutiny a 'can't miss' event for Catholics. At any rate, I do look forward to seeing what the day will bring. We had a big crowd for the 8am Mass, and then not as big of a crowd at Danforth chapel on campus at noon. The big benefit of being at Danforth was the exposure of getting the priests on campus and making everyone wonder - what's going on over there! The 5:15pm Mass at St. Lawrence was jam-packed. More people standing than sitting. Ash Wednesday never fails. It is as predictably packed as Easter and Christmas. Go figure. But it's great! Thanks be to God for bringing so many Catholics to St. Lawrence today. May today's services bear fruit in eternity! +m

Homily for Thursday after Ash Wednesday

For daily readings, click here.

President Obama Tuesday in his address to Congress gave an Ash Wednesday kind of exhortation. He said that America has reached the day of reckoning. Like Moses in today's first reading, the President was giving the country a choice between economic prosperity or continued decline. He was outlining how our country could remain strong enough to thrive under difficult circumstances. I'm not saying that President Obama is as prophetic or trustworthy as Moses, mind you. I am just pointing out the similarities in the two speeches.

President Obama was right to point out that a country filled with irresponsibility and greed will not prosper. His appeal to patriotism contained within it some vestiges of natural law, of doing good and avoiding evil. He did end his speech with God bless America, but of course, there were no other references to God. Moses, as we hear, is giving a similar life and death speech to the Israelites. Unlike President Obama, Moses' appeal to patriotism is tied directly to the Divine Law. President Obama appealed to fidelity to an American way of life. Moses appeals to the abundant life promised by God, a life lived in close friendship with the one true God who has revealed Himself. This abundant life grows stronger when the Israelites are faithful to the Divine Law given to Moses, and their chance of inheriting the promised land grows faint when the Israelites are unfaithful.

In telling his disciples that they are to lose their lives by following Him, Jesus is obviously claiming to lead His disciples to a promised land greater than that promised to Moses. Jesus is no longer promising first of all an abundant life within a physical land flowing with milk and honey. He seems to promise just the opposite in asking his disciples to take up their cross and to lose their lives. Jesus is leading his disciples to a physical kingdom not marked by mountains or fruit trees or rivers, but by the temple of His body. That kingdom grows into its fullness as new members are incorporated into His body. This is the pilgrimage for the Christian, to be incorporated into the body of Christ. Fittingly, the Divine Law given to Moses that guarantees a close friendship with God in the promised land gives way to a Divine Law that guarantees instead a perfect union with Jesus within the kingdom of His body. What is that Divine Law? In today's Gospel, it is summed up in two words. Follow me. In other words, find a way to be exactly where I am, even if you have to take up your cross.

Jesus claims that the kingdom of God is not ultimately found in a more prosperous America, nor in an Israel that is no longer marked by violence, although both of these would be nice. No, the kingdom of God is ultimately present through persons redeemed by the blood of Christ and incorporated into His eternal body the Church through the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is the everlasting kingdom that will have no end. It is a kingdom with unusual physical boundaries. God has made His home with us not in America or Israel or China or wherever, He has made His home with us by taking on a human body. It is these human bodies that are invited to share in the very Trinitarian life of God. That my friends, is the definition of ultimate prosperity. It is why Jesus is right to ask to to lose our lives and to follow Him, in order to find everlasting life! +m

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2009

For daily readings, click here.

We can't fake our way into heaven. Of course this should come as no surprise to us. Everything that happens in the darkness will one day come to light. Our freedom has consequence, both now and in eternity. God cannot be fooled, as much as perhaps we would like to fool him. God sees in secret so we must be good from the inside out, not the outside in. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent cannot be just for show. It cannot be fake. It must be sincere. It must be a real expression of contrition. It must be a rendering not merely of chocolate, spare change and an extra Hail Mary, but a true rendering of our hearts. We must do better than the scribes depicted in Matthew's Gospel. So let's begin in earnest.

Lent is here to remind us that we have sinned against God, who is all good and deserving of all of our love. We have not lived up to the promises we have made to God. Yet we know the Lord is merciful. In Christ we have access to reconciliation with God. In Christ, we have a chance for an open-ended final chapter to our biography, rather than the familiar 'to dust you shall return' ending.

Lent reminds us as well that we have sinned against ourselves. We have betrayed the promises we have made to ourselves that we would live a life pursuing the best and highest things. Lent reminds us that we have been seduced, and have let ourselves be seduced, by the attractiveness of evil. We have exchanged real love for a counterfeit. Faith in what is possible with God has given way to doubt that I will ever be great. We have exchanged what is truly good for what is conveniently good for me. We have given up on ourselves, and it doesn't feel very good.

The pain of giving up on ourselves and on God is greater than the fasting, prayer and almsgiving we begin with sincerity this morning. We take time this morning to resensitize ourselves to this truth. Praying, fasting and giving alms is painful, but much less so than the alternative of not doing so. As the Gospel tells us, in praying, fasting and giving alms, we are not doing anything that will make us outwardly holy. We have no reason to boast at all, because deep down, we know we are choosing to do the less painful thing, not the more painful thing. The more painful thing is letting the world take our spirit, and turn us back into dust long before we die a final, physical death. This is the pain we are trying to avoid, the loss of our spirit.

On the one hand, God will not give us a break. He will never stop calling us to perfection. Being his greatest creation comes with expectations that we will do great things. Being temples of the Holy Spirit comes with the expectation that we will live spiritual lives. Having the love of God poured into our hearts comes with the responsibility that we must love others exactly as God has first loved us. God is not a God of good enough. He loves us too much to see us mired in mediocrity.

On the other hand, however, we have in God's mercy the only break we really need. Beginning today, and for the next 40 days, we put our worst foot forward so to speak. We repent of our sins and ask mercy from God and from the Church, our spiritual family. We never find God's mercy wanting. If we have contrition, the Lord has mercy on us. So there is no need for us to fear God's judgment. There is no need for us to try to settle for mediocrity, to cut a deal with God to leave us alone, to let us stay where we are. No, with His mercy there is always a way forward, a way to destroy sin and the grace to move in a new direction. God sees our condition and through His Son He has taken it upon Himself. Because of Him we matter and can live a life that matters. In Him, we are loved and can live a life of love.

So let us set out on our Lenten journey with faith and courage and humility. Let us pray for one another. Together, let us return return to God with all our hearts. +m

Homily for Tuesday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time - Mardi Gras

For daily readings, click here.
Grab as much as you can while you can. The theme for Fat Tuesday. We know this is a cheap holiday. It is storing a treasure of pleasure for ourselves, hopefully none of it mortally sinful, before the desert days of Lent that start tomorrow. Since we will supposedly make up for it by sincere fasting in the days ahead, I suppose a little feasting is permissible. But the idea of trying to dull the pain of the next forty days in advance through indulgence is not a holy idea. It is a cheap holiday, if we take the holiday to its extreme. A nice little party with friends that includes some moderation is probably ok. We should enjoy the day. But eating and drinking yourself sick will only make Ash Wednesday that much worse.

We do not have scriptures that match the theme of feasting today. That's because Mardi Gras is not a liturgical holiday. We could have guessed that. It is not another St. Patrick's Day. The scriptures today from Sirach and the Gospel of Mark are about waiting in hope, and putting ourselves last in line. The theme of Mardi Gras - grab what you can get - is just the opposite.

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned upon man, what God has in mind for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). This line from St. Paul shows why people of faith hope that the good things God will deliver according to His promise encourage us not to seek glory for ourselves but instead desire to be as unaccomplished as children. What is more, we are to place ourselves last when it comes to indulging in the things of this world. We are not to shy away from adversity, for this adversity is the ordinary way one comes to trust in God and in His goodness completely. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent will give us a new opportunity to stop shying away from things that are difficult.

The reading from Sirach promises the road ahead will be fraught with adversity. It is hard to keep faith. The good things God has marked out for us seem mysterious and remote. The promises of God seem unrealistic, and this would be an excuse for us if we didn't know deep down that God speaks the truth and desire our eternal good. There are so many good things that are so much easier, so much closer. Lord, forgive us when we choose less than the best. Keep our hearts set on the things that will never end. Most of all, may we wait in every circumstance to receive you, who alone are good, and worthy of all our love. May we know that you always see us, like a parent watching over his children. May your gaze be enough recognition for us. +m

Monday, February 23, 2009

Homily for Monday of the 7th Week of Ordinary Time - Polycarp, martyr

For daily readings, click here.

Faith will not turn me into a superhero. Prayer will not give me superpowers. This cannot be what Jesus is saying when he says everything is possible to one who has faith. This cannot be what Jesus means when he says that this kind can only come out through prayer. In the story, the fruit of prayer and faith come out as superpowers. It would be easy for us to equate these superpowers with being able to do everything. Yet having superpowers is not everything.

Sirach tells us that God possesses imcomparable wisdom. So even when we imagine that everything is possible for us, we are only thinking of a fraction of everything that could be. Even if we can imagine simultaneously a thousand different scenarios and circumstances that would make our lives more perfect, we are not close to imagining everything God means by perfection. We can only understand at any moment a small portion of God's wisdom and His will.

Faith and prayer open us up to what is possible. Selfishness and doubt focus us on the impossible. Having faith is not so much our imagining having the same superpowers Jesus has. It is believing in the specific power that is in the mind of God for us, that special gift of holiness that God wants to give to us and to no one else. It is accepting the vocation that is in the mind of God for us, a vocation to heal some part of the world just as surely as Jesus healed the man possessed by a mute spirit.

Praying is probably the most difficult thing we have to learn how to do. There are so many other thing that are easier than keeping faith. But for the sake of being able to believe all things are possible, let's not always do the easiest things first. Lord, help our unbelief! Lord, teach us to pray! +m

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

For daily readings, click here.

Hope springs eternal. That is why even a long-suffering Royals fan like myself gets pretty juiced for Opening Day at the K. I usually go out to Opening Day with good friends who treat Opening Day like St. Patrick's day, and who look for dispensations from me, their priest friend, so that they can drink beer, and if it's a Friday, eat meat right during the middle of Lent. My first year as a priest, I was a pushover, but now I'm getting tougher. I usually tell my friends now to do what they are going to do and to find another priest to hear their confession. But I digress. I love opening day. Even though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, I always think and feel that maybe this will be the Royals' miraculous year. Maybe the past won't matter. Maybe the losing won't carry over. Maybe the Royals will play great. I am going to miss being at the K this year, for Opening Day falls on Good Friday. Guess when they throw out the first pitch? That's right - 3pm, the hour of the Lord's death. Needless to say I won't be at the K. At least the game is against the Yankees, so the game will be a true confrontation between good and evil. May the good guys win!

Opening Day. New Year's Day. The first day of a new semester. The first day in a new car. The first day at a new job. A first date. We like new things. We like to think that a change of circumstances will make all the difference. Ash Wednesday is a great example. A chance to tighten our belts. Show more discipline. Fight against sins that have gotten the better of us. Be more chaste. Pray more. Simplify. Be more generous. Move in a different direction. Don't give up the dream of being holy. All because Ash Wednesday is here.

Ash Wednesday is a special gift to us. Rather than focusing on having a better year, Ash Wednesday focuses us on whether we are ready to die. It focuses us on whether we have given our lives to something that will last forever. Since we are only dust, completely unnecessary, have we joined our lives to something that is necessary and eternal?

Jesus shows Himself in today's Gospel not to be a Savior of temporary solutions. What is wrong with the paralytic? Straightforwardly, everyone would say that he is paralyzed. That is what is wrong with him. Obviously. Yet this is not obvious to Jesus. What is obvious to Jesus is not the paralysis at all, but that this man needs his sins forgiven. Is this insensitive, to ignore years of suffering from paralysis? The man is unable to move, for heaven's sake! Can we really believe that Jesus thinks it more expedient to forgive this man's sins, and only heal his paralysis as an afterthought, in order to make a point? It is the apparent misplacement of Jesus' compassion in this story that points us once again toward his true identity. Jesus is not a Savior of temporary solutions.

Jesus reveals Himself as the one who has come to take away the sins of the world. In doing this, Jesus is here to heal the world, and each one of us, from the only thing that can permanently separate us from God. Our sins, our decisions to trust in ourselves and to choose what is optional and temporary over what is necessary and eternal, are the things that make our turning back into dust the end of the story. External circumstances that befall us do not cost us our relationship with God. Our sins do. They lead to spiritual death, and turn us into creatures who are already dust, long before we die that final physical death. No wonder Jesus is able to overlook paralysis of the limbs. We are talking about spiritual death here! Jesus came to save us from this circumstance, and this circumstance alone.

Imagine a Lent when you went to confession everyday. Now I'm not volunteering to hear your confession everyday. I'm just asking you to imagine. Can you think of a circumstance that would change your life more? Today's Gospel teaches us that kind of determination. The example of the paralytic should inspire us to find a way against all odds, asking the help of our friends if we need to, to get close enough to feel the rich mercy of Jesus. We should do this everday in our prayer, and as often as we can in sacramental confession. We have to get where Jesus is, not be comfortable that he is simply out there somewhere. Jesus makes all things new. No other change of circumstance than finding a way to be next to Him can provide as much substantial and enduring change in your life. You think the Devil is going to throw a thousand obstacles in your way to keep you from keeping your Lenten promise to give up chocolate? The Devil has already won if he has us wishing upon stars that we will be able to change a few external circumstances. He wins whenever he gets us to focus on something besides our sins. But what if we want to truly repent? Then the devil will really get busy. He will throw ten thousand more obstacles in your way if you really determine that you want to sharpen your conscience, repent deeply of your sins, strengthen your will, and be determined to remain next to Jesus. If you determine to do this, finding a way to lower yourself down through a roof will seem like a piece of cake.

For man, it is impossible to conquer sin. We are sinners, and we will be confessing our sins until the day we die. Get used to it and quit complaining about it or pretending it is not true. Yet it is when we fail to really try that we lose. Losing the battle against sin because we presume on God's mercy, because we have dulled our consciences, or because we simply wish that one day we will be different, leads to spiritual death. Jesus came to save us from this, from losing everything. But when we try, with all of our hearts and minds and strength, to love God and to love one another, then there is no shame in failure. It may not be possible for us to conquer sin, but at least we can say that sin did not kill our spirit. In the struggle against sin, we learn to trust no longer in ourselves, but in God. In our struggle against sin, we depend less and less on ourselves, and more and more upon a love that never changes, and a mercy that makes all things new.

My dear friends, make a good confession this Lent. Do not be discouraged by your weakness and the obstacles in your way. You can find a way to Jesus. Ask your friends to help you. Do not let the world kill your spirit. Never give up. +m

Friday, February 20, 2009

Talk at Jewish Synagogue

Thank you to all for your warm welcome this evening. I am grateful that for the first time in my five years as a Catholic priest to have an opportunity like this, to speak at a Jewish worship service. I am indebted to Steve Chernoff, your president and Cantor Silbersher, your spiritual leader, to have this chance to speak about the divine moral law as revealed by the Ten Commandments given to Moses by the Lord on Mt. Sinai. Of course, I am a bit nervous that I might say the wrong kinds of things while I am here, but I begin presuming upon your charity in being interested in what a young priest has to say. I am quite excited by everything I stand to learn personally through this religious encounter this evening.

In preparing for this visit some months ago, my short conversations with your president and spiritual leader concluded with our agreement that I would not touch on the topic of Jewish-Catholic relations. In such a topic, there would undoubtedly be much to celebrate within the dialogue taking place between our two religions, but as we all know, there would be plenty to lament as well. There unfortunately seem to be almost as many setbacks as there are progresses, although I hope you share my view that overall, the dialogue can still move forward. I am looking forward to following Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the Holy Land in early May of this year. In choosing the topic of the Ten Commandments instead, we have decided to discuss a moral worldview that both our religions have in common. Just as importantly, it is a moral worldview that is under constant attack today. The topic of the Ten Commandments thus represents an area where the unity we share as children of Abraham is as important as ever if religion is to remain relevant today.

Rather than taking the Ten Commandments one commandment at a time, and then exposing the evil that each commandment helps us to avoid, I would like to address an attack on the relevancy of the Ten Commandments in general. This attack is articulated well enough by the popular atheist Sam Harris in his recent book Letter to a Christian Nation.

The Ten Commandments are also worthy of some reflection in this
context, as most Americans seem to think them both morally and legally
indispensable. . . While the U.S. Constitution does not contain a single mention
of God, and was widely decried at the time of its composition as an irreligious
document, many Christians believe that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Strangely, the Ten Commandments are often cited as
incontestable proof of this fact. . . . The first four of these injunctions have nothing whatsoever to do with morality. As stated, they forbid the practice of any non-Judeo-Christian faith. Commandments 5 through 9 do address morality, though it is questionable how many human beings ever honored their parents or abstained from committing murder, adultery, theft or perjury because of them. Admonishments of this kind are found in virtually every culture throughout recorded history. There is nothing especially compelling about their presentation in the Bible. It is a scientific fact that moral emotions - like a sense of fair play or an abhorence of cruelty - precede any exposure to scripture. . . . It seems rather unlikely, therefore, that the average American will receive necessary moral instruction by seeing these precepts chiseled in marble whenever he enters a courthouse. . . . If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. (pp. 19ff)

Well, I have probably overquoted Mr. Harris and left myself with too much work to do to refute all of what he means in this paragraph, but let me begin by summarizing his argument as simply saying that the Ten Commandments are completely unnecessary and that their promotion results in net harm to society. They are unnecessary because they are unoriginal, and ultimately harmful because they are tied to irrational faith in God who supposedly revealed His divine law through such underwhelming principles. The argument is that since these principles are already written within human nature, why would you attribute morality to the revelation of God?

Thankfully, the viewpoint right in front of us agrees first of all that the moral content found within the Ten Commandments is true. There are often times that people of reason and of faith have to battle with moral relativism, which says there is no objective or transcendent good but only the subjective good chosen by individuals. Moral relativists believe that the Ten Commandments might be true for you but need not be true for me. Mr. Harris is not a moral relativist. He thinks there can be an objective and universal standard of morality. Although he does not provide a systematic system for defining what is universally good, he thinks a simple formula like the promotion of happiness over suffering by always choosing love over hate (pp.24) would be a great improvement over the Ten Commandments, tainted as they are by irrational faith in miraculous burning bushes and locust plagues.

Mr. Harris depicts people of faith, you and me, as people who are irrationally ready to throw away any universal moral principles in favor of a few particular moral principles divinely revealed. Of course, there is no one in this room tonight who is ready to say that the universal moral principle of doing good and avoiding evil, the universal basis of morality, should be thrown away forever because God Himself chiseled a particular moral law in stone that we are not to covet our neighbor's wife. In Mr. Harris's mind, the two are in opposition. Yet obviously they are not. Not coveting your neighbor's wife is a way to do good and avoid evil, straightforwardly. Simply because we believe God chiseled this commandment in stone does not make the commandment itself any less reasonable. Faith because it goes beyond reason does not obliterate human reason. Just because someone believes in a divinely revealed law does not mean he has given up hope of recognizing universal moral principles with his mind. Mr. Harris sets up an either/or scenario that does not make sense to us who live the Judeo-Christian moral worldview. We adhere to a morality that is both accessible to human reason and divinely revealed by God. It makes sense for us, if not to Mr. Harris, that God who called His creation good, including human nature which is made in his image and likeness, would reveal divine laws that seem quite reasonable to that good and intelligent human nature. If God were to reveal laws that did not correspond to human reason, of course Mr. Harris would reject those as well. Yet precisely because the Ten Commandments reveal a morality that corresponds directly to our rational nature, Mr. Harris is not impressed and is impressed instead by his estimation that He could have thought of such laws himself.

Mr. Harris puts his faith not in God, but in science. This is peculiar because in other areas of his book, he mocks those who believe the world was created by an intelligence because there are so many unintelligent things about the way the world works. So on the one hand, he ridicules the intelligibility of the world, but as we said earlier, when it comes to determining universal moral principles, he believes that science will be able to discover the truth about how man should live. Admittedly, Mr. Harris is a much more intelligent and eloquent man than I am, but I have a hard time seeing how he escapes this contradiction. If the world is universally intelligible, then the world is evidence of universal intelligence. If it is not universally intelligible, then there is no need for Mr. Harris to put faith in science to figure out a universal objective morality greater than what was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Before I go too much farther afield, I had better start steering this horse into the barn. To those who would find the Ten Commandments unoriginal and tainted with irrational faith, I would say that the reasonability that God wrote into the first commandment in particular is what makes the Ten Commandments indispensable for any meaningful reflection on human morality. It is the unique patrimony of Israel, of course, within the course of world history and among world religions, to be the first to receive the revelation of the one true God, besides whom there are no other gods. The first commandment against polytheism and idolatry moves religion definitively toward rationality and away from superstition. But most people miss this. Perhaps it would be better to say to detractors that the first commandments really says this: 'If you have to throw away your reason to believe in me, then don't believe in me.' It is because the God of Israel is uniquely accessible to and consonant with human reason that He can and should command Himself to be recognized the one true God for all of humanity, besides whom there are no other gods.

The Ten Commandments are indispensable, and eternally valuable, not so much because they are true according to the universal moral principle of doing good and avoiding evil, but because they are accompanied by a proposal of faith that builds upon human reason. Precisely because the faith of Israel in the one true God has nothing to hide from human reason which seeks truth, the faith of Israel deserves a place at the table of moral deliberation that cannot be taken from it. The fact that the Ten Commandments were chiseled by God Himself, accompanied by great signs, does not show that the Ten Commandments are the complete exposition of divine laws not available to human reason, but shows that faith in God, the enduring source of goodness, should be present to aid and to correct human reason when it fails to behold the good. The more fundamental Christians who Mr. Harris explicitly critiques in his book find human reason extremely vulnerable to error and thus in constant need of correction by divine revelation. Such folks are usually more dramatic in their promotion of the Ten Commandments outside our courthouses, or for the right for prayer in schools. Yet the display of Ten Commandments need not mean any assault on human reason whatsoever, for the reasons we just discussed. Just because the Ten Commandments were not included in the U.S. Constitution does not mean that our founders did not provide any space for religion and faith to play a role in the promotion of the common good. In fact, our Constitution guarantees through the freedom of religion the opportunity for faith to do just that.

The Ten Commandments remain today, as ever, a particularly bright light within the moral tradition, for they mark a point of convergence between reason and faith. The fact that these commandments were received by divine revelation is of course special reason for us to celebrate, for they point us not only toward a natural happiness to be found here on earth, but also toward a supernatural happiness that corresponds to the spiritual nature and religious sense of a human person, a supernatural destiny that matches a human's person infinite desire to forever know and to encounter the good. Precisely because divine revelation is unnecessary, it corresponds to God's superabundant love in both first creating us and then subsequently choosing us for an enduring relationship with Him. Atheists like to talk about how religion is unnecessary, but they are less eloquent, at least in my opinion, in showing why the world is necessary. The ordinary reason for the world existing, at least for people of faith, is not that it just necessarily is, but that is exists because of a decision of love that was completely gratuitious. Admitting that the world need not exist disposes us toward seeking what is necessary, even if it takes the gift of faith to show us what is necessary and eternal.

The Ten Commandments show that living the moral life not only ensures a chance to pursue temporary happiness in a natural way, they show also that living a moral life enables one to enter into an enduring friendship with God. The Ten Commandments of course point out whether we are doing good and avoiding evil, but even more importantly, they point out the conditions within which a friendship with the one true God can grow. It is within this friendship with God that people of faith seek a morality that goes beyond rationality, a morality that Mr. Harris expects religion to produce but accuses it of not producing. It is a friendship with God, a living conversation and exchange of love with the One who first loved us, that alone can produce the super-rational morality that Mr. Harris expects. In this friendship, God Himself can write not merely on stone tablets, but as the prophet Ezekiel tell us, God Himself wants to write His law on our hearts. This morality written on the human heart by God Himself completes the morality set in motion by the Ten Commandments, and perfects it. The Ten Commandments divinely revealed show us when this precious relationship with with the one true God who is love is in danger of being severed. The Ten Commandments show that when the univeral moral law is violated, what is most at risk is the loss of faith in the one true God who can purify and more deeply reveal man's vocation to love and be loved than science and mere reasonability ever can. Thank you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The KSU game

I didn't get to see the MU loss Monday, which I am glad of, because I know this team can win in tough environments, even despite their youth. And they did, somehow, against KSU. KU was greatly helped in this game by Pullen and Clemente being so hot in the first half. Admittedly, they almost shot us out of the game, and had KSU not pulled off the gas late in the first half, maybe the game would have been a different story, but the entire second half the whole KSU team was just standing around hoping that those two could create, which they couldn't because the triangle in two allowed easy help on those guys anywhere on the court. KSU needed more guys involved in the first half, and it was too late to get them involved in the second half after the flow had been established. The other difference was of course defense. KU is not getting steals this year, but they always make you shoot over the top, unless you get an offensive rebound. If you look at the highlights, KU probably had 10 dunks and KSU 3. This is a statistic I would like to see kept more often - easy buckets. KU always gets more than their opponents, so even when they are less athletic, they still find a way to win. Anybody think we can beat Oklahoma? Can we please get some help from someone in the South to stand up to the Sooners??? Rock Chalk! +m


This weekend I was in Hays, Kansas for part of the weekend, to see my dad, but also to attend part of the Kansas Catholic College Student Convention hosted by the Comeau Catholic Campus Center at Fort Hays State University. The convention hosted as its keynote speaker Dr. Peter Kreeft from Boston College who did a bang-up job talking about the causes and incoherences of moral relativism. His most poignant comments for me were his assessements that were it not for the sexual revolution, moral relativism would still be a minority viewpoint among philosophers and in the general public. It is our sexual appetite, fueled by the invention of the birth control pill, that has grown so large that we must justify it by relativistic arguments that eventually hurt the basic building block of society, the family.

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, once said - If we could see a soul tarnished by mortal sin, we would die of horror.' Dramatic, I know, but I think the Cure has a point for us. Rightfully, we marvel at Jesus' compassion, and his willingness to make himself unclean by touching a leper, in the same way that we are inspired by the compassion of Mother Teresa and her sisters, who daily cleanse the open maggot-filled sores of the most destitute in Calcutta. Yet the comments of the Cure tell us that there is something more gruesome than even leprosy, or any other disease or human trait that tempts us to want to avoid our neighbor. That something more gruesome is sin. That something more horrible than skin ravaged by leprosy is a soul tarnished by sin. If this were not the case, we would have to find Jesus a foolish physician. Clearly, by today's readings, Jesus has the power to cure disease, yet we know that he only chose a few people to heal. He ascended to the Father after only three years of public ministry, leaving plenty of lepers, and cripples and people possessed with demons behind. What possible reason could there be for this, other than the fact that there was an even more vicious disease than leprosy that Jesus was sent to touch and to heal. The Cure of Ars says that this more vicious disease is mortal sin. The Cure says that sin actually disfigures the human person more grotesquely than leprosy ever could.

The healing of the leper, like all the miracles performed by Jesus, was a sign that pointed toward the true identity of Jesus, and thus to his true mission, to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus, who was according to the Jewish law ritually clean, makes himself unclean by touching the leper. He does not merely cleanse the leper from afar, which we know he could do, but takes the disease upon himself by touching the leper. In a similar way, Jesus, who carried no stain of sin on his soul, took upon Himself our sins by taking on a human nature that could be touched and crucified by evil. Jesus' power over leprosy eventually gives way to belief by his disciples that Jesus also has power to forgive sins that destroy not only the human body but also the human soul. The cleansing of the leper gives way to Jesus' more central mission of cleansing souls that have been made by sin unfit for communion with God. Jesus' healing of the leper makes faith in his ability to forgive sins reasonable, but of course, not compulsory. Jesus' healing of the leper does not force people to believe He can take away sins, but makes faith in this power of Jesus reasonable to those who do.

Going back to the Cure' of Ars statement that if we could see a human soul disfigured by sin, we would die of horror, whereas upon seeing a leper we might or might not flee away in disgust, focuses us on how important it is for us to have our souls cleansed by Jesus, thoroughly and regularly, if we are to live. A well-formed conscience enables us to see our souls in the way that John Vianney invites us to see them. A well-formed conscience enables us to feel compunction and sadness at how our sins distance us from God's love and the ability to love one another. A well-formed conscience shows us that we can and do separate ourselves from God and from one another, far more than the separation of lepers from town that the Mosaic law proscribes in the book of Leviticus. At least a leper could yell from a distance and have some communication with those he loved. Our sins threaten to cut off our ability to love God and one another completely.

We are challenged, as we have heard, as Catholic Christians, to approach the Holy Eucharist in a state of grace. Like the leper who after being cleansed by Jesus will presumably be pronounced clean by a Levitical priest and restored to the community, so too we as Catholics have the sacramental grace of reconciliation that allows our souls to be touched by Christ and be made clean. We are never to approach the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, for by mortal sin we separate ourselves from God and from the Church by our own choice, unlike the leper who did not choose leprosy. Like the leper, however, it is incumbent upon us to declare ourselves unclean when we are indeed unclean, so as not to damage the community to which we belong. The leper had to declare himself unclean out of love and respect for health of others. We likewise have the option of ex-communicating ourselves from time to time, of choosing not to receive the Eucharist, out of love and respect for the community of the Church to which we belong. We have the option always available to us of attending Mass without receiving communion, so as to give witness that the Eucharist contains too much grace to receive that grace in vain. Just as we would not leave the Eucharist on the floor if we dropped the host, but would immediately secure the Eucharist because of our faith that it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, so also our souls should be in a state where they can contain the grace of the Eucharist, rather than letting that grace fall to the ground, because our soul cannot contain it. The grace of one Eucharist, my dear friends, is enough to turn any one of us into a saint, to make us a completely new creation. The reason we are not immediately made saints is that our consciences need better formation, and our souls more cleansing, so that the grace we receive might be effective in transforming us. This formation and cleansing is greatly fostered by frequent and more fervent reception of the sacrament of reconciliaton.

I am not here to tell you to receive the Eucharist less frequently. God forbid I would judge to tell you that. I am only saying that the option of not receiving the Eucharist at Mass can be a tremendous witness to those around you about the faith you have in the grace of the Eucharist. Pride tempts us to think that those around us who see us choosing not to receive the Eucharist will presume we have done something unthinkable. Yet this is not a judgment for them to make. One who has a well-formed conscience can fall into mortal sin more easily than one whose conscience is dulled. Telling a lie for someone might be a mortal sin who because of his conscience knows and feels the damage this lie does to his soul and to his relationship with God and his neighbor, whereas for the person right next to him in Church lying is not a mortal sin because he neither sees nor feels the effects of his lie. So we cannot tell by who is receiving communion who has committed the worst sins; oftentimes, it is just the opposite.

Again, I'm not advocating necessarily that we should be receiving the Eucharist less. I only say, to myself, and to you, that we should always try to receive the Eucharist more worthily, knowing that in the grace of one Eucharist is the power to turn away from sin forever, and to fulfill the call each one of us has to be holy. In reality, it may take receiving the Eucharist 10,000 times more, for the battle to be able to hold the grace of the Eucharist in these fragile human vessels that we are, can be a long battle indeed. Yet, there is a difference, wouldn't you agree, to one who is determined that each and every time he receives the Eucharist, he will try to hold on to more of the grace that is offered there. This is often done in conjunction with more frequent and fervent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation. Imagine, if you would, if you would be better off receiving the sacrament of reconciliation 52 times in the new year, and the sacrament of the Eucharist only once, during the Easter season, as is required. If we could imagine that we would be better off receiving the sacrament of reconciliation more often than we receive the Eucharist, then it should be clear that our inability to change is more related to the need to form our conscience so that we can hold the grace we do receive. The option of ex-communicating ourselves until we have been touched by Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation can be a great motive for spiritual growth for us and a great witness to others.

Receiving the Eucharist casually even once puts us at risk of receiving the Eucharist casually on a regular basis, and what is worse, it leads to thinking that we can skip Mass without any great consequence, since receiving the Eucharist has not had any great effects on us in our recent pasts. Going to Mass and not receiving the Eucharist can sometimes be the jolt that we need to recognize that our faith in the Eucharist is growing dull, and that we can and should make a good confession, perhaps a better confession than we have ever made before, before returning to the sacrament of the Eucharist that we should love above all things. Far from encouraging you to be more scrupulous, I am encouraging you to return to more frequent and more fervent reception, perhaps monthly, of the sacrament of reconciliation so that Jesus can cleanse your souls, and resensitize you to the good that you should be doing and the evil you should be avoiding, and restore you to right relationship with Him and with the Church, just as surely as he restored the life of the leper in today's Gospel. I do not consider myself scrupulous, but my rule of thumb is that every time I make a confession, I want to open up a new area of my life that I have never opened up in confession before, in the hopes that the next time I receive the body and blood of Jesus, I can hold his grace a little more than I ever have before! +m