Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Royals - is anybody ready?

With the Jayhawks out a little earlier this year in the tournament, we do not have an overlap of the KU National Championship and Opening Day for the Royals. Yet I have heard very little chatter about the Royals. Yes, I know, they have been pathetic for the last 24 years, but still, with the new K and a promising spring, there is no reason not to get excited for the Royals home opener which is a week from tomorrow. April 6th, 1pm - against the Chicago White Sox - where will you be? Well, of course, no one has to seriously start caring about the Royals until April 13th, after Easter. Holy Week is no time to start a baseball season; neither is 3pm on Good Friday a good time for the Royals to throw out their first pitch. Can you imagine hot dogs and beer and play ball at the very hour we commemorate the Lord's death? Of course I am out for Opening Day this year. Instead, I will be on the KU campus for our living stations. But I'm confident the Boys in Blue will be in the hunt this year. Stay tuned!

Year of the Priest coming up!

Pope Benedict XVI has named the upcoming year the Year of the Priest. The holy year will run from June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010, beginning and ending on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is appropriate since the distinguishing virtue of a priest is pastoral charity! I am looking forward to the Pope's reflections on how the priesthood can be renewed. The pope has hinted that he wants priests to recommit themselves to spiritual perfection. He has put the year under the patronage of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, who is already the patron of parish priests but whom the Pope intends to make the patron of all the world's priests. Among other things, I think the Pope will challenge priests to have an even stronger identifiable character through which they can bear greater witness. The Pope had this to say regarding how priests present themselves: "Priests must also be "present, identifiable and recognizable -- for their judgment of faith, their personal virtues and their attire -- in the fields
of culture and charity which have always been at the heart of the church's
mission," he said.
This holy year will commence about the time the holy year of St. Paul will end, and will be a great transition for vocational ministry. Thank you, Holy Father! St. John Vianney, pray for us!

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Now is the time. My hour is here. These are words that bring both excitement and dread, for Jesus, as we hear, and for us. We understand this physiologically as an adrenaline rush. The time fight or to flee. The moment we have been preparing for and waiting for, but aren't quite yet ready for.

Sometimes life changes in an instant, unexpectedly. As I was driving guys to Conception Seminary College yesterday during the worst of the snowstorm, I saw people going off the road and spinning and crashing. Talk about an adrenaline rush. For me who was watching this, adrenaline turned into a quick Hail Mary for their safety. For them, some other choice words may have come out before they screamed or yelled 'O my God!' I had coffee this morning with a young man who has been told he needs brain surgery to correct a tumor. Life is changing for him rapidly. Too fast, actually. Sometimes life changes in an instant, unexpectedly.

Other times, life meanders on. We get depressed with our normal routine. We long for something extreme, even as we are afraid of such things. At the very least, we long for meaning in our lives, and for the chance to give our lives to something beyond us. We want to live lives that matter, and we want to matter to someone. We want to live lives that bear fruit that will last longer than we will. We want to find something worth dying for, and if we don't, we depress ourselves by settling for small pleasure after small pleasure that never finally satisfy.

Jesus names this desire of the human person to give perfectly of Himself. To love perfectly. Without an opportunity to love perfectly, to die to self, to find something worth dying for, the human person collapses in on himself. He remains adolescent, complaining when things do not go his way or when his comfort is compromised. We see this unhappiness in ourselves and in others. We experience many great things in life. We pursue many things. Yet none of it adds up to perfect satisfaction. Our greatest desire is exactly what Jesus says it is. We want to die to ourselves. That is the only way to be free. We can spend a lifetime trying to satisfy as many of the millions of desires that we have as we can. Yet there still remains that deepest desire. We want to make a perfect gift of ourselves to something. We want to love perfectly. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. Yet if it dies, it bears much fruit.

When the Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover asked to see Jesus, it was the sign He was waiting for. I do not know why this was the sign that Jesus needed, I only know that it was. He says, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.' We can be sure that Jesus had been preparing for this hour for many years, and He was still troubled. We can never know how we will react when our hour comes. We can be sure that we will be troubled, for God who loves us and calls us to love, will ask us to make a perfect gift of ourselves, and this will not be easy. It will take perfect trust in God, and this is the hardest thing any of us has to do. It is hard to trust God, because He asks in faith to give more than we can ever be ready to give.

There are billboards running on buses in Canada that say, 'There probably isn't a God. So quit worrying and get on with your life.' Clever billboards. They remind us not to believe in a God of mythology or to be adolescent in our faith. They remind us not to serve God simply because we are His slaves, who fear punishment from our master. But as far as getting on with our lives, what can these billboards mean? Certainly the billboards are promising a life free of worry. But they are not promising anything close to what Jesus is promising. Jesus promises that whoever finds something worth dying for, and whoever gives his life perfectly, will bear abundant fruit. This is obviously a much greater promise that don't worry, be happy!

Next Sunday we will enter into Holy Week. We will gather to announce that the most important hour in the history of the world, the hour of Jesus passion, death and resurrection, is an hour that can come forward and encompass the present hour. We can insert our lives within the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, and in so doing, our lives can once again be filled with that adrenaline rush of believing that now is the time when we are called to die to ourselves, and to love perfectly, as Christ has first loved us!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thursday in Queretaro and Mexico City!

Here is a view of one of our many rides on the Mexico City subways. This was the end of our trip from Queretaro to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe! It was grueling taking our luggage through the subways, but we are getting better at it, thankfully! It is hot here, so that doesn't help that much actually!

Thursday marked the much anticipated pilgrimage to the most visited (or second most visited) holy site in all of Christianity, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We began around 9am with doughnuts in the park outside our hotel in Queretaro. Then we went went via city bus to the central bus station of Queretaro, a city of about 1,000,000 and the capital city of Queretaro state. We all felt badly for the locals, for as you can see, with our luggage we took over one of these small city buses, and made the locals quite uncomfortable. We were right on time for our 10am 3 hour bus ride back to Mexico City. Again, it was a pretty comfortable ride. Nice buses here, all made by Mercedes or Volvo. And better service than you get on an airline. If buses were like this in the US, more people would take them I am sure. What am I saying? I don't even know how buses are in the United States. I've never taken MegaBus or Greyhound or anything else.

Once back in Mexico City we put ourselves on high security alert. For some reason, the bus ride, as nice as it was, hit people the wrong way. Maybe there was something in our morning pastries, but almost everyone was feeling sick when we got off the bus, myself excluded. So we took a 30 minute break before attempting a subway ride, leaving our luggage under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, since her statue was in the middle of the bus station. We finally got everyone feeling well enough to hit the subways with our luggage in tow. We didn't get a security escort this time, but we tried our best to be safe.

It only took about 20 minutes to arrive at the metro stop for the Basilica, and when we got off the subway we saw what we were in for. The vendors around the Basilica dominate the entire neighborhood. There are thousands of vendors - completely overdone. If Jesus wanted to overturn all the table in front of this temple, it would have taken him about 10 years. We thought our hotel was very close to the Basilica, but after walking in the neighborhood a little bit, we learned that the hotel was actually right next to the bus station. Can you believe it? We hauled our luggage unnecessarily through the subway, on top of our not feeling too well. Well, at this point we had a choice to make, either we could go into the Basilica with our luggage in tow, and make a short visit the first day, knowing that we would be able to return Friday, or we could go to the hotel and just call it a day, since it would be getting late by the time we got everyone checked in. Well, despite the sickness pervading our group, we decided to move forward. Our Lady would have wanted us to.

After everyone had had a chance to see the miraculous image of Our Lady via the moving walkway underneath the image, I was able to secure a chapel on the upper level of the Basilica for our private Mass in English. There are about 12 private chapels arranged in a semicircle as a balcony overlooking the main Basilica. There was plenty of room for our group and for our luggage. Apparently, the sound from the upper chapels does not reach the floor of the Basilica, but let me tell you, the sounds from the Basilica reaches the upper chapels quite nicely. The booming voice of the celebrant down below comes upstairs and makes it very difficult to have Mass. There is no sound barrier. But we did the best that we could. We celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph, spent some time in prayer, and then it was the consensus of the group that we would be able to pray much better tomorrow, so we headed to find our hotel.

It was just five minutes from the bus station. A short walk. We check in by 5 or so, then met downstairs to go out together for tortas and tacos in the surrounding neighborhood. Once again, even in Mexico City, things are so cheap because the dollar is strong here. We had to watch our backs somewhat as the neighborhood of the hotel has a few sketchy characters in it, but we stayed together and stayed safe. Mexico City, unfortunately, is dangerous. You have to be careful. We were inside the hotel by 7:30pm. Most people nursed their travel sickness, got caught up on journaling, and had some good conversation over some cold drinks. The big accomplishment of this day was getting 30 people settled in Mexico City once again and ready for a great day of prayer at the Basilica.

Wednesday at the mission and in Queretaro

This opening video gives you some idea of how fun it was to be at Tacos al pastor every night. We crammed into this little taco stand to share the stories of the day and to continue to build community. And to show off how much we could eat for under $5!

Wednesday was our last morning at the mission. We got up early to have breakfast with the guys, and unfortunately, they had already poured milk on the raisin bran long before we arrived. A minor disappointment. They came and poured fruit loops over the raisin bran, though, so that was fun, and at least those were not soggy. We learned a lot of Spanish from the jovenes at table throughout the week, and they learned at least a little bit of English. Whenever I make these trips, I always promise myself that I will find a tutor and learn the language, but still my Spanish is inadequate. I can get by speaking, but I really don't understand enough when listening. I can't really force myself to watch Univision at home - the programming is too bad! At the end of breakfast, since we couldn't think of a song to sing other than 'you've lost that lovin' feelin'' - which definitely would have run contrary to the operative 'machismo' of the jovenes, we just sang the alma mater and did the Rock Chalk Chant for them. They like it, especially the yells in between each of the chants! Then we said our final goodbyes and the gentlemen went off to school.

Led by Fr. Mike, who wanted to help us return the vans in Queretaro, we went to Colon and picked up our KU women, who were having their own difficulties saying good bye at the Casa. Then we drove an hour and a half into downtown Queretaro, a place which unbeknownst to me, was the site of so much Mexican history. We checked into our hotel, and after having to wait a couple of hours for the guy to come and get the vans, there was time for a short nap, getting caught up on news from home via the free internet available throughout town, and then exploring the beautiful courtyards and churches of Queretaro. It is a city of about a million people but we found a beautiful hostel right downtown which was inexpensive for us.

At around 5, Gabriel from the mission came to Queretaro to give us a tour of the city. He took us to a square where the Mexican war against the Spanish was begun around 1830 I think.

Then he took us to the spot, the convent of Santa Cruz, where the Spaniards fought and won many battles against the Aztecs in 1521. The Franciscans came soon thereafter and began a mission. Santa Cruz convent reflects many of the symbols of the early conversion of the Aztecs to Christianity, including a large stone cross in the church that the was built in imitation of the cross the Aztecs saw in the sky when fighting against the Spaniards.

At Santa Cruz, we were also able to see the tree that produces thorns in exact imitation of the cross of Christ, showing points where his wounds would have been. Legend is that this tree began growing in the convent after a great missionary left his walking stick in the courtyard of the convent. The tree really is impressive and it does not really grow in many places

We were able to see as well, led by Brother Jesus, the parts of the convent that would have been used by the early missionaries, including those who were trained at Queretaro and brought the faith to the United States, like Junipero Serra. I had no idea there was so much history in Queretaro.

Then, after some negotiating with the local Franciscan, they let us have a Mass at Santa Cruz in English by ourselves. We attracted a crowd when they saw Mass was going to take place, but a lot of them left when they realized the Mass would be completely in English!

After leaving the convent, we went for a nighttime view of the city and a look at the great aqueduct that was built to bring fresh water in from the mountains.

Then we headed out for dinner on another perfect evening in Mexico. A lot was learned by all! So far, so good. Everyone is safe and happy! Tomorrow, off to the Basilica!

Tuesday at the mission in Colon

Tuesday was of course, St. Patrick's Day, and my birthday. I think I have spent 3 out of my last 5 birthdays in Mexico, which is just fine, of course! They have all been good mission trips. A little grueling when you are actually doing them, but always rewarding when one looks back.

Tuesday morning we were lazy. I was staying at the rectory with five other SOLT priests and some seminarians and other guests. I slept until probably 7:30 or so and then got up and did some prayers. When I went to get our guys they were mostly still sleeping at 8:30, so we didn't get breakfast until 9:15 or so. Apparently, the jovenes had knocked on the doors of our men around 6am, but couldn't stir them. The jovenes had breakfast at 6:30am. Some of the young men who work around Santa Maria but don't go to school prepared breakfast for us at 9:15am - very kind of them! They really went out of their way to make us feel welcome all week. As you see in the picture, they were already busy making 'rabbit' for lunch that day. We didn't get to stay for that!

After breakfast we headed to la escuela. We were told by Fr. Mike that we were most welcome, but we were a little tentative going over there, not wanting to disrupt their day. Once we arrived at the courtyard, however, we were invited in some classrooms and started having some great interactions with the kids. Late in the morning, tortas were served and recess began, which gave us a chance to interact with the kids a little more informally. Of course, there was a soccer game - los estados unidos contra mexico. We won again! It was hard to tell how good the education is here in central Mexico, but it seemed like the school had everything it needed.

We left the ninos to go and celebrate the Misa con los pobres (Mass for the Poor) celebrated every Tuesday afternoon at the Case de Jovenes. I met some great people before Mass, which of course started an hour late and lasted over and hour and a half. The poor are so affectionate towards priests. They came up and kissed my hands before and after Mass and during the sign fo peace. Very embarrassing and humbling. We had the chance to help serve the meal to the poor after Mass briefly, but then they were gone. We had a chance to meet Fr. Antonio Norman, the founder of the mission in Colon, who is revered as a saint there. Fr. Norman was very eccentric in the way he celebrated Mass and talked to the people, yet there were no objections. He came to Colon from Colorado almost 30 years ago and a great mission has been built here. His work will go on for many years to come now that SOLT is taking over the mission. Fr. Norman is usually in very poor health but was fired up the days we were around the mission. Fr. Mike Sanchez, SOLT takes care of all of the details of the mission, but Fr. Norman's presence still looms large there.

After Mass we made the mistake (not exactly) of stopping by the casa de ninas, the house of the little girls who are part of the mission. We were of course encouraged to do so, but reminded that the girls latched on to visitors very quickly and that if we stopped, we were on our own as far as finding a way to leave. Well, it all turned out to be true. We had a tremendous visit with the girls and played with them in the park for about an hour, but then when it was time to return to Santa Maria for dinner, we couldn't get away. Some of the guys had to leave gifts just to distract the girls enough so we could run for our lives. It was great to see them and they made a big impact on us in just a short time. They were quite a beautiful bunch of girls!

Around 6pm, we returned to Santa Maria for a last night of games with the guys and to share dinner with them. They sang a song for us at dinner and we had some talks describing how much the interactions of the week had changed everyone. It is always hard to explain to the jovenes why we came to see them for just a few days. It doesn't really make sense to them to travel so far and to make such a short visit. Most thought we would just be gone a few days and then come back for a longer stay. Some final games of soccer and yes, finally, basketball broke out. The jovenes here really have to inclination to liking anything but soccer, but we did get 6 or 7 of them to join us for basketball on the last night.

We went in to Colon one last time to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and to have the famous Tacos al pastor! The group got me a birthday cake and sang happy birthday as they dove into the great tacos one last time. It was fun to latch onto this place for a few days and make it a little home. The family that runs the taco stand was sure glad to have us, but had to jump around to keep up with all of our orders. Perhaps I was the only one who felt guilty for eating for less than $3.

When we arrive back at Santa Maria for our last night, a great surprise awaited me. Fr. Mike was waiting in the courtyard for us and directed us where to park the 15 passenger van. After we got out a lot of jovenes sprang out from the bushes to sing mananitas to me, and they did it well. Then, since I had told Fr. Mike earlier in the week that I had never really ridden a horse, a caballo was produced and I was able to ride around the courtyard a little bit to the cheers of everyone. It was really fun and I was embarrassed that the jovenes had stayed up so late and the Fr. Mike had gone to so much trouble! It was a great birthday!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Monday at the mission in Colon, Mexico

Monday, like all the day we have had in Colon, was a very full day. Luckily, it was a federal holiday, meaning the young men at Santa Maria did not have school that day. We were able to 'sleep in' somewhat and still get breakfast with them at 9:30am or so - how great is that? It was at breakfast that we learend that the SOLT sisters had requested that we accompany the teenage girls of Casa de Jovenes on a hike up Bernal mountain. This became our assignment for the day! It came about because when out KU gals learned that we were able to hike up our local mountain on Sunday, they too wanted a chance to hike while we were in central Mexico. The SOLT sisters not only accommodated them, but decided that it would be great for the teenage girls as well on their day off. So we had a party of about 50 go to Bernal late in the morning, another perfect day here.
Bernal mountain is more like a giant rock than anything. There is really no dirt or gravel on it at all. It is a really steep and difficult climb, but there are thousands of locals who do it on a day like Monday, a federal holiday. We had a fabulous time climbing the mountain with the girls. Many of us had to take frequent breaks. Once we got 500 feet from the top or so, the mountain became too steep and treacherous for the amateur climber. So many of us, myself included since I had felt a little light-headed on the way up, decided to dive into our tortas (spanish for sandwiches) and drinks while about 12 from our party decided to continue on up the mountain. We have a really athletic group, guys and gals, and I would have liked to have joined them, but I'm pretty afraid of heights.
Led by the fearless Chuck Norris of Mexico, Pedro, the brave ones headed up another 200 feet or so. They did a great job of climbing, but I was scared for them, and was praying nervously as I watched them climb. I hope the pictures of this turn out. Pedro wanted to go all the way to the top with just a couple from our group, but when he saw that everyone was game to follow him no matter where he went, he decided prudently that it was too dangerous and he had the group head back down. They all made it back safely, obviously, or the tone of this post would be much different. It was a fantastic climb, and the teenage girls enjoyed it too!
We sent the girls home with Pedro and the sisters after the climb, while we stayed back for a couple of hours and enjoyed the gorgeous town of Bernal with its views of the mountain and its valley. The snacks and drinks tasted great after the sweaty climb up the mountain. After the stay in Bernal, we headed with the ladies back to Santa Maria, for the ladies in our group had not yet seen Santa Maria nor met the teenage men there. While I arranged for a private Mass, the girls and guys either headed out for tours or engaged in a furious game of soccer. Out gals more than held their own against the stiff competition provided by our Mexican foes. It was a great ice-breaker.
When the teenage boys headed to cena, we went to their chapel and had a private Mass in English, followed by some small group discussion. Great things are happening in our group at this point. We have a group with great energy who is also eager to pray and to grow close to Christ through this pilgrimage.

By 9pm we were starving, so we headed back into town for what else? Tacos al pastor! The tacos that are 3 for a dollar and taste like heaven!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Misa para los pobres

Here is a video from the opening song of the Mass we celebrated with the poor of Colon, Mexico on Tuesday. It was a Mass that started late, albeit on a beautiful day, and lasted a long time, but the expressions on the faces of the poor who came were something to behold. They really love priests and are extremely affectionate to you, oftentimes coming up to you to share a thought, to go to confession or simply to kiss your hands or ask for a blessing. After the Mass, we were able to serve a meal to them. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Queteraro state! You can hear my voice singing 'Cantare' on the video.

Sunday at the mission in Colon, Mexico

Well, let me see if I can remember this day, since I’m three days behind in my journal for this trip. Well, let’s start by noting that whenever you are told the time of when something starts here in Colon, the aforementioned time serves only to open a two hour window within which the event actually starts. I had the guys get up by 8am, hoping to let them sleep a little bit to catch up from our traveling, but not wanting to oversleep and appear slothful or be bad guests, but we were up much, much too early actually. The 8:30am breakfast was served about 9:45 or so. After slinking around waiting for something to happen, we eventually took a look up the stairs to the dormitory where the teenage boys of Santa Maria stay. There was one young man lazily playing a guitar and a couple of boys with him. Zeke and John from our group introduced themselves and asked if they could play a song on the guitar. They are both excellent guitarists, and after a couple of songs, boys started emerging from everywhere, wiping sleep out of their eyes, to see what was happening. They had all slept in later than we did. It was Sunday, after all. Pretty soon there were 30 boys or so on the stair listening to music and slowly waking up on a perfect Sunday morning! Finally, we had breakfast, and it was there that we found out that the 11am Mass would actually start at 1pm (or so!). This gave us a chance to ask Fr. Mike if we could climb the mountain directly in front of Santa Maria. A pretty large mountain, certainly not the biggest one around but a sizable one nonetheless. After Fr. Mike told us, however, that he could get up and down the mountain in 50 minutes, we were quite sure that the 12 of us guys from the trip could find our own way up and down the mountain in the same amount of time. Boy were we wrong. Fr. Mike asked Pedro (later to become known to us as the Chuck Norris of Mexico) to take us up the mountain. We really needed him to take us up the right trail and to help us climb through the most interesting places of the mountain. It really was a blast – I have some good video of us climbing through some crevices. On the way down, Pedro started running, showing his athletic prowess even though he is easily 50 years old. We could not keep up. In fact, loose gravel on the way down caused at least six falls for me, one into a nice young cactus that drew blood from my leg and hand. But we made it down, and showered before the 1pmish Mass. The Mass in the basement chapel of Santa Maria was kind of what you would expect. Everything was rough around the edges - the liturgy and the chapel itself with its fluorescent lights and wires hanging everywhere and ceiling fans and sound system that cut in and out, but of course it was very prayerful and beautiful. The basement Church sounded like you were singing in a bathtub. This was the first time we were able to meet the younger boys from Santa Maria, who live apart from the teenage boys. They all showed up looking better than we did – with wool pants and starched searched and perfectly combed-over black hair with the right amount of gel. And they sang and swung their little legs that didn’t reach the ground all through the Mass, and answered questions for candy about the day’s readings after the liturgy was over. Two SOLT priests from the Philippines, who are being sent to Kansas City, Missouri in a few months, were at the mission and Fr. Francisco celebrated the Mass in Spanish and did a great job. After the Mass was time for the big meal of the day – the boys just call it – la comida (the food!). After that we headed into the town of Colon to visit the markets outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows, but by this time, around 5:30pm, the markets were already closing down. We did get to pray at the Basilica, and then we all ate quite a bit of ice cream and sat around the square and talked and did what we do best – played soccer. As you will see in the days ahead, almost everywhere we go a game of soccer breaks out, mostly because it is easier for us to communicate with our feet and to break the ice this way rather than relying on our pitiful Spanish. After dark we headed to have Tacos de Pastor – a little nighttime taco joint right around the corner from the Casa de Jovenes where the KU women were staying with the teenage girls. We hit the jackpot with this place –what great tacos, quesadillas, and gringas (still not sure what this is but am sure that I ate a bunch of them!). A great family runs this taco stand out of their house and it was clear after our first night there that we would be back. Still, the night was young, so we headed over to a small park near the Casa de Jovenes and played, you guessed it, soccer. That was followed by some line dancing and some four square. We were doing things (actually not me, but my group) that looked quite ridiculous and made us stand out even worse, but people seemed to be enjoying watching us. Zeke in our group made the observation that Mexicans are very gregarious in private and very reserved in public, whereas we are more circumspect in private and tend to make fools of ourselves in public. There is quite a bit of truth to what he was saying, but thankfully, in Colon we are in a very safe place; in fact, almost too safe because it is easy to let one’s guard down. But all is well – the day ended so well. Thanks be to God!

Saturday at the mission in Colon, Mexico

After another restless night of sleep, we headed out to our mission site near Colon, Mexico in Queretaro state. The hostel near the Cathedral in Mexico City was a tremendous location, but the rooms are not sound proof and do not have real windows. My room was an interior one with shutters overlooking the main registration desk and restaurant/bar. So understandably with so many young people visiting the city during spring break, and having a great time, the noise level was quite high until 2:30am or so. But I did sleep better than I did the night before on the yellow bus.

The hostel provided a light breakfast of bananas and toast, and then we headed back onto the metro, making three stops before arriving at a nice bus terminal. I couldn’t tell you what part of Mexico City we were in at this point. Zeke is one of the guys on the trip and he studied Spanish in Mexico City for a year, so we just follow him. With 30 folks on the subway, however, it was hard for us to communicate all the way across the car when everyone was to get off the train. The trains are terribly crowded so we have to stretch out a long way for all of us to get on the train, and it is hard to make eye contact and to communicate. At one stop, half of us got off and the other half didn’t, but thankfully, someone running the train noticed and they opened the doors four more times until we could all get off. The train was so crowded it was almost impossible to get off, but eventually, we all did. A minor miracle. Disaster avoided, although I was one of the ones left on the train and I yelled to Zeke that we would turn around at the next stop and come back if we had to. Thankfully we did not. This having to open the doors four more times did not make us popular at all with the locals. Smiling and waving only gets you so far.

The bus terminal was pretty nice and the coaches that go throughout Mexico are cheap and very nice. It was about $10 for a 2 hour ride to Queretaro, and this included a sandwich, cookies and a coke. The seats were very comfortable and far enough apart that they reclined all the way back without bothering the person behind you. Unfortunately, they showed four reruns of ‘Friends’ during the trip. Made me wish I had earplugs. Our white rental vans were waiting for us when we arrived at Queretaro. We had lunch at the bus stations, listened to a few instructions from Fr. Mike Sanchez, SOLT, our host, a very patient and joyful priest, and then followed Fr. Mike to the Casa de Jovenes where the teenage girl orphans stay. Right before the Casa we passed by the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows, the basilica for the town of Colon, a town of only about 4,000 people. It is a gorgeous Church, and was just raised by the Holy See to the status of a minor basilica. There were papal flags still adorning all the streets from the February celebrations.

We arrived at the Casa and went inside for introductions to the SOLT sisters and the teenage girls. Fr. Mike made us and the girls introduce ourselves, one American and one Mexican at a time. The orphan girls had to introduce themselves in English and vice versa for us! It was really funny and there was excessive giggling whenever one of the teenage girls had to introduce herself to one of our young men. A lot of laughing was had and this broke the ice nicely. The women from out St. Lawrence group then settled into their rooms while the guys headed to Santa Maria, where the orphan teenage boys stay. Well, the guys hit the jackpot. Santa Maria sits back in the hills/mountains and is a gorgeous colonial hacienda, that while having experienced a lot of deterioration, is still a really neat place. Fr. Mike showed us the place where at least one priest was shot during the persecution of the Mexican Church, so it was neat to say that we were staying at a place made holy by the blood of martyrs. After settling into our rooms (mine is a nicer one since I am staying with the SOLT priests) and meeting a few of the young men, a soccer match predictably broke out. The gringos did well, although I didn’t play since I was meeting the priests I would be staying with. The won two matches by a goal each time. The boys at Santa Maria have a concrete soccer court on which they play, and it works pretty well. Nothing too nice about it, to be sure, but it works! After the soccer match we headed back into Colon to have dinner with the ladies from KU, then hung out and did some Saturday night dancing with the girls from the Casa, and then headed back to Santa Maria to hit the sack! A full day, and a blessed one, to be sure!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

No pictures . .. . yet, but we're doing fine in Mexico City!

Well, I forgot the connector from my camera to my laptop, so unless I can find one down here, I won't have pictures to share during our journey, but maybe that will force me to be a little more colorful in my descriptions. I am taking many pictures so far, which is unusual for me, so I'll try to keep that up so I have something to share when we get back. Our flight to Mexico City was slightly delayed, because of weather problems in Mexico City, but we made it in around 30 minutes late - 11:30am local time (no daylight savings, I guess?). We were all together in the middle of the American Airlines flight from Dallas, so it was easy to keep track of each other. Passport control went well, as did customs. No more than a 15 minute wait at either of these. All students kept ahold of their passports, so far! Then, looking like haggard pilgrim/tourists, we got 30 students through the long walk from the airport to the metro, and through three stations stops on the metro until we arrived at the Cathedral station. The metro system in Mexico City is huge, and everyone uses it - 33 million people here in Mexico City, so I hear. Nothing was nice about the metro, but everything worked just great! We probably rode for an hour and arrived at our hostel at 2:30pm. We were very hungry at this point, since we had not eaten since the donated bagels we eat before going through security at DFW at 4:30am. The hostel checked us in pretty quickly, and we were eating at a great restaurant (cheese enchiladas for most) in the historic city center. Restored a little bit by the food, we then went directly to the Mexico City Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. The Cathedral is built near the site that the Aztecs selected for their capital city. They considered this site to be the center of the world, and human sacrifices were performed here. There is a slight revival of indigenous culture here, and there were Aztec dancers throughout the afternoon and evening in the square outside the Cathedral. The Mexico City Cathedral is magnificent. A high baroque Church characteristic of the counter-reformation. As much gold leaf as you can possibly imagine, and many, many shrines to Our Lady within the Church. I was able to go to the Stations of the Cross that started at 5pm, followed shorly thereafter by Mass at 6pm, which I attended but did not concelebrate. Most of our students went as well. Our hostel is right across the street from the Cathedral, and thankfully, it has its own restaurant and bar attached right to the hostel, so we did not have to venture out after dark for anything. The complimentary dinner at the hostel was pretty bad, consisting only of iceberg lettuce (no dressing) and cut up sausages and hot dogs, which we could not eat since it was Friday during Lent. So Ryan Dennihan and I made a quick run to a 7-11 to grab snacks for everyone, and we had a few drinks and celebrated our safe arrival in Mexico City. The downtown is really beautiful with its architecture and all the people. Lots of outdoor markets and shoes and perfume for sale in particular. The bar at the hostel had great music for dancing and a lame attempt at karaoke later in the evening, but we were really having a great time. We are now waiting for breakfast to start at the hostel, then we are off to the metro again, then to the bus station, then to the town of Queretaro, where we will meet our vans to take us to the Santa Maria mission in Colon. Vaya con dios!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Homily for Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent

For daily readings click here

In Joseph and Jesus, we see two 'stones rejected by the builders, which later become the cornerstone.' In today's story from Genesis, we see Joseph betrayed by his brothers and sold into the hands of sinners, only later to be resurrected in the land of Egypt and to become the source of salvation to the very brothers who betrayed him. Just so, Jesus is betrayed by those he loves yet after His resurrection, He becomes the source of eternal life for all, even for His enemies who betrayed Him. As Fr. Robert Barron says often in His homilies, if you want to find the kingdom of God, you should not look towards celebrities or people in power. We should look for stones rejected by the builders, who later become the cornerstones on which God builds His everlasting kingdom. God chooses the weak and foolish always to confound those who consider themselves powerful and wise. This is how the story of our salvation reads. It is how the story of redemption proceeds today. Jesus thus promised to His disciples, that if we wish to build God's kingdom, we will become weak in the eyes of the world, and be willing to be rejected and to share in the cup of suffering that Jesus drank (Mk 10:38-39).

The Baylor game - ugh! But it's alright!

Never in a million years did I think Baylor could play as hard as KU, but they did because we didn't play very hard. And we attacked the zone lazily because Baylor was fine with us beating them making long shots, and Brady and Sherron didn't shoot them out of their zone - not even close. Baylor played a 'sleeper' game and lulled us right into it. I am so surprised we weren't able to assert our will against a team that has shown itself more than ready to break down under pressure. Oh well. Still a great season. Great, not good. Still great even if the NCAA doesn't go well. But we should be a tough out in the tournament. I think our worst games are behind us now for sure. I'll be in Mexico at a remote location when the selections are announced. Don't know if I will find out the pairings even before the first games on Thursday. Have to leave things in the hands of the best fans, coach and team in America! Rock Chalk!

KU Spring Break Group in DFW waiting, waiting, waiting!

It really isn't that far to Dallas. We left St. Lawrence yestersday, 30 spring breakers going to Colon, Mexico to volunteer at a SOLT orphanage, around 6:30pm, and we made it to DFW by 4am for our 9:40am flight Plenty early. Got through security with flying colors. They hadn't even started brewing the coffee yet around here. It is a nice enough airport - many others have arrived at the terminal by now, everyone very early for their flights but comfortably waiting. Our group is passed out like a bunch of refugees, but will resurrect themselves I am sure once we touch down in Mexico City later today. Here's to a few good power naps and a few good prayers between now and then. We'll spend the night, hopefully, in Mexico City at a hostel and then head out to the mission on Saturday. Pray for us! So far, so good. The yellow school bus was 'loud' but not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I was dead tired going into the trip so I think that helped me to know I needed to try to sleep as much as possible.

Runnin Revs win easily!

There should be a story up soon at The Leaven, with great pictures from the game, or if you are lucky enough to have a subscription, it should reach your mailbox today, but suffice it to say that the Revs were fantastic Monday night. Well, that depends, I guess from your viewpoint. Some thought it was no great accomplishment for a team of priests to 'dominate' a bunch of 8th graders for the 14th straight year. I can see their point. But when we have such a hard time getting an able-bodied team of priests together for this game, I am amazed that we can find a way to get the ball in the basket, even against 8th graders. Usually, the All-Stars don't have much for transition defense and that helps us alot get some easy buckets and pull away. Well, we won at Miege again this year by a score of 64-57. Close but comfortable. Now we're off to Marysville to play the Knights of Columbus there. We will probably get killed on March 23rd. The future looks good for the Runnin Revs, as three seminarians, Nick Blaha, Danny Schmitz and Quentin Schmitz made their Revs debuts! They all played great! The event raised a good amount of $$ for our seminarians and raised awareness and support for vocations to the priesthood. Torrential rain during the rain caused a leak in the roof of the Miege gym so that we had to 'play around' a trash bucket at the three-point line, but amazingly, we played for two quarters and no one knocked it over. Pretty impressive maneuvering!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Homily for Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

For daily readings, click here.
Mary Queen of Vocations, pray for us! 'Do whatever He tells you' (Jn 2:5).
Interested in the priesthood?

In the end, John Paul II, our late Pope, was loved by all the world because he reached out to so many people. He reached out to the young especially, starting the World Youth Days that have forever changed my life and had a major impact on my vocation to the priesthood. He traveled to all corners of the world and gave a new face to the Catholic Church, and what a beautiful face it was! Over 1 billion people watched his funeral! John Paul II became amazingly popular even though many people who admired him did not agree with his moral teaching in the areas of abortion and contraception. He was criticized often as being too conservative in areas of Church tradition and doctrine.

John Paul II did a beautiful job of continuing the prophetic tradition of announcing the Word of God without compromise. John Paul II became popular because he traveled to the ends of the earth in order to proclaim God's words of love and life. He reached out to world religions in an unprecedented way. Yet he never watered down God's word. He did not attain a cheap popularity, but earned respect by consistently saying things that many people did not want to hear, but needed to hear. He taught us how to preach the truth with love. John Paul II was a champion of life, until his last moments with us!

Our own Archbishop, Joseph Naumann, is making tons of headlines these days for standing up for life, and against Catholics who do not use all means available to them to protect the fundamental human right to life. If you know our Archbishop, he is not a man who dreams of being in the Washington Post or on the Laura Ingraham show. Yet he is becoming more famous while at the same time becoming both more popular and less popular, depending on where one stands regarding the right to life. This is what he gets for faithfully presenting the Church's teaching on life, which is his duty as a bishop, without forgetting his role in pastorally calling all to conversion.
Jeremiah experienced the pain of being famous when he preached God's word faithfully. The more he preached the worse things got for him. Jesus promises the same to James and John, that they will drink the chalice of persecution that Jesus Himself was preparing to drink. This persecution is part of accepting a share in the apostolic ministry. It is Jesus' gift to his priests. Of course the mother of Jesus was looking for a different reward for her sons. It doesn't hurt to ask, anyway. She was hoping that the selection of her sons as apostles would entitle them to a special place in the kingdom of God. Jesus instead says that the gift James and John will receive is a chance to participate most intimately in his passion. Blessed are you when the insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven! (Mt 5:11). Jesus promises that those who share most directly in his passion will also be the first ones to recognize His resurrection and receive the fruits of it - entrance into eternal life. It is Jesus' role to love everyone without distinction, and to invite them to join Him on the via crucis. It is the Father's role to arrange the chairs in heaven! +m

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Homily for Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Mary, Queen of Vocations, pray for us!

For daily readings, click here

Does following God's commands really add to one's life? Isaiah prophesies good things for those who obey, and the sword for those who don't. Yet we know as Jesus teaches us that God gives blessings to both the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). So we can't necessarily tell, in the short term, who is being obedient to God and who is not, at least not by telling who has the most health. Isaiah prophesies however, that doing evil always catches up to us, sooner or later. Disobeying God, the author of life, leads to a loss of life.

A few people today, however, object that science can help us to live longer and better more than religion ever could. First of all, you do not have to be religious to be naturally good. We would all agree with that. Sometimes atheists are kinder and more generous than churchgoers. Second of all, it does not take a religious person to see that love is more conducive to human happiness than hate. Even animals show some capacity for compassion. It can be proven scientifically, say a few, that living a moral life of doing good and avoiding evil is more conducive to preserving and enhancing human life. This is true for individuals and for the common good of all. In other words, being moral is critical to self-preservation, without appeal to any revealed religion with its divine commandments. Third of all, there are a few who consider religion to be more destructive of human life than atheism, for they see a tendency for religion to serve itself rather than human persons.

Jesus would not agree that religion inherently serves itself. He sees in the commands of Moses divine revelation that points man toward a morality that goes beyond science, while at the same time purifying human reason of potential distortions of the moral law. In Jesus' view, man without religion tends to have too narrow a view of what makes a good life, a view that can be broadened through faith in God. He does agree, however, that religion is in constant need of purification, since there can be instances where religion serves individuals instead of the common good. We see this in human history. Religions are constantly invaded and used by prideful people seeking gain for themselves. The purification Jesus suggests is always making sure that worship is reserved for God alone, and not for persons. Jesus tells us to beware of any religious person seeking gain for himself instead of living a life of humble service.

In the end, however, one can never accuse Jesus of being more 'spiritual' than religious, as sometimes people do. Jesus wanted to purify institutional religion, the law of Moses in particular, but He is all about preserving that law, not discarding it. Although distorted religion can and does use human persons from time to time rather than serving them, religion by its nature exalts the human dignity of persons by defining a human person as one loved by God. A human person loved by God has an inviolable, transcendent value that cannot be quantified by science. Thus, religion has an inherent advantage of protecting and promoting the dignity of human life over and against science, which has no jurisdiction over something that cannot be measured, the value of a human life. The commands of God, ascertained by faith, thus serve as a light to expose the ways that science chooses to serve itself rather than to serve the common good. Religion, then, plays an indispensable role in serving human persons. Religion serves as the guarantor and guardian of the right to have life, and to have it in abundance (Jn 10:10). +m

Interested in the priesthood?

Headed to Mexico City and on mission!

Thursday I will leave for a 'yellow-bus' ride to Dallas, where we will board planes for Mexico City and for an orphanage run by SOLT (Society of our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) and be on mission throughout spring break. About 30 students from KU, mostly from the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, will be on the trip. We know that Mexico has become increasingly dangerous, but we are flying over the violence in the border towns and are taking lots of extra precautions to stay safe while we are in Mexico. A priority for me will be to spend time in prayer and to be as close I can be to the sacred image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This image has led to more conversions in the Church than any other evangelical activity of the Church in history. I can't wait to see it in person up close, since I have seen hundreds and hundreds of replicas. Hopefully we will be able to have Mass in the Basilica. Please pray for our safety, and that our hearts will be opened wide by our experience. I'll try to blog but no promises. Not sure what resources I will have with me or have access to while I am away!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Homily for Monday of the 2nd Week of Lent

For daily readings, click here.

Mary, Queen of Vocations, pray for us!

JMJ +m

When Jesus tells us not to judge nor to condemn, he is instructing us to never attach evil to a person. He is asking us rather to separate sin from the sinner. This is how God shows mercy to us, by separating our sins from our person completely. As far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our sins (Ps 103:12). This is how we are to forgive one another. We are to detach the sinner from the sin, so that no matter what sin a person has committed, even if he be considered our enemy, we are to love Him just the same.

This, of course, is impossible to do unless it is God Himself who is showing His love through us. It is more natural for us to attach a sin more closely to the sinner, and easier for us to judge the person than the sin. The simple solution to someone who annoys us or sins against us or who dislikes us or who rivals us or who disagrees with us is to judge that person's sin and to attach that sin to the person in a definitive away. Our first reaction is to lock that person up and to throw away the key, rather than to distrust our initial judgment of the person.

Jesus points out our tendency to judge as an act of fear and useless self-preservation. His antidote? Jesus asks us to give. In fact, the Gospel intimates that those who are busy giving do not have time to judge. If the greatest gift we have received is the Lord's mercy, a gift of love that begins loving us where we hate ourselves, then this is the first gift we should want to give to others. We are to give to others not our first impressions of them, but our story of being set free by a merciful love that never changes despite our sins. May we be more eager to forgive, and to measure others generously, that we might be measured generously in return.

Catholics holding on!

More religious statistics are out showing what most Catholics are experiencing. Because of demographic shifts, some areas of Catholicism are experiencing tremendous growth, but overall, we are losing ground as a percentage of the U.S. population. We're holding on for dear life! We've gone from 26% to 25% of the population. We have so much evangelization to do! We are losing the most Catholics in the northeast and among the young. At the St. Lawrence Center, our Masses are mostly full, but there is room for more. Our Mass numbers are up for this academic year. We certainly see an increase as well, however, in the number of apathetic/agnostic students. It is still true that more students regress in their Catholic faith during the college years than grow in the practice of their faith. St. Lawrence has done a lot this year to continue to be more present on campus and to invite, invite, invite. We are fighting against a trend across the United States that shows the number of Americans who are completely free of religious affiliation has grown from 8% to 15%. If these trends continue for the next 15 years, you will be just as likely to meet someone who is not religious at all as you are to meet a fellow Catholic.

Runnin Revs hit the floor tonight at Miege

Come out to Miege High School tonight for a great relaxing time during March Madness. I can't guarantee that the basketball will be as good as what the Jayhawks, Tigers and Wildcats are playing, but I promise it won't be too bad, and I promise you will get a kick out of watching area priests and seminarians take on the Serra All-Starts (8th graders and high schoolers from the area). The Revs are on a long winning streak but are taking nothing for granted. Providentially, seminarians from Kenrick (Danny Schmitz and Quentin Schmitz) are coming in for the game since it is their spring break. This will give some of us regular priests who are getting older limited exposure, and will greatly enhance the probability of victory! The Leaven will be doing a bigger story on the history and impact of the game this year. Click here for coverage of last year's memorable game! Go Revs! The game is March 9th (tonight) at 7pm at Bishop Miege. Click here for directions if you need them.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Supper at St. Lawrence

Every Sunday during the semester we have supper at St. Lawrence after the 5pm Mass and before the start of 6:45pm catechetical classes. I am usually in the confessional between 6:00 and 6:45 (hearing confessions, not confessing!) so the food is usually gone by the time I get to the social hall, but tonight I did get to sample some baked potatoes with all the trimmings and some great conversation. We are all happy at KU because we love Lent, and because we are celebrating our 9th Big XII title in 13 years! Rock Chalk!

The Title!

Actually, there was a part of me that didn't want another Big XII title for the Jayhawks. That sounds silly, I know. But I didn't want to become even more spoiled. Or maybe I wanted the Big XII to raise up some more worthy teams who could make a Final Four besides KU and Texas. Maybe I thought the program deserved a break after achieving so much. Maybe I was satisfied, and just wanted to root for a season as an underdog. But this Big XII championship is sweet! This team should have had 3 or 4 hiccups like the Tech game, but it only had 2. I really don't think we are that much better than the rest of the Big XII, but Bill Self showed that if you make teams shoot a low percentage, and get good shots yourself, you will win games. KU gets more easy buckets, and gives up fewer, than any team in the Big XII. That is why they consistently win. They are more talented than many Big XII teams, but this year, their talent was comparable to the first six teams. But they don't give up easy buckets like KSU and Mizzou do, they have a great rebounder in Cole Aldrich, and a fireplug in Sherron Collins who can take over games. What a great acccomplishment this year. Nobody expects a Final Four out of this team, but they just keep overachieving. Who is going to take this team out? Rock Chalk!

Visiting Seminary

Here is a pic of a recent visit to Kenrick-Glennon seminary in suburban St. Louis. After praying evening prayer, we went to a local 'fish fry' to support St. Cecilia's parish near the seminary. I regularly take guys who have a strong interest in the priesthood to visit seminaries. We have a few guys headed to Mundelein in a couple of weeks for their Exploring Priesthood Weekend, and then a few others guys are headed to Conception Seminary College March 28-30 for theri Encounter with God's Call. A visit to a seminary can do a lot for a guy's discernment, for after visiting a seminary, a guy knows better what he is discerning. It is important not to discern God's call in the abstract, or try to gain certainty without the benefit of certain experiences like visiting a seminary. Let me know if anyone would like to make a visit in the near future, or if you know somebody who should! Email me!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent

Click here for daily readings.


Mary, Queen of Vocations, pray for us!

'Do whatever He tells you! (Jn 2:5)'

At this time, ten years ago, I was planning to enter seminary. It was a dramatic time in my life. I cried when I left Lawrence to go to St. Meinrad, Indiana. I knew I was moving toward something better. I knew I was answering God's call. Yet it was hard to sacrifice the life that I had built for myself. It was such a good life. I had so much invested in it. Why would God ask me to leave something so good behind?

Ten years ago, I probably had some idea of what the priesthood would be like. I had some idea of the kind of priest I wanted to be. Yet I can't honestly remember what those ideas were. I am sure some of my expectations have come true. Many have not. Some things about priesthood are far more difficult than I could have imagined. Other parts are far more fulfilling. I can say this for sure, though. God has provided me with a bigger life than I would have ever have picked for myself. It is more mysterious. It is more unpredictable. Yet it is bigger. It is more fruitful. What I gave to God ten years ago seemed so big then. I would give it again in a heartbeat now. God has not been outdone in generosity.

Well, that was the last ten years. What about the next ten? As much as I have changed in the last ten years, most of me would like to change less in the next 10. I would like to think that I am well down the path of conversion to God. Maybe I don't have too much farther to go. Maybe life will be more predictable. Yet I know if I made a prediction today of how the next ten years will go, and wrote it down in this homily or in my diary, I would be laughing my rear end off ten years from now. I am sure the same is true with you. Some of what we want for the future will come true. Yet we know that the next ten years will prove how little we really control things.

I probably entered Lent this year like you did, trying to make a few slight adjustments. Trying to fine-tune things. Lose a few pounds. Pray a little more. Do something charitable. Eat fish. Give up some control and listen to God more in silence. These are the ordinary activities of Lent. They are good activities They give us a chance to be more aware of the closeness of God. They challenge us to be more dependent upon Him. Yet these ordinary activities of Lent are not the final goal for us. Being like Abraham is the final goal. The story of Abraham and Isaac jolts us on this second Sunday of Advent, especially if we have spent the first week of Lent focused on little things. The story reminds us that our prayer and fasting and almsgiving are not ends unto themselves. Lent is not a time of slight adjustments. It is not a time when we decide to give a little more of ourselves to God. No, Lent helps us to realize that God is asking great things of us. He is expecting us to change a hundred times more in the next ten years than we did in the last ten. Lent is supposed to save us from the illusion that God is asking us for small things, when in reality, He is asking us for big things.

Lent is my time to realize than even though I became a priest in the last ten years, God will ask me to change even more radically in the next ten than I did in the last ten. Of course this scares the living daylights out of me. I know I will whine and rationalize that I've already given more than others. I might feel sorry for myself and give with resentment. Worst of all, I might try to set more 'reasonable' goals for myself, goals I am comfortable with, like the goals I set for myself during Lent. I might try to cut a deal with God to be a good priest when I know I can be a great priest. This would be like Bill Self telling us that he wants his team to be good in the next ten years, but don't expect them to win any more Big XII or national titles. This won't do, of course. God does us the same favor in asking great things from us. He does us a favor when He asks us to make leaps of faith instead of slight adjustments.

When God asks us for more than we are ready to give, we usually go into denial. We pretend we didn't hear Him correctly. We pretend that He is really asking for something more reasonable. Abraham does not react in this way. His trust in God is complete. God can ask the most unreasonable thing of Abraham, so unreasonable in fact, that it appears that God is commanding something evil, which is not in God's power to do. This is the supreme test of faith, and Abraham passes with flying colors.

Lent is a time for us to dare God to test our faith, for our own good. It is a time to resensitize ourselves to the call to change more in the future than we have changed in the past. Our fear makes us want to cut a deal with God, to meet Him halfway, to presume upon His mercy and to pretend that maybe slight adjustments are enough. Yet this is not God's way of giving. Even if the creation of the world was God's decision to share partially of Himself, St. Paul reminds us that in giving us His only begotten Son, God has shows that He will never withhold from us anything that is good. God will not be outdone in generosity.

The project of our lives, my dear friends, is to trust in the goodness of God, who has revealed Himself to be love. The project of our lives, a project much more profound and difficult than giving up chocolate for forty days, is to enter into this great drama of trying to outdo God in generosity. This is what makes the story of Abraham on Mt. Moriah so great. It is a man of faith trying to outdo God in generosity, and in doing so, the glory of God shines through Abraham. Even when we find that we cannot give back to God all that He has given to us, the joy of trusting Him and allowing Him to lead us far beyond where our reason could ever take us, is a joy that doesn't fade, but grows stronger with time. Faith takes us beyond our own small expectations. Faith makes us less aware of the life we are losing. It makes us more aware of the life we are gaining, as God always calls us away from less, and to something more. Faith shows us the life foreshadowed by Jesus in the Transfiguration. This is the life that eye has not yet seen, and ear has not yet heard. It is the life that we cannot imagine for ourselves 10 years from now, a hundred years from now, or ever. It is the life that is God's generous gift to us His beloved children. It is the resurrected life of Jesus that we will share with God forever! +m

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

For daily readings, click here.

Lead us not into temptation, This is a good prayer, obviously. It is the prayer our Lord taught us to pray. It is a prayer that saves us from the near occasion of sin. It is a prayer that saves us from overconfidence. It is a prayer that saves us from thinking we have power over sin when in fact the opposite is true. Sin has power over us. We can learn a lesson from the story of Noah. A little rain can really lead to a flood. Satan always wants us to think we can play with fire without getting burned. He only needs an inch to take a mile. Jesus knows how dangerous sin really is. He knows how quickly sin gains momentum. Sin avalanches. Once we begin to sin, it is hard to stop. Lying is the perfect example. One lie begets seven others. This applies to all other sins as well. Once we begin to sin, as we all know, it can take years of work, sometimes decades, to stop. To protect us from all of this, Jesus taught us to pray that Our Father would keep us far from temptation. Prevention really is the best medicine.

Yet what if we are already deeply infected with sin? What if we have already reached the point where our sins have more control over us than we have over them? What if the damage is already done? When faced with this reality, we sometimes give in too easily. We can listen to the morality that does not come from the Church but from our culture, a morality that encourages us to lie to ourselves and to pretend that we are not really sick. We might intentionally dull our conciences to that we are not aware of our sins. We go to confession less so that we are able to ignore and forget most of our sins. We pretend that our sins have not deeply separated us from ourselves, from God and from one another. We pretend that we never promised God we would be holy, that on the day of our baptism we promised not to be mastered by sin. We settle for being relatively good compared to somebody else, rather than being absolutely good. We presume upon God's mercy instead of actually becoming more reliant upon it. Worst of all, we pretend to a friend of Jesus without remembering that we are only His friends if we do what He commands us.

If we are already deeply infected with sin, pretending that we are not sick only makes things worse. Ignoring our sins does not make them go away. As much as we try to hide our sins from ourselves and from one another, we know that we cannot hide them from God. Pretending that our sins do not damage our friendship with God only makes that friendship grow even colder. Lent is a time for us to let go of pride and dishonesty. It is a time for courage, humility, honesty and faith.

Our sins do indeed separate us from God. Pretending otherwise gets us nowhere. Yet this is not the end of the story. Just because we made the mistake of playing with sins that have gotten the better of us doesn't mean the story is over. No, we cannot pretend that our sins do not separate us from God. Nor can we pretend that we can heal ourselves of our addiction to sin by our own power. Once infected, we do not have the power to cure ourselves. St. Peter tells us, however, that the chasm between us and God caused by sin has been bridged by the suffering of Jesus Himself. Sin causes the most intense kind of loneliness imaginable, but still there is hope. Jesus' decision to suffer for the unrighteous means that no matter how far sin has separated us from God, Jesus has descended even farther in order that we might never be alone. St. Peter says that Jesus even went to preach to the spirits in prison, a reference to His decision to descend to the depths of hell so that no sinner would be able to say that he is unloved and forgotten by God.

Jesus' decision to suffer and to die for us is not a 'get out of jail' free card. It is not a cheap grace. It is not Jesus' decision to save us even though we give no evidence of wanting to be saved. It is a way forward, however, for one who has been infected by sin. The story of the Lord's temptation in the desert shows that even though we do not have power of sin, He does. Even though Jesus' advice to us is to pray to be led away from temptation, we see that His love never changes even when we ignore this advice. If anything, the Lord seeks us lost sinners all the more, that He might be able to deliver us from evil. Yet we know He will not save us without ourselves. When we pray that the Lord might deliver us from evil, we know that we have a part to play. The way forward for us is a decision on our part to remain closely united to the one who can lead us out of hell. Our part is to stay with the one who has the power over temptation and evil.

Sin at its root is not a choosing to be an evil person. It is a failure remain close to God. It is a failure to trust God. It is a failure to trust that what God has promised, He will deliver. Sin is a decision to go through the drive-through and to grab something easy when we know that we were made for something better. The gifts of God take patience and faith to harvest. The treasures of heaven are expensive, and it takes a long time to save enough spiritual capital to purchase them. The vocation to which God has called us can seem mysterious and remote. We get tired of waiting for it with faith. We want something easier, something now. Sin is a failure to wait for what God has in mind for us.

Sin results from believing the great illusion that God is farther away that He really is. It is believing the great illusion that God is so far away, that maybe He doesn't care. Maybe He doesn't see. Maybe He doesn't exist at all. Jesus came to be as close to us as we are to ourselves by taking on our humanity. He was born to be God-with-us! He came to save us from this illusion that ultimately we are alone. Still, it is hard to trust Him.

When we do not trust God, our tendency to give into illusions grows. Damaged by sin, our faith does not see as far into the future. Our hope dims. Our love grows cold. St. Peter tells us however, that God is still there. Even if we decide to move away from God, if God decides to be with us, we can't get any farther away. We can ignore how close He is, but we cannot move Him away from us. Even a mustard's seed of faith can tell us what is true. Even a tiny bit of faith tells us what our senses fail to perceive, that God is still there. Jesus who descended into the depths of hell is still there. Deciding to acknowledge His presence and His help is the way forward.

In Jesus there is no sin. None of us could make it more than five minutes with the devil in the desert. Jesus made it for forty days. He made it through the final agony in the garden. He is there to help us at our weakest point, to begin loving us there. If we acknowledge His presence, we have a way forward no matter how sick we have become.

Being delivered from evil is a decision to be with Jesus who alone has the power over temptation and evil. Jesus is right next to us, and if we acknowledge His presence, sin has no more power over us. If we really want Him to, He will deliver us from evil. Yet He will not take back one ounce of the freedom that He gave us. Jesus has made His decision to be with us no matter what. Yet we must still make our decision +m