Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't be afraid

Homily for Monday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time I
31 August 2009
St. Lawrence Catholic Center
Year for Priests

For daily readings click here.

Today’s Gospel highlights a fear that must be overcome if religious vocations in our Church are to be answered. Upon speaking with authority, and proclaiming that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed him, Jesus is immediately met with doubt by those who think they know him well. Isn’t this the ordinary dude from Nazareth? Mary and Joseph don’t talk like this, so why does he? Instead of believing with faith that Jesus may indeed be called and gifted for a special mission, the people who knew Jesus growing up instead focus on the his human limitations. Jesus predicts rightly, that lacking faith, they will demand from him more and more signs to prove the identity he claims from his hometown synagogue as the anointed one from God.

Jesus was not afraid to confront those who doubted him. But oftentimes, we are. We worry that those who know us, will notice first our deficiencies, and will notice first the many ways that we are hypocrites. This can really discourage a religious vocation. Even if we feel called personally by God and desire to be anointed with the Spirit so as to go out and to take a special place within the mission of Jesus Christ to redeem the world, we know that many people will second guess us. Who does he think he is? Who is he to tell me about God, especially given his past and his many limitations? We think that there is a good chance that we might not be a very good priest or religious, beset as we are by weakness and by the doubt of others that might discourage us. We worry about what impact we could really have, and our fear can easily take over.

Today’s Gospel is encouraging in the sense that if we are called, God will give us a mission, and send us to an audience, where our vocation and witness will bear fruit. It may not be in our own backyards, but the Lord will give us a vineyard. Yes, many people may doubt us. Yes, many people may reject our ministry. Yes, we might fail as often as we succeed. What is more, we will not get to choose the people on whom we will make the biggest impact. Some of the people we most want to change will ignore us. Some of the people we barely know will change their entire lives based on a few words we said or some small action that we did. We will not be able to predict where our service and our witness will be met with faith, and where it will be met with doubt. But we are to be courageous in following our call, and generous in doing what the Lord is asking us to do. +m

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to love the rules.

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
30 August 2009
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
Year for Priests

For daily readings, click here

Moses is hosting a rules meeting. He is giving the Israelites an additional set of rules. The name Deuteronomy means second law. The Israelites have already received the 10 commandments. Now Moses is hosting a follow-up meeting. A clarification of the original 10, or how to apply the original 10 in your daily lives. Moses is hosting a rules meeting. He is giving them hundreds of new rules to play by, telling the people to learn them well, and not to add or subtract from them. He is like a coach who tells his team that if we don't get our act together, we are going to get waylaid in our next game. Moses is telling his team how to get their acts together before entering into the promised land the Lord has marked out for them. He is holding a rules meeting so that once the Israelites get there, all the nations around them will see what an awesome nation they are, and how beautiful are the rules by which they live.

Rules meetings by definition have a bad rap. Most of us like fewer rules, not more. We like our free time. We love having a free day when we don't have to follow any rules. We can just do what we feel like doing, without any pressure. Rules meetings are about expectations, and most of us have a hard enough time fulfilling the expectations we have for ourselves, let alone fulfilling the expectations others have for us. We hate to be a disappointment, to ourselves or to others. So we naturally avoid rules meetings. They oftentimes expose us for who we really are. It is tempting to think that less rules means less pressure means less expectations means more free party time for me!

This can be our attitude when we come to Church sometimes. We can approach Church as if it is only a rules meeting, nothing more, and nothing to be excited about. We can have a hard time finding the energy to go, because we know that the Scriptures will cut to the heart, and maybe the priest will say something that cuts to the heart, and at the very least, I will feel like promising things to God in Church that I'm not sure I can really get done. Going to Church can feel like adding pressure to a life that already has plenty of pressure. More expectations, or else. Going to Church can feel like going to a rules meeting. This is what you are not doing, and if you don't get your act together, you are going to lose bigtime. No wonder sometimes we don't feel like coming.

Moses is trying to hold a different kind of rules meeting. In this meeting, he asks the people to be excited about the law he is giving them. He invites them to the see the law not as a burden, or as a restriction, but as a gift. He promises two profound things about the law that is being set before them. First of all, he says that their following of the law will show to the world how wise and intelligent they are. Secondly, he says that their following of the law will show their closeness to God.

At the beginning of a new semester, most of us have a sense of where we are in regard to the moral law that is put before us by the Church. We know intuitively whether the law that we hear here and celebrate here is becoming more of a gift or more of a burden to us. Most of those for whom the law has become a burden have chosen not to come to Mass tonight. Such people, if I may presume to speak about them, have listened to the Church's expectations of how to do good and avoid evil their entire lives, and the rehearsal of the same laws - don't do this, don't do that, has become annoyingly burdensome to them. Like Adam and Eve, they have grown suspicious of God and the happiness that He has marked out for them, and have chosen instead to define good and evil for themselves, without reference to any external rules. For most of us who have chosen to come tonight though, we are excited, as Moses instructs us, to hear the law of God pointed out to us once again, to be reminded to never stop seeking truth, goodness, beauty and unity, and to know that our relationship with God, our ability to realize how close he is to us, truly does depend on our willigness to continue to seek the good and to avoid evil.

It is this last piece, our friendship with God, that is really at stake whenever we have a rules meeting. The Mass, as we know, is more than a chance for us to get together and discuss rules, as necessary as this may be. The Mass is most of all a celebration that God Himself, through the gift of His Son and through their mutual gift of the Holy Spirit, is close to His people. That he has chosen to remain with His people, as close as He possibly can, especially through the gift of the body and blood of His Son. So Jesus is good to remind us through his rebuke of the Pharisees, that as we get together to discuss rules about doing good and avoiding evil, that what really matters is not our perfect identification of what is outside of us that can defile us, but our perfect knowledge of who we are from within. As Jesus says, it is not exposure to evil that defiles a person, but a person's choice to do evil because he does not understand who He really is at his core.

Jesus in the Gospel does not define sin not as the overpowering of our will by temptation from outside, which is how we usually think of sin. No, Jesus defines sin completely differently, as what is happening on the inside of us. Jesus says sin is not so much the power of evil conquering our weak nature, but sin is most of all an incorrect knowledge of who we are at our core. Sin is not simply defined as evil conquering good. It is also defined as an identity crisis happening at the core of a person.

In the Eucharist that we share tonight, this identity crisis is reversed. We are here tonight not only for a rules meeting, so that we can more clearly see what is good and what is evil outside of us, and so have a better knowledge of what on the outside we should choose and what we should avoid, we are also here to celebrate who we are on the inside. As we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, we are reminded of Moses' promise to the Israelites that no nation has a God who has come as close to His people as God has come to us. For us Catholics, this promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ coming so close to us, as to make himself small enough to fit in our very bodies! It is this identity that flows from the Eucharist, that we are in Christ and He is in us, that there is no distinction of where we end and He begins, that frees us to receive the law just as Moses instructs us to receive it. We come to Mass to receive rules from God, not as the Pharisees received them, as an additional burden to be used as a criteria for judgment, but as a way for us to hold onto and to cherish the deep friendship we have with God which defines who we are, at the very core of our being. +m

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nathanael/Bartholomew - whoever it was, a story about ready faith!

Homily for the Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew
For daily readings, click here.

We know almost nothing historically about Bartholomew except that he was real. His name is mentioned in every list of the apostles. He is thought to have come from Cana, so he would have known personally the dumpy little town of Nazareth that Jesus was from. He would have known that there was nothing to do in Nazareth. That the place was a real drag. Very boring. And that it was doubtful that anything good could come from there. And so his association with today’s Gospel, in which Nathanael, presumed by process of elimination to be another name for Bartholomew, reacts negatively when told by Philip that the Messiah was actually an ordinary dude from Nazareth. Nothing special. Nothing special at least by way of outward appearance.

Though at first seeming skeptical, Nathanael proves himself to be no doubting Thomas. In fact, quite the opposite. He first trusts his friend Philip, who invites him to come and see Jesus for Himself. Then, after speaking with Jesus very briefly, and experiencing in just a few words that Jesus understands and knows Nathanael as well as Nathanael knows himself, Nathanael professes an even greater faith than Philip initially proposed, naming Jesus to be the very Son of God. That Nathanael gets over his initial skepticism so quickly shows the virtue of this great apostle; namely, that there is no duplicity or falseness or unnecessary doubt in him. He goes to see and then professes simply what he sees, without requiring more and more signs. Consequently, Jesus praises the faith of Nathanael, and promises that his faith will lead him to see and to believe even greater things, for to the one who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich!

Nathanael’s profession of faith marks an important turning point in the faith of every Christian who begins to doubt that what has been handed on to him, or reported to him by others may not be true. This transition is a transition of moving closer to Christ, from the Christ that has been handed on to us, to a Christ that we can experience ourselves, a Christ that we can speak to others about ourselves. This is a Christ that we are not only told about, but also a Christ that we can see with the eyes of our heart, and hear with the ears of the heart, and believe in from the heart, for Christ wishes us to know him not only from the outside testimony of others, but desires a profound friendship that grows from within the depths of our hearts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Growing Younger - what the heck??

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
16 August 2009
Year for Priests

The quest for the fountain of youth has always captured human imagination. How is it possible to avoid aging? Now I don't mean by applying creams and botox and having surgeries. I mean how is it possible not just to delay again, but to really avoid it altogether? How is it possible to remain young? There are some people we know who seems to have access to this fountain of youth, people who don't seem to age physically. Perhaps there are even more people we know who have an ability to stay young at heart. There are people with personalities that seem forever young, forever optimistic, hearts that remain untouched by the evil and death of the world. There are people we know who seem to embody Jesus' teaching, that unless each of us turns and becomes like a little child, we will not enter the kingdom of God. The man whose name is on the building of this catholic center, the man who was here for 28 years building this campus ministry, Monsignor Vince Krische, is one of those people. He preached the Mass here last night and was on fire. He is truly forever young, forever optimistic. Monsignor Krische, who inspired my own vocation to the priesthood, is officially retired, but when you ask him to reflect on the greatest accomplishment of his 40 plus years of priesthood, he can't do it. He is completely incapable of doing it. He is fixated on what there is yet to do, on what seems impossible but might be possible if we only have the courage and faith to pursue it. He says over and over, even at 70, that we have so much work left to do, and he really believes he still has time to get to all of it! Monsignor Krische is forever young at heart, and we need people like him in our lives.

Jesus really knew what he was saying when he told us that unless we turn and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. He put before us that there is access to a fountain of youth, so to speak. There is a way to turn and to grow younger, there is a way to move toward eternal life. At the beginning of this new school year, optimism is everywhere. A new semester is a fresh start for all returning students, and most all students make resolutions for the coming semester that they hope will move them closer to being the person they are called to be. Freshman are a particularly interesting case. Some are hopelessly optimistic, absolutely convinced that they can be best friends with everyone on campus, cure cancer, win an election for student body president, and are convinced that KU will win the national championship every year that they are at KU. This optimism is great. Being young is great. As we all know, it is hard to hold on to the innocence and faith and enthusiasm that we had when we were in second grade. It is hard to grow younger, to stay connected to that fountain of youth.

Yet as we know, even the most optimistic among us are dying. Both the student who runs everyday and eats bananas and whole wheat bread, and the student who subsists on beer, cigarettes and kit kats, are both dying, albeit probably at different rates. That is why Jesus makes the unique promise that there is a way for even our flesh to grow younger. Jesus did not come to merely renew us in mind and heart and spirit, which he certainly does. He did not come only to redeem those spiritual things. He came to redeem our bodies as well, by taking a body himself like our own, and in the unique promise of the Eucharist, he said that our body can share in the Resurrection of his body, the only body that once was dead but now dies no more, if we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Yes, through the Eucharist, Jesus provides for us not only a way to remain young in mind and heart while our bodies grow old, he provides a way for our bodies to also rest in hope, for because our bodies too remain in Christ and He in us, through our eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus, our bodies carry within them the capacity to one day rise from the dead! Unlike our ancestors who ate manna in the desert, and still died, the one who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Jesus is forever young, in spirit and in body, is the eternal optimist, is someone who grows younger and younger day by day by day.

As Monsignor Krische said last night, there has never been anyone in the history of human civilization, who has promised anything like this!