Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hope for redemption

Homily for Tuesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
Year for Priests

for daily readings, click here

Hope for redemption is different than hoping that the Royals will win the World Series. One can imagine, approximately, what it would be like if the latter were to happen. I can imagine what it would be like if KU won the National Championship again this year (rock chalk!). It may not be exactly right, but I can at least imagine. Redemption of the world by love. I can't imagine that. I can't imagine heaven in its totality. I can imagine parts of it, but I can't get my mind around the whole thing. St. Paul says that hope that sees is not properly hope. In other words, supernatural hope is directed toward that reality that would satisfy every desire that we have, not just a few of our desires, and so supernatural hope is not a hope that pertains properly to national championships, or world series, or anything of the kind.

The futility of creation turns out to be a great gift. That sounds weird. Futility is a good thing? That's like saying it would be a good thing that the Royals would never win the World Series again. How could this be good? Well, it could be good if there was a greater evil avoided; namely, that the Royals could win the world series unethically, or without having really to strive to be excellent, or with a lack of appreciation or gratitude. If any of these were true, it would be better if the Royals would never win the world series again.

So true with the futility of the world; that the punishment for sin entering the world is death. How can death be a gift? Well, obviously, if the greater evil of people setting their hearts eternally on things that did not satisfy them - if people were able to make themselves miserable forever, with no way of getting out of their misery, then the world here would be hell, and a greater evil would exist than death. Oftentimes, death is the worst thing we can imagine, but there are much worse things, actually - including imagining living in this world forever, without being able to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts. That is the futility that Christ has come to lead us out of, if we would first be baptized with him into His death. +m

KU football - must wins?

Every week is a must-win for KU now, and yet it is not. With the mess that is the Big 12 North, 4-4 can still win the North, in a tiebreaker. KSU controls their own destiny - what's up with that? I still think this KU team has it in them to win the North. They will need help from KSU and Nebraska now. Missouri actually needs to get it in gear and help KU as well. I wasn't able to go to the OU game, but I thought the defense hit harder and flew to the ball better. I'm hopeful, but too busy to get upset if things don't go our way.

Unexpected snow on retreat!

Maybe as much as 10 inches in the next two days in Crested Butte, CO. They are getting even more snow to the north around Denver and into Utah. It is gorgeous here. And cold. I guess the Lord wants me to stay in, to eat chili, and to work more diligently on the texts I have chosen for my retreat this year. I'm here unti Saturday. Hope I can get out. Please pray for me. Among other things, I'm re-reading the entire New Testament!


Vocation office news!

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything other than homilies on my blog. There is so much I want to get done with vocations, that blogging has gone down in priority. But just to assure everyone, good things are happening this year. Our October Project Andrews had record numbers of young men attend. I'm confident that any young man who attends a Project Andrew event with the Archbishop will remain open to the Lord's call in the future, if we can stay in touch with them.

We are excited about hosting a booth for the upcoming NCYC in Kansas City. Plans are underway for new videos promoting vocations, an updated 'Called by Name' program for parishes, opportunities for closer collaborations with priests, and the Archbishop's Quo Vadis retreat coming up in January.

Also, since I've moved into the Director of Seminarians role this year, I was able last week to visit our seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon, all 11 of them, and to collaborate in their formation with the administration of the seminary. I have a lot to learn, but this has been a welcome and exciting addition to my vocation office workload!

Please pray a Hail Mary (or more!) for our seminarians and applicants to the seminary this year!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bartimaus is annoying . . . and that's good!

Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
25 October 2009
Year for Priests

St. John Vianney, pray for us!
St. Lawrence, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of Priests, pray for us!

For daily readings, click here

Bartimaus, the hero of today's Gospel story, is something none of us want to be. He is needy. He is whiny. He is a beggar. It is not cool to be any of these things. When people ask us how we are doing, they expect us to say we're doing well. They don't generally want to hear about our problems. They don't want to hear about our needs. They want to hear that we are doing just fine on our own. That we are self-sufficient. Almost all the commercials we see on tv are geared toward helping us be less needy, teaching us how to do it ourselves, and to be more self-sufficient. Our society is geared toward helping us be less like Bartimaus. How do we fix ourselves, before having to depend on others? We place incomparable value in our society on being able to support yourself. When we ask someone what they do for a living, or what they are studying in college, we immediately want to know if their job or potential job will allow them to be successfully self-sufficient, and not dependent on others. The last thing we want to tell someone we have just met is that we are broke, or unemployed, or a dropout, or unsuccessful in any way. Most of us hate to beg, and what is more, we are scared of people who are going to ask us for things. We stay away from people who are beggars, people who are needy, people who may ask from us, emotionally or materially, more than we are ready or able to give them.

Fr. Robert Barron, in his homily for this weekend, reminds us all however, that learning how to beg, and learning how to love being a beggar, is the beginning of the spiritual life. This is what makes Bartimaus the hero of today's story. He is not afraid to beg, not embarrassed to be a beggar, even when their is social pressure around him to shut up, and quit being so whiny and needy. Bartimaus is told by his peers to disappear, that he is annoying, but because of the spiritual courage of this man, he only shouts out all the louder - Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.

In the same way, we begin every Mass by trying to assume the position of Bartimaus. We begin every Mass by calling to mind our sins. We begin by confessing our blindness, that not only do we not understand fully who we are, we do not understand where we are going or how to get there either. We are blind, insofar as knowing our vocation and how to spend our time on this earth. We begin every Mass by saying Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy, practically the identical words uttered by the hero of today's Gospel. We begin our Mass by asking Jesus to heal us, and to be with us as a sure friend and guide on our journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from loneliness to communion with God and with one another.

Fr. Barron, one of the greatest evangelists of our time, reminds us in his homily for this weekend, that we do not end the Mass by asking for God's mercy, but we begin Mass there. The same must be true of our spiritual life. We do not begin the spiritual life assuming that we can see clearly, and only when our sight proves to fail do we think to bother Jesus. No, we begin the spiritual life with humility, admitting the real and almost certain possibility that we do not know exactly where we are going, nor do we know the way. We must begin the spiritual life not with trying to get as far as we can by ourselves, before realizing Jesus will have to take us the rest of the way. No, quite the opposite. Jesus does not want to pick up where we leave off, but to walk with us from the very beginning of our journey. He wishes to share His vision and His light with us, making bright the path before us, as a companion and friend. Jesus is not for us a last resort, after we have tried everything else, but a first option in helping us be who we really want to be, if only we have the courage to beg his help.

In order to begin the spiritual life, then, which is nothing more than a deep and intimate friendship with God who makes Himself available to us through His Son Jesus, we willingly assume the position of a beggar. We begin Mass by asking the Lord to heal us of our blindness. We do this not because a Catholic must always begin by beating himself up, not because that is what we have been trained to do. We don't do this simply because we hate ourselves and our weaknesses. No, we do this because we know in the depths of our being that from the beginning of our lives, we are never meant to walk alone. Life is not a hard test of who can be the most self-sufficient, the least needy and the least annoying. No, quite the opposite, life is a journey that is meant to be shared with friends, most of all with Jesus, who comes to make life easier by his unique friendship which always puts us in touch with our deepest vocation to love one another as He has first loved us.

It is not an unfortunate thing to be a beggar. This is really hard to get through our thick skulls. Unless Bartimaus is a true hero and model for us, we are doomed to live our lives within the dark circle of our own self-sufficiency, a very small and lonely circle of blindness and loneliness. Bartimaus is the hero of today's story, because he has the gift that no one else around him in today's story seems to have. He has the gift of humbly knowing that he is blind, whereas everyone around him falsely thinks that they can see. When we assume the position of beggar before God, the fruit is that we are able to move from isolation to communion, both with God and with one another. If we are seeking to become more dependent upon God, not less, like Bartimaus who would not let anyone tell him to leave God alone, the result will be that others will be less annoying to us. If we are not afraid to beg, those who beg of our time or our energy or our love will not scare us or annoy us. Like Jesus, who did simply what Bartimaus asked of him, when others ask us for something, we will see them not as annoying, but as a gift, and will be able to always give them at least something of what we have first received from Christ - his mercy, his friendship, and his love.

The next time we are attempted to no-show at some event, to screen a call we know we should answer, to tell a lie in order to preserve our independence, or to shy away from relationships that have the potential to be annoying, let us remember the response of Jesus to the blind man Bartimaus. If we first have the courage to beg Christ to be with us on our journey, we will receive from Him the grace to be His light to others in the same way! +m

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Priest must offer sacrifice of himself as well

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 October 2009
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
Year for Priests

For daily readings, click here

We are in the middle of a Church year dedicated to the interior renewal of priests, through the intercession of the universal patron of priests, St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars. This year we are invited by our Holy Father to reflect on the meaning of the priesthood, and the role the priesthood plays in the mission of the Church and in the overall drama of the redemption of the world. What is more, we are invited to pray for the interior renewal of priests, that the Church may have not just enough priests, but good priests.

What makes a good priest? Well, we could start by seeing how each priest celebrates Mass. This is how we usually start in our priest evaluations. Some say Mass more piously, some with greater attention to detail. Some with very little personality, some with great personality. Some people evaluate whether a priest is good by how he preaches and how he celebrates Mass, and indeed, these can be small windows through which we may see the interior life of a priest, whether he is good and prayerful and loving and holy. But ordinarily, when we pray for our priests to be good, we are thinking about more than how priests celebrate Mass. We are usually praying that a priest is on fire interiorly. That he knows the love of Jesus Christ, and is able to reflect and to give that love unselfishly in imitation of Christ who has called him and set him free not to be served, but to serve. When we think about good priests, we think about priests who are faithful to their promises, and who consistently love their people and look after them, enlivened by the virtue of pastoral charity.

In reflecting on today's readings, we can see how Jesus Christ himself joins in his person the cultic and the servant dimensions of priesthood. A priest is one set apart, one called and designated to focus his life not on earth, but on heaven, and one charged to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of his people. As St. Paul tells us, Jesus is such a cultic priest. He is one set apart from among men so that He may focus his life on heaven, but Jesus himself is a great high priest because he has actually passed through the heavens. But this is not the only dimension of the priesthood of Jesus, the cultic dimension. Because Jesus is not only the priest, but as we have come to know him, also the altar and the lamb of sacrifice, Jesus is a priest who is set apart to precisely offer the sacrifice of himself. And so St. Paul says that this great high priest is able to sympathize with the weakness of his people, because he has come to bear their guilt and to give his life as an offering for sin.

So too any priest called by Jesus Christ today shares in the fullness of the priesthood as Jesus handed it on to us. A Catholic priest today is a man set apart to offer the sacrifice of Jesus. A priest is special in this way. People really do a double-take when they see a priest in a restaurant or at a football game. A priest is an ordinary guy, but also different. Within the Catholic tradition, a priest is ordained to act in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ as head of the Church. In offering the sacrifice of Jesus at Mass, a priest makes present the eternally acceptable sacrifice of Jesus, and so shares in the great high priesthood of Jesus Christ. In saying Mass, a priest makes present all the divine love and grace that is sufficient for the salvation of man and the redemption of the world. There is nothing more important for a priest than to offer this sacrifice of Jesus.

Yet there is something more to the priesthood that Jesus instituted and handed on to those whom He loves. When we ask whether a priest is good and holy, we are asking more than if he has faithfully offered the sacrifice of Jesus at Mass. We are asking more than if the priest said the Mass perfectly, even though each priest should celebrate the Mass as well as we can. No, even though we know that a Mass said validly provides the grace that it signifies, when we ask whether a priest is good we are asking more than if he said Mass that day. No, we are asking whether the priest has offered not only the sacrifice of Jesus, but the sacrifice of Himself, in imitation of the one who has called him to be a priest.

And so we enter into the conversation between Jesus and James and John. James and John wish to pass through the heavens with Jesus, the great high priest, and to be set apart and distinguished from ordinary men. But Jesus reminds them, in advance of handing on his priesthood to them, that anyone who wishes to be a priest of the new covenant must not only offer the sacrifice of Jesus, but should also offer the sacrifice of himself. Jesus asks the two whether they can drink the cup that He drinks, and reminds them that this is the most important part of their mission and their sharing in His priesthood, that they come to serve and to give their lives as a ransom for many.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared this a year for priests not so much so we can pat our priests on the back and be more grateful for them, but so that we can all offer sacrifice so that the Church will have the holy priests She deserves and needs. So in praying for our priests during this year for priests, let us ask that our priests continue to hear this call from Jesus to not only offer His sacrifice through the faithful and prayerful celebration of the Mass, but accept his invitation to be a co-redeemer with Him by offering also the gift of themselves. Through the promises of celibacy, obedience and prayer, may our priests hold onto a strong priestly identity, and so be men who are truly different, set apart to truly lead their people toward the holy things of heaven. At the same time, may they have the humility and generosity to draw ever closer to their people, and in imitation of our great high priest who is also the altar and the lamb of sacrifice, may our priests always come not to be served, but to serve, and to give their own lives, as a ransom for many.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

God bigger than the world!

Homily for Tuesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Benedictine College - St. Martin's Chapel
13 October 2009
Year for Priests

For daily readings, click here

St. Paul suggests in his letter to the Romans that it is idolatry that is the principal sin that has delivered many into every impiety and wickedness. It is suppression of the truth that God is not a part of the world and the world is not necessary, that causes men to think they are gods, or to treat idols as gods, the result being the loss of a sense of transcendent goodness, and an erosion of conscience and morals. St. Paul points us toward two mistakes that we can easily make, but that there is no excuse for us making. First of all, God's power and divinity can be perceived through creation, but creation is not God. God, if he is God and not an idol, must be bigger than the world, and not a part of the world. Consequently, we cannot make the second mistake made by so many today, to regard the world as necessary and God as optional or contingent. For the atheist materialist, what is real is what can be measured, whereas what cannot be measured is fictional. Yet it does not follow that the world must be, that there must be something instead of nothing. We cannot make the mistake, says St. Paul, of turning God into an idol by assuming that the world, just because it is, is more necessary than God.

Jesus at the end of tonight's Gospel from Luke reminds us of a powerful means of cleansing ourselves from the inside. Of the three penitential practices recommended always by our Church in the battle against sin, almsgiving is suggested by Jesus to the exclusion of prayer and fasting, at least in this Gospel. I've heard of people having great success in their fight against certain sins by giving alms to a worthy cause every time that they recommit a certain sin. Fining ourselves, as it were, is oftentimes a strong remedy, both against our attachment to money, and our attachment to particular sins. If we know that we must give alms, maybe more than we think we can afford, if we commit a certain sin, and truly hold ourselves accountable, we can have a very effective and creative strategic weapon in our battle against presumption, complacency, and sin.

To Christ through Mary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is no ponzi scheme!

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
11 October 2009
Year for Priests

For daily readings, click here.

I've only been on the Yankee Stadium field once. It was the old Yankee stadium, before the new 'death star' was built (by the way, I've never liked the Yankees). In April of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI made a pastoral visit to the United States, and one of his final events was having Mass at Yankee Stadium. I was fortunate enough to find a ticket to distribute communion on the lower level. so during the Eucharistic prayer we were invited onto the field, an elevated stage actually, that was close to the Holy Father as he celebrated Mass. We were ushered to a spot right between shortstop and third base. Being a big baseball fan, I instantly recognized that I was standing right where Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, two of the most famous and well-paid players in baseball, practiced their craft.

We don't know how 'young' the man was who approached Jesus in today's Gospel. We only know that he was fit enough to 'run up' to Jesus to ask him his important question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? I remember that when I was young, my dream was to be a professional athlete. Needless to say, this was a naive dream. I didn't realize that my amazing plays that I made in front of my friends and brothers in the backyard did not translate into making millions and being on sportscenter. But when I was young, I would have given anything to be Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter. To make millions. To play a game I love for a living. To be on SportsCenter every night. To win and win and win. Granted, I would rather be doing this for the Royals than for the evil Yankees, but this is what I wanted more than anything.

Twenty years later, as I was standing in the same spot where Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter play, looking at the crowd of Catholic faithful praying the Mass, and watching the Holy Father, who is such a powerful symbol of the unity of the Catholic faith, gather this great crowd into one around the Eucharist, I reflected on how full my life had become over the last 20 years. As I thought about how Christ had worked in my life, and about the friendship I shared with Christ because of my desire to follow Him more closely through the priesthood, I reflected on how little I wanted to be Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. I realized that what was once attractive to me had lost its luster, because of the surpassing love of Jesus Christ that had truly redeemed my heart and compelled me to give my life in service of His Church. To take nothing away from how cool it would be to make $42,000 every time I came to the plate, and how incredible it might feel to be able to hit a baseball 400, or even 500 feet, the fullness of my heart as I stood on that field with the Holy Father was such that I could not imagine being anything other than a priest.

At the end of the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples who have left everything to follow Him that they will get a hundred times more in this age, and persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. I wonder how this first hit the ears of the disciples. On the surface, such a promise from Jesus sounds like prosperity theology - the more you give materially, the more you will get materially - like a ponzi scheme where you have high short-term risk but high long-term rewards. Initially, Jesus seems to be 'cutting a deal' with his disciples to keep them investing, promising them the world in return. If we look a few years into the future, we see that either Jesus was a liar, or that he was promising Peter and the disciples something much different than a ponzi scheme. Of the things that Jesus promised them - a hundred times more houses and brothers and sisters and children and lands in this age, and persecution, and eternal life in the next - the only thing that history can confirm that the apostles received for sure were the persecutions. They were all eventually martyred for leaving everything to follow Jesus.

So how can we blame the young man in today's Gospel for walking away from the deal Jesus offered him? Go sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me! How could the young man say yes to this proposal from Jesus, unless he knew Jesus to be more than simply a good teacher. Upon greeting Jesus as 'good teacher' Jesus immediately challenges this greeting with a peculiar question - why do you call me good? Jesus gives the young man a chance to profess faith in Jesus as more than a good teacher. Jesus pretends like he not good, to see whether this man might use the occasion to profess his faith in God, and his desire to be in relationship with Jesus who came from God. The young man ignores Jesus' peculiar question, however, and instead focuses not on the possibility of a deep friendship with Christ who is before him, but on the commandments, which he has followed as well as anyone.

In the ensuing dialogue, we see that the young man is like all of us. He wants to make the correct investment, to cut the right deal, and to know that he will get the right result. Which of us does not go through the same process thousands of times every day, hoping to make the right investments of our time, and money, in order to get the desired result. But the dialogue between Jesus and the young man does not turn into an extended conversation about how one can make the right adjustments in order to inherit eternal life. No, the conversation ends abruptly, with the young man walking away sad, after Jesus intimates that following the commandments is only the beginning of inheriting eternal life. In order to be perfect, the young man must remove everything from his life that would keep him from loving God, and his neighbor, with all his heart, and all his mind, and all his strength. The commandments do not make someone perfect. The commandments are the beginning of love and discipleship, not the end.

College campuses like KU are notoriously liberal places. KU, and Lawrence, are politically speaking, an anomaly within the conservative state of Kansas. One can simply look at the disparity between the votes cast in Douglas county and Johnson county to see this. But there is a difference between political liberalism and philosophical or theological liberalism. Liberty, and liberalism, pertain to human freedom. Whether you think that being a Democrat or being a Republican is more correct, or realistic, or better for the commond good, in the historical landscape of higher education, the question of whether one is becoming more liberal or not, which should happen to all students at a true university, is a much more complex question that whether you vote Democrat instead of Republican. When speaking philosophically, and theologically, the question of liberalism is a question of whether one is become more free to pursue the things that are eternal. The question of liberalism is whether or not you are free from being utilitarian, using your life as a means to pursue things that pass away, and are instead more free to contemplate and pursue transcendental things like truth, goodness, beauty and unity. The question of liberalism is a question of whether you are in higher education for more than simply to learn a trade and to get a job and make money, and to tailgate and party when you need to veg out. The question of liberalism is a question of whether you are becoming free to pursue more than what the young man pursued, for he walked away sad, because he had many possessions. Campuses are liberal places because they are places where you are to learn the meaning of life, and how to live precisely for the things that bring a happiness and peace which do not fade.

This, in the end, is what Jesus was offering the young man in today's Gospel. It is what he offers all of us who might be his disciples. Through an unadulterated and uncalculated relationship of deep friendship with Him, Jesus offers to pour into our hearts the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and love. Through our discipleship with Jesus, Jesus promises to detach us from all those things that keep us from realizing our fundamental vocation to love. He promises his disciples a sharing in his life, and in his wisdom that is described in our first reading tonight, a wisdom besides which all other gold and beauty and health are but sand. The young man in today's Gospel was more interested in an abstract relationship with commandments that in committing to an intimate and real friendship with Jesus Christ. He walked away because He did not realize who Jesus was, or what He was being offered. He walked away from a sharing in the wisdom that created the world, and through a relationship with Christ, having the opportunity to own the world in him and through him and with him, rather than having the things of the world own him.

In the end, though, we are all like the young man in today's Gospel. After doing all the calculations, it never adds up for us. Left to our own decision, we will walk away from Jesus, for he asks for too much, and his promises seem too abstract and remote. Even if we know that there is more to life than money, and good looks, and being on Sportscenter, our choice to follow Jesus can never live up to his call to sell everything we have, give it to the poor, and then to come and follow Him. We always have a backup plan. We always keep something to ourselves. That is why the disciples, and Jesus, are right to say that for man it is impossible. Jesus' call and command are exactly what they sound like. He commands that we find a way to pass a camel through the eye of a needle. Who would make a deal with a lunatic like that? Ultimately, the call that Jesus makes to the young man is something that we can hear, but not something that we can choose. The young man could not realistically choose it. What Jesus was asking was impossible.

Because of this, we have to take another approach. Like Mary, God's call is something we find a way to live up to. It is something that chooses us. God's call is something we accept, allowing God to accomplish the impossible within us. For a Christian disciple, being truly free, being liberal, being someone who sets his heart always on the highest things that never pass away, is not something we accomplish, but something that Christ accomplishes in us. Jesus looked a the young man before him with love. The decision before the young man, and before all of us, is not ultimately whether we can put a camel through the eye of a needle. We cannot. It is impossible. The decision before us is whether we can be chosen by a love through which by which all things were made, and through which all things are redeemed! +m

Sunday, October 4, 2009

not salt in the wound

Young lovers say silly things. Naive things. In the new throes of romance, young lovers pledge total love, undying love, exclusive love. They pledge enthusiastically, like the children Jesus directs us to in today's Gospel. They pledge without counting the cost, without suspecting that life will throw them many curveballs in the future. Curveballs they won't know how to hit. On the FOCCUS inventory given to many young couple as they prepare for marriage in the Church, one of the true/false statements is this: We believe that everything will work out as long as we love each other. The correct answer is 'false' because the inventory is about getting couples to talk about what lies ahead, rather than naively trusting that there will be no problems. But almost all couples answer 'true.' They believe in their love for each other. Love is all that matters. Love will conquer all.

Jesus tells the Pharisees and his closest disciples in today's Gospel that these young lovers are right. These young lovers who say silly things, who promise the world, who naively dismiss the difficulties that love and marriage entail, are right. Jesus reminds us that communication and compromise are not our vocation in life. Love is our vocation. For from the beginning, Adam noticed that it is not good for man to be alone. Man's vocation is not to be successful. Man's vocation is not to be secure. Man's vocation is not to enter into relationships that are contracts. No, man's vocation is simple. It is total. Man's vocation is to love. And to show this, Jesus points the Pharisees and his disciples to a little child, and says that this child reminds us of everything that we need to know about our vocation, for sometimes, the younger we are, the more we believe in love. Sometimes the younger we are, the more we get things right. The more we believe that love really is strong enough to climb any mountain. That in the end, love is everything, and that love conquers all.

Jesus reminds us through his teaching today that it is not the unpredictability of life, no matter how unforeseen and difficult those circumstances may be, that threatens marriage. The Pharisees, and even Jesus' disciples, were convinced that it was because life was too hard that Moses permitted men to write a bill of divorce. But Jesus points not to the circumstances of life, but to the heart. He says that it is not the vagaries of life that threaten marriage, but hardness of heart. Jesus says that it is when love grows cold that marriage is in peril, and that people start counting the costs and thinking about a way out not. Circumstances always change, but it when these circumstances cause hearts to grow cold, and only then, that marriage is in peril.

In raising marriage to the dignity of a sacrament by the teaching we hear in today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that because He has come to fully reveal the love of God, love never has to take a second place to practicality. Because Jesus has come to make the love of God more present, through His marriage to His bride, the Church, there remains the real possibility of that original vocation of man to love to be fulfilled. Because Christ has come to cure man's original state of alienation and loneliness from God, love emerges anew in Christ as man's origin, and his highest destiny. Christ in elevating the sacrament of marriage through today's teaching, says that in and through Him, and in and through His marriage to His bride the Church, we can all remain like children, and like young lovers, ready to hear and to answer our deepest vocation to love. In fact, in raising marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, Christ promises that it is His love that will seal and strengthen the love of husband and wife so that love might endure through every difficulty.

The first time I proclaimed and preached this Gospel on marriage, I was a seminarian leading a communion service in a parish while the pastor was away on vacation. Before I got through half of the Gospel, a woman in the second row was weeping loud enough for everyone to hear. She was going through a divorce. With every word I said, both in reading the Gospel, and then by preaching it, I felt like I was rubbing salt in her open wounds. I felt terrible. What kind of good news is this that Jesus speaks? I wondered how I would ever be able to preach this Gospel to people who have been so wounded by divorce. There is nothing worse than divorce. In working with many couples as a priest, I understand that divorce is rarely entered into lightly. It is agonizing. It is not something that either husband or wife ever wanted. It is not something that any couple would want another couple to go through. Divorce has touched everyone's lives in a painful way. On one hand, Jesus' teaching on the indissolubility of marriage can seem like rubbing salt in wounds that are already very painful.

Yet almost every couple I have worked with who have divorced, would say that they believe in Jesus' teaching. Despite everything, they still believe that love is possible. We are made to believe in love. Not even the pain of divorce, and the difficulties of loving and losing, can completely erase this most basic meaning of our lives. When we hear Jesus reminding us that unless we become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, we know deep down that to stop loving is to stop living, for man does not make sense without love. He means nothing without love. And we know that when we stop believing that love can endure all things, and conquer all things - when we say that the circumstances of life must determine how much we love, then we know we are already dead. Deep down, all of us yearn for Jesus to remind us that it is the coldness of our hearts that cause us more difficulty than any curveball life throws us ever could.

On this Respect Life Sunday in the Church, we are reminded too that the decline of morality in the Church, the decline that threatens life in its most vulnerable stages, is ultimately a failure for us to hear and to answer our vocation to love one another as Christ has loved us. It is when love grows cold that the call to marriage, and to chaste living that respects the unique depth and fruitfulness of sacramental marriage, seems difficult. It is when love grows cold that we love selfishly, contractually, manipulatively, and in a way that is destructive to human life. It is not simply that we have become bad people that life is now compromised and destroyed in the womb, it is because we have stopped believing in love, and have believed instead in success and in managing circumstances for ourselves.

We are renewed in faith, hope and love, my dear friends in Christ, every time we approach this sacrament of love, the sacrament of sacraments that is meant to redeem our hearts and to setets us free to love in imitation of Christ. Let us through the sacrament of the Eucharist allow Christ to soften our stony hearts with his love, and send us forth without fear to love others as he has loved us, and through our vocation to love, to bring the Gospel of life to the world! Amen. +m

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Candidacy for 1st Theologians at Kenrick

Four of our seminarians from the Archdiocese (Nathan Haverland, Mark Ostrowski, Danny Schmitz and Quentin Schmitz) received candidacy this week in a ceremony at their ceremony. This is probably not a good analogy, but I always compare the reception of candidacy to the engagement of a couple for marriage. Even though these men have over three years to go before they could, God willing, be ordained transitional deacons for the Archdiocese, in candidacy, they declare themselves publicly to be candidates for ordination. Although much personal discernment can and will take place after candidacy (and should, I might add), the reception of candidacy takes a man beyond mere personal discernment of the Lord's will and opens him up in a public way to be known as one formally seeking ordination. In making this public stance, the seminarian says that he is comfortable letting the Church know him as a man who feels called by Christ to be a priest, and as a man who will guard nurture this vocation and submit it to even closer scrutiny by the Church. It is a great step, and we are rightfully proud of these four fine men, and all of our seminarians. Let us pray for them in a special way, and on this Memorial of St. Therese, let us entrust them to her intercession. May they imitate her little way and find inspiration in her vocation to be love in the heart of the Church. +m St. John Vianney, pray for us!

Pilgrimage to the Death Star (Yankee Stadium)

That's kind of how you feel as a Royals fan going in there. Like you're a jedi night flying into the death star. It's like you have no chance, but you are hoping you can find a little 'reactor' or something to shoot into and blow the whole thing up so you do not have to endure another mismatch like this one. Actually on Tuesday, when I made the pilgrimage from Newark, where the Vocation Director's conference was, to the Death Star, the Royals were up most of the game until they pitched Farnsworth in the 9th. Enough said. Soria had pitched two innings and 46 pitches Sunday, and had a sore shoulder. Go figure. Even with most of the Yankee regulars pulled in the 8th since they had trailed the whole game, the Royals had no chance with Farnsworth in the 9th. Yankees scored 2 and won 4-3. I wore lots of Royal blue and took my medicine from some less than stable and virtuous men around us. It would have been worse had I not told them my three companions and I were all priests. They toned it down after that. I have some audio and video hopefully I can put up in the next couple of days. Here is a picture of the stadium, and a memorable shot of my least favorite Yankee - Johnny Damon. Doesn't he look intelligent in this shot?