Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joseph, Mary , Jesus - the Advent inversion

4th Sunday of Advent A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here

If you can't imitate Jesus perfectly,
be like Mary.
Allow Jesus to come into your life.
Make room for Him.
But if you can't be like Mary
always ready to receive Him.
If you need your space.
And tend to think about yourself a lot.
Then try to be like Joseph.
Not that He was selfish in any way.
But having neither Jesus' divine nature
nor Mary's fullness of grace
Joseph still found the way to do the right thing.
He is a righteous man.
Those who find it hard to be perfect
like Jesus or His mother
can still do the right thing
that is right in front of them.
They can be like Joseph.

Joseph spent more time with Jesus
than any apostle.
He spent years with Jesus
and Jesus was obedient to Joseph.
In this Joseph is more than an apostle.
We can go to him.
For Jesus is still dependent upon Joseph
and Jesus will do whatever Joseph asks.
Our imitation of Joseph in Advent
brings us closer to Mary his wife
so that with her and him
we can welcome Jesus into the world.
With Joseph through Mary to Jesus.
There is the way
for a perfect Christmas.

In the light of Abraham's faith,
knowing the promises made to David
and his posterity
Joseph confronts the apparent evil of adultery
as a righteous man
knowing that the law takes evil seriously
and demands that there be truth not deceit.
Still he sees the good
to which the law points
Joseph observes the law
but knows the good the law preserves
and he sees the good
of divorcing Mary quietly
and the demands of justice
doing the right thing
do not keep his heart from loving
his wife and this child.
His love that went beyond
the demands of the law
and the knowing of the good
his love that was beyond
what is reasonable and just
allowed him to believe
against great statistical odds
that what the angel said in a mere dream
that the savior would be born
from the house of David
and that the virgin would conceive
and bear a son.

Joseph in being righteous
and knowing the good
and cultivating love
and believing that faith
makes all things possible for God
was able to do the next right thing
in front of him.
He took Mary and Jesus into his home.

There would be more right things
to do tomorrow
Joseph did what was right today.
Joseph was neither perfect by nature
like his Son
nor full of grace
like his wife
yet he found a way to do the right thing.

John the Baptist tells us to repent
or we will miss the Lord's coming.
Mary shows us how to wait in silence
for the Savior to come to us.
Joseph guides us
to do the next right thing.

Listen to John the Baptist.
Make room like Mary.
Act like Joseph.
The Lord Jesus is surely coming!
He is coming soon!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

where I am there also will my servant be

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent I
Memorial of John of the Cross, priest and doctor
14 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

John of the Cross
teach us how to desire the cross
how to want to be where the Lord is
especially when He is there.

Conforms our lives to the mystery of the cross
not to desire suffering for the sake of suffering
but for the sake of Him
for the sake of being where He is
for the sake of relationship with Him
and through Him
with everyone else
especially those who suffer now.

Conforming our lives to the mystery of the cross
not because life is suffering
but because life is joy
and knowing that this joy
is found far beyond superficial comforts
that this joy belongs to the pure of heart
whose hearts have been tried
in the crucible of the cross.

We can still expect things to go well for us
and thank God for everything
and rejoice in the goodness of the Lord's creation
and yet at the same time
not expect things to go my way,
but expect things to go His way
and to know that when a cross comes my way
He is present to me in a perfect way.

So we rejoice when things go well
and rejoice twice when they don't.
We rejoice in the Lord always,
again, I say to you rejoice
for when the cross comes
the Lord is near.

Where I am
there also will my servant be.
Anyone who wishes to be where I am
must deny himself
take up his cross
and follow me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

from least to greatest

Gaudete Sunday
12 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center

Rejoice in the Lord always!
Again, I say rejoice!
The Lord is near.

Not anxiety today.
But rejoicing.
Pink Sunday is about rejoicing.
But don't call is pink.
It's rose - get it right!
Priests don't wear pink.
But rejoicing nonetheless.
Not the anxiety of finals at KU.
Not the anxiety of shopping days remaining
or how much money is left
or who is going where and why.
Not the anxiety of how to make Christmas perfect
from the outside in.
But rejoicing, because the Lord is coming.
Rejoicing that He will do what essentially needs to be done.
Rejoicing, for He is coming
to make our Christmas perfect
from the inside out.
Again, I say rejoice!

John the Baptist in prison
perhaps had a second thought
for he had decreased
so that the Lord could increase
yet now the Lord was decreasing.
Why is Jesus messing up the plan?
John the Baptist was not worthy to untie his sandal
yet the Lord who could change everything
was only changing the smallest of things.
The Lord who could change everything,
was healing people who could change nothing.
Is this the one who is to come?
The one who can change everything
has no interest in politics
or macroeconomics.
Is this the one who is to come?
He makes himself smaller and smaller and smaller,
healing people from the inside out
changing little from the outside in
content to teach the dumb not the learned
to heal one by one.
At this rate he could live a thousand years and never finish
yet he makes himself smaller
and smaller and smaller.
Patience St. Paul tell us today!
Patient rejoicing, like a farmer waiting for the fruit!
This is the one who comes.
He is coming with his power that could make us obey
yet he would not break a bruised reed
and he shows the power that once made the universe
not in annihilating us
but in redeeming us
in serving us
in making Himself smaller and smaller
until I believe that He came for me
and me alone
that He came not to be served, but to serve me
not in showing himself bigger
but by making himself smaller and smaller
until he is irresistible
not by his bigness
but by his smallness.
He becomes smaller and smaller and smaller
until it is just me and Him
until I can hold Him in my arms like Mary and Joseph
until He disarms my defenses
and heals me from the inside out.

for the Lord our God is coming!
He is coming to heal us by relationship,
by dependence
by intimacy
by vulnerability.
These things alone heal from the inside out.
They free a person more perfectly
than self-help
or any gift under the tree that promises what it cannot deliver.
He alone is perfect gift.
He alone is perfect fulfillment and peace.
He alone can satisfy.
His coming is the reason we travel,
his giving is the reason we give,
his closeness is the reason for our wanting to be close to each other,
for closeness is healing
being together in Him is what will heal our hearts
and give us the hope
to endure with patience and perseverance and love
whatever may come
until God has redeemed the world in His way
according to His promise
to begin with the least of us.

The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Behold the lowliness of his handmaiden.
Behold Mary, the first to be raised from
least to greatest.

Mary, take now the baton from John the Baptist
and take us to Bethlehem with you.
John told us to be ready with his words,
but you show us how to be ready with your silence.
Remind us how to have a heart like a child
a heart that is not anxious for Christmas
but rejoices that it is near,
give to us all your immaculate heart
the heart of a mother expecting her first child
in just days
not with anxiety or fear
but with joy
in letting yourself always be made new by His coming
pure joy in letting it be done unto you according to His word!

Rejoice in the Lord always!
Again, I say rejoice!
The Lord is near!

Monday, December 6, 2010

from John the Baptist to Mary

Gaudete Sunday
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
11 December 2010

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice! The Lord is near!

We have rounded the corner toward Christmas. Pink Sunday reminds us of what we already know, that Christmas is coming fast. Pink Sunday means something else at KU. Most years, it means the start of finals week, and amazing amounts of stress, for it is the time of reckoning on campus. Know of our heartfelt prayers for you as you fulfill your responsibilities as students, while praising God for the abilities and opportunities He has given you.

Even though it falls during Finals Week here at KU, Gaudete Sunday is not supposed to be about stress. It is about rejoicing because the Lord is near. Gaudete Sunday is not supposed to be a warning bell that there are only so many more shopping days before Christmas, and is not to set off alarms that we are neither spiritually nor materially prepared for a perfect Christmas. The reality is that if a perfect Christmas was the fruit of our own labors, it would never happen. No, Christmas is perfect not because we are perfectly prepared, but because the Lord is perfectly ready to come into the world. The Lord with His presence makes every circumstance and every moment perfect, through His closeness to us. Once finals week is over, KU students should not trade one stress for another, the stress of finals for the stress of Christmas. No, Gaudete Sunday tells us that the time for rejoicing is near, not only because Finals are over, but because the Lord is perfectly prepared to visit us, no matter how unprepared we might be.

We can have a perfect Advent in a short amount of time by watching the children, for Jesus tells us that unless we turn again and again, and become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, nor will we recognize the kingdom coming among us. The kids know for certain that the gifts under the tree will satisfy their deepest desires. They know down to the minute when Christmas will arrive. We have to feed off of their joy this Christmas, for although no material gift can perfectly satisfy us when we grow older, the perfect gift of God's presence in Christ does satisfy. For a person is satisfied insofar as he has an opportunity to love perfectly, and at Christmas the God of all creation makes Himself as vulnerable as a newborn child, whom no one can hold in his arms without his heart changing for the better.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice! The Lord is near. Gaudete Sunday is a great Sunday for us to rejoice because the mystery of Christmas is a mystery that continues to change the world, and to change hearts, in the most profound of ways. The world is far from perfect, and frustration and despair and discouragement easily settle in, but on Gaudete Sunday we are asked to imagine a world without Christmas, a world that did not stop to contemplate and to celebrate that love is the reason there is something rather than nothing, love is the reason we are someone instead of no one, and love is the answer to the mystery of the human person, and love is what makes an outwardly imperfect world inwardly perfect.

It truly is amazing how much one baby changes the world. The mystery of God's being close to us, in taking up our flesh out of love for us, is the mystery that leads to our taking time to be close to each other. It is through the mystery of God's closeness to us that we choose to be close to each other, and exchange affections and gifts with each other that otherwise we might never exchange. Christmas shows that it is because God is close to us that ultimately, it makes sense for us to continue to be close to each other. Because God made Himself vulnerable to us, coming irresistably as a newborn child, that it makes sense for us to eschew every kind of independence, self-realization, self-esteem, self-help, and anything else that begins with the word self, and instead to seek above all things dependence, closeness, intimacy, vulnerability and love. For in this season we celebrate that love is our origin, love is our constant calling, love is what makes life worth living, and love is our destiny forever in heaven.

It is God's closeness to us; his willingness to visit us, that makes an outwardly perfect world inwardly perfect. On Gaudete Sunday we rejoice not in naive optimism, not because we can prove the world is getting better day by day, but we rejoice with supernatural hope, the virtue that says that God's closness makes life worth living, and being close to each other is the key to getting through the rough patches and pressing on toward the promises God has made to us. We rejoice that God's presence makes things better in this world, that His presence brings real healing, but also that His presence is assurance that every promise He has made will be fulfilled in the world to come.

John the Baptist then hands the Advent baton over to our Lady on this Gaudete Sunday. John the Baptist rejoiced from prison when he realized that his mission had been accomplished, that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived! John the Baptist has told us that our patient expectation and perseverance in hope would be rewarded. He has told us to be ready! Now on Gaudete Sunday Mary will take us the rest of the way, for as great as John the Baptist was, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Mary is not only the least in the kingdom, she is the greatest in the kingdom, and with the expectation and joy that only a mother can understand, She leads us the Church, with an incomparable excitement for the coming of Jesus.

Today's Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is obscured somewhat by its coincidence with Gaudete Sunday. Our Lady's Appearance to Juan Diego in 1531 led to more people believing in God's closeness to them, and delivered to more people God's supernatural gift of hope, than the work of any other apostle. Mary, the Queen of the Apostles, proclaims the Gospel of her Son like no other, and she has personally watched over the growth of the faith in the Americas. She is the patronness of all Catholics in the Americas, and with 60% of Catholics in the United States under the age of 35 now being Hispanic, it will be nearly impossible in the future to be a Catholic in the United States in the coming years without having a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let us ask our Lady to help us to finish our Advent journey with the same heart that welcomed Jesus into the world!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mary not a temp employee

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
8 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas

Today's great Solemnity celebrates a dogma of the Church, that Mary was full of grace from the first moment of Her conception. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, each one of us has been predestined and chosen, before the foundation of the universe, to be in Christ, and to be holy and without blemish before Him. Today we celebrate that of all those so predestined, Mary was the first to be fully in Christ, to stand before Him holy and without blemish. It is clear from Luke's Gospel that Mary was already fully in Christ, already full of His life, before She conceived Christ in Her womb. She alone, among all women, was perfectly in Christ, and so was perfectly and singularly chosen and capable of conceiving Him and carrying Him and being a mother to One who is perfect. It is clear that the grace given to Mary so that she might become the mother of God was given to her well in advance of Her conception of Jesus. The angel says to Mary that she is 'full of grace' before she is to conceive a son. So at what moment did Mary become full of grace? Today's dogma proclaims that if Mary was ever full of grace, she was always full of grace and always will be full of grace. Today we proclaim that the gift of this holiness began from the first moment of Her conception.

Through the prayer of the Church, we have come to understand Mary's fullness of grace to be a gift that was not meant not just for a temporary assignment but for an eternal assignment from God. If Mary had no such eternal assignment, she could have been perfected by God for the minimum amount of time with the minimum amount of grace needed for the job, to give birth to the Savior. Yet the Church in her prayer has come to understand this being full of grace to mean much more. Mary was already full of grace by the time the angel Gabriel appeared to her, a clue that her mission from God was not at all temporary, and this same fullness of grace accompanied Mary throughout her life and impelled Her to appear at the cross of her Son, where she was given the responsibility of being a mother to the apostle John. It is at the cross that we see Mary's fullness of grace just as surely as we hear of it at the Annunciation, and it is a fullness meant for the motherhood of the apostolic Church, as Mary, like Eve before her, becomes the mother not just of one son, but of all the living. Just as in the order of nature, anyone who has life can trace his beginning back to Eve, the mother of all the living, so in the order of grace God willed the same pattern, that there be a mother of all who have eternal life, and all who have eternal life can trace their beginnings back to her. In the economy of salvation, Mary appears before Jesus, and the Lord Himself is dependent upon Mary to receive His own flesh. Just as the Lord Himself was dependent upon Mary, so we too are always dependent upon Her who always mediates the coming of Jesus, who always mediates the world's welcoming of Jesus and the world's giving birth to Him, who always mediates His grace as pattern and mother of the Church. Mary is the one most like Her Son. She is the one closest to Him. She is the one He loves the most in all creation. She alone is pronounced full of grace. So if Jesus always was, is and will be important, so also Mary whom He always loves and always honors was, is and will always be important, in the mind and heart of Jesus, and in ours as well. It is right then, that the mother of God and the mother of the Church who is given such an eternal role in the economy of salvation, be understood by the faithful as being full of grace not just temporarily, in a minimum, way, but in a superabundant way, in a way that proclaims Mary to be most like her Son, the same yesterday, today and forever, always full of grace from the beginning to the end.

Today is a singularly important Solemnity in the United States, a solemnity that is never abrogated or moved, for any reason. Today's Solemnity outranks all the other Holy Days of Obligation here in the United States. Mary of the Immaculate Conception is the patronness of the United States. In a special way, Mary herself is the apostle to the Americas, for none of the original twelve apostles brought the Gospel to this land. We have always had a special devotion to Mary because it is she herself, who personally inspires and protects the proclamation of the Gospel in this land with a mother's care. The new bishops of our country, who were working with great sacrifice, to establish the Church in the United States, always had special recourse to Mary, and so they had the privilege of representing the Catholic faith of Americans, and our new Church here, and our own personal devotion to Mary our mother, at the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. This was a great achievement of theology, that almost 1900 years after the coming of the Lord, the theologians of the Church were able to proclaim with great precision, in a way that was reasonable and could be defended against every attack, what had been believed through the prayers of the Church, and in the hearts of the faithful, for centuries, that it was a matter of divine faith and sure revelation that Mary was conceived without sin. It is really theology at its best, not making up new theology as we go along, but the faith of the Church always seeking new understanding. Our young bishops of the United States were there, and Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception became the patronness of our country soon afterwards. With Mary Herself as the apostle to the Americas, may we in the United States see our special responsibility and opportunity to be a mountaintop, from which the Church, under the powerful intercession of Mary, may shine the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Amen.

sin changes us, but not God

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor
7 December 2010
St. Michael the Archangel School Mass

God comes closer and closer and closer. That is the great proclamation of Advent. Against all deistic tendencies, against all temptations to think that God is absent, the Advent proclamation, spoken with conviction again today by the prophet Isaiah, is that God is coming closer. He is always coming closer. Here He comes, with power, who rules with His strong arm, with His reward with Him. He comes like a shepherd who feeds his flock, carrying in His arms His lambs, carrying them in His bosom.

The mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of God's coming closer. He comes to shepherd His people, following them wherever they go, no matter how far they stray from Him. When we strayed so far that there did not seem to be a way back for us, God not only pursued us, leaving everything else aside to rescue those of us who had thrown Him aside, He Himself became the lamb, taking on our nature, and then even more, taking our sins upon Himself in order to bear the punishment of death in our stead.

Our sins prevent our ability to be present to God, and so we must repent of them with all our hearts, for the Lord will not rescue us without ourselves. Yet lest we think that our sins prevent God's ability to be present to us, God came closer, taking on our human nature and even its sinfulness, so that no matter how far we have strayed, our sins do not prevent God from being present to us.

Let us rejoice in the mystery that although we have millions of ways to move away from God, we never change His desire to come closer to us, and let us marvel that He has tens of millions of ways to make Himself present wherever we are. No matter how we have sinned, He wishes to carry us back in His own arms.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

you're in jesus' way!

2nd Sunday of Advent
5 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center

You are in Jesus' way. Your ego. Your plans. Your stuff. Your sins. John the Baptist comes on the 2nd Sunday of Advent to remind us that we are the problem. Notice that I changed from you to we there. I'll throw myself in as part of the problem as well. We are in Jesus' way. The reason so few things change is that most of us are self-absorbed. Life is a self-improvement project for us. John the Baptist comes on this second Sunday of Advent to remind us not to equivocate the Lord's coming with another opportunity to tinker with our own lives. The Lord's coming is not another revolutionary diet, not another revolutionary workout, not another once in a lifetime investment opportunity, nor is it the perfect material gift at a price too good to be true. No matter how dramatic the commercials and infomercials make these things sound, in the end they are about small adjustments, not real conversion, not real change. John the Baptist wears camel hair and eats locusts to try to get us not to equivocate the Lord's coming with any other special offers that bombard us during this holy season. No, the Lord's coming is different because it is a change of focus. Our life is not about us. Our life is not about self-improvement, it is about self-forgetfulness. John the Baptist is the greatest prophet because his message is the most powerful. If we are to recognize the Lord's coming, it requires a complete re-orientation of our lives. Our life is not about us, it is about God and neighbor. If our focus is anywhere else, we are part of the problem.

Repentance, then, is central to the prophecy of John. We do not spend as long detaching from sin in Advent than we do in Lent, nor do we engage in the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But real repentance has to be a part of a real Advent. Actually, for some of us, we give more alms during Advent than Lent, and this is good, for giving our stuff and our money away is a cleansing practice, one of the three best ways to detach ourselves from ourselves, and from our sins. John the Baptist can help us be better shoppers then. If the message of John the Baptist gets through to us, our shopping habits should change not based on how the economy is doing, but should reflect that Christ is present, that welcoming His presence is the reason of the season. The goal is to become more generous, not less, but the gifts we give are a way of expressing the coming of Christ, not a replacement for Him or a distraction from Him. John the Baptist in requiring us to detach from our sins reminds us of what we know to be true, that we will not allow Christ to come if our lives are already too full, too full of our own pride and self-absorption. If Christ is to move in, something has to move out. We must repent of our sins. So make a good confession this Advent, one in which you sincerely act to move away from the temptations that threaten to dominate your life.

Heeding the prophecy of John the Baptist should make us want to do something to ensure that this Christmas is different. Perhaps many of the traditions we have are great traditions, and externally, it really is a beautiful season with so many opportunities to focus on what is important. Yet can we afford to let yet another Christmas go by when thousands of things happen externally, but almost nothing changes on the inside. Can we go through the motions yet another year? When John the Baptist speaks about a baptism of fire, he is saying that Christmas, the coming of Jesus, is not just a gentle reminder from God to focus on the most important things. Our problem is not that we don't know what's important, it's that we can put it off to tomorrow, while working on ourselves today. The reason so little changes each Christmas in our interior life is not that we are ignorant of what is important, it is that we do not really know that Christ is present. John the Baptist shouts at us to do whatever we can, in a desperate way, to get out of the illusion that Christ is distant, that we can control His coming and going by tinkering with our lives. He tells us to get over ourselves, and to realize that we control nothing, and that our freedom only gets greater when shared with God. John the Baptist is not about tinkering. He invites us to a complete re-orientation away from self and toward God, and he challenges us to let ourselves be baptized by the Lord's coming, a baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire.

Friday, December 3, 2010

what are we seeing?

Memorial of Francis Xavier
3 December 2010
Danforth Chapel, University of Kansas

Francis Xavier as one of the great missionaries in Church history got to see a lot of things. Bringing the Gospel to the new lands of India and China, Francis only saw opportunity to teach, to baptize, to bring the good news of the Incarnation that God is truly with His people. Francis Xavier wrote to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, how people's lives would be changed if they could see what he saw, and what a joyful mission it was to share the truth of the Gospel with those who had never heard it.

Even in Francis Xavier's time, there were those who had been surrounded by the Gospel all their lives and yet did not know the Lord, did not see the Lord. Francis Xavier abhorred that souls were being lost because Christians hid their faith, and lacked the courage to be missionaries. The blind men in today's Gospel are different. The blind men remind us that then, and now, just because we are living in a Christian culture, albeit an increasingly agnostic and secular one, doesn't mean that we see the Lord. The blind men who saw nothing were one of the few to see the Lord. This lack of seeing is especially true in the Eucharist. Jesus promised to be with us in this perfect way, but many cannot and will not see Him here. The blind men in today's Gospel teach us what it is like to see with eyes of faith. Many people with perfect sight but no faith did not find Jesus because they were not looking for him, yet the blind men with no sight but great faith could see Him perfectly. In the same way, those of us with perfect sight can see millions of things everyday but can go a whole day through without ever seeing Jesus, but those with faith can see nothing but Christ and His presence in the world.

If we have made room for Christ, and sincerely look for His coming, as Advent encourages us to do, then we will find ourselves a bit more like Francis Xavier. The blind men, having had a real conversion through the encounter with Jesus, even without his permission could not stop telling people about Him. The great Francis Xavier, who could not stop seeing Christ in the people he met in the Far East, died witnessing to this same Christ who was always with him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

focus on what is present, not what is lacking

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
1 December 2010
For daily readings click here

We are a nation that diets incessantly and yet still gains weight. We are a nation where the more we have, the less we give. We are a nation that despite our ability to work harder and get things done more efficiently, finds itself increasingly slothful and depressed. We have more entertainment options, and yet people are lonelier than ever. We yearn for true enduring love, and yet marriage is on the decline. We are an inherently ungrateful people, who focus habitually not on rejoicing in what is present, but in lamenting what we perceive to be lacking.

It has always been true that if a person is fulfilled and happy on the inside, there is no way to make them unhappy, and vice versa. There are people who in poverty only see superabundance of opportunity and gifts, and those in abundance who only see unfulfilled desire and who only know boredom.

Today's scriptures remind us that the Lord sees the world, and has each one of us in His hands. He knows our needs before we ask Him, and through His Son every human longing has been satisfied in superabundance, so that not only can we say that the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, but we can without reservation share what we have in faith with those who have no faith. For with the Lord there is superabundance, and to the one who has much, more will be given, and He will grow rich in what matters to God, but for the one who has not, even what he has, will be taken away.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Andrew was first

Feast of Andrew, Apostle
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
30 November 2010
For daily readings click here
The vocation story of one of our youngest seminarians is almost too simple to be true. As a senior in high school, he was sitting around with his siblings discussing whether to go to KU or Rockhurst University. He was interested in being an orthopedic doctor at that time, and was weighing the merits of both schools. One of his sisters said somewhat out of the blue - maybe you should be a priest. Our seminarian said to her - you know I probably should be. His mother caught wind of it and told him to call the vocation director. The next day he was signing up for seminary. I'm not kidding. This is a true story.
Not every vocation story is this simple on the outside. And as this seminarian gets into formation, he realizes that he has much work to do on the road to priesthood. Most vocation stories, like mine, are pretty complicated when told out loud. I ran away from my priestly vocation tens of thousands of times. Part of me always knew I should be a priest, but there were thousands of reasons I could think of for waiting to call the vocation director. Yet in the end, it all worked out.
What strikes us about the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John, is the simplicity of the story. It is too simple to be true. We wonder what Matthew is leaving out of the story, for these four apostles, like us, surely had tens of thousands of hesitations, quid pro quos and questions that are left out of the story. We think the apostles must be like us, who do not respond to the Lord's voice so simply. Maybe it is easier for us to doubt Christ today, but probably not. Those apostles could have told Jesus to jump in the lake. But they didn't. What we see in the calling of the first four apostles is the core of what constitutes a vocation. Christ calls. We leave everything and follow Him. Christ calls, and because He loves us with a perfect love, and knows us better than we know ourselves, we take His voice as an absolute authority, and because we prefer nothing to being with Him, we detach ourselves from our sins, our things, our plans, and our every desire in order to follow Him perfectly. In reality, it gets complicated, but a true vocation always goes back to this simplicity that we see in tonight's Gospel.
Andrew, then, is honored to be the first apostles to hear and to respond. His is the first apostolic vocation, and one we celebrate on his feast with great joy! Andrew's vocation shows us that holiness consists in simplicity. He was called to be a fisher of men, to be someone through whom Christ could know and love His people, someone through whom the Lord could capture His people. Anyone who responds to a vocation from Christ knows that it is not we who choose Christ, but Christ who captures us in His net of pure love, and because He is active within us, we share in this mission of fishing for men, this ministry of capturing souls for His eternal kingdom. St. Andrew is the first vocation director, introducing his brother Simon to Jesus. So say a prayer on this feast for your local vocation director, if you know who he is.
Andrew and Simon follow Jesus together. So do James and John. The first apostles come in pairs. One of the mistakes I made in joining the seminary was failing to bring someone with me. I should have tried harder to bring a friend to seminary with me. While it is true that vocations can be heard and answered in isolation, anyone knows that there is wisdom in strength in doing things together, and this includes responding to vocations. If the Lord is calling you, ask Him today if He is calling someone close to you. Talk to that person. Perhaps your responding together will be the key to either of you responding at all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

when nothing is happening stay awake, be ready

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent Year A
28 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here

Welcome to the new liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent. If we had to chart our liturgical year along the hours of a day, the first Sunday of Advent would be nightfall. Just when we are relieved that the bustle of the day is over, when the temptation to have a beer and kick back and watch television and forget about the troubles of day is strongest, the Church tells us to stay alert. Be ready. This is the season of Advent. When the rest of the world is getting drowsy, we are to become more alert. It is when things seem to be slowing down that we are told to look for something important to happen.

If we had to plot Christmas along the hours of the day, the Lord's birth would happen at midnight. The Lord's birth happens at the darkest hour of the darkest night of the year, at least here in the northern hemisphere, when the greatest number of people are asleep. So when things are starting to wind down, the Church tells us not to veg out, but to be alert. For those who are asleep at the unexpected hour of the Lord's coming in Bethlehem, will still be asleep the morning of the Lord's Resurrection at Easter. Today begins our liturgical year, whose high point is the Easter celebration, the finding of the empty tomb early, at daybreak, on Easter morning.

How we start our litugical year gives some indication of how we will finish it. The Church teaches us not only is it inadvisable to start celebrating Christmas too early, but it almost guarantees that if we even attempt to celebrate Christmas without observing Advent, we will miss the meaning of Christmas. And if we miss the meaning of Christmas, how can we be so sure we will be ready to understand and celebrate the Easter mysteries? How we begin gives a good indication of how we will end. Advent is a time to remember that when the Lord came at Bethlehem, the whole world was asleep, save a very few people. The chance that we will miss the beginning of the world's redemption is very high indeed, and so we are given this season of Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for the mysteries to be revealed to us.

It is easy to take Christmas and Easter for granted. They happen every year. We get the general idea, and we never skip the celebration entirely. Yet how often are these celebrations key turning points in our lives? How do the mysteries change and renew us every year? Do Christmas and Easter become more and more personal or more and more general the more times we celebrate them? Even though we observe Christmas and Easter, the mysteries can lose their power to change us because spiritually we are asleep. We are not expecting anything new.

I know that no one can literally stay awake all the time. We have to sleep sometime. But Advent teaches us that now is not the time for us to become spiritually lazy. If we are spiritually asleep, the church gives us this time to wake up. We are to anticipate Christmas with the same watchful expectation that we have when anticipating a first kiss, waiting to hear back on a job offer, waiting for Mario's shot to drop out of the air, waiting for a new baby to be born. This is the joyful anticipation of Advent. When the world is falling asleep, giving into the temptations of mediocrity, expecting little to change, that is when we are to be more awake.

If we know anything about our God, He is the God of great surprises. You cannot be a Christian if you do not love surprises. God has a knack for coming among us in the most unpredictable of ways, when we are the least ready. We have to learn how to enjoy this and to anticipate it. God who is bigger than the universe delights in surprising us. This is the Christian mystery, beginning with the Incarnation of Jesus. No one is powerful enough to stand before God, yet He makes Himself so small and vulnerable that only the most spiritually awake person can detect His presence. In a way, just as scientists try to see smaller and smaller particles in order to unlock the great mysteries of the universe, so also in our spirtual lives, being awake to the small movements of God is the key to big conversions in our spiritual lives.

This is true here at the Eucharist as much as anywhere else. Here in the Eucharist the Lord is fully present to us. The mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is already here. The Lord is with us. But are we awake? Are there any surprises left for us within the Eucharistic mystery? It is precisely when nothing seems to be happening that we Christians are to stand alert, for it is precisely at these moments that something new is happening. The seeds of new life and our own conversion begin with preparing ourselves for Christmas, for the mystery of God making Himself present to us, His truly being with us, in the most humble of ways. It is when we awaken to the reality that God is more present to us than we are to ourselves, and is always ready for new beginnings with us, that the mystery of the Incarnation begins its saving work in us. So stay awake. Be ready.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

the real definition of a king

Solemnity of Christ the King
21 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center
For daily readings, click here

Michael Jackson, Simba, Elvis, LeBron. The list could go on. and on. And it does. The world has many kings. We like to anoint kings. We like to point out who is unstoppable. We have a need to point out who rules over their rivals and subjects, who dominates their own area of reality. We like to acknowledge who is exceptional in some way, who is not like the rest of us, who is unbreakable, secure, all-powerful. And so we anoint many kings who rule parts of the world, who have temporal and widespread kingdoms.

But then there is the king of kings. Then there is the Lord. There is the one who is literally unstoppable. His kingdom is not only vast, it is without boundaries. It is not only long-lasting, it is eternal, completely without beginning or end. It is the Feast of this King of Kings that we celebrate with great joy today at the end of our liturgical year.

Jesus Christ, Jesus the anointed one, Jesus the King, breaks all categories of kingship. He is greater than any political leader who has ever lived, and we have had some great emperors, kings and presidents in world history. Yet from the moment of his birth, the king of kings had legions of angels waiting on him and proclaiming the coming of his kingdom founded in truth and love. Even a king who has the power to launch a nuclear weapon is impotent to displace this King, whose kingship extends beyond the limits of all creation.

This king is greater than any spiritual leader who has ever lived, for our Lord does not merely point us to a way like the Buddha, He proclaims Himself to be the way. He is not merely the best of prophets delivering God's message to the world, He Himself is that Word. He is not merely a great teacher pointing us toward the secrets of life, He Himself is the life, and relationship with Him, not length of days, is the definition of eternal life.

This king our Lord is not only greater than any other person in history, he is greater than history, and not only is he the most powerful man since the Big Bang, He is more powerful than the Big Bang, for He is the author of all creation, even the laws of nature are subject to Him. That my friends, is a king with power that Forbes magazine cannot measure.

So at all times, we proclaim Jesus to be the Christ. We almost always say the names together - Jesus Christ. Jesus the Lord. Jesus the anointed one. Jesus the King. Jesus Christ. When we say the name given Him by his parents, Jesus, the one who saves, we in the same breath call Him the Christ. We honor Him as the anointed one, we proclaim His amazing power over all creation by always calling Him Lord, by acknowledging that He is the King of Kings.

Yet in this bizarre, beautiful, poetic and dramatic religion that is Christianity, this King of Kings, who is greater than we can possibly imagine, is the same one we see abandoned, naked, humiliated, and tied down to an instrument of torture. It is the same guy. It is the same King. The person greater than the big bang also shows Himself to be the most pathetic person in history. Jesus' kingship is not only proclaimed by legions of angels announcing His miraculous birth, His kingship is mocked and spat upon by passers by at his death. He is not even protected from the jeers of two murderers with whom He is crucified. Above his head is a sign announcing this most ignoble of kingships. Iesus Nazarenus Rex Ieudeorum.

Christianity is really an incomparable, absurd religion. At one moment, we are exploding categories of kingship with St. Paul in Colossians by saying that through Jesus, everything came into being. Without Him, there is nothing, for He holds all creation in Himself. Jesus is all-powerful. He is that which no greater can be thought. At the next moment, we are exploding categories of kingship by still proclaiming as our king one who has been forgotten by everyone, and thrown away like a piece of garbage.

In both ways, Jesus breaks all categories of kingship. In the first way, Jesus is king because his kingdom is bigger and lasts longer. He has incomparable dominion. So kingship in its fullness means the power to create something out of nothing, which no merely human king can do. Yet an even more important definition of kingship comes forward on this great feast as well. A king is one who gives Himself away in love. Because of Jesus, no king can be a king without this element, without a willingness to give Himself away in love. But because of Jesus, we can all be kings, for although we neither have the ability to protect ourselves nor can we create something out of nothing, the most important power a king has, what truly makes him king, are not these things. It is not power over others that is the greatest power, it is the power to lay down his life in love. This, my friends is a kingship we can all share in, and our Lord is happy to share it with us. From the moment of our baptism, we are anointed to be co-heirs with Christ. We are anointed priests, prophets and kings.

On the cross Jesus shows that the power of sacrificial love is greater even than the power of the big bang. The big bang did not make love possible, love made the big bang possible. Sacrificial love is the ground of all reality. That is why the possession of the capacity for sacrifical love, not the capacity to launch a nuclear weapon, defines who is truly king. Sacrifical love is greater than nuclear power. On the cross, we see that love is the reason there is something rather than nothing. It is the reason that we are someone instead of noone.

The definition of kingship that we see on the cross is one we can all share in, even those of us without power or dominion in this world. If a king is one who gives himself away in sacrifical love. then you can be a king, you are a king in Jesus, and with Jesus and through Jesus, the king of Kings.

Living in a country that was founded in opposition to a king, in a country where we want to pay as few taxes, and give as little homage to any king as possible, where we want and expect our king to serve us, Jesus comes among us even now as a King who did not come to be served, but to serve. His is a kingship that does not threaten us, and we who know His kingship is born from the cross need to proclaim this to the world who want to proclaim God instead to be the invader of our lives and the enemy. As Pope Benedict XVI is proclaiming over and over, God is not the enemy, and it is the most insecure of people who see Him as so, and who will not even be in dialogue with Him. The kingship of Christ is not a kingship that threatens, it is a kingship that is ready to be shared with every human person. It is a kingship that seeks the ultimate good of every human person. His is a kingdom that we are obligated to build with great joy and sacrifice, so that people can see through our Church their full dignity and destiny as sharers in the universal and eternal kingdom of our Lord. Let us proclaim together with joy, here today and everywhere. Long live Christ our King!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

praying the sanctus

Wednesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time B
17 November 2010
For daily readings click here
Prayers of petition are great. But prayers of praise might be better. They keep us focused on God and what He is doing. Prayers of praise recognize what God has already done and what He is doing at this moment. This is perhaps more important than prayers of petition, because God might be giving us more than we dare to ask Him, before we even ask Him.
Prayers of petition have to follow upon prayers of praise and thanksgiving. For if we begin with focusing on ourselves and our needs, we risk not recognizing and passing on the gifts we have already received. Prayer of petition, if they precede prayers of thanksgiving, can be merely prayers of helping us keep the status quo, like the servant who hid the gold coin in his handkerchief. The important question is not 'what do I need to get by today?' That is a minimalistic question. Rather, the better question is how do I recognize God's goodness and presence, and how do I magnify that presence?
We see the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures giving thanks forever in heaven. This is the prayer that will last forever, after every one of our needs is completely satisfied. When you pray the petitions and the Sanctus at today's Mass, which prayer is more important to you? Pray them both and see.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

lukewarm . . . . egh!

Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
16 November 2010
St. Margaret of Scotland, pray for us!
For daily readings click here

In one of the best metaphors in Scripture, we are told that if we become lukewarm, God will spit us out of his mouth. This is the Lord's admonition to the Church in Laodicea. They have become lukewarm, and God spits them. Yes, that's right. Scripture says that God spews. He spits. Scripture is always meant to cut like a two edged sword. Scripture has a way of getting our attention.
It is amazing how quickly we can become bored. How quickly we can become boring. The path to holiness can become mundane and repetitious. Oftentimes we must persevere during dry times in conversion. Yet lukewarmness can also be a sign that we are focusing on ourselves, who are boring, and not on God, who is exciting. But we are challenged in today's scriptures to keep allowing ourselves to be trained and chastised by God. We should not become so boring so that God can no longer surprise us. We are never to be fat and happy, but to fan the flames of deep desire, to allow ourselves to be trained by God Himself, who chastises and trains his saints, who keeps them hungry, and who keep sending them daily opportunities for conversion like he sent to Zaccheus.
As wretched as Zaccheus was, we should never lose our desire to be like him, for the Lord came to his house, and this is heaven for us, to be invited to dine with God. It is better to be like Zaccheus than to be lukewarm, than to be boring.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The apocalypse: is it in you?

Scriptural Reflection

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 November 2010

St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

For daily readings click here

Finding something worth dying for. Giving witness. Martyrdom. These are the things that really matter.

Jesus says personal witness and personal martyrdom matter much more than reading the signs of the times. He tells us not to get worked up over what is happening around us. No one can predict the future. No one knows how long he has left. No one knows how and when it will all end. No one knows. Not politicians. Not climatologists. No, not even religious prophets. The algorithms are too complex for anyone to know. What is for sure is what we can already observe. There will always be destruction and terrible signs. Nothing lasts forever. Especially not us.

Jesus points his disciples toward their opportunity to choose the apocalypse before the apocalypse chooses them. He speaks about the unveiling of the human heart, which precedes the unveiling of the end times. He speaks of an apocalypse that is not in an uncertain future. He speaks of the apocalypse of the heart.

This apocalypse happens with martyrdom. This is something that every human heart is made for. The saints who have given their life for the faith captivate us. Human stories of people willing to die for what they believe in, and willing to die in order to save others, are the stories that rise above all the cacophony of politics.

No greater love has one that this, than to lay down his life for his friends. St. John points us to the love that casts out all fear. He speaks about the heart that is capable of martyrdom. Such hearts are not concerned with the signs of the sky. They are not worried about tomorrow. They know that anxiety cannot add a moment to one's life. They instead want to live their entire life in a moment. They want to die for someone they love. This is the true unveiling, the full revelation, the apocalypse, of the human heart.

Christianity represents a unique invitation from Jesus, especially if we are afraid to die. If we are afraid to give witness to ultimate reality which is love. If we are not ready to die for a friend, Jesus asks us if we might give the time and circumstances of our lives over to him. For our Lord is ready. He has that perfect love that casts out all fear. He begins his invitation by dying for us. Only after this, does he ask us a question. He asks if his death might be re-presented, dramatically re-enacted, through us and with us and in us. He invites us to a self-forgetfulness that allows His sacrifice at calvary to be extended, in the time and circumstances of our lives. He asks if He might work through us that our lives will say exactly what His did.

Martyrdom is a gift. It is not something we create, for none of us can create the perfect circumstances, nor muster the perfect readiness for it. Jesus says don't worry about what you are to say, for I will say what needs to be said through you. Don't prepare for the moment when your life may or may not end, end your life in this moment. This is the apocalypse of the heart. This is the desire for martyrdom that gives perfect meaning to every human life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We need beautiful churches yes we do!

Reflection for the Feast of St. John Lateran
9 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here

The pope now has to take a short popemobile ride to get to St. John Lateran Church in Rome, but this was not always the case. Now when we think of the pope, we think of him appearing at St. Peter's. We think of him overlooking the square. But throughout history, the pope has appeared more times at St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christianity, than he has at St. Peter's. St. John Lateran is the original church built by Constantine that houses the cathedra, the seat of authority, of the successor to St. Peter, the pope. Today we celebrate St. John Lateran as the mother of all churches; yes, even the mother of St. Peter's.

The kind of churches we build say something about who we think we are. Churches, as we learn well in today's readings, are sacraments of human persons, for St. Paul reminds us that we are temples of God. Churches are sacraments of the family of God, for we are all living stones, being built into God's building upon the foundation which is Christ. Churches could not be more important. The kind of churches we build speak directly as to who we are. Dr. Peter Kilpatrick said as much last night, when saying that beauty leads to contemplation, contemplation to mission, mission to virtue, and virtue to fullness of being. When we build a beautiful church, we are proclaiming to know that reality is beautiful and are responsibility to become beautiful ourselves. When we build a crummy church, we are saying something else. That is why Jesus 'gets medieval' on those who were trashing the temple, using it as a means to an end, rather than using it for worship of God, and to contemplate the source of all beauty. The beauty of churches could not be more important.

God does not need churches, but we do. We can not build an adequate home for God, but we must know who we are and where we are going, and churches help us to do this. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my priesthood to go ask people for money for the building of a church, and to sit in on on the planning of a church, and to be there as the MC for the Dedication of that same Church, St. Michael's in Leawood. Pope Benedict XVI for the first time as pope dedicated a new church, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this past weekend, a church that has been under construction for 125 years, and still has 25 years to go. Throughout the construction of churches, a good question is always asked. Does God want this church? Does he need it? Shouldn't we give the money to the poor? The response is that God does not need this church, but He greatly desires it for He desires our good, and He knows that man cannot live without beauty, and unless man is drawn toward beauty, He will never understand His true purpose and never fully reach out to his neighbor in need. It is never a matter of either, or. It is a matter of both, and. It is my experience that those who do not appreciate beauty rarely if ever reach out in love to the poor, for recognizing beauty in form and recognizing beauty in persons recognize the one and same truth.

As we celebrate the dedication of the mother church of Christianity today, with great joy and thanksgiving, we pause to give thanks for the dedication of the church of St. Lawrence as well, and all who have made its construction possible, out of love for us and in the hope that we would encounter beauty here. Let us see this great building not only as the place where God comes to hang out with us, but the place where we come to be transformed by the grace of the sacraments, the living water of the Eucharist, into a building that is truly fit for heaven. Amen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Learning about heaven!

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

7 November 2010

St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

Click here for today's readings

The Sadduccees are clever, but as usual they cannot trap Jesus. They try to show how the law of Moses, received from God, a law that commands brothers to marry a childless widow, makes the Resurrection of the dead messy. Yet Jesus easily shows how the reality of this world does not constrain nor dictate the reality of the world to come, the age of the Resurrection.

We are all going to die, so it is good that we pass on our life. We have a strong desire to have children. We in a sense live on through our children. We have an equally strong desire to know where we came from, who our ancestors are. We remember our beloved family members who have died, and they remain alive, so to speak, through our memory and in our hearts. The rule that a man must marry his brother's childless widow is thus a good rule, because a man who had no children before he died is in greatest danger of being forgotten, and thus being truly dead.

Marriage existed in the time of Jesus, as it exists today, as the optimal way that life is passed on, and as the optimal way that tradition and memory is passed on. With traditional marriage and family at risk today, we see not only a decline in the birth rate, we see family tradition and memory at great risk. Without strong families, it is easier to forget who our grandparents are, and who our great grandparents are, and these people do not live on in our memory as well, when half of children are born out of wedlock, a million children are aborted every year, and children can be manufactured in laboratories almost as easily as they can be conceived naturally. We are learning more everyday about how easy it might become for us to pass on life without the family, but can we pass on love and memory and tradition without the family? That is the question before us.

Marriage between a man and a woman constitutes the basic building block of a society not in order to constrain people,, but in order that a society may pass on life iwithin the context of authentic love. Marriage cannot guarantee that this always happens, but it remains the best opportunity to do so, for marriage corresponds to the natural complementarity and natural good of men and women and children, and thus contributes uniquely and significantly to the natural good of society. We know marriage is not necessary to pass on life, but we know that life is best passed on within such a complete and complementary covenant of love - husband and wife, mom and dad. Life is best passed on when those having children have first pledged sacrificial love to each other, and as much as possible, each child should have the privilege of being conceived within a complementary and sacrificial act of love between a husband and a wife. Now I'm talking optimally of course, and there are many beautiful children among us who are not conceived in this way, whom we must love nonetheless.

God has always desired to use human marriage, and has chosen to use it, as we see clearly in the law of Moses, to beget His own children, and married couples are truly co-creators with God. In this age when we all must die because we do not always love, marriage stands as a bulwark against the tendency to place the begetting of life before the pledging of love. Marriage creates the greatest opportunity for sacrificial love, and it is within this covenant that God desires to beget new life.

Yet God does not need marriage. He has chosen it as a favored instrument in this world, but in the beginning God created everything out of nothing. He breathed life into us when we were still dust. He can do so again. God choosen marriage, but He does not need it. The Maccabean martyrs that we hear about in the first reading knew this. They knew that it was alright if their lives were cut short, for if they existed in the heart of the King of heaven, they would live forever. It is He who begets life; everyone else is just a steward of the gift. If they existed in God's mind, as each one of us has from before we were born, they would live forever. The Maccabean martyrs thus had courage to shorten their lives, and to forego having wives and children themselves, knowing that even if their courageous memory was forgotten, even if their families forgot them, if their martyrdom helped God to remember them, then they would never be dead.

Celibacy then is a type of martyrdom, and unbloody one, and something that many men and women are called to by God for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Celibacy is a witness that if we exist in the heart of God, we are truly alive. Celibacy is a witness that life is not something that we can ultimately control, it is a gift. Life is something we can manipulate only temporarily, but the true reason there is life is because God is love. Life is good because God is love, and life without the love of God is just existence. Celibacy is a witness that the greater tragedy is not to lack a wife and children, it is to forget that we all exist in the heart of God, the author of all life.

So Jesus reminds the Sadducees that although the command to marry is a good one, it applies to this present age to ensure that the greatest amount of life is created with the greatest amount of love. But when love is perfect, marriage is no longer needed. We will love each other in heaven perfectly, in and through our bodies, but because love will have conquered death, we will have no need to pass on life physically, we will pass it on spiritually like angels, loving life into each other in communion with the Holy Trinity.

We call our priests fathers because in the Roman church, our priests are called to be models of this spiritual love. Even though physically they are barren, lacking wife and children, we call them fathers because they do indeed create life with God, they intensify life through spiritual love. Indeed, they are asked to be celibate in order that they might stand in the world exactly as Jesus did, without wife and children, and try to enter more deeply and perfectly into the creative but celibate love that is shared between the Father and the Son. We ask our priests to be as close to this love as they can be, before pronouncing the words of Jesus at the altar, words of love that truly beget the sacrament of eternal life.

Not only priests, but each one of us, is called to be made perfect in this spiritual love, and to become more and more disinterested in the kind of life that is merely existence, that can only be measured by length of days. We are to be interested only in life that flows from sacrificial love, and to learn well the command of Jesus that whoever seeks to save his life, will lose it. May we measure our lives more and more not by length of days, but by the opportunities that we have to love, and with our priests, point people always toward the eternal love that their Father has waiting for them in heaven, and toward the Holy Eucharist, where this eternal love begets eternal life.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All Souls Day

St. Lawrence Catholic Center
2 November 2010

1. Today we begin praying fervently, and continue throughout the month of November, for the poor souls in purgatory. We pray for those who are making perhaps the most difficult journey of all, the journey from death to life, for we know that nothing unholy can enter heaven, and we know that most of us die good, but few of us die holy. We offer our prayers and sufferings then, for our teammates, our friends, our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, that they might speedily reach their final destiny to see God face to face.

2. In November in particular, as our liturgical year winds down, our Church asks us to focus on final things. The virtue of hope is to be purified by prayer during this month, the virtue that greatly desires for things to be consummated, for the promises of God to come true. So we think a lot about death and heaven and hell in this month. We are taught as Christians to greatly desire death, not in a morbid way, but in a way that chooses death before death chooses us. Even this is not fatalism, a surrender because we are defeated, it is a choice made in joy because with Christ we are victorious. Insofar as we look forward to death, and enter eagerly into a death like his, we gain confidence in sharing in His life. So we as Christians look forward to our own deaths, for we have found something worth dying for, love, but more importantly this something is actually someone, for God is love, as revealed in His only Son.
3. That we desire death, that we prefer death, that we are not afraid to lay down our lives for a friend, is not something we generate, it too is something we have received. The perfect divine love that casts out all fear, even fear of death, is something that we receive as a gift. St. John says that in this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His son as expiation for our sins. St. Paul says we know that God loves us for our own sake because Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Christ died for us precisely when we could not love Him in return, precisely at the point where we crucify Him with our sins, that is where Christ loves us. That is where His love for us is the strongest, precisely where we deserve it the least. If we have the courage to open ourselves to this perfect, divine love, we truly have nothing to fear, not even death itself.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zaccheus is like Mary - the Lord comes under his roof.


31st Sunday In Ordinary Time

31 October 2010

St. Lawrence Catholic Center

Here are some short takes and reminders and exhortations on Halloween/All Saints Day, and the Scriptures for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

  1. When Halloween lands on a Sunday, Mass attendance suffers, especially here at KU, where we have Sunday evening Masses, and where we have college students pumped up for their Halloween parties. We even have a Halloween party at the rectory tonight, which is simultaneous with our last Mass. Halloween is king. It is a widely popular holiday, and a very American one and a very fun one at that. Yet it should not eclipse All Saints Day. Halloween should enhance our faith, not take away from it, since it is not really a pagan holiday, but a holiday that coincides with the great Solemnity of All Saints. When we think Halloween, we should think All Saints. We should also think about All Souls, and whenever we see a ghost or a goblin, we should remember with devotion and prayer those poor souls who need us, those who are making that final journey from being good to being holy, the journey of purgatory. Let us not forget to pray for them, or even to come to the All Souls Day Masses at 5:15pm and 7pm to remember our beloved dead and to pray for them.
  2. All Saints, as we should know, is normally a holy day of obligation, but with its falling on a Monday this year, the obligation is abrogated. Still, we should not let November 1st go by without reminding ourselves of our opportunity and our obligation to become saints ourselves. There is not other option for the Christian. Either become a saint, or else. Christianity does not produce nice guys. It is there to produce saints. In particular, we remember those who have inspired us not simply to be good, but those who inspire us to be great, those who inspire us to be holy. We praise God for the saints, especially those not canonized by the Church, who have touched our lives personally and strengthened our faith and kept us believing in ourselves. All Saints day is a day to remember our destiny in heaven, and to claim our citizenship there, and to remember that with God all things are possible, even our own sanctity.
  3. As we enter into a new round of political elections, it is easy to get discouraged because of all the intransience. It seems like we are stuck, that we are bickering, and that there is gridlock between people who will not compromise. Yet we are to remember that the world is changed the most not by politicians, but by saints. When we do not have saints representing us in political office, then we have gridlock, because saints always find a way forward. Saints are never stuck, and never discouraged. We must approach the political process ourselves as saints, not giving in to complacency but becoming more involved through prayer and advocacy in finding people who can build a nation that will promote the common good of all people, a place where faith, hope and love can flourish. As Catholics, we have the special privilege of having our Church help to form our conscience through Her strong moral teaching. Whenever we are a Church or nation are tempted to settle for anything less than life and anything less than the truth, our Church will be there to make Her voice heard and to form our consciences. Our Church will always have a voice and will always speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable. Our Church will never tell us who we must vote for, but She reminds us that we must vote, and She reminds us that insofar as we as a nation get fundamental things wrong, like abortion, we should not consider it likely that we will get other things right. We should not elect politicians who are all talk and no substance, even if they claim to be pro-life, but we should look especially for politicians who are committed to protecting the sanctity of human life especially of the most vulnerable, before looking at the other issues that they stand for.
  4. October 31st is not only Halloween, it is also a very sad day historically, a day when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door in Germany. October 31st is the beginning of the endless splintering of Christianity. It is because of the sins of the Church, the scandal caused by those who have quit trying to be holy, that a split was possible then, and the splits in Christianity continue today. Indeed, because of the scandal caused by all of us not living our faith with courage and integrity, many people see Christianity as hypocrisy, and the lack of unity we have is the biggest deterrent to others knowing and accepting the love that Jesus Christ has for them. Once again, the reason Christianity keeps splintering is the same reason that the world is a mess. Christianity is not producing enough saints. It is saints who move us forward It is saints who create unity. It is saints that change the world.
  5. The story of Zaccheus shows us that sainthood is possible for anyone. Zaccheus is a wee little man, not only in physical stature. His sins have also made him small. He is a small man in every way, who lives only for Himself and His greed. In seeing Zaccheus, we should take our own sins very seriously, lest we become small ourselves, and only a remnant of what we always promised ourselves we would be.
  6. Still, as evil as Zaccheus was, the light was not extinguished in him. He still had a desire to change. As many bad habits as he had working against him, there was still a way for him to be holy. There was still a way for him to be a saint. There was still a way for him to be like Jesus, to make a perfect gift of himself in love. Yet Zaccheus had to listen to this voice of conscience inside him. He had to respond to that glimmer of hope deep within him that he could still be great. He had to climb that tree.
  7. What happens next is all Jesus. Jesus invited Himself into the house of Zaccheus. In this way, he gives Zaccheus the chance to be like Mary. This is the key of conversion for all of us. Before we can hope to act like Jesus, we must receive Him like Mary. Zaccheus, like Mary, receives Jesus under his roof.
  8. This is really the only step we need to take. Once Jesus comes under our roof, like He does in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus takes over. Holiness is being like Mary. It is allowing Jesus to come and stay with us. The conversion we see in Zaccheus is impossible unless it is Jesus Himself accomplishing it within Zaccheus. Most of us tinker with our lives. We make small adjustments here and there. We concentrate on what more we need to do to be holy. But holiness is the Lord's work. It is not our tinkering. It is not our doing more. It is our doing less. It is our becoming like Mary, so that it is not so much us living anymore, it is Jesus acting in us and with us and through us. When we allow Jesus to come under our roof, holiness is possible for us, because Jesus' perfections can be born anew within us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Be Faithful in Small Things


Tuesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time B

St. Lawrence Catholic Center

26 October 2010

For daily readings,click here

Yes, even the vocation director, the recruiter of priests for the Archdiocese, has to preach on marriage once in awhile. St. Paul forces my hand today with his high theology of marriage presented in the letter to the Ephesians. Which is ok. I really don't mind. The vocation director recruiting for priests has to know a lot about marriage actually, for almost every guy who considers the priesthood naturally considers marriage first. This is natural, and good, but of course can be overdone. A guy can discern marriage for so long that he never gives priority to discerning priesthood. And I guess that's my job. That's where I come in, to allow the supernatural call of the priesthood to come in when it needs to. Well, see here. I am preaching about priesthood anyway, but still, for most guys the discernment between marriage and priesthood is spiritually very difficult. It is a close call in the hearts of most guys ,and it is a confusing discernment, because the two calls can exist side by side. They are mutually exclusive practically by the promises made, but there is room for both vocations in the heart of a man. Yet in fact, this is good as well. Even though I will never turn down a guy who desires the priesthood almost to the exclusion of desiring marriage, the priesthood must be renewed, especially today given what has and is transpiring in the priesthood and in the culture, by guys who are fit for sacramental marriage, by guys who have a generous capacity to lay down their lives as natural husbands and fathers, and by guys who in knowing the great good of marriage sacrifice it out of love for the Lord and His Church, and in obedience to His call to be spiritual fathers. Indeed, it is not good for the Archdiocese to accept a man who does not understand marriage well, who has not discerned it fairly, or who is uncapable of it.

Some people tell me that we will not have great religious vocations until we first fix marriage. Well, I'm not sure about that. I know you can't have priests and religious without marriage, and I know I'm glad my dad was not a priest, yet deep down we know the vocations complement each other and feed off each other. Marriage, as we see clearly in St. Paul's letter, is fed by the Eucharist. The lifetime marriage of man and wife is a imitation of and participation in the eternal marriage of Christ and the Church. That is why a man and wife come into the sanctuary to make their vows, the place where the Eucharist is consecrated, the place where Christ is subordinate to us His bride the Church, and it is why their first act as a married couple is to receive the Eucharist, and it is by the Eucharist that their marriage vows are sealed and made perfect for the rest of their lives. So the vocations of priesthood and marriage feed off each other in a particularly beautiful way, and although I personally don't have time for all my friends to get married and then have kids who will one day be priests, since barring some unforseen circumstance I will not be the vocation director that long, still if that is what the Lord wills, I can muster the patience for it. Both marriage and the priesthood are in desperate need of renewal, and I suppose it doesn't really matter which comes first, and there is no reason they can't be renewed simultaneously.

After St. Paul gives us the high theology of marriage, Jesus gives us the sure path to fulfilling our vows. He shows us what it takes to be fruitful. We are to be like a mustard seed and like yeast, for the one who is faithful in small matters, will be given great responsibilities. Jesus Himself, who is before all else came to be, was made so small as to have been conceived in the womb of a small girl, in an out of the way place, being born in an obscure way. Jesus Himself is the yeast and the mustard seed, who in being smaller than we could possibly hope for or imagine, makes Himself available to us in the Eucharist, in every time and place, and gives His life for the growth of His body, the Church, until it comes to full stature. May we imitate His humility in being faithful to the vocation God has given to us and to no one else. Let us be faithful in the smallest of ways, not being discouraged by what we have yet failed to accomplish, but letting the smallest of prayers and acts of love made in faith blossom until God's Kingdom comes to full stature.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scoundrels help us go from good to great!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
24 October 2010

I'm going to start this homily by defending the Pharisee. This is not a bad guy. The tax collector is a bad guy. The tax collector sleeps with the enemy. He steals from his own people. He oppresses his own family. He is a bad dude, not the Pharisee. I like Pharisees. We have come to hate them, because in the Scriptures their hearts are not always in the right place, and because they are religious for the wrong reasons, but really they are good people. They are good guys, as we like to say today. They deserve at least a little bit of defense. Our secular culture insists that the worst thing you can possibly be is a Pharisee, to be outwardly religious. We are all supposed to hide our faith, and to think thats it's better to not be religious at all than to risk becoming a Pharisee. But this is really baloney. Pharisees are not bad people. At least from the outside in, they are good people. Forgive me for liking Pharisees, for they are like devout Catholics, real Catholics, not cafeteria and Christmas and Easter Catholics. Pharisees are like those Catholics who give 10% to support the mission of the Church, who use the sacraments regularly, and who know how to use a Church. I challenge couples I am preparing for marriage all the time to have a devout prayer life, and to meditate on the meaning of the Eucharist, so that when they come into the sanctuary to call down the Holy Spirit on each other, they know what they are doing and can act like they've been there before, instead of looking scared and out of place in the sanctuary. Pharisees know how to use a Church, and they see the incredible benefits of religion and religious practice. They are good people, and their religion helps to make them good.

So why does Jesus always give them a bad time? Why is he always making heroes out of scoundrels, like the tax collector today, and like the despicable little Zaccheus in next week's Gospel? Why is Jesus never satisfied with the good guys being just good guys? It is because the Lord loves us, and because those to whom much is given, much is expected. Jesus desires for his disciples not to be just good guys, but he desires them to be His saints. In fact, for the Christian, the true disciple of Jesus, it should be the greatest insult for people merely to think of you as a good guy. Do we ever say that of Jesus Himself? Do we ever say that Jesus was a good guy? No, we don't, not because Jesus wasn't a good guy, but because Jesus was the best. Of all, He is the best. Those of us his disciples in the same way should have no desire to be good in comparison to other people. If the goal in life is to be a good guy, not a bad guy, then we don't need religion. That is why Jesus is so ready to show us how the bad guy, the tax collector, is really almost as good and the purported good guy, the Pharisee. There is not that much difference between bad and good, the greater difference is between good and great. The harder leap in life is not from bad to good, it is from good to holy.

My friends, that is why you and I need religion. That is why we are devout and religious people, so that we may have a chance not to be merely good, but to be a saint. Our religion practiced well from the inside out is the surest path to sanctity. You can be good without religion. It is no great accomplishment. There are many spiritual people who are very good, better than many of us sitting in these pews this morning. These spiritual people see no need for religion to be good, and they can readily point out the hypocrisy in religion like Jesus does in today's Scriptures. Yet our religion, the devout practices of the Catholic faith, have not only produced hypocrites and those satisfied with merely being good compared to other people. No, the devout practice of the Catholic faith has also produced the saints, the heroes of every time and place who show us truly how to love God with all our heart, and mind and strength, and how to fulfill Jesus' commandment to love one another as I have loved you. The saints have used the crucible of religion, the pious practices of our tradition, to be in deep relationship with God, who in turn through Christ Jesus puts us in the deepest possible relationship with every human person. That's really it. That's why we are here. Because in Christ Jesus, we are in the deepest possible relationship with God and with one another, and these relationships give us the greatest incentive and opportunity to lives lives of heroic love, like the saints.

So Jesus is always going to get after us Pharisees, us good guys who are not yet saints. The goal is not for us to hate the Pharisees, but to emulate the humility of the tax collector, which is the virtue the Pharisee needs to go from good to great. This is what is highlighted today, the virtue of humility, of dependence upon God, which is always lessened when we stop to compare ourselves to other people. I really do think this is a lesson most of us are paying attention to. I hear people confess being judgmental all the time. We do not feel good about judging others, and most of us are trying to stop. Yet there is this fear of being completely dependent upon God, of abandoning ourselves to His mercy, of losing ourselves within an unpredictable mission that describes the life of every saint, that keeps us wanting to pause and to be relieved that we do not need God as much as the scoundrel next to us. Our religion, the devout practice of our faith, is the crucible we need not to make us a good person compared to the person next to us, but to keep me asking the question of myself, am I yet a saint, and do I have the humility to take the next step toward becoming one, always loving my neighbor more than I love myself, and desiring his holiness and happiness more than I desire my own?

There is a current in the Church today that desires a smaller, more devout practice of the faith, rather than the current mess of those who go to Mass everyday, versus those who never go, between those who follow Church teaching in every way, versus those who merely call themselves Catholic. Today's Gospel shows us how such a sentiment can be very dangerous. A desire for a smaller more devout Church is not a movement of the Holy Spirit. If the devout stop learning from the less devout, and feel like they need them less, or that they are any less a part of Jesus' body the Church, we are indeed creating a gnostic club, not the Church that Christ desires. Our goal instead of making lines in the Church, is to be the saints who inspire not a few, but everyone, to love God with all their heart, all their mind, and all their strength, and their neighbor as themselves.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Prayer is not hocus pocus!

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
17 October 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

Prayer is tricky. Tricky. Tricky. Tricky. But it is not hocus pocus.

Sometimes our prayers work. Like the widow who incessantly nags the dishonest judge and gets what she wants, we can pray too and get results. We can experience some economic success with prayer. We can find plenty of people around us who say that prayer works. Perhaps we have witnessed a miracle or two ourselves. We are constantly urged by many to believe in prayer. Prayer changes things. It creates conduits and channels for hope and love and grace. And this is true. God does will contingent things contingently. Joshua mowed down the Amalekites because of the prayer of Moses. God used the prayer as a vehicle for his power. So prayer works when God wills contingent things contingently, and we should never stop making our needs known to God. As Jesus teaches his disciples, we should pray unceasingly.

Yet none of us do pray unceasingly. We can't, or there would be no time for KU basketball if we did. Not only do we fail to pray unceasingly, many of us pray less than we could and less than we should. This is the more maddening thing. It's not only that to pray always seems impossible, it's that most of us pray less than we could and less than we should. It is hard to find the desire to pray. Most of us are inconsistent. We pray and then we don't pray. We are inconsistent because of our own self-centeredness, to be sure. Yet we are also inconsistent because we know prayer is tricky. We know it works, but only sometimes. We know it is not hocus pocus, but sometimes it might as well be. We can't figure prayer out exactly. Sometimes it changes God's mind, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it changes us for the better, and many times it seems to make no difference. Either God does not will all things contingently, so He is not willing to change His mind on things He wills absolutely, or we simply aren't praying right. In either case, prayer is tricky. It works, and then it doesn't. Sometimes people pray for miners trapped for 69 days underground, and the miners are all rescued. Prayers are answered, and yet even in this case we're not sure. Was it the prayers that worked? Did God keep them safe? Was it providence, or random circumstance? Did prayer keep them safe, or was it the work of the rescuers alone that made for the beautiful scenes of love that we saw? Is there any way to tell?

We all know that we pray for some people who are sick, and they get better. We pray for other people, and they don't. Sometimes people are rescued. Other times they aren't. Sometimes people narrowly avert natural disasters. Other times, they don't. We pray for the most trivial things, and the most profound. Some prayers are answered. Others aren't. Sometimes when our prayers are not answered, we find out later why, for something better comes along that shows the poverty of our prayer. Yet sometimes we never understand. Prayer is tricky. So we are inconsistent in our prayer. Sometimes we pray. Sometimes we don't. Rarely do we know if we are praying enough or praying correctly. Because of all this ambiguity, because prayer is perhaps the trickiest thing of all, too often we end up praying less than we can and less than we should. And most of us arrive at Mass today feeling guilty that we don't pray. So the Lord says a haunting question to us, and it hurts us - do we have faith? When the Lord returns, will He find anyone praying? Will He find faith on the earth?

There are some maxims that can help us understand the ambiguities of prayer. God is not a vending machine. True. Prayer changes us more than it changes God. True. God's ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts. True. God wills absolute things absolutely and contingent things contingently. True. God knows what is good for us better than we know it ourselves. True. Yet all of these maxims are really excuses that we use when we are disappointed in God, when He neither seems to hear nor to answer our prayers. They are reasons to keep praying even when the results of prayer are ambiguous and disappointing.

Yet Jesus directly tells His disciples to keep praying for a different reason. He tells them to keep praying because their prayers are always heard and answered. Yes, you heard me right. Jesus promises that every prayer is heard and answered. He tells the disciples to ask for whatever they want in His name, and they will receive it. There are no contingencies in Jesus' instructions. He does not tell them they will be heard and answered if they pray the right way, for the right length of time. Jesus does not deliver a magic formula to His disciples, so that they can get the right things out of God's vending machine. He says simply to ask, and you will receive. Knock, and the door will be opened.

It is as if Jesus is saying that the prayers of the disciples are already heard and answered before the disciples say them. And of course that is exactly what He is saying. The Lord knows our prayers and needs before we ask them, and He has already answered. The Father has heard and answered the prayers of His people through the gift of His only beloved Son. Jesus Himself is the answer to every prayer, and He is always given. This is where our confidence in prayer lies, and in nowhere else. Jesus is always given, so when we pray we are always heard and answered. Like He is perfectly present to us in the Eucharist this morning, Jesus offers Himself in answer to the deepest yearnings of the human person, and He tells us from the cross that He gives to us everything that He has received from His father. Jesus has nothing left to give us that He has not already given, or is now giving to us. All things have been handed to Jesus by the Father, and He has given them all to us. One look at the cross convinces us of Jesus' complete generosity.

My friends, if we look at all our prayers, even the silliest ones to find our keys, or for the Jayhawks to win, they are in the end prayers for life. We pray for life to go better in some way or another, and we pray for security and health, for ourselves and for others. Yet a human life means nothing in isolation. What if the miners had come out of the hole, and not a single person was there to greet them? That would have been the saddest thing of all, wouldn't it? The miner would have had his life back, but life without relationship is nothing. Relationship is the basis of life, there is no life if there is not first love. So our prayers for more life, or to make life go better, are at the core prayers not for smoother days, but for the chance to be in deeper relationship. That is why Jesus proclaims Himself to be the way, the truth and the life, that in being in relationship with Him who is love, we have already received everything we could ever ask or hope for in life. Whenever we ask for anything whatsoever, to enhance our own lives or the lives of someone we love, we are asking not so much for life, but for the love that makes life possible. We are asking for relationship. In Jesus, that relationship with God is offered before we even ask for anthing, even the most trivial things.

Most of the miners, if not all of them, prayed during their 69 days trapped underground. Facing an uncertain future, they prayed harder and longer than they ever had in their life. In a sense, they were like our cloistered brothers and sisters who pray for us always, who die an early death in the cloister to teach us not to measure life not by external freedom and possessions, but by depth of relationship with God. Many prayers were answered as each miner made it back to the surface. Each miner received the gift of new life measured in length of days. Yet each miner undoubtedly grew closer to the gift of eternal life to which Jesus points us, a life that sin and death and misfortune cannot touch, and a life that is not measured in external freedom or length of days, but by the conquering of fear by love and by the depth of our relationship with God and one another. So we pray, today and always, with the psalmist to give us this wisdom of seeing all our prayers already answered in the person of Jesus, who makes Himself perfectly available to us in this Eucharist, for He is the answer to every prayer, and one day within His courts, is truly better than a thousand elsewhere.