Saturday, February 20, 2010

are you tested?

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent Year C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
21 February 2010

Sherron and Cole are experienced. They have been tested. They have national championship rings. We can trust them because they have been through this before. And that makes KU the favorite to win the national championship this year.

Well, we hope this is true, don't we? We want to believe that our Jayhawks have been tested enough, that they are ready for whatever adversity may come. Many think the Jayhawks need to lose again before the NCAA tournament, that they need to be tested more, in order to fully be ready. Well, we are all experts on KU basketball. We all think we know what the team needs, when in reality, we don't. But we do know that testing is important.

We know that testing is important because it shows our true colors. Testing shows what we really know. It shows what and in whom we have placed our trust. We know that testing will show whether we have put our trust in parties or in the library. Testing is necessary in life if we are to have any chance of fulfilling our mission to live the best and most beautiful and most sacrificial and most inspiring life that we have always promised ourselves we would live. Temptation always tries to get us to feed our ego rather than our mission. Sin is feeding our ego and neglecting our ultimate mission and vocation to love. Temptation tries to get us to settle for less than the best that is within us. We believe the Jayhaws are the best team, but we know they must be tested for their greatness to be solidified and purified. We know winning the national championship will not be easy, but the highest goal, and the greatest amount of testing, will draw forth the very best out of each player. We know that our beloved team is being tested today, and will be tested tomorrow, and they will have to keep overcoming temptation to settle for anything less than a national championship. We are rooting for them.

That being said, as much as we want to trust in the Jayhawks, we know it is not right to idolize them. We are to idolize God alone, and to trust in God alone, and in tonight's Gospel we see the tremendous strength of Jesus in whom we Christians place our ultimate trust. Unlike the agony in the garden, and the despair that we will hear from the lips of Jesus as he is tempted beyond all telling on the cross, tonight's Gospel is a mismatch. It is Jesus covering the spread, and dominating the devil quite easily. And Jesus does so after forty days of fasting. When he was presumably most weak and most open to temptation, Jesus is unbelievably strong. His detachment from the things of the world have attuned His Spirit completely to the voice of His Heavenly Father. On the outside, after forty days in the desert without human companionship and without any earthly comforts, Jesus appears to be alone. And the devil sees his opportunity to tempt. But the Gospel turns out to be a no contest. It's a blowout. Jesus shows that his prayer and fasting have left him not more lonely, but less lonely, and even less susceptible to temptation because by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is in deep conversation with His Heavenly Father. Jesus is not alone.

And that is the spiritual source of Jesus' strength. The moral life is easy for Him because He is strong in the spirit. Pope Benedict teaches in his book Jesus of Nazareth that to understand the actions of Jesus we must understand his identity as one who always speaks face to face with the Father, as with a friend. The key to Jesus' strength is that He is never alone. He is never tempted to serve his ego rather than his mission because that original loneliness that makes us vulnerable to sin is something that is completely healed by His relationship with the Father.

Our success in the moral life as well ultimately depends on our trust in God, on our intimate conversation with Him, on our finding a way to live a spiritual life. This is not to take away from the seriousness with which we must approach the moral life, and the necessity for us to do everything we can possibly think of to refuse to be mastered by sin. Beset as we are by weakness, we must stay away from evil as much as we can, avoiding the near temptation of sin, being as cunning as the devil Himself in not allowing Him to deceive us, and knowing that whenever we play with fire, we get burned. Sin avalanches in our lives so quickly that we must avoid it at all costs. And our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent must be done with fervor and sincerity if we are to detach ourselves from sin and reattach ourselves to God, who is our lasting hope and peace.

Yet even in praying to God to lead us not into temptation, and to deliver us from evil, lest sin become the master of our lives, we know that temptation will still be there. Even as we aim to avoid any unnecessary temptation, the meaning of our lives will still ultimately be a test as to whether we serve our ego or our mission. Jesus' temptation in the desert is both an example and a challenge to us to be strong in the face of temptation. But more than that, it is a demonstration that the spiritual life dominates the moral life, like KU dominates K-State in basketball. The victory over sin is not our willpower, for we do not have power of sin, but is our relationship with God. The victory over sin is our spiritual life, which enables us to speak to Christ in faith face to face, as with a friend. His victory over sin is something He is always ready to share with us. His relationship with the Father, which was strong enough to free Him from every temptation, is a relationship He is ready to give to us, his disciples, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The temptation of sin is ultimately the test of where we are in our relationship with Christ, for if we are in a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus, we can defeat sin in our lives as easily as He defeats the devil in tonight's Gospel. The temptation to serve our ego or to serve God relates to who we know ourselves to be. Are we alone, or are we not? Answering this question is the key to winning the battle against sin. +m

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Long life

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Kansas City Young Adults
Holy Spirit Parish
18 February 2010

For daily readings. click here

Moses and Jesus do not sound the same. But they are saying the same thing, although Jesus is promising more, of course. Moses says following the rules will lead to a longer and more prosperous life. Jesus tells us to allow ourselves to be killed. He tells us to lose our lives, and to forsake the life that Moses is promising, in order that we might save it. Moses and Jesus seem to be saying different things, but both of them are promising longer and more prosperous lives. Moses tells us to follow the commandments. Jesus gives us a new commandment, different from the 'thou shalt not's of Moses. It is the commandment to take up your cross, and follow Him.

Moses' commandments are the sure guide to the moral life, in which we try to do as much good as possible and avoid as much evil as possible. This is the surest path to life, and life in abundance in this world, to surround ourselves with goodness and to limit our exposure to evil. We all know this and have experienced it.

Yet Jesus reminds us that the natural goodness of this world does not completely satisfy man. The mystery of man is deeper than living the longest life with the greatest number of blessings. He reminds us that what is deepest within man is the vocation to love. To love is to always lessen oneself for the benefit of the beloved, and this vocation brings meaning and peace and a supernatural destiny to man that a long life and the blessings of this world cannot bring. So Jesus says to us plainly, that the blessing of a long life is only good if each moment of that life is spent fulfilling the vocation to love. What would it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul, which can recognize Jesus' commandment of love? St. Paul would say that same thing, that even if I have faith to move mountains, and understand all the mysteries of the world, but have not love, I am nothing. Jesus reminds us that we can follow the commandments perfectly, and in so doing maximize our natural happiness in this world, but still not fulfill our ultimate vocation to love. So he tells us to offer back every blessing we receive from God in love. He tells us to take up our cross daily, and to follow His example of love.

The apparent contradiction between Moses and Jesus gives way to the revelation of a paradox that characterizes the life of a Christian. A Christian, while seeking to live perfectly in this world, and to be a good steward of the life he has received by doing good and avoiding evil, also is never conformed to this world, nor is he ultimately a part of this world, nor is he ever owned by the natural happiness this world provides, because of his transcendent vocation to love. to take up his cross, and to follow Jesus. The Christian while thanking God for every blessing that He has received, is the one who truly possesses life because he is willing to give it away as a gift, for the good of another, in hope and anticipation of the gifts of the world to come. +m

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trust in God

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
13/14 February 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
Year for Priests

For daily readings, click here

Even though I'm only at KU part time, I get a number of emails and calls from parents whose children go to KU, and are slowly but surely losing their Catholic faith. For all those whose faith is growing stronger through the ministry of the St. Lawrence Center, and there is always much to celebrate, there are many others who are drifting from the Church, most of them unintentionally. I get calls and emails from moms mostly, and occasionally from a dad, worrying about their sons and daughters, and desperate to find a way to keep them going to Church. Well, I have some ideas about what can be done to keep Catholics going to Church, but I think this weekend's readings invite us to think about the false assumptions that produce a culture in which it is tempting for young Catholics not to go to Church.

Notwithstanding the laziness and selfishness and mediocrity and reaction against any and all authority, that lies at the heart of why students stop practicing their faith, there is also the toxic idea all around that you don't have to go to Church in order to be a good person. To put it another way, you don't have to believe in heaven in order to believe in yourself and in other people, or to make a difference. The agnostic idea is this: going to Church doesn't make you a good person, and isn't it more authentic to be a good person for goodness' sake rather than because you believe Jesus is truly risen from the dead, and may reward you for your goodness with eternal life? If you are going to believe in something, isn't it better to believe in the neighbor you can see than in the God that you can't see? Finally, the idea is that people who do good without expecting a reward from God are actually better than people who do good because they expect eventually to be repaid. This destructive agnostic idea applies to today's Gospel. Agnostics would agree with Jesus' teaching in the beatitudes that woe is in store for those who put their trust in wealth and in health, for these things will pass away. But they would disagree that men need the promise of heaven in order to be good. Even as they acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, they would say that His resurrection and ascension are mythologies, not historical truths, and the Church who preaches His resurrection is a source of evil, deception, and hypocritical authority. With these false assumptions which are easy to find at KU, KU students today are challenged to see their faith not as a great gift that they have received, a faith to be deepened and purified within the context of the university, but as an unnecessary burden that should be discarded as fast as possible. If you are giong to put your trust in Jesus, trust him because He was a good man, and be good for goodness' sake, not because He was God, and promises you the illusory reward of eternal life.

Well, not withstanding the fact that goodness is a transcendental reality, not confined to time and space and matter but pertaining to what is spiritual and eternal, and so forcing a philosophical decision as to where goodness ultimately comes from, there is the choice before us always whether to ultimately trust in the goodness of God or the goodness of man, if we are going to trust in goodness at all. This is the choice between the agnostic and the theist. But the choice, while important, is not as either/or as the false assumptions of agnosticism would have us believe. Although we must ultimately decide whether we trust more in the goodness of God or the goodness of man, there is nothing that says definitively that we can't trust both. The false assumptions of agnosticism would have us believe that loving God or loving man is mutually exclusive, like loving KU and Missouri, whereas the truth is that loving God or loving man is more like loving KU basketball or KU football. The reality is that it is possible to love both. It is preferable to trust both. If you are a real KU fan, it follows that you love both KU basketball and KU football. It is good to be optimistic about both. Although it is possible that you love one and not the other, and if pressed, most of us would have to admit we have more trust in KU basketball than KU football, the reality is makes little sense to love one without loving the other. The false assumptions of agnosticism try to get us to either stop believing in God or in man, but they never tell us why we must do so. Jesus in revealing who God is, makes it possible for us to trust in God, and Jesus, in becoming one of us and revealing who man really is, makes it possible for us to keep believing in man. Jesus is both God and man. That is our theology, and if we know it, the false assumptions of agnosticism will not tempt us to stop practicing our faith. We are disciples of Jesus because he brings love of God and love of man in perfect relationship. His perfect commandment is to love one another as He loves us. It has been the great Christian tradition to do exactly what the false assumptions of agnosticism accuse us of not doing. St. John reminds us that although we are obliged as Christians to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, it is not permissible for us to love the God we cannot see while ignoring our brother whom we can see. We are to love both, and we not only can, we should. That is our tradition, and the false assumptions of agnosticism should not rob us of it.

St. Paul reminds us however, that a choice is ultimately necessary for us who come to Mass. It is not the choice forced upon KU students by the false assumptions of agnosticism, but a choice as to whether we truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. This faith, attested to in history and passed down faithfully by those who have gone before us, proposes Jesus to be more than the thousands of inspirational heroes of yesterday and today who teach us how to truly live in this world. Jesus, while doing this perfectly, also came to reveal to us that God who created everything out of nothing because He is love, is not done loving, nor is he done creating, and just as we all have received life in this world as a gift, so we are to look forward in hope to the gifts of the world to come. We receive this gift of eternal life, not because we earned it, but because we have become someone who enjoys receiving whatever gifts God wants to give to us. Agnostics should not get Christians to say they must either hope for a good season for KU or a national championship. It is good to hope for both. It is right to hope for both. It is good to become a person who is ready for both. That is who we are as Christians! St. Paul reminds us not to follow Jesus because he was only a good man, but because He is truly God, for if for this life only we have believed in Christ, St. Paul reminds us that we are the most pitiable people of all. Being in friendship with Christ, and meditating on the mystery of his suffering, death and resurrection reminds us as many times as we need reminding that even though we do not understand God, we can trust Him, and indeed, without trusting each other any less, we believe it is better to trust God than to trust in man. Jesus says that those of us who love God will find strength to love our neighbor even when they become our enemies and let us down time and time again. Jeremiah prophesies that those of us who ultimately put our trust in God will not help this world any less, but will help it more while at the same time growing stronger and younger, and more hopeful and loving, even as the world around us passes away.