Sunday, March 28, 2010

Handling criticism

Monday of Holy Week
29 March 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

The Church is suffering in a particularly acute way this week because of the sinfulness of Her members. Priests who abused children have opened the Church to criticism, and their actions has done incalculable damage to the Church's ability to proclaim with effectiveness and fruitfulness the love of Jesus Christ. The pope himself has come under intense media scrutiny as many reports try to tie him personally to wrongdoing. There are many who are calling for his resignation.

In his Palm Sunday homily, the Pope indicated that some of the criticisms of the Church were meant to intimidate the Church, and to discourage Her from fulfilling Her mission in the world, given Her by Christ Himself. The Pope said that he would not be intimidated by false criticisms. Of course, the most important thing in the abuse scandal is not the protection of the Church's reputation, but the protection of children anywhere and everywhere. In this, those who have pointed out that the Church must do better, and have demanded that the Church collaborate more openly and more forcefully to rid Herself of sex offenders, have done a great service to the Church and to all people. It is hoped that the Church can rise from this scandal and become a model on how to protect children in a most dangerous society. It can be rightfully said that some people serve the Church by pointing out Her sinfulness. They serve a prophetic role, and give the Church the best opportunity to restore trust and to take up Her mission to serve God and His people, and to contribute to the well-being of society and the genuine happiness of all God's children.

The Pope has recognized, however, that not every person who is critical of the Church has the best interests of children at heart. Today's Gospel story delineates the difference between a criticism that is constructive and one that is selfish and destructive. Jesus, who preached a detachment from worldly things, allowed Himself to be anointed with costly oil, and this was not hypocrisy. He is criticized not by one who loved the poor, for one who truly loved the poor would see that the anointing was a way of honoring a man who loved the poor more than anyone. Although Jesus was one who was most open to being slandered and bruised by those who hated Him, in the hope that love would convert them, He does not accept the criticism of this woman Mary, but defends her, and points out the heart of the one criticizing her.

In the same way, the Pope in expressing the shame of the Church and in doing concrete things to prevent the abuse of children, has shown himself clearly to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. He was right this Sunday to point out, however, that criticism that is aimed not at helping the Church to serve mankind more beautifully, but that is meant only to destroy the Church, and to deny Her right to exist, is to be rejected.

March madness basically over . . . . unless you're a Catholic!

The demise of the state's basketball teams leaves added time and energy for the celebration of Holy Week. Won't you take advantage and try to place your own life within the story of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection? In a particularly intense way, our Lenten sacrifices are meant to shrink our lives to the point that we no longer think of making God the center of our lives (although He would acquiesce if this is the only way we chose to relate to Him) but are detached from our ego enough to lose ourselves within the paschal mystery. While God is happy to go wherever we allow Him to go in the space and time of our own lives, Holy Week is specifically meant to be an experience of kairos (time without measure) not chronos (time measured). Although the paschal mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, is completely present in the hour of every eucharistic celebration, Holy Week is an expanse of celebration and meditation that challenges us not just to make enough time for God, but to forego the exorbitant value we place on our schedules, and to see that the time and space of our lives fit quite nicely at the center of God's life. For to Him a thousand years are like a day. Yes, Holy Week is a time to focus on God, but more than that, it is a chance to remember that God is mindful of us, and has sent His Son among us, so that within His story there is room for our story. The drama of our lives is worked out from within the very heart of God, just as Jesus never did anything apart His Father. So too the time and space of our lives do not rest principally outside of God's own life, as if we must find a way to get back into the womb from which we came, but we are a part of God's life always, unless we remain unaware of this, or choose by our own volition to leave the garden of His grace. Holy Week saves us from the illusion that time and space are principally ours, and we must make room for God. Although this is true in a sense, it is better for us to realize that time and space belong to God primarily, who shares these with us. Holy Week is a special sharing of time and space with God, through the story of Jesus, and to realize that His story is not so much related to ours, but encompasses ours. We are to find ourselves within His story. Jesus fully reveals us to ourselves, in a particular way through the story we celebrate with special attention this week.

Perhaps a word or two about March Madness, now that it is almost over. Kentucky and Syracuse looked like NBA teams. They didn't win. Kentucky built a brick house last night. Butler and Northern Iowa and Cornell and St. Mary's, looked like junior high teams. They played great together and inspired us. Kansas underachieved. Kansas State ran out of gas. Great storylines for this tournament. I've really enjoyed watching it. I guess I am rooting for Tennessee and Baylor now. Anybody but Duke at this point. For some reason, even though Kryzyzewski is a devout Catholic, I just have this bias against Duke. Maybe it's because they are too good to be true. Maybe it is jealousy. Maybe Dick Vitale loves them too much. I have to admit that the Butler/Kansas State game was really hard to watch. Butler's 20 turnovers and K-State horrendous offense made it tough to watch. Every game can't be KSU/Xavier. Knowing how hard it is to get to the Final Four, I was hoping, even though it is hard to root for them, that K-State would go ahead and make it, and then win it all. The chances do not come around very often, and I could have lived with the big heads of all my K-State friends. Although it would have been tough for them to say they have their National Championship and their Big XII championship in football, I think Jayhawks can still hang their hats on the dozen Big XII championships in basketball and the 43 of last 45 won in basketball versus the 'Cats. I think we'd be ok. But now isn't the time for the rivalry. Both teams had great seasons. One of them should have won it all. Let's hope both teams make the NCAA tournament for each of the next 20 seasons! The rivalry is back and hearts will heal from the year's madness.

A blessed Holy Week to all!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

the pope, the wildcats, holy week

Well, it has been quite a week here in Kansas. The Wildcats, not the Jayhawks, are making March quite mad. K-Staters have already declared themselves, after a long, almost 30 year, hiatus from past basketball glory, to be the angriest fans in the world. If they make it to the Final Four with a win over Butler today, we might see that anger carried out in Aggieville. Let's pray that nothing gets burned, trashed or broken. KU, the most accomplished basketball program in the state, took a small hit after a dominant season in the Big XII, bowing out of the Big Dance early. Perhaps a small correction was necessary for an athletic program whose director, Lew Perkins, has made an empire out of KU Athletics, squeezed more blood out of the turnip that is Allen Fieldhouse than the Phog ever put in that building, and has pocketed $4.4 million this year personally in the process of 'professionalizing' athletics in a state as humble as Kansas. So much for the wine and cheese impression given at KU. With over $10 million a year being given to coaches and athletic directors, KU knows how to spend extravagantly. Looks like we are trying to be bigger than Texas. Good thing we beat them in basketball every year.

Please pray for all victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. I hate what is happening in the Church around the world right now. I can tell you once again, that looking at things from the perspective of a new priest, it is quite beyond me how any of this could have happened. It is not the Church that I joined in becoming a priest. Of course, it is the Church that I joined, but I'm telling you that in my five years as a seminarian and six years as a priest, I have never been personally knowledgeable about a single incident of new sexual abuse, and if I were, I would get to the bottom of it, and report it to the authorities, immediately. I can not go back and find out what was happening in the Church when these abuses happened. It is obvious that horrendous mistakes were made. I do not know how to move forward except to apologize to victims sincerely, to correct past wrongs as much as possible, and to promise that no priests who have serious accusation of sexual abuse are currently serving, or will ever serve, in the Catholic Church again.

Please pray for our pope. His infallibility pertains to teaching our tradition on faith and morals. It seems that he delegated decisions while archbishop of Munich to men that he trusted. Those men have taken full responsibility for mistakes that were made. He did not personally assign any abusive priests to new parishes. As head of the CDF he only strengthened the Church's protection of children by policies that brought offending priests to justice. Pope Benedict is part of the solution, not part of the problem. That being said, he is committed to justice for both the victims and the accused. The Church is at the mercy of the media and how they want to report stories. We have to take our medicine, and use it as an incentive to continue to right the wrongs that we can, and to protect our children better than any other institution. This scandal might kill the Church, as some say, but that is ultimately not a worry for us who love Her and will never let Her die. She has been dead before. This is part of her ongoing conversion and purification, and Her participation in the suffering, death and rising of Jesus. Please do not feel sorry for the Church in all of this. It only makes us look defensive and unrepentant. Instead, offer prayers and suffering for the victims of this abuse, that they may join the Church constructively in assuring that never again will the Church lose her vigilance in the protection of Her children. Please pray for priests, that they will be purified by this embarrassment, especially those who are guilty only by association, and emerge as more credible and loving witnesses to the Gospel. Please pray for our seminarians, that this scandal may not discourage them but may purify their desire to be a blameless good shepherd after Christ's own sacred heart!

For Holy Week I will be at St. Lawrence with Fr. Beseau and Msgr. Krische. We are looking forward to placing our lives with those of our people within the time and space of the paschal mystery of Jesus. We are excited for our catechumens and candidates for full initiation into the Catholic faith!

Choosing a kingdom

Homily for Palm Sunday 2010
28 March 2010
St. Lawrence Chapel

For passion readings, click here

We see the kingdom of Jesus Christ revealed most beautifully in the Gospel of Luke. The king rides not on a mighty horse, but on a mere colt. It is a kingdom that is pitiable in its lack of physical resources. It threatens the kingdoms of the world not with swords, but with justice, charity and truth. His is a kingship that does not impose itself on its subjects, and does not use the power of its wisdom to shame the ignorant, but always invites the subjects to recognize the goodness of the king, and to follow the king in faith. It is a kingship whose starting point is that the king is the servant of his subjects, not vice versa. The ultimate strength of this kingdom, and its ability to endure, comes from its ability to hand itself over to its enemies - to slanderers and thieves and murderers - in the far-fetched hope that in forgiving them, their hearts may be changed and that they may no longer be enemies, but friends.

Jesus tells his disciples that having learned about this kingdom, and having promoted it without any money or any swords, that now was the time for them to take stock of the resources they have, where their treasure truly lies and what weapons they have available for fighting. They were going to Jerusalem, where the threat to Jesus' kingdom would come, not from those who would arrest and kill Jesus, but in the hearts of his disciples. He prayed that Peter, who would deny this kingdom at the first opportunity, would find in his heart the resources to start anew, and the will to fight again for this kingdom, after Jesus had been laid in the tomb. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be able to win an interior fight that threatened this kingdom far more than the swords and clubs that would soon pierce his own body.

We disciples of Jesus during this passion week hear Jesus' call to grab our money bags and our swords, to take stock of our own willingness give our every treasure in service of the fight to belong to this kingdom that Jesus proposed, and we see most clearly, in the story of his passion.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's good to care about KU

Well, with this last loss KU has surpassed all other teams in early exits as a #1 seed. In case you are wondering, yes, all the success of the regular season is worth these heartbreaking losses. If you would ask any KU fan if they would rather win the Big XII or make the final four, almost all fans would tell you they would rather make the Final Four. Yet it is not an either . . . .or proposition. You are remembered for what you do in the NCAA tournament, and KU has had some crushing losses, but thanks be to God we have had some miraculous wins as well. We are either hot or cold in the NCAA tournament, but we are always hot in the Big XII, and that is something we must continue to celebrate. Yes, our Big XII dominance leads to big expectations in the NCAA tourney, and God willing, we won't choke any more in the future, but at least we have our Big XII success to fall back on. Most teams don't have anything like that. Plus, we have Danny and the miracles, and Mario's miracle too! Remember the good times, and thank God you're a Jayhawk fan, because it's great to be one!

It is true that from time to time I wonder whether to preach about people being as passionate about their faith as they are about the Jayhawks. Our Catholic liturgies are incredible, and very prayerful, and quite beautiful, but you do wonder sometimes how they compare to liturgy and energy of Allen Fieldhouse. Granted, we are not comparing apples to apples here. Yet you wonder at least for a moment about comparing the two, about which is closer to heaven, our Catholic liturgy or Allen Field House. But I'm setting up a false dichotomy. Just as Allen Fieldhouse can't compare to the beauty of the family of God preparing together to receive Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, so the Catholic liturgy does not as consistently create the exterior frenzy as the pregame video or a dunk at the fieldhouse.

My hope, of course, is for people to be as excited, although in a different way, about their faith as they are about KU basketball. It is not an either . . . . or thing. I am committed to staying passionate about both, with the promise of only loving KU basketball in the way God Himself does. Although KU basketball borders on idolatry, I think most people can still tell the difference as to what we should properly worship. I think our passion for KU basketball, though, does give us an important window into how we should care about our faith. Especially in our reception of the Blessed Sacrament as Catholics, does receiving the Lord create that interior frenzy that sets our hearts on fire interiorly to love and serve as Christ Himself does. Are there times when we get lost in the moment, and lose an awareness of self, because of our love for God and His unspeakable love for us His children? When we miss the chance to be with Christ and to receive Him, are we as disappointed as we are when KU loses? It is a good litmus test, and to where our heart truly lies.

You know neither me nor my Father

22 March 2010
Monday of the 5th Week of Lent
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

For daily readings, click here

Once again, in today's Gospel passage we see that Jesus has the opportunity to command faith, but He does not. He has the opportunity to produce a sign, but seeing that he is being tested in an atmosphere of doubt, He sees no opportunity to elicit faith, so He does not perform a sign for them. Jesus instead, seeing the doubt of the Pharisees, speaks about His identity, where He is from, and about His relationship with His Father. He aims to try to get the Pharisees to think more deeply, as to the source of the signs Jesus had already performed and the source of His teaching.

Jesus says that those questioning Him neither know Him nor know the Father. He is challenging the superficiality of those who purport to know God well. He shows that rather than knowing God well, they know only how to doubt, and how to be judges. They know only how to be Gods themselves, and how to close themselves off to God's wishing to reveal Himself. Most of all, Jesus is exposing the lack of an interior life on the part of those Pharisees who question Him. In talking about His own identity and His relationship with His Father, Jesus shows that in their own hearts the Pharisees are far, far away from the kingdom of God.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

KU, KSU, Mizzou in 2nd round

I'm starting to get this funny feeling that Mizzou might find a way to beat West Virginia? Why am I getting this feeling? Maybe it will go away soon. I had the chance to be in Oklahoma City this weekend but wimped out because of the severe weather forecast. There's a lot of snow here in Lawrence but it looks passable. The roads are not icy, I don't think. I don't think this is the last of it, even though it's the first day of spring. I think we're in for at least one or two more snows. We'll see. The worse blizzard I was ever in was the second week of April on my way to Colorado. Got to watch the weather this time of year.

It should be a blast to watch KU and K-State tonight. I am nervous, as I am every year at this time of year. It would probably be fun sometime to be an 11 seed, and to just relax at tournament time, rather than always being afraid of being upset. But since an 11 seed never wins the tourney, I must bite my tongue. It is best to handle the pressure, and to face the adversity, and we are the team to do it! It will be very tough to knock us out of this tournament. We have the best chance of anyone to win the tourney, so that should make me excited, not afraid.

There's a small chance if KU wins that I could be in St. Louis next Friday for their sweet 16 matchup. It will be . . . . ugh . . . either Michigan State or Maryland, the Big 10 or ACC champs, in the sweet 16. It will be so interesting to see who the other #1's would get in the sweet 16. But I'm looking ahead. Focus on Northern Iowa. Focus on Northern Iowa. Focus on K-State in the final four . . . er, Northern Iowa!

K-State has a very very tough game versus BYU. Go Wildcats - it seems that according to the KC Star we are supposed to get along with the 'Cats and party with them. OK, whatever.

Where love reigns, the law disappears

5th Sunday of Lent Year C
21 March 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center KU

For daily readings, click here.

Archbishop Naumann has asked us as Catholics to pay close attention to the health care reform bill that perhaps will be voted on by Congress today. The bishops of our country are confident in their assessment, after having done extensive research, that the Senate version of the health care reform bill will not adequately keep taxpayer funds from being used to fund abortion. There are many who disagree with the bishops, and indeed, it has been quite embarassing to see Catholic politicians and Catholic religious women over the last week sign off in support of the Senate bill. I would ask as your pastor that whether or not you think this health care bill is a good idea overall, to listen closely to what Archbishop Naumann is saying, and to pray and to advocate that the language against abortion be strengthened in these final hours so that there is no confusion or disagreement possible over what the final bill says and what it does not. I would ask that whatever your position on health care reform is, that you honor the principle that where the right to life is not guaranteed, no other rights can be guaranteed, or can be guaranteed only arbitrarily.

In today's Gospel, we are placed in the middle of quite a scene. An adulterous woman is brought before Jesus moments after being caught in the act of adultery. It is not a bad question to ask what happened to the man in this adulterous relationship? But it's a question of speculation only. We know neither whether he got away nor whether he was caught. We do not know what would have happened to him if he had been caught. We have what we have, the woman brought before Jesus, in a most precarious position.

The woman is dragged before Jesus to trap him. He is about to be forced into making a choice between justice and mercy. One must prevail, to the detriment of the other, at least in the minds of those who brought the woman to Jesus. But Jesus is not trapped. Justice and mercy, being attributes of God, are not in opposition to each other. Nor can they be put in opposition by any earthly situation, at least in the mind of God. The answer is both justice and mercy, not either, or. Jesus in not agreeing to stone the woman however shows that ultimately God's mercy lies at the heart of who He is, while God's justice lies at the periphery. Although it is not either, or, mercy always triumphs over judgment (Jm 2:13).

Jesus, as he does time and time again to those who wish to trap him, escapes. Not only does He escape, He uses the sin of the woman to expose the sins of those who wish to stone her. The punishment of stoning a person who commits adultery was a punishment rightly proscribed by God through Moses, so that adultery could never be rationalized or minimized, nor should it ever have a chance to grow worse as a cancer through the community. Yet Jesus shows that this punishment should not be executed swiftly, nor should it precede giving a person a chance to repent of his sin. What is more, Jesus shows that the discovery of another's sin, rather than making us quick to judge, should have the opposite effect. The discovery of another's sin should remind us of our need to judge ourselves, not others, and to root out any sin that threatens our own vocation to love and to be holy as God is holy.

Jesus in showing mercy, and in being slow to judge the woman before him, is not ignoring the righteousness proscribed by the law. In fact, Jesus speaks very plainly to the woman and tells her not to sin any more. He doesn't say don't worry about it. He doesn't say that's it's only human to make mistakes. He didn't say that she was good enough as she was, and that the other people were wrong to point out her sin. But in being quick to forgive and slow to punish, Jesus reveals the love of God beautifully, and He reveals a deeper form of righteousness that He himself possesses, the righteousness that comes from his relationship with the Father.

This is the righteousness that comes not from the law, but from God's offer of friendship through Jesus Christ, that made St. Paul so excited. He writes effusively in today's letter to the Philippians, that he finds righteousness based on the law to be 'rubbish' compared to the righteousness based on faith in God. St. Paul has found that following the law only makes you righteous in comparison to others, which is the righteousness favored by those who dragged the woman in front of Jesus. Yet He has found something far more valuable, having been taken possession of by Christ. For St. Paul, realizing that he had been personally chosen by Christ for a friendship with Him, and being attentive to this intimate friendship with Christ, made it impossible for Paul to sin, or nearly so. It important only superficially that Paul was righteous based on adherence to the law, but what was deeply important was the righteousness that came from Christ Jesus. What was ultimately important was that Christ, who had no need of the law because He was righteous through his perfect union with God the Father, and was now sharing this righteousness with Paul out of love for Paul. That is why Paul counted any righteousness he could achieve on his own as 'rubbish', compared to the righteousness Christ was ready to share with him.

Christ shows in his reaction to the woman caught in adultery that those of us who have been made righteous by faith, will join him in reacting to sin in the same way He did. First, discovering the sin of others should make us sad, not happy, and should cause us to desire to eradicate sin from our own lives and in the world however we can. Just as Jesus used the sin of this woman to help others examine their lives, so we should always work to remove the log from our eye before noticing the splinter in another's eye (Mt 7:5). Second, having experienced personally that God's mercy is deeper that his justice, and having had our sins forgiven by God, should make us joyfully ready to share that mercy with whomever is in need of healing. Encountering the sin of another should make us more interested in helping them, not more ready to condemn them. Finally, knowing that the righteousness found in Jesus comes not from his adherence to the law, but from the love that He shared with the Father, so we should never be satisfied in a righteousness that is worldly, a righteousness that is satisfied by comparing ourselves to others. We should instead always look forward in hope to that new righteousness that comes from our having been taken possession of by Christ, a righteousness that makes it no longer possible for us to sin.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Lord will not forget

Homily for Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent
17 March 2010
Memorial of Patrick, bishop, patron of Ireland and Nigeria

For daily readings, click here

On this day when it is forbidden to forget to wear green in honor of the great patron of Ireland, St. Patrick, we have a most profound image of God's promise to remember his people Israel in today's scripture from Isaiah. Can a mother forget the infant in her womb? Of course not. The infant and the mother are almost perfectly one. The infant has no independence whatsoever from his mother. Yet even if the mother be tempted to forget, the infant is within her as a constant reminder. Such an image is such a great consolation to those of us who are tempted to think that God is far way, or that we are forgotten by Him. Even when we are not mindful of God, God is mindful of us. Even if a mother could forget the infant in her womb, God cannot forget us. He has taken us to Himself, as his prized possession, even more intimately that a mother carries a child within her. In addition to the intense pro-life overtones of this prophecy from Isaiah, wherein we see that in God's eyes, the infant in a mother's womb is most definitely a person to be cherished and loved, we also see in the prophecy of Isaiah God's intention to place us, his creation, at the very center of His own trinitarian life. We are within God's life and within his love, as surely as a child is in the womb of his mother.

This intimacy between mother and child in the womb, and between God and the people that He loves, gives way to a more perfect intimacy between the Father and the Son. Even though a mother cannot go anywhere without the infant in her womb, nor vice versa, the two can be said to do different things. The infant can kick while the mother is eating lunch, for example. Although the union between the two is almost perfectly intimate, the union of Father and Son is greater, as Jesus says in John's Gospel that He only says what He hears, and that He can do nothing on His own. The intimacy described by Jesus shows that the spiritual love shared by the Father and Son, while requiring two persons, requires only one nature. Jesus is revealing the inner life of God by what He says. When Jesus speaks these words to us, He is inviting us to the place of intimacy that He shares with His Father. When Jesus speaks to us the words of spirit and life, they are words that come from the conversation He is having with His Father. In order to hear those words fully, we must be brought into the middle of that intimate union of Father and Son, where death can no longer reign. +m

Pope Benedict to beatify Cardinal Newman September 19th

Now how to get a ticket for the beatification Mass, that's the bigger question. I'm sure Msgr. Krische and Fr. Beseau from St. Lawrence Center KU would also like to go to the beatification of the patron saint of campus ministry and Catholic higher education, Cardinal Newman. As most of you know, campus ministries around the country were almost universally called Newman centers 30 years ago. Most of them now have patron saints to name the ministry, but Cardinal Newman is still a powerful ally of all those working in higher education. Pope Benedict has made it a policy not to personally preside over beatification ceremonies, instead preferring to wait to preside only at the canonization of new saints, but he is making an exception here. He is personally going to England, where surprisingly, the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux earlier this year made a big impression. Here's praying that the papa visit reignites the faith of all in England. His visit will come on the heels of his provision for allowing Anglicans to become Catholic while still retaining their Anglican rites. It will be a spicy visit, I'm sure, with lots of irresponsible commentary from all sides, but the net effect will be great. May the Holy Spirit prepare the hearts and minds of many for this visit from the vicar of Christ. He will not be received as warmly, I suppose, as he was in the United States a few years ago. I'm excited to follow this visit, whether or not I am able to go personally (quite doubtful!).

Catholic bishops are also hitting the airwaves and encouraging priests and the faitful to be properly informed about the health care debate and impending vote. The Catholic bishops can not sign off on the plan as it currently reads. I personally do not think there are the votes to pass the Senate version of the health care plan in the House, but I have to admit I've tired of following the debate. Let us keep praying in earnest for our legislators, to improve the situation as much as possible, without compromising on the protection of the most innocent and vulnerable in our society, the unborn, nor violating the conscience rights of those who work in health care. Let us pray for a reasonable and fruitful way forward in this debate.

Today is a perfect day in Mundelein Illinois. The sun is shining brightly and the temperature is already in the 50s before noon. I'm grateful for a beautiful day, and have started to think about the possibility of a round of golf sometime this spring. Mundelein seminary is being invaded by guests from Kansas City this week. By the time I leave this afternoon, Msgr. Mullen will have touched down for his annual visit and evaluations. A group from Miege high school might be coming by tonight to see the seminary as well after I am gone. Frs. Larry Albertson and Ron Livojevich just left today on the train after a brief visit. It is good to be with everyone and to strengthen the KCK family!

It's been fun to read a little bit about how KU got worked over in this year's NCAA bracket. The reason I love Bill Self so much is that he doesn't get worried about what he can't control. He says that to get to where you're going, you need to beat good teams, and what is more, you don't have to play everyone in your bracket, just the teams that win. Most of these teams that are very good and pose a real threat to KU will play each other first. KU just needs to stay focused on themselves and not worry too much about the future. Here's hoping we make the Sweet 16 for a real tough matchup against Michigan State or Maryland. I may get down to OKC on Saturday to watch the Jayhawks in the second round. We'll see. There is supposed to be snow again that comes on Saturday.

Here's hoping for a safe and boring flight home from Milwaukee tonight.

Monday, March 15, 2010

8th day of creation!

Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent
16 March 2010

For daily readings, click here

It is obvious that the Church has turned the corner in its Lenten journey - just look at today's scripture readings given us! They feel very much like Easter. The prophecy of Ezekiel describes the flowing of water from the temple that remakes everything it touches, taking away any unfruitfulness and restoring life wherever it goes. Of course the Church understands this water that flows from the temple to be not only the water that flows through fidelity to the covenant given to Moses, but water that most perfectly flows from the new temple that is Christ's body. In the preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is remembered that from the side of Christ flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life of the Church. The grace that flows from the temple of Christ's body not only restores creation to its original beauty, a beauty lost by disobedience, but moves creation from outside of God to the heart of God's trinitarian life. The fruitfulness we see in Ezekiel is the result not only from adherence to divine law, but is a fruitfulness that flows from Jesus' fulfillment of the vocation to love that goes beyond what is required by the law.

Jesus by going beyond the law, without neglecting a single letter of it, shows Himself to be the author of the ultimate law of God, to love one another as God has first loved us. He heals the man in today's Gospel with grace, not needing the natural waters of healing in the pool of Bethesda, nor needing to wait until after the Sabbath, for Jesus understood that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and that the sabbath was above all a day for celebrating the life that is a gift from God! He heals the man, and previews the grace that would flow from his resurrection. Easter Sunday which we prepare to celebrate through our sincere prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is that 8th day of creation, by which the world is remade not only from the outside in, but from the inside out through the graced blood and water that flows from the temple of Christ's body!

peaceful seminary routine today!

Well, I thought I was safe taking a late Sunday night flight from Kansas City to Milwaukee, but two soccer teams and their chaperones filled the Southwest flight to the brim, and being an idiot, I did not check into Southwest early, and then got to the airport late, so I was in group C - number 18 - ouch! I was very very fortunate to find a place for my carryon, and the young man I'm taking to visit the seminary was able somehow to save me a seat, albeit a center one, for the 65 minute flight. No biggie. There was a 15 minute wait at the Avis counter, but once in our car we made it to Mundelein in well under an hour and were checked into our rooms by 11:15pm CDT!. I like the Milwaukee airport!

In bed by 12:30am, I was up at 6:30 for a quick shower before 7:15am morning prayer and 7:40am Mass at Mundelein seminary. We had a newly ordained deacon preach the homily, and he did what I do so often in my homilies - he talked himself into a circle! That's ok - God is merciful and he'll have thousands of other chances to preach, and the Holy Spirit will use his priesthood well when the day comes. I was sympathetic. While the guys went to class this morning I caught up on some work, said some more prayers, and then spent the afternoon prospecting and planning for vocations. Had a one hour phone call with a new man looking to apply to the seminary - not sure if it is going to work out but it was great to talk with someone new and to hear how excited he was.

Tonight I had evening prayer and dinner with the pre-theologians from KCK. It was abbreviated because they had formation tonight, which leaves me more time for prayer and study here at the end of the day. I figured out how to use my radiator in my room so my room will be much 'toastier' tonight so perhaps a better night's sleep is ahead. Frs. Ron Livojevich and Larry Albertson are here from the Archdiocese as well, having took the train from Kansas City for fun. They took out Deacon Scott Wallisch and Nick Blaha to eat and I'll have breakfast with them tomorrow. I might have to look into that train deal - it didn't seem too bad! It's about 7 hours from Kansas City. Some of the guys for Easter break are going to take the Megabus - they got tickets for only $24! Wow! Not sure I have the guts to take the bus, but they'll probably have something to talk about afterwards!

Tomorrow is more time looking at the seminary program, visiting with administration and then headed back to the Milwaukee airport for the flight home! It is great to be in this prayerful learning environment of seminary. When I was listening to Fr. Gus talk about the seminary program today, I was ready to sign up again - almost!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

God is still creating!

Monday of the 4th Week of Lent Year II
15 March 2010

For daily readings, click here

The prophecy from Isaiah today gives us hope that God who created the world is not done creating. The prophecy says that God is creating a new heavens and a new earth, where the brokenness of this world will not prevail. It is a sign of discouragement when we say 'we're only human' or 'that's just the way things are.' While it is true that we cannot escape the broken and sometimes unfair world that we are in, nor can we refuse to accept our crosses, there is no reason for us to give into discouragement that this world is all there is. The very fact that this world in which we live need not exist, is enough to save us from the illusion that this world is all that exists. It is obvious if this world need not exist that something else could exist, and there is nothing wrong with being open to the prophecy of Isaiah that a new heavens and a new earth are being created. In revelation we are taught that this new creation is above all a re-creation of the world through the redemption of Christ Jesus. It is a purification of this world by the love of God, which enables this temporary universe broken by a lack of love to participate in eternity. As we have turned the corner in our Lenten journey with the celebration of Laetare Sunday, let us look forward now with greater anticipation to a full celebration of Easter. Easter is that celebration that the God who once created is still creating, and that a new and better world is being built upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!

Selection Sunday and Flying to Milwaukee

I'm going to fly to Milwaukee today to see if it is a good way to get to Mundelein seminary north of Chicago. I'm trying to avoid traffic and the OHare delays, even though OHare is 20 minutes closer to Mundelein. Plus, I like flying into new airports. The first flight tonight is Sunday night, so that won't be crowded, but coming home Tuesday night during rush hour might have some advantages going through Milwaukee. We'll see. It will be great to see the guys and to take a prospect to see Mundelein seminary. Msgr. Mullen is doing the official evaluations this year, so I just get to pray and hang out and build fraternity while I'm there for a couple of days. Mundelein is always such a beautiful place to visit and I hope I have time to walk around the lake. I'm packing light, very light for the quick trip. Taking my Amazon Kindle that I got for Christmas!

This morning was a ghost town of sorts at St. Lawrence. Most everyone is out of town for spring break, and then there is the hangover from the KU win last night, so the 11am Mass CDT probably looked better than the 9am Mass that I celebrated for most people. Another yucky day here, but the grass is turning green and you can begin to feel Easter coming. It is Laetare Sunday, so rose vestments were the order of the morning. I didn't use my text for my homily this morning, and of course, I got more compliments than if I had. That always puzzles me. I love using a text, but I'm glad I switch it up from time to time. I definitely get a lot more juiced and nervous when I don't have a text to work from. But it's not too bad if I do the work beforehand and know that I have taken the time to write some things down.

Looking forward to a relaxing Sunday afternoon getting caught up on some reading!

I will indeed watch the selection show so that I know who KU might play in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

I enjoyed the Big XII final last night very very much. Thanks to Fr. Steve for switching Masses with me so I could attend. It was an exciting final, but only a 64 possession pace, so not as fast as you would like. Big XII finals are sometimes this way, especially with K-State wanting to make the most of every possession. The teams are tired playing three games in three days. K-State would probably be better off with more possessions, and they could have made the game more like a KU-Texas final from the last few years, but I think KU was glad to see that Clemente and Pullen got very few looks in transition. Plus, I think the KU bench is deeper so maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway. KU looked confident, but made its usual boneheaded mistakes from time to time. They were plenty good enough to win the Big XII, and the season is an unquestionable success. Winning the tourney was fun, but it was more fun to deny it to KState than to win it ourselves, since we had already won the conference regular season by 4 games. It is so hard to get over the hump. I sympathize with K-State. KU doesn't give an inch - ever! That is why Bill Self is so great!

The NCAA tourney should be a blast. God willing, I'll be able to sneak down to OKC for the Saturday game!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

whether to leave college to enter seminary

This year I've had a lot of talks with guys who have started college but are feeling strong called to the seminary. Their hearts are telling these young men that perhaps they are wasting time and money in college and being disobedient to their priestly calling by not leaving immediately to go to seminary. The questions to be answered are so many! Here are a few of them.

1. Do you feel like God called you to this particular college in the first place? Why or why not?
2. Are you interested in leaving college because of unhappiness or lack of success, or solely because you believe the Lord is calling you? Are you sure you are not running away from anything?
3. Is there a particular virtue to be gained with your persevering in college until the end of your degree?
4. Are you mature enough to know that many students change courses because of immaturity, and are you able to rule this out?
5. Is there an opportunity to love and to serve and to pursue holiness right where you are, or is this impossible? Are you sure you are ready for seminary formation?
6. Does it take more trust to leave now to enter seminary or to wait knowing that your priestly vocation may or may not be there later?
7. What do the people that know you best think of the decision?
8. Have you discussed this thoroughly with your parents and been able to articulate your vocation to them?
9. Have you visited a seminary and discussed this thoroughly with the vocation director?
10. What are the benefits that you can identify to entering formation for the priesthood at a younger age? Are there particular spiritual and intellectual gifts that you desire to spend more time and energy developing?
11. Does having a 'back-up' plan sound prudent to you or does it make you feel like you are not obeying Christ? What does your heart honestly tell you? What are the regrets that you will have if you never enter seminary formation?
12. Are there any fears or anxieties that need to be addressed so that you make a decision in true freedom?

Well, there are many more questions than these - these are just the ones on the top of my mind. It is a tough decision, almost every time. What is great is when a young man is prayerful enough and virtuous enough that only good decisions are in front of him - choosing between two great goods! Eventually, the relationship with Christ must be deepened to the point that while not choosing any less, the reality is that we know ourselves to be chosen by Christ to be his priests! Please don't hesitate to contact me with questions you have about seminary!

no KSU/KU cross cheering - I'm surprised

I was able to go to the Big XII tournament last night, and of course I ran into lots of K-State friends before the game in the Power and Light district. In addition to patrolling the 'meat-eating' among Catholics, I was busy answering the question of whether I was going to root for K-State in the second game in addition to rooting for KU in the first. Usually, I would answer without hesitation yes! I always root for the Kansas teams, especially since a lot of my family cheers for K-State. But I answered that I will cheer for K-State so long as the Wildcat fans didn't root against KU and for A&M in the first game. Well, to my surprise, as heated as the sunflower rivalry is, the K-Staters stayed mum during the KU game, and the Jayhawkers stayed mum during the K-State game. It was remarkable to watch. I'm sure there were a few haters out there, but it seemed like most everyone was respectful of the other team, and resisted the urge to root against them. I was surprised, especially that the K-Staters did not root against KU. But of course this could be simply because they wanted another chance to beat the dreaded Jayhawks tonight - good luck Wildcats - history is not on your side!

KU basketball - 2001 wins and counting - see you later, North Carolina!

The false ideology of independence

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
14 March 2010

I am going to spend just a few minutes reflecting on the beginning of this long parable of the prodigal son, most likely the most popular and profound of Jesus' parables. I want to focus on the decision that gets the whole story going. The decision the father makes to grant his son's request to receive his inheritance early. This is a most insulting request by the younger son. He is in effect saying to his father - I wish you were dead. I want my inheritance now. You are not worth waiting for. You are not worth my obedience and love. I want my independence from you.

Certainly the younger son had no right to make such a request of his father. He had not earned his inheritance. And yet the father was willing to give the son what he had not earned. The inheritance became not a right of the younger son, but a gift. And this gift makes a huge difference in the story. I wonder all the time whether the father had just given the son the part of his inheritance that he had earned, whether the son would have trusted in the love the father had for him. The father gave everything as a gift, and so somewhere in the back of the mind of the son and in the depths of his heart, he knew that his father always gave everything that he could. Eventually the son decided to come back because his father is generous. We do not hear in the story whether this was a hard decision from the father. Obviously his son had none of the virtues that he needed to be a good steward of the inheritance. This was a most careless investment by the father. Yet he loved his son, so much so that he could not refuse even a most offensive request. He gives him all his inheritance, knowing his son better than his son knew himself.

Would we have done the same thing if given the same opportunity the father had? I don't think I would have. It is a most imprudent decision. It is a hard decision. The decision to let the son go, even though every penny would be wasted, and the son might be lost forever, proves to be the right decision. But boy is it a hard one to make. It proves to be the right decision when we see the embrace of the father and the son at the end of the story. At the end of the story, because the love of the father is revealed in all its beauty, the father and the son have a covenant of love that can never again be broken. At the end of the story, we see that the older son has only a contract of slavish obedience to his father. There is no real love between them, and no covenant. If the older son knew the heart of his father, he too would have run to greet his younger brother. The older son doesn't know his father at all, even though he had been with him the whole time.

Both sons, in their own ways, did what we see done all the time. They tried to grow up. They tried to become men, although both did a most poor job of doing so in the short term. The younger son stretched the limits of selfishness, and threw away his relationship with his father by running away. The older son stretched the limits of pride, allowing his heart to grow cold and calculated, and went far away from his father interiorly, entering only into a contract with him, even as the father wanted a relationship of love.

Both sons succumb to the false ideology of independence. They want to find out who they are apart from the love of their father. They want an identity isolated from every relationship and obligation. The younger son goes about this exteriorly, refusing to obey his father in anything, and the older son interiorly, obeying his father only minimally, and never from the heart. This is the false ideology that plagues most young people who are trying to grow up. It is a fantasy that runs and runs and runs in the minds and hearts of almost all young people. It is supported by the culture, and almost impossible to shut off. The goal is to challenge and to doubt every gift of love they have received, whether it be from their families or from the Church, and to assert an independence, and a restless search to find out 'who I really am' apart from how I was raised. Cardinal George in a recent book said that such an exercise to find our independence, is the most futile of all. Yet it is an exercise that most every one of us engages in. Yet from the moment of our conception, each one of us is in relationship. There is never a moment in our lives when we are unrelated to others. We do not, and cannot exist in isolation. Our identity eventually comes, not from what we have or what we do, but from who we are related to. There is no escaping relationship, and no identity for a human person, that exists independent of relationship. Especially if our ultimate vocation is to love, the question of our identity rests squarely on the answer of who loves us most, and who we love the most. That is who we are.

Woe to us whose answer to this question ultimately lies in our independence, in our love of self. Thanks be to God, in the story, the younger son, because of the risk taken by the father in giving him his inheritance, comes to his senses and realizes that who he really is is a son who is loved by his father with a love beyond all reason and all telling. He realizes that the question of who he really is is a question of who he is most deeply related to, and who loves him most. The younger son returns to that identity where he is most secure. The older son, unfortunately, is locked in a false ideology, a false security, and a love of self and locks himself out of the loving embrace of his father.+m

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World Day of Prayer for Vocations April 25

The holy father's message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is out already this year. In meeting with various religious vocations directors for the Archdiocese, we are looking to start a tradition of celebrating this day as an Archdiocese. We're looking for ideas. The Serrans are already hosting an afternoon of adoration at Cure of Ars parish on April 25th. We're thinking about doing something on Saturday as well. Ideas are welcome! We want families and youth to come and have a great time, and be able to pray and to meet priests and religious. Stay tuned for more information as our plans materialize. Mary, Queen of Vocations, pray for us!

Big XII tourney in KC

I think I'll head down for a game or two tomorrow. When I was in college at KU, and the Big 8 tournament was at Kemper, I was so hungry to go to the games. Not that Kemper was that great, but it was just so much fun to go around looking for tickets. I got them through the KU ticket office one year, but it was more fun to go around looking for bargains once the other teams lost. I'm not quite as excited for this year's tournament, and I can't put my finger on why. I can take it or leave it. I'll see some great friends tomorrow, and I think KU will play well and win, and the people watching will be incredible, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe I'm more in a Lenten spirit, and it doesn't feel right to go downtown and pretend like it's not Lent. Maybe I'm feeling more responsible for vocations, and it feels like I should work, even though I work all the time. Maybe I'm just getting cheap, and don't want to even look at a $7 beer, much less buy one. Maybe I just need to get down there, and all the fun will come back to me. We'll see! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Friday, March 5, 2010

are you on fire?

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
7 March 2010
Year for Priests

For daily readings click here

Have you ever looked closely at the seal of the University of Kansas? Do you know what image is on the seal? You might think of many things that would go there - a Jayhawk, a wheat field. Something symbolizing Kansas. But what is there when you look closely is something you may not expect. It is not something you would expect to see marketed by Lew Perkins or the athletic department. It is something utterly unrelated to Kansas at all. On the seal is a picture of Moses kneeling before the burning bush. It is an image chosen by KU's first chancellor Rev. R.W. Oliver in 1866. Yes, that's right, the image that one day will be on your diploma is a religious image - from a public university. It is an image that has not been removed by the ACLU, at least not yet. It is the same image that appears in front of Smith Hall, the building for religious studies. In front of Smith hall, across from the Union, is the iron Moses sculpture kneeling before a stained glass window of the burning bush. And on your diploma will one day be the Latin phrase - "I will see this great vision in which the bush does not burn."

Does this seal of the University have any relation to the reasons why students come to KU today? The religious studies department, far from being at the heart of the University, and far from being considered the highest science at KU, is a rather small department. It does not attract the greatest number of National Merit scholars. It is easy to get a degree from KU without taking any courses in religious studies. Can anything seem more out of place than a seal that describes the students of today's postmodern, skeptical, basketball-crazed, career-minded, and morally indifferent KU as one day aspiring to see the vision of a bush that does not burn? Is there anyone today who chooses to come to KU because they believe the University will prepare them to see a vision like Moses saw? How can this potentially mythological story be relevant to today's secular and scientific university?

KU's official description of the seal only guesses at its meaning. says that Moses is thought to represent the humble attitude of the scholar who recognizes the unquenchable nature of the pursuit of truth and knowledge. So the KU interpretation is this. It is important to be humble about what we do not know and do not understand. And the more that we know, the more that we know that we don't know. So the desire for knowledge is unquenchable.

Well, actually, that is a pretty good interpretation. We have a desire for knowledge of the truth that goes beyond our capacity to satisfy. We can satisfy our thirst for beer, for example, until we do not want to drink any more, but we cannot satisfy our thirst for knowledge. We are limited but the truth is eternal. We never know it all, even as we want to know it all. Well, the seal, interpreted in this way, does bring up very important questions. What is truth? Why is it eternal? Is it spiritual or material, this truth, and if we are attracted to it, does this mean that we are spiritual or material? Or both? And if the truth is bigger than man, so that man can never know it all, then is man the servant of eternal truth or is truth somehow the servant of eternal man? These are the questions of philosophy and mathematics and metaphysics, which you may or may not think are the highest sciences taught at KU. The seal, and its interpretation by the University, should cause us to ask such questions, if we aren't already. Especially if the seal is going to be on our diploma. Maybe you don't care what's on your diploma, as long as you get one, and get a job, and KU wins the national championship while you are here. Maybe the reasons behind the seal don't matter to you anymore. But just in case it does, I'll go on a bit more.

On the description of the seal talks about Moses and the fire. But it doesn't talk about the bush. It is a very unusual bush, one that is not competing with the fire for matter and energy. The bush, while on fire, is not consumed. Since does not intepret the bush, I would only have to guess that the bush is the material world that gives rise to the fire of knowledge or truth. But there is a problem with this interpretation, because the only truth that the natural world recognizes is a truth that a bush and a fire are competing for matter and energy. In reality and in truth, naturally speaking there is never a bush that is on fire but not consumed. When we look deeper into the meaning of the burning bush, the only meaning that survives is a supernatural meaning. This is not the ordinary fire of knowledge, but is the presence of God, who because He is not a part of the world, nor subject to its knowledge, can coexist with the bush without consuming it.

The God who reveals himself in today's first story is a God who is not in competition with his creation, because He cannot be a part of the world like the other gods whom Moses knew about. This God reveals himself as I am who I am, which is not a tautology but distinguishes the God of Israel from gods who are merely a part of creation. Moses kneels before the image of a God whose presence sets the world on fire, while not consuming the world. As many of us have experienced, there can be a false ideology on campus that to believe in God is to stop believing in yourself, and that those who believe in God have surrendered themselves, letting themselves be overwhelmed by God who has shown Himself to be an unmerciful bully. The false dichotomy is this. It is either me or God. It can't be both. We can't both be necessary. We are competing for the same matter and energy. The seal of the University, however, shows the absurdity of thinking that we are fighting for the same matter and energy that God desires; precisely because God is being itself, He can be present in the same time and space in which we are present without obliterating us. The bush burns but is not consumed. God can light us on fire without consuming us.

Sometimes we ask each other as Christians whether we are on fire for God? This image comes from the burning bush, and from Pentecost, when the fire of the Holy Spirit came to rest on the apostles. This fire of God is not something we must fear like we do normal fire, for it is a fire that does not consume us but enlivens us. We can surrender to this fire, which makes us not slaves to a truth we can never fully know, but sharers in the mind of God, the source of all truth. We can surrender to this fire not only because it does not consume us, but because it serves us and alone satisfies the supernatural desire to know all things. We may not be able to contain all truth in our minds, but we know that the truth is not a puzzle impossible to figure out that confounds us, but something that is meant to serve us and to reveal who we truly are.

Lest we continue to doubt whether we can coexist with the fire that is God's presence, God sent His Word, through whom all things were made, to be with us, and to serve us not only spiritually, but physically. In tonight's Eucharist, we touch the body of the one who came not to be served, but to serve. We touch the body of one who though He was God, used our humanity to go farther away from God through his passion and death that you or I would ever dare to go. In doing so, God nourishes not only our spirit with the fire of His love, He surrenders His own body to nourish our own bodies, so that we can also share the same space and time and energy with him in a most human and physical way. Our Lord comes to us in this way, surrendering Himself to us completely, in the hope that we might believe that our Lord is not trying to compete with us, but desires a relationship of love with us, and wants to set our lives on fire so that we can be the very best we can be. +m