Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Priests must preserve the unity of the Church

Wednesday of the Week Between Ascension and Pentecost
St. Lawrence Catholic Center
19 May 2010

For daily readings, click here.

St. Paul's farewell from Ephesus includes some final words to the presbyters. St. Paul predicts that the Church will be persecuted on all sides by savage wolves, and that it will take everything the priests have to keep the Church united in the true faith. Not only that, but perhaps the greatest enemy will be the priests themselves who stray from the truth, who preach the Gospel as a career for their own benefit, and who are unwilling to lay down their lives so that the true faith may be taught with integrity and love. Pope Benedict said as much during his recent travel to Portugal, that the greatest enemies of the Church may seem to be from outside the Church, but in reality, the greatest enemy of the Church is always on the inside, from those who have been consecrated but who eventually fall away and take the faith of others with them. During this year for priests, we pray for the special closeness of every priest to the Lord Jesus, and in these days leading to Pentecost, we pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the charism of each priest can be strengthened and renewed, and he may be more generous in serving the unity of the flock.

Jesus in praying to the Father shows us clearly that it is not our mission to steal people out of the world, but to work for the redemption of the world by forming people who are truly able to live spiritual lives, being in the world but not of the world. It is the world redeemed by the love of Christ, and in a deeper relationship with God, that is the new Jerusalem for which we all hope. Let us not flee the world, but flee instead to Jesus Christ, who through the gift of the Spirit has given us all a share in His mission to redeem the world and to present it as a bride ready to receive her husband. Let us pray especially for the gifts of the Spirit that preserve and strengthen the unity of our Church! +m

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Traveling to the heart of the Father with Jesus

Ascension Sunday
16 May 2010
Graduation at the University of Kansas
Year for Priests

For daily readings. click here.

It is fortuitious this year that Graduation Sunday at KU falls on the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. Graduation is a leaving to go somewhere new. So is the Ascension. Although Jesus' Ascension is not so much his going to a new place where He has never been, it is His going home. But what is new is the humanity, received sinless from the Virgin Mary, united to our sinful nature by his suffering on the cross, and completely redeemed and made new by His Resurrection, that He brings as a gift to His Father. Jesus is going home, but He is bringing something new with Him - that gift is us, His beloved bride the Church.

So too today, graduation Sunday at KU is, despite the inclement weather, a day of rejoicing. The graduates of the University are leaving here with something new. They are leaving with new knowledge that has broadened what they know to be good and true and beautiful. They are leaving with skills that will be valuable to the common good of all people. They are leaving with the virtues it took for them to achieve their respective degree. Most of all, they are leaving with new friendships. It is the encounter with new and different people that almost always leads to the greatest learning of all, and the University is a privileged place for this. All of these new things with which the graduates leave KU, have been learned over time and with great effort, sometimes the hard way. Few graduates can say that they have done everything right. But they are graduates nonetheless, and today is a day of rejoicing, both for what they have contributed to the university, a true place of discernment and learning, and for what they will take away.

But where will these graduates go? Will they go to where Jesus has led? That is the question that the mystery of the Ascension poses to us today. Jesus is leaving, but where is He going? Is he going for a ride on the clouds? Has he taken off for distant universes light years away from here? Surely the angel tells the disciples to stop looking at the sky, for He is ascending to a place where not even the Hubble telescope will be able to find Him. Where is Jesus going? And do this year's graduates have any chance of following where He has gone? What discipline will discover where Jesus has gone? Art? Philosophy? Engineering? Physics? Law? Religion? Where has Jesus gone, and will today's graduates of KU, in the exciting lifetime that lies in front of them, have the knowledge to follow Him and to find Him?

Today's graduates will almost certainly, unless our world self-destructs, live longer and go farther in time and space, and into the mysteries of the universe, than any generation has gone before. That is the hope and promise that the University will celebrate today - the progress of humanity toward that most elusive understanding and happiness that human persons most desperately seek. Yet we learn from our prayer and liturgy today, that this understanding and happiness that every graduate yearns for is more of a gift than an achievement. It is a gift won for us, and freely given to us, through our friendship and communion with Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ came among us in the Incarnation to show us that God is willing to make His home with us. He will remain with us until the end of time, perfectly through the Eucharist and through the interior gift of His Holy Spirit. Yet today, He ascends in glory to show us that it is our great opportunity to make our home with God as well. God has made His home with us, yet we must accept this by agreeing to make our home with God. That is what the mystery of the Ascension teaches us. Jesus is going home, and taking our humanity with him, to show us that wherever we may go, we can always be going home. Every experience in this world, everything we learn, has the ability to reveal our final destiny to live in the very heart of God. Jesus' travel in today's Ascension is not so much into outer space, but to the inner space of his relationship with His Father. For Jesus, heaven is not a place, it is a relationship with His Father. Heaven must be the same for us his disciples. Through the Ascension, He takes our humanity and places it where He is, in the heart of His Father.

Today's graduates will be spreading out to all corners of the world. Some of them, given the job market, will literally be going home, to the bedroom that they left 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 years ago, to wait out the recession and to look for an opportunity. Many will be headed back to school. Others will go all over the world to take advantage of relationships gained, or to learn more, or to pursue a great opportunity. Wherever these graduates go, our prayer for them today, is that all of them will continue heading home to the heart of the Father. Wherever life takes us, it is our vocation to love, and our identity as children who are loved by God, and our fidelity to Jesus' great commandment to love one another as He has loved us, that best define who we are, and will determine the fruit our lives will bear. Jesus is going home today, and is taking us with him, to the heart of the Father, where we belong, and where we can live and move in peace and freedom and security, without fear because the love of God is stronger than death. A blessed journey to all of our graduates, as you journey deeper with Jesus to the heart of the Father. May you always know yourselves to be loved deeply by God. May you have confidence that no evil can take you out of the Father's hand. May your relationship with Jesus Christ help you to be in deeper and more meaningful relationships with all those whom He loves. May you know of our Church's prayers for you, and may today's mystery of the Ascension help you to see the world, and all its opportunities, and every person in it, as being at the very heart of God! Congratulations, and God bless all of today's graduates!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You don't know what's good for you!

Tuesday of the 6th Week of Easter
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
Year for Priests
11 May 2010

For daily readings, click here.

Jesus endures the self-pity of the disciples in today's Gospel reading. They are focused on what they are losing - their superhero! They are focusing on themselves. It is unusual behavior for friends to be sure. Their good friend is leaving, and none of them really cares where He is going. They are focused on their worries that they will be more alone. They will be less without him. We do this to our friends all the time. We wander why they don't want to spend more time with us. We are jealous that they make plans without us. We are suspicious that they care for us less and less. We are afraid of being lonely, so we try to make our friends feel guilty about our insecurity. Jesus is instructing his friends about his Ascension, and they are uninterested in his trip. They just wonder how things will be different for them. They are whining.

So Jesus tells them that the impending break-up is better for them. It is best for both of us, He says. I guess we cannot blame the disciples for their suspicions. When someone is leaving, there is no guarantee of getting them back. Goodbyes are hard. See you laters are tenuous. But of course we should focus on who is speaking here. It is Jesus who has and will fulfill every promise He has made. He tells them truly that it is better for them that He go.

Jesus' words should teach us that as the Easter season is winding down, it is really starting back up. We are not going back to the way things were before Jesus' Resurrection. His Resurrection is not a fading memory, but an ever more present reality, as the same Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead will give the same gift of eternal life to everyone who believes in Christ. This is the coming of Pentecost, when the Resurrection becomes a reality not only for Christ, but for every person that belongs to Him. In this Easter season, it is important for us to make this liturgical and theological and spiritual transition, as each day leading to Pentecost we are to be growing in awareness of this gift of eternal life that Christ is sharing with us his disciples. Truly, it is better for us that our friend has gone before us to heaven, and has sent His Holy Spirit to be our advocate.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

We will make our dwelling with her!

6th Sunday of Easter
Mother's Day
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center KU
9 May 2010

For daily readings, click here

Mother's Day is easy to celebrate in the Catholic Church. Our tradition is especially well equipped to celebrate Mother's Day. You don't have to look very far to see our devotion to our mother Mary. She has an icon in every Catholic church I've ever been to. Tons of our Churches are entrusted to her motherhood. Of all world religions, no one celebrates motherhood like the Catholic Church. There is not even a close second. She has many of her own feast days that we celebrate with great joy. No one celebrates the necessary role of a mother in the history of salvation like the Catholic Church honors Mary. No one else proclaims a mother to be the most perfect person to ever live, and the first member of heaven, like the Catholic Church honors her mother Mary. No one proclaims the great and unthinkable inversion of what is first and what is necessary like the Catholic Church does when it proclaims Mary to be the mother of a God who is a Father, but has no father. Mother's Day is easy to celebrate in the Catholic Church, so much do we love our own mom's, and together celebrate our collective mom - Mary, the mother of the Church, and the mother of Jesus, and the mother of all who belong by adoption to Her Son. Happy Mother's Day to all mothers from the Church who knows how to love a mother!

In his farewell discourse to his disciples, Jesus tells them not to be troubled, because although he is leaving, He is returning to be with them through his Holy Spirit. On the surface, this seems like a bad trade - Jesus in the flesh for a Jesus in the spirit. It seems like a bad trade from the tangible and real to the spiritual and theoretical. Yet listen closely to Jesus' promise. Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Jesus' promise is that He will be as present to us interiorly, through the working of His Holy Spirit, as He was exteriorly in speaking to his disciples. Jesus' promise is actually more, that in making Himself interiorly present He will be more present to us than we are to ourselves, and what is more, He will be more consistently present to us than if He did not ascend to the Father.

Jesus is offering an incredible trade. And who was the first to take him up on his offer? It was Mary, of course. Mary, the ultimate mother, is the model of love for all of humanity, man and woman alike. She was the first to hear this invitation of Jesus to love Him and in keeping His word, to prepare a place within her in which God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could fully dwell. Mary heard this invitation of Jesus to love Him by a special gift of grace even before He was conceived in time. Mary loved God pefectly and so she met Jesus through the angel Gabriel's words before Jesus was conceived in her. The angel Gabriel said to Mary in the beginning exactly what Jesus is saying to his disicples near the end, that if one loves Jesus, Jesus will come to him, and make his dwelling with him. By the same Holy Spirit that gives us the opportunity to conceive Jesus in our hearts, Mary conceived Jesus in her womb.

In the order of creation, we learn that man was created first, although he was not complete without woman, and was never created to be alone. So in the end, it's not ultimately important who was created first. In the more important order of redemption, in the recreation of the new Jerusalem which is now the eternal dwelling place of God, we see clearly that womanhood, and more specifically, motherhood, comes first. The Holy Trinity, including the eternal Father who can have no other Father, claims Mary as its only mother. We will come to him and make our dwelling with him - that is Jesus' promise to his disciples as He is preparing to leave them. Yet that Holy Trinity came to Mary first, to be born of a mother. The world was first created through the loving yes of a Father, and the world became the dwelling place of man made in the image and likeness of God. Yet the Father desired that the new Jerusalem be created through the loving yes of a mother, our mother, and through this loving yes that same creation has become more importantly the eternal dwelling place of God. It is by Fatherhood that we were created. It is through motherhood that we are the eternal dwelling place of God.

In the month of May, and particularly on Mother's Day, we honor Mary as our mother, and we seek her intercession and example as we all try to love God enough, and to listen to His word, so that a space may be opened within us for God to dwell. We await with Mary our mother, the coming of the Holy Spirit, which impels us to give birth to Jesus, and his redemptive love, by our loving yes to the vocation God has given to us and to no one else. Today, in a most special way, we honor our mothers, who by their loving yes in imitation of Mary, first opened a space in which we might be conceived, and by fidelity to their vocation to be mothers, gave us life in this world. Just as life is received through a mother, so also is a vocation to first receive Jesus and to give birth to him, first received through the example of our mothers. Our mothers are the closest to us, just as anyone who is close to Mary is close to Her Son Jesus. They love us the most, just as Mary teaches us howe we might love Jesus the most. Our moms are our first ones to teach us to listen to Jesus' words to trust His love, and to not be afraid, for even if a mother could forsake or forget Her baby, still will God remember us, and keep us secure in His love. If the Holy Trinity made itself, and the future of the world, depending upon the loving yes of a mother, our incomparable mother Mary, may we entrust ourselves ever more completely to our mothers, and honor them with our love on this beautiful Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God's dwelling is with men!

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
University of Kansas
2 May 2010

For daily readings, click here.

As I travel, as I profess to others that I am a devout KU fan, I either get jeers or sympathy. Most people familiar with basketball know how KU's season ended. They know about the dude named Farkohmanesh. For most of the country, he is cinderella. For us, he is godzilla. People have said to me ever since that fateful game, if they are not MU or K-State fans, that they're sorry the season this year was a failure. I try to protest that going 5-0 against our rivals and winning both the regular season and postseason Big XII championships is a strange definition of failure. Yet like it or not, what people remember, and what most of us remember, is that 3 pointer from Farkohmanesh hitting the bottom of the net. We remember how things ended. The season is judged by how it ends.

Which makes our second reading today from Revelation all the more important. This reading is from near the very end of the Bible. The Bible, with all its incredible plots and characters, is reaching the finish line. This is the moment we have been building up to, the moment that makes it all worth it. For KU fans, this reading represents the spot in the game of all games, when Sherron is bringing up the ball, handing it off to Mario, and watching him launch that gorgeous shot in the air. Thank God Memphis didn't foul! Listening to these words from revelation is like the unforgettable moment of waiting to see if Mario's shot is going to clank, or to swish. So pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention!

In the final vision John sees a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. He then hears a loud voice, a clear voice, proclaim that 'God's dwelling is with men.' My friends, I can not overestimate how important these words of prophecy are for our understanding of our Christian faith. Let me repeat the words. 'God's dwelling is with men.' In this great vision given to John, in these last words recorded for the sake of our redemption and salvation, in this great preview of what is to come, John gives us a vision not of souls being taken up into heaven, but heaven giving birth to a new earth. What we see is not the discarding of the physical and a return to the metaphysical. No, what we see is the opposite. The metaphysical continues to give birth to the physical. Then what we hear is not exactly what we expect. We hear not that man's dwelling is ultimately with God, but that God's dwelling is with men. Of course both are true. Man's dwelling is with God. Yet this is not what shocks us. What is unbelievable is the revelation that in the end God also chooses to make His dwelling with us.

We know from Genesis that God created the world out of love, even though He did not need to create. Yet as good as the world was, it was not in the beginning God's dwelling place. The garden was the dwelling place of Adam and Eve, not of God. He made it for them, not because He needed to place to live for Himself. My how things have changed from the beginning of the story to the end, from Genesis to Revelation. Now, somehow, after all the fateful stories of the Bible, the world has changed, not for the worse, but miraculously, for the better. The world, even the world that has been scarred deeply by the wounds of sin and death, has been healed and made so new and so good by the resurrection of Jesus, that now God's dwelling is with men. Not temporarily, but forever. This is how the story ends. It's even better than Mario's shot swishing through the net, although that too seemed too good to be true!

This great vision given to John, and to us at the end of the Bible, should greatly discourage us from ever dumbing down the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For those who choose to leave the Christian faith today, most do so not in order to become bad people, or to begin committing every kind of evil without any accountability. No, today people sense it is becoming more fashionable to be a humanitarian than to be a Christian. This divorce annoys the livign daylights out of me. Unfortunately, it is becoming easier and easier for a person to make a false dichotomy between the two, between loving God and loving the world. It is becoming easier and easier to say to people, and to have them believe you, that you don't have to be a Christian in order to be a good person or to love your neighbor. Those who leave the Christian faith today are oftentimes seduced by a cheap understanding of the meaning of Christ's Resurrection from the dead. This cheap understanding presents Christians as gnostics not evangelists, who purport to have secret knowledge, and who would forsake making the world a better place if it increases their chance to get to heaven. This modern Manicheism presents Christians as those who are afraid that the world will capture their soul, and so are those who ultimately hate the world and all those who belong to the world. Christians are in danger of becoming more and more marginalized and stereotyped, as those who might pretend to love their neighbor, but in the end, are just trying to earn their way to heaven by their proselytizing, and ultimately, do not care if their neighbor makes it or not, as long as they do. I hear from teenagers all the time who are questioning their faith because heaven might be boring, and what is more, it would be incomplete and undesirable, if they make it but one of their friends does not.

This way of thinking tests my sanity! What an impoverished view of heaven this really is! How can we possibly suspect that the new Jerusalem prophesied at the end of the Bible could be anything less than the opportunity to love God and our neighbor in an even more perfect and exciting way than we do today? This final revelation from John puts the rapture, with its attendent fears of being left behind, and its pressure to force Christians to hate the world, in the proper perspective. If God's dwelling place is with men, the fear is not ultimately being left behind, but in failing to be fully human, for God's dwelling place is with men, and the glory of God is man fully alive! The goal is not in the end to find the most perfect way to hate the world, but to be the very best instruments of this new creation, of this new Jerusalem being born from heaven. The impetus of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not in the end a fleeing from the world, not the divorce of the soul from the body, not the rupture of the spiritual and material, but the proclamation that because of the paschal mystery, God's dwelling is not simply about playing harps on the clouds, but is right here with men! Being Christian is nothing less than the ultimate way to be a humanitarian and to love the world, to not pretend in any way that we are God, or that the universe is God, but to accept and to welcome that God desires to dwell with us, with a creation redeemed by His love that has been completely poured out for us in the paschal mystery? The meaning of the Incarnation, Jesus taking a body from us, and being raised from the dead in that same body, is to show not that the world as we know it will be thrown into the great discard pile, as a failed experiment, with the souls of a few chosen being whisked away at the last moment, but that the world as we know it has the destiny of being redeemed, and recreated as the new and eternal Jerusalem. The impetus of the Resurrection is not to rescue for heaven a few holy souls who were mistakenly sent from heaven to earth; no, it is to establish permanently that God's dwelling place is right here with men! The Easter proclamation of the Church is that love is the foundation of life, and that same love which produced something out of nothing, is still re-creating the world, with that love that flows from the side of Christ, that divine love that can and does hold creation together against the powers of sin and death. Our Easter proclamation is that sin and death are not greater than the love of Christ by which there is something rather than nothing and through which all things are made new! Christ makes the commandment that gives birth to His new and eternal life very simple, and it is a commandment for us to be instruments of His love through which the world was made and by which it is remade the eternal dwelling place of God. He tells us to love one another, just as He has loved us.

My friends, there can be no divorce between being a humanitarian and being a Christian. Everything that a Christian professes and lives corresponds to the natural good of man here and now, even as the natural good of man lays the foundation for the faith that corresponds to his supernatural good forever. There is no divorce between being a humanitarian and being a Christian, because the goal of Christianity is not to escape to become a spirit or a ghost or an angel, but to share in the life of the Risen Christ, who even being fully human, shows that a human person, soul and body, who always loves may always live! May we rejoice with the Risen Christ in this Easter season, and proclaim to the world its destiny to become the new and eternal Jerusalem, and grow in confidence in knowing ourselves to be the instruments of this redemption, by loving one another, as Christ loves us!