Sunday, August 15, 2010

Asssumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

15 August 2010

Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us!

For daily readings click here

At the first Mass of our newly ordained priest, Fr. Scott Wallisch, at the St. Lawrence Center at KU, Fr. Scott gave his mother a gift. It was the maniturgium, the white linen cloth used to wipe off the excess chrism oil from his recently anointed hands. Fr. Scott's hands had just been anointed to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, to confect through those hands the body and blood of Jesus for the redemption of many people. Yet as a symbol, Fr. Scott gave this cloth to his mother to indicate not only his gratitude to her for his life and for his faith that he received from his mom, but also to indicate that he wished any fruits from his priesthood to first be given to her. The maniturgium is a sign that of all the people that Fr. Scott wishes to save through his priesthood, he wishes first for his mother to be saved, and he wants of all people to see in heaven, for his mother to be the first he sees. In this, the priest imitates Jesus in a special way, who honored his own mother as we see in today's Solemnity of the Assumption. The maniturgium is sometimes referred to as his mother's ticket to heaven. It is oftentimes laid in the coffin with the mother at the time of her burial.

St. Paul tells us that the fruits of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead will first be given to those who belong to Christ. Today's solemnity of the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven indicates the truth of what Paul is writing to the Corinthians. In Christ, everyone will be brought back to life, but each in the proper order, until the last enemy death, is defeated. Mary from the moment of Her own conception received the fruits of her Son's resurrection, and was always growing younger in faith, hope and love throughout her life, and her Assumption body and soul into heaven shows that the last enemy, death, has been defeated, not only by Christ but by Mary who is the first member to arrive in heaven body and soul. We say that Mary did not die as much as she fell asleep, at the time of the Assumption of her body into heaven.

The solemnities of Mary are so important to us as Catholics, because they teach us something about Christ and also something about ourselves. The assumption teaches us that Christ loves his mother, and honors her role in the history of salvation, and of all people, he has chosen to give her life body and soul in heaven, from which she reigns as queen of heaven and earth. The solemnity also teaches us something about ourselves, who by nature are closer to Mary than we are to Christ. Mary is the one most like us in the order of redemption, for hers was a simple human nature like ours elevated by God's grace. Just as in the order of nature a mother is closer to her child than the father is, since she carries the child in her womb and then nurses the child, so also in the order of our redemption and salvation our mother Mary is closer to us by definition than God the Father. God the almighty Father deigned that we be brought into eternal life by a mother, just as we were born into this world through a mother. Today's assumption proclaims that the mother of Jesus given by Him to be our mother at the foot of the cross, is now also our mother in heaven. She is the new Eve, the mother of all those who will live for ever.

In the papal crest then of the late Pope John Paul II was a symbol indicating that the sure way to Christ is through Mary. His papal motto was totus tuus mariae. All is yours Mary, or you are everything Mary. In promoting devotion to Mary, the Holy Father is only trying to bring us into a deeper and more lasting relationship with Her Son. Of course, on this Marian feast, we are preparing once again to be perfectly joined to Jesus as we eat his body and drink his blood. The Eucharist is a perfect communion with Jesus, by definition. It is the way that he desired us to become one heart, one flesh with Him, who is the source of our redemption. Yet the Holy Father is wise to teach us that it is possible to receive the Eucharist without fruitfully receiving Jesus, if we do not have the humility and faith and readiness and receptivity of Mary. The pope teaches that it is only when we are first like Mary, and when we are close to her and allow her to be our Mother, that we are ready to receive Her Son as she did.

Imitating the humility of Mary is the most powerful weapon we have in our own spiritual battle. It is also the most powerful weapon in the world. Today's feast of the Assumption shows Mary to be victorious over the fiercest of dragons. Even though she endured many hardships in this world, she never stopped trusting in God and in His promises, nor waiting for his grace to be enough for her. Mary is powerful. She is raised high above every principality and power. She is the queen of heaven and earth. She wishes to obtain for us her children from her Son the grace to be victorious in our own battle against sin and death. In her apparitions, she encourages us to keep praying, to keep fasting, to keep going, for she is with us on the path to victory. Let us celebrate with great joy, then this solemnity of her assumption, and ask her to truly be our mother on earth and in heaven.

Monday, August 9, 2010

on pilgrimage - Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Monday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time II
9 August 2010
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr

I can think of no better companion for our trip today than St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, one of John Paul II's favorite saints, our patron for the day, and a saint for our modern times. We add her, as it were, to our list of friends and intercessors that we are accumulating on this pilgrimage. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Fr. Emil Kapaun, St. John Vianney, the patron of priests and the patron of the archdiocese, St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of seminarians, Mary, the mother of our vocations, and now St. Edith Stein. What a company of friends and witnesses go with us if we but invite them along. May we know their presence and rely more deeply upon their powerful intercession, and their willigness to obtain for us all that is good as we continue our travels. No matter how far we have come in our own conversion, and to get to the place where many of you now stand has required a lot of conversion, still St. Teresa leads the way for us. We have not allowed ourselves to be converted to the transforming love of God as much as she allowed herself to be captured by God. Teresa studied philsophy with greater ferver than we do. Her love of wisdom and truth and reality led her to profess faith in Jesus Christ, whom she found to be the way, the truth and the life. Through her example, let us never give anything less than the best to our studies, whether we are studying philsophy or theology or anything else that can help our minds to seek God above all things.

Teresa was a convert to Catholicism to Judaism, and not just an intellectual convert. She professed vows with the discalced Carmelites, and entered into a life of deep prayer and of sincere chastity, poverty and obedience, and she lived these vows to the point of arriving at a true sanctity. Known as a great philsopher, the Church honors her just as much or more for her virtuous life, for her purity of heart, and we too can rely on her intercession in our desire to be chaste spouses of the Church with Christ. And yet there is more. St. Teresa not only gave her heart and her mind and body to Christ, she was chosen to shed her blood as well. She is venerated as a martyr of the Church, being arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and dying in the Auschwitz concentration camp that same year.

Jesus teaches his disciples that he must be arrested and be killed, and the news of this filled them with grief. He teaches Peter that he and his disciples must remain focused on this witness that was to be consummated in Jerusalem, and not be distracted by issues that in the end amount only to a few coins. May we learn from Jesus today, and by the example of St. Edith Stein, how to keep before us the perfect and complete gift of our lives that we are to give in witness to Christ. Let us not be grieved over the witness that Christ wants to give in us, with us and through us, in the very circumstances of our lives. As we know well, there are thousands of issues and thoughts, feelings and desires that come to us in the course of our formation. A few of them are critical to our sincere conversion to the love of God. A few of them are critical to the fulfillment of our vocation, so that our lives can speak with power exactly the word that we have been given to speak. With a desire for our lives to speak like St. Edith Stein's, let us cast off with the virtue of humility all those things that do not really matter, and be more generous in advancing in the way that God would have us go.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Relating to God by faith - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
8 August 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center/St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Church Mound City
For daily readings click here

I toured the Truman library a couple of weeks ago. At the end of the museum section of the library, there are dozens of quotes from prominent people commenting upon Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945. The quotes judge Truman's decision, and Truman the man. Even in Truman's own library, I would say the majority of the quotes are against the bombing that he authorized, although it is easy to find those who remained in favor of it. Without taking a stance in this homily on the dropping of the bomb, I would say that all of the quotes in the museum are made in hindsight, as history judges the dropping of the bomb. Truman's decision was made in real time.

We too have to make our decisions about whether to trust God in real time. Looking in hindsight, we can find people who criticize God's ways, and those who find Him to be good and faithful. You can read Christopher Hitchens' 'God is not Great' and Scott Hahn's 'A Father who keeps His promises' back to back in the same day and get two very different accounts of human history and the economy of salvation, and two different opinions about God the person. Looking with hindsight, you can interpret history differently. Hitchens generally reads history and its accumulation of evils as a sure sign that either God is absent or cruel or non-existent. Therefore, it is up to human persons alone, after discarding religion, to either defeat God or to establish without him whatever kingdom humanity desires for itself. Hahn reads history as a theodrama in which a God who allows human freedom and evil constantly acts in and with and through his chosen people to establish an everlasting kingdom where goodness and truth and love prevail. In real time then, Hitchens does not have faith in God. Hahn does. Hitchens remains a judge of God's ways. Hahn finds that despite the twists and turns in the economy of salvation, in the end God reveals Himself to be merciful, and to desire the salvation of all. Hahn offers himself as a servant of God's ways. Jesus reminds his disciples that they cannot be both. In real time, we have to make a decision of whether to be a judge of God or His servants. Our freedom is real, and so we constantly revisit the decision. Some of us spend a lot of time in no man's land, trying both to judge God and to serve Him.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as an example of a man who does not both try to judge God and to serve Him. Abraham is our father in faith, as we say in Eucharistic Prayer I. By faith He sees that the future kingdom of justice, truth, goodness and love being brought about by God not man, a God who nonetheless works with and in and through men to be the instruments of their own salvation. Knowing himself neither to be the origin nor the master of his own life, but knowing himself to be the steward of a good gift, Abraham relates to God by faith, trusting in the One whose ways by definition must be far above his own ways, and whose thoughts by definition must be far above his own thoughts. Using the gift of faith that he has received, a real way of directly relating to God who is much unlike him, Abraham does not remain in the no man's land of trying to both judge and serve God's ways, but abandons himself to be a most radical servant of God's ways, even offering his only son Isaac in sacrifice to a God whom he knew could raise from the dead.

Yet Abraham does not do this imprudently. Abraham does not serve God because He has no other real choice. His freedom is real, as is ours. Abraham chooses to serve God's ways because he knows himself to be one who is first served by God. Those of us who are called like Abraham to serve the kingly mission of the Father as handed on to us by Jesus Christ, have experienced like Abraham ourselves being served by God. Abraham was ready to offer his own son Isaac in response to the God who had blessed him with the gift of life and many other blessings and promises. With deep gratitude for the goodness of God, Abraham found God to be trustworthy. How much more trustworthy has God revealed Himself to be to us, who are witnesses to the shedding of Christ's blood for the forgiveness of our sins? Faith thus for us is not a one-way street, our finding a way to trust God even though we are tempted not to. Faith is something that has been poured into our hearts, as God has enough faith and love in us to hand over His only Son to us on the cross. Whoever seeks to follow Jesus, and to serve His mission of establishing God's everlasting kingdom, will find as today's Gospel suggests, that the Master Himself is serving the servant, having us recline at table, washing our feet, bandaging our wounds, and waiting at table upon us. This is the promise of today's Gospel, that whoever serves the Master faithfully will find that it is not he who is serving, but the Master who is serving him, and others through him, with him and in him.

In response to the body and blood of Jesus which we are privileged to receive again today, being served heavenly food from the heavenly table and having our sins forgiven as we recline at table, let us celebrate with great joy the faith that God has placed in us. He chooses not to save us without ourselves, nor to establish His kingdom without us, leaving us behind, but chooses us to share by the grace of confirmation and the strength of this Eucharist, in the mission of firmly establishing a heavenly kingdom. Let us not respond to the faith God puts in us by being pleased to give us the kingdom, with any less faith, for the ones to whom much is entrusted, much is expected. May the gift of faith reach many others through out witness of serving God's ways especially when they are not our ways.