Sunday, October 31, 2010

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


31st Sunday In Ordinary Time

31 October 2010

St. Lawrence Catholic Center

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Be Faithful in Small Things


Tuesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time B

St. Lawrence Catholic Center

26 October 2010

For daily readings,click here

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

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

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scoundrels help us go from good to great!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
24 October 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Prayer is not hocus pocus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

If you aren't giving thanks, you aren't healed!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
10 October 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

For daily readings, click here.

Life has kicked all us of around one way or another. Even the best looking, the richest, the most famous among us have thorns in their side. We may not believe it, but it's true. Every human person is in need of healing. It is the inevitable part of the sinful condition we find ourselves in. It is the reality of living in a world where good and evil co-exist. We all get beat up. We get sick. We find ourselves in danger. We are afraid for our lives. We are ignored. We are treated as objects, not persons. We are lied to. We are cheated on. We catch bad breaks. We are misunderstood. We are judged by the worst thing we have done. And worst of all, we are not just the victims of these things. We are sinners ourselves. We do these things to others. We use them. We lie to them. We cheat them. We judge them. We all do it.

Being a happy person, a person who lives life to the fullest, means all of this junk that makes up a human life must be healed. The junk needed to be healed yesterday. It must be healed today. It must be healed tomorrow. Healing is a process that is never complete. Even the healthiest person among us is still vulnerable. That is the human condition. It is inescapable. We all need healing. And so it should not be hard for us to relate to the leprosy experienced by Namaan and the ten men in today's scriptures. It should be the simplest thing in the world for us to see ourselves in these characters. But sometimes the simplest things in life are the hardest to keep simple. We spend so much time trying to mask the brokenness that we experience, to anesthesize the human condition, and to hide our own sinfulness, that it is hard to see ourselves in the lepers. We don't see ourselves in the lepers, and this comes across when we hear the Gospels and hear nothing and see nothing new. The healing stories in the Gospels are many. Jesus heals many people over and over again. Not everyone, not even the majority, but many people. We have the stories that can sound like a broken record. Jesus sees a paralytic, a blind man, a demoniac, and lepers, and he heals them. Heard it. Know it. Is there anything new? Did the reading of today's Gospel move your heart? Or did you dismiss it as something old?

Yet the Gospels are not boring. They are not old. They are alive and they strike to the heart of the human person. We are boring. And we let ourselves get old. But these Gospels are not so! In the you're ok, I'm ok, we're ok culture, where pain and loneliness and brokenness, and the reality of the human condition is not confronted, but just anesthesized, where everyone is just a pill away from being cured and being happy, the Gospel healing stories can lose their vitality and excitement. Now I'm preaching to myself again. I lose motivation for preaching these stories myself because I lose motivation in confronting my own brokenness, my own loneliness, my own weaknesses, and my own sinfulness. What is worse, my desire to heal myself instead of asking for the healing I need, makes me want other people to heal themselves. Why can't everyone just fine their own pill? The result is that I am afraid of the brokenness of others around me, that they will ask something from me I am unwilling to give them. My friends, it takes a lot of work to admit we need healing everyday, and we need the healing that you can't get from a pill, but the healing that comes from the mercy and grace of God, who alone can heal us completely, and who alone can and does make all things new. It is easier to pretend that I'm ok, you're ok, we're ok, at least in the short term, than to find a way to make ourselves like the leper, completely dependent upon the mercy of Jesus, and on his power to heal them. We can make ourselves feel better by taking a pill, and we can fill the emptiness we all experience with many things that makes us temporarily feel less vulnerable and dependent, but it is all a false healing. It is healing from the outside in, not from the inside out. And when we heal ourselves from the outside in rather than asking someone else to heal us from the inside out, we not only kill ourselves, we kill others, by continuing to be motivated not by the worst thing that has ever happened to us, or the worst thing we have ever done. If we are not healed by someone, if we are not healed by relationship, if we are healed only by a pill, then we will destroy all the relationships around us.

Ten men were healed of their leprosy in today's Gospel, but only one was healed from the inside out. The rest were healed only from the outside in. What a remarkable Gospel this truly is. The same is true for us. Many of us have been able to mask our brokenness in one way or another. Most of us look ok from the outside in. Yet hardly any of us celebrating this Mass today have been healed from the inside out, at least not completely. Very few of us have the grateful hearts that Namaan and the one leper have. It is hard indeed to enter into true worship and thanksgiving of God, which we have the chance to do in the context of this solemn liturgy. It is easier to hide from God, even here in this sacred time and space, than to rend our hearts to him, than to truly trust God enough to place our lives on this altar with Christ, where the promise of conversion and healing and life comes true within the paschal mystery of Jesus. St. Paul tells us to try again today, though, for if we have died with him, we will live with him. If we persevere, if we keep trying, we will reign with him. He will not force the relationship, but our Lord will never withdraw his mercy and grace from us, for He is faithful. We know deep down that the mercy and grace made present to us once again at this Mass is enough for us. It is enough to heal us. It is enough to set us free. It is enough to make all things new.

May we see in today's Gospel story how blessed are the lepers who cannot mask their own brokenness, and instead are dependent upon Jesus for their healing, and by the grace of this Eucharist, may we be healed of our independence and self-soothing, and ask the Lord to touch us and to heal us. May we have the humility to see ourselves in those who come to Jesus for healing. Yet may we never settle for being healed from the outside in, but may the sign of our healing be our ability to enter into true worship of God, and to proclaim the greatness of His mercy, with gladness and thanksgiving! Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

No KU football this week!

Ah - no KU football this week. That's probably a good thing. I rushed home from spiritual direction on Saturday to watch some of that Baylor game before hearing confessions, and there was very little to get excited about. One good pass from Webb to Patterson - that was the only touchdown and about the only bright spot. Was Baylor that fast or were we that slow? Yikes! They were all over us everywhere on the field. They were in our heads. I can't believe Baylor is that good but in saying this I'm afraid of how bad we might be in Big 12 play. Mercifully, we have 10 days or so to figure something out, and to get better, before K-State. So far, this KU team in Turner Gill's first season is manic-depressive, with a major depressive episode being the current state. C'mon KU - I'm looking forward to that Thursday night home game against the Wildcats. Be there!

Project Andrew and Life Chain

Yesterday was a great day as a priest. I had the 9am Mass at St. Lawrence on a crisp October Sunday morning, followed by giving spiritual direction and some personal prayer. Then in the afternoon I went to the Lawrence life chain at 23rd and Iowa with about 75 others to witness to the beauty of life and against the evil of abortion. It was a great hour to be outside with such courageous people. 23rd and Iowa is such a busy intersection, and we received almost exclusively honks and almost no jeers for our witness. Many prayers were said as life chain is primarily a silent and prayerful witness, with the 'links' in the chain spread out five feet apart, so it's not easy to talk to the people around you. I prayed a rosary for the change of many hearts. Fr. Brandon Farrar from Baldwin was also there with some of his parishioners, looking sharp in his cassock as always. As I said in my 9am homily for Respect Life Sunday, we are in this for the long haul. We are going nowhere. And we will never be discouraged. I have a sense after visiting with friends that the battle against abortion is going to be moved slowly but surely from the abortion mills (many of which are closing) to the pharmacies. God forgive us for the choices we give to women, and the way in which we have abandoned women in need. In addition to preaching and witnessing against the evil of abortion, I pray that our Church is also the leader in showing mercy to those affected by this worst of scourges in the history of humanity, and in helping those who are desperate and unsupported. Let's have a great pro-life month, helped at every moment by our patroness of life, Our Lady of Guadalupe!

After the life chain I went to Topeka to give spiritual direction again and to help Archbishop Naumann host his annual Project Andrew dinner. Fr. Jerry Volz at St. Matthew's was our great host, and the staff there prepared a great pork loin meal, with cherry cobbler for dessert. We had a holy hour in the chapel with about 15 men and with some of their parents. Msgr. Mike Mullen led the guys in evening prayer as he always does and the Archbishop gave a reflection during the holy hour on St. John Vianney, Fr. Emil Kapaun. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, and Fr. John Rossiter in Topeka. After the meal, we watched Fishers of Men, heard a little bit about discernment, and then ended with some discussion and a Q&A with the Archbishop. We entrusted our vocations to Mary, Queen of our Vocations, by offering a decade of the rosary at the end of the program. Thanks to all my brother priests - Fr. Shawn Tunink, Fr. Bill Bruning, Fr. Brian Schieber, and to John Hynek, who all brought men for the program. And a special thanks to Tom and Jeanne Doyle, whose son Luke entered seminary this year and who led the parents in a discussion! On to Project Andrew KC next Sunday!

When I got home, I popped into the St. Lawrence Center and chatted up some KU students who were at the Center for evening classes. I stayed near the cookies and chips so there was a lot of traffic, and I thanked God for all the students were learning about their faith on that Sunday night. Fr. Steve had the 9:30pm Mass, so I was able to say hello to him and hit the sack early!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's a family matter!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
3 October 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

For daily readings click here

In my first parish, on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision each January, we had a rose procession at each Mass. This last year, the procession must have been 37 people long, starting with someone born in 1973, and ending with a mother carrying a new child born in 2010. Each person in the procession carries a rose representing those children who were never given the chance to live because of the scourge of abortion. This procession gets me every time. It hits me hard. I was born in 1974. I was conceived six months after the Roe v. Wade decision. I have always lived in a country where I have tremendous freedom, but a country that did not and still does not defend my right to be born. The pro-life movement is personal to me. I cannot stand by and not stand up for the most defenseless in our society, for children who are at risk just like I was in 1973. I will be standing today at the corner of 23rd and Iowa at the beginning of Respect Life month, praying with and through Mary for mothers and fathers and children. I will continue to go on the march for life as often as I can until abortion is ended. I will continue preaching about abortion, and doing everything I can to support those families and those individuals who want to choose life not death. I will not resign myself to the way things are today. I will not be discouraged, for as Lord says clearly to the prophet Habbakuk in today's first reading. Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time,presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;if it delays, wait for it,it will surely come, it will not be late. I look forward in hope to winning the greatest civil rights struggle of time, securing the right to life from conception to natural death in a country that I still believe can and should be a light to every nation, a nation that has been chosen by God to pursue life, liberty and happiness in the fullest way possible, not the way we do it today. I know the battle will be won, and I look forward to the joy that will come on that day.

I will say that the longer I work in the pro-life movement, however, the more I see that the victory for life must be won beginning at the level of the family. Saying this does not make the law of our land any more just, nor does it excuse us from making the right to life the fundamental issue in every election of our politicians, nor does it excuse any of us from doing everything we can to stand up for life and to help those who are in danger of hurting themselves and their children. We must do more to change our unjust laws and to help people. We must pray, and fast and give alms to win this battle. Still, on Respect Life Sunday, we must be honest about why the debate has become so intractible in our society. How can something so evil as abortion come to be protected by law? How can something so terrible and hopeless be seen as necessary? The answer, at least I believe, is the breakdown of the family. As the family goes, so goes a society, and so go its children. If the family is dying, children will also die.

Abortion indeed becomes a perceived necessity, and it becomes a horrible reality, in a society where marriage and the family are compromised. The wide use of artificial contraception begins the cycle of treating fertility as as a disease, and divorces the sexual act from its full meaning and fruitfulness. The result is the cheapening of human sexuality, the degradation of human persons, and people who lack spiritual and emotional depth using each other for physical pleasure. Marriage and the family cannot survive in a culture that is always working against the formation of the virtue of chastity. The less chaste we are, the less capable we are of marriage. And we are becoming a nation incapable of marriage. Because of artifical contraception, chastity is a rare virtue, and is seen as an optional one, and those few who do enter into marriage often enter into it without this mature capacity of seeing and loving another person not as a means to an end but for their own sake. Artificial contraception makes us vulnerable as well for the tidal wave of pornography that has damaged almost every person in our society.

When sex is cheapened and robbed of its full meaning and dignity, marriage suffers. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and marriage has suffered to the point where it is being redefined as anything that two people want it to be. Like the sexual act that itself has been robbed of much of its dignity, depth, complementary and fruitfulness, so also marriage is being emptied of its full potential and meaning in our society. Marriage doesn't mean what is used to mean. And this is the terrible environment in which we protect a woman's right to choose. In an environment where it is getting harder and harder to see and to know and to choose the good, we are afraid to point out the good, and we give women the option of choosing the bad because of our own cowardice. In a society where men are not formed in chastity, where government no longer knows how to define marriage and family, and where Churches are no longer effective in challenging and forming young people who are preparing their hearts and minds and bodies for the vocation God has chosen for them, we tell women to make good choices for themselves. Any society that makes abortion a good option for women is a nation that has abandoned its people. It is all a great cop-out, and terrible schizophrenia, when a nation with ideals as high as ours can say incredibly stupid things like we should keep abortion legal and rare. Can we still listen to ourselves? We should keep a desperate and destructive choice as an option? Why have we lost hope that we can help people to choose the good? Why? It is because we no longer believe in our marriage and in our families. It is only a society that has given up on justice, a nation that has abandoned its marriages and families, a nation that has lost its soul and its heart, and a nation where the natural light of reason is no longer purified and elevated by the revelation of God, that keeps abortion legal.

We must press onward despite the difficulties. All of us in the pro-life movement however, must realize that changing the law is necessary, but we must also find a way to give our families hope. Yes, the battle must be won at the level of the family. And we, who have been given the gift of seeing clearly God's plan for the human person, who can see clearly the potential and depth and beauty of marriage between a man and a woman, who know how to support our children by teaching them how to prepare their hearts and minds and bodies for beautiful vocations, beautiful ways in which they can live out Jesus' command to love one another just as I have loved you, it is up to us on Respect Life Sunday not to resign ourselves to the decline of our great nation. We are to press onward in the fight for the fullness of life, to have life and to celebrate life, and to live with that joy that nothing can take away from us. We must stand up and defend our children and their right to life. For as St. Paul tells us, what is about to be poured into our hearts again this morning through the gift of the Holy Eucharist, is not a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power and love and self-control. So let us press onward with this spirit, and do what we are obliged to do, alongside our Lord Jesus, who makes standing up for life a joyful duty!