Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
28 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here
Welcome to the new liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent. If we had to chart our liturgical year along the hours of a day, the first Sunday of Advent would be nightfall. Just when we are relieved that the bustle of the day is over, when the temptation to have a beer and kick back and watch television and forget about the troubles of day is strongest, the Church tells us to stay alert. Be ready. This is the season of Advent. When the rest of the world is getting drowsy, we are to become more alert. It is when things seem to be slowing down that we are told to look for something important to happen.
If we had to plot Christmas along the hours of the day, the Lord's birth would happen at midnight. The Lord's birth happens at the darkest hour of the darkest night of the year, at least here in the northern hemisphere, when the greatest number of people are asleep. So when things are starting to wind down, the Church tells us not to veg out, but to be alert. For those who are asleep at the unexpected hour of the Lord's coming in Bethlehem, will still be asleep the morning of the Lord's Resurrection at Easter. Today begins our liturgical year, whose high point is the Easter celebration, the finding of the empty tomb early, at daybreak, on Easter morning.
How we start our litugical year gives some indication of how we will finish it. The Church teaches us not only is it inadvisable to start celebrating Christmas too early, but it almost guarantees that if we even attempt to celebrate Christmas without observing Advent, we will miss the meaning of Christmas. And if we miss the meaning of Christmas, how can we be so sure we will be ready to understand and celebrate the Easter mysteries? How we begin gives a good indication of how we will end. Advent is a time to remember that when the Lord came at Bethlehem, the whole world was asleep, save a very few people. The chance that we will miss the beginning of the world's redemption is very high indeed, and so we are given this season of Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for the mysteries to be revealed to us.
It is easy to take Christmas and Easter for granted. They happen every year. We get the general idea, and we never skip the celebration entirely. Yet how often are these celebrations key turning points in our lives? How do the mysteries change and renew us every year? Do Christmas and Easter become more and more personal or more and more general the more times we celebrate them? Even though we observe Christmas and Easter, the mysteries can lose their power to change us because spiritually we are asleep. We are not expecting anything new.
I know that no one can literally stay awake all the time. We have to sleep sometime. But Advent teaches us that now is not the time for us to become spiritually lazy. If we are spiritually asleep, the church gives us this time to wake up. We are to anticipate Christmas with the same watchful expectation that we have when anticipating a first kiss, waiting to hear back on a job offer, waiting for Mario's shot to drop out of the air, waiting for a new baby to be born. This is the joyful anticipation of Advent. When the world is falling asleep, giving into the temptations of mediocrity, expecting little to change, that is when we are to be more awake.
If we know anything about our God, He is the God of great surprises. You cannot be a Christian if you do not love surprises. God has a knack for coming among us in the most unpredictable of ways, when we are the least ready. We have to learn how to enjoy this and to anticipate it. God who is bigger than the universe delights in surprising us. This is the Christian mystery, beginning with the Incarnation of Jesus. No one is powerful enough to stand before God, yet He makes Himself so small and vulnerable that only the most spiritually awake person can detect His presence. In a way, just as scientists try to see smaller and smaller particles in order to unlock the great mysteries of the universe, so also in our spirtual lives, being awake to the small movements of God is the key to big conversions in our spiritual lives.
This is true here at the Eucharist as much as anywhere else. Here in the Eucharist the Lord is fully present to us. The mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is already here. The Lord is with us. But are we awake? Are there any surprises left for us within the Eucharistic mystery? It is precisely when nothing seems to be happening that we Christians are to stand alert, for it is precisely at these moments that something new is happening. The seeds of new life and our own conversion begin with preparing ourselves for Christmas, for the mystery of God making Himself present to us, His truly being with us, in the most humble of ways. It is when we awaken to the reality that God is more present to us than we are to ourselves, and is always ready for new beginnings with us, that the mystery of the Incarnation begins its saving work in us. So stay awake. Be ready.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Solemnity of Christ the King
21 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center
For daily readings, click here
Michael Jackson, Simba, Elvis, LeBron. The list could go on. and on. And it does. The world has many kings. We like to anoint kings. We like to point out who is unstoppable. We have a need to point out who rules over their rivals and subjects, who dominates their own area of reality. We like to acknowledge who is exceptional in some way, who is not like the rest of us, who is unbreakable, secure, all-powerful. And so we anoint many kings who rule parts of the world, who have temporal and widespread kingdoms.
But then there is the king of kings. Then there is the Lord. There is the one who is literally unstoppable. His kingdom is not only vast, it is without boundaries. It is not only long-lasting, it is eternal, completely without beginning or end. It is the Feast of this King of Kings that we celebrate with great joy today at the end of our liturgical year.
Jesus Christ, Jesus the anointed one, Jesus the King, breaks all categories of kingship. He is greater than any political leader who has ever lived, and we have had some great emperors, kings and presidents in world history. Yet from the moment of his birth, the king of kings had legions of angels waiting on him and proclaiming the coming of his kingdom founded in truth and love. Even a king who has the power to launch a nuclear weapon is impotent to displace this King, whose kingship extends beyond the limits of all creation.
This king is greater than any spiritual leader who has ever lived, for our Lord does not merely point us to a way like the Buddha, He proclaims Himself to be the way. He is not merely the best of prophets delivering God's message to the world, He Himself is that Word. He is not merely a great teacher pointing us toward the secrets of life, He Himself is the life, and relationship with Him, not length of days, is the definition of eternal life.
This king our Lord is not only greater than any other person in history, he is greater than history, and not only is he the most powerful man since the Big Bang, He is more powerful than the Big Bang, for He is the author of all creation, even the laws of nature are subject to Him. That my friends, is a king with power that Forbes magazine cannot measure.
So at all times, we proclaim Jesus to be the Christ. We almost always say the names together - Jesus Christ. Jesus the Lord. Jesus the anointed one. Jesus the King. Jesus Christ. When we say the name given Him by his parents, Jesus, the one who saves, we in the same breath call Him the Christ. We honor Him as the anointed one, we proclaim His amazing power over all creation by always calling Him Lord, by acknowledging that He is the King of Kings.
Yet in this bizarre, beautiful, poetic and dramatic religion that is Christianity, this King of Kings, who is greater than we can possibly imagine, is the same one we see abandoned, naked, humiliated, and tied down to an instrument of torture. It is the same guy. It is the same King. The person greater than the big bang also shows Himself to be the most pathetic person in history. Jesus' kingship is not only proclaimed by legions of angels announcing His miraculous birth, His kingship is mocked and spat upon by passers by at his death. He is not even protected from the jeers of two murderers with whom He is crucified. Above his head is a sign announcing this most ignoble of kingships. Iesus Nazarenus Rex Ieudeorum.
Christianity is really an incomparable, absurd religion. At one moment, we are exploding categories of kingship with St. Paul in Colossians by saying that through Jesus, everything came into being. Without Him, there is nothing, for He holds all creation in Himself. Jesus is all-powerful. He is that which no greater can be thought. At the next moment, we are exploding categories of kingship by still proclaiming as our king one who has been forgotten by everyone, and thrown away like a piece of garbage.
In both ways, Jesus breaks all categories of kingship. In the first way, Jesus is king because his kingdom is bigger and lasts longer. He has incomparable dominion. So kingship in its fullness means the power to create something out of nothing, which no merely human king can do. Yet an even more important definition of kingship comes forward on this great feast as well. A king is one who gives Himself away in love. Because of Jesus, no king can be a king without this element, without a willingness to give Himself away in love. But because of Jesus, we can all be kings, for although we neither have the ability to protect ourselves nor can we create something out of nothing, the most important power a king has, what truly makes him king, are not these things. It is not power over others that is the greatest power, it is the power to lay down his life in love. This, my friends is a kingship we can all share in, and our Lord is happy to share it with us. From the moment of our baptism, we are anointed to be co-heirs with Christ. We are anointed priests, prophets and kings.
On the cross Jesus shows that the power of sacrificial love is greater even than the power of the big bang. The big bang did not make love possible, love made the big bang possible. Sacrificial love is the ground of all reality. That is why the possession of the capacity for sacrifical love, not the capacity to launch a nuclear weapon, defines who is truly king. Sacrifical love is greater than nuclear power. On the cross, we see that love is the reason there is something rather than nothing. It is the reason that we are someone instead of noone.
The definition of kingship that we see on the cross is one we can all share in, even those of us without power or dominion in this world. If a king is one who gives himself away in sacrifical love. then you can be a king, you are a king in Jesus, and with Jesus and through Jesus, the king of Kings.
Living in a country that was founded in opposition to a king, in a country where we want to pay as few taxes, and give as little homage to any king as possible, where we want and expect our king to serve us, Jesus comes among us even now as a King who did not come to be served, but to serve. His is a kingship that does not threaten us, and we who know His kingship is born from the cross need to proclaim this to the world who want to proclaim God instead to be the invader of our lives and the enemy. As Pope Benedict XVI is proclaiming over and over, God is not the enemy, and it is the most insecure of people who see Him as so, and who will not even be in dialogue with Him. The kingship of Christ is not a kingship that threatens, it is a kingship that is ready to be shared with every human person. It is a kingship that seeks the ultimate good of every human person. His is a kingdom that we are obligated to build with great joy and sacrifice, so that people can see through our Church their full dignity and destiny as sharers in the universal and eternal kingdom of our Lord. Let us proclaim together with joy, here today and everywhere. Long live Christ our King!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
16 November 2010
St. Margaret of Scotland, pray for us!
For daily readings click here
In one of the best metaphors in Scripture, we are told that if we become lukewarm, God will spit us out of his mouth. This is the Lord's admonition to the Church in Laodicea. They have become lukewarm, and God spits them. Yes, that's right. Scripture says that God spews. He spits. Scripture is always meant to cut like a two edged sword. Scripture has a way of getting our attention.
It is amazing how quickly we can become bored. How quickly we can become boring. The path to holiness can become mundane and repetitious. Oftentimes we must persevere during dry times in conversion. Yet lukewarmness can also be a sign that we are focusing on ourselves, who are boring, and not on God, who is exciting. But we are challenged in today's scriptures to keep allowing ourselves to be trained and chastised by God. We should not become so boring so that God can no longer surprise us. We are never to be fat and happy, but to fan the flames of deep desire, to allow ourselves to be trained by God Himself, who chastises and trains his saints, who keeps them hungry, and who keep sending them daily opportunities for conversion like he sent to Zaccheus.
As wretched as Zaccheus was, we should never lose our desire to be like him, for the Lord came to his house, and this is heaven for us, to be invited to dine with God. It is better to be like Zaccheus than to be lukewarm, than to be boring.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
14 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here
Finding something worth dying for. Giving witness. Martyrdom. These are the things that really matter.
Jesus says personal witness and personal martyrdom matter much more than reading the signs of the times. He tells us not to get worked up over what is happening around us. No one can predict the future. No one knows how long he has left. No one knows how and when it will all end. No one knows. Not politicians. Not climatologists. No, not even religious prophets. The algorithms are too complex for anyone to know. What is for sure is what we can already observe. There will always be destruction and terrible signs. Nothing lasts forever. Especially not us.
Jesus points his disciples toward their opportunity to choose the apocalypse before the apocalypse chooses them. He speaks about the unveiling of the human heart, which precedes the unveiling of the end times. He speaks of an apocalypse that is not in an uncertain future. He speaks of the apocalypse of the heart.
This apocalypse happens with martyrdom. This is something that every human heart is made for. The saints who have given their life for the faith captivate us. Human stories of people willing to die for what they believe in, and willing to die in order to save others, are the stories that rise above all the cacophony of politics.
No greater love has one that this, than to lay down his life for his friends. St. John points us to the love that casts out all fear. He speaks about the heart that is capable of martyrdom. Such hearts are not concerned with the signs of the sky. They are not worried about tomorrow. They know that anxiety cannot add a moment to one's life. They instead want to live their entire life in a moment. They want to die for someone they love. This is the true unveiling, the full revelation, the apocalypse, of the human heart.
Christianity represents a unique invitation from Jesus, especially if we are afraid to die. If we are afraid to give witness to ultimate reality which is love. If we are not ready to die for a friend, Jesus asks us if we might give the time and circumstances of our lives over to him. For our Lord is ready. He has that perfect love that casts out all fear. He begins his invitation by dying for us. Only after this, does he ask us a question. He asks if his death might be re-presented, dramatically re-enacted, through us and with us and in us. He invites us to a self-forgetfulness that allows His sacrifice at calvary to be extended, in the time and circumstances of our lives. He asks if He might work through us that our lives will say exactly what His did.
Martyrdom is a gift. It is not something we create, for none of us can create the perfect circumstances, nor muster the perfect readiness for it. Jesus says don't worry about what you are to say, for I will say what needs to be said through you. Don't prepare for the moment when your life may or may not end, end your life in this moment. This is the apocalypse of the heart. This is the desire for martyrdom that gives perfect meaning to every human life.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
9 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here
The pope now has to take a short popemobile ride to get to St. John Lateran Church in Rome, but this was not always the case. Now when we think of the pope, we think of him appearing at St. Peter's. We think of him overlooking the square. But throughout history, the pope has appeared more times at St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christianity, than he has at St. Peter's. St. John Lateran is the original church built by Constantine that houses the cathedra, the seat of authority, of the successor to St. Peter, the pope. Today we celebrate St. John Lateran as the mother of all churches; yes, even the mother of St. Peter's.
The kind of churches we build say something about who we think we are. Churches, as we learn well in today's readings, are sacraments of human persons, for St. Paul reminds us that we are temples of God. Churches are sacraments of the family of God, for we are all living stones, being built into God's building upon the foundation which is Christ. Churches could not be more important. The kind of churches we build speak directly as to who we are. Dr. Peter Kilpatrick said as much last night, when saying that beauty leads to contemplation, contemplation to mission, mission to virtue, and virtue to fullness of being. When we build a beautiful church, we are proclaiming to know that reality is beautiful and are responsibility to become beautiful ourselves. When we build a crummy church, we are saying something else. That is why Jesus 'gets medieval' on those who were trashing the temple, using it as a means to an end, rather than using it for worship of God, and to contemplate the source of all beauty. The beauty of churches could not be more important.
God does not need churches, but we do. We can not build an adequate home for God, but we must know who we are and where we are going, and churches help us to do this. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my priesthood to go ask people for money for the building of a church, and to sit in on on the planning of a church, and to be there as the MC for the Dedication of that same Church, St. Michael's in Leawood. Pope Benedict XVI for the first time as pope dedicated a new church, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this past weekend, a church that has been under construction for 125 years, and still has 25 years to go. Throughout the construction of churches, a good question is always asked. Does God want this church? Does he need it? Shouldn't we give the money to the poor? The response is that God does not need this church, but He greatly desires it for He desires our good, and He knows that man cannot live without beauty, and unless man is drawn toward beauty, He will never understand His true purpose and never fully reach out to his neighbor in need. It is never a matter of either, or. It is a matter of both, and. It is my experience that those who do not appreciate beauty rarely if ever reach out in love to the poor, for recognizing beauty in form and recognizing beauty in persons recognize the one and same truth.
As we celebrate the dedication of the mother church of Christianity today, with great joy and thanksgiving, we pause to give thanks for the dedication of the church of St. Lawrence as well, and all who have made its construction possible, out of love for us and in the hope that we would encounter beauty here. Let us see this great building not only as the place where God comes to hang out with us, but the place where we come to be transformed by the grace of the sacraments, the living water of the Eucharist, into a building that is truly fit for heaven. Amen.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C
7 November 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
The Sadduccees are clever, but as usual they cannot trap Jesus. They try to show how the law of Moses, received from God, a law that commands brothers to marry a childless widow, makes the Resurrection of the dead messy. Yet Jesus easily shows how the reality of this world does not constrain nor dictate the reality of the world to come, the age of the Resurrection.
We are all going to die, so it is good that we pass on our life. We have a strong desire to have children. We in a sense live on through our children. We have an equally strong desire to know where we came from, who our ancestors are. We remember our beloved family members who have died, and they remain alive, so to speak, through our memory and in our hearts. The rule that a man must marry his brother's childless widow is thus a good rule, because a man who had no children before he died is in greatest danger of being forgotten, and thus being truly dead.
Marriage existed in the time of Jesus, as it exists today, as the optimal way that life is passed on, and as the optimal way that tradition and memory is passed on. With traditional marriage and family at risk today, we see not only a decline in the birth rate, we see family tradition and memory at great risk. Without strong families, it is easier to forget who our grandparents are, and who our great grandparents are, and these people do not live on in our memory as well, when half of children are born out of wedlock, a million children are aborted every year, and children can be manufactured in laboratories almost as easily as they can be conceived naturally. We are learning more everyday about how easy it might become for us to pass on life without the family, but can we pass on love and memory and tradition without the family? That is the question before us.
Marriage between a man and a woman constitutes the basic building block of a society not in order to constrain people,, but in order that a society may pass on life iwithin the context of authentic love. Marriage cannot guarantee that this always happens, but it remains the best opportunity to do so, for marriage corresponds to the natural complementarity and natural good of men and women and children, and thus contributes uniquely and significantly to the natural good of society. We know marriage is not necessary to pass on life, but we know that life is best passed on within such a complete and complementary covenant of love - husband and wife, mom and dad. Life is best passed on when those having children have first pledged sacrificial love to each other, and as much as possible, each child should have the privilege of being conceived within a complementary and sacrificial act of love between a husband and a wife. Now I'm talking optimally of course, and there are many beautiful children among us who are not conceived in this way, whom we must love nonetheless.
God has always desired to use human marriage, and has chosen to use it, as we see clearly in the law of Moses, to beget His own children, and married couples are truly co-creators with God. In this age when we all must die because we do not always love, marriage stands as a bulwark against the tendency to place the begetting of life before the pledging of love. Marriage creates the greatest opportunity for sacrificial love, and it is within this covenant that God desires to beget new life.
Yet God does not need marriage. He has chosen it as a favored instrument in this world, but in the beginning God created everything out of nothing. He breathed life into us when we were still dust. He can do so again. God choosen marriage, but He does not need it. The Maccabean martyrs that we hear about in the first reading knew this. They knew that it was alright if their lives were cut short, for if they existed in the heart of the King of heaven, they would live forever. It is He who begets life; everyone else is just a steward of the gift. If they existed in God's mind, as each one of us has from before we were born, they would live forever. The Maccabean martyrs thus had courage to shorten their lives, and to forego having wives and children themselves, knowing that even if their courageous memory was forgotten, even if their families forgot them, if their martyrdom helped God to remember them, then they would never be dead.
Celibacy then is a type of martyrdom, and unbloody one, and something that many men and women are called to by God for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Celibacy is a witness that if we exist in the heart of God, we are truly alive. Celibacy is a witness that life is not something that we can ultimately control, it is a gift. Life is something we can manipulate only temporarily, but the true reason there is life is because God is love. Life is good because God is love, and life without the love of God is just existence. Celibacy is a witness that the greater tragedy is not to lack a wife and children, it is to forget that we all exist in the heart of God, the author of all life.
So Jesus reminds the Sadducees that although the command to marry is a good one, it applies to this present age to ensure that the greatest amount of life is created with the greatest amount of love. But when love is perfect, marriage is no longer needed. We will love each other in heaven perfectly, in and through our bodies, but because love will have conquered death, we will have no need to pass on life physically, we will pass it on spiritually like angels, loving life into each other in communion with the Holy Trinity.
We call our priests fathers because in the Roman church, our priests are called to be models of this spiritual love. Even though physically they are barren, lacking wife and children, we call them fathers because they do indeed create life with God, they intensify life through spiritual love. Indeed, they are asked to be celibate in order that they might stand in the world exactly as Jesus did, without wife and children, and try to enter more deeply and perfectly into the creative but celibate love that is shared between the Father and the Son. We ask our priests to be as close to this love as they can be, before pronouncing the words of Jesus at the altar, words of love that truly beget the sacrament of eternal life.
Not only priests, but each one of us, is called to be made perfect in this spiritual love, and to become more and more disinterested in the kind of life that is merely existence, that can only be measured by length of days. We are to be interested only in life that flows from sacrificial love, and to learn well the command of Jesus that whoever seeks to save his life, will lose it. May we measure our lives more and more not by length of days, but by the opportunities that we have to love, and with our priests, point people always toward the eternal love that their Father has waiting for them in heaven, and toward the Holy Eucharist, where this eternal love begets eternal life.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center
2 November 2010
1. Today we begin praying fervently, and continue throughout the month of November, for the poor souls in purgatory. We pray for those who are making perhaps the most difficult journey of all, the journey from death to life, for we know that nothing unholy can enter heaven, and we know that most of us die good, but few of us die holy. We offer our prayers and sufferings then, for our teammates, our friends, our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, that they might speedily reach their final destiny to see God face to face.
2. In November in particular, as our liturgical year winds down, our Church asks us to focus on final things. The virtue of hope is to be purified by prayer during this month, the virtue that greatly desires for things to be consummated, for the promises of God to come true. So we think a lot about death and heaven and hell in this month. We are taught as Christians to greatly desire death, not in a morbid way, but in a way that chooses death before death chooses us. Even this is not fatalism, a surrender because we are defeated, it is a choice made in joy because with Christ we are victorious. Insofar as we look forward to death, and enter eagerly into a death like his, we gain confidence in sharing in His life. So we as Christians look forward to our own deaths, for we have found something worth dying for, love, but more importantly this something is actually someone, for God is love, as revealed in His only Son.
3. That we desire death, that we prefer death, that we are not afraid to lay down our lives for a friend, is not something we generate, it too is something we have received. The perfect divine love that casts out all fear, even fear of death, is something that we receive as a gift. St. John says that in this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His son as expiation for our sins. St. Paul says we know that God loves us for our own sake because Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Christ died for us precisely when we could not love Him in return, precisely at the point where we crucify Him with our sins, that is where Christ loves us. That is where His love for us is the strongest, precisely where we deserve it the least. If we have the courage to open ourselves to this perfect, divine love, we truly have nothing to fear, not even death itself.