Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joseph, Mary , Jesus - the Advent inversion

4th Sunday of Advent A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
For daily readings click here

If you can't imitate Jesus perfectly,
be like Mary.
Allow Jesus to come into your life.
Make room for Him.
But if you can't be like Mary
always ready to receive Him.
If you need your space.
And tend to think about yourself a lot.
Then try to be like Joseph.
Not that He was selfish in any way.
But having neither Jesus' divine nature
nor Mary's fullness of grace
Joseph still found the way to do the right thing.
He is a righteous man.
Those who find it hard to be perfect
like Jesus or His mother
can still do the right thing
that is right in front of them.
They can be like Joseph.

Joseph spent more time with Jesus
than any apostle.
He spent years with Jesus
and Jesus was obedient to Joseph.
In this Joseph is more than an apostle.
We can go to him.
For Jesus is still dependent upon Joseph
and Jesus will do whatever Joseph asks.
Our imitation of Joseph in Advent
brings us closer to Mary his wife
so that with her and him
we can welcome Jesus into the world.
With Joseph through Mary to Jesus.
There is the way
for a perfect Christmas.

In the light of Abraham's faith,
knowing the promises made to David
and his posterity
Joseph confronts the apparent evil of adultery
as a righteous man
knowing that the law takes evil seriously
and demands that there be truth not deceit.
Still he sees the good
to which the law points
Joseph observes the law
but knows the good the law preserves
and he sees the good
of divorcing Mary quietly
and the demands of justice
doing the right thing
do not keep his heart from loving
his wife and this child.
His love that went beyond
the demands of the law
and the knowing of the good
his love that was beyond
what is reasonable and just
allowed him to believe
against great statistical odds
that what the angel said in a mere dream
that the savior would be born
from the house of David
and that the virgin would conceive
and bear a son.

Joseph in being righteous
and knowing the good
and cultivating love
and believing that faith
makes all things possible for God
was able to do the next right thing
in front of him.
He took Mary and Jesus into his home.

There would be more right things
to do tomorrow
Joseph did what was right today.
Joseph was neither perfect by nature
like his Son
nor full of grace
like his wife
yet he found a way to do the right thing.

John the Baptist tells us to repent
or we will miss the Lord's coming.
Mary shows us how to wait in silence
for the Savior to come to us.
Joseph guides us
to do the next right thing.

Listen to John the Baptist.
Make room like Mary.
Act like Joseph.
The Lord Jesus is surely coming!
He is coming soon!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

where I am there also will my servant be

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent I
Memorial of John of the Cross, priest and doctor
14 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center

John of the Cross
teach us how to desire the cross
how to want to be where the Lord is
especially when He is there.

Conforms our lives to the mystery of the cross
not to desire suffering for the sake of suffering
but for the sake of Him
for the sake of being where He is
for the sake of relationship with Him
and through Him
with everyone else
especially those who suffer now.

Conforming our lives to the mystery of the cross
not because life is suffering
but because life is joy
and knowing that this joy
is found far beyond superficial comforts
that this joy belongs to the pure of heart
whose hearts have been tried
in the crucible of the cross.

We can still expect things to go well for us
and thank God for everything
and rejoice in the goodness of the Lord's creation
and yet at the same time
not expect things to go my way,
but expect things to go His way
and to know that when a cross comes my way
He is present to me in a perfect way.

So we rejoice when things go well
and rejoice twice when they don't.
We rejoice in the Lord always,
again, I say to you rejoice
for when the cross comes
the Lord is near.

Where I am
there also will my servant be.
Anyone who wishes to be where I am
must deny himself
take up his cross
and follow me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

from least to greatest

Gaudete Sunday
12 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center

Rejoice in the Lord always!
Again, I say rejoice!
The Lord is near.

Not anxiety today.
But rejoicing.
Pink Sunday is about rejoicing.
But don't call is pink.
It's rose - get it right!
Priests don't wear pink.
But rejoicing nonetheless.
Not the anxiety of finals at KU.
Not the anxiety of shopping days remaining
or how much money is left
or who is going where and why.
Not the anxiety of how to make Christmas perfect
from the outside in.
But rejoicing, because the Lord is coming.
Rejoicing that He will do what essentially needs to be done.
Rejoicing, for He is coming
to make our Christmas perfect
from the inside out.
Again, I say rejoice!

John the Baptist in prison
perhaps had a second thought
for he had decreased
so that the Lord could increase
yet now the Lord was decreasing.
Why is Jesus messing up the plan?
John the Baptist was not worthy to untie his sandal
yet the Lord who could change everything
was only changing the smallest of things.
The Lord who could change everything,
was healing people who could change nothing.
Is this the one who is to come?
The one who can change everything
has no interest in politics
or macroeconomics.
Is this the one who is to come?
He makes himself smaller and smaller and smaller,
healing people from the inside out
changing little from the outside in
content to teach the dumb not the learned
to heal one by one.
At this rate he could live a thousand years and never finish
yet he makes himself smaller
and smaller and smaller.
Patience St. Paul tell us today!
Patient rejoicing, like a farmer waiting for the fruit!
This is the one who comes.
He is coming with his power that could make us obey
yet he would not break a bruised reed
and he shows the power that once made the universe
not in annihilating us
but in redeeming us
in serving us
in making Himself smaller and smaller
until I believe that He came for me
and me alone
that He came not to be served, but to serve me
not in showing himself bigger
but by making himself smaller and smaller
until he is irresistible
not by his bigness
but by his smallness.
He becomes smaller and smaller and smaller
until it is just me and Him
until I can hold Him in my arms like Mary and Joseph
until He disarms my defenses
and heals me from the inside out.

for the Lord our God is coming!
He is coming to heal us by relationship,
by dependence
by intimacy
by vulnerability.
These things alone heal from the inside out.
They free a person more perfectly
than self-help
or any gift under the tree that promises what it cannot deliver.
He alone is perfect gift.
He alone is perfect fulfillment and peace.
He alone can satisfy.
His coming is the reason we travel,
his giving is the reason we give,
his closeness is the reason for our wanting to be close to each other,
for closeness is healing
being together in Him is what will heal our hearts
and give us the hope
to endure with patience and perseverance and love
whatever may come
until God has redeemed the world in His way
according to His promise
to begin with the least of us.

The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Behold the lowliness of his handmaiden.
Behold Mary, the first to be raised from
least to greatest.

Mary, take now the baton from John the Baptist
and take us to Bethlehem with you.
John told us to be ready with his words,
but you show us how to be ready with your silence.
Remind us how to have a heart like a child
a heart that is not anxious for Christmas
but rejoices that it is near,
give to us all your immaculate heart
the heart of a mother expecting her first child
in just days
not with anxiety or fear
but with joy
in letting yourself always be made new by His coming
pure joy in letting it be done unto you according to His word!

Rejoice in the Lord always!
Again, I say rejoice!
The Lord is near!

Monday, December 6, 2010

from John the Baptist to Mary

Gaudete Sunday
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
11 December 2010

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice! The Lord is near!

We have rounded the corner toward Christmas. Pink Sunday reminds us of what we already know, that Christmas is coming fast. Pink Sunday means something else at KU. Most years, it means the start of finals week, and amazing amounts of stress, for it is the time of reckoning on campus. Know of our heartfelt prayers for you as you fulfill your responsibilities as students, while praising God for the abilities and opportunities He has given you.

Even though it falls during Finals Week here at KU, Gaudete Sunday is not supposed to be about stress. It is about rejoicing because the Lord is near. Gaudete Sunday is not supposed to be a warning bell that there are only so many more shopping days before Christmas, and is not to set off alarms that we are neither spiritually nor materially prepared for a perfect Christmas. The reality is that if a perfect Christmas was the fruit of our own labors, it would never happen. No, Christmas is perfect not because we are perfectly prepared, but because the Lord is perfectly ready to come into the world. The Lord with His presence makes every circumstance and every moment perfect, through His closeness to us. Once finals week is over, KU students should not trade one stress for another, the stress of finals for the stress of Christmas. No, Gaudete Sunday tells us that the time for rejoicing is near, not only because Finals are over, but because the Lord is perfectly prepared to visit us, no matter how unprepared we might be.

We can have a perfect Advent in a short amount of time by watching the children, for Jesus tells us that unless we turn again and again, and become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, nor will we recognize the kingdom coming among us. The kids know for certain that the gifts under the tree will satisfy their deepest desires. They know down to the minute when Christmas will arrive. We have to feed off of their joy this Christmas, for although no material gift can perfectly satisfy us when we grow older, the perfect gift of God's presence in Christ does satisfy. For a person is satisfied insofar as he has an opportunity to love perfectly, and at Christmas the God of all creation makes Himself as vulnerable as a newborn child, whom no one can hold in his arms without his heart changing for the better.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice! The Lord is near. Gaudete Sunday is a great Sunday for us to rejoice because the mystery of Christmas is a mystery that continues to change the world, and to change hearts, in the most profound of ways. The world is far from perfect, and frustration and despair and discouragement easily settle in, but on Gaudete Sunday we are asked to imagine a world without Christmas, a world that did not stop to contemplate and to celebrate that love is the reason there is something rather than nothing, love is the reason we are someone instead of no one, and love is the answer to the mystery of the human person, and love is what makes an outwardly imperfect world inwardly perfect.

It truly is amazing how much one baby changes the world. The mystery of God's being close to us, in taking up our flesh out of love for us, is the mystery that leads to our taking time to be close to each other. It is through the mystery of God's closeness to us that we choose to be close to each other, and exchange affections and gifts with each other that otherwise we might never exchange. Christmas shows that it is because God is close to us that ultimately, it makes sense for us to continue to be close to each other. Because God made Himself vulnerable to us, coming irresistably as a newborn child, that it makes sense for us to eschew every kind of independence, self-realization, self-esteem, self-help, and anything else that begins with the word self, and instead to seek above all things dependence, closeness, intimacy, vulnerability and love. For in this season we celebrate that love is our origin, love is our constant calling, love is what makes life worth living, and love is our destiny forever in heaven.

It is God's closeness to us; his willingness to visit us, that makes an outwardly perfect world inwardly perfect. On Gaudete Sunday we rejoice not in naive optimism, not because we can prove the world is getting better day by day, but we rejoice with supernatural hope, the virtue that says that God's closness makes life worth living, and being close to each other is the key to getting through the rough patches and pressing on toward the promises God has made to us. We rejoice that God's presence makes things better in this world, that His presence brings real healing, but also that His presence is assurance that every promise He has made will be fulfilled in the world to come.

John the Baptist then hands the Advent baton over to our Lady on this Gaudete Sunday. John the Baptist rejoiced from prison when he realized that his mission had been accomplished, that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived! John the Baptist has told us that our patient expectation and perseverance in hope would be rewarded. He has told us to be ready! Now on Gaudete Sunday Mary will take us the rest of the way, for as great as John the Baptist was, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Mary is not only the least in the kingdom, she is the greatest in the kingdom, and with the expectation and joy that only a mother can understand, She leads us the Church, with an incomparable excitement for the coming of Jesus.

Today's Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is obscured somewhat by its coincidence with Gaudete Sunday. Our Lady's Appearance to Juan Diego in 1531 led to more people believing in God's closeness to them, and delivered to more people God's supernatural gift of hope, than the work of any other apostle. Mary, the Queen of the Apostles, proclaims the Gospel of her Son like no other, and she has personally watched over the growth of the faith in the Americas. She is the patronness of all Catholics in the Americas, and with 60% of Catholics in the United States under the age of 35 now being Hispanic, it will be nearly impossible in the future to be a Catholic in the United States in the coming years without having a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let us ask our Lady to help us to finish our Advent journey with the same heart that welcomed Jesus into the world!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mary not a temp employee

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
8 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas

Today's great Solemnity celebrates a dogma of the Church, that Mary was full of grace from the first moment of Her conception. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, each one of us has been predestined and chosen, before the foundation of the universe, to be in Christ, and to be holy and without blemish before Him. Today we celebrate that of all those so predestined, Mary was the first to be fully in Christ, to stand before Him holy and without blemish. It is clear from Luke's Gospel that Mary was already fully in Christ, already full of His life, before She conceived Christ in Her womb. She alone, among all women, was perfectly in Christ, and so was perfectly and singularly chosen and capable of conceiving Him and carrying Him and being a mother to One who is perfect. It is clear that the grace given to Mary so that she might become the mother of God was given to her well in advance of Her conception of Jesus. The angel says to Mary that she is 'full of grace' before she is to conceive a son. So at what moment did Mary become full of grace? Today's dogma proclaims that if Mary was ever full of grace, she was always full of grace and always will be full of grace. Today we proclaim that the gift of this holiness began from the first moment of Her conception.

Through the prayer of the Church, we have come to understand Mary's fullness of grace to be a gift that was not meant not just for a temporary assignment but for an eternal assignment from God. If Mary had no such eternal assignment, she could have been perfected by God for the minimum amount of time with the minimum amount of grace needed for the job, to give birth to the Savior. Yet the Church in her prayer has come to understand this being full of grace to mean much more. Mary was already full of grace by the time the angel Gabriel appeared to her, a clue that her mission from God was not at all temporary, and this same fullness of grace accompanied Mary throughout her life and impelled Her to appear at the cross of her Son, where she was given the responsibility of being a mother to the apostle John. It is at the cross that we see Mary's fullness of grace just as surely as we hear of it at the Annunciation, and it is a fullness meant for the motherhood of the apostolic Church, as Mary, like Eve before her, becomes the mother not just of one son, but of all the living. Just as in the order of nature, anyone who has life can trace his beginning back to Eve, the mother of all the living, so in the order of grace God willed the same pattern, that there be a mother of all who have eternal life, and all who have eternal life can trace their beginnings back to her. In the economy of salvation, Mary appears before Jesus, and the Lord Himself is dependent upon Mary to receive His own flesh. Just as the Lord Himself was dependent upon Mary, so we too are always dependent upon Her who always mediates the coming of Jesus, who always mediates the world's welcoming of Jesus and the world's giving birth to Him, who always mediates His grace as pattern and mother of the Church. Mary is the one most like Her Son. She is the one closest to Him. She is the one He loves the most in all creation. She alone is pronounced full of grace. So if Jesus always was, is and will be important, so also Mary whom He always loves and always honors was, is and will always be important, in the mind and heart of Jesus, and in ours as well. It is right then, that the mother of God and the mother of the Church who is given such an eternal role in the economy of salvation, be understood by the faithful as being full of grace not just temporarily, in a minimum, way, but in a superabundant way, in a way that proclaims Mary to be most like her Son, the same yesterday, today and forever, always full of grace from the beginning to the end.

Today is a singularly important Solemnity in the United States, a solemnity that is never abrogated or moved, for any reason. Today's Solemnity outranks all the other Holy Days of Obligation here in the United States. Mary of the Immaculate Conception is the patronness of the United States. In a special way, Mary herself is the apostle to the Americas, for none of the original twelve apostles brought the Gospel to this land. We have always had a special devotion to Mary because it is she herself, who personally inspires and protects the proclamation of the Gospel in this land with a mother's care. The new bishops of our country, who were working with great sacrifice, to establish the Church in the United States, always had special recourse to Mary, and so they had the privilege of representing the Catholic faith of Americans, and our new Church here, and our own personal devotion to Mary our mother, at the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. This was a great achievement of theology, that almost 1900 years after the coming of the Lord, the theologians of the Church were able to proclaim with great precision, in a way that was reasonable and could be defended against every attack, what had been believed through the prayers of the Church, and in the hearts of the faithful, for centuries, that it was a matter of divine faith and sure revelation that Mary was conceived without sin. It is really theology at its best, not making up new theology as we go along, but the faith of the Church always seeking new understanding. Our young bishops of the United States were there, and Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception became the patronness of our country soon afterwards. With Mary Herself as the apostle to the Americas, may we in the United States see our special responsibility and opportunity to be a mountaintop, from which the Church, under the powerful intercession of Mary, may shine the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Amen.

sin changes us, but not God

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor
7 December 2010
St. Michael the Archangel School Mass

God comes closer and closer and closer. That is the great proclamation of Advent. Against all deistic tendencies, against all temptations to think that God is absent, the Advent proclamation, spoken with conviction again today by the prophet Isaiah, is that God is coming closer. He is always coming closer. Here He comes, with power, who rules with His strong arm, with His reward with Him. He comes like a shepherd who feeds his flock, carrying in His arms His lambs, carrying them in His bosom.

The mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of God's coming closer. He comes to shepherd His people, following them wherever they go, no matter how far they stray from Him. When we strayed so far that there did not seem to be a way back for us, God not only pursued us, leaving everything else aside to rescue those of us who had thrown Him aside, He Himself became the lamb, taking on our nature, and then even more, taking our sins upon Himself in order to bear the punishment of death in our stead.

Our sins prevent our ability to be present to God, and so we must repent of them with all our hearts, for the Lord will not rescue us without ourselves. Yet lest we think that our sins prevent God's ability to be present to us, God came closer, taking on our human nature and even its sinfulness, so that no matter how far we have strayed, our sins do not prevent God from being present to us.

Let us rejoice in the mystery that although we have millions of ways to move away from God, we never change His desire to come closer to us, and let us marvel that He has tens of millions of ways to make Himself present wherever we are. No matter how we have sinned, He wishes to carry us back in His own arms.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

you're in jesus' way!

2nd Sunday of Advent
5 December 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Center

You are in Jesus' way. Your ego. Your plans. Your stuff. Your sins. John the Baptist comes on the 2nd Sunday of Advent to remind us that we are the problem. Notice that I changed from you to we there. I'll throw myself in as part of the problem as well. We are in Jesus' way. The reason so few things change is that most of us are self-absorbed. Life is a self-improvement project for us. John the Baptist comes on this second Sunday of Advent to remind us not to equivocate the Lord's coming with another opportunity to tinker with our own lives. The Lord's coming is not another revolutionary diet, not another revolutionary workout, not another once in a lifetime investment opportunity, nor is it the perfect material gift at a price too good to be true. No matter how dramatic the commercials and infomercials make these things sound, in the end they are about small adjustments, not real conversion, not real change. John the Baptist wears camel hair and eats locusts to try to get us not to equivocate the Lord's coming with any other special offers that bombard us during this holy season. No, the Lord's coming is different because it is a change of focus. Our life is not about us. Our life is not about self-improvement, it is about self-forgetfulness. John the Baptist is the greatest prophet because his message is the most powerful. If we are to recognize the Lord's coming, it requires a complete re-orientation of our lives. Our life is not about us, it is about God and neighbor. If our focus is anywhere else, we are part of the problem.

Repentance, then, is central to the prophecy of John. We do not spend as long detaching from sin in Advent than we do in Lent, nor do we engage in the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But real repentance has to be a part of a real Advent. Actually, for some of us, we give more alms during Advent than Lent, and this is good, for giving our stuff and our money away is a cleansing practice, one of the three best ways to detach ourselves from ourselves, and from our sins. John the Baptist can help us be better shoppers then. If the message of John the Baptist gets through to us, our shopping habits should change not based on how the economy is doing, but should reflect that Christ is present, that welcoming His presence is the reason of the season. The goal is to become more generous, not less, but the gifts we give are a way of expressing the coming of Christ, not a replacement for Him or a distraction from Him. John the Baptist in requiring us to detach from our sins reminds us of what we know to be true, that we will not allow Christ to come if our lives are already too full, too full of our own pride and self-absorption. If Christ is to move in, something has to move out. We must repent of our sins. So make a good confession this Advent, one in which you sincerely act to move away from the temptations that threaten to dominate your life.

Heeding the prophecy of John the Baptist should make us want to do something to ensure that this Christmas is different. Perhaps many of the traditions we have are great traditions, and externally, it really is a beautiful season with so many opportunities to focus on what is important. Yet can we afford to let yet another Christmas go by when thousands of things happen externally, but almost nothing changes on the inside. Can we go through the motions yet another year? When John the Baptist speaks about a baptism of fire, he is saying that Christmas, the coming of Jesus, is not just a gentle reminder from God to focus on the most important things. Our problem is not that we don't know what's important, it's that we can put it off to tomorrow, while working on ourselves today. The reason so little changes each Christmas in our interior life is not that we are ignorant of what is important, it is that we do not really know that Christ is present. John the Baptist shouts at us to do whatever we can, in a desperate way, to get out of the illusion that Christ is distant, that we can control His coming and going by tinkering with our lives. He tells us to get over ourselves, and to realize that we control nothing, and that our freedom only gets greater when shared with God. John the Baptist is not about tinkering. He invites us to a complete re-orientation away from self and toward God, and he challenges us to let ourselves be baptized by the Lord's coming, a baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire.

Friday, December 3, 2010

what are we seeing?

Memorial of Francis Xavier
3 December 2010
Danforth Chapel, University of Kansas

Francis Xavier as one of the great missionaries in Church history got to see a lot of things. Bringing the Gospel to the new lands of India and China, Francis only saw opportunity to teach, to baptize, to bring the good news of the Incarnation that God is truly with His people. Francis Xavier wrote to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, how people's lives would be changed if they could see what he saw, and what a joyful mission it was to share the truth of the Gospel with those who had never heard it.

Even in Francis Xavier's time, there were those who had been surrounded by the Gospel all their lives and yet did not know the Lord, did not see the Lord. Francis Xavier abhorred that souls were being lost because Christians hid their faith, and lacked the courage to be missionaries. The blind men in today's Gospel are different. The blind men remind us that then, and now, just because we are living in a Christian culture, albeit an increasingly agnostic and secular one, doesn't mean that we see the Lord. The blind men who saw nothing were one of the few to see the Lord. This lack of seeing is especially true in the Eucharist. Jesus promised to be with us in this perfect way, but many cannot and will not see Him here. The blind men in today's Gospel teach us what it is like to see with eyes of faith. Many people with perfect sight but no faith did not find Jesus because they were not looking for him, yet the blind men with no sight but great faith could see Him perfectly. In the same way, those of us with perfect sight can see millions of things everyday but can go a whole day through without ever seeing Jesus, but those with faith can see nothing but Christ and His presence in the world.

If we have made room for Christ, and sincerely look for His coming, as Advent encourages us to do, then we will find ourselves a bit more like Francis Xavier. The blind men, having had a real conversion through the encounter with Jesus, even without his permission could not stop telling people about Him. The great Francis Xavier, who could not stop seeing Christ in the people he met in the Far East, died witnessing to this same Christ who was always with him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

focus on what is present, not what is lacking

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
1 December 2010
For daily readings click here

We are a nation that diets incessantly and yet still gains weight. We are a nation where the more we have, the less we give. We are a nation that despite our ability to work harder and get things done more efficiently, finds itself increasingly slothful and depressed. We have more entertainment options, and yet people are lonelier than ever. We yearn for true enduring love, and yet marriage is on the decline. We are an inherently ungrateful people, who focus habitually not on rejoicing in what is present, but in lamenting what we perceive to be lacking.

It has always been true that if a person is fulfilled and happy on the inside, there is no way to make them unhappy, and vice versa. There are people who in poverty only see superabundance of opportunity and gifts, and those in abundance who only see unfulfilled desire and who only know boredom.

Today's scriptures remind us that the Lord sees the world, and has each one of us in His hands. He knows our needs before we ask Him, and through His Son every human longing has been satisfied in superabundance, so that not only can we say that the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, but we can without reservation share what we have in faith with those who have no faith. For with the Lord there is superabundance, and to the one who has much, more will be given, and He will grow rich in what matters to God, but for the one who has not, even what he has, will be taken away.