Saturday, December 24, 2011

don't be afraid of this baby!

Solemnity of Christmas
Mass at Midnight
St. Frances Cabrini Church
Hoxie, Kansas
24 December 2011
Daily Readings

We might be more afraid of babies today than Herod was at the birth of Jesus.  Granted, Herod had some reason to be alarmed.  There were signs in the heavens that this new child had armies of angels in his corner that could make even the most fearsome armies of Caesar panic.  Still, Herod was afraid of a baby.  He felt threatened by a helpless little baby!  But what about us?  Are we afraid to be changed by the baby Jesus tonight?  Have we truly come here tonight not out of fear or indifference, but out of love?  We have to admit that sometimes we are changed more by the society that we live in than we are by the newborn Jesus. 

We live in a society that seems to spend more energy manufacturing or aborting babies than in seeing children as the miraculous gifts that they are.  We spend more time arguing about the redefinition of marriage and the family than in forming young people capable of the sacrifice of marriage that will make the babies that will secure our future more secure themselves. The same societies that are smart enough to build ever more impressive smart-phones are not smart enough to stop contracepting and sterilizing their economies and themselves out of eventual existence.  Herod might have been afraid of a single child.  We are in a society afraid to admit that babies are our future, and to welcome them accordingly.

Perhaps this battle first fought by Mary and Joseph, to find a place to have a baby, will be the defining struggle of our generation.  Being born in 1974, one year after Roe v. Wade, abortion in the civil-rights struggle of my generation, the struggle for the the right to be born,a battle that has yet to be won in favor of the baby.  Yet this struggle goes hand in hand with finding a real definition of what a human person is, and this is a question that our society gets more and more confused about.  We know a lot more stuff than we used to, but we are getting dumber at being able to say what a human person is.  That is why the celebration of Christmas, the welcoming of the baby Jesus into the world, is the best chance the world has to remember what it is in danger of forgetting - who we really are. 

We have a saying that to forget where you came from is to forget who you are.  How a societytreats its most vulnerable like her babies is a sure sign of whether that society still knows and serves the dignity of human persons or whether human persons are becoming less and less valuable.  For us personally, to be able to see ourselves, and to remember where we came from, when we hold a newborn child, is the key to remembering that a human being becomes a person precisely when he is recognized, remembered and loved.  And this simple but profound and irreducible definition of a human person is more evident when we are vulnerable, dependent and poor; in short, when we are like a baby.  To remain a human person, to remember who we are  by remembering where we came from, is to always be able to see ourselves as poor, vulnerable, and dependent, like a baby.   To remain focused on the one thing that matters - that we are created in love, that love is our constant calling, and that love is our perfection in heaven, is to remember that as we go through life, that to stop being a child - poor, vulnerable and dependent, is to forget who we really are.  This my friends, is what the Christmas mystery has to continually re-teach the world.  It is how the Christmas mystery gives the world hope, by teaching us that babies are the key to everything.

Tonight in this sacred liturgy we welcome no ordinary child, but the Christ child, into our lives.  We simply go through the motions, and pretend that God is close to us, unless we truly adore this Christ child, which means to literally and really 'fall in love' with this new baby.  Christmas takes its name, of course, from Christ's Mass, and it is at Mass only when we receive this beautiful person of Jesus into our lives in the most perfect way imaginable.  It would be absurd then to base my definition of a good Christmas by any other standard other than what happens to my heart, when I receive the Holy Eucharist on this holy night, for to take the Lord Jesus under my roof, into my body and soul, is a more intimate experience than holding the this baby in our arms. Which of us, even the most crusty of us, could hold the baby Jesus in our arms, to have the privilege given to Mary, his mother,and fail to fall in love with him.  The Eucharist is nothing less than this privilege, and is perhaps even more, as the baby Jesus first born poor and in the cold humbles himself even more beautifully in the Eucharist so he can truly be here tonight.  We simply go through the motions, then, if we think that our experience here tonight is any less dramatic than what happened on that first holy night.  .

Jesus' perfect closeness to us at Mass is the reason that we can never give up on trying to be close to each other, and the perfect gift we receive here tonight is our reason to keep giving.  We gather at the darkest hour of the darkest night of the year to welcome with incomparable faith and joy Jesus who is the light strong enough to scatter every darkness.  The birth of Jesus from a virgin mother is the sign that the first creation of everything out of nothing by the virgin Father has reached its completion in Jesus, the new Adam.  Because he takes on our nature in the incarnation, our nature is capable of elevation to real participation in eternal, uncreated reality.  We rejoice on Christmas because we live in the fullness of time, when nothing is impossible for a God who never stops wanting to fall in love with us and be married to us, when the re-creation of the world is really taking place whenever a human person is not afraid to be visited by Jesus.  The angels tell the shepherds - do not be afraid!  We know deep down that we cannot afford to let this Christ's Mass pass with fear or indifference.  If I resist Christ at this moment when he makes himself perfectly irresistible, when will I ever receive him?  If not now, when?  Living in a world that is oftentimes afraid of babies, may I not be afraid to fall in love again, and to be visited and changed, by this most irresistible of babies, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laying in a manger.  Amen.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Never forget where you came from

4th Sunday of Advent B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
18 December 2011
Daily Readings

I have four brothers.  They are all pretty good hunters.  I am not.  I decided a few years ago, after about four hours of conversation about hunting, during which I had nothing to add, that if I was going to be an active member of this family, that I needed my own hunting stories, that I had better at least go buy a shotgun and some camouflage.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  And I've enjoyed the last couple of years hunting with my dad and brothers and extended family. I don't get to hunt very often, but the times I have, have been great.  In a way, it is remembering where I came from.  I grew up on the plains of western Kansas.  That's an important thing to know about me, and an important thing for me to remember about myself.  It's important no matter where you're from.  I'm 37 years old now, and I've traveled all around the world, but the one question that remains the same, no matter how old I get or how many people I meet, is the question - where are you from? 

This question, if we care to look at it, is of greater value than just being a conversation starter.  It can be that, and it can be fun to see how small the world really is, by comparing people that you know and places you've been.  It's a good way to meet people, talking about where you're from.  Yet the question holds a deeper value, a spiritual value you might say.  Knowing where you're from is important to knowing who you are.  Forgetting where you're from is the equivalent of saying that you don't know who you are. 

Enter the story of David, who after his many heroic accomplishments enjoyed a great amount of wealth and security, and a nice cedar house to dwell in, yet felt guilty that the ark of the covenent dwelt in a tent.  For a moment, David felt more secure than the Lord.  Boy was he wrong.  For a moment David thought that he was in a position to do something for the Lord, and forgot until corrected by the prophet Nathan that the Lord still stood ready to do something for David.  The Lord reminded David of where he came from and who he was, Jesse's smallest and least significant shepherd boy.  The Lord reminded David of all that he had done through David, with David and in David, and promised again what yet was to be accomplished, if David would only stand at the ready, and not pity the Lord.  The Lord reminded David that not all that much had changed.  He was still the Lord, and David was still David, that poor shepherd boy, if only David would remember who he was and where he came from.  David needed reminding that it was the Lord who chose David, not vice versa.

Enter Mary, who as we hear in today's Gospel, inherits the great promise made to David and his posterity, who while still a little helpless girl not unlike the insignificant shepherd boy David when he was first chosen, is made greater than any good king like David or any imperfect king like Caesar ever was or ever will be.  Mary is great because she remained poor, vulnerable and dependent.  When the angel greeted her, Mary was as poor, vulnerable and dependent as the day she was born.  Mary had not great worldly victories that we know of.  She was a nobody.  She was no great religious figure.  She was young in a culture that valued age and a woman in a culture that offered women little security apart from men.  Yet because she remained poor, vulnerable and dependent as the world sees, Mary was always aware of the most important thing:  she knew who loved her the most and who she loved the most.  That is what we learn from Mary.  For those of us called to communion, not isolation, for those of who who have love as our origin, the reason we are here instead of not here, who have love as our constant calling, the reason we keep going instead of quitting, for those of us who have love as our perfection in heaven, where the deepest desires of the heart promise to be filled, we need to learn from Mary how to stay centered on this one question we can't afford to get wrong.  Who loves me the most and who do I love the most?  This question is best answered when we are poor, vulnerable and dependent - it is in these circumstances only that we have the chance to learn the most important thing we have to learn.  It is in these circumstances only - poor, vulnerable and dependent, that we learn where we are from and who we really are.  Nobody remained in these circumstances more perfectly than Mary.

David was disappointed that the Lord dwelt in an unworthy tent.  Mary remembered what David forgot, that she was most unworthy, and had nothing to offer the Lord, which is why she welcomed the Lord under her roof more perfectly than David.  David, for all his greatness and accomplishments, still saw the Lord as dwelling over there, under the tent.  Mary surpasses David in listening to the angel declare - the Lord is with you.  He is under your tent.  She received the Christ child, then, not as the world receives him, not as you and I receive him, with fear or indifference, but with joy and expectation. 

Thank God, then, that Mary is the first member of our Church!  Thank God that she is with us.  For we are not poor, nor vulnerable, nor dependent.  When we look at the Christ child we rarely see ourselves, and even more rarely remember who we are or where we are from.  But Mary is with us!  She is on our team!  She is the last and greatest Advent prophet, and she will prepare room in Her Church for the coming of the Lord.  We are not ready for Christmas, but she is.  So let us be with her, and pray that her Fiat might find an echo in us.  Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

real rejoicing

Gaudete Sunday
11 December 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

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

Welcome to Pink Sunday.  Gaudete Sunday.  Rejoice Sunday.  We light the pink candle.  We turn the corner toward Christmas.  We rejoice for one reason, and one reason only.  The Lord is near.

The joy proposed to us Christians on this 3rd Sunday of Advent is a distinctive joy.  It is available here, and nowhere else.  It is not the joy of improved external circumstances.  It is not the joy of having things outwardly go better for us.  It is not the joy of beating Ohio State or hiring Charlie Weis.  No, as great as things like that are, and as thankful as we might be for such blessings, we rejoice today for a different reason, and for one reason only.  The Lord is near.

Today's joy is born of knowing that since for our Lord, a thousand years are like a day, that we have no right to expect a gift like Jesus Christ to come into the world, and yet we rejoice because we know for certain that he is coming.  We rejoice that he is coming not later, but now.  We rejoice that he has come, that he is coming, and that he will come again.  Those of us who sit in darkness have no right to anything but to sit in darkness, yet we rejoice that those of us who sit in darkness have seen a great light.  We have no right to take Christmas for granted, but have every responsibility to imagine a world without Christmas.  We have a duty to wonder if the Lord has not come to visit us if we would have long ago given up on visiting each other with His redeeming love.  For this reason, taking nothing for granted, we rejoice.  And we rejoice for one reason only, the Lord is near.

The coming of the Lord into the world brings something that nothing else can bring.  He alone through whom all things were made, has the power to remake everything.  This does not mean, as we have come to realize, that everything is about to go my way, or that things will turn out the way I think they should.  No, it means something else - that an outwardly imperfect world is being made perfect from the inside out.  Starting with the smallest and going to the greatest, the world is being made perfect from the inside out, and so are we.  This is the joy, the distinctive joy, the incomparable joy, that we are invited to contemplate and enter into.

It is a joy that perdures whether or not I am outwardly ready for Christmas, whether or not finals week goes the way I think it should.  It is a joy of knowing that there is one active inside of me that does more than I can ever do, one more interior to me than I am to myself who loves where I could never love myself, one closer to me than I am to myself who takes away any excuse I have not to be close to others.  I rejoice, because the Lord is near, and he is ready to visit me, and to change my life from the inside out.  I rejoice, then, because His coming brings nothing but joy, love and peace to my life, and that by his coming I am about to change more than I have ever changed before.  I rejoice  in this new hope, as surely as I can know that holding a newborn child can melt my heart.

John the Baptist as the greatest prophet tells us with great alarm that there is every chance that we will miss the Lord's visit again this year.  Because the Lord wishes to visit us beginning as a vulnerable child, we have every reason to expect that he will visit me at my weakest and most vulnerable point, at my smallest point.  It will take a pure faith, a faith unadulterated by the pride of sin and a faith uncluttered by the desire for things outwardly to go my way, in order for me to recognize the time of my own visitation.  St. Johnthe Baptist tells us that there is no option but true repentance from the depths of our heart.  For if we do not say with our Lady in her Magnificat that 'he has looked upon the lowliness of his handmaiden' then we are sure to miss Christmas again this year.

As St. Paul urges as well, let us look east and make ourselves as ready as we can be.  Still, we rejoice not that that we are ready, not that we can ever be ready, but because He is ready.  We rejoice for this reason, and this reason only.  He is ready.  And the Lord is near.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The United States, consecrated to Mary of the Immaculate Conception at her beginning

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
8 December 2011
Daily Readings

Hail Mary, full of grace!  This is the angel's greeting to Mary, before Mary had any clue of what was about to happen, before she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived Jesus in her womb.  Already, before any of that, the angel says Hail Mary, full of grace.  This astonishing statement should make us wonder - when did she become full of grace?

Today's Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception answers this question of when Mary became full of grace.  Our Church, comtemplating the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary for the first two millenia of Christianity, defined with theological precision and certainty in 1854 the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that every Catholic can and must believe that Mary was conceived without sin, that she was full of grace from the first moment of Her conception.  This truly is theology at its very best, the faith of the Church seeking to understand the mysteries of revelation, even if it takes 1800 years to arrive at this understanding.

Defining Mary's sinlessnes from the first moment of her conception gives us a clue that God's plan from the beginning was not to use Mary in a minimum kind of way, like a temporary employee.  The angel's greeting was not - Hail Mary, who will be full of grace from the moment of Jesus' conception to the moment of His birth, or to the moment of his presentation or baptism.  No, his greeting was already Hail Mary, full of grace, before she conceived in her womb.  This clue that Mary was always full of grace, adopted by God in Jesus Christ not at baptism but at conception, to be holy and blameless before him, should tell us to expect what we have come to know about Mary, that if she always was full of grace, she will always be full of grace.  That grace that we celebrate today at the moment of her conception will not run out at the birth of Jesus, but will move Mary to say yes not only to the Annunciation, but yes to following her son to the foot of the cross, and yes to accepting the new mission to be the mother of all those destined for eternal life.

We will celebrate Mary, mother of sorrows at the cross, Mary, mother of the Church at Pentecost,  and Mary, Queen of heaven, on other occasions, showing that we know Mary once full of grace always is full of grace and always will be full of grace.  Today we celebrate precisely and simply that we know when Mary became full of grace.  It was at the moment of her conception, that God gave the merits of her Son's redemption to her, mysteriously preserving her from original sin.  This gift to Mary should make us excited to receive the same incomparable gift, and we are challenged in this Advent season to follow her example of making room in our hearts first for the coming of the infant Jesus in the flesh, the mystery of the Incarnation.

Aside from Christmas Day, today's Solemnity is the highest ranking non-Sunday celebration in the Church's United States calendar.  We never move this solemnity of our Lady, and never abrogate it.  For Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States America, and shame on us if we do not have a devotion to her under this title.  Lacking evidence of any other apostle making it to the shores of our great land, we recognize in Our Lady's gracious beginning in the womb of her mother Anne, the conception of the Church here in the United States through the Immaculate Conception of Mary, who is the apostle of the apostles.  Believing that Mary herself planted the faith here, and knowing that the first bishops of our country went to Rome with great joy for the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in Rome in 1854, eager to consecrate our country to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, we see from the beginning the special destiny of the United States and our Church to be a light to all nations through recourse to Mary.  In honoring and loving her, we honor and love her Son, who is so pleased that we know and love the one whom he knows and loves the best.  In consecrating ourselves and our country to her, we more closely imitate him,who rejoiced to always be completely dependent upon Mary as the Eve of the new creation.  In honoring her today, we become better disciples of him, who came into the world happy to dwell in the womb and nurse at the breasts of Mary, full of grace.  Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

true drama

2nd Sunday of Advent
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
4 December 2011
Daily Readings

There is great anticipation at KU right now regarding the university's next football coach.  The coaching search is dramatic.  It is urgent.  Sheahon Zenger is the prophet, hitting the road like John the Baptist, trying to sell the KU job.  He is working like crazy until he finds the next coach for KU, the one who will gather more people Saturday after Saturday than any other person at the University.  The one who will be responsible for generating income from thousands of alumni through football.  Whether or not you are a football fan, or agree with all the attention football gets, this is the reality . Every day that we go by without a new coach, is a day lost, a day that perhaps someone else will hire the coach that we need.

Remember the results of the last election, when President Obama was elected?  Remember the anticipation and the dramatic coverage.  The whole world was watching!

Advent desperately tries to get us Christians back into this mode of anticipating great things, and being alert for the coming of one much greater than President Obama or the next KU football coach.  St .Mark writes the first Gospel, perhaps from Rome, where St. Paul and St. Peter had just been executed for their faith, and announces that the one the Israelites have long awaited, the Messiah, and quite certainly the one who has the power to redeem the heart and life of every human person, has arrived.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has arrived!

Advent begs us to enter back into the dramatic first moment of the world's creation, for the coming of the Messiah means precisely this, and more.  As dramatic as the moment of our birth was, exchanging the world of our mother's womb for the infinitely bigger world in which we now live and move and have our being, and as dramatic as the moment of our death will be, when we will once again exchange the smallness of this world for the mystery of that reality that lies on the other side of death, even more dramatic is the moment which you and I now share.  This is the urgent message of Advent.  The coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, among us is a moment even more dramatic than the moment of our conception, the moment of our birth, or the hour of our death.  For the moment in which we now live is the moment of recreation, a revolutionary creation even greater than the first creation bringing everything out of nothing.  The second creation is greater than the first, for the entry of the Lord of the universe into the time and space of a single human nature is a more improbable creation than the creation of everything from nothing.  This second creation is greater than the first, because the second creation will definitely overcome the enemies of life and love that hold sway in the world as we know it, but in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no wasteland of sin nor desert of death.   As great as this first world is, we still live in enemy territory.  The good news of the Gospel is that the exodus has begun.  That is why we praise God with full-voice; not only for the beauty of this world, but because the revolutionary re-creation of the new world has begun in Jesus Christ our Messiah.

The prophet Isaiah and St. Peter and St. John the Baptist are three powerful voices begging us to feel in our bones our need for this Messiah, for one to come and recreate and redeem the parts of us that are already dead, the wasteland of our sinfulness, the desert of our lost hope.  They remind us to repent, for no one welcomes a savior if he thinks everything is ok.  The prophets beg us out of the sleepiness of thinking everything is good enough as it is.  The prophets beg us not to give in to complacency, and not to be deists, who think that because this moment of recreation that we are in is taking thousands of years that the Lord is not close.  St. Peter reminds us that for the Lord, a thousand years are as a day.  We are in the dramatic moment of recreation whether we believe it or not.  The prophets implore us to be as afraid of the Jesus who was born so helplessly in Bethlehem, and who waits for us even more vulnerably in the Holy Eucharist, as we are of the Jesus who will come in glory and rule with his strong arm at the end of time.  To be a Christian means to live the drama of Advent, between the time of Jesus' first coming and his last, in the kingdom of the already and not-yet.  But make no mistake, the Advent prophets tell us convincingly that the moment in which you and I now stand, is as dramatic a moment as there ever was or ever will be.  The moment of re-creation, a moment greater than ever has been or ever will be, has arrived.  Jesus Christ has come among us, bringing with him a baptism of the Holy Spirit andof  fire.  Our passover from the land of the enemy to his kingdom is at hand.

Do not be lulled into thinking the Lord is delayed.  Just because the moment of his recreation has begun in the smallest of ways, just because you can block him in tonight's Eucharist be failing to prepare a way to your heart, does not mean that He is not here.  Just because we can choose to fill our lives with things other than Him, does not mean that tonight's moment of the Eucharist does not contain the power to recreate you into everything you always promised yourself you would be.  Whether you like it or not, He is here, and He is ready.  The recreation of the world has begun, and we are in its dramatic moment.  Prepare in the your heart, then, a highway for our God.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Come, Holy Spirit (Advent edition)

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent
29 November 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Today's prophecy from Isaiah, a classic Advent prophecy, focuses on the gift of peace that the coming of the Son of man will bestow.  Peace will be a gift from the one who has the fullness of God's Spirit.  Isaiah prophesies the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, which will be poured into the human nature of Jesus as the Father's gift to His Son.

One of the most profound prayers of the Christmas season is for peace.  The Holy Father always prepares the World Day of Prayer for Peace message for January 1st during the Christmas season.  To pray for peace in the Christmas season means a recognition that a real and lasting peace of which Isaiah speaks will be the fruit of the Lord's coming.  It will be God's gift to a world.  We have been through enough New Year's resolutions ourselves to know that unless the Lord gives the gift, in vain do we labor.  So too for mankind.  We see over and over man's ability to make great progress on many fronts, but so often we get dumber as quickly as we get smarter.  Moral progress and technological progress do not go hand in hand.  It is not a smart thing to create the ability to destroy ourselves, and yet that is what we do.  We may hope for human solutions toward peace, and work sincerely toward them, but asking for peace in the Christmas season teaches us that we are wise to ask for peace as God's gift, for our ability to receive peace is greater than our ability to produce it.

Perhaps today is a good day for us to meditate on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas story and Christmas mysteries.  The Holy Spirit who overshadows the great Advent prophets, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, can also help us listen to them.  Advent invites us to start again at the beginning, and to recognize that before the Holy Spirit can sent us out at Pentecost, He must prepare a fertile ground in our hearts for the Lord's coming.  Come, Holy Spirit, and with your seven-fold gifts descend, and prepare your Church to celebrate the mystery of the Lord's incarnation.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

God get down here!

1st Sunday of Advent B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
27 November 2011
Daily Readings

Advent challenges God to do something. This is the prayer of the Israelites who are suffering the Babylonian exile. God get down here. God do something! God be true to your promise to be our Father. What kind of Father are you anyway? Have you forgotten about us God? God quit hiding your face. God get down here now and do something for us.

How different is this prayer from Isaiah than the prayers we usually say to God? What do we say? God give me more time. God keep your distance and I will get around to what's important. Forget about me God, so I can go about my own business.

Advent is waking up to the reality that the only thing scarier than God messing with our lives, with God coming closer, is God keeping his distance. That is truly terrifying. For God keeping his distance does not bring us relief and freedom, it brings terror and the slavery of our own limitations. Advent is waking up to the reality that deep down, we want God to come closer, to come sooner. Advent is praying God to come as close to us as we are to ourselves, and actually meaning it.

Why do human persons go extreme? Why do we watch UFC fighting, love watching football players crash into each other, love sky diving and horror movies? Not everyone loves these things, but behind them lies the human passion for living on the edge. Why do we do this? Why do we not seek security above all things? Why not be as conservative as possible, since life is worth conserving? It is because we all know that to stop living radically and vertically, to stop living on the edge, is to fall asleep. It is to die an early death. Indeed, only those who are near death can tell others what it means to be fully alive.

Advent fights against this temptation to fall asleep when life is only really starting, to give up on ourselves by settling for less. Advent in the liturgical year corresponds to nightfall, when we are tempted to think the day is over and things are done happening. Advent says no way. Just as scientists look for smaller and smaller particles to unlock the mysteries of the universe, just as the one possession that will determine the fate of the KU basketball team this March depends on what they learn in practice today, so also for us the spark that will light our spiritual lives on fire, and enable us to be a saint, depends upon our not letting ourselves fall asleep, not allowing the darkness to cave in on us. When we are tempted to think that there are no new sparks in our lives, Advent tells us to stay awake. Be ready. We do not know the hour when the Lord is coming.

Advent is the choice we make between intensifying our life or falling asleep. Advent is the difference between thinking our best moments are behind us, versus knowing that our biggest conversion is still ahead of us. Advent is knowing that when the Christ child was born in the dark town of Bethlehem at the darkest hour of the darkest night, only those with the purest faith were awake to see it.

Advent is knowing that the only way to really see if we are alive is not diving out of an airplane, or seeing Paranormal Activity 3. These might work for a second. But if we really want intensity, and want to live life in the most radical away, living on the edge moment to moment, instead of just giving up and falling asleep, we will invite God to come closer, and to come sooner, and actually mean it. Dare to stop asking God for more time and more space. Instead, ask him for the opposite. Ask him to be your coach, your friend who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, your accountability partner who refuses to let you fail. Dare him to mold you intoa saint at a faster pace than the self-improvement plan you are currently on. It might sound terrifying, but consider the alternative. Who want to fall asleep, and give up, when life is only beginning?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The king who lays down his life

Solemnity of Christ the King
20 November 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Michael Jackson.  Elvis.  Simba.  Lebron.  There are lots of kings out there.  We love them.  We love anointing kings who are unstoppable within their temporal kingdom.  But we also love to bring them down.  In a country that was founded by the desire to topple a king, we probably take more pleasure in seeing kings fall than in anointing them.  Paterno, Gill and Pinkel are all under fire, though for different reasons.  Mubarak, bin Laden, and Qaddafi are tyrants and terrorists toppled in the Arab spring.  Lohan and Kardashian are under fire in the tabloids.  Anointing and toppling leaders in politics is perhaps America's greatest pasttime of all.  It's embarrassing really, how much time and energy we devote to anointing kings, and how much pleasure we take in seeing them fall.  Most of us get too caught up in it, to our own shame.

Today's solemnity ends the liturgical year for us by trying to set things straight.  There is only one king.  There is only one whose reign is unstoppable, whose kingdom extends beyond the time and space of the universe, only one kingdom that is so universal and eternal that legions of angels rejoice in proclaiming its glory.  That is the kingdom of Jesus Christ our King.  Whenever we say the name of Jesus, the name of the one who saves by shedding his blood for his subjects, we proclaim him to be the Christ, the anointed one.  Jesus Christ.  Jesus the Lord.  Jesus our King.  Today's feast proclaims with incomparable joy the reality of a kingdom that not even a king with the power to launch a nuclear weapon can destroy.  It is a kingdom founded on truth and love, on justice and peace.  To this king alone belongs the power to judge the world, as today's Scriptures state clearly.  It is to this king alone, that every knee should bend, in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.  (Ph 2:10).

The incomparable power of this king, however, lies not only in His ability to rule and to judge and to dominate, but in its opposite.  The Lord cautioned the Isralites that earthly kings are sinful and dangerous, but when they still insisted that someone by anointed to rule over them, the Lord turned their sinful wish into a blessing, into a promise of a king who would rule longer than any king before or after.  Yet the king that was sent was mysterious beyond imagination, a king recognizable only by the eyes of faith, a king born out in the cold,a king who rode into his capital city on a donkey,  a king who forewent a secret service or army, and instead handed himself over to the hands of his enemies, and at his weakest moment was mocked as Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Ieudaeorum.  This is how the Lord himself came to rule, by showing that the greatest power a king could show is to give himself over in love to those who hate him.  This power alone is a power greater than the power of the Big Bang that created the universe, for this power of sacrificial love is the ground of all reality, and is the foundation of a kingdom of love and truth, justice and peace, that alone is universal and eternal. 

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the scroll and break open the seals (Rev 5:9).  It is our King's ability to lay his life down in love, to be the lamb who was slain, that is the foundation of his judgment of the world.  The sacrifice precedes the judgment.  The mercy which is the heart of God is why we proclaim our King to be most worthy on this great solemnity.  Worthy is the lamb.  Worthy is our King who was not afraid to be a lamb.  This king is to be praised and adored above all forever.  Amen.  This solemnity must be for us a solemnity of the highest praise, when we forsake all our false kings and idols, and proclaim the Lord to be the King who alone is worthy.  Jesus is not proclaimed king today because he is like any earthly rule that came before him; he is proclaimed king because he is the new and eternal definition of what a king really is. 

You didn't see this on the mainstream media, but Pope Benedict, that old man with just a few acres of territory and an annual budget less than that of a single American university like Harvard or Notre Dame, an old man who has no army, outdrew both President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, and Prince William, whose wedding to Princess Kate made him the most popular this year.  Both men outdrew the Pope on tv, but I was there when our old and frail Holy Father drew 2.2 million to Madrid for the World Youth Days, the largest crowd in the world this year.  I was there, and I saw it, a small glimpse of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is more vast and powerful and eternal than any nation or kingdom on this earth ever was or ever will be.  Let us pray with earnest for our Holy Father and his brother bishops, who are so unworthy of the task of governing and shepherding and making visible this kingdom of Jesus Christ, so that people may believe in it and belong to it.  Let us help them by taking up the kingly identity and mission given to us at our baptism, for as long as we help build the kingdom of Christ, the Lord shares the dignity of his kingship with us.  By virtue of our baptism, we are kings, so let us act like kings after the example of Jesus Christ.  Let us forsake the temptation to anoint anyone, or to delight in the downfall of anyone, whose kingship is not rooted in the kingship of Jesus Christ.  For he alone is worthy of our anointing and our loyal and obedient service, and no one can be a king, unless they belong to Him, the king of kings, and the Lord of Lords, forever and ever.  Amen. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

quit hoarding your faith

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
13 November 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

A good wife is invaluable.  Those guys who are called to marriage do well to 'marry above yourself' as they say.  A good Catholic man seeking a holy wife has the deck stacked in his favor.  There are more women in college than men these days, and women are naturally more receptive in the things that belong to God.  Men perhaps have it too easy these days.  There was a time, so I hear, when a man would have to pursue a wife with reckless abandon to have any chance at all.  Courtship, especially on the part of men, has lost so much of what made it beautiful.  It's too casual these days.  There is a real need to teach men how to be men, and how to desire a holy wife.  At any rate, that is not what the reading from Proverbs is about.  It is about the treasure of being a holy woman, a woman who fears the Lord.  Her life is incomparably fruitful.  The proverb is to be a great encouragement to any women called to marriage, that being holy will pay off with great dividends.  A favorite facebook posting of mine shared among women is that a woman is to be so holy that any man has to meet Christ and fall in love with him if he is to have any chance in meeting her.

Today's Gospel flies in the face of the current protests against income inequality.  The protests are legitimate.  The economic system fails many people, by putting the poor at great risk of losing what they have, and insulating the rich from the risks that they take.  The economic system does not place enough economic decisions in the real economy in the hands of real people.  It's important that injustices and corruption be addressed.  It shouldn't surprise us, however, that the economy, while it is the #1 concern of politicians, is not the top concern of our Lord.

After an initial unequal distribution of talents, Jesus makes it worse by taking the last talent from the lazy servant and giving it to the richest.  Talk about redistribution in the wrong direction.  From the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.   Before you capitalists out there rejoice too much that Jesus agrees with a free market survival of the fittest, people are paid what they're worth mentality, need I remind you of all the times Jesus cautions about trusting in wealth, and God's preference for those who are poor.  Jesus is making a different point here.  Faith buried is faith lost.  Divine life that is not given away is divine life that is wasted.

That is the same as saying that a faith that is merely private is not faith at all, that seeking a faith in God that works only personally for me is making God in my image, not being receptive to the greater gifts He wants to bestow upon his bride, the Church.  If you ask me whether I would rather be spiritual or religious, I would say I would rather be religious every time.  Despite the trappings and sinfulness of institutional and organized religion, of which many are rightfully suspicious, sharing faith with others and living faith with others and believing in God together is the only way that faith can exponentialy grow.  If I horde my faith for myself, it is worth nothing.

John Paul II referred to this as the 'law of the gift.'  Your faith in God will grow precisely to the extent that you give it away.  This also pertains to evangelization and living the grace of our Confirmation, for by that grace we are all filled with the Spirit to the point of overflowing, and yet too often we try to control that Spirit and find the minimum we can do.  Lest this law of the gift become too generically understood, the Holy Spirit is the teacher who shows us precisely how we can make Jesus Christ and his redeeming love more present and real in the exact circumstances of our lives.  There is a mission given to us that has been entrusted to no one else, a vocation that we ignore to our own peril.  To make it more precise, none of us should have as our goal in life just being good enough to get ourselves into heaven.  This is pathetic thinking.  No, our goal is to be holy enough to bring one other person with us to heaven.  The difference between the former and the latter is like night and day.  How easily do we settle for mediocrity when we are thinking about only our own salvation?  Yet if we were all working for the salvation of another, the world could not contain the fire.

Let us pray for our Catholic students at KU.  So poor is the catechesis we have given them, so little have we taught them about the real grace of confirmation, how pervasive is that pressure to keep one's faith private, that easily 90% of them do not have a real chance to invest the talent of their Catholic faith into their vocation as a student at the university.  These students deserve our encouragement, support and constant prayers, for they are in real danger of having what little faith we have given them be taken away.

Finally, a word about Joe Paterno.  He is a Catholic.  His wife is the main patronness of the Catholic student center at Penn State.  As you know, he is not an abuser, but is accused of enabling an absuive assistant coach.  There have been many parallels drawn, and perhaps you have done so yourself, to the sexual abuse scandal within the Church.  In response, let us pray fervently for all victims, that they will have a chance to find healing and live happy lives in which they can trust in God and in their fellow man, and give and receive love which is the right of every human person.  Let us thank God as well, that as painful as these situations are, that it is more painful for them to remain in the dark.  I can tell you as a pastor that the scourge of sexual abuse unfortunately extends far beyond churches or youth organizations or even universities.  It is worst within our poor families, where oftentimes there are people trapped and secrets hidden for generations.  Let us pray that even as we learn more about this scourage in the most painful of ways, in seeing children hurt unnecessarily, that millions of Americans will learn that when they have a chance to stop abuse, they will, and that slowly, but surely, this scourge once hidden in darkness will be shattered by the light.  Amen. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

waiting in joyful hope

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
6 November 2011
Daily Readings

I've never met anyone more impatient than me.  Well, perhaps my dad.  For him, when he told us to be ready for Church at 9:40am, he really meant 9:20.  Whenever he arrives early at something, he wonders why everyone else is late.  So I get my impatience honestly.  For example, as soon as I calculate a route on my Google or Garmin navigator, I am driven to get there earlier than the calculated ETA. I'm passionate about beating the clock.

Being bad at patience makes it difficult to be a Christian.  We all know this, because most of us confess it.  We lose patience in all kinds of situations.  Mostly we lose patience with other people, which usually is a sign that we are frustrated with our own progress toward becoming saints.  The abbot at St. Meinrad where I went to seminary said holiness is the art of learning how to wait. He was right.  Anyone who has tried to 'hurry up' the road to sanctity realizes that it backfires every time.

There is one time in life where I like waiting however.  One time I get a kick out of it.  It is waiting for the bride to come down the aisle on her wedding day.  Maybe it's mischievous for me to say this, but I always tell the bride during rehearsal to wait as long as possible before coming down that aisle.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a priest who spends hours tinkering with the wedding liturgy, trying to get everything just right.  No, I'm one of those priests who would rather say a funeral than witness a wedding, because people are more prayerful at funerals.  I usually spend as little time as possible at a wedding rehearsal.  Yet this is one thing that I always mention.  I tell the bride to wait before coming down the aisle.  I tell her to make us wait, and to make us wait a long time.  I tell her that just when you think you can't wait anymore, to wait some more.  Make us think that perhaps you will not come, that you've changed your mind.  That is good for all of us. By this time in the wedding ceremony, I'm standing next to the groom who is waiting to receive his bride.  I want his faith and confidence tested at this moment.  He shouldn't be too overconfident going into the wedding.  What is more, the moment when his bride seems delayed gives me the occasion to tease him mercilessly.

In a modern wedding, the ceremony normally takes place in the bride's church, and waiting for the bride is the penultimate moment in the wedding ceremony, second only to the exchange of vows.  In today's first reading from the book of Wisdom, wisdom herself is personified as feminine, as a bride searching for someone to dwell with, as a bride searching for her groom.  The Gospel we have from Jesus complements this search of bride for groom, by emphasizing the other side of the equation - the groom going to meet his bride.  Unlike modern weddings, it is the journey of the groom in the Gospel, the arrival of the groom, that brings the suspense.  In Jesus' time, and thus in his story, it was the groom's duty, not the bride's, to make the final journey, and the people waited for his arrival at the doorstep of the bride.  As we hear in the Gospel, it was the role of the bridesmaids not to dote on the bride, and to get her ready, but to wait for the groom, and if he arrived at night, to light his way and show him safely through the night to his bride.  What we have in the Gospel, a time when there were no streetlights or flashlights, but only torches, is a much more dramatic scene, a bridegroom coming at night at an unexpected hour for his bride, than any drama I can create by asking the bride to wait an extra 30 seconds before coming down the aisle.

We have arrived at the point of the liturgical year when it is important for us to get better at something at which we are especially bad - waiting.  It is a specific kind of waiting that we are to foster, an expectant, joyful waiting, a dramatic waiting, rather than a passive resignation of waiting because we cannot do anything about it.  The apocalyptic readings of the end of the liturgical year will give way to Advent, and we will be challenged in both seasons to engage in active, joyful anticipation of the Lord's coming, by activating our faith, not passive, neglectful waiting characterized by the foolish virgins.  St. Paul was perhaps unlike us too ready for the Paraousia.  In his letter to the Thessalonians, he has to admit that because some Christians have fallen asleep in Christ before his second coming, that the bridegroom is apparently delayed.  Yet Paul still can't imagine that he would see death before the return of the Lord.  Where Paul is perhaps too eager, too confident in the Lord's return, we instead are too unprepared, overconfident that time is on our side. 

With the coming of the Lord at each Eucharist, his perfect coming and yet such a humble coming that without the activation of our faith, we will surely miss his coming, we have the perfect litmus test to see how wise or foolish we really are.  At the end of the Lord's prayer, the priest prays that the Church 'waits in joyful hope, for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.'  Right before receiving the Eucharist we pray that our readiness for the Lord to come at the end of time, whether this be during our lifetime or not, is dependent upon how ready we are for the bridegroom's coming in the Eucharist. May we be more ready, and be found waiting in joyful hope, to activate our faith at the reception of each Eucharist, as we end this liturgical year, and turn again in Advent toward the light that scatters every darkness.  Amen.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The adventure of a lifetime

Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I've been able to do some amazing things in my life.  4 World Youth Days with the Popes, including in Paris where I got to meet John Paul II in person, and celebrated Mass with over 2 million people.  I've concelebrated with Pope Benedict on the field at Yankee Stadium.  The day I was ordained a priest was incredible.  I have been to South Africa to the World Cup.  I've celebrated Mass near the tomb of St. Peter in Rome.  I've climbed 14ers in Colorado with friends.  I was in Lawrence for the 2008 national championship.  And my latest thrill - I was at Arrowhead last night for the miracle victory over the Chargers.  That place was wild.  Absolutely nuts, like Mass street in 2008 - only with costumes.  It was an amazing thrill and so much fun to be there.  It was like I had died and gone to heaven!

However, I would have to say that as grateful as I am for these moments, I am not living my life checking off a bucket list.  This is no way for a Christian to live.  Although there are thousands of more things I would like to do and people I would like to meet and places I would like to go on this earth, I don't really have a bucket list.  There is really only one thrill that I have set my heart on, and that thrill is this.  When the saints go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in, oh how I'd like to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. 

I'm not talking about Drew Brees touchdowns, of course.  Not those saints.  And I don't mean to bring to mind the Mardi Gras debauchery that this jazzy tune about the saints sometimes arouses.  No, I am talking about the real thing.  The only remaining thrill that I need to experience, the only one I desperately want to experience, is to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.  The only thing I want to feel is what it's like to die and go to heaven. 

The promise of heaven, my friends, has to excite us, because what has been promised to us in heaven is so beautiful that we will not be able to look away from its beauty.  What has been promised is without compare in this world, for even the most beautiful and perfect moments of our lives pass away, but in heaven they will not.  There is something wrong with us if we cannot get excited about this promise, if we impoverish heaven to nothing more than bonus time to an existence we already know.  Heaven is not overtime.  Heaven is no longer measured, so the perfect moments do not pass away.  No, heaven is promised to be something quite different.  For eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned upon man, what God has in store for those who love him. 

The saints who we celebrate today on our solemnity teach us how to love heaven, and in so doing, they are able to bring heaven to earth, and to live today as we will live forever.  The saints teach us that being with God forever in heaven will hold no value in our lives if we do not enjoy being with God now.  Our bucket list will always be more important to us than seeking the kingdom of heaven, if being with God now does not excite us.  The saints teach us how to love God in our real earthly circumstances with all our heart and mind and strength, and in contemplating heaven they learned how to live outside the measurements of time and space.  Saints in a spiritual way always grow younger by contemplating heaven, because in heaven you don't get older.  In desiring heaven, saints learned how to turn the clock off that makes perfect moments of our lives fade and pass away, and instead found the key to making every moment perfect by being fulling present to that moment.

This is why we are called to love heaven.  Not because it will afford us more time to complete our bucket lists, but because heaven is the constant self-forgetfulness that makes ecstatic moments possible.  The perfect moments of our lives are those moments when we lose our sense of self in the midst of something bigger than ourselves.  Sin is nothing more than trying to make ourselves more important than the reality present to us, it is trying to assert self-importance when self-forgetfulness is the path to real freedom.  Death is the just punishment for sin, for it puts an end to the sinner's ability to grow older and older and older by making life smaller and smaller and smaller through our own measurements.

Again, what makes the perfect moments of our lives so great is that we forget about ourselves.  This is what love is, to throw away our own will.  This is why a saint does not need a bucket list.  A saint knows how to forget himself habitually, and is able to put away his calculator and stopwatch, and instead is able to be perfectly present to the reality in front of him.  Saints learn to do this by loving heaven, where things are not measured. 

Halloween is such a fun holiday because it gives life to the idea that we can become whomever we want to be.  Although pagan and immature on the surface, Halloween's tradition of costuming points to a desire deep within to become something we are not.  That desire, I submit to you, is to become a saint, to become our best selves and everything we ever promised ourselves we would be.  The saints are those friends of ours who when faced with every circumstance and rationalization that we face, still continued to that great adventure of life that in losing our lives we will begin to truly live.  We should remember on All Saints Day that becoming the saint we were meant to be is an adventure that makes our bucket lists look silly.  They key is not to have many perfect moments in life, but to become a saint who knows how to make this moment perfect.  Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A crisis in moral leadership

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
30 October 2011
Daily Readings

The Church dared to scold Wall Street this week.  It's not that the Holy Father appeared in Zuccotti square as an occupier.  You would have heard about that, I'm sure.  No, a little Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice put out a note for discussion.  Most of the world didn't see it.  If you did, it was probably a media headline like POPE SIDES WITH OCCUPIERS or CHURCH AGAINST CAPITALISM or CHURCH WANTS UNITED NATIONS TO RUN THE ECONOMY none of which accurately describe the discussion the note was trying to foster.  The Church is better at putting out notes than at being a spin doctor.

The note reminded Wall Street and the world economy of two important things from the Church's 2000 year history of thinking about justice.  Those two things that every Catholic should know about are solidarity and subsidiarity.  The document simply says that when these principles are ignored, the economy will be unstable.  The document explores the creation of an authority that might make these principles universally respected in the world economy.  The note realizes that such an authority is only a distant possibility.

The Church herself is no expert in how to run an immensely complex international world econom.  Yet she can observe with her traditional wisdom that even as free trade and the explosion of financial transactions leads to the creation of great wealth, that every trade and transaction that can be made should not be made.  The Church cautions the world that the word 'should' is more important than the word 'can', that knowing the good is more important than knowing the possible.  What is problematic is that a few players in the economy can take immoral risks that endanger the economic fortune of billions, while always landing on their feet themselves.  The Church sympathizes with occupiers who see that Wall Street lacks solidarity with the poor in the real economy, and reminds Wall Street that the principle of subsidiarity which puts real economic decisions at the local level is being constantly violated.  Jesus for his part railed against the Pharisees who were far removed from their fellow man and who would not lift a finger to help them.  The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in the economic realm correspond to Jesus' commandments to love your neighbor as yourself and to love one another as I have loved you in the moral realm.

Communism and socialism themselves are perhaps more evil that immoral capitalism.  They are failed experiments of the government playing Wall Street, and stifling growth of the real economy that relies on the private interest of real people making accurate local economic decisions for themselves.  St. Paul out of love for the Thessalonians worked day and night so as to not be a burden to them, and might well have joined the tea party when he admonishes Christians that those who do not work should not eat.  The solution suggested by the Church's note is not a government that runs the economy, but one that promotes the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as the bedrock of an economy that can work for all people.

The note is a point of discussion, and the Church's contribution to justice.  The Church's greater contribution to society, as we should know, is not as mediator between occupiers and tea partiers, or between socialist and capitalist nations.  The Church exists not to be moderate, not merely to broker compromise, although she might at times bring people together.  The Church exists primarily to produce saints.  The Church is a radical institution not formed by men but borne from the side of Jesus Christ to produce men and women of heroic virtue.  The Church is useless if she is not producing men and women who love God with all their heart, mind and soul, and engage with God in the untiring pursuit of the goodness, beauty and truth that leads to real human flourishing.  Saints are those who not only know how to do things, but are experts in showing the world the one necessary thing that must be done.  Saints are interested not merely in an economy that works, but in a society where man has a chance to realize his highest asperations of giving and receiving love.  Because saints love not money or politics but God above all things, saints show the world that in pursuing goodness, truth and beauty that alone makes man ultimately happy, knowing what should be done is more valuable than knowing what can be done.

The prophet Malachi in tonight's first reading rails against priests who have scandalized their vocation by using a vocation of service to selfishly serve themselves.  Jesus gets after the scribes and Pharisees for their pathetic moral leadership, and tells us his disciples to look for people who are worthy of the title teacher, father and master.  Jesus in telling us to call no one on earth our teacher, father or master, exposes a vacuum of moral leadership in religion, law, business and politics that must be filled.  Those of us who are disciples of Jesus should want to fill this void, knowing that if we become the saints we desperately want to be, we will affect the world more than Wall Street or Hollywood or the UN or NATO ever can.  Jesus reminds us not to be idolatrous, but only to follow with our heart and mind and strength, those leaders who are worthy of God, who alone is true and good and beautiful.  May we accept his invitation to become saints, and to become the teachers, the fathers, and the masters of heroic virtue that our world desperately needs.  Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

a take on the recent statement by the vatican regarding the global economy

Today the Vatican weighed in on the crisis in the global economy.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace


Vatican City


Here are some of my thoughts after speed reading the document:

  • the Church continues to emphasize that the economy will remain unstable as long as technological growth (the growth of how to do things, the growth of information) outpaces ethical growth - the knowledge of what is good for man.  There is a difference between what man can and ought to do, and when this is violated, instability results.
  • the principles of subsidiarity (the larger serving the smaller) and solidarity (looking out for an interest larger than our own) are continually violated in the world economy.  Man is too often seen as a means to an economic end, and decisions are taken away from the smaller man by the larger economy, and man too often looks after his own interest and ignores the common good.  These violations can be made by individuals, national economies, and international alliances.
  • if the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity can be agreed upon and respected, it would be possible to build an international body that looks after the world economy can be erected, and such a body is needed because economic possibilities in the international economy are growing much more quickly than actual wealth.  Such a body will only be possible however if it is able to convince member nationas that the body itself will live by the principle of subsidiarity, the larger serving the smaller
  • true wealth in the end is a spiritual good, not a material good.  the economy is at the service of the spiritual good of man, not vice versa
After reading a few economic experts who disagree with the statement by the Holy See, here are some more thoughts

  • because this document is not about faith and morals, and is issued by a Pontifical Council not the Holy Father, it is not morally binding, but is meant to be a discussion peace before the upcoming G20 summit
  • economists have faulted national banks and their monetary policies for much of the current crisis, and some have little hope that an international central bank would know what to do to regulate the international economy; furthermore, few developed nations have any cash whatsoever to contribute to such a bank
  • many economists say the economic problems come from those with wealth being able to take extraordinary risks, unreasonable ones, without in the end having to suffer the consequences of bad decisions; bad economic decisions fall disproportionately on the poor, and that is one of the reasons the Vatican is issuing this statement

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tea partiers and occupiers can agree on this

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
23 October 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Are you a tea partier or an occupier?  Are you patient with Turner Gill or ready for a change?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about our country and the world?  Are you excited about the new changes to the Roman Missal coming up, or does it not matter to you?

Whatever your opinion on these and the myriad of things big and small facing our church, our university, our country and the world, the readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us that if we dare to call ourselves Christian, there is one thing that is non-negotiable for us.  There is one thing we must all think and do.  We must grow in love for our neighbor.  This is more than tolerating them or being nice to them.  We must grow in love for our neighbor.  We must love them as we love ourselves. 

This love of neighbor is actually a corollary to the first commandment given by Jesus - that we must love God with all our heart and mind and strength. When asked for the one greatest commandment, Jesus gives two, reminding us that all the 600+ commandments of the Torah are valid because they all interpret each other.  But in a simpler, more perfect way, these two great commandments interpret each other.  We can evaluate our love of God by how much we love our neighbor, and we can evaluate how much we love our neighbor by how much we love God.

Without love of God first, love of neighbor is always at risk of being incomplete, is always at risk of running out.  God is love.  He is the source of love.  Without him there would be no one to love. So unless we connect ourselves to this unending fire of love, by loving him with all our heart and mind and strength, we are always at risk of our own human, calculated love growing cold.  That is why a couple wanting to get married should work on their relationship with God first, always desiring him to be the center of their love, always desiring to love him more than they love each other, knowing him to be the source of their love and seal and guarantee of their marriage.  What is more, loving God first means that we will approach loving our neighbor respecting the love with which they were created.  We will love not only the person, but the image and likeness of God that is essential to the dignity of every person. Loving God first corrects us from hideous errors like believing that killing an unborn child is the more loving thing.   Loving God first means that we will strive to know and love persons as God knows and loves them, that we will be especially attentive to the words of Jesus to love one another just as I love you.  St. John says that this is how we know what love is:  Christ gave up his life for us, so we too must give up our lives for our brothers.  On this World Mission Sunday, missionaries like Mother Teresa are the model for every Christian.  It is a great call and privilege as a Christian to be more like her, who in loving God with all her heart and mind and strength, found everyone to be her neighbor not by geography but from the inside out.  A true Christian, then, does the biggest disservice to his neighbor when he fails first to love God with all his heart and mind and strength, for it is God's perfect love alone that can fully redeem a human person.

Yet perhaps what is more remarkable about Mother Teresa is that when her own relationship with God ran cold, and her faith was being tested, her love for neighbor remained.  She remained true to her mission to love because she understood that to grow perfect in love is not to grow perfect in feeling, but to grow perfect in obedience to the will of another.  Thus, Jesus on the cross fulfills his two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor perfectly, by handing himself over to his enemies and to his Father's will simultaneously.  It only takes a simple glance at the cross to remind us of what love and happiness really is.  It is the freedom to abandon ourselves to a mission that is bigger than ourselves, one that goes beyond feelings, so that Jesus can feel both abandoned by the Father and hated by his enemies, and still love them both perfectly.  On the cross we see why when asked for the greatest commandment Jesus gives two commandments, for internally to him they are one, and externally on the cross we see the two commandments fulfilled simultaneously.  Mother Teresa  too was guided in her later years not by her feelings, but by taking up her cross and following Jesus.  She was faithful to the end because she was faithful not to a feeling, but to a beautiful mission, and she was ready to love God for his own sake, and for her love of God to be measured by how much she loved her neighbor.

It is the great privilege and responsibility for every Christian to everyday be able to see Jesus Christ and ourselves more readily in our neighbor, to be more ready to believe their lives are as real as our own, and be more ready to show that we love God more completely by growing in love for our enemies.  A Christian who truly loves God in the end does not know anyone to be an enemy, for our greatest enemy is always ourselves, and does not know anyone who is not a neighbor, for the greatest evil is always to be alienated from ourselves by losing God.  We should be shamed as Christians always when humanitarians do more for the most vulnerable than we Christians do, for we have our relationship with Jesus Christ as both inspiration and sure guide for us.  We should want to meet a higher standard, the highest standard, because Christ has first loved us.  God reveals clearly to the Israelites, all of us should be willing to be judged by how the poorest and most vulnerable are doing in our midst.

There can be legitimate difference in prudential judgments between tea partiers and occupiers about how best to promote justice and the common good.  Most of us fall between the extremes.  What we cannot be moderate about however, is our responsibility to fall deeply in love with God and our neighbor.  If the world is getting more contentious, and there are plenty who think things need to get much worse before they can get better, the one thing we cannot allow to happen is for this rancor to become more important than our love of God, our mission given by him in this life, and our eternal salvation. Amen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Christians not trapped by politics

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
16 October 2011

Politics.  Taxes.  Religion.  A toxic mix.  Always has been.  Perhaps always will be.   But Jesus doesn't get down in the mud.  He doesn't stoop to the level of his accusers, those trying to trap him with a soundbyte that they can play back against him over and over.  He turns an either/or question on its head.  Rather than avoiding the question, he shows that the question is full of malice, and challenges his accusers to ask a better question.

Politics.  Taxes.  Religion.  They are ways to get people fired up.  They are not always the most pleasant topic at cocktail parties.  Yet in a successful society, the landmines must be navigtaed. and a fruitful discourse must be had in a spirit of seeking the truth in love.  The Church for her part, while heeding Jesus' wisdom to not adulterate religion with politics, still takes an intense interest in the welfare of her children, who are members of political society.  Being a Christian, as our Church reminds us often, is being in the world without being of the world.  Yet out of concern for the common good of our neighbor, Christians must because of their religion be more involved in politics, must care more about the good of the state, as a joyful duty given us by God.

The Church must never be political in the sense of advocating a theocracy, where the laws of a society are directly gleaned from the data of revelation.  Jesus is clear on this.  Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God's, keeping in mind that ultimately Caesar is also beholden to God.  The data of revelation is primarily for the sanctification of the human person, and for fostering his intimate friendship with God, who sends His spirit to elevate the hearts and minds of his beloved children.  The data of revelation is first for the formation of man's conscience, a conscience which then makes political decisions about how society should be ordered for the common good.  The Church does not become political as far as taking sides; she is an expert only at the formation of consciences.  A priest, for example, cannot run for public office.  His responsibility is not to take sides, but to form consciences.

Even though the data of revelation is not primarily for the establishment of a government, God's revelation in Jesus Christ does shed light on the nature of man, and the natural law that should be the basis of any good society.  When society makes decisions that are contrary to the natural law, the Church which desires both the temporal and eternal good of man must speak up in support of laws that respect and promote human dignity and flourishing.  We see this today as the Church cannot be silent regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, and the conscience rights of citizens.  The Church in knowing the person of Jesus Christ of course enjoys a special light that can reveal when society misunderstands the true nature and dignity of man.

The Church must speak up despite her own sinfulness.  The evil one enjoys a second victory when because of the weakness of her members, the Church becomes private and abandons her mission to teach and to evangelize.  This homily is being given as indictments against Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City, Missouri regarding child endangerment are on the front page of the national and local press.  While embarrassing for every Catholic, this sad situation cannot cause us to abandon the mission given to us by our Lord.  That mission is to heal the world from sin, to reach out to those who are forgotten, to promote full human flourishing by fidelity to God's commandments and his promises.  The current spotlight on the sins of the Church cannot make us abandon those whose faith is weak, to stop believing in our mission to heal the world, nor allow the world to live without the light of the Gospel. 

When faced with an either/or dilemma, Jesus finds a both/and response.  Let us not allow ourselves ever as Christians to be captured by the trappings of this world, but be detached and free to live in the world and to love God and one another in imitation of Christ, who has first loved us!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Go into the streets and gather all you find.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
9 October 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Evangelization.  The new evangelization.  It is a buzzword of John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.  It is new because it must find new ways to present Jesus Christ, the hope of the world, to a world who is too ready to ignore him.  It is new because it is a re-evangelization, a re-presentation of the joy that comes from following Jesus Christ and from accepting a deep, intimate friendship with the one who loves us more than we love ourselves.  It is a re-evangelization to those parts of the world who once sent great missionaries to the end of the world, but now are faced with the reality of having more lapsed and lukewarm Catholics than fervent Catholics.  Indeed, right here in our midst, the two largest Christian denominations are Catholics, and fallen-away Catholics.

Many of the reasons why Catholics have fallen away can and should be fixed.  Catholics Come Home is a national outreach to remind Catholics that they are invited to the best wedding banquet there ever was or ever will be, the holy Mass, and to welcome them home to the biggest and most beautiful family the world has ever known, the Catholic church.  Some Catholics do not come to Mass because they are able to rationalize that the Mass is not that relevant, and that they have something better to do, a forgetting of who has invited them.  If the Lord Jesus has invited us to his banquet, and he is surely present there, as he is in every Eucharist, there can be nothing better nor anything more important than our attendance.  Sometimes we forget what our role in the Church is, how much others are counting on us.  Sometimes a past hurt or misunderstanding of the Church makes us openly hostile, and a re-catechesis and a personal outreach are needed to heal these wounds.  All of these reasons are present in today's Gospel, when those invited did not come.  Some even killed the servants who invited them.  We see the same today, when 70% of Catholics do not regularly attend Mass.  A re-evangelization, a new evangelization is needed.

Yet it is remarkable that the king in today's parable does not cancel the banquet.  In a dramatic shift, he goes and invites new people, for those invited were not worthy to come.  The Gospel is a reminder to us as Catholics that our church's strength is not found so much in maintaining our membership, but in reaching out to the good and the bad and inviting them to the banquet.  The world is not our enemy, its people are our patients, those whom we are called to gather at the Lord's banquet, a feast that is a real participation in the eternal joy and salvation that the Lord desires for his people.  The new evangelization is about a new zeal for souls, something Catholics are especially bad at.  We do not feel the pain that we should that souls are being eternally lost, and there are so many who because of our lukewarmness do not have a chance to enjoy divine friendship with Jesus Christ, which brings so much depth, and meaning and happiness to life.

We will not have this zeal for souls, nor a willingness to go into the streets and gather all we find, unless what we receive on Sunday in the Holy Eucharist is of paramount importance to us.  When we come to Mass, we do not do so in a relative way; as the parable says, we must wear our wedding garments, our baptismal garments, to ensure that we are truly participating in the Mass in a way that completely changes our lives, that advances us on the road to sanctity and conversion.  By sincerely repenting of our sins, by going to confession, and by preparing ourselves for the most powerful hour of our week, the Sunday Eucharist, we have no other option after the Mass then to go into the streets and gather all we find.  This is the only response of one who has been truly filled with the grace, mercy and peace of the Holy Eucharist.  Amen. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Humbly think of others as more imporant than yourselves

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
25 September 2011

Humbly think of others as more important than yourselves.

God sucks.  I know this is an unusual way to start a homily, by stating that God sucks.  But these are not my words.  They are the words of a distraught grandfather in the St. Louis airport this Friday.  God sucks, he said to me.  He wasn't attacking me verbally.  He was letting me know that something terrible had happened in his life.  His 38 day old grandson had died suddenly, and the family was at a loss to explain what happened.  They didn't yet have a medical explanation.  Grandpa was heading to Philadelphia to bury a grandson he had never met.  Grandpa was a former Catholic.  He told me that now he is more Buddhist than anything, and that his son had nothing to do with God.  Grandpa came up to me because he was a former Catholic, and perhaps the only one who would say anything at the burial.  There wouldn't be a minister there.  He told me that he was sure that I couldn't help him, that I couldn't justify why God let this happen anymore than he could, that he had concluded that God sucks.  But he approached me anyway.

I'm not tooting my own horn here, but within a minute, I was able to help him.  I did give him a few things to say at the burial, and he thanked me.  I've buried a few children, visited many more in children's hospitals, spent more than a few hours wondering as we all do, why God's ways seem unfair.  The Israelites in tonight's first reading lay this argument against God, why is life so unfair?  God answers their question with a question; He doesn't respond like a bully, enforcing rules because He says so.  No, he asks whether it would be any more fair for the guilty to be allowed to live forever?  God's question shows us what hell really is; not the unfairness of this world, but the situation where men lived forever while never becoming their best selves.  Think about this for a second - would you want to live forever in a world, yes, even this world, without ever becoming the person you always promised yourself you would be?  Would you want to live forever in this world always growing older and never growing younger?  God in his question shows us what hell is really like.

So the unfairness of this world is something we must accept; it is the fragility of life; yes, even accepting the death of children sometimes, that points us away from desiring a living hell, existing only in this world in a sinful state, always growing older and never younger, and makes us long for those spiritual ways in which we capture the newness and fullness of life.  It is natural for us to question God when the good die young while the wicked prosper, for our anger at God is perhaps the only way in the short term we can tell him how good life is, and how grieved we are by its loss.  If we didn't get upset about the fragility of life, it would be because our hearts have grown cold, and that we have grown incapable of love.  We are angry when the good die young because life is beautiful; life is worth living, and there is meaning in sharing life with those we love.  So even when the unfairness of life hits us the hardest, we know that God who created this world, even if we do not fully understand his ways, is good.  Life is worth living because God is good.

St. Paul shows us in the letter to the Philippians how to cut right through the unfairness of the world; yes, even how to get over the guilt of our good fortune while others around us are so unfortunate.  Humbly think of others as more important than yourselves.  Mother Teresa put it this way:  compassion is believing that another person's life is as real as your own.  Now most of us are familiar with evolutionary arguments that show that there are survival advantages to loving others, to helping others, to sharing life with others.  Those who love and are loved live longer.  But what Paul and Mother Teresa are talking about is something that goes beyond biology; they refer to something that only makes sense if man has a transcendent spiritual freedom.  They encourage us not to love to the point of personal biological advantage, but to love to the point of biological death.  They speak of self-forgetfulness.  They speak not of loving in order to live; they speak of living in order to love.  For a true Christian, love is more important than life.  As St. Paul would tell the Corinthians, if I have life, but have not love, then I am not a person.  I am nothing.

That is why a true Christian, when he has a chance to end his life in order to grow perfect in love, does so.  Christians are to become experts at finding a way to end your life; either spiritually, through a perfect self-forgetfulness, or vocationally, through the priesthood, religious life or marriage, or physically, through the blood of martyrdom.  No one sees biological self-advantage in the cross; the cross is not loving so enhance one's life; it is self-abandonment for the good of the other.  The cross is the path to true and new and everlasting life, a life that is no longer measured in hours but by the depth of love.  Jesus ended his life when a path of perfect love presented itself; he who could not know suffering and death took the form of a slave, and chose the most hideous means of torture so that we would never doubt that love is more important than life.

It's not that a Christian can't wish that life would be more fair.  It's not that we can't get upset when we don't understand, or that God's ways make perfect sense to us.  But we need not say that God sucks, for the fairness of life is not the ultimate question for a Christian; we are baptized into the death of Christ so that our ultimate question is not whether life is fair, but whether life presents me a personal opportunity to grow perfect in love, which is my heart's deepest desire.  To that ultimate question, the answer is always yes.  And insofar as we live this question, the unfairness of this world can never trap us, and there are never a shortage of opportunities to move toward that eternal life for which I am made.

To this great end, let us heed the words of St. Paul.  Humbly think of others as more important than yourselves.  Amen. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Charity is the fullness of justice

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
17 September 2011

Life isn't fair, and it's not going to be, because God has chosen to permit inequality.  Yes, God, from whom justice comes, without whom justice is an illusion not grounded in ultimate reality, He whose thoughts of justice is are 'far above our thoughts' and whose ways of justice is 'far above our ways', yes, He permits inequality.  The one who knows about fairness better than we does not force life to be fair, at least not by our standards.  God permits inequalities, yes, we even dare to say he desires inequalities.  Indeed, God seems far above our protestations of how we would run the world differently, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, preventing bad things from happening to good people.  Indeed, the one who is the author of justice and fairness seems to scoff at our judgments.  In our sense of justice, we identify with the laborers who go out at dawn and earn a full day's pay, while those hired last receive charity.  We identify with the elder son who is loyal to his father, who has to watch his father kill the fatted calf for the delinquent younger son.  We identify with Martha, who works in the kitchen tirelessly to prepare a meal for our Lord, yet is told in the end that her sister Mary who has done no serving has chosen the better part.

It is true in these great parables of Jesus, the basic justice and fairness of God is hidden, while a greater justice, that of charity, is highlighted.  It would be the most superficial of readings of these great parables, to say that God is not fair, that he plays favorites, that in the end, each man will not get what he deserves.  We have the parable of the separation of the sheeps and the goats, for that which you failed to do for my brothers and sisters, you failed to do for me.  We have the great apocalyptic tradition of the Church of how God's justice will be at the end of time, the tradition of purgatory where everything will be set right before it enters the heavenly gates.  We do not for a second need to read in today's parable a deficiency in God's justice.  We might accuse God of unfairness, but in our heart of hearts we know that God is just, and that it is our ways, not his, that are unfair.

Nor should we read into this parable that a follower of Jesus can neglect justice to the preference of charity.  It is never an either/or equation, but a both/and relationship.  Catholics have been instructed that it is morally sinful not to participate responsibly and actively in the political process, to contribute to the civic good and the building up of a society that protects the rights of its citizens and works for justice.  The Church for her part has the responsibility to correct societies and governments when they make errors regarding a true sense of justice, for example, in the area of abortion, and more importantly, the Church serves the state by forming the consciences of its citizens so that leaders with the highest understandings of justice and human flourishing may be elected.

But it should be easy for us to see, and to admit, in receiving the parables of Jesus, that justice is not the Church's final aim, nor her final responsibility.  Jesus did not establish the Church only to make the world more fair.  The Church contributes to the establishment of justice, but Her genius, the reason Christ established Her, is to show forth God's charity, the charity that shines so brightly in today's parable.  In God's view, charity is not a means to justice, justice is the foundation of charity.  Justice is not the end for God, it is the beginning.  God's highest attribute is his charity, so much so that we are saying something more when we say God is love than when we say God is just.  And so with us, made in God's image and likeness.  We do not say that justice is our origin, justice our final calling, justice is our perfection in heaven.  No, we say that love is our origin.  Love is our constant calling.  Love is our perfection in heaven.

Our view of heaven then is not a place where everything is finally equal, but the place where everyone has grown perfect in love.  There will be nothing lacking in heaven, but what we'll notice ns heaven is not the fulfillment of justice, but the fulfillment of charity.  Our view of the Trinity as Christians is not amazement in how three persons can share the Godhead equally, but our amazement is how completely the three persons give themselves away in love.  In the same way here on earth, Christmas is not necessary for the redistribution of wealth, with the rich giving away what they have to the poor in a sense of justice.  No, Christmas is much deeper than that, much more meaningful.  Christmas is a gift-giving contest, where gifts are an expression of the deepest desire of the human heart, to grow perfect in love.

We all have a sense that there is something deeper than equality, something deeper than our own sense of justice.  Even if we had equal abilities and equal possessions, the idea that the need for charity would be eliminated should appal us.  The parables of Jesus show us that charity is greater than justice, that the goal in life is not to make sure everyone has the same, but to grow perfect in love by becoming more dependent upon God and one another.  In this light we come to appreciate why God creates difference and permits, even at times seems to desire inequality, even to the point of raining his goodness on the unjust and chastising the just.  God does all this for the greater purpose of enouraging us to grow perfect in love.

Even when justice is not yet complete, as in today's parable, opportunities abound for Christians to discover their vocation, to be called by God to work in his vineyard, to accept a personal invitation from God to give ourselves away completely in the priesthood, in religious life, in marriage or in other extraordinarily callings.  Whenever this invitation from God comes in our lives, early or late, we should thank God for our vocation, and for the path that allows us to grow perfectly in love with God and with one another.  This is the only acceptable daily wage for the true Christian.

While we work for justice in the world, so that more and more people have the opportunity to live in a good world where it is possible to love God and your neighbor with all your heart, and mind and strength, let us not forget that God permits inequalities so that we are all beggars and all givers, and that while working for justice, the opportunities to grow perfect in love are all around us.