Tuesday, March 29, 2011

forgiving from the heart


Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent I

29 March 2011

St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Daily Readings

Jesus instructs Peter to forgive many times over, and from the heart. Obviously, Jesus describes forgiveness in the kingdom as distinct from a one-time superficial forgiveness. It is not enough to tell another person don't worry about it, it's no big deal. No, we are to forgive each other from the heart. Too often, the forgiveness we give another person is not true forgiveness, but a decision on our part to move away from that person, to limit the opportunity that they would have to offend us again. Too often our forgiveness comes with a healthy dose of judgment.

Jesus describes forgiveness in the kingdom as altogether different. When someone offends us, we must forgive them 70x7 times, and from the heart. When someone sins against us, we are to become more interested in that person, and in the pain, brokenness or emptiness in their soul that gave rise to the sin. In the kingdom, don't worry about it is not good enough; no, we must forgive from the heart, by giving the person true mercy that loves the person beginning at their most unlovable point, a mercy that sets a person free to be different.

This is a forgiveness that does not originate with us, but is poured into our hearts, most notably in the sacrament of confession. Jesus is ready to forgive us 70x7 times in the sacrament of penance; indeed, many of us will commit and confess the same sin at least that many times. In the sacrament, Jesus doesn't tell us it's no big deal; his mercy is there to heal us and to free us from the inside out. Yet we celebrate the sacrament at our own risk; the sacrament comes with a responsibility. It is not just a get out of jail free card; it obligates us to know and to live the mercy we have received by loving our enemies, not in a superficial way, but over and over again, and from the heart.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

give me a drink

Homily Third Sunday of Lent A St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas 27 March 2011 Daily Readings

Jesus said to her, 'if you knew the gift of God and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." Jesus thirsts for the faith of this insignificant woman. She was at the well all alone, for she had been shunned, and had no friends. She was there at the heat of day, where her sins would be laid completely bare, where she could not hide. She was there not on behalf of a family, for she was on her sixth husband. What is more, she is discovered by a Jewish man who would surely scorn her even more since she was a Samaritan. Yet Jesus thirsts for the faith of this woman more than she thirsts for him. He is the wellspring of eternal life. Relationship with him means everything. Relationship with her on the surface means nothing. By the standards of her time, she was a virtual nobody. Yet he thirsts for her more than she thirsts for him. Jesus is the living answer to every deep human question: who am I? who loves me? what should I do to be happy? He is the answer to every question that remained unanswered in this woman's life. Jesus was one, who though needing a drink of water, would never thirst spiritually like this woman was thirsting. He is already the living water welling up to eternal life. Yet he begins by asking this woman for a drink. He makes himself, who is all powerful, dependent upon her bucket, and her answer. He thirsts for the faith of this woman more than she thirsts for him. The disciples eventually return with food, and even though Jesus is famished, he refuses it, telling them that his food is to do the will of the one who sent him. The Father's will was for Jesus to thirst for the faith of this insignificant woman, to love her beginning where no one else could, where she did not love herself, and to wait for her response, to thirst for her response. Jesus thirsts to do the Father's will, and it was the Father's will that he ask this woman for a drink, to ask this most insignificant of women, for a drink of faith. So too in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is thirsting for the faith of his bride, the Church. The well is the place of engagement, the place of marriage, the place of new life, and in this scene of the woman at the well, we see Jesus thirsting for the faith of his bride, the Church. As we approach the Holy Eucharist tonight, we must remember that Jesus is thirsting for us his bride more than we will ever thirst for him. The Eucharist is not a take it or leave it proposition. Jesus does not offer himself, then remain indifferent to how we respond. Along with the gift of Himself comes a greater condescension; Jesus begs and waits for our response. He thirsts for us in this Eucharist more than we will ever thirst for him. He is the wellspring of eternal life, not us, but he thirsts for us more than we will ever thirst for him. For we are too easily satisfied with filling our bucket over and over with water that will never satisfy. Who of us can say that we do not return to the same sins, over and over and over? We are here at the Eucharist, but we have only barely begun to worship in spirit and in truth, only begun to thirst to do the will of the one who loves us more than we will ever love ourselves. Yet Jesus is here at this moment worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth, thirsting for the will of his Father with a perfect thirst, for he knows better than we that the Father's love is beyond all telling. So Jesus is here, not indifferent to our response, but begging for our faith, thirsting for us, for his Father's will is that Jesus waits for each one of us as long as it takes for us to respond. The Eucharist is not a dare from our Lord to respond in kind to him. No, even if our thirst for living water is imperfect, it is the Father's will that Jesus thirsts perfectly for our faith. Once Jesus offers himself, he waits for us. He thirsts for us. His food is to worship the Father in spirit and in truth not alone but with us, and in us, and through us. This is the food that sustains Jesus, his living water, to bring us home to the Father. Jesus desires the living water of our baptism to be not a distant memory for us, not a vain hope for a life that is unsure and distant. No, Jesus desires the water of baptism to be more than a baptism of repentance, a washing from the outside in, but he wishes that the living water of baptism be stirred up from within as water welling up to eternal life. In the Eucharist, which feeds our baptism, Jesus asks us to enter into his self-forgetfulness and perfect self-giving, that is proper to those who of who are passing with Jesus even at this moment from death to eternal life, into a life not measured in length of days but by the depth of our love for God and for one another. Jesus says to his bride, the Church, in this Eucharist: 'if you knew the gift of God and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

almsgiving the key to a good Lent

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent I
22 March 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas


The Lenten readings keep emphasizing that Lent has to be a season of renewal from the inside out. God does not need our outward sacrifices. He has everything he needs. Rather, he desires that we be good from the inside out not for his sake, but for our sake. He wants us to be happy from the inside out, not barely escaping his justice from the outside in. He wants us to be free to pursue the deepest desires of our hearts. That is the kind of fast that he desires for us this Lent, not an outward show, but a true rendering of hearts, not just garments.

To this end, the prophets and our Lord himself keep pointing us toward almsgiving. Almsgiving shows that our Lent is not simply about self-improvement, so that God and others will look more favorably on us, or so that we will feel better about ourselves. Those who seek to be good only from the outside in, have already received their reward. No, Lent is less about self-improvement and more about self-forgetfulness, to the point that almsgiving becomes a key to having a good Lent, just as important as prayer and fasting. Helping other people to carry their burdens, looking after the most vulnerable. This is the kind of fast that is pleasing to the Lord, because it corresponds to the great commandment of love which completes the meaning of human person. Love one another, as I have first loved you.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

rise, and do not be afraid


2nd Sunday of Lent A

St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas

20 March 2011

Daily Readings


But Jesus came and touched them saying, Rise, and do not be afraid!

This is admittedly a curious and obscure line from today's Gospel that I'm picking out for our meditation today, but I think it could be an interpretive key for the Transfiguration. Jesus' reassuring gesture and words are small compared to the cacophony of activity taking place on the mountaintop and in the heavens, with incredible visions, blinding light and booming voices, but it is an important gesture nonetheless. Jesus came and touched them saying, rise, and do not be afraid!

Obviously, Peter, James and John had plenty of which to be afraid. You and I would surely have fallen down prostrate out of fear as well, if we hadn't died instantly of fright. The chosen apostles were seeing something that no one else had ever seen. The heavens were opened. They get to see the truth of Jesus' promised resurrection not only in the transfigured body of Jesus, but in the appearance of Moses and Elijah. It is one thing to see Jesus bring heaven to earth in the form of his great signs and his teaching with authority. It is quite another to see and to hear what had been forever promised but never experienced on this side of heaven - the truth of the resurrection and the reality of the heavenly Jerusalem, to which we are called and within which every human desire finds its fulfillment. In a recent lecture about heaven here at St. Lawrence, John-Mark Miravale reminded students of how beautiful heaven really is; that if we were ever granted a real preview of it, that it would be impossible to think about anything else, or to turn our gaze away from it.

We get an understanding then, of how thrilling was the metamorphosis taking place not only in Jesus, but in Peter, James and John as well. Because heaven was opened in such a dramatic way, there was an instant demand for Peter, James and John to die to themselves and to spiritually pass over from death to eternal life. For once we get a glimpse of the beauty of heaven, which at present eye has not seen, nor ear ever heard, what God has prepared for those who love him, then it becomes impossible for us to think of anything else or desire anything else.

Peter, James and John turn away in fear, and who can blame them. For when given opportunities in the moment to pass over from death to life, we usually prefer to stay where we are. The dying to self that enables dramatic change within us is usually not our first choice; it is a risk that we save as a last resort. The metamorphosis of the Transfiguration is too much, too soon. We would rather wait and pass through the gate of death to eternal life at the last possible moment, only as a backup plan, our last resort, after squeezing every bit of life out of this world that we can.

What Peter, James and John see in the Lord is that although the cross still lay before him, our Lord was already perfectly detached from his life in the world. He could receive it as a gift, as willed by the Father, but he was not holding on to it. He was free to give it away at a moment's notice. The Transfiguration was not too sudden or dramatic for Jesus; it was something He was always ready for. Our Lord had already passed from death to life even as he walked among them, was already in the process of laying down his own life, had already decided that at every moment he would do not his own will, but the will of the one who sent him. So our Lord even as he walked among them was ready to be transfigured, was already living the eternal life from which he came and to which he would return through the glory of the Resurrection. Jesus' future Resurrection was thus a present reality at the moment of the Transfiguration, and the Transfiguration becomes a key for understanding the Resurrection not as a distant wish for the apostles, but as something that they were invited to begin living from the moment of the Transfiguration onward.

Jesus touches his chosen disciples at the Transfiguration, for his touching us, our being one with him in and through our bodies is the mechanism of the bodily resurrection. Then he tells them to rise, to begin participating even now in the truth of the Resurrection. He tells them that now they have experienced what heaven is like, to not be afraid to pass over from death to life even at this very moment. He invites them to rise and to begin living the metamorphosis of the Resurrection, and to do so with him, and in him and through him. Of course Jesus' suffering, death and Resurrection is something that still lie ahead, and something he will eventually have to do alone. He tells his disciples that where he is going, they cannot come. But he knows that they will follow later, and he shows through the Transfiguration that faith in the Resurrection is a prerequisite for those who will try to undergo the same metamorphosis they will see the Lord accomplish at Calvary, for those who will indeed after his Ascension will each in turn drink the cup of suffering that Christ Himself drank.

This, then, helps us to know how to live Lent properly. Lent is less about tinkering in self-improvement, so that perhaps after this life is over, there may be a lucky ticket to a vacation destination of our choice. No, Lent is praying, fasting and giving alms so that we are more open to the reality of heaven, so that if God wants to give us revelations of heaven, that we will not look away in fear, not hold on to what we can control, but allow ourselves to be captured by the beauty of heaven and the truth of the Resurrection so that we cannot think of anything else, but begin even now to pass over from death to life. It is not delaying the decision of whether to enter heaven until the last moment of our earthly lives, but to see that the Passover is right in front of us, and that we are capable of being transfigured even now by God's grace. Jesus touches us in the Holy Eucharist today, and tells us, do not be afraid to pass over with him, in him, and through him, into the transfigured reality of eternal life. For the Resurrection is not a vain hope, it is a certain reality that we are meant to experience even now in our earthly lives, as Peter, James and John experienced at the Transfiguration.

But Jesus came and touched them saying, Rise, and do not be afraid!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

forgive others this Lent

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent
15 March 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings


The final line of today's Gospel reminds us that Lent in the end cannot be only a self-improvement project. Jesus gives immediate emphasis to the prayer he has just taught the disciples, by repeating the need to forgive others. In a word both exciting and frightening, Jesus reminds us that God will allow us to measure ourselves, with the measure we use on others. If our repentance this Lent does not end with a greater forgiveness of others, then our fasting, prayer and almsgiving is in vain.

On the Friday after Ash Wednesday, the prophet Isaiah said plainly that it is not enough to don sackcloth and ashes when we fast, which is an exterior sign only; no, the kind of fast the Lord desires is to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke that binds people, including our own unforgiveness. Isaiah predicts what happens to most of us during Lent - we are eager to don sackcloth and ashes, but we end up in our own pursuits, and few of our relationships change from the inside out through sincere forgiveness.

St. Paul asked us to remember on Ash Wednesday that we are ambassadors for Christ; God, as it were, appealing through us. He asked us not to receive the grace of God in vain, but to use it and to show that this Lent we are engaging not just in a baptism of repentance, but are renewing our baptism in the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is important for us not to use Lent to be only concerned about our own salvation. No, the grace of confirmation must be stirred in us so that Lent is not so much about ourselves but is about how we love others, how we forgive them, how we serve them, how we build God's kingdom. To this end, may we today stir up the grace of the Holy Eucharist, and not dare to approach this sacred mystery unless we have heeded God's command to forgive each of our brothers from the heart.

For the Church, that our almsgiving may be a sincere sign of our repentance and our willingness to forgive others, we pray
For the world, for relief in mind, body and spirit for all those suffering from natural disasters, and for the safety of all those trying to help, we pray
For the mission of the St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas, that we would find ways to effectively proclaim Christ's victory over sin and death to those who are sincerely looking for the meaning of life, we pray
For those for whom we have promised to pray, and those to whom we wish to offer the fruits of this Mass, including those in purgatory, and those who are lonely, sick and doubtful, we pray
Heavenly Father, we a deep trust in the love that flows from the heart of your Son, and by the gifts of your Holy Spirit, give to the seminarians, novices and all young people of the Archdiocese the courage to respond generously when you call them to the priesthood and religious life. Give them strong examples of holy priests and religious, and may they be helped by the intercession of the saints and by our prayers to pattern their lives after Mary, who was not afraid to let it be done to her according to your word. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

the first temptation


1st Sunday of Lent I

13 March 2011

St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Daily Readings


You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. The Lord your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

On the First Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to ponder the fundamental temptation that gives rise to every other sin in our lives. Before working on our sins in detail this Lent, the Church focuses us on the temptation that reaches the depths of who we are. It is the temptation faced by our Lord in the desert. It is the temptation to doubt God. It is the temptation to wonder whether we would be better off if we never had to do anything anyone told us to do, to wonder whether we are better off defining good and evil for ourselves. At the end of this homily, I hope we can receive the Eucharist together agreeing that it is better to serve in love in heaven forever, responding to the love that Christ first shows us, than to reign in hell.

Most of us are working on trusting God. The Pope's new book Jesus of Nazareth Part II leaped to the top of the best seller list this week. People want to know God and to learn how to trust Him. Yet there are also books by the new atheists on the same best seller lists. As much as we want to trust God, the temptation to doubt Him is equally there. There are no shortage of atheists who make fun of those who believe a good God could allow something like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami this last week. There are plenty who will try to convince us that the universe is the cause of its own existence, and that there is no God beyond the laws of nature. It is remarkable to me how far some people will go in doubting God. There are plenty who are willing to explain away the reality and meaning of what makes us human, the experience that that we are not determined but are radically free, as an illusion operating within the laws of nature. There are many who would more readily be a slave to the laws of nature than to admit that God can exist and that He might be good, and that He is the reason there is freedom and something rather than nothing. There are many who doubt that love is the base of all reality, and who are willing to stop asking the question of why there is something rather than nothing. We all have a sense that the temptation to doubt God is as strong today as it was on the fateful day in the garden of Eden.

This is not to say that it is always a sin to question God, or to desire to go deeper in our understanding of God and to find better reasons to believe in Him. This is a natural progression of the intellect, and insofar as modern atheists can help us to answer better questions about God, their project can in a way be helpful. But what we are talking about tonight is pride, the temptation not to just question God, but to doubt Him, and this is the temptation that runs deep within each one of us. It is the temptation to exalt the beautiful, radical, transcendent freedom we have above and against the good for which freedom was made.

Our country is great among nations precisely because we believe so strongly in the potential of human freedom, in the American dream of self-determination. We know as Americans that man can and should become great through making great and risky choices, and this is a great Christian vision of man as well. Yet we know sadly that the freedom we exalt as Americans sometimes is used for evil, and is used over and against the good for which freedom is made. We are tempted, as much in this country as anywhere, to understand freedom minimally, as a license to do whatever I want without having to listen to anybody, instead of understanding it maximally, as freedom to pursue the highest things for myself and for my neighbor. The temptation is to forget that freedom is only good when it is ordered to the highest good and is used to choose the highest good. We forget that freedom without goodness is meaningless, and we get this wrong to our own peril and destruction. We forget that being placed in God's garden, as a gift of a Father to his children, is better than reigning in hell, where we only have the opportunity to choose what is evil. This exaltation of the will over and against what is truly good is the fundamental temptation of our lives, and so radical is our freedom that makes us in the image and likeness of God, that we are free to choose death and to destroy ourselves rather than to serve the good for which we are made.

This is how we become rivals and enemies of each other. When I exalt freedom over goodness, when I place my own freedom above everything else, then reality changes and other people become threats to my freedom, and I become suspicious of others just as Adam and Eve began to be at emnity with each other. When my freedom is divorced from the good, then I even begin determining who should live and die, and I use others for my own pleasure. It is no wonder that since man became capable of choosing death instead of life, that God in his justice decreed that a creature that does not always choose what is good should not live forever. And so through the choice of man, death entered the world.

Tonight's scriptures remind us that although we can question God, since we are contingent beings, and not the cause of our own existence, we do not possess the ability to ultimately determine what is good and evil, nor could we possibly make infallible judgments about the goodness of God. Yet our intelligence and will are what relate us directly to God. They are what make a meaningful relationship with God possible, so we should not throw them away as an illusion operating merely within the laws of nature. The transcendent freedom we experience relates us directly to God, and has great potential to be conformed to the ultimate and eternal good, if only we do not use our freedom to become enemies of God or enemies of each other.

Our Lord in his forty days resisted every temptation to doubt God. In the end, our Lord by the purification of his mind, heart and body, who was tempted in every way we are, but who never sinned, used his human life to reveal who God is, a God who is deeply in love with his creation, and who was willing by the sacrifice of Himself to reverse the curse begun by Adam. Strengthened by our Lord's example, let us not be cowards in the face of temptation this Lent, but engage in the spiritual battle that leads to the revelation of the best that is within us, the capacity to love and to reveal to the world that God is real and He is love.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. The Lord your God shall you worship. Him alone shall you serve


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

doing the least painful thing

Ash Wednesday 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
9 March 2011
Daily Readings


Brothers and Sisters. We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ. Be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

To me this reading from St. Paul has Pentecost overtones. I know, I know. I'm jumping the gun. Today is not about being sent by the Holy Spirit to extend Christ's mission of salvation to every time and place, to the very ends of the earth. But as with anything in life, knowing where we want to end helps us to begin. Our Lenten sacrifice gets its jump start by the sobering words - Remember man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. We know how to start Lent from the perspective of our eventual death. Yet we begin Lent for another reason as well. We begin Lent is in response to God's invitation to eternal life. Beginning Lent is remembering how our lives on earth will end, to be sure, but it is more a proclamation that we do not wish our natural death to be the end of the story for us.

St. Paul urges us to be reconciled to God, because God wishes us to be ambassadors for Christ. We repent of our sins beginning today so that we will be ready to be Christ's ambassadors at the end of the Easter season, at Pentecost. St. Paul narrates an incredible inversion in reality that we cannot afford to miss contemplating. For our sake God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This is the exchange God proposes to us - that the most innocent person ever would be seen by ordinary men as the greatest sinner, so that anyone who is a great sinner, might one day be seen by ordinary men to be a saint. If Christ was not seen as a sinner, there would be no way not to be envious of his heavenly perfection, but because He humbled himself, he wishes for us to be seen as holy more than he desires himself to be known as holy. That is why Christ is so clear in the Gospels - don't worry whether or not other people see you as holy. He himself was counted as the greatest sinner. What is more, Christ came to begin loving us at our most unlovable point, so that we would not go through life wondering who will notice us, who will love us, but might be free in the love of Christ to go out and begin loving others exactly where Christ first loves us. So we begin repenting of our sins today in Lent, so that we might be sent by him to be his saints at Pentecost. Knowing the end of our journey helps us to begin it well.

God is love. He will not love us more if we give up chocolate, or say extra rosaries, or give all that we have to the poor. We should do these things, but not to earn God's love. He already loves us completely. He could not love us any more than He already does. God will always be love. He does not change. So Lent is not about making ourselves more lovable in the sight of God. Lent is not a contest to see who can punish themselves the most for the sins they have committed. While it is true that we can become distracted, complacent, and mired in ruts of mediocrity, and the prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent can provide some relief from this, the reality is that we are all sinners, and we all know we will always be sinners, and we all know ourselves already by the worst things we have done, and we usually hate ourselves fairly perfectly, and we know deep down how sin has damaged us, and we know we are not worthy of eternal life. Although Lent can strip us away from comforts and distractions, deep down we already know that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Lent reminds us of this, but deep down we have never really forgotten it. We all know that there is a real possibility that our final breath will be the end of the story for us.

Lent then is more than a contest to see who can punish themselves the most. It must be more than this. It is not a contest to get other people to see us and love us better, least of all God, who knows us already today more than we know ourselves, who will never forget us, and who already loves us perfectly. Sometimes we can see Lent as a contest of willpower to see who is worthy of heaven, and who is worthy of death. Yet in many ways, this is the opposite of what Lent is.

We pray, fast and give alms not so that we might be more worthy of heaven, but to give priority to the reality that we in many ways have already passed over into heaven by virtue of our baptism, and that we exist now primarily not to worry about our salvation, but to build the kingdom of God everyday by what we say and do in the days we have on this earth. We pray, fast, and give alms not because these things are harder, but because they are easier than forgetting that we have already passed in baptism from death to life. Praying, fasting, and giving alms is easy, compared to the spiritual pain of forgetting who we are, temples of the Holy Spirit called to build heaven with Christ. Praying, fasting and almsgiving is easy compared to living in this world with a cowering fear, not knowing if we have done enough to merit heaven, and having no way of knowing for sure. Living in fear and uncertainty, especially at a spiritual level, is painful. So we pray, and fast and give alms for a much nobler purpose, to which St. Paul calls us, not merely move away our sins by our own willpower, although this too is good, but to recover that dignity of those who are even on this side of heaven already ambassadors for Christ. Praying, fasting and giving alms can increase our willpower against temptations, but more importantly, it moves us back into the mission of forgetting our earthly attachments because we are emerging saints intent on proclaiming to the world what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and are building with Christ from this inside out a new kingdom that will last forever. Praying, fasting and almsgiving is much less about perfecting ourselves, but is about re-orienting ourselves to God's perfections and his glorious works. Praying, fasting and giving alms is less about making ourselves good, and more about giving witness to the goodness of God and his many blessings. Praying, fasting and giving alms is less about making ourselves more lovable, but is a way that we proclaim the strength of the love of Jesus Christ, a love that is stronger than death. Amen.


the role of government

Tuesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Mardi Gras 2011
8 March 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
St. John of God, pray for us
Money. Sex. Politics. Sports. Weather. Crime. Am I missing anything? This litany takes up most of an evening news cast, and most of our lives as well. People care much more about taxes and benefits, are much more willing to get upset if you mess with their money, than they do about contemplation of the highest things, and things that will never pass away. The Pharisees and Herodians tried to show how paying taxes to Caesar could be against God's will, since the Romans were occupiers of the Holy Land. Jesus in his flippant reply indicates that taxes and politics are the least of one's worries, when there is still hatred of others and love of money in one's own heart. Jesus is interested in healing people from the inside out. He knows well that the Romans are occupiers, but He points out that it is less of a crime to pay to Caesar what is Caesar's in terms of money, than to give one's soul over the tyranny of sin that destroys a human heart.
This is not to say that government should never be opposed. Perhaps in our day we need even more civil disobediencein the things that matter to God, more outrage when our government fails to protect the basic right to life, and fails in its ability to see and to know and to choose the common good of all people, so that human persons may not just exist minimally but may have life in abundance. It seems that politics is in dire need of saints, who can cut through old rhetoric and inspire Americans beyond the stale conversation that is all too often a concern over money alone.
Yet as great as our country is and can be and should be, it is not the American way of life that produces saints. It is the mission of the Church to do this, and since a Christian lives his life from the inside out, being concerned with purity of heart before attending to money or any other external thing, then it is the Church who must seek to change the world more than money or politics or war or weather ever can, through the lives of her saints. The Church must produce new saints today. It is her great privilege and mission to do so, now as much as ever.
For the Church, that she might be a light to all nations who wish to seek the common good of their peoples, we pray to the Lord.
For the world, that leaders may never lose sight of the highest common good of their people as they strive to solve the everyday problems of man, we pray to the Lord.
For the mission of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center to the University of Kansas, that we might bring the truth of the Gospel to bear on the formation of the future leaders of American society, we pray to the Lord.
For the intentions of our Holy Father, and for all those who suffer unjustly because of violence, injustice, poverty, disease or ignorance, we pray to the Lord.
For our own personal intentions, for those for whom we have promised to pray, and for those to whom we wish to offer the fruits of this Mass, especially for the lonely, the sick and the doubtful, we pray to the Lord.
Heavenly Father with a deep trust in the love that flows from the heart of your Son, and by the gifts of your Holy Spirit, give to the seminarians, novices and all young people of this Archdiocese, the courage to respond generously when you call them to the priesthood and religious life. Give them strong examples of holy priests and religious, and may they be helped by the intercession of the saints, and by our prayers, to pattern their lives after Mary, who was not afraid to let is be done unto Her according to your Word. we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the three progressions

9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
6 March 2011

Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Tonight's readings provide for us a convincing pattern for our life, a way to be rock solid in our approach to reality and our expectations for life and for ourselves. There is a great progression from the first reading to the second reading to the Gospel. It is a pattern that we will do well to pay attention to.

The first challenge any person faces in life is to find a way to live a good life. Each of us must find a way to know what is good, to love what is good, and to choose what is good. The alternative is to allow ourselves to be destroyed by evil, and to become less and less of a person because our lives are dominated by evil. The first challenge in life is to be a good person instead of a bad person. We make this distinction all the time. When we talk about someone, we usually say that he is a great guy, or she is a great gal. We recognize that for the most part, even though the person in question is far from perfect, that their lives are not dominated by evil. They make more good choices than bad choices. Therefore it is easy to have a relationship with these people. This is not the case with people whose lives are dominated by evil. If a person's life is caving in on itself, it is frustrating to be in relationship with that person. There is no goodness on which to base the relationship. The relationship is always shaky.

Moses pleads in the first reading for the Israelites to take the commandments of the Lord into their hearts and into their souls. He tells them to bind the commandments of the Lord as a band on the wrist, or as a pendant on the forehead, so that they might never forget them. Moses knows from experience that the Israelites are a broken people. They are sinners. He knows that their natural desire to do good and avoid evil needed the reinforcement of God's commands. The commandments that Moses is telling to the Israelites - do not be idolatrous, honor your father and mother, do not kill or steal or lie, are not rocket science. Any naturally good person can endorse these commandments by the light of natural reason. Yet in delivering the commands of God, Moses reminds man that our reason can and must always be purified by faith in God's revelation of Himself. The rules of how to be good are ultimately grounded in and guaranteed by God who is the source of all goodness, who is goodness itself. So our reason and our desire to do good must always be purified by the light of faith, in the context of our responsibility to stay in relationship with God. We always need God's commandments, lest we go off the path toward authentic goodness.

We see this played out in our moral culture today. A person does not need God's commandments to come to the conclusion that abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage are not good things. A non-Christian can reasonably conclude this. An atheist can be against abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage by the light of reason, without believing in God. Yet what we see is that reason can easily be clouded, and can readily use the light of revelation and God's commandments. Even though abortion and contraception reduce life instead of increasing life, and do not cure an illness but interrupt a natural goodness in the body, there are many who have concluded that abortion and contraception are exactly like all other health care. Yet they are obviously different. In the same way, notwithstanding the subjective desire to love other people and to be in meaningful relationship with them, there are some who wish to minimize the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman, and the natural advantages inherent in the complementarity and fruitfulness of this union, so that any relationship can be called a marriage, can be considered identically the same, even though objectively they are not the same. So when the natural light of reason fails to create a consensus among thinking people, the light of faith, and God's commandments, are there to purify reason, and to give light to true and lasting goodness. In turn, reason also can and does purify faith, as when suicide bombers reduce life in the name of God, any reasonable person can identify the inconsistency here. Faith and reason thus have a necessary and complementary relationship to each other.

So Moses tells us that our first responsibility in life is to become a naturally good person, aided by our obedience to God's commandments. Our first responsibility is given by baptism, when we refused to be mastered by sin. It is to not to settle for mediocrity instead of goodness, and not to rationalize our sinfulness so that we might not inherit a curse instead of a blessing. Yet St. Paul tells us in the second reading that this is just the beginning for us. We are not ultimately made to follow rules of how to do good and to avoid evil, either nature's rules or God's rules. No, man is not ultimately a slave to rules. He is a free creature created in the image and likeness of God so that he might love with all his heart, and all his mind and all his strength. Thus, we strive to be good so that we have the greatest opportunity to love God and to love one another. Love is man's origin, love is his constant calling, love is his perfection in heaven. We are good so that we can fulfill our ultimate destiny to love, so that we can respond to Jesus' commandment to love one another just as He first loves us, so that if God is the one who loves us most perfectly in Christ Jesus, that we can in turn fall in love with Him and make our friendship with Christ the fundamental relationship of our lives. St. Paul says this is the second opportunity and responsibility that we have, to mature beyond the rules that keep evil from destroying us and to move into an intense relationship of love with Christ Jesus, who is both the law of goodness and goodness itself. Because Christ Jesus took on our humanity in the incarnation, it is possible for us to enter into the most personal and intimate relationship with the one through whom all good things come, for He created all that is good. Thus, being a good person naturally leads us to the perfect intimate communion of the Eucharist, where the creator of all goodness makes Himself small enough for us to have the most personal and intimate of relationships with Him.

Then Jesus in the Gospel is clear that those who are in intimate communion with Him, will make the final progression in life toward the freedom of obedience, or loving not their own will but the will of the Heavenly Father for them, who knows them and loves them more than they know and love themselves. Jesus came not to do His own will, but the will of His Father, and He did it within the strength of His intimate relationship of love with the Father. Because of His love for the Father, Jesus did His will not because He had to, not because it was easy, but because He wanted to. Jesus in turn tells us who wish to be His disciples that the final progression of our lives is our imitation of His obedience, the freedom that comes not from loving our own will, but in doing the will of the Father, who knows us and loves us and desires what is best for us, even if we do not yet know ourselves, or love ourselves, or know what is best for us. This is the fruit of a real realtionship of love with the Jesus, that in seeing his beautiful obedience to the Fahter, we in turn want to do everything in life with Him and in Him and through Him, and we want to do nothing in life except what He is doing, and we desire in life only to do what He desire for us, only what He asks of us. This for the Christian is ultimate freedom, it is ultimate security, it is basing our lives on the most solid of rock. If our progression in life stops with our loving Jesus but loving our own will more, than the storms of life will come and will tear down our desire to be good, and our intimate friendship with Him. If we love our own will above all things, we are only pretending that we will one day go to heaven. For not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one whose house is built on solid rock, only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

God has deep pockets

Tuesday of the 8th Week of Ordinary Time I
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
1 March 2011
Daily Readings

God will not be outdone in generosity. This is the promise emphasized both in Sirach and by our Lord today. God's gifts might be quite strange at times. Jesus throws in persecutions right in between more land and eternal life, as if persecutions will be as sweet as the other things he promises. Strange, but he lists them as a gift nonetheless. God will not be outdone in generosity. The most adventuresome life he proposes for us is to have as much fun as we can trying to outdo him in generosity.

When we start counting the cost of discipleship, as Peter begins to do, or begin to put a relative value on God's gifts that He has given and is giving and will give, or if we give to God only as a bribe, then the relationship with God breaks down. We can put no relative amount of our lives on the altar when we come to Mass. If we do, we speak a different language of love than the language the Lord speaks from the cross, and the relationship breaks down. The result of a measured discipleship is always a deep suspicion on our part that God is defrauding us, or treating us not as children, but as slaves.

God's ways, especially if we might see even the trials of our lives as his personal gifts to us, only make sense when we allow Him first to speak His language of love deep within our hearts, and we allow Christ to speak it perfectly from the cross, from where that love is made perfectly present to us. If we can look at the cross and trust in God's love and his justice, then our lives can truly become the great adventure of trying to outdo God in generosity. We can enter into the great adventure of losing ourselves and finding that in putting ourselves last, God is ready to give us more than we would ever choose for ourselves, and He places us first in His heart.

For the Church, that all Christians would never tire of making sincere offerings of themselves to God and to one another, we pray . . . .

For the world, that reconciliation may be possible through mutual sacrifices made for the common good, especially for the most vulnerable, we pray . . ..

For the mission of St. Lawrence Catholic Center, that charity may reign in all that we say and do to bring the Gospel of love to campus, we pray . . .

For the personal intentions that we bring to Mass today, especially for the lonely, the sick and the doubtful that are close to us, we pray . . . .

Heavenly Father, with a deep trust that flows from the heart of your Son, and by the gifts of your Holy Spirit, give to the seminarians, novices, and all young people of the Archdiocese the courage to respond generously as you call them to the priesthood and religious life. Give them strong examples of holy priests and religious, and may they be helped by the intercession of the saints and by our prayers, to pattern their lives after Mary, who was not afraid to let it be done to Her according to your Word. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavenly Father, with a deep trust in the love that flows from the heart of your Son, and by the gifts