Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good answer Solomon

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time A
24 July 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I recently watched a discussion on television on whether the job of the President of the United States had gotten too big for one person. For the president has an almost impossible list of responsibilities - leading and inspiring the country, responding wisely to every new problem, keeping the country safe and building relationships throughout the world, and of course, he is held responsible for regulating the economy. Is such a job description realistic for just one person?

Archbishop Naumann used hyperbole during the Chrism Mass one year to demonstrate that people's expectations of priests, who are only ordinary guys like the first apostles, can be quite unrealistic as well. Before priests renewed their priestly promises, the Archbishop relayed to the people that he gets many compliments about his priests, but also complaints, that not every priest is perfect. For the expectations can run out of control. Everyone wants a priest who is young and energetic, yet wise beyond his years, who is funny, holy, has short homilies, is sociable, but still has time to pray for every need of the parish, to memorize every perosn's name, and available to answer the phone and visit the sick anytime of day or night, and who also can run a parish effortlessly without ever having to ask for money. The Archbishop got quite a laugh as we realized that none of us quite measured up to the job.

Solomon is in this mix of being responsible for too much. Although his kingdom is much smaller that the United States, and his responsibilites different than those of a priest, he realizes that the expectations and responsibilities of his kingship are enormous. He humbly realizes that he is not up to the task, for he says to the Lord - who could be qualified to govern this vast people of yours? It is impossible to know enough to do so. He is asked the 'genie' question by the Lord in a dream. It is a question that appears quite often in the Bible and in folklore. If you could have one wish, what would you ask for? This question touches on many areas of the human heart - our wisdom, our desires, our anxieties. It is a question that Jesus asks over and over - what are you looking for? What do you want me to do for you? It is a question that reveals the human heart; it is a question that eludes easy answers.

Solomon's answer is uniquely good because Solomon is already wise enough to turn the question on its head. Instead of considering first what he most lacked, what desire of his that remained unfulfilled, what fear of his that most needed to be consoled, Solomon instead took stock of what he already had. Solomon was already king, and he focused on the gift the Lord had already given - the gift of serving others. Solomon knew his vocation as one chosen by God to serve him in this impossible capacity as king. Instead of asking for something for his person - long life, or wealth or protection from evil - instead, Solomon asked for something for his mission to serve God's people. This shows the kind of person Solomon is; what was most important to him personally was not his own desires and fears personally, but his mission to serve. He thus asks for wisdom, so that he may serve well no matter what circumstance may come. Because Solomon was wise enough to recognize and accept his vocation from God, he is wise enough not to waste his wish on something separate from that vocation. So Solomon asks for wisdom that makes him ready for anything. If he lives a long time or a short time, Solomon wants the wisdom to live life well. If he is rich or poor, Solomon wants the wisdom to enjoy what he has. If he lives in peace or is attacked on every side, Solomon wants the wisdom to do good and defeat evil, no matter what form evil may take.

May we see in Solomon's request our need to ask God for wisdom. We have enough examples in our society, that when wealth, or popularity or health are given without wisdom, these very blessings can end up destroying people who do not know how to use them. Let us take stock of our vocation in life before we answer the question of what we want from God. Let us realize that all the world's riches mean nothing if we do not have what Solomon has, a mission from God to serve others, and a desire to fulfill Jesus' great commandment to love others as He has first loved us. Let us be grateful to God today for the mission he has given us, and to no one else in this world, and ask for wisdom to carry it out.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

God is not boring, we are.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
10 July 2011
Daily Readings

God is not boring, we are. And I'm afraid that I'm getting more boring, as I have access to more distractions and more entertainment. The rosary is not boring, I am boring. The rosary is repetitive, but in a way that serves meditation on a few words and concentration. The rosary is not boring. I am boring. A boring person is one who constantly needs to be entertained, who freaks out when a silent space of meditation presents itself. A boring person is one who thrives on distraction, rather than looking for opportunities to look deeply into himself and into the mysteries of things. None of us should be surprised that distractions, while entertaining. lead to a certain superficiality and an increasing unrest. More gadgets promise more than they can deliver, and they threaten to make us less happy.

St. Paul talks about this futility with which we are familiar. The punishment for sin that God inflicted on the world is death, but the more we think about it, the more we realize this is a just punishment, that this death is better than the alternative, living forever in this world without ever being able to realize our deepest desires. Living in the world forever would be like playing a basketball game with no clock, no ending. Eventually we would tire of keeping score, and tire of even trying, since there would be no way to achieve the reason for playing the game - no way to win. This is the futility we would experience were death not the just punishment for sin. The death that is due as a punishment for sin gives shape to our lives, and creates an urgency to meditate on the mysteries of the kingdom that lies on the other side of death. It is meditation on these mysteries that make us long for death, can help us to choose a detachment from the world and a death to self, which frees us to live in this world in an even more free and beautiful way, while setting our hope on something that can really satisfy, the vision of God, a vision so beautiful that once we see it, we will never be able to look away from it. If we do not come to desire death to this world, we becoming the most boring of people, for we settle for whatever entertainment we can find, without ever finding a desire to die now for something worth dying for. That is why Jesus insists on meditation on the mysteries of the kingdom, so that we do not place our trust in idols, so that we are not duped into putting our hope vainly in an endless series of distractions, so that we become those who truly desire death as the pathway to new life, those who are ready for death.

These mysteries of the kingdom are not for boring people, people who need to be entertained. They are for those who are willing to meditate. The Apostles here at St. Lawrence insist in teaching young people how to pray on 20 minutes a day of mental prayer, of silent meditation on the word of God. The seminarians of the Archdiocese are receiving now greater discipline and formation in true prayer of the heart, speaking heart to heart with God, and we have seen a great resurgence among young people in the practices of Eucharistic adoration and the rosary. Sometimes the world sees such meditation as brainwashing, as an unhealthy addiction to God, but when compared to the world addiction to distraction, I'll take silent prayer anyday.

In listening to the parable of the sower, we should see that in our current situation, building a habit of prayer, and creating a monastery of the heart where the mysteries of the kingdom can take root is an almost impossible challenge. But with God all things are possible. He is waiting to speak heart to heart to us. He is always ready to speak, always ready to have us listen in on the conversation of love being had at this moment between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are invited by God to contemplate not in a superficial way, but with true adoration the love that makes all things possible, and a love that is more unique and real and redeeming than any other love available, the love that flows from the sacred heart of Jesus. Let us not be afraid of this love, nor be afraid to encounter it through a renewed commitment to silence and prayer in our lives. For God is never boring. But without prayer, we are boring.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wedding Homily

2 July 2011
Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It is an extraordinarily happy day for me as a priest, to be able to witness what is known in the business of priesthood as a 'real wedding.' Not that every wedding does not have its own good parts and blessings, but this one in particular is good through and through. Not only because this couple are Jayhawks, although that does not hurt one little bit. No, this couple is as prepared to speak the words that will make them no longer two, but one flesh, as any couple I have ever had the privilege to witness. They are prepared to speak profound words to each other, in imitation of Christ who has first loved them and given up his life for them, because of the foundation of faith given them by their families, and thank you and congratulations to the families for this. Yet they are able to speak words that truly call down the Holy Spirit upon each other, they are able to give each other this sacrament, because they have listened very personally as Christ has spoken to them in the depths of their hearts - this is my body, broken for you - my blood, poured out for you. They enter into this sanctuary in full knowledge of what happens in this sanctuary every time they attend Mass. So they are prepared for the depths of what will happen today. But they would also be the first to tell you that they are not prepared - they are chosen despite their unworthiness. This couple has discerned a call to marriage that goes much deeper than a couple falling in love and wanting to spend their lives together, although that too is indispensable. No, this couple has also discerned deeply the meaning of vocation, of receiving a call from God that goes far beyond - is much bigger and last longer and is more fruitful - than any choice they could ever make for themselves. I am happy to say as a vocation director for the Archdiocese, that this couple has given God every opportunity to call them first to the priesthood and religious life. The groom for his part, has pondered the call to make the love of Christ present as only a priest can; the bride, the call to belong completely to Christ as his bride, showing the world as a religious sister how to fruitfully receive the love of Christ as the Immaculate Heart of Mary first received Christ perfectly in the world. Then Kiernan messed that all up, as the story goes. She introduced these two, and over time, clear internal and external signs have shown today's marriage to be the will of God, something this couple is choosing, but much more important, something they are allowing themselves to be chosen for, something that is being done to them. This couple would be the first to tell you that they could never be prepared for, nor worthy of the mystery they are about to give each other. Yet they have arrived at this moment because they have discerned their vocation well, and they cannot say anything other than 'yes' to what God wants to do in this moment.

It is clear from the readings that this couple chose from our meditation that they understand the responsibility they have to make their spouses and their children, God willing, holy. This couple has discerned that marriage is their chosen path to holiness; it is the best way to arrive at the deepest desire of their hearts, to become a saint by following the path of perfect love. Marriage will provide many such opportunities to die to self, but this couple is encouraged first by the reading from Sirach, which beautifully shows how a wife may help her husband to grow in holiness, and the reading from Ephesians, which speaks of a husband's responsibility to make his wife holy by the way he gives up his life for her. Once again, however, this couple would humbly admit that they have a hard enough time being holy themselves, and that they are especially ill-equipped and prepared to take on the added responsibility of making another person holy. That is why the first thing they will do as a married couple is to turn to Christ in the Holy Eucharist, to Him alone who is able always to make a perfect gift of Himself. The best thing that this couple can do for each other is for each of them individually to go deeper in their relationship with Christ, and the seal and guarantee of their marriage is the sacrament of the Eucharist, where Christ marries His bride the Church and makes Her holy by the gift of Himself. It is in receiving this gift of Christ consistently in their marriage, that this couple may make their marriage for a lifetime a real participation in the marriage of Christ and His Church that lasts forever. It is through the hope that Christ Himself will be present and active in their marriage that this couple has a certain hope that they can arrive at the holiness for which they sincerely pray. It is most fitting then, that this couple have as the liturgical anniversary of their marriage, this Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for in Her Immaculate Heart alone did God find that perfect tabernacle in which His Son would dwell. This couple should never forget how much our Lady has to teach them in welcoming Jesus Christ into the heart of their marriage.

Finally, this couple has chosen for their Gospel the sincere prayer of Jesus that after his ascension, there would be those disciples who by their word and example, might make his truth and his love real and believable in the world. All that I have said so far about this couple, they already know, and they did not need me to repeat it to them. The reason that we are here is because God has also trusted and chosen this new couple to be his witnesses in the world, and that through them, and through their act of faith in God and in each other today and everyday, you and I might be renewed in our faith in Jesus Christ and his promises, and might find living symbols of his love in the world. It is the sincere desire of this couple, most of all, that you see not only the love they have for each other, but the love that Jesus Christ has for them. It is his everlasting and perfect love that makes today possible. It is in His love that this couple has chosen to put their deepest trust. Their prayer today is for you and I to be touched once again by this love, and to prefer nothing to the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Kids are rich in what matters to God

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time A
3 July 2011

Kids are rich in what matters to God. We adults have to admit this. Jesus challenges us to admit that we learn more from kids than they learn from us. It is a humbling admission, but one that comes through clearly in the Gospel, when Jesus says the secrets of the kingdom of heaven belong to little ones, not the wise and the learned, and that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. We have to face it. We have more to learn from them than they have to learn from us.

Which is why countries that are no longer having children are in trouble in more ways than one. Countries with a one-child policy are losing touch with what a family looks and feels like, for a one-child policy puts an end to relationships with aunts and uncles and cousins, because those relationships no longer exist. The one-child policy virtually ensure that most people will spend their dying years without family support. Societies that are no longer marrying and having kids are following a recipe for economic disaster, to be sure. Yet Jesus points us toward an even greater poverty. Children are rich in what matters to God - faith, hope and love. They have the keys to the secrets of the kingdom. Spiritually doomed as well is the society that tries to eliminate its dependence upon children.

This is not to say that children aren't a lot of work. It's not to say that children don't need to be taught many things by adults. Of course they do, and raising a family well is as difficult a task as ever, and not for the faint of heart. This week I was blessed to witness the launching of a new ministry in the Archdiocese called Prayer and Action. 4 of our 31 seminarians teamed with four college ladies in guiding teenagers through a prayer and mission experience right here in the Archdiocese, the program being hosted at Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia. As I supervised the program and provided encouragement to our staff, it was easy to see where the teenagers still needed to learn many things. They were barely awake for the morning Mass and rosary. At the worksites, the teenagers had to be taught how to use every tool from a paintbrush to a handsaw. They weren't great at picking up after themselves. As a vocation director, I lose touch with parish and family life sometimes, as you can see. I observed as well that few of them grew up like I did, throwing bales, hauling irrigation pipe and working hogs, so let's just say they were a little work brittle and needed lots of encouragement. They didn't always put forth the same effort cleaning up a yard that they do on the sports fields where they excel. The young people needed to be coached. Yet at the end of the week, I can easily tell you that I learned a lot from these young experts. They were better than me at forming new relationships and friendships, better than me at receiving and giving love, especially to those people whose houses we refurbished. They were better than me at seeing where God was present and at work in thousands of little ways.

It was true that I was good at working hard, and teaching kids how to use a shovel. I know how to get around in the world, living in the flesh as St. Paul calls it. Like many adults, I have become good at learning some skills, and I have gained much wisdom through experience in how to manage time, and resources and relationships. I was much better than the kids at being alert for the morning rosary and Mass. These are all things the kids needed to learn, and I was an example. But as I try to become more wise and learned, the kids taught me what only kids can teach us - how to be vulnerable. That is why Jesus points us toward children - they are experts at being dependent. Jesus proclaims himself to be meek and humble of heart. In Zechariah he is prophesized to be the king who established an eternal kingdom without the use of a single weapon, a king whose only worldly asset is a borrowed donkey. To be children of this kingdom, we have to remain on his path of sacrificial love, which is nothing less than that path of vulnerability that allows the flourishing of faith, hope and love.

As we continue to teach our children how to get along in the world, and fulfill our responsibility to help them to be successful, let us not forget our responsibility to learn more from them than they learn from us. In many ways, their world is the real world, for the yoke of independence and self-sufficiency that adults easily take on and get wrapped up in, gets both heavier and more illusory as we grow older, while Jesus' yoke of dependence, vulnerability and sacrificial love gets lighter and allows us to grow younger the more we let him carry it in us, with us and through us. On the surface, Jesus' yoke seems impossible. Yet the more we carry it, we see that it is truly lighter than the alternative.