Sunday, February 27, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Tuesday of the 6th Week of Ordinary Time I
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
15 February 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
Friday of the 5th Week of Ordinary Time I
11 February 2011
Danforth Chapel at the University of Kansas
Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
Today's memorial and readings give us a chance to think about the difference between choosing and being chosen. One is greater than the other, but we usually get them backwards. Oftentimes, we think of holiness as choosing the good, and this is true in part, but it is more true to say that holiness is allowing the good to choose you. There is a big difference between Eve, who is seduced into choosing what is good only for herself, and Mary, who allowed goodness to choose her. There is a difference in using the freedom that makes us in God's image and likeness to determine goodness for yourself, and only yourself, and using that freedom to allow yourself to be chosen for a good that goes far beyond anything you might ever choose for yourself. There is a difference between Eve, who in eating the fruit of the tree dared to act like a god, and Mary, who in letting it be done unto Her according to His Word, was elevated above all the gods, and who is truly called the Mother of God.
So too our Lord's mission to redeem the world through sacrificial love was not a mission that He chose, but something He accepted in obedience, and His greatest act was foregoing His ability to save Himself from the cross, but saying to His Father not my will, but your will be done. In our Lord's cross we find the fullness of freedom, not in self-determination, but in allowing one's self to be chosen for a destiny and mission that is beyond one's self. The cross is always a more perfect symbol of love and freedom than any self-made man. So also in our vocation, Christ asks us to trust Him in obedience, and reminds us that as great as it is that we might choose Him, it is not we who choose Him, but He who chooses us, and gives us a mission in life that is greater than anything we could choose for ourselves.
People have been coming to Lourdes for 150 years now, to be healed of their illnesses to be sure, but perhaps moreso, to imitate Mary who was the greatest among mere men in allowing something to be done unto Her. Of all those cured of bodily illness at Lourdes, there are many others who have found there the ability to conform their own sufferings to the mystery of the Lord's cross, and to find through their disabilities and sufferings a greater freedom than they would have ever had without them. Though few who come to Lourdes would choose the heavy cross that they have to bear, it is there with Mary and Jesus that they allow themselves to be healed from the inside out, and allow themselves to be chosen to bear a fruit that goes beyond the understanding of the world. Like the deaf man and his friends who could not stop proclaiming not what they had done, but what God had done for them, so too Lourdes remains a profoundly joyful place, where those who have more reasons than us to distrust God nevertheless shame us by proclaiming what God has done for them. For God indeed looks upon us in our lowliness. He heals the brokenhearted. And for those who let it be done to them according to His word, He gives a peace that this world can never give.
Let us pray today for our Church, that Mary's appearance at Lourdes would continue to give comfort and hope to those chosen to participate in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, we pray
Let us pray for the world, that the most vulnerable among us would be protected and served by the strong, and that the dignity of human life would never be measured as much as it is celebrated, we pray
Let us pray for the mission of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, to proclaim the goodness of the Lord and his healing power to those who suffering in mind, body or spirit at KU, we pray
Let us pray for those areas of the world torn by violence and discord, for a peaceful and just resolution in Egypt and in all areas of the world in need of reconciliation, we pray
Let us pray that following the pattern of Mary, that more people would be open to receiving from the Lord vocations to priesthood, the religious life, and to the sacrament of marriage, we pray to the Lord . . .
Let us remember those for whom we have promised to pray, especially the sick, the lonely and the doubtful, that our prayers may bring them healing, we pray . . .
Lord, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, continue to give us hope and strength to endure whatever may come, for your greater glory and the salvation of souls. We make our prayers known to you also, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
St. Lawrence Chapel at the University of Kansas
6 February 2011
Within the next 10 years, if things keep going the way they are going, it will be just as likely that the person sitting next to you on plane will be agnostic as it is likely that he will be Catholic. Catholicism is holding steady in the US at around 20% of the population, neither growing nor declining at a great rate. Agnosticism is climbing exponentially, however, especially among former Catholics. Even with our pro-life pro-family position, and the influx of Hispanic Catholics here in the United States, our Catholic sacraments and conversion statistics are flat. We're not dying, but we're not thriving as well. For every place where the faith is doing well, there are places where we are getting crucified, so to speak.
There are tons of reasons for this, all of which are worth exploring, and many of which accuse the culture around us. Yet our Lord in tonight's Gospel I think wants his disciples to focus on themselves. Tonight I want to point the finger at those of us in the pews, those of us who practice our faith, and say something that needs to be said again and again. I know that most of us who go to Church regularly do not think we are part of the problem, that the people who aren't here are the problem, and in many ways, we are the good guys. But that is exactly what I want to speak about. We have to be more that the good guys, because just being the good guys (and gals) doesn't cut it anymore. It didn't in Jesus' time. It still doesn't make converts today. It just doesn't. The reason our Catholic faith is not thriving is that we have plenty of good guys and gals, and plenty of hypocrites and sinners too, but we have too few saints. There are not enough saints in our Church. I'm not here to say the problem is that we have too many sinners in the Church, although those seats are reliably taken. The problem is that there are too few saints. The reason agnosticism is climbing, the reason why our faith is so easy to ignore, the reason why most people see no particular advantage to being Catholic, is that most people have never met a saint, or they are not consistently around saints. Our faith is meant to build saints, not relatively good people. That is the only thing that distinguishes our faith, the making of saints. It is the only reason we exist, the only reason we should exist. Yes, the loss of religion says a lot about the people who are losing it, and they bear their share of the blame, but it always says more about us.
It's not just agnostics who have never met a saint. Most lukewarm Catholics have never met one either, or even if we have, we aren't around them enough, or we limit our exposure to them, or we ignore them, or there simply aren't enough of them. Most of all, we've lost our determination to become saints ourselves. Most of us eventually settle to be good compared to someone else, to rationalize and excuse ourselves into lukewarmness, comfort, and mediocrity. We can turn Christianity into a spectator sport. This not only fails to make converts to the Catholic faith, it is the surest way to kill our own faith.
I say that as sad as it is to see agnosticism growing around us, and so few Catholics living the full beauty of their faith, there might be God's will in all of this. Not that he desires a single soul to be lost, nor should we, but agnosticism may eventually be the means for Catholicism to find its heart again, for more souls to be saved, for us to realize that if our Church is not making saints, we should indeed fold up the tent. That is the challenge that agnosticism, indifference to God, proposes to us, and it is a worthy challenge. An argument can be made that it is better that agnosticism is growing instead of lukewarm Catholicism. Now I'll tell you why I say this. I say this because Jesus said it first. Jesus Christ tells his disciples after preaching the Sermon on the Mount that they are to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. They are to be different than those around them, not only from the outside in, but especially from the inside out. Jesus points to the unique dignity and opportunity that is given in the Catholic faith. He tells his disciples that they are to be uniquely the ones who preserve what is good for the future, who bring out the full flavor of human experience, who make barren those areas where evil tends to take root, and who show the world the full and incomparable dignity of man who may dare to use his freedom to participate in the divine love that made and redeemed the world, and the dignity of man as one who is called to participate in the divine life of God. Never will you see Jesus calling his disciples to be good people compared to others. No, he calls them to the highest of heights. He calls them to sanctity, to fullness, to transcendent goodness. When he tells them that they are to be salt and light, he calls them not just to be a good part of the world, but to be with him the co-redeemers of the world. He calls his disciples to be saints.
That agnostic who will sit next to you on the airplane tomorrow, and the next day, and ten years from now, deserves if he is sitting next to a Catholic, to be sitting next to a saint. At the very least, he deserves to be sitting next to a person who has not given up on being a saint. Most of us settle for sitting next to a person who is not annoying, who will just leave us alone, but beyond the categories of introversion and extroversion, and no matter what you level of etiquette and on a plane, if you are an agnostic and you meet a Catholic, you deserve to be meeting a saint, or someone who is pursuing sanctity with all his heart, and all his mind and all his strength.
The challenge of agnosticism is a good one that must be answered by the lives of real saints. The challenge to us by agnosticism is that you do not have to be religious to be a good person. There are many good people who do not go to Church, plenty of hypocrites who do go to Church, and many heroes who are not consciously motivated by their belief in God. These are the arguments we must meet, and meet by answering the call to holiness, or we should admit defeat, and fold up our tents. Beyond the anecdotal evidence that the Church is not producing enough saints to renew the faith, are the intellectual arguments that religion distracts people from solving real problems in the real world, that religion causes as many arguments as it resolves, and that religious people are of two kinds, those who are insecure about themselves, or those who are deceived into thinking that they can live and act for something outside of their own evolutionary self-interest.
The challenge of scientism is that human freedom is not transcendent or spiritual, but only works within the parameters of the world, so that even when a person claims he is acting for a higher purpose, he is really only acting for himself within a closed system governed by the principles of evolution. Scientists then want a more realistic version of morality where a man recognizes that acting morally is ultimately about utility, and the more we give up on religion, the more we can agree on a common baseline of morality and quit arguing about whose God is right. It is not in itself a worthless project.
But St. Paul answer this objection beautifully by pointing us to the cross. He says that I as a disciple of Jesus am not very smart, so you should not pay attention to my arguments, and I am not that good, so you should not pay attention to my goodness, for I am a sinner, but I come among you hoping that you pay attention only to Jesus Christ crucified. Whenever you are tempted to think you do not have to be religious to be good, whenever you think that science can provide a better baseline for morality than religion, then look at Jesus Christ crucified. Even though the creation of all the universe could not add one iota to God's glory, but He created it anyway, and even though the redemption of one sinner could add nothing to God's goodness, He redeemed us anyway. The cross speaks not of necessity, but of freedom and love that originate beyond the confines of the world. The cross speaks a wisdom that begins to answer the true questions of spirituality that found the moral life. Why is there something rather than nothing? Where is there me instead of not me? Is there someone that loves me more than I love myself, and loves me more than He loves Himself, and who loves me for my own sake to the point of forsaking Himself? Is there within me the possibility of loving someone more than I love myself, and of giving myself not because of anything I would receive back, but out of sheer love for the other?
These spiritual questions are the true ground of the moral life. It is not the goodness that is naturally found in the world, to which man is called according to the laws of nature. This is real goodness, but the goodness that founds the moral life is a goodness that man does not naturally discover in the world, but the goodness that first created the world, and a goodness that appeals to a freedom that is not confined to the laws of time and space, matter and energy. It is the goodness that is revealed most perfectly in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict reminds us that just as a scientist sees no end to the questions he can ask about the universe, the athlete never ceases to set new records that beforehand were thought impossible, and telling an engineer that something is impossible makes no impact on his desire to do it anyway, so it is saints who are drawn to strive for the goodness and holiness made present to us by the cross, who set the standards of morality of the world. Just as we are inspired not by people who do what is most reasonable, but people who never give up hope despite all the obstacles in their way, so also the baseline of the moral life is not set by the goodness that exists below us, but by the saints striving for the goodness that lies beyond us. Pope Benedict reminds us that unless the world has saints, striving to love God with all their heart, and mind and strength, that humanity will eventually forget what goodness is.
There is a good reason to be Catholic and not agnostic. Being Catholic is no guarantee of holiness, it doesn't automatically make you a better person, even though it may protect you from many evils it is not a golden ticket to heaven because you are better than someone else. No, being Catholic is the best chance to realize the best that is within us. It is our best chance to be a saint, and to be as Jesus has asked us to be, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.