Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Newtown and Christmas

Solemnity of Christmas - Mass During the Day
St. Frances Cabrini Parish Hoxie, Kansas
25 December 2012
Daily Readings

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

To adore the infant Jesus is to do nothing less on Christmas morning than fall in love with him again.  In former times, no one could see the face of God and live.  Yet beginning today, God has taken on a human face, and to adore Christ is to begin to truly live.  Since eternity has entered time, we all live in the fullness of time, where mankind is not moving toward its eventual destruction but onward and upward towards its highest dignity, destiny and glory!  Through Mary , the exemplar of our Church, we have come to fall in love with the human face of God, who shows himself in the circumstances of Bethlehem to be so madly in love with us!

We celebrate Christmas this year, however, while the flags of our country are at half-mast, mourning the loss of her children.  Christ’s victory over evil is real but not yet fully extended, especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable children among us.  The evil hit so hard recently that headlines immediately began asking the question ‘where was God?’  With all due honor to those grieving families that wake up this Christmas morning with a damaged faith and unspeakable sadness, the news media had only to go to the nearest church to see where God was.  There on display were thousands of candles proclaiming that despite the worst evil, life is worth living, and the darkness has not overcome the light.  There on display were nativity scenes, showing that God does not distance himself from the vulnerability of being a helpless child.  There on display in the Catholic Church was a crucifix, showing the broken and lifeless body of Jesus, who did not think it beneath him to place himself in the worst kind of evil.  There in churches was the answer that has been there since the first Christmas, and the answer that will always be there.  God is Emmanuel.  He is with us.  In every situation, especially the worst ones, God is with us.  He goes before us.  He walks beside us, even if life takes us to the very depths of hell.

The reality of the most invincible person, the one through whom all things were made, allowing himself to be born naked, outside, in the cold, and wrapped in swaddling clothes teaches us a lesson that we must never forget.  To become a human person is to remember where we came from.  Christmas is the time to remember that we never stop being children. We know deep down that to become a human person is not to grow up and to get the freedom of intelligence and will to create our own reality, as good as these are for many people.  No, to become a human person is to continue to find our true and best selves in the Christ child.  To become a person is to find a way to remain poor and vulnerable, so that our personhood is based on nothing except being known and loved and protected.  As we learned in Newton, this view of human personhood, the true and lasting view, can only ultimately be guaranteed by God, who knows us and loves us and protects us from the evil of the world in ways no one else, not even our parents and school teachers can, from the moment of our conception until our natural death.  The creation of the world the first time by the virgin Father, our Father, was a glorious creation.  Yet the new creation that appears today through the birth of the virgin mother is better, for it is a creation that starts in poverty but ends with riches, that begins with vulnerability but ends with everlasting goodness, which is first touched by death but ends in everlasting life.  This is the new creation that as St. John says, is not born of natural generation, but of God, grace upon grace.  The sign of this new creation appears for us today in Bethlehem. 

Christ appears as a helpless baby to try to win our hearts again this Christmas, to make falling in love with the new creation, with God, and with humanity irresistible.  Yet there are too many who refuse to remember where they came from, and these will reject Jesus, and allow what this child means to scare them instead of winning them over.  Never mind, Jesus is willing to do even more to win us over.  This morning he does even more than asking us to imagine ourselves at Bethlehem.  He comes to us perfectly, right here, right now, and allows us to receive him even more intimately under our roofs, through the Holy Eucharist.  That’s why every Christmas is ultimately judged by what happens in our hearts and minds and bodies in just a few moments, for the birth of Jesus into our world takes on its most radical extension and conclusion in the Eucharist we have come to receive.  Ultimately, there is no Christmas without Christ’s Mass, and what happens right now is the most important thing of all.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Don't forget who you are!

Christmas Mass During the Day
25 December 2012
St. Frances Cabrini Parish - Hoxie, Kansas
Daily Readings

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

We have come on Christmas morning to adore the infant Jesus.  Today we celebrate the morning when the world first saw the face of God, the true light of the world.  Born of the virgin mother, he is the firstborn of the new creation!  In former times, no one could see the face of God and live.  But now, with the appearance of the child Jesus, through whom eternity entered time, we live in the fullness of time where to see the face of God, which beginning today is also a human face, is to begin to truly live.  God who owes us nothing has shown us his face!  To see the face of God, to live in this light, represents the new highest dignity of man, and it is in this light that man truly finds himself.  We have come then, to adore this Christ child and all that he makes possible.  In him, mankind is moving decidedly not toward its eventual destruction, but onward and forward to its highest glory!  Through Mary, the exemplar of our Church and the first to see Jesus, we have come to fall in love once again with God, who in the circumstances of Bethlehem shows himself to be so deeply in love with us!

The welcoming of the baby Jesus occurs this year, as we well know, while the flags of our nation are at half-mast, mourning the loss of her children.  Newtown is but the most recent and vivid  and terrible example of how Christ’s victory over evil has yet to be fully extended, especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable children among us.  The reality of this evil hit so hard that headlines immediately began asking the question ‘where was God?’  With all due honor to those grieving families whose faith was damaged by the horrible evil that took place, and who wake up on Christmas morning with unspeakable sadness, still the news media had only to go to the nearest Christian church to see where God was.  There on display were thousands of candles proclaiming that despite the worst evil, life is still worth living, and the darkness will never overcome the light.  There on display were nativity scenes, showing that God does not distance himself from the vulnerability of being a helpless child.  There on display in Catholic Churches was the crucifix, showing the broken and lifeless body of Jesus who did not think it beneath him to place himself in the midst of the worst kind of evil.  There in the churches was the answer that has always been there since the first Christmas.  There in the churches was the answer that will always be there.  God is Emmanuel – he is with us.  In every situation, especially in the worst situations man can endure, God himself is there.  He is with us.  He goes before us.  He walks besides us, even to the very depths of hell.

Christmas is a unique time to enter into the truth that we only know who we are when we remember where we came from.  By this I am not talking only of happy reunions and the exchange of gifts with family, as important as these are.  I am talking specifically about the need for us always to be a child, and to always find ourselves in our encounter with the Christ child, and of our society to always judge itself from the view of the child.  The reality of the richest and most powerful man ever, the Son of God, the one through whom all things were made, being born cold, outside, poor and bound in swaddling clothes reminds us of what is essential to being a human person.  Our sacred dignity as persons comes first of all not from our eventual freedom of intelligence and will, but most fundamentally because someone knows us and loves us and protects us from the moment of our conception onwards, where we cannot know and love and protect ourselves.  These secondary realities of freedom of intelligence and will, which emerge fully in adulthood, and the ability to shape our own destiny, are nothing really, are almost a mirage, when compared to the reality of being a child.  The Christ child reminds us that to be human is to be poor, vulnerable and dependent; namely, to let one’s self receive love.  If we know who we are, we know we never stop being children.  We forget this, and neglect it, to the peril of our own dignity as persons, for to forget where you came from, is to forget who you are.

So too in our society, our Holy Father urges us not to forget where we came from.  A person without memory loses much of his identity.  So too a society that constantly tries to manufacture its own reality, rather than receiving and discovering the true nature of what it means to be human, is a society destined to lose its humanity.  We have societies with millions of smart phones, for example, that are not smart enough to stop contracepting their society and economies out of existence.  It is fashionable to be more organic regarding our food and our energy, but less organic in what makes us even more human, our sexuality.  By eschewing natural chastity and natural family planning for artificial contraception and abortion, we run away from what makes us most human  - authentic natural, vulnerable, sacrificial and fruitful love.  We can run away from defining the family based on how it most naturally occurs in human nature, through the birth of a child to a man and woman who give everything to each other, including their natural fertility.  We can even seek to expand marriage by doing something insanely unnatural, by subtracting sexual complementarity from the definition, and to shift the definition away from the view of the child, and toward the will of the adults.  This to forget where we came from, to forget we are all children, and to deny who we really are.  A culture more afraid of babies and who seeks to artificially eliminate babies, and who does not see itself through the desire of its children to born, is a culture that has lost its humanity.

We have to stop trying to manufacture what we were meant to discover and receive.  The vulnerability of the Christ child teaches us the most important lesson we must never forget. To become a human person is to become known, and loved and protected.  It is to be poor and vulnerable.  To be human is to never stop being a child, and this sacred dignity of human persons can only ultimately be guaranteed by God, who can know us, love us, and protect us from the evils of the world in ways no one else can, from the moment of our conception until natural death.  The birth of Jesus from the virgin mother is the sign of the dawn of a new creation that begins in poverty but ends in riches, that begins with vulnerability to evil but ends with everlasting goodness, a creation that is first touched by death but ends in everlasting life.  This is the new creation that as St. John says, is not born of natural generation, but of God, grace upon grace.  The sign of this new creation appears for us today in Bethlehem.

To adore the Christ child on Christmas must mean nothing less than to fall in love with this new creation, with God, and with humanity once again.  Christ comes in the most irresistible of forms, as a helpless baby, to try to win us over to finding ourselves again.  Yet if we do not remember where we came from, we will reject him tonight.  To win us over, Christ is willing this morning to lower  himself even further than asking us to imagine ourselves at Bethlehem.  He comes to us right here, today, where we are, and allows us to receive him even more intimately under our roofs, through the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  That’s why the ultimate test of what this Christmas means for us, and for our world, is coming in just a few moments.  The birth of Jesus into our world reaches its most radical extension and conclusion in the Eucharist we are about to receive.  What matters most of all this Christmas is what is about to happen to my mind, and my heart and my body, as Jesus gives himself to me now, for this is truly Christ’s Mass.  Merry Christmas to all!  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dancing at the ark

4th Sunday of Advent B
22 December 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

It's hard to overestimate the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth.  The magnitude of what is happening is mind-blowing.  Meditation on the scene of this Gospel should complete our Advent preparation.  It can make us perfectly ready for Christmas.  That's why it's placed here, the 4th and final Sunday of Advent.

Mary didn't have a smart phone to text Elizabeth the great news.  But she got the news to her cousin as quickly as she could.  Newly pregnant, Mary nonetheless ran to share the good news.  Filled with excitement, she went in haste to the hill country.

The visitation was also the chance for John to meet Jesus in utero.  Yet the scripture passage is clear.  There is no interaction between John and Jesus.  John erupted at the sound of Mary's greeting.  He responds to the voice of Mary.

John the Baptist as we know will soon be the greatest prophet in Israel.  Yet the forerunner of the word is small compared to Mary.  She is no mere forerunner of the word.  She is the the bearer of the Word.  She will give birth to the word.  Her fiat is the most profound word ever spoken by a prophet.  Her Magnificat is worth more than all the prophetic words that John will ever say.  So at her few words, John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb. John the Baptist was foretold to be greatest man ever born of a woman.  Yet he is small in the presence of the Immaculate Conception.

King David danced a thousand years before when the ark of the covenant was brought triumphantly from the hill country to the holy city.  So too, John the Baptist dances because of the closeness of the new temple that is Mary.  The promise made to David that a son of his would rule forever, haunted Israel until this day, for the David kingdom had done nothing but fade since the time of Nathan's prophecy.

These promises dramatically reappear in the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary.  Just as the stump of Jesse, the least of shepherd boys in the forgettable town of Bethlehem, was chosen by the Lord to become the greatest King of Israel, so now in this time, the most hidden of all women, is chosen for the fulfillment of a promise that had seemed lost.  The angel Gabriel says to Mary.  Your son Jesus will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give him the throne of David his father, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.

Imagine the situation of Elizabeth.  Imagine telling the story of how she conceived in her old age, and of her husband Zechariah being struck dumb, and the prophecy of carrying in her womb the greatest baby ever conceived, and knowing the sex in advance without benefit of a sonogram!  Imagine telling the greatest story ever, only to find out it's the second greatest story ever.  Such was the incomparable good news shared by these two holy woman, our final Advent prophets.

If you've had a great Advent, let the scene just described to us be the perfect completion of this season.  If you've had a lukewarm Advent, let these ladies come to your rescue.  Ask Mary to give you just the tiniest piece of her Advent expectation.  Ask her to help you feel just a bit what was going on in her mind and heart and body in those final hours before giving birth to Jesus.  If Mary our mother will do that for us, we will be perfectly ready for Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Never stop rejoicing!

Gaudete Sunday C
16 December 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Call it what you will.  Gaudete Sunday.  Pink Sunday.  The Third Sunday of Advent.  Rejoice Sunday.  Whatever you call it, this Sunday is the Sunday we turn the corner in our Advent preparations.  We rejoice for one reason, and for one reason only - that the Lord is near!

Pope Benedict XVI in his new book commenting on the infancy narratives of Jesus says that joy is the distinctive mark of the new creation begun in Jesus.  The new creation's first word you might say is the word angel Gabriel said to Mary.  Hail, Mary!  Rejoice, Mary!  Be glad Mary!  The new creation's first word is rejoice, our word for the weekend. This Sunday is for us a particularly intense and precise meditation on why we are joyful, and why joy must be distinctive in Christians, if we are living our faith correctly.  Joy to the world.  The Lord has visited his people.  Rejoice! That is our Christmas anthem.

The joy of the new creation is the joy of knowing that Jesus is coming with his power to remake the world from the inside out.  The new creation is unlike the first, for the first creation begins in life but can end in death.  It begins in goodness but can be touched by evil.  It starts big but can end up really small.  The first creation remains overwhelmingly good, but as well know all to well, it is broken from the inside out.  The second creation is distinctively different, and the cause of much rejoicing.  It is a creation that begins in baptism, with a death to self, but ends in eternal life.  A creation that begins with the healing of sin and ends in everlasting goodness.  It is a creation that starts small but ends big.

The rejoicing that is proper to a Christian is that the Lord is near.  Jesus Christ has come.  He is coming.  He will come again.  His coming to be with us, the gift that He is to us, is the foundation of the reason why we continue with greater joy and fervor and generosity to visit each other, and to give to each other, in this holy season.  His coming is why we rejoice!

The truth of the new creation does not mean, as we know well, that external circumstances are about to get better.  They might, but they may not.  We all know that in many ways the new creation is still too small, is only beginning to take hold.  It does not mean that things are about to go my way.  Yet the new creation mysteriously can take hold even in times of great trial or distress.  Especially confusing and saddening and disheartening is the terrible tragedy that happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. Children usually are some of our best prophets for Christmas.  They know the time and hour of Christmas.  They are fraught with anticipation and joy for all the visiting and giving of the season.  Indeed, can we imagine Christmas without children?  Tragedies like the one in Connecticut rightfully make people wonder if God is really close, or whether evil has taken hold in a more powerful way.

We can feel confused, guilty and discouraged by evil.  It is not the way things are supposed to be.  So evil will never make any sense.  Yet I must insist that our joy remain undiminished.  For the Lord's coming means that we are visited even in our discouragement and sadness.  We are not alone.  God weeps too.  Yet woe to us if we fail to participate in the process of evil being definitely conquered, and we must not stop fighting.  As John the Baptist the great prophet reminds us, we prepare room for the Lord's coming, and the time and space of our lives become instruments of the new creation in the Holy Spirit, when we take evil seriously, and when we repent of our sins with a perfect hate and have a true passion for righteousness.

There is Christian joy in not giving into discouragement and complacency, no matter how many times we have to pick ourselves up, and hold each other tight, in our fight against evil.  The response to evil is not to despair and not to doubt, but to fight.  John the Baptist teaches us this, and reminds us that while indeed we are engaged in a great cosmic battle against evil, the battle lines are most distinctively drawn in each of our hearts.  The helplessness brought on by encounters with evil must be met with prayer, and at the very least, a stronger commitment to winning the battle against evil in my own heart and in the time and space of my own life.

We become real instruments of the new creation when after true repentance, we allow ourselves to be visited by the Lord, who comes with the Holy Spirit and fire to transform us into the saints we deeply long to be.  This alone, the Lord's coming, is the cause of our joy.  Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! The Lord is near!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

greater signs

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent I
5 December 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

In today's Gospel we see the fulfillment on the mountain of Isaiah's prophesy.  The sure sign of the Lord's arrival will be the removal of tears, the healing that is done by Jesus on the mountain.  Then there is the superabundance of food.  The circumstances on the mountain are humbler maybe, than the majestic prophecy of Isaiah, but the fulfillment is there, at least in part, through the miracles of healing and feeding.  The time of fulfillment has arrived.  The Messiah is here.

The story on the mountain told by Matthew follows beautifully the pattern of the Mass.  There is a gathering, a listening to teaching, a healing, an offering, a transformation and then a superabundant feeding delivered by the disciples.  The signs experienced by those on the mountain eventually give way, especially in the Gospel of John with its Bread of Life discourse, to the sign of the Eucharist.  Signs that lasted for a day gave way eventually to a great sign, the institution of a Sacrament; in this case, the central sacrament of the Eucharist that we have come to experience.

It should happen almost automatically that those of us who have access to the greater sign seek a greater transformation than than experienced on the mountain.  For sure, this greater sign must be assisted by greater faith, for this greater sign is more mysterious.  Yet the greater sign of the Eucharist leads to a greater gift, the coming of the Lord in more places, feeding and healing more people in more remarkable ways; in every way, the greater sign leads to greater superabundance.  If we leave here then, less changed by this greater sign than those who were present to the signs on the mountain, then we have much Advent work to do.

Let us pray for the Church, that the Lord may receive an eager welcome at his many comings among us, especially in this Advent season of preparation, we pray . . .

For the world, that it may recognize the time of its visitation, and get over its fear of the Lord's coming, we pray . ..

For the mission of St. Lawrence, especially for the piety of students wishing to observe Advent in the  midst of their many concerns, we pray . . .

For the healing of those who are sick and the feeding of those who are hungry, that charity might guide the actions of Christians and all mankind, we pray . . .

For for the perseverance of all those in holy vocations, and for new vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and the sacrament of marriage to be realized through the Lord's coming, we pray . .

Heavenly Father, help us to know that the fulfillment of desires comes less from the arrangement of circumstances and more from your Son's coming.  Help us to accept the good things that come to those who place their trust in Him.  We make our prayers known to you through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

1st Sunday of Advent C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
2 December 2012
Daily Readings

Check this out on Chirbit

The countdown on New Year's Eve.  Mario's 2008 miracle falling out of the air.  A critical exam about to start, a project deadline bearing down on you.  The powerball drawing.  That first kiss.  The birth of a baby. All these human moments, and many more, are filled with anticipation and excitement.  Such is the spiritual attitude of Advent. The countdown is over.  The new year is here.  Happy New Year!

A new year is always fun because of the feeling that through vigilance and resolution, the past no longer determines the future.  Of course, things are only really new if something has fundamentally changed, only if something substantial is happening.  New Year's is just a party that like everything in life, quickly fades, unless we are doing more than playing make-believe.

We are challenged not to turn the 1st Sunday of Advent then, into a make-believe New Year's Eve.  The Church's challenge comes to us from Luke's apocalypse, tonight's Gospel.  Jesus offers through his telling of the apocalypse what deep down, each one of us wants, an unveiling of how we can escape getting older and older with the world, until we fade away, and a chance through the Lord's coming to get younger and newer.

Yet Jesus tells us rightly that we are not prepared for what we want.  Indeed, all of us would die of fright if the world as we knew it crumbled.  We are prepared not for new things, but for holding on tightly to old controls and securities.  Our spiritual drunkenness and material attachments cause us to fear what we most want.  We fear the coming of the Son of Man, who brings the only thing that does not pass away - newness of life.

If you plotted the liturgical year on  the face of a clock, our first Sunday of Advent would happen not when most New Year's celebrations happen, not at midnight, but at about 9 o'clock, by my estimate.  We've held onto the light of last Easter's celebration as long as we could, and that light was not in vain and has not passed away.  Yet as the order of our redemption mirrors the order of nature, now is the time for us to stop looking at the light from yesterday, and to start looking for the light of tomorrow.  In Advent we are to begin looking east to the new Easter light of 2013.

You heard me right, and no, I haven't gone insane, at least I don't think I have.  Advent anticipates Easter.  It isn't enough to remind everyone to quit celebrating Christmas too early.  No, Advent begins a long night of vigil that will continue through next Lent to Easter morning.  Christmas will be a stop on the long night's journey, a celebration of a critical moment.  Christmas happens at midnight of our new year, when the light that is powerful enough to scatter every darkness begins to glimmer at the darkest hour of the darkest night.

Just at the time, 9 o'clock, when many people are reaching for a beer and the TV remote, thinking the most important part of the day is over, it is then, it is now, that Christians are called to become more vigilant.  Christians delight in the God who plans small surprises that come when many people are least expecting them.  Just as scientists look to smaller and smaller particles to help unlock the mysteries of the universe, so Christians look for small beginnings that change the world in radical ways.  We begin Advent by remembering that only a few people made it to the manger, while the rest of the world was asleep.  Even fewer made it to the empty tomb.  Whether or not anyone was there, these two events changed the cosmos more than the Big Bang ever could.

The same incarnation and paschal mystery of Jesus are fully present to the few of us who have come here tonight.  Who among us tonight might dare to let the old pass away, and be ready to recognize the Lord's coming in the hidden surprise that is the Holy Eucharist.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

We are kings through the King of Kings

34th and Final Sunday of Ordinary Time
Solemnity of Christ the King
25 November 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Michael Jackson is the king of pop.  Elvis the king of rock.  Simba the king of the jungle.  Lebron is King James of the basketball world.  Perhaps, in a country whose freedom was gained through the toppling of a king, and who elects a president instead, talk of kings could sound anachronistic.  Yet we are not immune to anointing kings.  We love to point out who dominates in their particular area of reality.  We love to point out who demands submission, the one who reigns over his competitors, the one who has power and fame.  We still love kings, and what is more, we still love seeing them fall.

A king is different than a president.  A president serves at our pleasure.  He is elected.  A king commands obedience.  There is no kingship where there is divided loyalty.  Kingship is absolute.  It demands submission.  When we declare the Kingship of Jesus, and worship him on this solemnity, we do not do so lightly.  For one does not worship that which he elects or that which serves at his pleasure.  Worship demands submission.  So rightly, if we have come this morning daring to worship, it is fitting to proclaim the one we worship to be Jesus Christ our King.

Today we submit ourselves to the author of all creation, to the one more powerful than the Big Bang because he existed before it happened.  We bow down before one whose kingdom does not just occupy a vast portion of the time and space of the universe, but one whose kingdom is alone universal and eternal.  Because his kingdom is founded by truth and love, justice and peace, it is a kingdom that even one with the power to launch a nuclear weapon cannot destroy.  This kingdom belongs alone to Jesus.  So whenever we say the name of Jesus, we almost always anoint him king at the exact same time.  Jesus the Christ.  Jesus the Anointed.  Jesus the Lord.  Jesus our King.

Yet the incomparable power of Jesus our King lies not ultimately in his power to rule and to judge and to dominate, but remarkably, in its opposite. These last things belong to Jesus as King, but there is something more foundational, something about his kingship that comes first.  Jesus is King not just because He is greater than other Kings, but because His is a new category of kingship.  He is the only and ultimate definition of what a King is, and anyone else's kingship is illusory and fleeting unless it shares in His kingship.

For Jesus our King is powerful not just because He existed before, and is the author of, the Big Bang and all that comes after.  He is powerful even moreso because He can also make himself so small as to be born out in the cold, in abject poverty.  He is powerful enough to ride into his capital city not with a secret service or an army, but on a donkey.  He is powerful enough to hand himself over to his enemies, to allow himself to be judged by Pilate, and to be spat upon and mocked on the cross as Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Ieudaeorum.  This power shown by our King, to give oneself over in love to one's enemies, is a power greater than the Big Bang.  The power of sacrificial love shown by our King is the true ground of all reality.

This sacrifice of Jesus, his being a Lamb, precedes his ultimate coming on the clouds to judge heaven and earth.  We submit today to a King who allowed himself to be the Lamb who was slain.  On this solemnity of Christ the King, we bow down unequivocally and without reservation to the truth that is Jesus, the truth that he represents and that He is.  For anyone who belongs to the truth, sees the truth that is Jesus, and declares Him alone to be King.  By virtue of our baptism, we too are kings through Him, with Him and in Him.  Let us not shy away from the dignity we have as those sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit to help build His everlasting Kingdom by a similar gift of our own lives.  Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The apocalypse of the past

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
18 November 2012
Year of Faith

Jesus told his disciples that he doesn't know when the world will end.  Even he, who through his power as Wisdom incarnate could know all things, has chosen to limit his knowledge and to reserve to the Father the knowledge of the final apocalypse.  Even Jesus says he does not know the time or the hour.  Yet one thing we can be sure of is that people will not let this fact get in the way of a good story.  People who are unhappy with things like global warming, terrorism and war, politics, religious arguments and conflicts, and the rise of atheism will never stop reading the signs of the times in their particular way and predicting the end of the world.  Even though they have proven to be wrong every single time, and even though Jesus told us to stop predicting the end of the world, it seems irresistible.  Atheists like to caricature Christians as feeble minded.  That we are the ones afraid of the man in the sky and his final rapture.  Yet secularists are not immune to apocalyptic predictions either.  There have been plenty of scientists who predicted overpopulation would long since have destroyed the world.  Hollywood loves the apocalypse as well.  Aliens are always on the way to destroy us, were it not for the Men in Black, Neo and the Avengers to save us.  There are movies being made not only of angels and demons swooping down in the great battle for souls, but Al Gore makes his movies as well, predicting that global warming will destroy us all in our lifetimes.  Even though nobody does, everyone thinks they know how and where and when the world will end.

Why are apocalyptic stories so irresistible?  Why does Jesus use apocalyptic language?  Well, for one thing, apocalyptic stories teach us spiritual lessons in ways no other stories can.  Nobody knows when the world will end, but everyone knows that the time to get ready is now. Everyone knows that the things we put off until tomorrow are the things that are most likely to be left undone.  Everyone knows that 'carpe diem' is a better life's motto than 'why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.'  It does nobody any good to pretend that we will live forever, when we will not, or that life is longer than it really is.  Whether or not you believe in God or fear God, and whether or not the apocalyptic story you're paying attention is about nuclear destruction, aliens or the rapture, apocalyptic stories work.  They deliver spiritual and moral truths.  Jesus uses apocalyptic stories because it really is true that actions have consequences.  That what we do today has a major impact on what we can and will choose tomorrow, and that there is indeed a great cosmic battle going on with consequences into eternity.  What is more, there is a point of no return for each one of us, a point where we either become the person we always wanted to become or we don't. There is a point for all of us when we run out of chances for do-overs, and we have to admit that we are who we are, nothing more.  The reality is that these decisive moments are much closer to us than we dare to admit. That, my friends, is why apocalyptic stories work.  Because they are spiritually and morally true stories.

Yet none of this is to say that the apocalyptic stories of the Bible are only spiritually useful and not based in material or historical reality.  Especially when Jesus is repeating the apocalypse of the prophet Daniel, he is describing something that is taking place, or is about to take place, immediately in the time of those to whom he is talking.  When Jesus goes apocalyptic, He is not just forwarding the apocalyptic story, He is fulfilling the story.  Jesus is the apocalypse.  He is the unveiling of all things as they really are.  Jesus tells his disciples that they are about to see THE GREAT COSMIC BATTLE OF ALL TIME as He goes behind enemy lines in His passion, proceeds all the way to the gates of hell, and emerges victorious with his angels and saints through a bodily Resurrection that real historical disciples and witnesses will be able to see with their eyes and touch with their hands.  The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus won the decisive and final battle once and for all, and that victory is waiting to be extended to the ends of the cosmos.  Jesus is not telling mythical apocalyptic stories for some minimal spiritual benefit for his disciples. He is preparing them to be the witnesses of the true and lasting apocalypse, and of the great battle and victory that is more than ever was or ever will be.

For us, then, when we hear apocalytpic stories, we look not only to the future but we remember the apocalypse of the past - the unveiling of how things really are and the victory that always will be, through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.  We then look to the present time, as to how we might extend this great apocalypse and victory over sin and death in the time and circumstances of our own lives.  Finally, knowing that the kingdom of God is already fully among us, we move forward into that unknown day and hour not scared that the apocalypse will surprise us or scare us, but with the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love.    

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pray and vote and love

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Year of Faith
4 November 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

  1. On this year of faith commitment weekend in the Archdiocese, pray for all trying to learn their faith and respond with greater trust in God
  2. Politics will never be perfect.  Yet Catholics have a moral obligation to vote if there is a candidate who can advance the common good.
  3. Vote your conscience, which is not your inner voice, but the voice of God deep within you, and his law written on your heart.
  4. Jefferson said rights are grounded not in man, but in our creator. True equality is God knowing and loving and willing every human person.
  5. The right to life is fundamental. No society increases rights to equality, choice, privacy or opportunity when the right to life is at risk.
  6. Archbishop Naumann has asked every Catholic to go to Mass, make a holy hour or offer a rosary on the day of Tuesday's election.  
  7. When storms like Sandy happen, as a rule it's good to remember that despite the contingencies of life, life is still worth living
  8. Praying, helping, giving defeat evil more than doubting God. God allows evil like the cross only as a means to a greater good. 
  9. Ambrose - death is no longer bad, for in Christ it is now the means of our salvation.  Without Christ immortality is a burden not a blessing
  10. Hearing and fearing God is the first stage of love. Would be Masters of their own destiny are not receptive to relationship and true love.
  11. Takes thousands of rules to be a faithful Christian in real life, but they all flow from the core - love God totally, and your neighbor too.
  12. God's ability to focus on you is greater than vice versa.  So use your freedom to surrender all to a love more powerful than you can control.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

12 tweets for All Saints Day!

Solemnity of All Saints Vigil Mass
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
31 October 2012
Daily Readings

  1. More adults celebrating Halloween than ever? Awesome - but don't forget Halloween is just the pre-party for the Solemnity of All Saints!
  2. Let your costume be a reminder of the road to conversion to becoming who you deeply want to be - a saint!
  3. Don't be dumb and play around with something you know nothing about.  Leave paganism and the occult alone.  St. Michael, defend us in battle
  4. Superheroes save the day and make us safe for tomorrow.  Saints make real to us the love of Jesus Christ that redeems the world forever!
  5. Ever ask yourself why there is still so much wrong with the world?  Here's an answer - because there aren't enough saints!
  6. The 10 commandments are the rules for sinners, and Beatitudes the rules for saints who let Christ's perfections shine through them. 
  7. Being a nice person is not the standard for Christianity - holiness is!  Don't settle for less than being a saint!
  8. Anybody else glad St. John saw another multitude too many to count in addition to the 144K original saints? #needwiggleroom
  9. The Reformation is less the fault of Martin Luther and more the fault of Catholics not knowing and living their faith! #beasaint
  10. Only one thing left on my bucket list - oh how I'd like to be in that number when the Saints go marching in!  #AllSaintsDay
  11. BXVI - The Saints are, so to speak, new Christian constellations in which the richness of God's goodness is reflected.  #AllSaintsDay
  12. Sin is making ourselves bigger than the reality in front of us.  Be humble.  Be who you are.  Be self-forgetful.  Be a saint!  #AllSaintsDay

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Annoying is good

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Year of Faith
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
28 October 2012

To make the spiritual progress demanded on tonight's Gospel, we have to be able to see ourselves like Bartimaus - as blind, and as a beggar.  We started tonight's Mass as we always do, confessing as much.  That we are blind as to how to know and love and do the good, and how to hate evil.  That we are blind as far as knowing where we are going, and poor in having the resources we need to get there.  So we cry out like Bartimaus at the beginning of each Mass, Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.  We say it not once, but three times - Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

It is important for us realize that begging for sight and for mercy is the beginning point of holiness, the beginning point of the spiritual life, which is nothing more or less than being close to Jesus, who is holiness incarnate.  This is hard for us to get through our thick skulls, however.  It is not easy for us to see ourselves in Bartimaus.  When was the last time that you encountered a beggar on the street and said to yourself - oh cool, there's someone like me!  No, we've been taught in our lives to try to be as self-sufficient as we can be, and to hate vulnerability and dependency.  So we usually feel not excited to see a beggar, but uncomfortable and trapped -knowing that the person is like us, and that we should help them because Christ is hidden in them, but also knowing that mostly we do not want to be like them, nor bothered by them.  There are feeling of attraction and aversion working within us at the same time.

Yet the path to holiness begins with vulnerability and dependence.  Even if we are able to offer a beggar nothing more than a few cents, a kind look or a heartfelt prayer, we should still be glad to have seen them.  Not that having more beggars is a good thing, that's not what I'm saying, but insofar as we do encounter them, we should see in them what Jesus saw in Bartimaus - we should see ourselves, and our path to holiness.  Mother Teresa was fond of saying that compassion is being able to believe another person's life is as real as your own.

The election of the next president of the United States has spurred so much talk about how a president and government might be able to get America back to work. Especially pertinent to you is how the economy might provide good jobs for new college graduates, so that they can use their education and pursue the American dream.  The emphasis has been on jobs, and how Americans can become prosperous and great, and its citizens become self-sufficient, not dependent on government.  Yet there has been no little talk about how we take care of one another as well, beginning with the most vulnerable, the unborn, and ending with the vulnerability of old age.  The fundamental moral and civil rights issue in any election for a Catholic is the right to life, for the unborn are those least able to provide for themselves.  Babies in the womb are so poor in fact, that they have no voice even to cry out, if it is not the voice of the Church and people of good conscience begging on their behalf.

On our part, we should pray, then vote.  It is a serious sin for a Catholic not to participate in the politics that affect the common good of so many people.  We as Catholics do not run from the world, but seek to transform it with the grace, mercy and truth of Jesus Christ.  We are obligated to form our consciences and then to vote if there is a candidate who can best advance the common good, and to pay special attention to candidates who have a commitment and opportunity to defend and promote the right to life of the unborn.

There is nothing wrong with the American dream and American exceptionalism, at least not if they are understood in terms of the flourishing of the human person.  Those to whom much is given, much is expected, and the American way of life that champions individual achievement and the expansion of prosperity for more people is a way of multiplying the gifts that God has first given.  Yet if progress is only materialistic, not spiritual, then we will see people seeking happiness in a false sense of wealth and security, instead of seeking happiness in the only way it can be realized, through vulnerability and dependence, through the ability to be close to God and to one another, in the vocation to sacrifice and so realize our deepest vocation to love one another as Christ first loved us.  Bartimaus as our hero for today shows us the path to spiritual progress, which leads to a happiness not tied to the unemployment rate, but tied to things that consist in the eternal life won for us by Christ - truth, goodness, beauty and unity.  Amen.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Power and Glory

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Year of Faith
Daily Readings

For the next two weeks, the imagination of our country, and of much of the world, will of course be fixated on the election of the next president of the United States.  From what I can gather, here are the qualifications that we are looking for in the next president.  He must understand the US and world economy, so much so that he can make it work for every American.  He must be able to create jobs from somewhere.  He must be strong enough to cast fear into our enemies, and to lead the world's security, while being amiable enough to sustain and accrue allies.  He must be smart enough to make objective decisions about what's good for the country, and yet humble and personable enough to connect with men and women, old and young, rich and poor.  The list can and does go on and on and on.  The presidency of the United States is arguably the most powerful position in the world, and so also the most scrutinized, and the expectations of this person are incredible, more than any person could possibly fill.

There is only one person who can fill the expectations we have for the presidency, and that is the God-man Jesus Christ.  Yet we all know that our Lord has not chosen to reappear and to place his name on the ballot.  He has entrusted the mission of raising up worthy leaders to us, assisted of course by his Holy Spirit that accompanies us always.  Just because Jesus is not on the ballot, however, and no perfect candidate is available, doesn't mean that Christians can eschew politics.  As Christians we are compelled to be deeply involved in politics, and to raise up leaders who have the heart and mind of Christ, leaders who will try as well as any human person can, to provide for the common good of all people, and to build up a society which mirrors the kingdom of God, a society that provides for real human flourishing and a society focused on the high dignity and destiny of man revealed by Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian is not to run from the world, or to try to create a utopia apart from the world, but to tranform the world through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  That is why it is a grave sin for a Catholic not to care about politics, or to refuse to participate in politics.  Not that you have to agree with all political methods, but we must be involved in raising up leaders who have the heart and mind of Christ.  No one can be excused or exempt from this important responsibility, least of all Catholic Christians.

Yet because we know that only one person can fill the expectations we have for the presidency, we look ultimately to Jesus Christ and to no one else for our personal security and prosperity  It is important to care deeply about politics, because they make a difference, but it is a sin to care more and to spend more time in politics than in paying attention to the salvific action of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our Lord as King and Ruler of the Universe is doing more for the salvation of the world at every moment than any action of our president could do at any moment.  This is not to take away from the importance of the presidency, it is to remind Christians that any every moment, the most important thing is to pay attention to what our Lord is doing.  As Catholic Christians, the praying of the rosary or the celebration of Mass can and should be more impactful than the election of the president, for giving the time and space of our lives, and our hearts and minds, so that the Lord may accomplish his salvific work in us, gives a security and prosperity to a human person that only our Lord, and no president, can give.  It is not right to misplace our hope in the presidence when our sure hope is in the Lord.

In the Lord who in the Eucharist before us is simultaneously the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice, we encounter a great high priest, a mediator, one set apart as our advocate, one who has passed through the heavens.  Yet at the same time we encounter he who is truly a lamb, one who places himself at the foot of humanity, one who takes upon himself the sins of the world and becomes the slave of all.  Only Jesus in the Eucharist can at once be both priest and victim.  To this lamb who was slain belong power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise, now and forever.  In the time of an election, it is wrong to try to determine who best by their own power can fulfill the unimaginable expectations we place on our president.  No, in the time of an election, we turn to another leader.  We pray to the leader who alone can fulfill all the longings of the human person, for in praying to him our country has the best chance to raise up and to elect leaders after his mind and heart.  Amen

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Love does not 'fit' into our lives

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
14 October 2012 in the Year of Faith
Daily Readings

In response to the rich man's question about eternal life, Jesus says two things.  First, he asks, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.' Secondly, Jesus repeats the commandments.  Unless Jesus is asking a rhetorical question, or unless the Gospel writer Mark forgot to record the young man's response, it seems as if the young man ignores the first question.  "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone."

I'm not saying the outcome of the conversation would have been different if the young man had focused on the first question and not the commandments, but the conversation itself would have turned dramatically I think. Jesus starts by giving the young man a chance to become more interested in the person he is talking to, but the young man doesn't take it.  Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.  Admittedly, Jesus is playing a bit of hide-and-seek, trying to draw out the man's faith.  He starts by gently indicating that the young man should have asked not 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' but 'Who must I be with to inherit eternal life.'  Why do you call me good was Jesus way of indicating that this young man was in the personal presence of Wisdom, which is worth more than all the gold in the world, and he was face-to-face with the ultimate Word of God, Jesus himself, who cuts to the heart, between soul and spirit, and between joints and marrow.  The young man has come to the right person, but is not interested enough in the crucial question of who Jesus really is.  Yet Jesus also answers the question of what must be done, but again, the young man decides to focus not on the person, but on the commandments.

In the end, Jesus gives the young man a job, a commandment, something that he must do - sell it all - before returning to the most important thing - follow me.  Be with me.  Share life with me.  Share the mission of love I have received with me.  Come and see who I really am.  Yet the commandment to sell it all is too much, and this part unfortunately, should sound familiar to all of us.  How much time have we all wasted trying to lay hold of eternal life in a futile, impossible way -  by making millions of adjustments and resolutions and new rules and commandments for ourselves, but always within the parameters of what we can control.  Trying to make God a bigger part of our lives is like trying to move the Grand Canyon into our living room, which is just as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle.  It's not going to happen, even if we stay at it for a thousand lifetimes.  God does not fit in our lives.  Love does not fit in our lives.  There is no way to lay hold of eternal life by making adjustments.  Self-abandonment is the only reasonable and secure choice for anyone who truly wants to love and live.  Love and holiness require the smashing of boundaries, and radical self-abandonment that leads to a life thousands of times bigger than we can imagine, just as the Lord promises.

Detachment from money and our things is just a baby step.  We make a simple thing like giving away our money hard, but for a Christian, it's not really supposed to be much harder than following the 5th commandment - you shall not kill.  Detaching from our things is just a baby step if we are to have any chance whatsoever of attaching ourselves to God and to others in a way that produces the security and eternal life that this world cannot hope to offer.  We should confess our attachment to money more.  It is a real problem for most all of us.  If we fail to do so, eternal life is no more possible for us than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Double down on marriage

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Respect Life Sunday
7 October 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

On the communications inventory given to couples approaching the Church for the sacrament of marriage, there is a 'trick' true/false statement that reads as follows:  As long as we love each other, everything will work out.  The correct answer to the question is false.  The purpose of the communications inventory is to show that a couple has lots of things to work on, lots of things to talk about, lots of things to prepare for.  Because marriage is not easy.  From Jesus' time until now, marriage has never been easy, and who would argue that it is perhaps harder today than ever?

So the correct answer to the true/false statement  - as long as we love each other, everything will work out, is false.  Marriage is not only a naive falling in love, it is a working out of a lot of things, even when you don't feel in love anymore.  That being said, almost all couples answer the question true.  That love is all that matters in the end.  That love is stronger than anything.  That if they did not believe in the love that they have found for each other, they wouldn't get married in the first place.

So who's right?  The inventory or the couples?  I would have to say in the end that the couples are right.  The real reason people get divorced is because they fall out of love.  There are other circumstances, to be sure, curveballs that life throws our way, things no one could see years ago that end up destroying a marriage.  But circumstances always change.  Nothing stays the same.  So Jesus is right in telling his disciples that it is because of the hardness of their hearts that Moses allowed them to divorce.  It is people falling out of love that is the problem.  So Jesus points his disciples to little children as a sign of how to fall in love again.  See, the young couples, not the inventory, are right.  Unless we fall in love, and become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God.

By saying this I am not trying to pour salt in the wound of anyone who has been through divorce, and there is a lot of pain in this society and in our Church which leads the world in annulments granted.  Yet rarely if ever do I meet a divorced person who has completely given up on love and marriage.  Despite failure, people want to try again, and they want love for others.  For if any of us quit believing in love, we are already dead, for love is man's origin, love is his constant calling, and love is his perfection.

There are some who think we have arrived at the point now where the sacrament of marriage as Jesus gave it to us has little to contribute to the modern meaning of love and sex and family.  There are others who think that since the Church and culture seem to produce fewer young people who are capable and desirous of marriage, and since divorce shows marriage to be a flawed and unnecessary institution, and since the definition of marriage seems to be moving quickly in a direction that the Church cannot and will not accept, that now is the time for the Church to get out of the marriage business.  As one who works with engaged couples, I can honestly say the thought has crossed my mind that this one sacrament is more work than the other six sacraments combined.

But only the evil one can dull the desire for the fullness of life that Jesus teaches and offers to his beloved disciples.  Now cannot be the time to shy away from the Church's teaching on sex, marriage and family.  Now is the time to double down.  For the Church is not the Church if she has a treasure that she simply hides and tries to preserve for future generations; no, our Church is only the Church if she evangelizes, and does not hide from the culture but seeks to transform it.  It is imperative that we keep the sacrament of marriage as Jesus gave it to His Church before our young people and work diligently to make it a real possibility not for fewer people in the future, but for more.  We have to believe that we have the real thing, for the Lord has given us the sacrament of marriage that is a real participation in his life and love.

If marriage will survive in our culture, and trust me, we should all pray until our knees are worn out that it does, for the common good of our society and especially for our children, then it will depend upon the Church's proclamation of marriage precisely as Christ gave it to us; namely, that marriage is more than a couple falling in love with each other, but even moreso a man and woman falling in love together in something that is bigger than them.  Marriage is grounded not in our ability to redefine it however it suits us, but in hearing a call from Jesus, the ultimate groom whose marriage lasts not for a lifetime but forever, to enter into and to imitate his love for his bride, the Church, a love that makes her holy.  In this, a couple is to fall in love with this marriage of Christ more than they fall in love with each other, and so surrender themselves to its incomparable fruitfulness and generosity.  Jesus gives us the litmus test of the real thing.  Let the children come to me.  Real marriage leads not to children that are artifically manufactured when wanted and discarded when they are not, but children who are always welcomed no matter what.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Organic Catholicism

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

When it comes to sexuality, there can be little question that the Catholic Church has the most natural, organic view of sexuality that is out there.  Even those who would say that same-sex marriage is natural, based in genetics and biology, must admit that there is no natural, organic way for a same-sex couple to have children.  Not every marriage entails children, to be sure, but neither can children be eliminated as an important component of the definition of marriage.  We see same-sex couples all the time in the news getting married in order to try to have children.  Yet in a same-sex marriage, children can only be manufactured artificially.  Such children, without saying anything negative about their beauty or dignity, which of course is not decreased whatsoever by how they were conceived, cannot be conceived in a completely natural way.

Somehow we've gotten to the point in our moral thinking where chastity has become the most unnatural thing imaginable, even though the virtue of chastity, which is having sex only in the most self-sacrificial and most fruitful way possible, entails no artificial processes whatsoever.  Somehow we have convinced ourselves that popping hormones and wrapping ourselves in prophylactics is more natural and organic than saving sex for marriage.   There are too many who feel comfortable in a world where it is taboo to eat artificial foods but increasingly necessary for all people to use artificial contraception.

Trust me, it's not the most fun thing for a preacher to revisit the same issues of abortion, artificial contraception, and same-sex marriage, over and over and over.  Yet it does more damage, I'm afraid, to pretend that these issues will go away, or to pretend that our Church will eventually cave-in to the moral norms of the culture.  It perhaps cannot be said enough that the Church cannot and will not change her moral teaching on abortion, artificial contraception or same-sex marriage, as grounded as her moral tradition is in the law of nature and in the law of Christ.  It should be easy to see that these three issues are organically and naturally tied together, and if we can count on anything in the future, we can count on the Church being consistent and strong in her moral teachings.   There is no way for the Church to be anything else.  The Church will never stop demanding that children have a right to be conceived and nurtured in the most organic way possible, within the loving and natural embrace of a man and woman who have pledged sacrificial fidelity to each other and to their children for life, and withinin a society where such a family is encouraged and supported.  The Church refuses to cave in to a worldview that insists that its food is more organically conceived and nurtured than children.

This should not be a news flash to anyone who is trying to live the Church's teaching - being Catholic is not going to get any easier in the near term.  I'm not predicting great persecutions or anything like that, but it doesn't take a genius to see that the Church and the culture are on a collision course.  It is a battle that the Church didn't pick, but one that she can't shy away from either.  By the Church of course I mean not only the magisterium, but also all of us, who must decide if we dare remain Catholic whether we are ready to weather the storm inside the Church or to actively know and promote the culture of life as part of the new evangelization of our Church.  As Moses said and Jesus repeated - would that we would all be prophets - the more the better - and whoever is not against us, is for us.  Jesus' hard sayings at the end of the Gospel show that in teaching hard things, and standing up for the truth about sex and marriage, requires pruning of ourselves and our Church.  We must cut off those parts of ourselves that are afraid of being unpopular, for there seems to be no other choice.  As we stand for these truths however, we do so as sinners ourselves, never passing judgment on another person.  Being a Catholic means now, as much as ever, to stand with the truth in love, never compromising in the least, on either one.  Amen.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Parents at war with children

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
22 September 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I just returned from Ireland this week so I wasn't on campus, but I heard the Justice For All exhibit visited KU, an exhibit that almost annually tries to re-sensitive the university to the reality of abortion, the greatest civil rights issue of this generation.  Of course we all know that the Catholic Church is and will always be unequivocally and unconditionally pro-life and anti-abortion.  How can we be anything else, given that the author of all life humbled himself to be conceived in the womb of our Blessed Mother Mary?  The Catholic Church will never rest until the sacredness of all human life, especially in its most vulnerable phases, is protected to the utmost by laws that reflect the truth of natural and divine law that found what it means be to Catholic.

Since St. Lawrence does not sponsor the Justice for All display on campus, I am not going to comment on the effectiveness of their method to win hearts and minds for the pro-life cause.  In reading a draft of a proposed letter to the UDK editor from one of our St. Lawrence students, however, Ialso read an opinion piece already published that gives insight into what the pro-choice movement really cares about.

The editorial championed the right of every person to decide their own life.  Choices, choices, choices are what make life worth living, and the more choices you have, the better life you have.  Choices ground human dignity and give meaning to life, was the gist of the editorial.  Leaving to the side the hypocrisy that those children who are wanted are called babies in the womb and their future right to decide for themselves is protected, and those who are not wanted are called tissue and their future right to decide is completely ignored, and notwithstanding the maxim that everyone who is pro-choice has already been born.  Leaving that to the side, the basis of the pro-choice movement is good, if still incomplete.  There is no freedom without choices.  Choices are good.  To be without choices is to lack the ability to shape one's life according to conscience.

Yet the right of every person to decide their own life is incomplete.  It is incomplete first of all because my right to decide cannot impinge on another person's right to decide, or more fundamentally, on another person's right to life.  It is incomplete as well because the right to decide means something different for each person.  The right to life means the same for everyone.  The right to decide means something different for everyone.  The right to decide means something different for someone who scored a 36 on her ACT, and for someone with a learning disability.  The right to decide means something different for a kid training to be an Olympic athlete, and another kid battling cancer.  The right to decide means something different for the mother and the father of an unplanned pregnancy.  The right to decide, and to make choices, is an essential component of real freedom, but it is not the real basis of equality.

This is why we used to talk about rights and responsibilities together, never separating the two.  In the editorial there was the championing of the right to decide, but no talk of the responsibility to serve or to choose the good.   Today we hear thousands of discussions about new rights like rights to same-sex marriage and rights to birth control, but rarely do we hear talk of new responsibilities.  It used to be a cardinal sin to talk about rights without simultaneously talking about responsibilities, for it was assumed there could never be a new right without a new responsibility.  Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.  When was the last time that you heard a discussion about a new responsibility?

And yet this is what we need from our leadership today - more talk about responsibility.  For what inspires human persons, and what makes a country great, is not merely the ability to control my own life, to decide for myself, to do what's best for me, to have what I want when I want it.  This does not inspire, but only kills the human spirit.  What inspires human persons is the opportunity to be obedient to something greater than themselves, something they believe in.  What inspires is to not only do one's own thing ,but to gather together with those who use their freedom not for selfish ambition, but to choose the good, the true, and the beautiful that transcends our own choices.  What inspires is the opportunity to give up my right to control my own life, and to sacrifice my choices, so that others may have life and have it in more abundance.  True leaders, then, talk not merely about new rights, but even more importantly about new responsibilities.

Jesus chastises his disciples in today's Gospel for being so focused on what makes me, me, that they fail to see gift of love he is about to make to them, and the mission of self-sacrificial love to which he is inviting them.  As a test of whether his disciples were more focused on their own ambition or upon their true mission, he places a child in their midst, to see if receiving this child messes up their ambitious plans.  In the same way, a test of whether a nation is more interested in rights or responsibilities, in mere choice or in real freedom, is how it receives children.  For the mark of real freedom is not merely more rights, but more responsibilities.  The mark of real freedom is not independence from others or the right to control one's life, but is vulnerability and dependence, the ability to give our lives to a mission bigger than us.  True freedom can never exist, then, when parents are at war with their own children.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Be the 10%

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Registration Weekend
26 August 2012
Daily Readings

Taken out of context, it would be hard to find more offensive words to our modern liberal feminist sensibilities than to say that wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.  Couples typically shy away from Ephesians Chapter 5 as a lectionary selection for their wedding, even though it contains the most profound theological explanation of how Christ and His Church ground the great sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman.  They don't choose this reading because that line is so hard to hear.  Taken out of context, wives be subordinate to your husbands in everything sounds like something from Islam, or makes our Church sound stuck in the patriarchal dark ages rather than a player in the modern dynamic between men and women.

Taken in context, however, this hard saying becomes beautiful and true, as do all of the hard sayings of our Lord Jesus.  Taken in the context of what St. Paul says about the role of men, that their mission is to make women holy by cleansing them with the sacrifice of their own bodies, in imitation of Christ, the words find their power.  Taken in the context of being able to look at a crucifix, and to see what it means for Christ the bridegroom to become one flesh, one spirit with his bride the Church, then the words wives be subordinate to your husbands in everything become quite easy to hear, since we all as Christ's bride the Church gladly place ourselves under the beauty and power of our Lord's beautiful mission to bring mercy and reconciliation to the world.

To be Catholic today is to live hard truths, and to be faithful to hard sayings, that cause many to shy away from Christ and from a Church they find irrelevant to their lives.  To be Catholic particularly at a public university is to live at the intersection of good or evil, truth or relativism, and vocation or ambition.  With every challenge to your Catholic faith, there is the reality that 90% of Catholics will walk away from their faith like almost all of Jesus's disciples, because his saying were too hard, whereas only 10% will use the challenge to deepen their understanding of what they believe, and more importantly, will take the challenge as an invitation to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ.

I pray that this year more than 10% of you will use the resources of the St. Lawence Catholic Center to deepen your understanding of Catholicism and consequently, to take the next steps in the development of your relationship with Jesus.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Don't water down, double down

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
19 August 2012
Daily Readings

Have there ever been more radical, more divisive, more scandalous or more outrageous words ever uttered from the lips of a human person than the words uttered by our Lord in tonight's Gospel - unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Talk about an absolute statement.  Talk about words that do not admit of equivocation.  When asked to water down his talk about his flesh being living bread sent from heaven, Jesus our Lord does the opposite.  He doubles down.  He says those who are not eating his flesh and drinking his blood are already dead.

What a tremendous blessing to have these strong words about the Holy Eucharist before we receive our Lord on the eve of the beginning of classes at KU.  When Jesus was asked to water down his teaching about  his flesh being real food and his blood being real drink, he doubled down instead.  As those of you who are returning to KU already know, and as those of you who are new are about to find out, for every opportunity there is to strengthen your Catholic faith while at KU, there are hundreds of other moral, spiritual and intellectual temptations to water it down.  Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Catholics arrive at KU with a gameplan that is up to the task of standing strong in the truth, the beauty and the wisdom of the Catholic faith and tradition.  There are unfortunately more Catholics at KU ready to water down than to double down, too many who are ready to allow their Catholic faith to be stolen from them without even putting up a decent fight.

If you haven't noticed, perhaps you will soon that there is getting to be less and less room in the culture wars around us for a watered down, lukewarm, anonymous Catholicism.  There is less and less room for those Catholics who hit Mass when it is convenient for them, and who are casual not intentional Catholics, those who settle for being a good person rather than having their heart set on being a saint.  There will be so many temptations this year for most of you to hide your Catholicism, for to some of your peers and professors, merely being Catholic is to be homophobic and anti-woman.  Very soon it could be that you will be accused of being filled with hate merely for ordering a chicken sandwich on campus, even though you have never had a hateful thought or feeling toward a gay person.  You may be vilified even if you can intelligently articulate the natural law which shows a unique fruitfulness to traditional marriage, and can demonstrate the harm to individuals, children and society for not upholding the traditional definition, and you may especially be hated if you are obedient to the divine law of Christ which esteems the marriage of a man and woman to the level of a sacrament.  In this light, even if you are interested in vigorously defending human rights, merely to be a Catholic is to be dubbed irrational and hateful, so a decision to go to Mass and to live out your faith is increasingly counter-cultural.  At every moral, spiritual and intellectual challenge to your faith, you will need to decide again this year whether you will water down or double down.

As Jesus tells us plainly, to receive the Eucharist is tantamount to putting your whole life on the line.  To receive the Eucharist means to stake your very life on the truth of what Jesus says, and to radically orient yourself toward the distinctive kind of life, the life we call eternal, which comes to those are his fervent and obedient disciples.  It is a life marked by a faith, hope and love so powerful and so distinct from the wisdom of the world, that the life a Christian is living might truly be called supernatural, or eternal.  It is not a life that is the fruit of compromise and tolerance, but a life borne of mercy and grace, a life of profound communion with the innocent victim who loves me and heals me where I cannot love and heal myself.

Standing against abortion or in favor of traditional marriage at a campus like KU may seem hard, but it is easy compared to the risk of receiving the Eucharist.  For there is only one way not to receive the Eucharist in vain, and that is to know and to live out what the Eucharist really means.  To be attached to the Eucharist, to receive Jesus body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, means for us to be radically detached from ourselves, and what is best for me, and to be radically attached to God and to my brothers and sisters within the Church and without, serving them, not myself, with all my heart and mind and strength.  To receive the Eucharist is nothing less than to desire holiness and to fight for heroic virtue, which is a far more difficult battle than the culture wars raging around us.

To receive the Eucharist means not only to be in communion with Christ individually, but to stand fully and without compromise with the Catholic Church, the mystical body of Christ and his beloved bride. To receive the Eucharist is to try to know, to love and to live the teachings of the Church because for the last 2000 years, through teaching the world who Jesus Christ is, the Catholic Church, though filled with sinners, has proven to be surest defender of the dignity of every human person and the promoter of the high destiny of man.  The Catholic Church provides the surest path to unity and peace and prosperity for mankind.  But more than this, to receive the Eucharist is to claim the Church as my family and as my home forever, and to declare that I love the Church so much that I would die for her.

All this is not to start a fight with the culture because we are Catholics, but it is to say that we will not back down from one if one comes our way.  Serving others wins more converts than fighting.  Whether we serve or fight however, because we are all sinners, we must live out this beautiful and difficult Catholic faith with as much humility and contrition as we can muster.  Our job as Catholics is not to horde and to lord our secret, magical path to eternal life, but to evangelize, and to invite others to be a part of our family . Our job is never, ever to point the finger at someone else, especially when we are teaching and living what the Church believes, but to always, always, always point the finger at ourselves, for we know ourselves to be hypocrites and sinners, and it is our cowardice that has allowed the world to ignore and to reject the beautiful person of Jesus Christ.

As you receive the Eucharist faithfully each Sunday this year, the only way not to receive our Lord in vain, is to try as we might to understand what the Eucharist really means.  When we come to this holy place to receive this blessed sacrament, we must always double down.  Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Companion til the end

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
5 August 2012
Football Complex at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

You all as football players know the difference between fans and friends.  Fans can be fickle.  They want results.  Their support not always, but oftentimes, reaches a frenzy when you're winning, and fades when you're losing. They are quick to judge and have a hard time seeing things from your perspective.  They don't see things from the inside out.  They don't see all the Sundays in August when you are working your tail off for Saturdays in October.  This is not to say anything bad against fans.  Every team needs fans, and the more  fans the better.  But they are not friends.  They are not companions.

To be a companion means to be the one whom you break bread with.  The Latin 'cum' means 'with' and the Latin 'pane' means bread.  A companion is the guy that is with you most often, the one you eat with most often.  In this light, although I am breaking bread with you this morning, I am more often a fan than a companion.  I am a KU grad, and have had KU football tickets for 20 years.  My priest friends call me a sports fan who happens to be a priest, and I'm looking forward to this season, and am privileged to say this Mass for you, because I am one of those KU fans who truly likes football more than basketball.  Still, I am not with you day in and day out - I'm not a companion.  I'm a fan.  A companion will always be there.  A fan is fickle and weak.

Both Moses and Jesus in today's scriptures are working through this distinction between fans and companions.  Moses realizes that he had lots of fans when he performed the signs against Pharaoh in Egypt, but few friends when things got tough in the desert.  Jesus warns those who started following him because he fed the 5000 that they will need to be more than fans of the bread that feeds stomachs, but must be true disciples and friends and companions of the one who himself is the bread of life if they are to follow him through the tough time of the cross to the glory of the Resurrection.

As you all build this new era of KU football, you know that there are thousands of fans who want to be inspired by you, but it all starts with you believing in yourself.  The improvements and victories on the football field are dependent upon the victory that starts in your own heart, and if you can honestly say in your heart that I am a man who does not turn back at the sign of trouble, who will never give up no matter what on myself or on my teammates, then you are firmly on the road that our Lord Jesus himself trod, and you already share in his victory over sin and death.  I pray that you find not just fans, but companions on this journey that you have committed yourself to.  I thank you as a fan for the hard work that you are putting in.  But more importantly, I bring you the Bread of Life this morning, the one who is more than a fan of yours, but he who is your deepest and truest companion, not only through a tough season, but through the end of your life, even through the grave to the eternal life God has promised you.  May Jesus coming among us humbly this morning help you to seek true companionship, as you strive with you coaches and teammates to make manifest on the field, the victory that Jesus has won in your own heart.  Amen.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

3 apostolic things

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
15 July 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

The gospel of Jesus' sending of the first apostles is not just a chance for us to remember the foundations of our Church.  No, in a very personal and real way, it is a chance for us to reconnect with our mission in life ,a mission that is in every way for each of us and for all of us, apostolic.  When we talk about the mission of the first apostles, we talk about three things - they were sent to teach, to sanctify and to rule.  They were sent to announce the Gospel, to drive out evil and to make God's kingdom more visible and real.  This apostolic mission has remain unchanged for thousands of years now, carried on by the bishops of the Catholic Church, the unbroken successors of the apostles.  This is the simple mission of the Church, lest we get confused about what the Church really does.  It is simple - the Church, teaches, sanctifies and governs.  By the Church, I mean not only the bishops, I mean all of us.  The bishop is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the mission of the Church is accomplished, and his priests are his closest helpers, but his ministry is ultimately at the service of our mission.  The bishop doesn't do the work of the Church for us, he animates our work, for we have all been baptized as priest, prophet and king.

So Jesus' sending in today's Gospel should remind us of our baptismal grace and of our confirmation, through which we received the fullness of God's Spirit to do these very things.  And there are no excuses for not doing them, for without cost we have all received our status as God's beloved and graced children, so without cost we are to give.  God can call anyone, and indeed he calls everyone, as Amos attests to in today's first reading.  Amos was just a dresser of sycamores, a tree man, and nothing more, and yet the Lord called him to prophesy to the strongest in Israel.  So none of us has an excuse.  Instead of  accepting our excuses, Jesus gives us instructions so that if we have stopped teaching the Gospel by our words and example, if we have stopped in our struggle against evil, or if we have stopped building up God's kingdom, we may start again.

The first thing Jesus says is that we are to go out two by two at the very least.  It is true that the world is changed more by heroes, prophets and saints than by committee meetings, but Christianity is not ultimately an individualistic religion.  Jesus from the beginning forms a communion of persons and his Church is never a collection of individuals but always a mystical body, an organism.  In living out our apostolic mission in life, it is never our mission to start our own church, for Christianity only makes sense if there is one church, the one church Jesus founded, and no others.  It is rarely our mission to seek holiness alone or to go on mission alone, for ultimately Christianity is not a me project, it's a we project.  If our sense of mission in life does not work together in the Church with others, or doesn't attract others, then it is not apostolic.  It is not from God.  We reject many guys who want to go to seminary simply because they are doing their own thing in life, and are not heavily involved in their local parish.  Christianity is not a religion of loners working on their own thing.  Jesus sends us out two by two.

The second thing Jesus says is that we are to go out poor.  Imagine going on your next trip with no wallet and no suitcase.  What we will find, of course, is that the more poor, vulnerable and dependent we are, the more we are able to see God at work and to trust in his divine providence.  Christianity can never be ultimately about seeking security, insurance and self-sufficiency.  No, it is a radical dependence and focus upon God and others.  This summer, I gave three KU college students and three of our seminarians at our inner city prayer and action mission in KCK the task of trying to feed 60 high school kids for 5 days with $500.  That's less than $10 a week or $2 a day, and yes, there were lots of hungry boys in the group.  I gave them an impossible task, but by the end of the fourth week of our prayer and action mission experience, the group only spent $200 a week.  By asking for help, and letting people know what we were doing, the group realized how many resources were out there.  Even though we were in a poor area of Kansas City, Kansas painting houses and doing yardwork, still the donations kept coming in, and we had to give our leftover to someone else.

Thirdly, Jesus says to stay in the same place until we leave.  I have to admit, that for quite a while, I laughed at this line in the Gospel, like it was a mistranslation or the most redundant and least helpful phrase in the Bible.  I usually dismissed the line as unimportant.  But I've had others explain to me that Jesus is giving great advice here, against people who always think the grass is greener on the other side.  This is a spiritual mistake, to think that if this or that external circumstance is changed, then I will be holy.  We often times feel limited where we are, when the truth is there is every opportunity to love and to preach, sanctify and build up in the exact circumstances in which we find ourselves.  So we find in the end that this is profound spiritual advice.  Stay where you are until you leave.  It means, I think, that unless we find a way to be holy where we are right now, we'll find the same excuses in the next place as well.

May the Lord's good advice and instructions take away our excuses for not fulfilling the apostolic mission he has entrusted to each one of us.  Instead of shying away from it, let us embrace it again joyfully, and find new ways to teach by what we say and do, to battle against evil with all our heart, mind and strength, and so drive it out of the world, and to make God's kingdom more real and visible through our service in the Church.  Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

14th Sunday B

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
8 July 2012
Daily Readings

As priests we get asked a lot why we move around so much.  By that the question means - why do you travel and why do you get new assignments so often?  Why don't you just stay put, and why doesn't the bishop just let you stay put?  Well, if you have a priest you don't particularly care for, you might be asking the opposite question, but if you'll humor me, we'll stick tonight with the first question.  Why do priests travel so much and change assignments so much?

The answer lies in the priest's commitment to celibacy and obedience.  Although a spiritual father and a true shepherd, and so tied to a particular parish or mission that he is to serve, the priest also belongs to the greater diocese and indeed to the greater church, and has a prophetic dimension to his priesthood that he must fulfill.  He does this in imitation of Jesus, who moved around very freely because he was celibate and poor, and so did not need to make major plans in order to move to the next town, but also because he had this prophetic mission to go out and proclaim the good news elsewhere.  In tonight's Gospel, Jesus hits his hometown and does not receive a hero's welcome.  In this case, familiarity breeded contempt, and Jesus' deeds and words were met with a complete lack of faith.  In this Gospel story, we see the wisdom of moving priests in our Church's tradition.  It is not proper for a priest himself to get comfortable and happy with his parish, nor is it proper for the parish to do vice versa with her priest.  Although we do not take a formal vow of poverty as diocesan priests like our religious brethren, we are expected to be free enough from possessions to be able to move from parish to parish in short order, taking next to nothing with us when we go.  This is in the end one way of avoiding the worst possible situation that we see in the Gospel, which is having a flock unable to listen to a prophetic word or see a prophetic sign, because they are too familiar with the prophet.

It is good to say, then, that a priest should be unattached to things and external circumstances and ready to move, in imitation of Jesus.  In a word, a priest should be vulnerable and dependent, or as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, he should be filled with weakness.  St. Paul gives great advice to the Corinthians that every Christian life should be marked not with self-sufficiency nor with conservative fear but with reckless love and profound vulnerability and dependence.  St. Paul reminds us well that the security that we sometimes feel in the middle of our lives is mostly illusory, and the pursuit of it vanity.  He tells us plainly that we are either in survival mode or prophetic mode.  Survival mode is dismayed by every trial or curveball that comes our way.  Prophetic mode welcomes all kinds of suffering as a means by which we attach ourselves to the things that really matter, and allow those things to shine forth from us.  Survival mode tries in vain to make the middle part of our life last forever, while prophetic mode lives in the truth that how we started our lives, and how we will end them, vulnerable and dependent, is who we always are, whether we like it or not.  In this light we see that St. Paul is not just telling us ironic things that sound clever, he is bringing the truth to light.  It is when we are weak that we are living in the truth, and so are strong.  It is when we are weak that we are strong in our relationships with God and one another, and these things in the end are all that matter.

We need look no farther for the perfect demonstration of this humility, vulnerability and dependence than at the Eucharist about to be made present to us here.  If we pause for a moment to imagine what it costs our Lord to make himself fully and immediately present to us here tonight in the most obscure place and in the most humble of ways, we know our Lord is not afraid of weakness.  May we grow strong only by wanting to receive him fruitfully tonight, helped by the intercession of our Blessed Mother, who first received him perfectly because she was aware of nothing but her lowliness.  Amen.