Sunday, February 26, 2012

love conquers all

1st Sunday of Lent
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
26 February 2011
Daily Readings

The story of man's salvation as told in the Bible unfolds the infinite mercy of God.  At his core, God is love.  He is mercy.  That is his innermost reality.  The story of the bible is a story that gets to the heart of God, slowly but surely, page after page.

The story of Noah, as we know, is near the beginning of the bible.  At this point of the story, we have yet to be shown God's heart, his innermost reality.  In the story of the flood, we see God's justice.  As unfair as it may seem to us for men to have to die for their sins, and as much criticism as God gets sometimes for permitting bad things like the flood to happen, we all know deep down that it is a greater injustice to allow sinners to live forever.  What would it mean for man to live forever temporally and horizontally but never realize his full potential to love spiritually and vertically?  The result would not be eternal life but eternal frustration, never realizing that ultimate reason for which we are made.  Death then, no matter how difficult it is to face, and as unfair as it may seem at times, is a gift to a sinner, for it gives shape to life and forces man to face the reason he was made and the meaning of his life.  Jesus announces in his Gospel this urgency that should strike every human person to the heart; repent, and believe in the Gospel.  It is his first message and a starting point in our Lord's desire to reveal man to himself.

In the story of the flood we see God's justice, that as tragic as the flood is, it is more merciful than to let man continue down the path of total frustration.  Yet although God is just, the moment after the flood is a chance for us to learn that there is a deeper attribute of God than his justice, and that deeper attribute is mercy.  Although the flood was a perfectly reasonable way for God to reorder man toward his own good, by discarding the unrighteous and moving forward with the righteous, God instead sets a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he doesn't want to continue down that path, but instead wants to increasingly reveal his love for his people, and to make a covenant with them.  This covenant will be not merely an exchange of justice but an exchange of love.

We see by the end of the bible, and by the end of Christ's revelation, that God has shown his heart completely through the gift of his only son.  By sending his son ultimately to the depths of hell, farther away from himself than even those who were destroyed in the flood, God reveals his desire that all men be saved, especially those who once were thought to be lost to the power of death.

In the sacrament of baptism, a sacrament that St. Peter urges us to contemplate and to renew, we have already died.  If we have been baptized, are dead.  There is nothing for us to fear, not even an untimely or arbitrary death, because with Christ there is no such thing.  In baptism, we have chosen to die with Christ well before an earthly death can choose us.  We have died but also risen with Christ, and so all is completed for us, and we live a new life now, an eternal life, alongside our earthly life, a life that earthly death cannot destroy.

Lent is not a time for us to earn God's love, to make ourselves more worthy of it.  As sinners, that would be futile, and we would use this season only to grow in frustration and despair at our inability to make ourselves perfect.  No, Lent is something much different.  It is a time to stir up the grace of our baptism, not to earn our salvation, but to accept it.  We do battle not to earn our salvation, because God cannot love us any more than he has in Christ, he could no do any more than he has done for us in sending his son to the depths of hell.  No, we do battle for these forty days so that the victory of Christ over sin, as exemplified in the desert, may be accomplished anew in the time and space of our lives.  Lent is not a self-improvement project, but a surrender to the reality of our baptism, and the reality of Christ wanting to win his victory again in us and with us and through us. As fun as the 19 point comeback was yesterday against Missouri, so too is the adventure of allowing Christ to accomplish his victory of sin and death and evil in each one of us.  So let us take another step on our Lenten journey, and listen to him tell us to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sin is the greater evil

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
19 February 2012
Daily Readings

At first glance, our Lord can seem a bit insensitive.  He ignores for a time what is obvious to everyone in today's Gospel, that the paralytic needs a physical healing.  He says to him first - your sins are forgiven.

Upon further reflection, it becomes obvious that the Lord is the most sensitive person in the room, even as he is the most merciful and compassionate as well.  The Lord senses something that everyone else has become desensitized to, that spiritual evil can do much more damage that natural evil or evil of external circumstance.  What does the Lord see exactly?  He sees that being physically healthy but unable to become the person you truly want to be is a more grave paralysis than the physical paralysis in front of him.  Your sins are forgiven is the most compassionate thing the Lord could possibly say.

The sacrament of the anointing of the sick follows today's Gospel is a particularly profound way.  Although the sacrament is properly given at the onset of a serious illness, and prayers for physical healing are always made with great faith, the sacrament entails at its core the forgiveness of sins, and can be used as we know as part of the last rites given to ensure that a soul is free from sin, free to move from death to eternal life.

Ash Wednesday arrives in a few days, and once again as Catholics we are invited to enter into this season of penitence with sincerity, and not to treat this holy season as merely a self-improvement project.  Lent is essentially the opposite of self-improvement - it is self-forgetfuless as we begin humbly admitting that we are dust, that we are unnecessary and that our lives are merely fleeting and superficial unless they are joined to that which is necessary and eternal.  We make promises to move away from our sins, and to hate them with a perfect hate, but more importantly, we make ourselves available to be moved by a love that is powerful enough to forgive our sins.  And we begin not in isolation, but like the courageous friends in today's Gospel we enter Lent together with our brothers and sisters in the Church, for as most of us have learned the hard way, our individual promises are worth little unless they are sustained by true friendship and accountability.

Let us use the Eucharist today to be true friends to each other, and as we confess that we, as sinners, are not worthy to have the Lord enter under our roofs, let us help each other to enter sincerely under the roof of his grace and mercy, and so have our sins truly forgiven.  Amen.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Catholic schools teach physics

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
5 February 2012

Thank goodness we have Mario's miracle to sustain us at KU.  Denmon's multiple miracles in last night's game would sting all the more if we didn't have our own miracles to fall back on, including our miracle that led to the national championship.  Missouri can have the last game at their place.  They hit big shots to win it.  But we have 7 straight championships, 17 out of the last 21 against them, and a miracle that led to a national championship to boot.  See you in Lawrence Tigers.

Of course when we talk about Mario's miracle, none of us actually believe it is a miracle.  It was nearly impossible, but not a miracle.  Mario's miracle is great aliteration, but not entirely accurate.  He hit a huge shot. Nothing more.

Which brings us to the miracles of today's Gospel.  Real miracles.  Yet are they?  Has our use of the word miracle become so loose so as to equate the improbable with the miraculous?  Were Jesus' healings and exorcisms real, or the wishful stories of the uneducated who lived before the scientific era?,

There are some who would throw each and everyone of us who come to Church today into this category of the naive, the superstitious, and those afraid to face reality.  Yet have those who accuse Catholics of such things looked at the science department of any Catholic school or university?  Have such people looked at the scientific analysis that takes place at the Congregation of Saints, which confirms miracles in our Church today?  Or are they themselves too naive or lazy to admit that the Church is not afraid of science, and instead welcomes her discoveries with open arms?  To hear some of them speak, you would think that the Church stopped teaching physics in her universities in the medieval area, or at the time of Galileo.  It's hogwash, and lazy prejudice to assert such things.

We should find it interesting that the same Church which confirms miracles like miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and countless others that confirm the sanctity of the Church's saints, teaches science at the highest levels in most all her schools and universities.  Anyone who wishes to say that there is a divorce between faith and science, between what God wishes to reveal about Himself, and what man is able to discover about created reality, has this to contend with.  For the Church, the question is never a simple either, or, but a profound both, and.  The Church seeks to understand both spiritual reality and created reality, both metaphysics and physics, with great vigor.  In looking into miracles, the Church uses the highest known standards of science, before confirming a miracle.

Still, the Church is able to confirm that real miracles still do take place. In fact, to be a Christian is not to believe that the miracles of Jesus were just for a time, but to believe that our Lord is as intimately involved in the world today through His Spirit as he ever was, including the time of great signs that we hear about in today's Gospel.  The Church of course is willing to listen to any scientist who thinks he can disprove the miracles presented, but the Church will not pretend that the miraculous intervention of God belongs to a superstitious past.  While the Church as no right to demand or control such miracles, nor is it her charism to say definitively why some miracles happen and others do not, it is her charism to teach against a deism which allows God only to be the author of the laws of nature, and disallows his miraculous intervention in the world.  Against this, the Church is proud to proclaim a God who is not distant but passionately in love with the world he created, and who both allows the laws of nature to do their work but also shows forth his power and care through miracles which can be confirmed.  The Church has always seen the miracles of her saints to be a sure sign of the Lord's presence and a confirmation that the Church though filled with sinners is also holy.

It is not hard to find scientists today who say that Newtonian physics which govern things in the macro will give way to quantum physics, which perhaps has greater promise of unlocking the mysteries of reality and the beginning of the universe.  Which is to say that what seems to be impossible by Newtonian physics may prove to be explainable by quantum physics.  You can take this two ways - first, that science has a long way to go before it will understand physics well enough to disprove miracles, or two, that the Church is going to have a harder and harder time proving her miracles in the face of a rapidly advancing science.  One thing is for sure, the standard of what is a miracle and what is not will not change.  A miracle is that which cannot be disproven by science, and so it is a reliable sign of the action and presence of God.  The Church's faith cannot endure forever on superstition, but only on God who is being and existence in Himself.   So the Church will continue to teach science to the chagrin of those who accuse her of naivete, and use science to rule out anything that is not truly miraculous, so that her faithful can put their faith not in the gaps, but in what remains - the good, the true, the necessary, the beautiful, the eternal; namely God himself.  Amen.