Sunday, March 25, 2012

don't be scared to play

5th Sunday of Lent
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
24 March 2012
Daily Readings

With the KU/North Carolina game on today, it's a hard day to preach at KU about Jesus.  Basketball is on the minds of almost everyone - a near religion.  We reach today what we hope will be another epic game in the rich history of KU basketball, and this is perhaps the only year, with our last year playing Mizzou, that we have already played a game perhaps as big as the one today against North Carolina and Roy, for the trip to go to the Final Four. If you care at all about basketball, and it's hard not to get caught up in it around here, today's game is huge.  Basketball is perhaps the only metaphor available for preaching, and not surprisingly, it's the one I'm taking.

Bill Self was asked yesterday if he had any trepidation of taking the job at Kansas with its unreasonable expectations and pressures, especially following Roy and all the games he won while at KU.  Self answered confidently, saying that he hesitated for a moment, but had confidence in his abilities.  He said the turning moment was a phone call to his dad, who told him that if he was scared to take the job, he wasn't the right man for the job.  Bill Self could tell instantly that his dad was calling him soft, and telling him that the Kansas job was right because it was the biggest challenge.  Almost to a person, we're all glad that Bill Self accepted the challenge, and we wish him well today in the epic battle.  The funny thing is, even though we know he wants to win even more than we want him to, Bill Self seems ready.  He seems relaxed.  Not because he thinks it's just another game.  He knows it's not.  But because he's ready.  He's confident.

Just like accepting the job, today's game is a game that you shouldn't play if you're scared to play it.  KU fans worry too much.  Even though we're spoiled beyond belief, we worry.  We worry about what could go wrong. We've been both thrilled and burned by our team. Yet today's game is not a game to be scared of.  It's the reason you are a Kansas fan, not simply to dominate lesser opponents, but for the chance to beat the best.  If you're scared to play this game, you shouldn't play it.

We hear in today's Gospel that after conversing with his Father over and over in prayer, so that he may be intent on doing not his own will, but the will of the Father, Jesus receives a sign indicating that now is the time for the Son of Man to be lifted up and glorified, so that the Father may be glorified in Him.  Through many years of prayer and preparation, being human like us and choosing to learn the Father's will in a most human way, Jesus had learned obedience from what he suffered.  He sensed that now was the time of fulfillment, the time of consummation.  Now was his time to give his life perfectly in obedience, to fulfill the mission and vocation for which he came into the world.  Jesus was not scared of this moment; he relished it, because he had not shied away from the Father's will thus far.  Our Lord says of this moment; unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

When asked yesterday if he was going to do anything different in the North Carolina game because of North Carolina's instability at the point guard position, with perhaps Kendall Marshall playing injured or a freshman taking his spot, Tyshawn Taylor said that at this point in the season, he is what he is, and he plays how he plays.  Bill Self said about as much.  That at this late juncture, sure you can make adjustments and go over a scouting report, but that will not be as important as what the team has internalized throughout the season, not as important as the rules and discipline and principles that have come to define this Kansas team.  We would love to hear intstead, that Bill has a trick or gimmick that he has been saving just for this game, but he told us the truth, that at this point, KU is what we are - a good but flawed basketball team.  Self went on to joke that no rule or punishment will keep Thomas Robinson from trying to bring up the ball - he's going to make this mistake about every game.  It is who he is. love him or leave him.

All of this might bring us to ask the question - who am I?  What have I internalized?  What am I scared of?  What moment have I prepared for?  Who have I become?  The prophet Jeremiah foretells the kind of relationship with God in which he will write his laws internally on the hearts of his people, so that they do not have to be afraid of moments of opportunity and trepidation, but can rely not on external laws but on internal relationship to get them through the tough times.  As we eat and drink the body and blood of the ultimate lawgiver and the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Himself today, may we be ready for Him to live out his perfections in us and with us and through us.  Even more, may our internalizing of his paschal mystery, his story, help us not to be afraid to fall to the ground and to die, nor to follow Him more closely, but help us to be excited for the big game, the big moment for which we were made.  May we realize that if we are too scared to play the game, we shouldn't play it.  If we're scared, we haven't internalized what we were meant to eat and drink.  Let us instead allow love to conquer fear again today in this Holy Eucharist, and as we internalize Jesus Himself, may we be excited that he chooses to live out his paschal mystery, and the perfect obedience that he learned through suffering, in us and with us and through us.  Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

live in the light

4th Sunday of Lent B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Most of us have heard the story of the man who kept refusing help in escaping an impending flood, telling the rescuers that he was putting his trust in God alone to help him.  Finally, the flood got the man, and in heaven, he asked why God let him down, and God pointed out that the many rescuers who offered help were God's helpers.

The first reading today from Chronicles notes how stubborn the people of God are.  I'm a Volga German, born on St. Patrick's Day, mind you, but not a drop of Irish blood that I know of, and I've been told numerous times how proud we Volga Germans are to be of our stubbornness.  We are help yourself kind of people.  Hardworking.  Independent.  Which is ok for many things, and I've benefitted from this upbringing immensely, but this doesn't always make one attentive in the spiritual life to God's rescue operations that he is sending.

The Navy SEALS make a lot of news these days.  People are impressed with their training, which can be used for lethal strategic missions, like taking out Usama bin Laden, to be sure, but also for daring, precise rescue missions.  It is inspiring that our country will still send a team of people to rescue even a single captured or imperiled American citizen.  It is what made the story of Saving Private Ryan so inspiring, that a whole team of men was put in harm's way in order to save the last surviving son of the Ryan family.

The first reading from Chronicles says that God had to go to Plan B because the Israelites were so stubborn.  His plan of sending messenger after messenger from within Israel was being met with resistance.  So in his anger he allowed the Israelites, who had a law and prophets greater than any other nation, to be taken into captivity by a nation less moral, a nation less connected to God.  It was left to a Persian king eventually to tell the Israelites to return home and to reclaim their religion, and to build a temple, for they had failed to listen to their own prophets.

So too the moral teaching of the Church today.  What is happening our midst today follows the storyline from 1st Chronicles to a T.  There are courageous teachers and prophets in our midst, but they are not winning the culture when everyone is looking at the world through the lens of their own viewpoint, whether politically, economically, or through the entertainment industry.  We are stubborn, independent, I did it my way kind of people.  God is sending us lots of teachers, messengers and signs, but we are missing most all of them because we prefer to look at the world through our own view, not as God sees the world.

The white elephant in the contraception debate between the president and the bishops is that too many Catholics use artificial birth control, despite the solid teaching and good scientific and moral reasons to consider not using it.  The horse is so far out of the barn now that if things don't change, it will be up to history to judge why Catholics were unable to live up to such a beautiful and solid moral teaching, a teaching that favors the sanctity and gift of human life and is pro-marriage and pro-family.  Talk about a case of history repeating itself.  The Israelites forsook their own beautiful teaching for the opinion polls of their day, ignored their own prophets, and were humbled to learn from someone else, a Persian king, that they should return to their faith.   History might say the same thing about our generation, as we see the pillars the build a society - chastity, marriage, and a respect for human life from conception to natural death, being eroded slowly but surely, one by one.  The bishops are right to try to draw attention away from the use of contraception to the deeper issues of religious freedom, and the forced payment for sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.  I applaud their effort.  Yet whenever people pay more attention to polls than to arguments, the popular opinions and practices become the law of the land, and it is hard to tell if the bishops can make their voices heard.  There are many things, as we know, working against them.

I want to also today add a perspective to the arguments around sexuality that are raging, and to suggest that behind it all is a deep crisis in masculinity.  There wouldn't be as much room for discussing a war on women as the media likes to frame things, if there were more men like St. Joseph, a chaste and just man, obedient to the mission of protecting the holy family.  Behind the debate on sexuality is the reality that we are producing fewer and fewer men in our society, and in our Church, who mature so as to desire and become capable of the sacrament of marriage and/or the priesthood.  As much as anything, what we are seeing today is a crisis of fatherhood, a deep confusion in what it means to be a spiritual and a natural father.  There can be no oppression of women where the definition of being a true man is to imitate Christ, who wishes to make his bride holy and without blemish by giving his life to her.  See Ephesians chapter 5 if you need a refresher on what it means to be a Christian man. I encourage you that if you devotion to St. Patrick is greater than your devotion to St. Joseph, you should go to Mass tomorrow on St. Joseph's solemnity, to at least make your devotion to these two men equal.  Let's us all pray to St. Joseph to restore our ability to be men, and to know how to be chaste and to do what is right.

Finally, since you've never studied the Theology of the Body written by John Paul II, if you've never watched the Catholicism videos of Fr. Robert Barron, if you've never read Jesus of Nazareth, a reflection of Holy Week, by Pope Benedict XVI,  please do so this Lent, so that we can be assured that God is sending us messengers and prophets to help us turn the lights on!  Let us let ourselves not be filled with the darkness of the culture, but let's live up to the promise of our baptism, and allow ourselves to be filled and enlightened instead by Christ, who scatters every darkness and reveals each one of us fully to ourselves.  Amen.