Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Shepherd Sunday

4th Sunday of Easter and World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Good Shepherd Sunday
29 April 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Check this out on Chirbit

Elijah Johnson was finally playing some ball at the end of the basketball season this year.  As KU made its run to the national championship game, Elijah got more play in the press and more microphones shoved in his face. We're just trusting our coach, Elijah says.  We know if we trust Coach Self, and listen to him, that he will put us in the best position to win games.  We're just trusting our coach.

This was a theme for this year's improbable run to the Final Four.  To be a KU fan is to know teams ranked first almost all season, and to have received an overall number one seed, and not make the final four.  The tournament is madness, and anything can happen.  But perhaps what set this year's team apart from any other is that they listened to their coach.  They really trusted coach Self.  It is something that was said over and over.  Perhaps other KU teams listened to coach, but in the end trusted more in their own voice.

Now coach Self is not the good shepherd.  He would be the first probably to tell you that, and he has never called himself the good shepherd.  Unlike the good shepherd in the Gospel who lays down his life without getting paid,  Bill Self gets paid a lot, since so many expectations are laid upon him.  Still, through our passion for KU basketball, we have a window of how it's supposed to work, this shepherding thing.  A shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him.  They listen to his voice and they trust his voice.  They hear his voice, and they follow.  Even though he gets paid, coach Self showed us how it's supposed to work.

This sounds like the most simple thing, and yet to keep simple things simple is hard.  Ask any parent if it's easy to get kids to listen.  Ask any teacher, any coach, any boss, any pastor or spiritual director.  No, to keep simple things simple is hard.  That is why Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, is an important litmus test for us every year.  It is a particularly intense day for us to ask whether we are following our own voice, or the voice of Jesus, the most uniquely powerful and life-giving voice that can ever be heard.

Lest our lives become a great tug-of-war between our will and his gracious voice, we must humbly admit the uniqueness of our relationship with Jesus, for the one through whom all things were made knows us better than we know ourselves, and the one who laid down his life for us as our redeemer loves us where we cannot love ourselves.  So the voice of Jesus is not the voice of a master to a slave, but the voice of a friend speaking to a friend.  We listen to him not because we need to be told what to do, but because we want to be free to be who we are.

The young men and women of our Church who will be the priests and religious of the future will be those who have truly listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd and decided to trust that voice more than their own.  Let us pray for these young people, for through their trust in Jesus, they will lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters.  St. Peter in the second reading challenges us to know our true identity as children of God, a dignity that we reaffirm with great passion during this Easter season, so that we never try to answer the question 'What should I do with my life?' before knowing the answer to the question 'Who am I?'   As we approach the Eucharist today, let's do something hard, and try to keep a simple thing simple.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

give me mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday
15 April 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever!

It was about a year ago that John Paul II was beatified on this Sunday's Feast of Divine Mercy.  Many recall in 2005 Blessed John Paul died on the eve of this newly named solemnity, the last day in the octave of Easter.  It was as if his last witness was to allow us through his weakness to see his great confidence in God's mercy.  He allowed millions to keep vigil with him, and to contemplate the Holy Father's wounds at his moment of greatest vulnerability, the hours before his death.

By 2030, not that far away, it is projected that there will be as many agnostics as Catholics in the United States.  Not that the Church won't grow in number during that time as well, but agnostics will also grow, exponentially faster as a percentage of the population, unless something happens.  There are many who will ignore or even disdain the great truth of the resurrection of Jesus that has been passed down so carefully and courageously by our Church through the centuries.  When I hear again each year the story of doubting Thomas, my first reaction is to use this apostle as an example of the rampant skepticism and individualism that plagues modern man, and to wonder if any vigorous apologetic for the truth of the Resurrection will ever be enough for modern man, and turn the tide back in our favor.

Yet John Paul II forever took this 2nd Sunday of Easter in a different direction than I would have taken it.  John Paul II did not see the truth of the Resurrection as something that must merely be vigorously defended, but more importantly, as a truth that captures man and must be surrendered to.  For we never see our Lord get defensive, but always we see him responding to doubt with greater faith in man, and to sin with greater mercy.  Knowing that there would be no end to man's ability to doubt the truth of the resurrection, John Paul fought back not just with better arguments, but with a greater witness of how one surrenders to the truth of divine mercy as the greatest power at work in the world, a power even stronger than sin and death.  John Paul II witnessed to a mercy that is not so easily doubted because it goes beyond human logic and control.  John Paul II knew that faith in the resurrection could only grow in an age of skepticism if man is capable of surrendering to a mercy that is his origin, his constant calling, and his perfection in heaven.

Faith in the resurrection then, often limps because people at their core do not believe God loves them.  Archbishop Emeritus Keleher told us priests over and over and over never to stop telling people that God loves them, because for most, it will be the one thing they doubt the most and the longest.  John Paul II has done as much by naming this second Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday, and telling us that mercy is the  key to the Easter proclamation.

So my friends, we need to move beyond the poverty of calculating the minimum amount of God's mercy that we need to bail us out of jail and to squeak into heaven.  This kind of thinking is why Catholics love Lent and are lost during Easter.  We think of Lent as work and Easter as vacation, when in reality Lent is merely a warm-up for the great work of Easter, when oceans of mercy are unleashed through the Paschal mystery upon the world for its redemption, and you and I are sent personally by Jesus to be witnesses that our wounds too have been healed by the grace of the Resurrection, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable before others, letting them put their fingers and hands into our lives that have been redeemed by Christ.

God's mercy does bail us out, for sure, but rather than minimizing the effects of divine mercy, we must come to a contemplation like St. Faustina of mercy as God's deepest attribute, the best definition of who he is, and what he wanted most to reveal about himself through the gift of Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas gives us an astonishing definition of mercy as that power that brings a thing out of non-being into being.  When we think of mercy then, we should never think of small things, but always of big things.  We should think of mercy not just as bailout money, but that power that is recreating everything right now and bringing it into full being from the nothingness of the cross.  We Christians must never forget that we are awash in an ocean of mercy that at every moment is conquering sin and death.

Jesus responds to our doubts about his resurrection by letting us touch his wounds, by making himself more vulnerable again and again, even daring to allow us to touch him once again in the Holy Eucharist today.  Still, he asks us to put out into the deep, and to move beyond our ability to demand more and more proof, into an ability to surrender to a truth that is bigger than us.  He invites us not to settle for a truth that we can control, but to surrender to a truth that makes us younger and our lives bigger.  He promises those to be blessed who have not seen, and still have believed.

Let us surrender today to the awesome mystery of divine mercy.  Agnostics like to scoff sometimes at belief in a Father who would allow his Son to be tortured.  Yet what kind of a project is it to disbelieve God only because we cannot reduce him to our own expectations and judgments?  If the only mercy we had recourse to is one that met a standard we could agree upon from below, how could we ever hope for a life that flows from that mercy that is more than eye has seen, or ear has heard, or has so much as dawned upon the mind of man, the life prepared by God for those who love him.  Let us instead praise God with full hearts and minds on this Easter day, for surpassing out understanding and expectations, so that we are never doomed to worshipping ourselves, or hoping only in ourselves.

This Solemnity of Divine Mercy belongs perpetually now to the Easter proclamation of the Church.  Let us pray to know this divine mercy, and its power to recreate the world, as John Paul II knew it.  Let us celebrate the holiness of our late Holy Father, and ask him to pray for us who have recourse to him.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good!  His mercy endures forever!  Amen

Saturday, April 7, 2012

risk of faith

Easter Vigil
7 April 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Sounds good, doesn't it?  And not just because Lent is over, and we get to chow down on whatever we want as soon as this longest of liturgies is over.  No, not just for that, but because these words are as mysterious, and dramatic and profound as any words that have ever been, or could ever be, spoken in human history.  Without these words - Jesus Christ has been raised - even the words Christ says in the Eucharist - this is my body broken for you, this is my blood poured out for you - would be said in vain.  And if these words do not represent the thing I  most know to be true out of all the things that I know, then we might as well all go home right now.  Because of this, it feels great to say these words on the most holy night of the year, to sing these words!  Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

These are words that are easy for us to say tonight.  For we do not say them alone.  There are lots of us here, and we are led by our catechumens who profess faith in Christ's resurrection for the first time.  We say these words with special attention tonight for at this liturgy we do not simply repeat the creed, but we renew the faith of our baptism with unparalleled meaning and attention.  It is easy to profess our faith in the Resurrection today, for it is Easter.  There are signs of new life all around us, confirming that death does not have the final say.  There are new sights and sounds in the Church alerting our senses to the resurrection of Jesus.  On Easter Sunday we call upon the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, our ancestors and especially the saints in heaven who have gone to the end of the earth and paid for our faith with their very lives, so that the historical truth of the resurrection would be strong enough to traverse all of human history and safely reach us here in Lawrence, Kansas on April 7/8, 2012.  In this context, it is easy for us to say the words that are supposed to be as true or moreso than any other words we ever say - words that are as mysterious and dramatic and profound as any words that can be or ever have been said - Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Let us be glad that it is easy for us to profess this faith tonight.  But let's not let the confidence of this day make us forget the risk of faith that we are taking. For being a Christian is never to go with the flow.  Renewing our baptismal promises is pointless if we do it only because everyone else is doing it.  Let us find ever better reasons for doing what we are about to do, not just going with the flow, not just tinkering with becoming a better person, not just vainly wishing that there might be a magic ticket for bonus time waiting for me on the other side of death.  If this is all we profess tonight, we are the most pitiable people of all.

Let's instead profess a faith that is exciting and dramatic.  There are plenty of people around us who have become anesthetized to Christianity and the resurrection, those who no longer feel at all the historical truth of the resurrection shaking the story of the world like an earthquake and dramatically changing the destiny of man.  There are plenty around who conclude instead that Christians are dumb, and afraid of scientific reality.  So if we only profess something small, and profess it meekly, the Church's proclamation will limp into tomorrow, and too many will remain unimpressed, even with those who today join the Church.

Against any person who would say that the Christian story is a myth for weak thinkers who need a fantasy to avoid their fear of suffering and death, we must be able to profess without equivocation that we are not avoiding anything.  Instead, Christians must be known as those who more than anyone else on the planet are more radically and intensely searching for a love that is stronger than death.  That my friends, is why being a Christian is the most adventuresome way to live, and if we have made it routine and boring, we are doing it all wrong.  Christians instead profess that this quest to find a love that conquers all has led them to the cross of Christ.  It is because a Christian knows this love revealed on the cross to be ultimate reality and truth, that that same Christian may profess the resurrection, the fruit of the cross, to be the most certain truth of his life.  A true Christian then fears nothing, and avoids nothing, but eagerly enters into suffering and death, knowing that only those who follow Christ with love all the way through the cross and into the tomb, may arrive at the truth of what our Lord said, that whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever seeks to lose his life, will save it for eternal life.

So let's do more today that buy a ticket for the eternal life lottery.  Let's do more than make grandma proud that I made it to Mass on Easter Sunday.  No, let's profess our faith in the resurrection not only because the faith has been courageously and carefully passed onto us, but because I have most personally and intensely taken Jesus up on his word, and have actually tried being a Christian.  The resurrection is not something we have to pretend to be true, it is something we find to be true, because I know myself to be getting younger, and my life getting bigger, everytime I lose myself in the adventure of following Jesus more closely.

So when we profess our faith tonight let's not say something easy.  Let's not say something pitiable.  Let's say something with sharp minds and pure hearts and courageous wills.  Let us say together words that are as mysterious and dramatic and profound as any words that have been, or ever could be, uttered by the lips of a human person.  Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Friday, April 6, 2012

This is how you kiss

Celebration of the Lord's Passion
6 April 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

On February 20th, I reposted a story to my facebook timeline from the Kansas City Star.  That paper hasn't always put the Church in a good light, but I was excited that they honored the extraordinary life of a junior at one our Catholic high schools, a kid that I knew a little bit from saying daily Mass at the school.  The headline of the story was "St. James' Connor McCullough loses battle with cancer."  I reposted the story with the comment  'rip Connor McCullough' hoping people would take the time to read the story.  Less than a year before learning he had terminal brain cancer, this young man was at least a four-star basketball recruit.  Connor was on Bill Self's radar, perhaps the best player in a line of family basketball players, including a few McCulloughs I knew when I was chaplain of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He was a stud on the court, and for many, including those who are frenetic about KU basketball, who could only dream yet never achieve the opportunity to play at KU, this made his tragic death all the more newsworthy.

So I reposted the story, after hearing that dozens of his Catholic school peers flooded adoration chapels all over the city after learning of his death, and thousands of young people, including the best basketball players all over the city, attended his wake and funeral.  So devout was Connor and his family, that as people waited hours to view the body and greet the family, tv's were set up with the EWTN nuns praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, and basketball players who had never been in a Catholic church found themselves following along on the pamphlet handed to them, praying for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of the world through a devotion most Catholics have never used.  You can imagine the scene.

So I felt pretty good reposting the story about Connor.  Little did I know that the headline that I reposted - St. James' Connor McCullough loses battle with cancer - would be so offensive.  The headline was offensive to the teammates and friends of Connor who had been going to daily Mass with him and for him for many months, those who had prayed with complete faith for a miracle, but in the end, that God's will be done.  Here is one of the comments made in response to my post - More like St. James' Connor McCullough OWNS battle with cancer.  Connor won.  Last time I checked, cancer didn't make it to heaven.

That's the comment I should have posted.  Instead, an 18 year old had to remind me that the headline was wrong.  Dead wrong.  This made we wonder why I wasn't more offended by the headline - St. James' Connor McCullough loses battle with cancer.  It was so clear to the kids who knew him and  loved him most and prayed for him most.  Cancer was Connor's cross.  The cross is the tree of victory, the tree of life.  Connor won.  The headline was wrong.  Dead wrong.  End of story.

It is so important for us who dare to kiss the cross of Jesus tonight to celebrate that the wood of the cross is the axis of the recreation of the world.  And the second creation is better than the first.  On the cross Jesus hands over the power to create everything out of nothing, a power given by the Father in the first creation, so that he can create everything out of nothing.  That sounds dumb, until you see the difference between what was created in the beginning and what is created from the axis of the cross.

In the first creation of everything from nothing, a light was shared that could one day be touched by darkness  A goodness was shared that could one day be touched by evil.  Happiness was shared but could one day be touched by sorrow and pain.  The breath of life was shared that could one day be conquered by death.

This cannot be said of the new creation.  The one who knew he had the power to lay down his life and take it up again accepted the mission from the Father to recreate the world beginning from the wood of the cross.  For it is at this location, the location we dare to kiss with our lips, that a new reality and everlasting life is created.  And this creation is better, because it is born not merely by God's decision to share himself, but by God's decision to take up a human nature so that he could share all of himself.

When God creates, he bring something out of nothing.  That's what makes his creation different than ours.  And on the cross from the nothing of evil he creates everlasting goodness.  From the nothing of darkness he creates unquenchable light.  From the nothing of pain he creates irreducible joy.  From the nothing of death, he creates eternal life.

The commenter on my facebook got it right.  It is at the cross, and nowhere else, that the only victory that matters is won.   It is at the cross that the Passover from the old reality to the new happens.  That is why it makes sense for us to kiss the greatest instrument of hatred and torture the world has ever seen with the most passionate kiss of our entire lives.

It's strange when a facebook comment from a 18 year old becomes something that pricks my conscience all the way to Good Friday.   Those who prayed for a friend who was given a heavy cross were not disillusioned that his life was too short; no, they concluded that the rest of us are living too long, if we are living a life apart from the life that comes only from the cross.   If I am willing to repost a headline article saying that cancer defeated the life of a promising young man who was a disciple of Jesus, how can I say that I really know what the cross of our Lord means?  For the cross for us is not where life ends.  It is where life begins.