Sunday, January 27, 2013

Catholic family and tradition

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
27 January 2013
Daily Readings

I'm not trying to rub KU's win over K-State on Tuesday in the noses of Wildcat fans.  Especially when it comes to KU basketball, I always try to keep it classy, and to act like we've been there before, which we have.  That being said, it's easy to tell the difference between KU and K-State basketball fans.  For one game, K-State fans become the angriest and loudest fans in the nation, turning Bramlage into ostensibly the 'Octagon of Doom.'  But it doesn't work.  Bramlage doesn't have the magic of Allen Fieldhouse.  And by magic I don't mean superstition or karma or phogginess, whatever that is.  By magic I really mean home court advantage.  A true home court advantage, as K-Staters learn, is not something you can just pull out of a hat when you need it.  It is an identity that you build up over time, bit by bit.  It needs consistency.  Again, I'm just using a metaphor that's available, not trying to pile on K-State, which has great fans.  Lord knows the chaplain at K-State could give the same homily about KU football fans.

St. Paul is talking in the second reading today about the parts of the body all being indispensable, as a metaphor for talking about what Christ's body, the Church, should be.  Allen Fieldhouse is consistently ranked as the greatest home court in the nation, even greater than Cameron at Duke, because this attitude that St. Paul talks about is the attitude of KU basketball fans.  Everybody plays a part.  Everyone is important.  That's the only way it works in the long term - if everyone shows up.  When you pack 16,300 not just for some games, but for every game, you end up with a home court advantage that is not a velleity or a gimmick, but one that is real.  That only happens if tens of thousands of people buy into the tradition that each person is important.  When that is real, it is powerful.  When people begin to doubt it, the whole thing crumbles.

Ezra and Nehemiah in the first reading are witnessing the aftermath of the loss of the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.  The walls of the city are torn.  The tradition is gone.  A once proud people have been scattered and made weak.  What did they do?  They began telling the tradition again.  They started reading their story, beginning with Abraham and then through Moses, as a way of telling the family story once again, of bringing the family back together.  The people were so overjoyed at hearing their story again, they wept and listened for six hours.  Think of what it would feel like to win a game at Allen Fieldhouse after losing every game for many years, and you get the picture.  More accurately, think about what it would feel like to re-enter your hometown after it had been occupied by foreigners for many years.  That is the scene that is being described.

I don't know if this happens in your family, but when my extended family gets together to hang out, it is a big deal who is there and who is not.  Nothing makes my grandparents prouder that to say that everyone came - all the grandkids, all the cousins - everybody!  You know you have a family when everyone plays a part, when everyone feels important, when everyone comes together.

So it is with Mass every Sunday.  This is our huddle.  This is our family.  Before we enter back into the world, we gather to hear our story, to share a meal, to make a gameplan for bringing the truth and love of Jesus Christ into the world, which is our mission.  Mass is not a drive-through and we are not customers.  We are family and we are owners, and the only way this tradition, which has lasted longer and produced more Hall of Famers than even Allen Fieldhouse, will keep going, is if everyone decides to play their part.  So let's huddle.  Let's hear our story.  Let's pray together.  Let's win!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Supersmart Magi

Solemnity of the Epiphany
6 January 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

At any university like KU, the interplay between faith and reason is essential.  A university should be called a trade school if it is anything less than a community of learners where the search for truth is not fragmented, but is shared.  It makes little sense for a university to house both a religion and physics department, without getting the conversation right between the two.

Especially important is the elimination of any imaginary dichotomy between faith and reason, between science and metaphysics.  Western universities were founded historically by the Catholic Church's search for ultimate truth, and a unified truth.  There was no divorce between faith and reason, and every Catholic university had a physics department, as they do today.  There are too many today who think the Church's difficulties with Galileo prove that the Church exists to keep science down, and yet nothing could miss the bigger picture more.  Name me a Catholic school or university that doesn't teach science.  What is more, long after Galileo's case was reconciled, Catholic thinkers continued, as they do today, to make some of the greatest advances in science.  The founder of modern genetics, which led the way to modern Darwinism, and the original proponent of the Big Bang theory, which some posit now will eliminate the need for God, were both devout Catholic priests. The Catholic Church, especially her last two pontiffs, write some of the deepest and most fruitful reflections on the interplay between faith and reason.  Anyone who thinks the Catholic Church is the enemy of science has their head in the sand.

On Epiphany specifically, it is important that we do not allow a certain scientism or disdain for religion to denigrate the example of the magi.  We should reject outright a storyline that shows the magi to be fools, those willing to trade-in the sure knowledge of astronomy for the old myths of those too naive to be scientific.  No, the magi were the smartest persons of their time, for they understood something that we still need to get right today, that the science of the universe derives its efficacy from a theological worldview.  Specifically, science only makes sense if two things are true - if the world is not divine and if it is intelligible.  Yet it is theology, a reflection on God's revelation of himself, that delivers these two truths.  Specifically, theology the highest of sciences saves science from being a circular and futile exercise of matter and energy seeking to encounter matter and energy. No, it is because of its grounding in theology and metaphysics that science can and does make real and important distinctions between what is real and necessary and eternal, and what is not.

The magi were smart for another reason.  They were especially astute because they realized that the most precious knowledge one can obtain is knowledge that enhances what it means to be a human person.  Knowledge of stars is great, and amazing, and inspiring, but insights into persons are better, because we, the ones obtaining the knowledge, are persons, not stars.  The magi knew this.   The mere possibility that the force controlling the heavens could have a human face was enough to make them run in haste.  That the most powerful force in the universe was also powerful enough to allow himself to enter into the vulnerabilities and contingencies of time, space, and the human condition, was a revelation worthy of their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Far from being an embarrassing vestige, the magi represent the wisdom of mankind welcoming the light of any truth, scientific AND theological, physical and metaphysical, that enhances an understanding of human personhood, human dignity, and human destiny.  For these are the most important truths of all, the truth of who we really are.

It is not embarrassing for science and religion to both confess together that in making progress toward these understandings of human personhood, dignity and destiny, there is still more we don't know that what we know.  They mystery of God and of his universe are still mysterious to us in every sense, and to do anything but stand in humble awe of these mysteries is foolish.   Both disciplines, theology and science, have plenty of work left in front of them, without any unnecessary and artificially inflated antagonism.  The Church can and should continue to support and welcome the advances of science, that shine light into reality and truth.  Yet the Church should focus even more on producing saints, who are the fruit of true religion.  Saints are those stars of humanity, who even without scientifically certain knowledge of who they are and where they came from and what they should do, still are able to most perfectly emanate the light of personal transcendent love that has been revealed as the ground of all reality.  Long before theology and science complete their work, many of us will have to live the light of faith that teaches us the truth of what we must do to fulfill our destiny: namely, that there is no greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.  

On Epiphany Christians are especially encouraged to shine the light of Christ into dark places, into the land of the Gentiles.  The world needs the light of Christ, and is meant to walk in its light, but can only do so if and where that light is shone by the lives of real Christians.  On Epiphany, we are to contemplate that the world would be much darker indeed if only reason is allowed to purify faith, but faith is prevented from purifying reason.  The light of Christ can bring clarity in areas where our reason has obfuscated the truth.  Specifically in our western world, the light of the Christ child can teach the world how to see itself again through the eyes of its most precious resource, its children.  The light of Christ child can make a difference in our schizophrenic morality regarding abortion.  The light of Christ child can show where cultures with millions of smartphones might not be smart enough to not contracept themselves out of existence.  The light of Christ can show us that it might not be a smart thing to be more organic in our selection of food that in what makes us most human, our sexuality.  By eschewing natural chastity and natural family planning for artificial contraception that makes the body malfunction, we are running away from what makes us most human - authentic, natural, vulnerable, sacrificial and fruitful love.  Instead of following the light of the Christ child, we make ourselves less personal, and less human, by forgetting where we came from, and trading the true view of the world from the eyes of children to the powerful and selfish will of adults.  In these areas, the light of faith can and should purify our reason, and can keep us from running away from who we really are as human persons.

Anyone who thinks the world needs the light of Christ any less today than we did 2000 years ago is a fool indeed.  The magi, far from being mythological vestiges from the past, represent a fresh hope for not forgetting the wisdom of the past, and being ready to welcome the scientific and theological wisdom of the future.  Most of all, they give voice to the Church's proclamation each epiphany - that wise men still seek Him!  Amen.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jesus prayers

Christmas Weekday
Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
3 January 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

St. John tells us something remarkable about sin.  Sin is the commission of evil or the omission of good by the will of a person who can and should do better.  Yet St. John gives us a deeper, spiritual and relational concept of sin.  Sin is the lack of the presence of Jesus.  In Jesus, whose name means salvation from sin, there is no sin.  Therefore, sin exists wherever he does not, and vice versa.  That is why John is able to say that anyone who remains in sin has neither seen him nor known him.

These words might seem discouraging to those of us who live a confusing mix of trying to have a sincere relationship with Jesus while at the same time still being sinners.  What St. John says might seem to be too black and white, in or out, saved or not saved.  Our human experience can be different.  We experience salvation not only as a once and for all but something that must be reclaimed and relived every day.  Most of us live not in the either/or but in the both/and category.

Yet what St. John tells us should not be discouraging, but tremendously encouraging.  He simply tells us that the victory over sin belongs to Jesus, not to us, and that it will be accomplished in us more by Christ acting in us, with us, and through us, that by anything we could do.  That is why surrendering to the reality and power of his love and grace, made present whenever we call upon his holy name, is the surest path to holiness, more sure than any self-improvement plan we might have in the new year.  Make it your pledge to call upon his holy name, especially in times of temptation and doubt, for his name, as the Catechism says, is the only name that makes present the reality that it signifies.  Amen.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review Christmas in slow motion

Christmas Weekday
Memorial of Sts. Basil and Gregory
2 January 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

John the Baptist, as the last and greatest prophet, is the best at teaching us the fundamentals.  Specifically, he is the best at preparing us to recognize and to receive the Lord.  Today's Gospel may seem out of place, for the time of Advent preparation has given way to Christmas joy, Advent expectation to Christmas celebration, and yet the fundamentals of the Christian life always stay the same, and we can never stop practicing them. In other words, we need John the Baptist as much now as we needed him two weeks ago. In the liturgy too, just because we started celebrating Christmas does not mean that we skip the penitential rite of preparation, the baptism of repentance, at the start of Mass.  No, it is still important to prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries, for as we learned especially with the birth of the King while the world was sleeping, the presence of Christ and of the kingdom may come in small packages, and there is a strong likelihood that we will miss his coming, even in the great Christmas season upon us now.

For those of you who are addicted to watching sports, you know that the replay has become indispensable.  Now that we know we can review what just happened, there is an insatiable desire to see what we just saw, in slow motion and from a different angle.  Maybe the preaching of John the Baptist can cause us to review our Christmas celebration, to see what just happened, from a different angle, and in slow motion, so that we can appreciate the reality and beauty of Christmas even more!  Amen.