Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Family over everything

Ash Wednesday
St. Lawrence Catholic Center at the University of Kansas
13 February 2013
Daily Readings

It is so much more fun to put on purple for the first time when KU just destroyed K-State in basketball a couple of days ago.  Purple means penance.  Think about that.  Yet even though Catholicism is bigger than sports rivalries, and we have no choice but to don the purple beginning today, it's a bit easier than thinking that wearing purple is our punishment for losing to the Cats.  Didn't happen.  Rock Chalk.

I like whoever made the Withey for Pope sign.   Monday was quite a day not only for KU basketball, but also for Catholicism. If there is one thing the Catholic Church knows how to do, it is how to grab headlines.  Pope Benedict shocked the world on Monday!  An 84 year old man caught the whole world off guard by his resignation.  We hear all the time how the Church is less relevant and out of touch with modernity, yet there was the old guy rocking the twitterverse with his announcement.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ matters.  The Church matters.  Catholicism matters.

We are here today because our membership in the family of Jesus Christ matters.  At KU, the acronym FOE means a lot.  It's popularity reached a peak when the mother of Thomas Robinson died his junior year, and led by the Morris twins, the term Family Over Everything reminded everyone of what's important in life.  In the same way, if our membership in the Church is not about being family to each other, we should just go home.  As the Gospel says clearly, if there is anything showy or superficial, anything fake or insincere about our checking in to get our ashes tonight, then for God's sake, we might as well go home.  Joel says unless you are here to rend your heart, not your garment, then go home!  If the Church is anything less than the most important family to which you belong, a family that you are willing to die for, then we should not eat and drink judgment on ourselves through the Eucharist, we might as well just go home.

But I invite you to stay, and to never stop coming back, because the Catholic Church is your family.  It is your home.  It is where God wants you to be.  It is where you deeply want to be.  We don ashes today to proclaim that we are no better the ordinary sinners, no more deserving of God's love than anyone, but to also proclaim that God's mercy is the most powerful force in the universe.  We pledge prayer, fasting and almsgiving not as a superficial self-improvement project, not like the Pharisees, but because we need change from the inside out, the kind of change that comes from radical dependence upon God.  We abstain from meat on Fridays not because it's a gimmick, but because families do things together, and because we need to stick together for the fight and journey ahead.  Family over Everything.

Bill Self challenged his team this week to play with freedom.  Funny thing, coming from a basketball coach, because in saying the word freedom he did not mean for his players the license to do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it.  That is how the world thinks about freedom - freedom as license to have things my way as long as I don't hurt anyone else.  That is not what Bill Self meant. That is not the full definition of freedom.  Bill Self meant that his players shouldn't play tentatively or fearful of making mistakes.  He meant that the tradition and discipline of KU basketball was meant for players to flourish - for their full talent and personality, their utmost joy and virtue, to shine forth.  They should take the court with confidence that everything is ordered to their playing their very best  They should play free.

So too for us Catholic Christians.  We should play the game of life with freedom.  We should know and live our faith not with fear and timidity, but with freedom.  For the practice of our faith gives us confidence that we are ready to play our very best, at the highest level.  St. Paul says we are all chosen to be ambassadors for Christ; God, as it were, appealing to the world through us!  Each one of us is to live out the incredible story of what it means for God to choose a sinner to be transformed into a saint.  Our Church exists for one purpose only - to provide the tradition and discipline that produces championships, first-round draft picks - in other words, SAINTS!  That is the genius of the Church to which we belong, the Catholic Church, and if we are here for any purpose less than to pursue the sanctity that represents the very best of who we are, and who we always promised ourselves we would be, then we should just go home.  Isaiah was right - why should the world look at the family of God and say -  those pathetic Christians.  If that is the kind of Christian we are - pathetic, private, scared of the world and fearful of becoming saints - we might as well go home.

But I invite you to stay.  And to keep coming back.  And to never give up.  Being a Catholic is the most adventuresome, extreme, and alternative lifestyle you can imagine, and it's also incredible fun.  If being a Catholic is not fun, trust me, you're not doing it right.  Instead of taking ourselves too seriously, and shooting anyone who makes fun of Catholicism, we can make 'Withey for Pope' signs and it's all good.  We are the most diverse group of people the world has ever seen, and yet we enjoy a mysterious unity that can never be understood nor destroyed.  We are the Church of celibates, who also stands up for the true meaning of marriage.  We are always fighting against evil, but celebrating the good at the same time.  We are most active in politics, but will always transcend politics.  We are the Church of the greatest fasts and the greatest feasts.  We are the Church of the greatest sinners and the most extraordinary saints.  We are the Church of chastity before marriage, so that we might have the most children within marriage.  We are a Church whose male leaders act in the person of Christ, but who celebrate the example and power of our mother Mary, who is also the mother of God, more than feminism has ever celebrated women in human history.  We are the Catholic Church - the greatest tradition the world has ever seen, and today that Church proclaims a fast, so that her members can return to God with all their hearts, all their minds, and all their strength.

So live your Catholic faith today in a way that will bring you this freedom, this chance to be all that you are, all that you promised yourself you would be, all that God has called you to be.  Keep coming back.  Put family over everything.  And be not afraid.  Amen.


Jordan said...

This is awesome. Love it.

Elizabeth Schmeidler said...

WOW!! Amazing! My son wants to go to KU because he is a great knowing that he could hear a sermon like that while attending KU I may just let him go! Ha.
God BLESS you for your beautiful boldness and truth! My heart is filled with joy. Thank you for your service to our Lord and to His Church.

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Shireen Kukereja said...

In your face!
Such a great homily Fr.
Thank you for all that you do!

Fr. Mitchel Zimmerman said...

thanks everyone for the encouragement - it means a lot!