Saturday, March 30, 2013

powerful words

Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
31 March 2013
Daily Readings

Check this out on Chirbit

Jesus Christ is Risen!  He is truly Risen!  Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

I know you've heard these words before.  Even if they sound good on Easter morning, it's not a surprise.  You were expecting me to say that - you were expecting to hear it.  But how do those words hit you this morning?  Are they more true, and more impactful, than anytime you have heard them before?  Better yet - are you ready to repeat them with more meaning than you did last year, with more meaning than you have ever said them before?

If those words hit us with any less intensity this morning than that first proclamation that made Peter and John run to the tomb, then we might as well go home.  For these words - Jesus Christ is truly risen - are the most mysterious and dramatic and profound words that have ever been spoken, and that ever can be spoken - in human history.  There is no middle ground - either these words are everything, or they are nonsense and are nothing.

Without these words - Jesus Christ is truly risen - there is no point in repeating the most profound words that Jesus Christ uttered - this is my body, this is my blood - because without the Resurrection even the Eucharist loses its meaning and leads nowhere new.  Without these words, even the most profound love the world has ever seen - the love manifested on the cross - ends in death.  Without the truth of the Resurrection, the Church and humanity cannot say for certain that we have found or experienced a love that is stronger than death.

Thankfully we do not have to generate the faith to say these words this morning out of nowhere.  Easter Sunday is the easiest day to proclaim the Lord's Resurrection as the thing I most know to be true out of all the things I know to be true.  Nature herself sets the stage, as winter gives way to new life.  The Church provides the sights and sounds and smells in Her sacred liturgy to heighten the senses and to pave the way for the proclamation.  We profess not alone but with the whole Church throughout the world, led by the historical cloud of witnesses from the first apostles to the latest martyr, all of whom professed the Resurrection to the point of death, so that faith in the resurrection could safely reach us here in Lawrence, Kansas on the 31st of March, 2013.  It is in this context that we profess with all our hearts and minds and strength today the beautiful Easter proclamation - Jesus Christ is truly risen.

All that support makes the Easter proclamation possible, but none of it makes your proclamation, or mine, any less personal or risky.  For being a Christian is never to go with the flow.  We are pitiable if we only renew our baptismal promises because everyone around me in Church is doing it.  Professing faith is never something small.  And today is not about showing up to buy a ticket at the eternal life lottery.

No what we do today is profess a faith that is exciting and dramatic, and a faith powerful enough to affect anyone who has become anesthetized to Christianity.  For no proclamation has ever shaken the history of the  world like an earthquake or so changed the dignity and destiny of man, as the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead.  That proclamation is either everything, or it is nothing, and it can't be a proclamation that limps out from the Church on Easter Sunday.  It can't be a proclamation ignored by a world that thinks Christians are those weak ones who need a myth to help them cope with the reality of life.

Against anyone who might think the Christian proclamation of the Resurrection is a myth for cowards or weak thinkers, we disciples of Jesus must be known as those who more radically and intensely than anyone else are searching for that love strong enough to conquer death.  That search led us first not to the empty tomb but to the cross, where perfect love is revealed perfectly.  On the cross we see a love that is ultimate truth and that casts out fear.  So it is there at the cross that with Jesus our Lord Christians avoid nothing and fear nothing.

To be a Christian must be the antithesis of being a naive coward, for the wisdom of the cross compels Christians to be soldiers who live the truth that suffering and death are to be welcomed, redeemed and conquered, not avoided.  A true Christian consequently proclaims the resurrection not as a vain hope in the future, but as a fruit of the cross that he has already begun to experience.  For the first fruits of the Resurrection are experienced by us right now, whenever we dare to live the radical truth given by Jesus that whoever loses his life, saves it for eternal life.

You and I gather to profess faith in the Resurrection today not simply because this faith has been passed down to us, but because we have actually tried being a Christian! For we are the most pathetic people of all if the Resurrection is something we have to pretend to be true, rather than something I've discovered to be true.  Woe to us if we cannot profess our life getting bigger, and our growing younger, every time I lose myself in the adventure of following Christ through his suffering and death, to the glory of His Resurrection!

I beg you this morning not to say something pitiable with your profession.  Please do not say something easy.  But with sharp minds and pure hearts and courageous wills, let us say personally and together profess
the most profound and dramatic and mysterious words that have ever been spoken, or that can ever be spoken.  Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

the greatest distance

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper
28 March 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Jesus is the worst at taking no for an answer.  From the first no in the garden, to the latest no from you or me, Jesus is ready to move wherever he has to move, so that each no which is initially a step away from him, can eventually be a step toward him.  Instead of accepting no, he moves to be ready to accept the next yes. And when he moves, he moves dramatically.

From the first no of the garden, Jesus was ready to move through the yes of Mary.  The distance between Jesus' home in the Trinity to Mary's womb is greater than the span of the entire universe, but not too far for a man who is bad at taking no for an answer.

Yet the yes of the Incarnation gave way to the no of Calvary.  No matter to Jesus.  Even from the no of the cross Jesus could see the eventual yes of St. John and St. Peter, and through their yes could see the yes of men like Fr. Steve and Fr. Curtis and me.  Jesus is ready to move not only through the yes of Mary, but through the words of sinful men who are his chosen priests, moving from the sure fiat of Mary into the liturgy of a Church that cannot know what she is doing.  From the no of many who would not recognize him in the flesh, he could see the faith of each one of you, gathered here tonight to say yes to his real presence hidden under the species of bread and wine.

And still, we are not done.  Or better said, he is not done.  Having traveled farther than the span of the universe in response to Mary's yes, and having traveled even farther, in an incomparable condescension, to be present in the Eucharist, still the greatest distance remains.  This final distance is the distance between the tabernacle and your heart.  It is Jesus' descent into his mystical body, the Church, his riding into the evil that manifested itself on Calvary but that exists more intensely in the depths of my heart, that is Jesus' greatest distance to travel.

You're probably not ready, and I am sure I am not, but more importantly, Jesus is ready, and he is here tonight, to travel this final distance.  It is not enough to arrive at objective faith in the Eucharist on the altar - we can't stop there, and Jesus doesn't want to stop there.  The greatest distance still remains.  It is not enough to adore him from afar - but we must take him under our very roofs, into those places where we still say no to him, where we still hide from him, where we still echo the words of Peter - Lord, come no closer, do no more for me - you will never wash my feet.

The Eucharist must become completely and absolutely for us the physical sign of the spiritual reality spoken of by the psalmist - Where can I go from your love?  If I climb the heavens, you are there.  If I go down to hell, you are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, and fly to the world's farthest end, still you are there.  Not that I can improve on the psalmist - but I would add this - even if I hide from you in the depths of my heart, still I want you to be there.

The mandatum given by Jesus to us his disciples, to wash each other's feet, is the precise fruit of allowing Jesus to travel this greatest distance. this final distance, the distance out of love for each one of us personally he so desperately wants to travel -  from the tabernacle to the last 'no' remaining in my heart.  Right now, on the gift that is this most holy night, Jesus eagerly desires to celebrate this intimate and perfect passover with you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mercy looks forward

5th Sunday of Lent C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
17 March 2013
Daily Readings

In the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, we see on the one hand the worst trappings of religion.  The scribes and Pharisees have a righteous law of Moses, to not commit adultery and to punish adultery severely lest it becomes a cancer that destroys families.  Yet they twist this law which is meant to liberate from sin, and use it to imprison instead.  What is more, if this woman was caught in the very act of adultery, then where is the man?  Were not two caught?  It is a good question. Why do they not also accuse him, nor bring him before Jesus?  We have no plain answer.  In this Gospel we see the worst of religion - hypocrisy and patriarchy together.

There is also a lack of humility on the part of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus in refusing for most of this Gospel to look up from the ground to dignify the trap laid for him, shows what is missing in this scene - earthiness, humility.  Humility is a charism already identified and called forth from the conclave in the election of our new Holy Father, who has taken the name of Francis.  Everyone wants to predict his entire papacy based on his first few actions, which is rash and unfair, but Pope Francis himself has told us that his mind and heart were especially with the poor during the first moments of his pontificate.  Stories of the new Pope's desire to stay close to the earth, and to the poor, like Francis his namesake, have already inspired many.

Jesus is given a false choice between justice and mercy, and like every trap laid for him, he escapes.  Jesus is justice and mercy incarnate, and he cannot choose between them anymore than he can divide his own person.  Pointing a way forward for all who are there, Jesus the new Moses, and the new law-giver, writes on the ground.  He writes a law in dirt exposing that the law of Moses once etched in stone cannot be applied by hearts of stone.  It must be applied by hearts that know what it is to be human.  He invites a humble contemplation of everyone's sin, not just the sin of the woman.  Anyone who is humble uses the sin of another as an invitation to contemplate his own sin, before he casts a stone.

St. Paul, once he encountered a righteousness that looks exclusively forward, a righteousness in Christ that makes all things new because it participates in Christ's creative mercy, considers the righteousness that looks backwards to be rubbish.  St. Paul says that Christians cannot be trapped looking backward at the worst thing they have ever done.  Of sinners, he considers himself the worst, just as we should always first accuse ourselves, but this is no excuse for orienting our lives toward the past.  Neither is someone who is superficially satisfied comparing himself to others worthy to be a Christian.  Anyone who has been truly touched by the mercy of Christ, is by definition a person who is eager to forgive, and a person who cannot fail to hope in the future.

Without eschewing justice in the least, we cannot be a people who minimize our religion to the point where it enslaves instead of liberates.  We cannot settle for a minimum amount of God's mercy, so we can hold onto control of our judgments of ourselves and others.  There are too many of us who still hold onto the worst thing we have ever done.  The story of the adulterous woman must free us of this fear.  We cannot be scared to be different. If we dare this, then unforgiveness will be impossible.  Mercy received and known is mercy shared.  True mercy, which is at the heart of God and is the foundation of His desire to create, cannot fail to make all things new.  The scribes and Pharisees, in trying to trap Jesus, only show that they are trapped themselves.  They are scared of what this mercy could really do.  Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The interior journey of the elder son

4th Sunday of Lent Year A
Laetare Sunday
10 March 2013
Holy Spirit Catholic Parish (Overland Park) and St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Daily Readings

Living at KU, I perhaps get to hang onto the college experience more than others.  I can walk to Allen Fieldhouse in five minutes, to Memorial Stadium in 10, and on Jayhawk Boulevard in 3.  Many adults who are stuck in 'real life' ask me jealousy how things are at KU, like I'm living the dream.  Maybe I am.

As vocation director with responsibilities throughput the Archdiocese, I'm attached somewhat nominally to the day to day life of students at KU.  Yet I get enough interaction for the parable of the prodigal son to come alive.  It's hard to come up with a closer modern parallel to the ancient story of the prodigal son, than the ritual of a college freshman taking off with his parent's money to his new-found freedom at the college of his choice.  It's one thing for a junior high student to confess disobedience to his parents.  The transition of a young person away from his parents to college is infinitely more dramatic.

It is at college that I came to my senses, and realized the richness of my faith and the depth of my relationship with God.  That came through my involvement at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, and the Center is there for students today with all the resources they need to encounter God in the new and different circumstances in which they find themselves.  By exploring new relationships and ideas at KU, and by making the normal mistakes born of selfishness, immaturity and inexperience, and comparing this new data with what I was learning at St. Lawrence, I eventually concluded that there is nothing more important or greater than being Catholic.  The Catholic Church had a greater purchase on reality than any other knowledge I encountered at the University.  What is more, the Catholic Church gave me the greatest sense of family, even more than my fraternity.  For the relationships I formed at St. Lawrence were anchored in the relationships I had with God - with a Father who gave me a dignity and destiny I could find nowhere else, with Jesus who as my Savior loved me at my weakest and most sinful point, where I could not love or change myself, and with the Holy Spirit, who believed in me and sent me out not to pursue my own selfish happiness, but showed me the meaning of life through the revelation of my mission and vocation.

Yet as you all know very well, this is not the experience of the majority of  Catholic students at KU.  St. Lawrence is a great place, but we can't reach everyone.  The story of the prodigal son is played out in different ways in the lives of KU students who arrive at KU without a spiritual game plan.  Too often, lots of money is spent by students and their parents for an education and experience that eats away at the foundation in faith, morals and relationships that has been painstakingly nurtured for 18 years.  It can be painful to watch so much thrown away so fast.

The fastest growing part of the religious landscape for today's college generation is agnosticism and atheism, so especially on liberal campuses, students are always being encouraged through the air they breathe to find their uniqueness as individuals apart from their relationships with family or Church.  The tragedy of this is that just the opposite is true.  We only find ourselves, and our own uniqueness, in and through our relationships with those that love us the most.  The story of the prodigal son makes this truth so palpable to us.  Yet the wisdom of the parable is not necessarily the wisdom of the secular humanism that can dominate the thinking at universities.  And just because the situation of the prodigal son turns out well in this particular parable does not make the prodigal son a hero.  The reality is that only a small percentage of those who go away from their relationship with God ever get it back.  If you walk on the cliff long enough, you'll probably fall off.  Don't get the idea from the parable that it's a good idea to send your kids to far-off places with lots of money with no other direction than 'have fun!'  There are plenty of parables where the kids are lost forever.  Turn on the news if you don't believe me.

So the story of the prodigal son is not a recipe, mind you, for how to send your kids off to college - with as much freedom and money as possible.  Please don't take the story that way.  The story is absurd and extreme to show us how incomparably beautiful and deep is God's love for us, and that we are fools to seek any identity for ourselves apart from that love.  Still, as far as the prodigal son went away from his father exteriorly, so far as to long to eat corn husks, we see even more dramatically in the parable that the older son went even farther from his father interiorly.  At least the younger Son remembered his Father's love.  The older son had forgotten it completely, while being next to his Father the whole time.  His life was a pitiful, slavish obedience to a rule.  His life was devoid of the vocation of man that brings meaning to life - to love with all one's heart, and all one's soul, and with all one's mind.  The resulting lesson is even more dramatic than that learned through the mistakes of the younger son.  The older son shows that it is better to have tried and lost, than never to have tried.  As bad as the prodigal son got, there is nothing worse than the situation of the older son, who simple settled for a vocation less than what he was made for.  For without love, man is nothing.  He is nothing at all.

It is a privilege for me to work as vocation director with the young men of our Archdiocese, who lie on this continuum between these two sons, between losing their vocation because they instead believe the lies about happiness that the world is telling them like the prodigal son, and between their being too scared to believe in themselves and to radically pursue God's plan for them like the older son.  All men of the Archdiocese fall somewhere in between.  It's a joy to work with all of them.  It's easy, for sure, to look at an aging priesthood that has been damaged by scandal, to listen to media report after media report saying the solution is married priests or so on or so forth, and to be discouraged.  It's not always easy to look at a narcissistic and secular culture, where Catholicism is challenged at every turn, and where men are struggling to grow up and find strong examples of fatherhood to inspire them, and think things will be okay.  But to tell the story from the inside out, I can tell you that a renewal of the priesthood is coming, and it's coming in a powerful way, and that these challenges are forging better men, including the two men Thomas Maddock and Evan Tinker, from this parish, to be your priests of the future.  The real story is that our local Church is producing more and better vocations, though you may not see it or feel it everyday, it's true and it's the real story that needs to be told.  It is a story that like the story of the prodigal son, will take time to play out, but will have a beautiful ending.  The story of the prodigal son should tell us that the Father's love for us, his children, and his Church, will never fail.  We are on the winning side.  Thank you for your support in helping me call forth the future priests of our Church.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

God is on your team

3rd Sunday of Lent C
sede vacante
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
3 March 2013
Daily Readings

Videbo visionem hanc magnam quare non comburatur rubus.  I will see this great vision in which the bush does not burn.  Guess where this inscription, and the corresponding depiction of Moses kneeling before the burning bush, appears?  That's right, on the seal of the University of Kansas.  Not at Notre Dame or Rockhurst.  At KU.  On the seal is not a Jayhawk or a field of wheat or Allen Fieldhouse.  On the seal is a religious symbol and an inscription that is markedly supernatural.  The goal of the education at the University of Kansas, if you take your clue from the seal, is a heavenly goal, one that goes beyond science or mere human knowledge.  Those are the words and that is the image that will be on your diploma someday, if you get one.

It's safe to say that the seal is not a centerpiece of the university now.  Nobody talks about it.  The seal is not discussed in class.  Theology is not the highest department at KU, nor Smith Hall for religious studies, with its statue of Moses and the stained glass window of the burning bush, a prominent building.  The seal seems to be a vestige of the past, something the ACLU hasn't gotten around to protesting yet, because no one pays any mind.  On the KU website, there is the shortest description of the seal, a reference only to fire as knowledge and Moses as depicting a humble student who knows the pursuit of knowledge and truth is unquenchable.

There's nothing on the KU website about the bush however.  And the bush is the problem, isn't it?  If there were a bush on campus that was noncompetitive with fire for matter and energy, you better believe the whole science departments from KU would be running experiments on that bush.  The part of the scene that is most remarkable, the reason that Moses went over in the first place, is the part that KU ignores on its own website.  There seems to be no understanding or curiosity about the bush.  Yet there's nothing unusual about a man watching fire.  We've all done that.  What is interesting about this scene is the bush.  There's a bush that is not consumed by fire.

In the story we heard, God tells Moses that his is a unique category of being. I am who am - when God says this, it is not a tautology of meaninglessness but tells us that God is not a part of the world, that God does not have being but ISbeing.  Therefore, the burning bush tells us something about the interplay between man and God.  The two are non-competitive.  Because God is not part of the world, he can visit the world without displacing man, without obliterating man.  Moses is afraid, like we all would be, because our assumption is that when the bigger appears the smaller disappears.  Yet the burning bush shows the uniqueness of the God of Israel.  Moses needs to respect God, but not fear his being competitive.  This is new in the history of the religions of the world.  The relationship between man and God is not a either/or, zero sum game.

A key way to understand the debate between Christianity and atheism is to notice what happens when God visits people, when fire visits the bush.  For Christianity, the bush becomes more alive, more fully itself, when it welcomes God, when it surrenders to the fire.  For atheism, when God visits man is diminished, he is bullied, he is displaced and discarded.  For the atheist, a no to God is a yes for man.  For the Christian, as St. Irenaeus would say, the glory of God is man fully alive.  For the Christian, a yes to God is a yes for man, and vice versa.

Now, I don't want to oversimplify this.  God's being noncompetitive does not mean that he loses his power.  There are times when God's visitation to his people is less like his visit to the bush and more like the visit of the orchard owner to his fig tree.  God for our own good visits us not to destroy us but to admonish us and give us a deadline for bearing fruit.  In this way God is still non-competitive - he does not want to bully us but to serve us and share life with us.  Yet this love of God in some instances must take the stance of tough love, of not allowing us to make ourselves selfish and unhappy and unfruitful.  What is more, if we do not bear fruit at some point we must be cut down, so that we do not make others unhappy.  It is more merciful to cut a tree down than to let it be eternally unfruitful.

That is why we have the season of Lent, and this time is so important to us.  There is for each one of us personall a kind of spiritual physics, a point of no return, when our habits and attitudes get to the point where our nature is stable and the chance for conversion passes us by.  Lent is the time of radical pruning, of detaching from unhelpful things, through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that the chance to be set on fire by the love of God remains real for us.  The fire of the burning bush should allow us to see today through the resurrection of Easter all the way to the fire of Pentecost, for to be set on fire by God for sanctity and to bear fruit that will last forever, is our highest mission and destiny in life.  Amen.