Sunday, April 28, 2013

love of the new creation

5th Sunday of Easter C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
28 April 2013
Daily Readings

In today's reading from the Book of Revelation, John sees a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, coming down out of heaven.  What is distinctive about the new creation?  Many things, but one line from today's reading grabs me in particular - God's dwelling place is with men.  During most of the book of Revelation, we see the great battle for souls - the cosmic struggle between good and evil, and souls being whisked away to heaven or lost to hell.  Yet in the end we do not see that God regrets his decision to create the earth, nor does he discard his material creation in favor of a return to a simply spiritual heaven.  This first creation is not a failed experiment. No, what we see is quite the opposite.  The plan is brought to fulfillment.  John sees a new earth being created.  The creation of the first earth is not temporary - it is meant to be redeemed forever. As the one on the throne says - I make all things new.  The fruit of the Resurrection of the Body is not the rescue of some souls for heaven, it is the beginning of the birth of a new earth as well.  What is remarkable about this new earth?  It is where God prefers to dwell.  The emphasis of the reading is not that man's dwelling place is with God, which of course is none the less true.  No, the emphasis is that God's dwelling place is with man - that's what's distinctive of the new creation.  The first garden was made out of love to be a dwelling place for Adam and Eve, but not for God.  In the second creation, a new earth is created for man and God to dwell together.  This second creation begins with the Resurrection of Jesus, the first born from the dead, which we are still celebrating with incomparable joy in this holy season.

A lot of times I see young people abandoning Christianity in favor of humanitarianism, and it boggles me and frustrates me that we have so dumbed down our vision of heaven, the new creation, that some people find a false dichotomy between the two.  The new creation described in the book of Revelation is precisely man as we find him today in the world fully alive and fully redeemed.  Some leave Christianity today because they think it is detached from reality and belongs to those afraid to live who hope in a fantasy afterlife of souls being whisked away from a wicked earth.  Yet the vision in Revelation shows just the opposite. A Christian is not interested in escaping humanity, but in welcoming God into the depths of humanity, so that humanity can be redeemed beginning from its weakest point, and sin and death conquered by love.  A Christian has not less incentive, but more, to co-operate with God in the redemption of the world, since such a redemption of precisely the human condition in which we find ourselves is the definition for us of what it means to pass over into heaven, and into the reality of eternal life.  Again, I repeat a Christian and his desire for heaven is never a flight from being human - it is a more courageous entering into humanity, so that God can fulfill his desire to make his dwelling place with men.

How do we go about entering into the depth of our humanity?  Jesus shows us the way in his new commandment.  What we have in the Gospel today is of course not just a repetition of love your neighbor as yourself.  Neither is it commensurate with other humanitarian versions of trying to love unconditionally.  No, in this commandment - there is a condition.  There is no love that is the basis of the Resurrection, and the creation of a new heaven and new earth, except the precise love that Jesus made perfectly manifest.  His commandment couldn't be more simple nor more precise.  Love one another as I have loved you.  This is almost the opposite of saying we must love unconditionally.  No, the condition is simple.  We must encounter and receive the unique and powerful and salvific love of Jesus in our lives, and try to learn about it in every possible way that we can.  We must meditate on the cross, and conform our lives to the mystery of the cross, knowing that the cross is the precise beginning point of the new creation, for it is there and at the empty tomb, and nowhere else, has a sign been given that there truly is a love stronger than death.

When this condition is filled, then and only then do we try to love, for it is only then that the precise love of Jesus, the only love that is the instrument of the new creation, flows through us.  Not our own love, as beautiful as it is, but the love that because it is Christ working in us, with us, and through us, can alone fulfill the new commandment our Lord gave us.  Love one another as I have loved you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

the voice of Jesus

4th Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations
21 April 2013
Daily Readings

I know my sheep.  They hear my voice.  They follow me.

Sounds perfectly simple.  Know.  Listen.  Follow.  Yet ask any parent, or coach or teacher, or pastor, if simple things are easy, and they will laugh at you.  No sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to keep simple.  Know.  Listen.  Follow.  Sounds incredibly simple, but in practice, it is incredibly hard.

The 4th Sunday of Easter each year is nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday, and is also given to us by the Holy Father as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  It is the Sunday when we Catholics are challenged to admit where we are in knowing and following the voice of Jesus.  For there is no such thing as having a deep relationship with someone, and not being able to know or hear their voice.  A voice is something unique to each person.  Not only the sound of the voice, but the words that are chosen as well.   Each unique person has a unique voice.  For our deepest friends, we recognize that voice instantly, and we miss it when we are apart from them.  Most importantly, for our deepest friends, we can internalize their voice, and remember and hear them even when we are apart from them.  It is fun to know friends so well that we know what their voice is going to say before they say it.

So it is with Jesus.  No one can say that he is an intimate disciple of Jesus, much less best friends with our Lord, without knowing his voice.  Today we reflect on our hearing, from the depths of our being, the most unique voice in human history.  A distinct and powerful voice, a voice that alone has the words of eternal life.    We should recognize instantly this voice when we hear it.  This is my body broken for you, and my blood poured out for you  - that's the voice of Jesus, the unmistakable voice of our Lord.  Leave everything and follow me - again, the voice of Jesus, and no one else's.  Whoever does not deny himself, take up his cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple - guess who?  That's right, the voice of Jesus.  It is a very different voice than when we are told to 'follow your heart' or 'do what makes you happy.'  On Good Shepherd Sunday we are challenged to do more than to listen to our own heart and to find our own voice.  No, when we go into the innermost parts of our person, we are invited not to be alone, but to conform the desires of our heart to the will of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who knows us and loves us more than we know and love ourselves.

When I was a teenager, my mom knew me much better than I knew myself.  She told me that I should be open to the priesthood, and listen to what God was asking me to do.  It used to make me so mad.  I hated the pressure. I had my own ideas, and wanted to follow my own voice.  The last thing I wanted was someone telling me what to do, neither my mother, nor the voice of Jesus.  This is a reaction we all have when we doubt that anyone can know us as well as we know ourselves. Yet in reality, man does not make sense by himself.  He can only find his mission and vocation in life through relationships with others.  And so it is that in many of our relationships, we find that others know parts of us that we do not know.  My mom, who knew me intimately from my conception, who changed my diapers, and who had been watching me for years and years, and loving me, of course knew me better than I knew myself as a teenager.  Yet the only voice I wanted to hear, and to trust, was my own voice.

As vocation director for the Archdiocese, I tell men all the time they would make a great priest. Yet in order for my words to have any effect, a man must also be able to hear the voice of Jesus deep in his heart, in that place where the man prays.  Pope Benedict XVI rightly said about calling forth vocations in our Church, that if we fail to teach our young people to pray, there will be no way to talk them into a vocation.  Yet if we dare to teach them how to pray, to enter into that space where the unique and life-giving voice of Jesus may be heard, then there will be no way we could talk them out of their vocations.

It is at the Eucharist, my dear friends, where the voice of Jesus is most intimately and perfectly spoken.  Here the Holy Spirit makes present the voice of Jesus, not only in the scriptures, where we listen to things only Jesus can and does say, but most perfectly at the time of consecration, when we Catholics hear the most intimate and perfect words that can be spoken - this is my body, broken for you.  This is my blood, poured out for you.  The Eucharist, then, becomes the privileged place of discernment for each one of us - a chance when we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and ask ourselves if we have responded with generosity and faith.

It is on Good Shepherd Sunday when we are challenged to ask ourselves if we have kept something simple simple, or made it complicated.  I know my sheep.  They hear my voice.  They follow me.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
17 April 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

In today's reading from Acts, we see the scattering, and subsequent growth of the Church, during the first persecution in Jerusalem.  It is precisely because of persecution that the Church grows - that blood is spilt, Christians imprisoned, and they arrive at new places to preach the word.  Those who are serious about the new evangelization do well to consider that it is when things are easiest that the Church grows the least.  This might be true as well personally, for the last beatitude is perhaps the most important - Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Those of us here to drink in Easter graces would do well not to shy away from asking for the grace of persecution, witness and martyrdom, for it is an honor to give witness to the Risen Christ.  And what greater sign could we give that the eternal life promised in the Gospel is a  reality within us, than to lay down our earthly lives in perfect witness?

The scattering of the first disciples might also remind us of how the Lord has scattered himself, so as not to lose one of those he has been given.  This scattering of the Lord himself is due to a certain persecution of him . . . a lack of faith.  Those who saw him in the flesh did not believe, and yet eternal life according to St. John consists in just this thing . .. seeing and believing.  The persecution of unbelief did not deter our Lord . .  in fact, he trusts our belief all the more, and our vision, as he scatters and hides himself in the Eucharist despite even more certain disbelief and persecution.  He does this so that at least one more person might have a chance to see him and believe in him . . . and that he might not lose one of those he has been given.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mercy ground of the Resurrection

Divine Mercy Sunday
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
7 April 2013
Daily Readings

Check this out on Chirbit

In the Easter season every Christian professes with all his heart and mind and strength that Jesus Christ is Risen.  Jesus Christ is truly Risen.  We profess a historical event that has changed history more than any other, a truth that has been passed down carefully and consistently for 2000 years so that it can reach our hearts and minds.  Christ rose from the dead.  There is confirmation of a love that is stronger than death.  Christians profess the Resurrection as the thing they most know to be true out of all the things they know to be true.

Yet this truth can of course be doubted.  No matter how much evidence is passed down, the Resurrection is a truth that goes beyond reason, so it can always be doubted.  Even Thomas after touching the wounds of the Risen Lord could have returned to his doubts the next day.  Doubting is always available to us.  Agnostics and atheists are the fasting growing segment of the religious landscape, and as many people are losing faith in Jesus as are encountering him through the Easter proclamation of the Church.

We can argue, of course, about how reasonable it is to believe the testimony of Thomas and those first apostles, who gave their lives to the truth of the Resurrection.  We can and should proclaim that the more you try to live the paschal mystery, the more you discover it to be true - that in entering into the suffering and death of Christ, we discover a new a distinctively different kind of life on the other side of the cross that we call eternal.  We can and should argue for this truth.

Yet many people will always have a hard time believing because Christianity is not at its core an argument.  Whenever we shout - Jesus is Risen!  Others can shout just as loud - no he isn't!  And this kind of back and forth goes nowhere.

Christianity at its core is less of an argument and more of a relationship, less a dogma and more a dialogue.  And in every relationship, human and divine, there is a critical and necessary interplay of faith and love, of trust and mercy.  Therefore, we cannot dare to shout the truth that Jesus Christ is Risen - the truth we know most to be true out of everything we know to be true - without simultaneously proclaming God is love.  God is mercy. So this second Sunday of Easter is not simply a crescendo of last week's Easter Proclamation He is Risen - it is also a contemplation of what it means to be visited by mercy itself - in the person of the Risen Christ.

For the Easter proclamation of the Church to grow stronger, what happens in tonight's Gospel is something that must happen personally and intimately, from the inside out, within each Christian.  The Risen Christ, bringing with him his victory over sin and death, comes to visit his Church from the inside out.  We see this in the story in his appearance in the upper room, where the apostles are gathered in fear.  We see it intimately as Thomas places his doubts into the wounds of Christ, and experiences most personally what a broken human person redeemed completely by love really looks and feels like.

The experience of us receiving the Eucharist in the Easter season is no less intimate.  For we take the Risen Christ deeply within us, into the inner recesses of those doubts and fears that still need to be healed, in those places where Christ's victory over sin and death has not yet been completed. When we receive the Eucharist, we are asking to be healed by divine mercy in the most perfect way possible - from the inside out, beginning from the weakest part of us, at that precise place where we cannot change ourselves.

The Risen Christ breaks through any remaining isolation within us with his mercy.  Until we have this experience, and unless we have this experience, our profession of the Resurrection will limp.  For it is only when we know we are loved that we respond with greater faith.  When we are healed, we respond with trust.  And vice versa, when we invite the Risen Christ to visit us with his unique and salvific power and victory and mercy, then the effect within us is perfect charity and greater mercy given, as the apostles were sent out to forgive the sins of others.

The celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday is a recent change to the Easter liturgical calendar.  John Paul II forever renamed the 2nd Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday.  He himself died on the eve of this Solemnity, after having allowed us to witness him at his weakest point, his closeness to death, giving further testimony of his trust in God's mercy.  Let us not be afraid, as he was not, to be vulnerable and dependent before others and before God, for the redeemed wounds of Christ remind us that the way to the Resurrection is not escaping our humanity, but allowing the mercy of God to visit us at our weakest point.  Amen.