Sunday, May 26, 2013

Schmitz first Mass

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
St. Dominic's Parish - Holton, Kansas
1st Mass of Thanksgiving of newly ordained Fr. Danny Schmitz
26 May 2013
Year of Faith
Daily Readings

Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum!  Habemus Presbytero!  Congratulations on this glorious day to David and Gail and the Schmitz family, to Fr. Chris and the parish family of St. Dominic's on the ordination of one of your very own to the sacred priesthood!  What a glorious day and the Church does indeed rejoice at the new reality that is an ordinary man, Danny - configured through the action of the Holy Spirit to act in the person of Jesus Christ, the great high priest!  This ordinary man, our son and brother, has been recreated by his ordination, most of all to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, at which he presides for the first time today! This has been done, because Danny has like Mary let it be done unto him, according to the Father's will and the word spoken to him personally by Jesus, and finally, through the powerful action of the Holy Spirit!  What a glorious feast day to celebrate one's first Mass of Thanksgiving, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, as we celebrate how personally, and intimately, yet powerfully the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have worked in the life of Danny - now Fr. Danny - our son, our brother and our friend!  Congratulations to all, but most especially to you Danny.  Your road to the priesthood enlivens our heart and stirs our faith and gives us all hope.  We see Jesus Christ through you, today in an even more perfect way as you preside at this Mass in persona Christi capitis!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, from all of us who love you and will be with you to support you in your many days of priesthood!  We are full of love for you!  It is an honor to pray with you at your first Mass!  Congratulations - now don't mess it up!  We're watching for any mistakes as well!  We know how Mass goes, and we want you to do it right!

We rejoice today with Danny because in him we see someone who has heard the call of Jesus to follow him in such a perfect and powerful way, that 2000 years after the Lord's Ascension, a man like Danny can decide to drop everything and follow this call.  How is this possible?  Every vocation is an improbable miracle.  We all know Danny could be 1000 places besides here, be doing a 1000 things other than this.  How did this happen?  Every vocation, every falling in love, even with God, is an improbable miracle.  Things could have easily have gone a different way.  Danny told the vocation director and bishop he would give it a year!  Now the joke is on him!!  Not really, Danny is receiving a life so much bigger and better, and yes, harder, than he can imagine on the day of his first Mass.  He is receiving an amazing gift.  But how?  How can Danny hear accurately and give himself with such confidence 2000 years after the Ascension?  Is he nuts?  No, as we hear clearly from today's Gospel, it it through the sure and perfect action of the Holy Spirit that Danny has accurately heard the voice of Jesus, just as surely as it was spoken to those first Apostles years ago.  As we heard in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit will speak to us what he hears, for the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of the conversation had between the Father and the Son.  Jesus said that he would call through his Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit would take from what belongs to Jesus and declare it to us.  So no, Danny is not nuts!  He has heard the will of the Father, and the call of Jesus, through the action of the Holy Spirit.  Danny's vocation story is a trinitarian story - it is his relationship with each person of the Holy Trinity, whose mystery we celebrate today, that has brought him to the priesthood and to his first Mass.

That same Holy Spirit that changed Danny into a priest yesterday, will be invoked by Danny himself to change the ordinary elements of bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.  This is Danny's sublime and intimate and most perfect duty as a priest, to say the words that change reality, and to say the words that make Christ fully and perfectly present, if yet mysteriously and hidden, through the Holy Eucharist.  Danny will pray to the Father with the Son in the Holy Spirit each time he presides at Mass.  He will do this thousands of times as a priest.  Despite his rich theological training of 6 years, and his two Masters degrees, Danny would be the first to admit that he can not even begin to explain the mystery of the Trinity, and would not even know the slightest bit about it, had the Holy Trinity not revealed himself to us.  Yet as a priest Danny will express something more important than deductive intellectual knowledge of the Trinity, of which he has a bit - he will express that the Trinity is not the kind of mystery like a crossword puzzle we are to solve  - it is a relationship that we are invited to be at the very heart of.  Danny will demonstrate, especially in his prayer at Mass, that without trying to eliminate the mystery of who God is, the mystery is not inaccessible, but something we are invited to experience personally.  Danny's celebration of Mass, then, is never something joblike or mechanical . . it is something deeply personal to him, a reflection of the most intimate relationships of his life - his relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to which we are all invited.

Danny, as a priest your crowning virtue will be zeal for souls, a desire to bring persons into full relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  You will do this in a world that is losing touch with the definition of what a human person is, let alone the sublime dignity that we have as children of God.  Indeed, the future of humanity, and the destiny of souls, rest precisely in the personhood that has its origin and perfection in the Trinity.  For we are persons insofar as we are known and loved and desired by other persons, and this is so true of the Holy Trinity that the persons share a common life, the same nature.  That is why we call God love . . . because at his core he is an intimate exchange between persons.  Yet our vocation is the same - to become persons through the depth of our love - and this is precisely how you will save souls, Fr. Danny, by helping each soul in your care to realize their destiny to love according to Christ's commandment - to love one another as he has first loved us!  Your own prayer and relationship with the Trinity that grounds your personhood, and now your priesthood, should inspire you confidently to believe in the people you will serve, that they to can become the persons that God has destined them to be.

Our prayers and affections are with you Fr. Danny, and they are yours throughout each day of your priestly life, for we are proud of you, and inspired by your sacrifice and generosity in serving our beloved Church. Serve us well, Fr. Danny, and say a good first Mass!  But even if you don't, we'll give you another chance!  May God bless you in every way, our dear brother and friend, and our beloved priest!  Amen!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ascending to the heart of the Father

Solemnity of the Ascension
12 May 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

A blessed Mother's Day to all mom's out there today, from a Church who knows how to celebrate motherhood!  In every Catholic Church around the world, our devotion to motherhood is on display.  Mary has an icon in every Catholic Church I've ever been too.  Every one!  Tons of our Churches are dedicated specifically in honor of the motherhood of Mary. Of all the world's religions, there is not a close second to how deeply the Catholic Church celebrates motherhood.  No one else proclaims a mother to be the most perfect person who ever lived, and the first member of heaven, like the Catholic Church honors Mary her Mother!  No one else dares to claim the unthinkable, that Mary a human person is the Mother of a God that is a Father but who has no Father.  Our Church never stops celebrating Mary as the mother of the Church, the mother of Jesus, the spiritual mother of all of us who receive the gift of eternal life through her intercession, in the same pattern that we received life on this earth through our dear moms!  Happy Mother's Day to all our mothers, living and deceased, from a Church who knows how to celebrate a mother!

Just as Advent must not cave in too early to Christmas, nor Lent to spring break, so also Easter can not cave into the transition into summer, as busy a time as this is for all of us.  Our Easter celebration is not a decrescendo from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, but just the opposite!  The Ascension is a crescendo of anticipation and hope, a last stop before the unleashing of the greatest gift of Easter, the incomparable outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost!  Woe to us if our Easter celebration is waning!  Today in a special way we celebrate that Jesus ascends to the Father taking with him something he did not have before the Incarnation!  He takes back the gift of a redeemed humanity - his Risen and spiritual body ascends to the heart of the Father, from whence the Word first came.  Today we rejoice that just as Christ in the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery filled humanity with his divinity, so today heaven begins to be filled with our humanity.  This my friends, is cause for increased rejoicing!

This joy of ours at our Lord's Ascension is not a fantastically pious and far-fetched hope that one day we too might get to fly around in new dimensions of time and space with spiritual bodies like super-heroes!  This will be great, don't get me wrong!  The little kid in each one of us I'm sure can't wait to try out the spiritual bodies that will be ours in the Resurrection!  Yet there is a deeper joy to be celebrated today, a joy much more real and profound.  The Ascension represents not just the hope of entering the new time and space of a new heavens and new earth, it is an entering more deeply into what makes us most human - our relationships.  What good would super-human spiritual bodies that could ascend and descend and be untouched by death and transcend so many of the limitations we now experience be, if those spiritual bodies were not filled by love and relationship, the things that make us human?  The reality is that without love and relationship, even spiritual bodies wouldn't amount to a hill of beans in the end.  For heaven for us is less of a place and more of a relationship.

For love is our origin, love is our constant calling, and love is our perfection in heaven.

In the Ascension, Jesus ascends most importantly, then, to the heart of his Father.  The Ascension becomes the sacrament then of the most important journey each one of us is making right now, a journey deeper into relationship with the one who knows us the best and loves us the most, our heavenly Father, and through this relationship to enter more deeply into our relationships with one another.  This journey to the heart of the Father, our final home, is more important than the peripheral gifts of the Resurrection - escape from sin and death and the reception of spiritual bodies.  This journey to the Father ensures that our hope in the Ascension is not a vain hope of escaping what it means to be human, but is always a desire to enter more deeply into the relationships that make us most human.  Throughout human history, it is those great saints who have contemplated the heart of the Father on high, to which the Ascension points, who who amazingly taught us how to love one another more perfectly here below.

The promised gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes in all its fullness at Pentecost next week, is here today, sent from the Father and the Son, to lift our hearts and minds in this sacred liturgy, to that place where Jesus and the Father dwell together.  May that Holy Spirit give us increased rejoicing as the Easter season grows stronger, not weaker, and in our contemplation of heaven teach us how to order our lives so as to journey together toward the heart of the Father, where we are destined to live forever.  Amen!  Alleluia!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

beauty entering into reality

6th Sunday of Easter C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
5 May 2013
Daily Readings

Every once in awhile, I'll get a question about why the Church needs beautiful things.  Jesus was poor.  He had no temporal power or wealth.  He did not have expensive things.  Would he want expensive Churches?  Does he need beautiful Churches? If not, then why do we have them?  Why does the Church need St. Peter's Basilica?  Many have been enthralled with our new Pope Francis eschewing some of the peripheries that come with the papacy.  Taking after his namesake, Pope Francis is showing us that great joy comes through simplicity and poverty.  Which is all good and an important part of the fullness of truth.

Other times, however, I get just the opposite comment.  People crave beauty. People desire to be beautiful.  When a bride gets married, she wants a beautiful Church in which to celebrate the beauty of the moment.  When I pray, I yearn to pray in a beautiful place, like St. Lawrence.  This beautiful chapel in which we pray tonight changed my life, and I'm not sure I could say I would be a priest if this church was not beautiful.  I am sure I would not be a priest if the prayer and liturgy here was anything less than breathtakingly beautiful.  On the one hand, people say beauty is an unnecessary escape from reality, even the opposite of the real world. Some would put beauty low on the list of essentials. Some people want more beautiful homes and secular buildings than churches.  On the other hand, people crave beauty and the desire to be beautiful is inescapable.  Churches have always been built to enter more deeply into the human experience, especially the experience of beauty.

Beauty is not just for the rich, either.  It's not just for those who can afford it.  It can be argued that the poor need beauty as much as they need food and water.  Perhaps food is more immediate, but being human and becoming human depends on the essential nourishment of the human soul.  If the soul of any human person, rich or poor, is not fed by the transcendentals of goodness, truth, love, unity and beauty, that soul will cease to be human.  I'm arguing here that beauty is not dispensable for anyone.

Catholic Churches then, are supposed to be sacraments of the heavenly Jerusalem that we hear described with such utter beauty in the book of Revelation.  It is a city born from heaven, and is not an escape from the created world or material reality or the human condition, but is a city that represents the world fully redeemed and made new.  Lest we lose a vision of what the world is supposed to be like, we are to continually visit our Churches, which are supposed to be our best guess at what the new Jerusalem will be, and what the destiny of the world looks like. Our Churches are nothing less than previews of what a world that is fully the dwelling place of God would look like.  And of course, Churches are at their most beautiful when they are filled with people yearning for transcendent beauty.  No, God does not need beautiful Churches.  He has no problem with vision or imagination.  But we do.  We need beautiful Churches for our hope to be sustained.  We need beautiful and sacred spaces to be human.

Jesus assures us in the Gospel as well that his Ascension to the Father is no escape from the world, but is entering more deeply into reality.  No, after taking a redeemed humanity with him to heaven, as a gift for his Father, Jesus promises us a greater gift; namely, that he will visit us and be with us and make his home with us in an even more perfect way through the gift of his Holy Spirit. The greater gift of the Holy Spirit solves the physics problem of how 6 billion plus people in the world can all be close to Jesus at the same time.  Before the Ascension and gift of the Holy Spirit, this is impossible.  Before Pentecost, we would all be fighting each other to get close to Jesus.  Through Pentecost, however, Jesus becomes more present, not less - more real, and less speculative, than if he were walking the earth today.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will make him present in the Eucharist in just a moment, we take our Lord in even more perfectly and really than those first disciples.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills his promise to come from heaven and to make his home with us, first in the sacred space of our Churches, then also in the very lives of those who belong to his body, the Church.  This Eucharist tonight is nothing less than a real foretaste and participation of what it will be like for the world to reach it's highest destiny. Going to Church is never escaping reality, but is going deeper into the mystery of the world's destiny and redemption.

In the month of May our devotion to Mary increases, for she is the first and best among us to allow herself to become a living tabernacle for Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.  May we have recourse to the humble example and powerful intercession of our Lady, who teaches us how to allow the Lord to make his home within us, especially through the Holy Eucharist we are about to receive.  Amen.