Sunday, June 30, 2013

for freedom we have been set free

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
30 June 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Year of Faith

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This word freedom should resonate with a particular intensity and focus on this week we prepare to celebrate our Independence as a country.  For we live in the greatest experiment of freedom ever tried on the face of the earth.  The destiny of the United States is to be a beacon of freedom for the whole world, for this country was founded at the price of many lives, by those seeking a freedom that has been denied, and is being denied yet today, to the vast majority of human persons living throughout the world.  We enjoy right now the greatest amount of freedom for self-expression and self-determination collectively as a nation of any people at any time in human history.  This is reason to celebrate, and to shoot-off fireworks, and something to never take for granted, but something to be grateful for.

As Archbishop Naumann reminded us last week, however, this freedom is either being fought for yet today, or it is slowly but surely being lost.  Human history should tell us that the freedom we enjoy right now is fleeting at best, unless it is purchased by sacrifice and courage, and defended to the utmost at each and every  junction and moment.  As St. Paul says to the Galatians: if you are free, do not submit again to the yoke of slavery!  Archbishop Naumann reminded us that a first and fundamental freedom of our country, one which should be guaranteed and defended not minimally, but to the utmost, is religious freedom.  It is the freedom to act as fully as possible on the convictions derived from conscience.  This religious freedom is at the heart of true liberty and lasting human dignity.  Archbishop Naumann informed us of the current threats to religious freedom in our country, and urged us to remain vigilant.  We should keep this in our minds and hearts as we celebrate July 4th this year.  Very few in human history enjoy the religious freedom that we have at this moment.  It must never be taken for granted.

Yet. St. Paul is talking about more than the freedom we enjoy as Americans, the freedom of self-expression and self-determination, the freedom to act in accord with our convictions.  No, St. Paul is talking about the spiritual freedom that comes to disciples of Jesus.  Specifically, St. Paul references the spiritual freedom of self-gift - a deeper freedom than that guaranteed by the Constitution.  It is a freedom that has its origin in God - a freedom to love another person more than ourselves - a freedom to make a complete gift of ourselves.  St. Paul says that whoever has been first loved by Christ, who always loves in this spiritually free way, is also free to make the same self-gift in response and in imitation of the Lord.

Today's scriptures show us what deep and lasting freedom looks like.  It is the freedom to love, and the freedom to obey out of love.  The scriptures show us that obedience is no burden for the one who is in love, for the one who is free.  True freedom is to allow one's self to be chosen for a mission and a love greater than what we can choose.  The freedom to be chosen is a greater freedom than to choose, though the latter can never be lessened or skipped over.

The scriptures remind us that being free as a Christian is an exciting adventure of being chosen for a mission that is beyond our ability to manage or measure or control.  What this means of course, that being a Christian is a never a conservative micro-managing of life as it is right now.  No, it is a radical freedom to be detached from the need for insuring my life, and to be detached from things going my way or going in the future as they have in the past.  A Christian enjoys a radical freedom to be more available in the future than he has been in the past, to be more ready for things to change more in the future than they have in the past, to live the adventure of being ready for anything even at the cost of sacrificing something very good for the chance at something greater.

This is not a reckless freedom of doing what I want, a license that ultimately leaves to slavery, and a caving into ourselves.  No, as we see in the scriptures, this freedom is a freedom to do exactly and only what God is asking of us - it is a purification of freedom through obedience, and a deepening of desire through the loving of something, and someone, more than I love myself.  This is a freedom, as St. Paul says, that comes first to us as a gift from Christ.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  As we approach our nation's independence, let us receive this freedom in a new and powerful way, in the gift of the Eucharist, that is Christ's perfect and free gift of love to each of us.  Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little!

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
15 June 2013
Year of Faith
Daily Readings


Complacency.  The first reading from 2nd Samuel about David being exposed by the prophet Nathan is a great lesson in complacency.  It is almost unbelievable after the career David had, first defeating Goliath and then Saul and then every other enemy of Israel, all the time trusting deeply in the Lord who called him and was with him at every moment, that David was capable of the awful sin that the prophet Nathan has found out.  David's infidelity with Bathsheba was one thing, but his sending of her husband Uriah to the front lines of battle to be killed was unthinkable for a man like David who was once so close to the Lord and so in love with the Lord.  Yet we find in this story the reality that the battle against sin in our lives is never complete.  It is a battle that goes on and on and on, requiring great effort and determination at every turn of our lives.  For we are capable of anything - good and bad - at every moment of our lives.  We all have habits, good and bad, but our freedom is so great the past does not predict the future.  We find David in this part of his life pretending to be better than he is.  He is king.  He is taking long naps in the afternoon while his soldiers are on the front lines in the campaign season.  David has stopped doing battle.  He is self-satisfied.  He is disengaged.  He is isolated.  He is complacent.  What is more, he has lost his dependence upon God.  These are recipes for disaster.

We learn in the other readings from this weekend however that there are worse things than being a sinner. David repents, as we all have to repent.  Sinners we all are.  It does little good to measure who is the greater sinner, and who is the least. This was the job of the Pharisees - to judge who was following the law.  They were experts at judging things from the outside in - they thought their job was to measure and to rank the goodness of people according to the law of Moses.  Yet as St. Paul says clearly in the letter to the Galatians, such measurement is rubbish.  It amounts to nothing.  For the law exists for the sake of relationship, to the sake of enhancing relationship and of increasing love.  The law does not determine who is worthy of love - it is there to teach people how to love.  Thus as St. Paul says, if the law does not enhance our relationship with Jesus, and make us more dependent upon him, and allow him to be with us and to do more with us, in us and through us, then the law is rubbish.

The Pharisees, as we have come to know well, get this important point backward.  In judging and measuring they are actually decreasing dependence upon relationship and increasing dependence on the law - the exact opposite of what is intended.  As a result, we find the Pharisees to be pathetic people - always having to pretend to be good from the outside in rather than from the inside out - always having to be fake and pretend to be better than they really are.  As a result the Pharisees are incapable of authentic love which must be vulnerable and dependent and honest.

Jesus points us to the sinful woman as an example of someone who has learned to love authentically.  Yes, she has learned the hard way.   But it is better than not learning at all.  As I said earlier, the worst thing in life is not being a sinner - the worst thing is being someone who has no need for love, and who has given up on love.  The sinful woman shows that she realizes she is loved from the inside out, beginning from her weakest point, where nobody else loves her, and where she cannot love herself.  She is loved there uniquely and powerfully by Jesus, and she shows that she knows who he is by her effusive tears and expensive perfume.    The Pharisees want Jesus to play their game of judging and measuring - they have no interest in being loved or forgiven by him, and this shows in the way they treat him.  So Jesus says to them what we all need to hear - the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.  (Lk 7:47).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

don't lose hope

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Today's readings give us great cause for hope, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  In each of the readings, the circumstances are dire - they are dramatic - much more so when we care to look deeply into the context of the readings.  In each case, hope seems to be lost - there seems to be no way to turn around - and yet God acts dramatically.  He brings new life out of hopelessness.  For he is the God who has, who can, and who does being something out of nothing.

Let's take the first reading as perhaps the most dramatic example.  Elijah was sent as a prophet to a faraway land, and in obeying the command of the Lord he finds himself at the mercy of the widow of Zarepheth.  It was during a severe famine, and the last place you would want to be in a famine would be far from home and security, and dependent upon a widow, who had nothing.   In fact, prior to today's reading, we learn that the widow of Zarepheth was down to her last bit of oil and flour.  Still, the Lord commanded Elijah to be dependent upon her, and he and the widow trusted in God, and they ate and ate and the flour and the oil did not run out.

Yet even after this dramatic miracle that saved Elijah and the widow, we see how quickly we can forget the power of God to bring something out of nothing.  Once her son falls deathly ill, the widow loses faith and hope quickly.  She accused Elijah of playing a trick - of coming first for food but ultimately to expose her sin and to kill her son.  The widow quickly loses hope, until Elijah prays to God to save the boy and he is made well.

The Gospel follows the same pattern.  The widow of Nain has lost her only source of support and her dearest relationship.  She has lost her son.  Yet Jesus intervenes dramatically to show that God can act in the worst of circumstances.  God has power over life and death.  Jesus shows as well that God cares about our condition, and there is no reason for us to despair in any circumstance, for God sees us and knows us and loves us and desires what is good for us.

We have just completed our 50 days of dramatic celebration of Jesus' Resurrection - the power and wonder of the Easter season.  We have celebrated the dramatic and final victory that Jesus has won over sin and death, a victory that only needs to be extended into time and space.  The victory is the fruit of a love that is beyond our imagination, a love stronger than anything, and a love that attends each one of us as we live on the edge of life and death, as we pass over constantly from this world to the world to come, a love that casts out all fear.  Yet even with the depth of our celebration of Easter, how quickly do we get frustrated when things don't go our way.  How quickly do we lose hope when our life in this world is messed up.  How quickly does despair set in when we lose control?  We are challenged by today's readings to not lose hope, for God has, and does, and will bring good things out of the worst of circumstances.  He can even bring life from death.

We take St. Paul as a great example as well that we should not give up on our mission and vocation in life either.  Wherever we are at this moment, St. Paul was further behind when he was called to be an apostle.  He says plainly that he was the greatest persecutor of the Church you could imagine.  He hated Christians perfectly and with great zeal.  Yet out of this God called him, and without ever meeting Jesus face to face he became the greatest of the apostles in evangelical zeal, having a greater impact perhaps than all the other apostles combined.  This is meant as an encouragement to us, wherever we are, to not quit, and to find hope that we too can fulfill our destiny and mission in life.

The readings today are straightforward.  Do not despair.  God is with you.  He can act in the worst of circumstances.  Do not lose hope!  Don't give up!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Corpus Christi

Solemnity of Corpus Christi
2 June 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Year of Faith
Daily Readings 

Today's Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ - popularly known at Corpus Christi - is the last of what I like to call the Catholic hangover solemnities.  It's as if the Church begrudgingly lets go of Easter, her most fruitful and meaningful time of year, when oceans of mercy and grace are opened up as the Church celebrates faithfully the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and then the incomparable power that is Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Baptisms, weddings, first communions, confirmations, ordinations, graduations . .. the season grows stronger and stronger, at least it should, before begrudgingly giving way to summer.  The Church hangs on, wearing white as long as she can - tacking on, as it were, the solemnities of the Most Holy Trinity, and today, of Corpus Christi.

Today's solemnity is the traditional day for taking Jesus outdoors, taking the Blessed Sacrament to the streets to show at least a few things.  Firstly, it is to show that our Catholic faith that Jesus is fully present body and blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharistic species, is not a private faith, but one meant for the whole world.  The Eucharist is not ultimately a private cultic trick for Catholics to get into heaven, it is the sacrament of salvation for all people.  Some of the largest crowds in human history have been gathered when Jesus is taken outside, and his Church has gathered millions at a single instant at the table of the Lord, and so fulfilled his promise that his Church would do greater thing than he himself did.  So we take him to the streets as an invitation to the whole world to come to know Jesus who gives himself so fully and humbly in the wonder that is the Blessed Sacrament.  What is more, we take Jesus to the streets not just for others, but to strengthen our faith ourselves.  For Catholics know all too well that we are the absolute worst at receiving the Eucharist casually, and taking the sacrament for granted.  Most of us have received the Eucharist thousands of times with little or no change taking place within us.  Yet the Eucharist can never become routine . . . it's not just an innocuous Catholic ritual.  No, the sacrament is powerful - the grace of one Eucharist is enough to save the whole world - and to break out of our apathy, it is important that we take our Lord in procession before the world, and to continue to dramatically change our Eucharistic piety.  Either our Eucharistic piety is growing stronger or weaker . . . there cannot be any staying the same.

The Church gives us this Solemnity begging us to realize the opportunity that is before us every time we receive the Eucharist.  On the surface, there doesn't seem to be enough here for me to become a saint.  How can ordinary bread and wine, and such a small amount it couldn't feed me for an hour, contain the superabundance of grace, Christ's love and power, that can transform me instantly into a saint?  How can it possibly be so?  We hear in the Gospel the same dilemma.  There does not seem to be enough.  No one in their right mind would think it is enough.  People who have eaten thousands of times were sure there was not enough.  Yet when the food is blessed and broken by Christ himself, there is a superabundance of food.  So too as this sign gives way to the greater sign of the Eucharist  - no matter how many times we have received the Eucharist and it wasn't enough, no matter how sure we are tonight that it is not enough, still the reality is greater than our faith.  Just as in the sign of the loaves and fish everyone was fed, so too we have heard and have seen that the Eucharist is the food of saints, and the grace is superabundant for those of us still daring to become more than we are right now.

What is most amazing about the Eucharist perhaps, is that Jesus gives himself more readily the more he is rejected.  Even if there is only a one in a million chance that a saint will be born through today's reception of the Eucharist.  Even if there's only a one in a billion chance - still Jesus will make himself available, and allow himself to be doubted, misunderstood, ignored and ridiculed, so that he can be present to us once again.  He never tires of loving us, and whenever we go away from him, he finds a way to get in front of us again, especially in the amazing condescension that is the Holy Eucharist.  The Lord who feeds you tonight believes in your more than you believe in yourself.  That's why he is here again for you.  Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.