Saturday, September 28, 2013

the poor are God's gift to us

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Topeka
28/29 September 2013
Year of Faith
Daily Readings

It didn't take long for people to tell me that I'm the pastor of the rich parish in Topeka.  I've been here twelve weeks, and I've learned quite a bit in this big small town.  I'll admit I'm annoyed by the label - pastor of the rich parish in Topeka - the parish on the west side - the parish with no money problems - Christ the King.The money spent on the renovations that have taken place to the parish office and rectory in the short time I've been here have been a hot topic in town.  So I hear. I'll be honest.  The narrative gets old really quick.  People think it's easier over here on our side.   That we're all spoiled, and probably the pastor too.   That we don't have to work hard for what we have.  My first reaction is one of defensiveness.  If you think it's so easy, then come on over and give it a try.  Being pastor at Christ the King is great, don't get me wrong, but I do think we work hard for what we have.  And it's not as easy as people think.  And I hate the labels, and the jealousy that accompanies those who think life on this side of the city is so rich and easy.

I had this in my first assignment as well, at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood.  We built a church there to the honor and glory of God, a church worthy of the sacred liturgy and of the dignity and the destiny to which we are called in heaven, while at the same time giving generously to the poor, and it was roundly criticized with great amounts of jealousy from those outside.  It got tiresome.  We had to work hard to raise that money, and we could have settled for much less and saved ourselves the criticism.  But we did what we thought was right.  So too when I became director of seminarians, I got defensive when people described our seminarians as spoiled.  Knowing the sacrifices they had made, I didn't see things that way.  But the criticism came nonetheless.

Saying all of this is a prelude to saying that I was dead wrong.  Not necessarily in the decisions to build up the kingdom of God, but wrong in my reaction to the criticism.  Because as we learn in today's Gospel, being challenged about what we have is always God's gift to us. Specifically, having the poor among us is God's gift to us.  Our reaction to being asked for money, or being challenged on what we have, should always be one of humility and gratitude, because as we see in the Gospel, such challenges, as annoying and tiresome as they might become, are most likely God's way of trying to get through to us.

So the more we are asked for money, even everyday, the better off we are.  Specifically, Lazarus was the greatest gift that the rich man ever received.  It wasn't the man's security and riches - it was the person of Lazarus who was sent to the rich man not as a problem to be solved, but as a person to be seen, and a person to be loved so that the rich man's heart did not grow full of his possessions nor become hardened beyond repair.  Most of us would never encounter a Lazarus today.  For order and safety in our communities, there are laws against trespassing and panhandling, for such activities usually don't improve the long term plight of the poor anyhow.  Admittedly, for the safety first of the many kids we have on our campus all the time, we even have to call the cops here at Christ the King to remove strangers.  There is nothing wrong with putting safety first or being smart in how we give alms.

Yet we must resist every urge to ignore or be distant from the poor, for they are likely God's greatest gift to us.  Instead, as Christians we are to have a deep attentiveness to the poor, and never lose the ability to see ourselves in them.  Interestingly, the poor man in the Gospel has a name - Lazarus - whereas the rich man does not have a name; ostensibly, because he never found his real self.  The poor are given to us by God not as a problem to be solved, but as persons through whom we can see our own poverty, vulnerability and dependence upon God and others.  They are windows for seeing our true selves.  Mother Teresa says that compassion is not simply a feeling, but is the ability to believe that another's life is as real as your own.  Compassion is a love that flows first from seeing, from an act of faith - believing that another person's life is real.  It begins by truly seeing another person, something the rich man could not do.

Seeing ourselves in the poor and giving alms is thus probably the surest way we have to the salvation of our souls.  We are called not to see the poor as a problem, and to think first of how much I can afford and what might solve the problem - we are to see them as a gift, and to ask why God has permitted me to have the wealth I have, and to thank him for the opportunity to give.  The more we are asked to give, the surer is our salvation.  Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks of us.  He doesn't say what to give or how much, nor does he say solve every problem, but he says to give every time.  Whether he means a smile, a prayer or a dollar is up to us in every situation.  But we are to stop being annoyed by people asking us to give, and to see them as God's greatest gift to us.  End of discussion.

I your pastor have some work to do in this area.  What is more, the Gospel is clear that we need to get this work done now, before it's too late to make a change.  Please pray that I can see God at work in just the way this Gospel challenges me too.  Let us continue to pray for each other.  Amen.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

charity first

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Catholic Parish
21/22 September 2013
Daily Readings
Jesus shows us several times in the Gospels that we must be clever enough to get things done.  Specifically, we are to be clever enough to get to heaven using whatever means are available to us, even dishonest wealth.  He tells us since we find the resources to get many things done, we must also find a way to detach ourselves from material things, especially our money, and attach ourselves to things that last forever.  He tells us lovingly but plainly that there are no excuses for not getting it done.  We are to be children of heaven, not of the earth, and we are not to be owned by our insecurities and possessions.

In every parable there is something highlighted and something hidden.  The hero of today's parable is not an honest man. He is despicable.  A Scoundrel.  He cheats his boss. Then when he is fired, he cheats him more so that he will have friends to take care of him, so that he does not have to find honest work.  Yet Jesus gives this man to us as a hero.  Not for his honesty, but for his cleverness. Even the man's boss was impressed at how clever he was.  Jesus uses him to remind us that we don't have any excuses for not getting things done, especially in our spiritual life, for the things we prioritize and put our minds and hearts to, are the things that get done.

Specifically, Jesus tells us to make our way to heaven by making friends with dishonest wealth.  What in the world could he mean by this?  He means detaching ourselves from our money and stuff, and being known for our charity, especially to people who cannot pay us back.  Pope Francis has been challenging us in powerful ways in his time as pope. He tells us to be simpler, to be closer to the poor, to be more merciful and charitable.  Pope Francis is tired of other people telling the Gospel story for the Catholic Church.  He is tired of the Catholic Church being caricatured by those who don't understand her as a place of moral judgment - a Church that has all the answers and stands in judgment of the world rather than in solidarity with it.  Pope Francis is not wishing to water down our moral teaching.  The Catholic Church has the strongest moral teaching in the world, and she will never change or water down her teaching of the truth, especially in areas like marriage, contraception, abortion and religious freedom.  Yet Pope Francis says that we need to write our own story, and a different one, and that the Catholic Church must always first by known for its mercy and charity.  We are to be known not only for our moral teaching and incredible tradition, but also for our action.  We are to be known not as the Church that changes the least, but as the Church that through her charity changes the world the most.

Jesus reminds us today that money provides no lasting security. It is always something that passes away, so we should always be giving it away.  What is more, he calls wealth dishonest.  He reminds us that even though each one of us tries to earn our money honestly and virtuously, without taking advantage of the poor, that money properly belongs to a world that is broken, a world where things are not equal and people do not have the same opportunities, and a world that is passing away.  So we should never put our trust in money, or as he says it, to serve mammon.  Jesus tells us to give our money away, to show charity, to be detached from our money.  Specifically he tells us to give it to people who cannot pay us back - to make friends with dishonest wealth, friends with the poor, and marginalized, and vulnerable, friends who will one day welcome us to our secure and eternal home in heaven.

10% is the biblical standard for showing that we are not attached to our money, that we are not trying to serve God and mammon, that we own our money instead of our money owning us.  10% is the minimum standard, and yet it is a standard hard for many of us to reach, including myself.  I say this today not to ask you for more money, at least not today, but to remind us all, including myself, that we must be spiritually free in order to call ourselves children of the kingdom of heaven.  Even if the world was perfectly just, and everyone including the Church had everything they needed, still we would need to give away at least 10% of what we have, because giving is ultimately not measured by the need of others but by our internal need to love and to give.

One guy told me once that he wouldn't go to Church anymore until he met a priest who was poor.  So I'm not just preaching at you all, I'm also preaching to myself.  What if I as your priest started every confession of mine confessing the sin of greed - with a money sin - a sin that frankly I do not confess as much as I should.  Pope Francis, would like that, I think of all of his priests.

We can make a million rationalizations and excuses for not being more charitable.  We are constantly measuring what we need versus what we can do.  There are of course hardships and conditions that make it impossible for some to give money and be charitable. And that's ok.  But for the vast majority of us most of the time, it is true that the more we manage to give away, the more spiritually free we become, and we also become more prudent and less likely to waste money on things we don't really need.  So let us consider being more charitable, of making friends for ourselves with dishonest wealth.  May we as Catholic Christians be known first in the world for our mercy and charity, and let us be more clever in prioritizing our desire to attain to the kingdom of heaven.  Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Desperate love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Topeka
15 September 2013
Year of Faith

Daily Readings

Raise your hand if you're surprised that I chose the short version of the Gospel!  I know I'm a long preacher, and the fact that I chose the short version of the Gospel should make you not happy, but even more scared, for I may have chosen the short Gospel so that I would have more time to talk.  Buckle your seat belts.  Here we go.

No, I hope not to go on too long this morning, but there is a point in this weekend's Gospel that it is absolutely imperative that we get through our thick skulls.  At least we have to try.  For our skulls are as thick or thicker, than the scribes and Pharisees who were teed off that Jesus was paying more attention to tax collectors and sinners than them.  Yes, that's us. For we all understand the logic of justice, but few of us - no, I would venture to say none of us - not a single person in this church this morning, understands God's mercy.  We have no clue.

The parables that hit our ears try to resensitize us.  They try so hard.  Jesus is trying to break through with his mercy.  So he puts in front of us incredible parables - absurd parables.  The first - a ridiculously stupid shepherd risks losing an entire flock because he goes after one lost sheep.  And instead of scolding the lost sheep, the shepherd is giddy and wants to throw a party after he finds him.  This shepherd is out of his mind.  And that's the point.  He is dumb dumb dumb, because he is rich in mercy.  He grins even though that sheep he is carrying on his shoulders is probably peeing on his neck while he is being carried back.  Or worse!

Then there is the kooky woman - yes, kooky.  Weird. Absurd.  Out of her bloody mind.  The Greek says she spends an absurd amount of time looking for what amounts to a penny.  And upon finding a penny, she is not embarrassed that she spent so much time looking for so little - no, she makes it worse by inviting her friends and neighbors for a penny finding party.  Can you imagine the absurdity or being invited to such a party.  Yet that is the point.  For we have been invited to just such a party this morning . . . to feast on the love of a God who prefers sinners, who loves sinners, to the feast of a God who rejoices more over one lost penny than over a million dollars.

My friends, if these parables do not rip our hearts open, we are already dead, and all is lost.  For the God of glory and majesty - the maker of everything from the Grand Canyon to the Rocky Mountains - puts himself forward in these parables as a dumb shepherd and a kooky old woman.  That's how he wants us to think of him, so desperate is he to let us know how madly he is in love with us, and how much he wants his mercy to heal us.  If that does not move my heart, then I should stop celebrating Mass for you right now.  If it doesn't move your heart, we should go home.

Archbishop Keleher told his priests often that the one thing you can never fail to tell people in every homily is that God loves them.  For nobody really believes that God loves them.  That's the original sin, and the deepest damage that exists deep within each of us.  We do not believe that God loves us.  We have heard it a million times, and none of us believes it.  None of us.  Even if we've looked at a cross a million times, we still don't believe it.  Why?  I have no idea.  We just don't.  So I would even try to improve on Archbishop Keleher's advice:  there are three things you should say in every homily.  God loves you.  God loves you.  God loves you.  We have to keep finding new ways to say it, because we still don't believe it.

See, my friends, we try to turn life and religion into everything except the most fundamental thing - which is to accept that God loves us, and is desperately searching for the soul of each one of us, more than we can ever love him or search for him or please him - the most important thing is that God is searching for us, in an absurd way beyond our imagining.  We turn life and religion into everything but this most simple thing.  We come here looking to make adjustments in our lives, looking for answers, wondering if we're good enough, comparing ourselves to yesterday and to our neighbor.  We come feeling guilty for not doing more and living better.  And all is that is fine and well enough.  But the reason we must come, the reason we must always come, is to be found by God's love.  We show up to be loved by him, and this is always first, and deepest and the most urgent and necessary thing.

That is why Mary our mother is our pattern of holiness.  Before we dare to follow Jesus or act like Jesus as his disciples, which we will never do very well anyway, we have to be like Mary. She says in her Magnificat - the Lord has looked upon the lowliness of his handmaid.  Wow.  That's it. That the real source of her sinlessness and holiness.  Not that Mary was stronger or avoided evil more than us, which she certainly did, but most of all, that she allowed herself to be looked upon by God's mercy in ways we do not let God look at us.  She allowed herself to be searched for and found in ways we do not allow God to search and find us.  She dared to believe that God loved her, in ways that you and I will never allow God to love us.

Sometimes we make life and religion into something complicated.  And it is true that we have to work hard to set the stage for this love affair with God to happen.  We have to be disciplined, we have to pray, we have to fight against evil.  But in the end only one thing matters - not even that we have loved God, but that God has loved us, and has sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  That is the one necessary thing, and the thing we are most afraid of, and the thing we most avoid - allowing God to find us and to heal us from the inside out, from our weakest point to our strongest, where we cannot love nor change ourselves, with the uniqueness and power of his mercy.  The one necessary thing is to finally accept once and for all, that God is madly searching for us, and is desperately in love with us.  So even though it won't do any good.  Even though you won't believe it.  I have to tell you again . . . . God loves you!  He loves you. He loves you.  He loves you.  Amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Parish, Topeka
7/8 September 2013
Year of Faith

I'll try to accomplish a lot quickly in this weekend's homily.  I know I don't have a reputation for doing that, so I wrote out this homily in the hopes of sticking to the point.  I want to address some changes in the parish, do some introductions and welcomes, and issue a challenge to the men of the parish.

Firstly, I think there has been quite a bit of buzz, and rightfully so, around the parish regarding the fasttrack improvements to the parish rectory and offices.  Especially when I was gone for a few days of end of summer vacation, I would receive periodic texts from friends telling me there were dozens of people at the rectory, and what was going on over there, and did I know that there were toilets out in the front yard?  I want to thank all the volunteers who killed themselves to surprise me with an extreme makeover while I was gone.  The parish should be so proud of those who stepped forward and asked me if the transition between me and Fr. Pete, and the welcoming of an associate pastor and seminarian, would mark a good time to do some updating to the parish offices and rectory.  There are some talented and generous and sacrificial people in this parish, and there is a deep faith and love for Christ the King, and some people who almost killed themselves on these projects.  I think we should all be proud of them and we owe them our thanks, most of all me.  I am humbled and emotional and deeply grateful for the quick and great renovations that took place, and the rectory and parish offices are working nicely already for myself and Fr. Sylvester and Daniel Stover our seminarian.  There is more work to be done in the rectory basement, but it's amazing that these renovations were substantially completed in such a short time.  Amazing is the only work that comes to mind.

There have rightfully been some questions about the expenses associated with these projects.  Thanks to Fr. Pete not being a spender, there was some cash available in the parish budget so that I was able to authorize these quick renovations.  I do realize that this opened me up to criticisms of the new guy needing nice things and liking to spend money.  I am sure I am different than Fr. Pete, but please be assured that I come from humble roots and do not like to spend or waste money.  I hope to prove myself over time to be a wise steward of the parish resources.  I of course intend in the future to take things more slowly with changes and improvements and renovations, and to get broad consultation and support from all of you.  But I do believe that with the amount of volunteers and donations that have come in, that it was the right thing to do these renovations at this time of transition, rather than waiting.  I do think that we added tremendous value to our properties, much more than was spent, and I hope when I report a full accounting of what was done, that you all will agree.  Certainly those involved in real estate and construction have commented almost unanimously that we are getting a lot of value for very little cash.

I'm most pleased that we have a good living and working space for myself, and for Fr. Sylvester D'Souza, and our seminarian intern Daniel Stover.  I've tried to be up front with you that it is my firm belief that welcoming more priests and seminarians to live and work here at Christ the King is a passion of mine, especially as I continue to serve the Archdiocese as Director of Seminarians while also your pastor.  I think these priests, transitional deacons and seminarians that will be coming will be great to learn from, and I think we have a great parish in which they can learn too.  So I'm so excited for what the future years will bring.  So thanks to all who made this welcome possible so soon by renovating the parish offices and rectory.

We should all be deeply respectful of Fr. Sylvester, who has taken the great risk of being a missionary from so far away, leaving a country that is only 1% Catholic to serve in a city now of Topeka that is over 30% Catholic.  We should be sending missionaries to India, not vice versa, but he is here to serve for the next 9 months, the last of his five year commitment.  So we will be welcoming a different priest in the summer of 2014, but this year we have Fr. Sylvester, and what a great opportunity to learn from a deeply joyful and faithful priest from so far away.  Thank you Fr. Sylvester, for your coming to be with us.

I also greet warmly Daniel Stover, originally from Silver Lake, who is on pastoral internship here in anticipation of his being ordained a deacon this spring.  Daniel knows Topeka well, having been a member at Most Pure Heart for many years.  He is here to work on a learning agreement, to shadow me, and to take on some projects that I will give him.  He is very knowledgable and generous, having substantially competed his theological formation and studies, so please join me in making him feel welcome, and give him a chance to serve.  My plan is to have a seminarian here most of the time . . . so I hope you enjoy Daniel and the other guys who will be training here to be our future priests.

Finally, to the Gospel, which is as challenging as it gets, given that Jesus tells us to hate family members and to renounce all our possessions, if we would dare be his disciples.  Jesus tells his disciples this while large crowds are following him - when he is popular and things are going well.  Yet out of love for them he does not want those who are following him during the happy times to fall away when things get tough.  Which is indeed what happened, since only a handful of his disciples made it from today's Gospel to the cross.  Jesus reminds us that the quest for holiness and the kingdom of heaven is nothing less than the most extreme adventure of our lives.  To treat Christianity as anything else, or to follow Christ only during the good times, is to do it all wrong, and a complete waste of time.  Christianity can never be anything less than to be in that tiniest of minorities of those who are able to take up their cross and follow him.  That is why no matter how big or small our gathering here in church is tonight, or how big or small or parish was, or is, or will become, the only membership option is an extreme and dangerous one.  We should all go home unless each and every one of us is here to put everything on the line - Christianity can only be about radical and total commitment to Christ, his cross, and his way of truth and love.  There are no other membership options.

This weekend I want to put a challenge out to the men of the parish, not to take the place of all the women in this parish who do an amazing job of leading and serving.  Without asking the ladies to do any less, I am challenging the men to do more.  Specifically, to get involved in the That Man is You program on Saturday mornings and the Knights of Columbus.  Jesus pulls no punches when he says that in drawing close to him, and giving your relationship with him absolute priority in your life, that you will find your truest and best and most sacrificial self, and become the man, the husband, the brother, the priest, the uncle, the grandpa and the spiritual father than you were meant to be.  Drawing close to the Lord will improve every relationship with your life. Don't take my word for it, take the Lord's who puts it to us as plainly and with as much challenge as he possibly can, out of love for us.

I am committed to participating in the That Man is You group this year, and I don't like to pray or be challenged or eat donuts alone.  To the families in the parish, the best thing you can do for your family is to encourage dad to participate in this group.  There are signups after Mass.  I'll see you guys next Saturday morning.