Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Saints

Solemnity of All Saints
Christ the King Parish 2013
1 November 2013
Daily Readings

All Saints is the celebration of our Catholic superheroes.  It is a favorite thing for kids to dress up as their favorite superhero for Halloween.  I always always get asked by kids who my favorite superhero is.  Adults too get into Halloween . . more and more . .  although adults trend toward something new and outrageous rather than to superheroes.  Still, Halloween is a time when we transform ourselves for a few hours through a costume into someone or something we are not.  Halloween at its worst is of course a celebration of the occult, something we should not play around with whatsoever, for evil is always to be avoided.  But at its best, Halloween is a preparty to the Solemnity of All Saints, a celebration of our superheroes, and a reminder that we are all to transform ourselves, not throught costumes, but from the inside out, into saints.

We all have our favorite saints . . Mother Teresa . . . John Paul II who will be canonized on April 27th . . . St. Francis is moving up the charts alongside the popularity of the new pope.  We all have our Catholic superheroes we would long to be more like.  Today is a celebration of them . . that is is possible to become holy in so many ways; to be precise, by becoming not somebody else or superhuman, but to become fully who we are, who we are meant to be.  There are the canonized saints, and yet today we celebrate all those holy people in our lives who teach us how to keep faith in Jesus' beautiful promises, how to fulfill his command to love others just as he first loves us, and to love the kingdom of heaven above all things and to bring it to earth.  We celebrate our grandparents, moms and dads and friends, and the invisible army of saints that is as much our Catholic family, and is as present to us at this moment, as is the person sitting right next to us.

The Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that the company of saints, starting as the Book of Revelation tells us with 144,000, but then growing to a multitude too many to be counted, are like the stars in heaven.  Pope Benedict calls the saints Christian constellations . .   and new ones being formed all the time.  The saints are those who teach us how to love heaven above all things, to make the achievement of heaven the greatest adventure of our lives.  So much more important than finding the right costume for a day, is the reminder Halloween gives us to enter into that adventure that is the transformation and conversion and redemption of souls and minds and hearts into the people we were meant to be, and to never give up on that.  Saints show us precisely how the impossible is possible - that through God's grace we need not become a superhuman, but only fully human . .. to be a saint is only to go deeper into the mystery of who we really are.  This begins as St. Paul tells us, by acknowledging that we are God's children now, but what we shall later be is so much more  - more than eye has yet seen or ear has yet heard.  Saints made themselves available to God for this amazing transformation.

Saints in loving heaven realized that it is there, and only there, that love conquers all things, the love that is self-forgetfulness.  There are no calculators or stopwatches in heaven, no comparisons or measurements.  The only reality is love, that same love that is the foundation of the most perfect and transcendent moments of our lives.  We pass over from earth to heaven whenever we get lost in a reality bigger than us, whenever we throw our own willfulness away, and when we love another in a way that we forget ourselves perfectly.  The Ten Commandments are rules for sinners who need to constantly turn toward the things of heaven, towards things that last forever and away from things that pass away.  But the Beatitudes that we hear on All Saints days are the rules for saints . . they are the marks of those who love heaven more than they love earth . . the rules for those who allow Christ's perfections to shine through them.

To take nothing away from the great heroes of human history, nor even from our fictional superheroes who change the world for a day, today is a celebration that of all people in human history, the saints are the greatest, and they have changed the world more than anyone, for they have discovered and made present the love of Christ that redeems the world forever, and they have shown man concretely his ultimate dignity as one destined for heaven and his ultimate vocation as one called to love.  Our poor world needs so many things, but perhaps most of all, she needs saints . . . lots of them, for saints change the world more than anyone.

We call upon the saints on this great solemnity, those who have finished their race victoriously, but who now hand the baton on to us, for us too to accomplish the impossible, not through our own power, but through the example of Mary, the first and best saint, giving God permission to use our lives for his mission of redemptive love, and to allow his perfections to shine through us into the world.  Let us pray with confidence, then, spurred on by this great cloud of witnesses, our Catholic superheroes, who want us to share in their victory..  Oh how I'd like to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.  Alleluia!  Amen.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

true healing by relationship

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
12/13 October 2013
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

Life kicks all of us around, sooner or later, one way or another.  Even the best looking and the richest among us have thorns in our side.  Every human person is in constant need of healing.  It is part of the human condition.  We all get beat up, we all get sick, we all find ourselves in danger.  Then there is the hurt from relationships.  We've all been been judged, used, misunderstood and hurt deeply by others.  And we are not just the victims of all these things.  We are sinners who do these things to others.

The result is that the need for healing is universal, experienced by every human person, no matter what.  Being a joyful and fulfilled person means that all of this brokenness that makes up a human life must be healed.  We need healing yesterday. We need healing today.  We will need healing tomorrow.  Healing is a process that is never complete.  So it should be the easiest thing in the world for us to relate to the plight of Naaman and the 10 lepers in need of healing in today's scriptures.  We should see ourselves in them readily.  Yet do we?

Rather than seeking the healing we really need, we can spend more time trying to mask the brokenness that we experience as persons, and trying to anesthesize the human condition.  If that is what we are doing, then we won't see ourselves in the lepers, and the dramatic healings that we hear in the Gospels will not cut us to the quick, nor move our hearts.  If we are interested more in masking our brokenness than in healing it, then the Gospel stories will not be personal for us; to the contrary, they will seem like a broken record.  Heard that before.  There's nothing new.

We can find ourselves in an I'm ok, you're ok, we're ok culture where the pain and loneliness and brokenness, and the reality of the human condition, is not confronted, but anesthesized, where everyone is just a pill away from being cured and being happy.  In this culture, people are responsible for healing themselves, not seeking healing through relationships with others.  The pill becomes more important than the person when we seek healing.  A further result is that we not only become numb to our own need for deep inner healing, but what is more, we become annoyed when others ask for healing from us that we are unready or unwilling to give them.

It takes a lot of work to admit that I need the kind of healing everyday that I can't get from a pill, a healing that comes from the mercy and grace of God.  It's easier to pretend that we're ok, or to rely on pills, that to put ourselves in the position of the lepers, who were completely dependent upon the mercy of Jesus, and on his power to heal them.  Out of fear and laziness we can settle for a false healing,  a healing only from the outside in, rather than having the courage to ask someone to heal us from the inside out.  Yet the truth of the human condition is that unless we are healed by relationship, not by a pill, then we are not fully healed.

We see in the Gospel then how rare is the person who gets that ultimate human healing comes from relationship.  For the one leper, and only one, the person was more important than the pill.  The other nine got their miracle and headed on their merry way.  The one leper realized that his relationship with Jesus was more important than the outer cure, and he returned to personally give thanks.

The Greek word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  The Eucharist, our giving thanks to God, is the source and summit of our Christian life.  We come here most of all to count our blessings, to praise God and to thank him for the imcomparable gift that is our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we receive intimately and perfectly in the Holy Eucharist.  We give thanks not just because we have come to make sure we're ok, and certainly not to grab the medicine of eternal life like we take a pill in the morning.  No, we come to personally and deeply thank Jesus, who is offering us above all not a pill, but his very self.  He offers to us the deepest, and most personal and most powerful relationship of our lives, an encounter with one who alone can bring us the healing that is definitive and forever, a healing from the inside out, a healing that sets us free and makes all things new, a healing that is stronger than the power of sin and death, a healing that takes place at our weakest and most vulnerable and most sinful point, where we could never heal or change ourselves.  This incomparable relationship with have with Christ, a relationship that we are afraid is too good to be true, is the reason we come here to celebrate the Eucharist, and to give thanks.  Our readiness to return to give thanks to God shows how deeply we have been healed by him.   Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.  Amen.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

courageous faith in defense of life

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Catholic Parish Topeka
6 October 2013
Year of Faith
Daily Readings

At my first parish, on Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday in October, there was a rose procession of people born beginning in 1973, when abortion was legalized.  This year the procession would have been forty people long, beginning with a 40 year old like me, and ending with a newborn baby.  I'm sorry I didn't get such a procession organized here this year.  But I will next year.  The procession rips your heart out.  It's powerful.  It brings home the reality of the lives lost to the civil rights issue of our generation, a holocaust of untold proportions, the scourge of abortion.

Born in 1974, I was conceived just months after the Roe v. Wade decision, so although I live in the greatest country in the world, it has never been a country, in my lifetime, that has defended my right to life from the moment of conception, and my right to be born.  So the abortion debate will always be personal to me.  It can't be anything but.  I am so proud to be a part of a Church that is not afraid to stand strongly in defense of life, beginning with standing up for the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn.  We always begin by defending the life of the weakest, who have no voice.   We stand for life in so many ways, including healing and feeding those who have been born, but our defense of life always begins with the smallest and the weakest, the unborn, and there is no replacement for that witness.   I will be on the corner of 21st and Wanamaker today at 1pm standing and praying for life, and I invite you to join me.  I will stand up every year for the rest of my life, or until abortion is ended.  You can DVR the Chiefs game.

The Lord tells the prophet Habbakuk in today's first reading never to be discouraged.  We are to be firm in the vision of our country teaching the world, and being a light for the nations, in the pursuit of life, liberty and human flourishing at the highest levels, not the way we do it today.  The United States is better than abortion.  We can never settle if we are to fulfill our destiny to be a light for all nations.  We are to stand for the truth not with cowardice, but as St. Paul tells us, with the spirit of courage and love that has been given us.

As important as it is that we stand up for life and justice in a visible way today on Respect Life Sunday, the greater work that must be done is at a much more personal level, at the level of our marriages and families. It is in traditional marriage that children are most safe, and as much as possible, children, the most precious resource any society has, have a right to be raised by a mom and a dad in love with each other for a lifetime. I always say as much as possible, so as never to look down on any marriage or family.  We are to support and love each other no matter what happens in life and look after all our children.

Yet, we have to face the fact that children die, and abortion while a terrible choice becomes a perceived necessity, in a culture that has given up on marriage and family.  The Catholic Church continues to take unpopular stances on chastity outside of marriage, on arttificial contraception, reproductive technologies and same-sex marriage not because she thinks everyone will agree with her, and not because she expects everyone will live it perfectly. She takes strong stands not to be in judgment of anyone, for the Church is to bring God's mercy into the world just as surely, or moreso, than she brings truth.  It is never mercy or truth for the Church, but always both.  The Church takes strong stances because she is doing what she believes will strengthen marriage and family.  The Church's teachings are challenging for many, embarrassing for others, but at the very least we are members of a Church that must never become afraid of saying what she thinks to be true.  The most embarrassing thing would be to belong to a Church that is afraid to say anything or stand for anything.  We have spent too long in this country failing to form men to be husbands and fathers, failing as a government to define marriage as it is, not as any two people would want it to be, and failing as a Church to prepare our young people for vocations, including sacramental marriage.  It is in this cowardly environment where it is hard to know and choose the good that we leave people alone to make good choices.  Shame on us.

Still, we are not to lose hope.  As people of faith, we look first in amazement at creation, at the impossibility of the universe and the gift of life ever happening, and yet here it is and here we are, and we are filled with wonder and gratitude.  We look at the reality of all the evil that has touched the world, some evil that will always confound us and seem unjustifiable, and yet we know at our core that life is sacred and good and worth living.  Even when tempted to wonder where God is, our response is one of faith, knowing that the Lord of all nature and all history is always carrying out his purposes.  His perspective is always greater than ours, so even without perfect understanding we always respond in faith, knowing that in his active yet mysterious providence, God can even use the mistakes and mess of the world to bring about his divine plan of love.

So we press on with faith and hope, listening to the Lord's response to the questions of the prophet Habbakuk in today's first reading.
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.