Sunday, December 28, 2014

risk and obedience make a holy family

Solemnity of the Holy Family
28 December 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

Families are changing - they're changing so fast!  Divorce and remarriage.  Reproductive technologies.  50% of children born out of wedlock.  Smaller families.  Same-sex marriage.  The delaying and forgoing of marriage. Fewer young people going to Church and preparing their hearts, minds and bodies for the sacrament of marriage.  I don't list these factors to rant or judge, only to mark how quickly family life is changing, and there is no going back.  There was a time when every family was expected to conform as closely as they could to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph that we hold up and celebrate during this beautiful Christmas season. That day is long gone. Today the family is being defined moreso by innovation than by tradition.

Yet we need family more than ever.  That is human.  Humans desperately need families.  That never changes.  There is not enough love in the world, and our world is especially hurting from the lack of the unique, intense and life-giving love that is at best within families.  We need families, and we know it.  Our desperate attempts to redefine families shows that we can't afford to give up on families.  To give up families is to give up on ourselves.  For it is true that blood really is thicker than water, and the shedding of Jesus' blood for us shows that He wants His body the Church to be a family, real brothers and sisters to each other.

This homily is not about judging or disparaging any family, but about doing whatever we can to strengthen families.  Jesus is mercy, and woe to us if we do not love each other as He commanded begin at our weakest points.  The Church is not in the business of judging families.  But she can not shy away from promoting the example of the holy family as a family that can inspire and change any family for the better.  When we celebrate the Holy Family, we're not trying to go backwards, but to bring the Catholic tradition, experience and teaching forward to bear on the crisis of the modern family.

Again, this homily is not about disparaging any family, for Jesus himself wants to visit every family, and to be born there, especially during Christmas when families draw closer together in love.  Jesus was not afraid to be born into a messy situation, conceived in scandal and born a messy filthy situation. . He is more than happy to be born today in the midst of our messy, smelly and dysfunctional families.  He is not afraid to visit us, if we are not afraid to welcome him as we really are.  Jesus was not born in a palace in conservative security, nor according to an ideal script. He is more eager than we can imagine to visit our families during this holy season.

In celebrating the Holy Family today, we celebrate that the concept of a family has to begin somewhere. We can't invent the definition of a family or pull it out of the air, and if the word family can mean anything eventually it will mean nothing.  We celebrate and imitate the Holy Family, then, in order that our own families will grow stronger and stronger. For as goes the family, the basic building block of society, so goes the dignity of human persons, the destiny of the world, and the salvation of souls.  The Holy Family is something we fail to celebrate then, at our own peril.

What makes the Holy Family holy is their obedience to the Lord's will.  They Holy Family is a perfect example in this.  The Holy Family can certainly be considered non-traditional.  They are the most unique family in history - Joseph is only the foster father of Jesus, and His mother is a virgin.  You don't get any more non-traditional than that.  But what makes the Holy Family most unique, however, is their obedience to God's will.  The Holy Family endures the scandal of a child conceived before they lived together, and then the risks of being homeless at the worst possible times.  The Holy Family is a mess at times, just like our own families are a mess, but in the midst of it all they trusted in God's will.  They risked everything out of obedience to what  God was asking of them, and that is what made them Holy!

The Holy Family took a huge risk to bring a child into the world.  They are an example of sacrifice and generosity in having children.  They responded to God's desire to bring a child into the world through their family.  If Mary and Joseph were focused on their own plans for their family, they would never have become the Holy Family.  Oftentimes having children entails the risk of submitting ourselves to a plan much different and bigger than our plans.  Mind you again I'm not disparaging families that make heroic sacrifices that I'll never make in order to raise the children they do have.  I have a deep sympathy as well for those families trying to have children but who can't.  I'm not promoting irresponsibility in having children at all.  Still, the example of the Holy Family inspires us to be less afraid of children, and to not ask first whether a child fits into our plans, but whether God wants to bring a child into the world.  The Holy Family said yes to God's will, and was not afraid to bring a child into the world.  There was great risk in this, but also incomparable joy.  We see all around the world societies that fear children, are slowly but surely contracepting themselves out of existence.  Mind you, the Holy Family because of Mary's perpetual virginity only had one child, but still they challenge us to sacrifice and generosity in having children.  A healthy society is one that welcomes and celebrates children.  A healthy Church does as well. Very few people regret having more children.  Christmas is above all a time to celebrate children, that they are not a drain on the time and resources of adults, that they are not an inconvenience, but they are gifts from God that take us away from selfishness and remind us of who we really are.

Again, this homily is not about judging any family.  There is one holy family - all the rest of us are striving but falling short.  There is no room for judging families.  I'm not saying either that we can or should go back to the way families used to be.  What I am saying is that every family can and should make progress in holiness by seeking the will of God, and becoming unafraid of sacrificing for a mission beyond their control or imagination.  The Holy Family is not a measuring stick - they are an inspiration!  May Jesus' entry into the Holy Family help us this Christmas season to see how desperately He wants to visit our families in a powerful way!  Amen!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

no Christmas without Christ's Mass!

Christmas Eve 2014
Christ the King Church Topeka
24 December 2014
Daily Readings

O come let us adore Him!. Christ the Lord!

What does it mean for us to adore the Lord?  It can only mean one thing.  It means that the reason we have come together in such a profound way on this most beautiful night is to fall in love again.  We have come to adore, confessing first that we have fallen out of love with God, and we need this night to fall for him again.  We need to fall madly, completely, hopelessly in love with the one who shows us in the circumstances of Bethlehem to be desperately in love with us.  The scene of Bethlehem is too absurd for any kind of lukewarm response from us - the biggest and most invincible person imaginable, the one through whom everything was made, the one for whom the entire universe is but dust, the one who doesn't need any of us for anything, shows his ultimate power in allowing himself to be made small.  Irresistibly small.  Helplessly small, begging us to take care of him.  Our Lord at Christmas desperately wants to break through our fear and indifference.  He shows that he is ridiculously in love with everything that it means to be human, especially the weakest parts.  Knowing that we have the amazing capacity to resist love and to fall out of love and to fear love, even rejecting the depth of his love revealed on the cross, Christ comes as a baby at Christmas, begging us to take care of him, pleading that if he comes poor, naked and helpless before us that we might no longer fear him.  Do not be afraid, the angel tells Mary.  Do not be afraid, the angel tells Joseph.  Do not be afraid, the angels tell the shepherds.  Do not be afraid of this baby!  God is desperately in love with you.  Yes you!  He loves every circumstances of your life - do not be afraid to let him be born in your heart right where you are at this moment, and to fall in love with Him too!  Come, let us adore Him - Christ the Lord!

Tonight we rediscover as well what it means to be a human person.  For not only have we fallen out of love, we have also forgotten who we are.  Our smart phones make us capable of so much more - we are busier than ever, but we are horrible at keeping things simple.  We are worse and worse at communicating, and at falling in love and being in love and staying in love.  To be a human person is to be known and loved and desired beginning at our weakest point.  We do not become persons by growing up and gaining the freedom and intelligence to create our own reality, as good as these things are.  No, we become persons by remembering where we came from, and by remaining small and poor and vulnerable.  We become persons by staying like children, by keeping things simple, by entering into the adventure of discovering reality instead of the temptation of controlling it.  By remaining poor and vulnerable and dependent, we are able to always fall in love, stay in love and be in love.  So we have come tonight not only to fall again in love, but to rediscover who we truly are.

When we remember who we are and fall in love, we participate as well in the remaking of our poor world from the inside out.  So tonight is also a night chock full of hope.  The sign of a baby born of a virgin means a new creation has dawned on the earth, a creation stronger and meant to last longer than the first creation of everything from nothing by a virgin Father.  Jesus is born of a virgin mother in Bethlehem as small as possible, and walks every second of his life with humility taking the lowest place, and having special care for the poor and vulnerable, to show us that our world is being remade by the one who alone has the power to recreate it,  beginning with the weakest.  Whenever we make ourselves small through sacrificial love, then, we participate with Him in healing our world from the inside out, and this recreation of the world never loses momentum and hope.  It starts small but ends big. It starts weak but ends strong.  It starts in poverty but ends in riches.  It embraces death but rises to everlasting life.  Caesar's kingdom that reigned in power when Jesus was helplessly born has been reduced to nothing.  But Jesus' kingdom that started with a helpless baby born to poor parents in the cold in the middle of nowhere, is still gaining strength, and His kingdom celebrates Christmas with exceeding joy throughout the whole world.

All that would be enough for tonight -falling in love, remembering who we are, joining Christ in hope of building a kingdom of peace and truth and love that will last forever, but those three things are not the final and full meaning of Christmas.  Christmas takes it's name not from the birth that took place in Bethlehem, but from the birth about to take place on this altar.  For as small as Jesus made himself at Bethlehem, he makes Himself smaller and more vulnerable and more beautiful to fall in love with, as he allows Himself to be born on this altar!  We fall in love with Jesus not just by contemplating Bethlehem, but Bethlehem becomes perfectly real at Christ's Mass - when with Joseph we allow Jesus to come under our roofs, and with Mary allow Jesus to be born in the deepest recesses of our heart.  The precise and original meaning of Christmas is what happens to our hearts and minds when we receive the Eucharist at Christ's Mass, for what happens here tonight in Topeka is no less dramatic, no less a falling in love, than what happened at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  In fact, what happens here tonight is more dramatic than Bethlehem, if any of you, if any of us, humbly accepts Jesus' desperate plea to be born in our hearts.

Do not be afraid, my dearest friends, of this Christ who once came to us as a helpless baby, but who now comes to you even more helplessly at Christ's Mass - in this Eucharist.  There is no Christmas without Christ's Mass.  This is the meaning of Christmas - right here, right now.  The stage is set now for you to receive the Eucharist with greater fruitfulness and devotion than ever.  If you resist Him tonight, in these circumstances, can you honestly say you will ever receive Him?  Do not let this Christmas moment pass with fear or indifference.  Do not be afraid to fall in love tonight, to be visited and changed by this most irresistible of babies, who makes Himself even more helpless in the sacrament of His body and blood.

Come, let us adore Him! Christ the Lord!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mary rescues Advent

4th Sunday of Advent Year B
Christ the King Topeka
21 December 2014
Daily Readings

Father, are you ready for Christmas?  I do not like this question.  I do not like it at all.  I react violently when I hear this question, because the question fills me with guilt.  I am a priest of Jesus Christ.  I have one job, and one job only, to get ready for Christmas, and for the life of me, I can't get ready.  I can't stay focused on the one most important thing.  So don't ask me if I'm ready for Christmas, unless you're trying to turn me into the grinch.  I do not like the question. Advent has been a mess again this year.  It has not been a season of quiet and prayerful anticipation.  I do not have a perfect Christmas meditation put together yet.  I haven't even begun shopping yet.  I've never heard so many confessions!  Advent has been the opposite of what it's designed to be - it has been noisy and busy and schizophrenic.  It feels like a lot of the Christmas celebrations have already happened.  I'm not only not ready, I'm half confused.  Say an Amen if you're with me!

I'm scared, dear friends, that this Christmas could go by without a lot changing in my heart.  My one job is to be ready for that moment when I receive the Eucharist on Christmas Eve, to allow my Lord Jesus to be born in a new area of my heart that I have never let him touch before!  That's my one job, and I'm afraid of not being ready.  I'm afraid that this will not be my best or most perfect Christmas, that I will approach that sacred mome

nt with as much distraction and doubt as readiness and faith.  What is more, I'm scared that if this year is not my best and most perfect Christmas, when I truly allow the Lord to be born anew in my heart, then will such a Christmas ever happen.

Don't get me wrong.  It has been an amazing Advent, and the Christmas promise is bright.  But I want to have the Christmas of all Christmases, don't you?  I really don't want to celebrate another Christmas without knowing it will be the best yet.  I don't like treading water.  I don't want my best Christmas to be behind me - I want it to be staring me in the face.  But I'm afraid I may never get there.

Again, to have a perfect Christmas is to have prepared deep within us, in a new place, a worthy space for the Lord to be born.  David wanted this for the Lord - he offered in the first reading to build a house worthy for the Lord to dwell in.  Yet the Lord reminded David that He couldn't possibly build such a house.  The only one who could build a house worthy of the Lord is the Lord himself.

This is what we see happening within Mary.  The Lord promised David he would build his own house, and this house was ultimately the womb of Mary.  There's nothing we can do, you see, to have a perfect Advent. There is no checklist to complete that would convince the Lord we are ready for Him to be born within us.  The Lord himself has to build the house, from deep within us, and Mary teaches us how Advent is really done.

As we see in the Annunciation, Mary can rescue an imperfect Advent.  She can even save us from a terrible one.  We are not ready for Christmas, nor could we ever be ready, but She is ready, and that is all that matters.  We only need to entrust ourselves to her, and we will be ready too.  What is more, Mary is more excited for this Christmas than she was for the first Christmas, for that same Holy Spirit that once overshadowed her, wants to give birth to our Lord not just in one place, in Bethlehem, but in millions of places, wherever He can find an echo of Mary's great Magnificat - let it be done to me according to your word.  Mary expects this Christmas to be the best yet, and so should we.

Jesus is so madly in love with us, this year more than ever.  Mary is more ready than ever, begging us to surrender to Jesus' being born deep within us, where we have never given permission for Him to be born before.  All of our Advent preparations distill in these final days into the only words that really matter - let it be done to me according to your word.  Lord, build your sanctuary within me, and then come, Lord Jesus, come.  Come and be born in those places where I have lost hope of ever changing.

The perfect Christmas can only happen if we follow the pattern of Mary.  She alone can make us ready.  So it really doesn't matter if Father is ready for Christmas.  It doesn't matter if you're ready.  It only matters that  She is ready.  We will never have a better Christmas than Mary, so entrusting ourselves to Her is the surest path to our best Christmas.  Only she can lead us to a perfect Christmas. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

hope does not disappoint

3rd Sunday of Advent B
Gaudete Sunday
14 December 2014
Christ the King Topeka

A rose vestment is optional for Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  Rejoicing is not!  A distinctive mark of any Christian is joy!  It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If we are not joyful people, then we are not living our faith correctly.  We are to be known always and everywhere for our joy, but especially as we turn the corner on this Pink Sunday toward the full celebration of the Christmas mystery!  Sure, this is a time of frenzied activity - shopping days and preparations, unless you're a guy, in which case you surely haven't even started yet.  But our deepest emotion right now, indicated by the distinctive color rose on Gaudete Sunday, is joy!  Our deepest spiritual attitude is joy, because our Lord is near!

Now is the time to intensify our spiritual preparation for Christmas.  We can do this by imagining what my heart would be like, how my life would be different, and what state our poor world would be if Christ had not come.  What if we lived without Christmas?  We might pretend we would have invented Christmas . .but is that true?  What if the world had not welcomed the light who is able to break through the evil and darkness of

our world.  If the world had not received the gift of the only one, who once created the entire universe out of nothing, alone has the power to remake our world from the inside out, what would be our future?  If the Lord had not traveled into our world, would we  have long since stopped traveling to see each other.  If He had not come as the greatest gift the world could hope for, would we have stopped giving to each other?  If He had not chosen to draw close to us, would we have given up on trying to be close to each other.  Jesus is the reason and hope of this holy season.  He is the ground of our traveling, our giving, our drawing together in vulnerability and love.  He is the hope of the world.  He is coming!  Rejoice, then!  Again I say rejoice!  The Lord is near!

Our readings for the third Sunday of Advent are not only full of joy, they also speak of hope!  Alongside joy, hope is the distinctive mark of a Christian.  Hope is that theological virtue, directly poured into our hearts by the Lord so that we can live in expectation.  Hope alone convicts us that convicts us that a tiny, helpless, poor baby born in the darkest hour of the darkest night in the middle of nowhere, is leading to the redemption of the world from the inside out, beginning with me.  Hope is that virtue that sees in the mystery of Bethlehem the small yet perfect beginning of the building of the Kingdom of God that cannot be destroyed like the first creation was, but a kingdom that can only grow stronger and larger and then will last forever.

Hope is different than optimism.  I'm optimistic about a lot of things.  Essentially, I expect things to go well, and to catch some breaks.  Yet hope, which is proper to a Christian, is distinct from optimism.  Optimism persists through some adversity, expecting the good to outweigh the bad in the long term, and that everything will turn out fine.  I'm optimistic, for example, that KU will come back and win even if they're playing badly or are behind in the game.  Pessimistic people are the opposite.  Yet optimism is not the same as hope.  Hope is able to grow where optimism has to admit defeat. As we learn from the mystery of Christmas, hope is born precisely where defeat seems final.  In entering the world in such a small way, Jesus shows his desire to visit our world precisely where all seems lost.  He visits places where darkness, sin, brokenness, pain, despair, loneliness, vulnerability, poverty, and yes, even death have had their say.  Only he can visit these places and redeem them.  A favorite way for me to say this is that only Jesus can visit you and love your and forgive you where you cannot know or love or change yourself.  

The mystery of Christmas is the mystery of Jesus, the Lord of all the universe, becoming smaller and smaller, until we have no defenses left that are impenetrable to him.  Our deepest rejoicing and hope then, come from knowing that this Christmas I have prepared a highway for Jesus to be born in a new place within me where I've never let him visit me before.  He makes all things new, including those parts of me that I have lost hope of ever changing.  Jesus is coming to heal us and redeem us from the inside out, to break down our defenses as only a baby can.  He makes himself smaller than ever this Christmas, so that He can reach a new place within us.  It is this pattern of his visitation that eventually will redeem the entire world, but He wishes this Christmas to begin with my heart

Are you ready for such a visit this Christmas from the Lord?  Are you prepared for the best Christmas you've ever had.  Will you allow him to visit a new place within you, and make you new from the inside out?  Is the hope of Christmas real for you?  If so, rejoice!  Again, I say to you rejoice!  The Lord is near!

Monday, December 8, 2014

grace goes first

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
8 December 2014
Christ the King Church Topeka
Daily Readings

Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with you.   A strange greeting indeed.  The strangest of greetings.  Mary was troubled by it.  For what the angel was saying was somethings absolutely incomparable if not impossible.  Let's break these simple words open.

Hail Mary!  The angel is giving Mary praise, not vice versa.  This is strange.  An angel is telling this simple girl that she is more glorious and praiseworthy than the angels.  Now there are some beautiful people in the world, but has anyone ever been praised as higher and more beautiful than the angels?  Mary was.

Full of grace!  Excuse me . . this little girl is full of God's power?  This tiny young insignificant girl is full of God's perfections, full of God's life, full of God's love.  Again, this had been said of no human person, nor of any angel, that they were full of grace.  But it was said of Mary.  Wow. Unreal.

The Lord is with you.  Of all the places the Lord could be. of all the places he ever was or ever will be, the angel says that the Lord is with this girl.  The Lord of all the universe loves being with this girl.  Improbable. Mind-boggling.  Amazing.   What a greeting.  What a greeting indeed!  Hail Mary.  Full of Grace.  The Lord is with you!

 Mind you, all this is said about Mary before she is told by the angel she will be the mother of Jesus. This is said about her before she is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, before she conceives Jesus.  Mary's greeting is indeed strange - Gabriel does not say that Mary from this point on you will be full of grace, for you have found favor with God.  No, the angel says that you are already full of grace, you have already found favor with God.  The Gospel for the Immaculate Conception narrates the Annunication, and understandably so, because there is no conceivable human narration of Mary's conception in the womb of Anne.  But the focus of the Feast is not so much on the Annunication, but on what happened before.  The focus is on the strangest and most beautiful of greetings that happened before the Annunication.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception shows that God chose Mary in a way that only he could choose her, at the moment of her conception.  Nobody else knew her or could choose her at that moment.  Only God.  Not even Joachim and Anne, her parents, knew Mary or could begin loving her at that point.  Only God could see her and know her and love her. And of course this is precisely the point of the Feast.  Mary the pinnacle of God's creation, is the definition and pattern of what it means to be a human person.  We learn how to become a person most of all through her, because we are more like her than Jesus.  Mary became a person at the moment of her conception.  We become persons when we are known and protected and loved, and God alone can know us and protect us and love us in ways and in places where no one else can.  Our personhood is grounded only in God, and the Immaculate Conception reminds us that that personhood begins at Conception.

Our Lady always teaches us something about Jesus too.  She always reflects his light.  The Immaculate Conception teaches us that Jesus chooses us before we can ever choose him.  Mary as we hear in the Gospel, chooses God with all that she is, but this is not nearly as important as His choosing her, from the moment of her conception.  The Lord falls in love with our lowliness, and his grace is the ground of our dignity and freedom.  We can do nothing apart from Him, who chooses us and knows us and loves at our weakest and smallest point, where only He can.  Mary shows us how totally and madly Jesus falls in love with us, and then begs permission to enhance our freedom by acting in us, and with us and through us.  What Mary was from her Immaculate Conception we her children hope to become as we grow in the grace of baptism, when Jesus fell irreovocably in love with each of us.

In the incomparably beautiful mystery of the Immaculate Conception, Mary shows that Jesus was already accomplishing his works in her.  Mary teaches us how to respond to God's invitation, by surrendering to God's will which is so much bigger and better than anything she could imagine.  Yet Mary teaches us something more, for when she says 'let it be done to me according to your word' she gives a foretaste of the surrender of Her son, who says Lord not my will, but yours be done.  Mysteriously, it was Jesus speaking and working through his most perfect instrument, his mother, that unleashed the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that was His own conception.  In Mary, Jesus is all in all.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

you're in the way!

2nd Sunday of Advent B
Christ the King Church Topeka
7 December 2014
Daily Readings

Hey you!  You're in Jesus' way!  John the Baptist, the greatest and craziest and loudest of all the prophets who ever lived, gives us to it straight, as only the best prophet should!  Hey you!  You're in the way.  You're the problem.  Your ego.  Your plans.  Your stuff.  Your sins.  It's all in the way.  You're in the way.  I'm in the way.  We're all in the way.

John the Baptist is a ruthless Advent prophet, screaming and eating locusts and wearing camel's hair to get our attention, to break through our complacency, because he has an incomparable message.  John proclaims not just a word from God - he proclaims THE WORD - Jesus himself - after which no other word need be or will ever be spoken.  John introduces not just another godlike person, but THE PERSON after whom no on else will be sent, the final person who alone can re-create the world form the inside out.  John prophesies not just an important moment in human history, but THE MOMENT that is greater than all others - greater than the big bang that created everything out of nothing, greater than anything that has ever happened before or will ever happen again - greater than the moment of our own conception, our own birth, or our own death.  The moment of all moments was at hand - Jesus Christ, God Himself, greater than all the universes combined, was coming into our world as a tiny, poor and helpless little baby!  You wonder why John the Baptist seems completely crazy screaming like an idiot in the middle of nowhere - it is because his message is the most important and urgent message God gave any prophet ever to speak.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.

This Christmas can be nothing less, my friends, than our allowing ourselves to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.  John the Baptist calls out in a huge way any of us who are planning to make this Christmas something manageable for ourselves.  The scriptures tell us just the opposite.  They say that the person who you are right now is the person you will always be . .there is no time for tinkering with self-improvement . . we either allow ourselves to be visited by Jesus this Christmas, whose coming can only mean radical self-conversion and a baptism by fire, or nothing happens.  It is either him or us - it can't be both, and there is no compromise.  The Lord is not someone that we can fit into our already busy lives, like we might fit a new workout plan, a new investment strategy, or the perfect gift at the perfect price.  The Lord's coming is not another special offer like the thousands of false advertisements and cheap fixes that we are offered at every turn.

No, making room for him, and truly repenting of our sins, means that our life is no longer about us.  We either make room for him in Advent, or we don't.  There is no happy medium. For the Lord's coming is the most dramatic moment in human history, and He baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and whatever is not worthy or ready for Him, will be like chaff that is burned.

Repentance then, is key to the prophecy of John.  We will not welcome Christ this Christmas if our lives are already full of pride and stuff.  If Christ is to move in, then everything else has to move out. Our gift-giving  during Christmas, then, must not be a distraction or replacement for welcoming Christ, but must be an expression of making room for him.  We give away all that we have and are this Christmas, being generous beyond our imagination, in order that we might be able to receive a true treasure, Jesus Himself, with empty and clean hearts when we come to receive the Eucharist on Christmas Eve.  Our practices of giving away our stuff and money in this holy season, along with a good confession, are the sure spiritual practices that help us to get ready.

John the Baptist chews us out real good.  And we need it.  I'm in the way.  My ego.  My plans.  My stuff.  My sins.  I'm the problem.  I'm in the way.  I need repentance, allowing myself to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, or this Christmas will bring nothing new at all.  Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

in need

1st Sunday of Advent B
30 November 2014
Christ the King Parish Topeka
Daily Readings

Come, Lord Jesus come!  God get down here.  God do something!  God come closer! The prayer from the prophet Isaiah from our first reading is daring God to be who he says he would be - the savior of his people!  It is a bold prayer!  It is a prayer so different than our usual prayer to God - God keep your distance.  God give me more time to work on myself and my projects.  The prayer from Isaiah, the prayer of Advent, is so different; in fact, it's quite the opposite.  It's not a test of God . .but it's a prayer of desperation.  It's the prayer of a people no longer satisfied with tinkering with self-improvement.  It is the prayer of Advent . . the prayer of a people who know they need a savior.  God get down here!  Now!  Look at us!  You said you would help us!  I dare you to come closer!  Lord, we need you!

How often do we tell God how much we need him?  Speaking for myself, not very often.  In fact, it's the last prayer I say.  I might as a last resort ask God for his mercy, to forgive my many offenses.  But then I quickly return to trying to fix myself.  I'm embarrassed I had to ask for help, and instead of leaning into God's mercy I pray I'll need less in the future.  I ask God for time and distance so I can return to my prideful self-reliance, returning to my hope that I will need God as little as possible.

The prayer of Advent is much better, and it's quite the opposite.  Advent is not being terrified of God coming closer to be our savior.  It is being terrified instead that God might not come, that he might keep his distance and I will be trapped forever in the terror and slavery of my own limitations.  For I am addicted to sin myself, and I am part of a dysfunctional human family who will never choose to always love.  I need a savior.  You need a savior.  We all need a savior.  Someone who is like us, but who can break in with power and perfection from the outside.  It's nice to have someone who's willing to join us in jail, but better to have someone who can actually break us out.  Our deepest need is not for a guru who can tell us how to fix ourselves, for such gurus are not the ultimate solution, they are also a part of the problem.  No, we uniquely need a savior.  One who comes to heal us not with a plan, but with a heart.  One who comes not with a prescription, but with a relationship.  One who alone can heal us and perfect us where we cannot love or change ourselves.  We need someone who can be as close to us as we are to ourselves, one like us in all things but sin, but one who is outside the dysfunction and addiction that is our helpless human condition. I need a savior.  You need a savior.  We need a savior.

In Advent, we change the way we think.  We admit that what is terrifying for us is not that He is coming, but that He may not come.  What is slavery is not that the Lord takes over our lives, but that he leaves us to our own devices.  What is equally scary is that he is coming, but that we will probably miss him.  We celebrate the first Sunday of Advent at a time in the north when the days are getting shorter.   There is less daylight to see things.  We get sleepy earlier and tend to think the day ends sooner.  The busy-ness and anxieties of life, and our own sins, can equally make us drowsy to the Lord's coming.  Advent urges us that the darker it becomes, the more eager we are to keep vigil, to stay awake, to look for the Lord's coming and for a light that shatters the darkness.  In Advent we admit that when the Lord came into our world at the darkest hour of the darkest night, only those very few with the purest of faith saw him.  Yet that lowly, inconspicuous manger scene was the most dramatic of human moments!  We enter Advent knowing we must dramatically change if this Christmas is to be any different than those that have passed.

Advent is the time of unparalleled anticipation, a time of waking up spiritually.  Like scientists who look for smaller and smaller particles to unlock the big mysteries of the universe.  Like teams that practice for countless hours to be ready for the one play that will make or break a season.  Advent is knowing that the spark that will light our spiritual lives on fire, and make new things possible, lies just ahead of us, for those who refuse to fall asleep.

This Advent stop asking God for more time and distance to tinker with your own plans.  Let go of old controls and securities.  Get over your fears of what the Lord's coming will mean for you.  Delight in a God who can overwhelm you at any time, and eventually will, but who for now delights in small surprises that come at the least expected moments for those whose hearts are awake in faith!   Don't depend upon God as a last resort.  This Advent, ask him the opposite.  Tell him how much you need him.  Ask him to come sooner.  Ask him to come closer.  And actually mean it.  Come, Lord Jesus. Come!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Worthy is this King

Solemnity of Christ the King
Christ the King Parish Topeka
22 November 2014

Because our great United States of America was founded through the toppling of a tyrant King, and we elect a president to serve us instead, talk of kingship might sound anachronistic. But it's not.  We still love kings.  When there is a king lacking, we want one.  That's how Michael Jackson becomes the King of Pop and LeBron James the King of basketball.  We love to see who dominates in their area of reality, and who has power and fame.  We love it.  What is more, we love seeing Kings fall.

But today, we are the ones who fall down before our King.  We might love toppling Kings, but today we are here to worship a King that is unstoppable and unbeatable.  Jesus is the greatest King, for having existed before the world began, He is more powerful than the Big Bang, and his kingdom alone being universal and eternal, even a nuclear weapon cannot touch it.  So we are powerless to beat Him.  But we come not merely out of submission to this King, not against our will  because we have no other choice.  No, we choose this King, we worship him with all our heart and will, because the most powerful King imaginable shows His power by standing powerless before us His beloved.  We come today in worship not to be dominated by our King, but first of all to be served by Him who loves us His subjects beyond all measure.  We come to be judged by Him not merely because we have no other option, but willingly, because our King has been found worthy to judge the world.  For before He is judge, He is the lamb that was slain.

So we worship Jesus as King not temporarily in hopes that one day He might be toppled, but begging Him to allow us to  participate in his eternal and universal Kingdom of truth and love.  We know that any other kingdom to which we belong is temporary and illusory, especially any Kingdom we would fashion for ourselves, unless it participates in the Kingship of Christ.  For more powerful than the power of the Big Bang, or the power of a nuclear weapon, is the power to lay down one's life in love.  It is sacrificial and merciful love that is the heart of God, and the ground of all reality. It is because God is love that there is something rather than nothing, that there is me instead of not me, and it is this merciful love that alone is stronger than death.

Jesus showed his ultimate power through vulnerability.  He was powerful enough to be born in the cold, in abject poverty, powerful enough to ride into his capital city not with a secret service, but on a donkey.  Powerful enough to allow himself to be judged by his enemies, and for his Kingdom to be spat upon and mocked.  The more vulnerable He became, the stronger and more sure His kingdom grew, and in the Resurrection it was confirmed that sacrificial love alone is stronger than death.

As we see clearly in today's Gospel, He is powerful enough to identify himself with the weakest of human persons, his subjects, and when He does so, His Kingdom only grows.  We will ultimately be judged as belonging to His kingdom, or not, by whether we see ourselves, and Him, in our brothers and sisters.  It is by showing charity and mercy that Jesus has been found worthy by His Father as judge of the world.  It is by the standards of charity and mercy that we will be found worthy of belonging to Him, and His eternal Kingdom . . and rightly so!  Amen!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Radical Investment of Faith

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Parish Topeka
15 November 2014
Daily Readings

Archbishop Naumann was in town for a fundraiser for Hayden High School, and engaged in a very frank discussion with supporters of Hayden about the current condition and future fate of the high school.  Lots of things were discussed that affect Hayden, but the Archbishop cut through the conversation by stating that above all, his number one concern was whether the high school was forming real Christian disciples.  Specifically, are the young people encountering the person of Jesus Christ, the source of all learning and goodness, in a personal, life-changing way.  The Archbishop said that if they are, then everything else will take care of itself.  But if they are not, then the whole mission of the high school was pointless.  It doesn't matter how many national merit scholars or state championships are won; what matters for the long term, in God's eyes, is discipleship.  Are these young people becoming the disciples that Jesus is calling them to be?  The Archbishop said he is sick and tired of people telling him that their sons and daughters are fallen-away Catholics, that they no longer go to Church.  This is his number one concern - that our Church has to find a way to make fervent and real disciples.

The parable of the talents is about investing our faith in risky, radical ways.  Nothing is clearer in the parable than the fact that faith buried is faith lost.  Faith lived privately, or in fear, is faith that is worthless.  So often, our Church remains in maintenance mode, or yields only a portion of the fruit that the Lord is calling us to bear, because we live our faith at a minimum.  Faith has to be daring and radical - our biggest conversion is never behind us - it is always ahead of us.  Otherwise, it is not faith, it is a hedging of our bets . . a giving only insofar as it works for me and I get something back.  But Christianity - discipleship - the Gospel - and stewardship - is a zero sum game.  Either we recognize that everything is a gift from God, and all that I have belongs to him, or I'm not living faith at all.  Either I find myself giving more of my time, talent and treasure than I ever thought I would , in order to multiply the talents I have been given, and to build up God's kingdom, or I'm not living faith.  Either I'm all in, or I shouldn't be in at all.  Either I am in the business of making disciples, either I am a radical evangelizer myself, or I am slowly but surely losing what little faith I claim to have.  The parable couldn't be clearer.

I am asking the parish to pledge time, talent and treasure, and to invest in the mission the Lord has entrusted to Christ the King parish, in a formal way for the 2015 calendar year.  It has been some years since Christ the King has done a formal stewardship drive.  I am sure some of you will hate it.  But we have to push forward as a faith community, always risking more of our time, talent, and treasure in response to what we have received from God, praying desperately with our pledges that our parish will be able to bear the fruit that God has given us to bear.  This fruit will not come to pass if we simply ask people to give whatever they feel the parish is worth to them; no, every one of us, starting with myself, must be challenged and pushed to be more radical in our discipleship, and in our giving.  Everyone must give more and more, and to give priority and planning to their proportional giving to the parish.  We see the alternative in the Gospel of giving cautiously . . it is to accept a slow and steady decline in our faith.

Of course the parish has a responsibility not just to challenge you to give, but to be a good steward of what is given.  I pray that I will be a more effective leader in using the leadership gifts of the parish to be more transparent and engaging with everything that is shared with Christ the King.  Your parish and finance councils are available the next two weekends to answer your questions.  We have been blessed with a lot at Christ the King, so much is expected of us.  I hope you will agree with me that with all the good that is already done at our parish, still we are called to do more; specifically, we must find a way to make every parishioner a radical disciple and evangelizer  - our parish must be an engaging and misisonary parish - one that is not afraid of losing its young people or in simply maintaining the faith, but a parish that will not settle for anything less than producing saints and holy vocations, and a parish that is always in aggressive growth mode.

You all know that as your pastor, I love change.  Change is hard, and I've been hard on the parish in some ways, and this stewardship drive is yet another example of how much I expect out of you.  But I promise you this, as much as I am asking you to change and to do more as a parish, I pledge as your pastor to change even more myself.  In cutting my teeth as a new pastor, I have made a lot of mistakes.  I have been rash in changing some things, and have not been as patient and as vulnerable, nor a good listener, that a pastor has to be.  I have not heeded the call of Pope Francis for the shepherds of the church to first cry for and with their people, to take on the smell of the sheep in service, and to sacrifice until the people know that you love them.  I have a lot of growth to do as your pastor.  I humbly ask for your forgiveness for my own mistakes, and the ways I have hurt the parish by my own selfishness, or tried to change things only to fit me.  Of all the people in the parish, your pastor is the one who needs to give more, and to sacrifice more.  I did not come into the nicknames of Fr. Spends a lot, talks a lot, changes a lot, and is gone all the time for nothing . . I probably earned them.  As much as I am asking you to change, and to pledge in this year's stewardship drive more than you ever thought you would pledge, I pledge to you that I will lead the way in changing even more.

Christ the King parish has to bear the fruit the Lord has given us to bear.  I need your help.  Let us pray for each other, and do this together.  Amen.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pray for your beloved dead!

All Souls Day
2 November 2014
Christ the King Topeka

I've never enjoyed running, but I got on a fitness kick the last couple of years, and have done more running than ever in my life.  A couple weeks ago I crossed an item off the bucket list, running a marathon with my friend Fr. Scott Wallisch.  Honestly, I can't say that I enjoyed it that much. I'm glad I finished.  Happy with my time. But the training and the race itself was time-consuming and painful.  I love being in shape and having energy.  But at times the training seemed prideful and selfish.  I may or may not be retired from marathons at this point.

An exception to the doldrums of training, however, were the runs I made in Hoxie, Kansas.  A couple of the longer training runs I made in the town where I grew up.  Hoxie has a sister parish in Seguin, Kansas about 10 miles to the west, and so my favorite training run was from Catholic Church to Catholic Church on country roads.  I ran by a piece of ground my dad owns that we call Green Acres!  Great dove hunting there!  More importantly, however, was the chance I had to run by the Catholic cemetery, where my mom is buried.  I visit my mom's grave every time I'm in Hoxie, usually by going on a run and taking a break there to say hi to my mom.  Other times I'll go and offer a rosary.  My favorite training run for the marathon was a 20 mile run that I dedicated to my mom.  I had a long time to think about her.  You all know what's it like to remember a loved one.  The happy memories come back.  The struggles too.  You try to remember what their voice sounded like.  I ask my mom always how she thinks I'm doing, and I try to listen to her response.  Then I ask mom how things would be different if she were here, and think about what it would be like to kiss her, to hold her, to tell her I love her, and to enjoy the journey of life with her.  I ask God why he took her, because life would be better if she was still here.  And I wait for God's response.   I love visiting my mom's grave.  I know many of you love visiting your beloved dead as well.

Because Jesus himself spent three days in a tomb, the graves of our loved ones are signs of hope, that promise resurrection.  It is important that we visit the graves of our loved ones.  I have my grave picked out as well, in a good spot where I hope people will pass by and say a little prayer for me.  As Christians, we must not live in fear of death.  Death is something that has been entered into and conquered by Christ.  We give our lives away in love, and sacrifice to the point of our own death in imitation of Christ.  Death is not to be avoided, it is something we actively choose long before death has a chance to choose us.  Priests wear black to signify that they have entered into the noble death of our Lord.  We should not avoid cemeteries.  Instead, we should visit them often, and draw close to the vulnerability that is part of being human, and meditate on the shortness of our lives.

Most of all, though, we should pray for our beloved dead.  And this is where I confess that I fall short, especially with my mom.  I consider my mom a saint, not a soul in purgatory.  She was amazing, and such a better person than I will ever be.  I don't idolize her.  She would be the first to say that she wasn't perfect.  But especially through her battle with cancer, I experienced a love and courage and faith worthy of heaven.  I think that she is there.  So I ask my mom to help me, and to interceded for me, which only makes sense if she is among the communion of Saints.  In fact, on November 1st, All Saints Day, I think of my mom in a special way, knowing that she hasn't been canonized I still can't think of anyone more saintly who has helped me more.  On All Saints we celebrate that the holy ones with God are able to share spiritual goods with us, and we pray for them to help us!

I neglect however, my responsibility to help my mom get to heaven.  I assume she's there, but I shouldn't. None of us should assume that our loved ones are there.  We can hope for it, and believe in it, but we should never stop interceding for them.  I need to keep saying Masses for my mom.  It is my responsibility, and my great privilege, to share any merits or suffering or graces with her.  I should spend a lot more time asking my mom what I can do for her, and if she needs any help in her final purification and journey, and I should give anything I have to her rather than keeping it for myself.  That's what love does, and my mom if she is in that final purification is dependent upon the merits and sacrifices shared with her.  The final purification or journey through purgatory is the most difficult journey of our lives.  The passover from being good to becoming holy and perfect is much more difficult than the conversion from bad to good.  I shouldn't assume that my mom is in heaven.  That's a bad way to love her.  Instead, I should be particularly sensitive that my mom can no longer work out her own merits and salvation.  She is dependent, like one going through surgery, upon the skill and care of others.  If still on her way to heaven, my mom is vulnerable, and I should not neglect to pray for her as much as I can. As Catholics, we celebrate that Jesus shared his spiritual treasure, the merits of his paschal victory, first of all with the one dearest to him, his mother, and we celebrate both her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption into heaven as the highest example of the sharing of spiritual goods from Christ to Mary, a sharing that we are all invited to enter into when we pray and sacrifice for one another.

That's what All Souls Day, and the month of November is all about for us Catholics.  It's an intense sharing of spiritual goods with our beloved who have gone before us.  November is the time, at the end of the liturgical year, when we meditate about final things.  It is a time to think especially about death and the final judgment. Then Advent will be here when we begin searching for the light that announces the beginning of our salvation.  But for this month, we think about final things.  Knowing where we want to end up shows us precisely the intense purification that we must begin now.  And we pray intensely for our beloved dead who can no longer pray for themselves, and we enter their names into our parish book of the dead as a holy remembrance.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace.  May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Being Royal!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Church Topeka
25 October 2014
Daily Readings

Well, I'm the pastor of Christ the King Parish.  So it's totally legitimate, at any time of year, to talk about being Royal.  The namesake of our parish is all about our Lord's Kingship, a royalty that He seems to be sharing, if we dare speculate that God's favor has finally shone on our favorite team, on our beloved Kansas City Royals!  It's all I can do to wear the required green vestment for this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, when in my closet I have a gorgeous vestment dedicated to our Blessed Mother that has an embroidered crown and is a beautiful deep Royal blue.  Yes, our Lady is Royal too, for the Lord has crowned Her as Queen of heaven and earth.  What a great time to be Royal!  Go Royals!

This weekend's Gospel however are not about being Royal, but about love.  So we should ask the question - do we love the Royals?  I confess that I was at game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday.  I was also at game 4 of the Baltimore series, when we clinched the World Series.  I've loved the Royals all my life.  I used to cry as a kid when they lost to the Yankees in the playoffs.  I was at the Baltimore game with my 11 year old godson, who was exactly the same age I was when the Royals last won the World Series.  The whole scene got to me.  I can't believe what is happening.   I don't cry much, but with this run of my favorite team ever, the tears of joy almost come readily, so much do I care about the Royals, and so long have I waited hoping that this day would come, and in the last few years, despairing that it may never come.  Now it all seems like a dream . . too good to be true. They just keep winning, and it's unbelievable.  I have no idea what I'll do when they win it all.  It is beyond my imagination what that moment will mean to me personally.

But all that being said, I wouldn't trade my faith for a World Series ticket, or even a championship.  Not even close.  I love the Royals, and the crown would be amazing, but it doesn't compare to my love of God, nor should it for any Christian.  Shame on me if it does.  My love for the Royals and my love of God need not be in competition . . I can love both . . but still, there can't be a comparison.  And shame on me if there is.  There was a point in my life when I would have traded being a priest for being the starting second baseman for the Kansas City Royals.  But no more.  Being a priest is my vocation . . it is God's gift to me and the Church, Christ the King parish, is the spouse He has chosen for me to love.  I wouldn't trade being a priest, being your priest, for anything.

Furthermore, the World Series crown is a crown that fades, but the gift of eternal life won for us by the love of Jesus is a crown that only shines more and more brightly  The World Series might feel like the greatest happiness one can have on this side of heaven.  Winning the Series might feel for a bit like we've died and gone to heaven!  But it can't compare, has no chance of competing really, with the love Jesus speaks of in the Gospel.  The greatest commandment has a richness and depth and meaning that no World Series chase can match.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And your neighbor as yourself.

As great as the Royals are this year, they are not worthy of loving with all our heart, and mind and strength.  Nobody puts themselves under obedience to the Royals out of love.  We don't do whatever the Royals ask us to do, even to the point of death, because we love them.  That sounds silly, and it should.   But that is what love is, when we speak of love of God.  It is so much more than love of a team, no matter how deeply we are falling to this incredible World Series run.  I know many ladies are falling in love with Eric Hosmer, but again, this doesn't compare . . it's infatuating and fun, but nothing more.   It's great that we love the  story of the Royals and we feel a solidarity with them, and are inspired by what they are about to accomplish.  All this is good and can give glory to God!  I'm not telling you not to waste time rooting for the Royals.  But we reserve the term love with all of its depth to the love of God . . we respond to the love that Christ has for us by being obedient to His will, and loving the cross that He shares with us with all our heart, and mind and strength.  As a Christian, this love of God with all our heart and mind and strength cannot be contained . .it necessarily spills out to seeing the image and likeness of God in our neighbor, and falling in love with them as God does, and putting their will and needs above our own as well.

We don't talk about loving the Royals in this way, nor should we.  For God alone is worthy of total love.  Jesus gives us the simple test of whether we have allowed Him to love us, and whether we have responded tepidly or wholeheartedly to His love, by how we treat our neighbor.  If we are deeply connected to God, the source of love, and if we have surrendered to His love in our life, we will have this great capacity to love our neighbor as God loves them, and to see ourselves in them, especially in the most vulnerable around us, and will have this capacity, given us by the love Christ has poured into our hearts, to love them more than we love ourselves.

Jesus is Royal - He is our great King because of his almighty dominion and power, but His Father has made him Royal most of all because He has this ability to fall deeply in love with those that He is called to serve.  He is Lord of all, reigning in Heaven with our Blessed Mother, because they teach us how to fall in love 1000x more deeply than anything we could feel for the Kansas City Royals.  On this weekend, when we meditate on the ultimate commandment, which is the ground of our origin, our mission, and our destiny to be made perfect in heaven, let us remember to keep being a Christian utterly simple.  To be a Christian is to allow God to be madly in love with us, and to love Him and our neighbor in kind with all our heart, and mind and strength.  That is how to truly be Royal . . and share in the kingdom of love that will never fade.  Amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Double Down on Life

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
5 October 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

Now is the time to double down on the Church's teaching on sex, marriage, life and the family.  It is not the time for the Church to shy away from her challenging yet true and life-giving teachings, entrusted to her by Christ.  It is not the time for the Church to shy away from building the culture of life and love that is her privilege and duty to build with Christ.  It is not the time to water down out of fear that her teachings are out of date with modern morality, that they are unrealistic, or that they offend many and distance others from the Church.  We should be afraid instead that we are telling our children to make good choices in an environment where we are afraid to stand up for, and to point out to them, what is true, and good and beautiful and holy and worth striving for.  Now is the time to double-down on the Church's teaching on sex, marriage, life and the family, for the sake of our society, for the sake of our future, and most especially, for the sake of our children.  It is time to double-down.

To give this homily on Respect Life Sunday in the Church is never easy.  Because to preach against abortion, artificial contraception, sex before marriage, artificial methods of producing children, and same-sex marriage is to preach against things that have personally affected all of us in this Church, to one degree or another.  It is never my intent to judge anyone or their actions.  God's mercy is bigger than anything we can do to go away from his mercy.  Everyone in this Church, no matter what we have done, is loved radically by God, beginning at our weakest point.  Mercy is God's deepest attribute, and he wants to heal and strengthen us always, and is always ready to forgive and to help people move on and bear the fruit in their lives no matter what.  So I want everyone to feel loved, not judged, especially on Respect Life Sunday.  I willingly count myself as the greatest sinner in this Church, for I have failed in so many ways to be a good steward of the life that God has given me.

Yet it is not loving to fail to preach the truth on matters that affect the lives and happiness of so many.  It is never either to preach God's mercy or his truth.  It is always both.  There are some who say I should focus instead on war, violence, poverty, health care, immigration, or the death penalty instead, and certainly all of these issues touch on the fullness of life outside the womb.  In preaching about the more fundamental issues pertaining to life, it is never to the neglect of anything else.  Again, it is never either/or, but both/and.  The enormous amounts of food brought by Christ the King parishioners last month shows that you all know the importance of elevating and sustaining human life.  But until we get the fundamentals right regarding our witness to life, our support of life in other areas will always be incomplete and will limp.

We can't shy away from focusing on abortion, contraception, and marriage because these are more personal.  Our defense and promotion of life must begin here, must be strongest here, because it is in these areas where life is threatened at its smallest, most vulnerable stage.  The strength of any country lies in how it supports its greatest resource, its children, and by this analysis, the United States is a cowardly country. We have discarded 50 million of our children now, and have shied away from the obvious and fundamental truth that an unrepeatable human life begins at conception.  Your life started there and was protected beginning there.  So was mine.  If you do not say that every child has the same right to life that you had, and fail to stand up for that right, then you should lose your voice.

We have discarded our children because our society and Church have failed to produce courageous and sacrificial men who desire to become husbands and fathers.  We have done this because we fail to recognize the truth that children have a right to be conceived as much as possible within marriage, within the loving embrace of a man and woman who are promised to each other and their children for life.  We have failed to promote that children are safest, and do best, when they have a mom and a dad, and we welcome children into the world, or discard them, based on the will and convenience of adults, not based upon whether God wants to bring children into the world, or whether their are children wanting to be born.  We do this because we dilute the meaning of family to whatever adults change it to be.  So too we have diluted the meaning of marriage to whatever two adults want it to be, and so have not added to the definition, but subtracted from it,  We shy away from the truth that marriages do so much better when there is chastity before marriage and no artificial contraception, and assume instead that everyone is the exception to the rule.  It is is this confusion that we tell our kids to go out and make good choices, and to do whatever makes them happy.  We are preparing them for unhappiness, because we do not have the courage to form them anymore in what we once knew to be true.

We wonder why our vineyard is producing sour grapes.  We shouldn't, nor should we be surprised if the Lord takes the vineyard away from us, and gives it to others who will produce its fruit.  The Church teaches clearly that our bodies are not our private possessions, they are gifts from God, and we cannot ignore or kill the teachings of the Church, which are the key to fruitfulness and happiness and love.  None of us lives these teachings perfectly.  Yet we must love and welcome them.  They are not to control us, but for our good!  Not all is lost, but woe to us if we shy away from the Church's beautiful and life-giving teachings, that strengthen our country, our society, our families, and most of all, are essential to the happiness of our children.  For the sake of our kids, now is not the time to shy away.  It is the time to double-down. Amen.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

praying for our Pope

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Topeka
24 August 2014
Daily Readings

Catholics don't elect their Pope, the visible head and authoritative voice and the recognized Papa or father or the family that is the Catholic Church.  Catholics don't elect their pope, they pray for their pope.  When a new pope is to be elected, Catholics pray for the election, that they would receive through the work of the Holy Spirit a holy pope, a good shepherd who teaches and governs and acts after the heart and mind of Christ.  For the Pope is the vicar of Christ, given as we see in Matthew's Gospel the authority of Christ himself, to bind the faithful together and to forgive sins, and to unlock the very gates of heaven.  Such a role given to a sinful man, first. St. Peter, and then to his successors, is absurd when we think about it.  Yet as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, how inscrutable are the ways of God.  God is amazing.  He is good.  But he is also strange. God is impossible to figure out.  His ways are not our ways.  He goes right when we think He should go left.  He writes straight with crooked lines, as we often say.  His ways are not our ways.  He has entrusted his Church, and the message and means of salvation, to sinful men throughout history.  He chose Peter, who at one moment is courageous, the next fearful.  Who at one moment is stepping out obediently in faith, and walking on water, and the next telling Jesus how things should go, and that Jesus will never wash his feet.  Peter confesses Jesus, then denies him, then confesses his love for him again.

What a dramatic and strange figure Peter is.  The history and tradition of the Catholic Church is strange.  How she still exists is a miracle.  Yet stranger are the ways of God.  Jesus heals and forgives many in establishing that the kingdom of heaven is near, yet only to Peter does he give the supernatural ability to walk on water, and to confess the truth faith on behalf of all disciples.  Only to Peter does he give a new name, calling him the Rock of faith, a term usually reserved for describing the Lord himself, and a Rock that will prevail against every evil.

How strange are the ways of God - entrusting and guaranteeing his Church and the truths and means of salvation to sinful men, and choosing only celibate men to re-present the saving sacrifice of Christ who appeared and was crucified and rose in his male body.  Only men are chosen for this leadership role of ruling, teaching and sanctifying, and we must be obedient to them to be Catholic, and yet strangely, that same Church that relies so much on the role and ministry of the Pope and priests, does not celebrate Peter as the most important member of the Church.  The Pope is our papa and visible head, but he is not the most important.   No, strangely, the Catholic Church above all world religions celebrates a lady as the first and greatest and most powerful member of the Church.  The Catholic Church celebrates and honors Mary not Peter as playing the greatest role in the history of salvation, a role that She still has today interceding for the Church as our mother and our queen, showing the world how to receive and give birth to  Christ, and interceding and winning for her children the gift of life, the gift of eternal life, as only a mother can.

In today's Scriptures we are invited to pray for our Pope, for we know that it is God's will that the faith of the Church rises and falls with the confession of St. Peter.  God's ways are strange.  We do not always receive a holy Pope.  In God's strange ways he might accomplish his purposes without a Holy Pope, or without holy bishops or priests for that matter.  But we pray for our leaders.  It is the greatest privilege of my life that I was able to meet in person my hero, the one I want to be more like than anyone else, our late Holy Father Saint John Paul the Great, Saint John Paul II.  I would not be a priest were it not for his courageous and holy example of what a priest should be, and what the Church is called to be.  As soon as I encountered him, I wanted to be like him.  After I met him in person, I had to try the priesthood as potentially the greatest thing I could do with my life, and my deepest calling.  I loved Pope Benedict XVI as well, and considered him a holy man, although that opinion was not shared universally.  I feel prophetically challenged by Pope Francis, who is encouraging me, and all of us, to get bloody and dirty in showing Christian charity, knowing that the world will not believe in Jesus or his Church unless Catholics humbly and sacrifically serve the most vulnerable in imitation of Christ.

Catholics don't elect our Popes.  We pray for them, and all our leaders, that through their confession and service our Church might become stronger, strong enough to bring the message of salvation against every obstacle in our modern times.  Strong enough to prevail against the gates of hell.  Amen.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

mercy begets Easter faith

Divine Mercy Sunday
26/27 April 2014 Year A
Christ the King Catholic Church Topeka
Daily Readings

Jesus Christ is Risen!  The Lord is truly Risen!  We are to be proclaiming in this incomparable season of Easter with all our heart and mind and strength that the most important victory in history - the victory over sin and death themselves, has been won!  Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  There is a real love that is stronger than sin and death - the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! And we are to proclaim this intensely into the world for 50 days - for the entire season of Easter!

But the world oftentimes says 'so what' - or 'prove it' to me!  Even though the historical truth of the Resurrection has been passed down carefully and with great sacrifice, including by the two great popes who will be canonized this weekend John Paul II and John XXIII - still fear and doubt are always available to us.  Even though we proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus as the most real and powerful and true thing out of everything we know to be true, still fear and doubt creep in.  We see fear and doubt on display always on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, as we listen to the story of the disciples locked in fear in the upper room, and the doubt of Thomas.  There is as much or more fear and doubt today as there was then, as agnostics and atheists are the fastest growing segments of the religious landscape.  Fallen away Catholics will one day outnumber practicing Catholics unless we turn things around - fear and doubt are on the increase, which makes our meditation on this Gospel this weekend all the more important.

We can shout into the world that Jesus is truly Risen, and that this truth has been passed down and confirmed by the enormous witness of the Church through the centuries.  We can say that it is too convincing to be ignored.  We can also shout out that anyone who has actually tried being a Christian - anyone who has entered deeply into the suffering and death of Jesus, has found a new and distinctive kind of life on the other side of the cross that we call eternal.  Every Christian should confess personally that our life grows bigger and deeper and younger whenever we dare to follow Jesus' commandment to lose our lives in order to save them.

Still, even with our shouting the Easter proclamation into the world, many people will still ignore and avoid and doubt - because Christianity is not ultimately an argument between those of us who say Jesus is truly Risen, and those who say No He's Not!  Christianity at its core is less of a dogma and more of a dialogue - less an argument and more of a relationship.  And every relationship at its best is a dynamic interplay between faith and love, between trust and mercy.  In today's Gospel we see not just a simple crescendo of last week's Easter proclamation that He is Risen - today we also contemplate what it means to be visited by mercy itself, in the person of the Risen Christ.

For the Christian proclamation of Easter to grow stronger, what happens in today's Gospel is something that must happen personally and intimately, from the inside out, within each Christian.  The Risen Christ with his victory over sin and death comes to convince people not by overwhelming them from the outside in, but in the same way he visited people before his suffering, death and resurrection - by serving them and by loving them from the inside out.  We see the Risen Christ breaking through the fearful defenses of his disciples locked  in the upper room, and then he allows Thomas to place his doubts intimately into his very wounds, so that Thomas can experience on our behalf what a broken human person redeemed completely by mercy from the inside out really looks and feels like.

We are to have this same experience when we receive the Eucharist during Easter.  For we take the Risen Christ deeply within us when we receive the Eucharist, allowing him to break through the inner recesses of those doubts and fears that still need to be healed within us.  At one time in our tradition some people only received the Eucharist once a year during the Easter season . . and prepared all year for this perfect experience of being visited by grace and mercy from the inside out in the person of the Risen Christ.  Without a doubt receiving the Eucharist during the Easter season is supposed to represent our biggest opportunity for change throughout the year - because we have prepared in Lent to receive the Eucharist more fruitfully.  We have humbled ourselves so that grace and mercy can visit us more deeply.  And until we have this experience of being visited by Christ where our deepest fears and doubts still remain, our Easter proclamation will limp.  We can proclaim Christ to be truly Risen, but it will be more of a guess or a bet or a vain hope, than a proclamation of the one thing I have most perfectly experienced and know to be true out of everything I know to be true.  For only when we know we are loved beyond a doubt, can we respond with greater faith.  And responding in faith keeps us on the path of perfect love paved by our Lord, a path on which we follow him with ever greater devotion.

John Paul II, who is canonized this weekend, renamed this 2nd Sunday of Ester Divine Mercy Sunday.  The Lord himself seemed to confirm this development of our tradition, as John Paul II died on the eve of this Solemnity in 2005, after having allowed the world to see his vulnerability and his complete dependence upon God's mercy in those last weeks of his life.  John Paul II begged us as Christians not to contemplate the minimum amount of mercy that we need to pay back what we owe God, and to sheepishly ask for mercy from Jesus out of his treasury of mercy.  Mercy doesn't just pertain to the penitential season of Lent for the forgiveness of sins.  No, John Paul placed our deepest contemplation of mercy, God's perfect love beginning at our weakest point where we need it most and cannot change or heal ourselves - he placed our celebration of mercy not in Lent, but in Easter, and proclaimed that we receive the most mercy when we are visited by the Risen Christ.  The image of divine mercy is an image of the Risen Christ dispensing grace and mercy in the form of white and red rays, from his sacred heart, and the fruit of the divine mercy devotion is greater faith, greater trust.

We receive the greatest love when allowing Christ with his victory over sin and death to break through our fears and doubts.  God's mercy, as Thomas learned is not just about saying we're sorry and paying back what we owe - no, it is allowing ourselves to be healed and loved by Christ in powerful ways, for when we are healed and loved then we respond with greater trust and faith - and proclaim Jesus as Lord and God as Thomas did - with absolute faith - that out of everything we know to be true - Jesus is Lord - Jesus is God - Jesus is truly Risen - these are the things we most know to be true.  Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

powerful words

Christ the King Church Topeka
19/20 April 2014
Daily Readings

Jesus Christ is Risen!  He is truly Risen!  Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Surprise!  Oh wait - you were probably expecting to hear those words today.  That's why you came, right?  To hear that Christ is truly Risen?  So you're probably not surprised. Still, how do these words hit you today?  Are they more true, more dramatic, more exciting, than anytime you have heard them before?  Better yet, are you ready to say them yourself more personally, and with more heartfelt meaning, than you have ever said them before.

If these words hit you this morning with any less intensity than that first proclamation to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, with any less force than the words that made Peter and John run to the tomb, then you might as well go home.  Really, I mean it.  If these words do not move you at all, and if you are not ready to repeat them with great intensity on Easter morning of all mornings, then we really are wasting out time.  For these words - Jesus Christ is truly Risen - are the most mysterious and dramatic and profound, and yes, TRUE - words that have ever been spoken or could ever be spoken in human history.  There is no middle ground with these words - I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.  Either these are the most important words in your life, or they are not.  Either these words are everything, or they are nonsense and are nothing.

Without these words - Jesus Christ is truly Risen - there is no point in our repeating the most profound words that Jesus Himself ever uttered - this is my body, this is my blood - because without the words of the Resurrection even the words of the Eucharist lose their meaning and lead us nowhere new.  Without the words of the Resurrection, even the most profound love the world has ever seen - the love manifested on the cross - ends up meaning nothing.  For without the Resurrection, even the most powerful love, the love of the cross, is powerless in the face of death.  Without the truth of the Resurrection, the Church cannot proclaim for certain that she has found and experienced a love that is stronger than death.

Thankfully, we do not have to generate the faith to say these words of Resurrection this morning out of nowhere.  Easter Sunday is the easiest day of the year to proclaim that the Resurrection of Jesus is the thing I most know to be true out of all the things I know to be true.  Nature herself sets the stage, as winter gives way to new life.  The Church provides the sights and sounds and smells in Her sacred liturgy to pave the way for the Easter proclamation.  And we profess not alone but with the whole Church throughout the world, led by the historical cloud of witnesses from the first apostles to  the latest martyr, all of whom professed the truth of the Resurrection to the point of death, so that this faith might reach use safely here in Topeka, Kansas on April 20th, 2014.  It is in this amazing context that we profess with all our hearts and minds and strength today the beautiful Easter proclamation - that Jesus Christ is truly Risen!

All of this support is great, but it does not make our proclamation this morning any less personal or risky.  For being a Christian is never to go with the flow.  We are pathetic beyond imagination if we only renew our baptismal promises this morning because everybody else is doing it.  For professing faith is never something small.  If the renewal of our baptismal promises today is no big deal, or is boring, than mercy we are doing it wrong - we are doing it all wrong!  Today's proclamation is not to simply show up and buy a ticket at the eternal life lottery - no today is about dramatically going against the flow, and to bet our entire life on the truth of the Resurrection.

For what we profess today is a faith that is exciting and dramatic - as is the paschal mystery of Christ - his suffering, death and Resurrection is the most intense human story ever told.  What we profess is a faith powerful enough to shake any person who has become anesthetized to Christianity.  For no proclamation, no words - have ever shake the history of the world like an earthquake, or so changed the dignity and destiny of man - no victory has even been won that possible compares - as the proclamation that Jesus Christ has defeated death itself - and is truly risen from the dead..  That proclamation can't be something that limps out of our Church on Easter Sunday . . if so, forget it - let's just all go home and eat Peeps!  No, the Easter proclamation of the Church has to be a proclamation impossible to ignore by those who think we are the weak ones who need a myth to cope with the reality of life and death.

Against anyone out there who might think the Christian proclamation of Easter is a myth for cowards or weak thinkers, we disciples of Jesus must be known as those who more radically and intensely and courageously are search for that love that conquers all things, even death itself.  That search for the deepest love that is the source of life led us first not to the empty tomb but to the cross, where perfect love is perfectly revealed.  On the cross we see a love that is ultimate truth and that casts out fear.  It is at the cross that with our Lord real Christians avoid nothing and fear nothing.

To be a Christian then must be the antithesis of being a naive coward, for the wisdom of the cross compels Christians to be soldiers who live the truth that suffering and death are not to be avoided, but are to be welcomed, redeemed, filled and conquered with love itself.  A true Christian then does not proclaim the Resurrection as a vain hope for the future, but as the real fruit of the cross that he has already begun to experience.  For we begin to live the truth of the Resurrection right now, whenever we dare to live the radical truth given by Jesus that whoever loses his life through love, saves it for eternal life.

So we gather to profess this faith in the Resurrection today not only because the faith has been passed down to us, not only because everyone else is doing it, but because we have actually tried being Christians, and have found the Resurrection to be true.  We are the most pathetic of people, and our faith is completely in vain, if the Resurrection is something that we have to pretend to be true, instead of something that I have discovered with great effort to be true.  Woe to us if we cannot profess our life getting bigger, and our growing younger, every time I lose myself in the adventure of following Christ through His suffering and death, to the glory of His Resurrection!

So I beg you this morning - don't say something pitiable with our profession of faith. Don't say something easy.  But with sharp minds, and pure hearts and courageous wills, let us say personally and together the most profound and dramatic and mysterious words that have ever been spoken, or that can ever be spoken.  Jesus Christ is truly Risen from the dead. Alleluia!  Alleluia!