Saturday, February 8, 2014

only one Church need exist

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Topeka
9 February 2014
Daily Readings

Catholicism is dead in the water.  Christ the King, our parish, is dead in the water.  Don't get me wrong.   We're a nice Church . . it's just that nice doesn't cut it.  It never has.  It never will.   It's not that I'm discouraged or pessimistic.  I have nothing but hope and enthusiasm for where our parish is headed.  I love our Catholic tradition and the opportunity to bring Christ who I know to be the way, the truth and the life more tangibly and fruitfully into our world.  I know there are thousands of points of light in our parish and in our Church.  Pope Francis has been an amazing boost, for one.  Pope Francis shows us how to get bloody and dirty in the pursuit of holiness, so that the Church is known first and above all for her charity! I know I'm speaking in generalities, not in particulars.  But in general, the Church, and our parish, is treading water.  We're not declining, but we're not setting the world on fire either.

Jesus reminds his disciples in the sermon on the mount, however, that treading water is unacceptable.  Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Salt was used in Jesus' time to preserve what is good and to kill what was bad.  Salt has a great potency.  Light highlights what is good and exposes what is evil.  Light can be the most powerful of forces.  That is what Christians are supposed to be  - not weak, but potent.  Christians are to be salt and light.  They are to be nothing less.  Not relatively good compared to other people.  Not a nice part of the world.  No, Christians exist for one reason, and for one reason only - to serve and to save the world by being its salt and its light. If Christians are not showing the full flavor and beauty of what it means to be human, and are not co-redeeming the world by participating in divine life and love, then we should fold up our tents.

Our Church is supposed to be so much more than a nice gathering of nice people saying nice things and doing nice things for each other and for their community.  Nice is nice.  But being nice doesn't meet the standard of being salt and light.  Nice doesn't convert anyone.  You don't have to be a Christian to be a nice person . . there are plenty of good people who don't care to go to Church.  No, there is only one reason, and there can be only one reason to be a Christian . . and that is to become a saint.  The only reason to be a religious person is to make possible something new . .being a Christian must be entering into a great adventure of trying to become more, and do more, than was thought possible before.  If being Christian isn't about reaching new heights and exploding old categories of what it means to be a human person, than it's nothing more than anesthesia for the scared.

The Church then exists only to produce saints. It cannot be a holding pen for those who are superstitious or too afraid to live.  If that is what agnostics see in the Church, then why would they ever become Catholic? Agnostics don't care about the truth or the global or personal impact of religion, and if they have never met a saint, why should they?  Personally, I would rather see agnosticism grow than lukewarm Catholicism, because agnosticism holds out the challenge that unless you can show me that Jesus Christ has enlightened your mind and heart in incredible ways, and made the impossible possible, then I don't care.  Agnosticism challenges the Church to produce saints or to fold up her tents.  The growth of agnosticism could eventually be the foil for the renewal of the Church.

Just like athletes try to set new world records, and scientists never stop asking questions about the universe, and just as telling an engineer than he can't do something makes no impact on his desire to do it anyway, so also saints strive to do something in God, with God and for God, that has never been done before.  St. Paul says that saints take their cue from the cross of Jesus Christ.  Whenever the challenge comes that you don't have to be religious to be a good person, whenever you think that human reason can provide a better rationale for morality than religion, Christians look to the cross.

On the cross we see that even though God didn't need to create or love the world, and the world did not add one iota to his glory, that God created and loved anyway, loving to the point of forsaking Himself.  The cross shows that even though the redemption of one sinner added nothing to God's glory, still He redeemed us anyway.  The cross always speaks then to true freedom born from a transcendent and spiritual source, and to a goodness and love not imposed on us from below because of our nature, but a goodness and love from above toward which we strive and which makes new things possible.  Saints are holy not because they conform to the goodness that lies below us, but because they go far beyond a love that is reasonable, and lose themselves totally by striving in spiritual freedom for the goodness that lies beyond us. Saints conform their lives to the mystery of the cross, where the source of truth and goodness and love is perfectly revealed.

There is only one Church that deserves to exist.  That Church is an evangelizing Church - one that shows the world the new things that are possible through the transcendent and spiritual freedom and power and goodness and love of God working in us, and with us and through us.  We shouldn't expect to stay open, if we fail to become this Church here at Christ the King.  The only Church that should continue on is one that produces saints - those who aren't afraid to take Jesus at his word, to become the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome CTK visitors!

Welcome CTK visitors!

Thanks for visiting our website - this is my blog where I post homilies and other news about the parish!  I sincerely pray that you will find the information you need on our website, and that you will feel welcome to be a part of our faith community if you are not already a member!  A special welcome to those of you who are interested in becoming Catholic!   I am excited about the opportunities for knowing Christ and for serving Him in our Topeka community.  Please contact me personally at or at (913) 220-8809 if I can make your CTK experience better!  I'm happy to respond to your questions and feedback!

Welcome to all!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

core identity

Feast of the Presentation
1/2 February 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

So, who are you?  It's a simple question . . . but sometimes not simple to answer. In life sometimes the hardest thing is to keep simple things simple.  So who are you?  Do you have an identity statement?  If someone asked you to describe yourself, as simply and exactly as possible, what would you say?

In asking this question, I'm asking about your core identity.  I'm not asking about the peripherals - where you grew up, what you do for a living, what your hobbies are - etc. etc. etc.  These things are vitally important, but no, I'm not asking about those things.  I'm asking about your very core . . if you could describe who you are in one sentence, or even if a few words, what would you say?  Have you ever tried this?  My favorite identity statement of all time is the motto of the late and great John Paul II.  Talk about a guy who knew how to keep things simple . . who knew who he was at his core.  John Paul described himself in just three words.  Totus Tuus Mariae.  Totally yours Mary.  That was who John Paul was, plain and simple.  That was his life and his spirituality and his identity . . in all of his complexity as a person, he found a way to keep a simple question simple.  He could tell you who he was . .  distilled into three words.

I've tried to do this myself . .  though not as successfully as John Paul II.  It's been a good exercise.  My own identity statement has actually stayed pretty consistent over the last few years.  When people ask me who I am - who is Fr. Mitchel - I don't immediately go to my birthplace or family or education or profession or hobbies . .  although those are all significant parts of my life.  All of them are important.   But in simplicity, I just say this - I am a child of God loved by Christ where I could never love or change myself.  I could give a witness talk about how I came to this identity statement, and how hard it was to settle upon it.  Yet it's one I've stuck with for awhile, for many reasons.  That is who I am . . as simply as I can put it . .I am a child of God loved by Christ where I cannot love or change myself.  That's who I am before I'm a priest or a KU fan or a long homilist, or anything like that.

This identity that is still the core of who I am is an identity that I received 40 years ago in baptism.  My core identity was received on the day I was dedicated in the temple.  I've just now at 40 years old begun to understand what happened to me that day, and I am still growing in knowledge and in gratitude for the identity I received that day.  This year the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced by the Presentation of the Lord . . a nice surprise and privilege.  There are two traditional ends to the Christmas season - in the western Roman Catholic Church we end Christmas with the Baptism of the Lord, but in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches  Christmas lasts even longer, up until today's Feast of the Presentation.  In our tradition, we are baptized and presented to the Lord at the same time . . our baptism occurs not outside in a river like Jesus', but in the temple, where we are also dedicated.  On this occasion, we receive our deepest and most perfect identity as human persons.  We become children of God - we become those who as part of God's family in the Church are visited and known and loved by God.  The day of our baptism and presentation if it is anything is the most important day of our lives. It's either the most important or it's nothing . . baptism and presentation can't be something in between.  For on this day we make visible that we belong to God - we are consecrated to him, and most of all we proclaim that God delights in us his children.  He gets a kick out of us and the adventure of our lives, and takes an intense interest in the dignity and destiny of all his children.  So much did he love us that he sent his only begotten Son to share in everything that it means to be a human person, except sin.

The identity we received on the day of baptism and presentation is an identity that we more deeply understand as our resumes get longer and our human experiences multiply.  No matter where we go in life, and what choices we make, or what experiences come our way . . it all can be incorporated into this identity that we received in baptism.  There is room in this simple identity for every human experience . . it is the thing that as we say, is an indelible mark on the soul . . something given by God and received by us that cannot change.  We can either enter into the adventure of more deeply claiming and knowing this identity, or we can go away from it and try to become something else, but the identity itself never changes, and nothing can replace it or become more central to us.  There can never be anything more perfect or deep than belonging to God completely, and his invitation through his Son to belong to his eternal family.  That is why John Paul II's identity statement is so perfect . .Totus Tuus Mariae . . .it is about devotion and relationship and belonging . . to Christ through the intercession of his mother Mary.

Again, the identity we received in baptism is an identity that we are meant to more deeply understand and grow into, not something we move away from the further we are away from baptism.  Being baptized into Christ's death, and receiving a destiny to live with God in heaven where alone all of our desires might be fulfilled, frees us from resume building in this world, of having to earn being loved and noticed,  No, instead, we are able to focus instead on choosing death fearlessly before death chooses us, and to grow younger as we give our lives in this world away, entering into the transformation of death that leads to eternal life.  This dignity we claim in baptism thus leads into our mission in life.  Knowing who we are, and getting that right and keeping it right, shows us precisely what we are supposed to do with our lives.

Today we celebrate the Lord's entry into the temple.  This day is much more important than groundhog day or Super Bowl Sunday . . the Presentation of the Lord and his entry into his temple reminds us that it is in our churches, filled with the presence of the Lord, that we are to reclaim our true identity through an encounter with the living God.  Today we bless the candles that will be used throughout the year to remind us when we come into Church that this is a living temple - our Church houses the presence of the Lord, especially and most perfectly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and it is in our churches where the Lord promised to be most consistently and perfectly present until he comes again in glory!  When asked our favorite places to visit in the whole world, our temple, our parish church, should always be at the top of the list.  We should be visiting our churches as often as possible, dropping by here and in our adoration chapel throughout the week, to reclaim as much as possible the dignity that we first received here at our baptism and presentation.  It is especially here that we come to meditate upon the central question we must all answer - who am I?  It is here that we first received, and will continue to receive, our core identity.  Amen.