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!

Friday, April 18, 2014

kissing in Church

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
Christ the King Catholic Church Topeka
18 April 2014
Daily Readings

Who knows the rules for kissing in Church?  Really, what are they?  I usually tell couples that I marry that they can't kiss without permission, and then if I let them kiss in the Church, they can kiss only one time!  No do-overs.  No second chances.  No matter how bad that first kiss in Church is, they only get one.  Admittedly, I can get kind of bossy when it comes to what happens in Church . . I can be a control freak.  The Church lets me be.  Sorry.

Maybe a lot of you kiss in Church.  People don't necessarily know the rules. We have the kiss of peace, or the exchange of peace, which can range from spouses and families kissing each other on the lips to a handshake to a grunt and a tiny wave, and everything in between.  Are you allowed to kiss in Church? Well usually we are to focus intensely on the love of God revealed in Jesus and give our attention and affection to God alone, and to each other only secondarily.  So there's no easy answer to this question. Some say you shouldn't kiss in Church - that's its a show of romantic love when we should focus on something deeper. Some people say priests, who would be expected to be the worst of kissers because of their lack of practice, should be the only ones allowed to kiss in Church.  The priest's kissing of the book of the Gospels and the altar are signs of where the devotion of all of the people should be - on word and sacrament.  Others aren't so careful or inhibited - some of you are not embarrassed to share the love of God right during the liturgy by kissing those they love.  It's ok either way.

Tonight however we come to deliver the most dramatic and unique kiss of the year.  Tonight we all kiss in Church, or all are invited to anyhow.  I think it's an amazing custom here in the United States, that the vast majority of you have come to kiss the cross directly with your lips.  Of course you are permitted to venerate the cross from your seat, or genuflect instead, or kiss your fingers and touch them to the cross - all of these are equally good and right forms of veneration of the cross.  But 99% of you will probably smack your lips right down on the most brutal instrument of torture ever invented - the crucifix.  We reserve our deepest sign of affection that we ever show in Church - a kiss - for the holy cross. We do not kiss any other religious object of devotion at any other time throughout the year.  Only once a year.  Only now.  Only the wood of the cross.

We do this for two reasons at least. First of all, the cross shows us that God himself knows the worst of the human experience, and has taken it to himself most perfectly on the cross.  God has joined himself to the most isolating of human experiences - suffering and death - and has filled it with his presence.  Suffering and death do not separate us from God or one another then - the emptiness of suffering and death have been filled by Love itself.  The cross tells us the one thing that we most all need to know and to hear and feel to have faith in God - that no matter what, no matter how bad it gets - we are not alone.  God is with us.  He will never abandon us.  The cross delivers this truth better than anything we can imagine.  For this reason we kiss the cross.

The second reason is a deeper, more theological reason.  It is precisely from the cross that God has decided to recreate the world. The cross which at first look appears as the victory of hatred and sin and death,  when transformed by love itself becomes the tree of eternal life.  Paradoxically, it is on the cross that Jesus hands over his original power to create everything out of nothing, to create life out of dust, a power that was his at the dawn of creation, so that he can once again create everything out of nothing, out of the nothingness of the cross.  Jesus trades his original right to create everything out of nothing by sharing a piece of himself, to assume the position of the cross, where he begins to create everything out of nothing by sharing all of himself.  The cross is our great object of devotion because it is there, and precisely there, and only there, that God completely empties himself, and thus it is precisely from the cross that the new creation, and the creation of a new kind of life, are born.

The second creation, begun from the tree of life that is the holy cross, is unfathomably greater than the first creation.  In the first creation of everything from nothing, a light was shared that could be touched by darkness.  A goodness was shared that could be touched by evil.  Happiness was shared that could be touched by sorrow and pain.  The breath of life was shared that could one day be conquered by death.

But beginning at the cross, darkness and evil and pain and death are conquered overwhelmingly by the love of Christ.  Using his power to lay down his life and take it up again - at the cross, Jesus again creates everything out of nothing.  But it's a different nothing.  Out of the nothing that is evil he creates everlasting goodness.  From the nothing of darkness he creates unquenchable light.  From the nothing of pain he creates irreducible joy.  From the nothing of death, he creates eternal life.

It is precisely at the cross, and nowhere else, that the only victory that matters - the only victory that never fades - is won.  That is why it is right for us to kiss the nothingness of the cross with the most passionate kiss of our entire year, of our entire lives.  For

the place our lips hit that is the location of the creation of everything that lasts forever.  The cross is not where life ends.  It is where life truly begins.