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.