Saturday, January 24, 2015

the body is for the Lord

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
18 January 2015
Christ the King Church Topeka

When I was vocation director of the Archdiocese, I was shocked to learn about studies showing that 2/3 of Catholic parents would not support their son or daughter becoming a priest or nun.  I had no idea it was that bad.  I had encountered a culture averse to listening deeply, a culture more interested in personal license than in obedience, and a culture that did not support sacrificial commitments.  Yet I did not think that opposition to becoming a priest or sister would come from within one's own family.  My own family was very supportive when I broke the news to them.  I couldn't imagine it any other way, until as vocation director I encountered just the opposite.

We see the opposite in today's first reading from Samuel.  We find a young boy sleeping in the temple, near the ark of the covenant, a boy destined to be an amazing prophet.  Samuel had been dedicated by his mother Hannah to the Lord.  Hannah did much more than present Samuel once in the temple . . she left him there.  Hannah had begged the Lord with the deepest of prayers for years for a child. The Lord heard her plea, and remarkably, Hannah turned right around and gave the gift she desperately wanted back to the Lord, trusting that the Lord could do better things for her son than she could.  She wanted to give her son the best chance to be called by the Lord, and to do His will.  She wanted her child to be holy.  What a tremendous gift!

The Lord did indeed hear Hannah's prayer again, and called her son to be a great prophet.  He did this despite the fact that Eli, the priest in charge of Samuel, was a lukewarm priest at best.  His two sons were terrible priests.  From the scriptures it seems like Eli was not listening deeply to the Lord, as messages from God at that time were virtually nonexistent.  Despite Samuel sleeping in the temple, Eli seems quite slow to believe that the Lord was actually communicating to Samuel.  Still, even without the best mentor, God still accomplishes his purposes.  He calls Samuel, and he responds. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

I ask parents today to meet me somewhere in the middle.  They don't have to leave their kids in the temple, but they for sure need to tell their children that if the Lord calls their children to the priesthood or religious life, that such a call would make them especially happy and that they would support their kids. Too many parents simply use the default line of wanting whatever makes their children happy.  This cliche is a cop-out, and is way too vague to carry much meaning.  What will make your kids happy is obedience to the gracious will of the Lord - they deserve to hear that from their parents instead.

We see in the Gospel as well John the Baptist pointing Andrew toward Jesus, and Andrew in turn bringing his brother Peter to Jesus.  Not only parents, but pastors and peers, and siblings and friends have a role in helping all of us to be better disciples, and to put us in a position to hear and answer our vocations.  If Andrew had not brought his brother to Jesus, would Peter have ever been called to be the rock on which Christ built His Church.  We'll never know, and thankfully, we don't have to.  Being an evangelizing Church and parish means being unafraid to share our faith, and to bring others closer to our best friend who is intimately for each one of us the way, the truth and the life.  Our friends and family deserve to meet and to fall in love with the one whom we love.  Evangelization is as simple as that.  It's as simple as any human relationship - we want all the people we know and love to meet and fall in love with each other.  We've heard over and over again that faith lived privately is faith that gets smaller and smaller, until it becomes worthless.  If our faith is real, we will point others to Jesus too!

We should ask ourselves constantly who is a better disciple of Jesus, and who knows him better, because of what I have said and done.  Has anyone become Catholic because of me?  Better yet, has anyone found their true vocation because of the influence I had on their life?  These are important questions for us to be asking, as we listen to the examples of Hannah, John the Baptist and Andrew in today's scriptures.

Finally, in Paul's letter this weekend, he speaks about the incomparable dignity that we all have as children of God, dedicated to the Lord.  This dignity is ours from baptism.  It is when we forget who we are that immorality becomes possible, for only when we go away from who we are does it become possible for us to go away from what we should do.  Paul reminds us that we are members of Christ's body and temples of His spirit.  This dignity is the foundation of the virtue of chastity - we are not our own, and our bodies too are for the Lord.  Chastity is the virtue of pure and sacrificial loving - an imitation of the Lord offering his own body.

Unchastity is the vice of selfish loving - trying to get instead of to give.  Unchastity leads to greater evils . . it hurts other people deeply by ignoring their dignity, and in the worst of circumstances, it is the precursor to the taking of another's life.  Unchastity is the foundation of the greatest evil ever inflicted by man upon man - abortion.  This year marks 42 years of legalized abortion in this country.  Abortion is seen as a necessity because people insist on saying THIS IS MY BODY in a way inimical to the way the Lord says THIS IS MY BODY.  Unchastity lowers human dignity, eventually to the point that we do not see another person's dignity and right to life.  St. Paul challenges us to belong to the Lord, and to honor each other's bodies by loving each other chastely and sacrificially.  May our country one day again have the courage to not settle for abortion, nor to pretend that giving her citizens evil choices is necessary for human freedom.  May we fulfill our destiny to be a light for all nations, on how to lift up life to its highest dignity and happiness, not killing it!  Someday we all will have to answer for what we did while living in the midst of the greatest holocaust in human history.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

conversion of the magi

Solemnity of the Epiphany
Christ the King Church Topeka
4 January 2014
Daily Readings

Are you more spiritual or more religious?  Are you more of a seeker or more of a believer?  Are you more scientific or theological? These are not mutually exclusive options.  You can certainly be both.  You should be both.  Yet around us there is a dangerous popularity to being spiritual seekers over and against being religious believers.  Science holds sway over theology, sometimes even in Catholic schools.   But in today's Epiphany Gospel, we see the opposite happening.  The magi were originally star-gazers, but end up bending their knees in worship.  They trade some of their spiritual scientific seeking in order to enter more deeply into religious theological belief.

There are too many people today, unfortunately, who are headed in the opposite direction.  Despite the Lord wanting all the nations to draw light and happiness and meaning from the specific revelation and grace that He has entrusted to the Catholic Church, Catholics are not only not evangelizing, they are falling away in record numbers.  Just as once the Lord had prepared a people Israel to receive His revelation and then serve all other nations by sharing His light, but found that nation strangely unprepared and asleep, so also in Catholicism today we see not an evangelizing Church but a Catholic church that loses 10 adult members to non-denominational Churches or to agnosticism for every convert she gains.  It is a scary realization to know the Lord has entrusted the light of the Gospel and the fullness of truth, and the means of salvation to reach all nations, and every mind and heart, through the evangelization of the Catholic Church, and we have responded with greater fear than ever before.  Rather than allowing ourselves to be enlightened and sent by Christ, we prefer to be left alone and to keep our options open.

We have a Catholic Church today that plays defense not offense.  We are afraid of losing faith rather than sharing it.  She shies away from her dignity and destiny to be a light to the nations.  We do this collectively as a Church because we are moving individually in the opposite direction of the magi.  The magi were seeking the truth, but when they realized that the author of all truth was desperately seeking His people, and humbly wanting to show His power and to communicate His glory in the tininess of a human face, they went from being seekers to believers.  They presented their gifts, and bowed down in worship, and allowed the Christ child to reveal to them the mystery of what it means to be a human person.

Sometimes we find ourselves moving in the opposite direction of the magi.  God is desperately wanting a more personal, intimate and life-giving relationship with us.  He is glad that we seek Him, but He is desperately wanting to communicate with us, and begs us to listen to Him, and to receive His revelation.  That is the meaning of Christmas - that those who are open to God coming closer, making himself as small as He needs to to break through our fears and defenses, will find themselves in the face of the Christ child.  It is great to seek God in the stars, but better to let ourselves be found by the author of the stars, who speaks through the humility of Christmas that authentic, natural, sacrificial, humble and fruitful love is the ground of all reality, and the reason there is a universe, and is the constant calling and full dignity of every human person.

Sometimes seeking rather than in receiving or believing, or trying to become more spiritual than religious, can backfire.  We can end up not discovering truth, or God, but just ourselves.  We see this, of course, when the sciences make us less human.  Science is amazing, and anyone who tells you faith and science are at odds has his head in the sand.  Occasionally, like in the case of Galileo, the Church which specializes in revelation not science, has difficulty getting on the same page in the collective search for truth, but this is the exception not the rule.  The rule is that all advances in science depend on the science of theology, and a theological worldview that proposes that the universe is observable by an intelligence other than itself, and therefore intelligible.  It is no accident that some of the greatest advances in genetics and astronomy have been made by Catholic priests, and every Catholic school and university has a robust science department.

Yet science does not deliver ultimate truths.  We see often that revelation from God corrects and purifies science.  Faith and science need each other, and the conversation is critical in the search for truth. Metaphysics and physics have to talk, for sometimes scientific knowledge used apart from philosophical truth or divine revelation can make us less human.  Science can be used not to make us more humble, vulnerable, receptive and generous, but to dominate, control and be selfish.  The revelation of the Christ child purifies the reason of this world, away from the prerogatives of adults and toward seeing the world through the eyes of the world's most precious resource, her children.  The light of faith meant to go out from the Church to every corner of our dark world at Christmas, a light that the world needs more than ever, is the light that teaches us what it means to be a human person.

Herod was afraid of the tiny Christ child.  He was afraid of the humility and vulnerability of religious belief.  He represents the fear we all have in losing control, and what would really change in us if we bowed down and offered our very best to Christ.  We would rather keep our options open.  The magi had not only the courage, but above all, the humility, to make the conversion from spiritual seeking to religious belief. In doing so, they were enlightened by the radiant face of Wisdom itself, the true light of every nation and of every mind and heart.  They give voice voice to our Church's ever more critical proclamation to the entire world at Epiphany - that wise men still seek Him!  Amen.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

best Christmas is hers

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
1 January 2015
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

Welcome back to Mass, Catholics!  Good morning and Happy New Year!  Well, at least some of you are here.  January 1st is a neglected Holy Day, but that's a shame, since it's such a beautiful feast and a critical one.  For we celebrate more than asking God's blessing on the passage of time and the dawn of a New Year.  We celebrate the depth of the Christmas mystery, of eternity entering into time. We celebrating the great mixing of humanity and divinity, and the elevated dignity that our human nature takes on because of the incarnation.  As St. Paul says so beautifully, because of the Incarnation, we are no longer slaves but sons, and have an incomparable worth as sons and daughters of God!

This is cause for celebration!  We actually go to Mass more often in the first days of Christmas than we do Easter.  At least some Catholics do!  Thanks for being here to celebrate the fullness of the Christmas feasts - Christmas, Holy Family, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and this weekend, Epiphany!  It is a great privilege and responsibility that Catholics have to carry forward the fullness of the Christian tradition in history.  Thanks for being here to carry it together, joyfully!  A continued Merry Christmas to everyone!

Today is the critical 8th day of Christmas.  The number eight is critical.  It is the day of the new creation, a creation much better than the original creation of 7 days.  There is nothing wrong with our celebrating the optimism of New Year's as well, but we must remember that for us Catholics, our New Year started on the first Sunday of Advent.  It is then that we resolved to be made different by being ready for the Lord's coming.  The Lord's coming brings much more than the turning of clocks or the dropping of a ball in Times Square!  The secular new year is of course a day of great hope, marked in Catholicism by the reading of the Holy Father's World Day of Prayer for Peace Message.  We pray that through Christ, the Prince of Peace, the violence and disease and poverty and injustice that rip out hope for too many may be ended.  We pray that we will be instruments of that peace, especially in our own families.

Yet the dawn of a new year is small compared to our responsibility to continue to say Merry Christmas!  The hope of Christmas is much greater than the optimism of New Year's, for the new creation begun in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and continued through Her subsequent yes, is much more profound than marking the world getting a year older.  Today in our celebration of Christmas we draw especially close to Mary, knowing that it is impossible for us to have a better Christmas than her; in fact, entrusting ourselves to Her is the path to a perfect Christmas.  Nobody teaches us how to prepare a place for Christ to be born, deep within us, nor shows us what changes within us when we see His holy face, than Mary, the first and best Christian.  She has her own day in Christmas, and we remember that there would be no Christmas without the yes of Mary.

Today we celebrate her specifically under the title of Theotokos - God bearer.  The official title of today's celebration is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  We should never become desensitized to such a radical claim.  In today's Feast we say much more than Mary was the mother of Jesus, and responsible for his human nature.  No, we say much more!  We call her Theotokos - Mother of God - mother not just of the human nature of Jesus but of his whole person.  God himself, and all of God, entrusts Himself to the yes of a human person.  We say something mind-boggling about Mary, that she is the mother of a God who is a Father but who has no Father.  We celebrate on the 8th day of Christmas the sign of a virgin Mother through whom the Father who first created everything out of nothing in seven days, chose to recreate the world!

All of God entrusted himself to a human mother.  God could not give any more honor to motherhood than that!  So today, January 1st, is Catholic Mother's Day!  Happy Mother's Day! Just as each of us entered this world through the intercession of a mother, so too God chose a mother for us in the order of redemption.  God was never more dependent upon Mary than at Christmas, so at Christmas, especially today, is a most fruitful time for us to entrust ourselves to Mary, the spiritual mother God has chosen for us!

Mary, the mother of God, given as our mother by Jesus on his cross, help us have a perfect Christmas by giving us your heart as we receive Him at Christ's Mass.