Sunday, July 10, 2016

compassion is surrender to God's mercy

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Year of Mercy
10 July 2016
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I'll never forget my first spiritual direction appointment in seminary.  My spiritual director asked me which character I was in the parable of the good Samaritan.  I was initially relieved when after accusing myself of being either the priest or Levite, because I don't always have compassion or like to get dragged down by other people's problems, that he told me I was neither or those characters.  Since I was a new seminarian and had left a lot behind to be of service to God's people, the next option I hoped and thought, was for the Lord to use me as a Good Samaritan to heal and care for his people as a shepherd.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  After telling me that I was neither the priest or the Levite in the story, my spiritual director told me bluntly that I was the man in the ditch.  He told me that until I identified myself in that role, I would never be a good shepherd!

Boy was he right!  The key of course to being a compassionate person is to be able to see Christ, or one's self, in the suffering of others.  As a pastor, I was asked many times to accompany people through their suffering.  I would oftentimes ask God why there was so much, and why the suffering last so long, and why it was so unfair.  The answer continues to haunt me.  So big and stubborn is my pride, so persistent is my desire to be self-sufficient and independent like the priest and the Levite in the story, that I need the presence of constant suffering and vulnerability lest my soul be lost.  To put it another way, when I ask God the question of why there is so much suffering, he asks the question back of me - why are you so proud and stubborn?  Again and again, I see that I need the suffering of others more than they need my care.  Even after 17 years now since my admonition from my first spiritual director, I still don't see myself as the man in the ditch.

Jesus tells the proud young man who wishes to justify himself that if he wants life, he must love with everything that he has and everything he is.  Love is the ground of life.  There is life because God is love and He through Christ loves everything into existence.  So Jesus says it plainly.  If we love, we will live, and there will be a superabundance of life, welling up to life eternal.  If we do not love, we will die.

Moses told the people that the commandments of the Lord, the demands of loving God with all your heart, mind and strength, are not written in the sky.  They are written on the human heart.  They are closer to us than we are to ourselves.  The reason we are sinners is rather simple.  It is not so much that we resent the commands of God that are imposed on us from without. It is rather we do not have the humility to pray and to discover the commands of God that are written within ourselves.  St. Augustine perhaps put it best of all in his Confessions, saying that the Lord was within him, but he was outside of himself, and it was there that Augustine searched for God.

Certainly God can be found be looking at his creation, for as St. Paul says in his high theology for today Jesus Christ is the author of all creation.  Yet more intimately, perfectly and personally, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He is the one who is forgiving our sins, and binding up our wounds.  The reason we fail to be compassionate to our neighbor is really quite simple.  We are afraid to admit that we are the man in the ditch, that we need the Lord, and are afraid of being healed and set free by him.  Compassion can certainly be cultivated as a virtuous habit of the heart and will.  It is more spiritually and originally a surrender to the mercy of God.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

celibacy is for many

Wednesday of the 14th Week of Ordinary Time II
Year of Mercy
6 July 2016
+Maria Goretti
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU


So far in my 12 years in being a priest, my ministry has been centered around youth. At my last parish, Christ the King, I spent Sunday nights starting a new Mass and a youth group, trying to engage the young.  Before that I spent three years in a young parish, was chaplain of a high school, and spent six years calling forth vocations, as we see Jesus doing in today's Gospel in calling and sending the first apostles.

I have greatly greatly enjoyed the work I have done with married couples and families, and with those valiantly striving to live marriage, and with those preparing for marriage.  I have loved what few weddings I have been able to do.  Yet the vast majority of my ministry has been to the young, the unmarried.

Such unmarried young people have a champion in today's saint given us by the Church, St. Maria Goretti.  She is a 20th century saint, relatively new!  She was one of the first saints of the 20th century.  She died at age 11, showing that holiness is not just for the old after their passions have run out.   Quite the contrary, some of the greatest saints in the Church have been teenagers, or in this case, even younger!  Holiness is for every stage of life.

The Catholic Church's sure teaching on sexual morality is quite simple actually.  The world needs the light of the Church's teaching amidst all the shifting sands and confusion regarding gender, marriage, etc.  Let me restate the teaching as simply as possible.  Some people are called to holy marriage, which is the total communion of one man and woman promised for life to each other and to any children that may result from this union..  Everyone else is called to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and so that the meaning of our sexuality may attain and retain its highest honor and fruitfulness within marriage.

It matters not whether you are young or old, straight or gay, or even your gender identity.  You are either called to traditional marriage or celibacy, depending on your state in life.

No one called to celibacy has reason to complain or to charge discrimination!  Celibacy is for many, not for the oppression of a few.  There is solidarity in marriage, and in celibacy.  No one is called to something harder than the great martyr St. Maria Goretti, who gave the entire potential of her life on the altar of chastity, so that love in its fullest meaning, as witnessed to us by Christ Himself, may reach us safely in today's modern times!

St. Maria Goretti, may you be remembered forever - thanks for pointing out the way to us!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

send workers!

Tuesday 14OTII Year of Mercy
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU
5 July 2016

Today I will begin to meet with the staff at my new assignment at KU.  They are workers in the Lord's vineyard, and there are too few of them!  In many ways, my new assignments is off to a 'quiet' start. Compared to the hectic daily schedule and many visitors to Christ the King each week, the campus center in July is slow.  But the mission entrusted now to me is to connect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ the students of KU, their families, and the extended network of alumni and friends of KU and St. Lawrence.  Though somewhat invisible in comparison to a parish, the network and opportunity is vast.  We need workers for the harvest.

I'm thinking of all those today whom I have had a chance to work with in my 12 years as a priest, and even before as an employee and seminarian of mother Church.  I'm grateful for each of them, but as Jesus says rightly, there are never enough workers.  There is opposition to be overcome, and so many souls that are lost, that need the light of the Gospel to enter into their full dignity and destiny as persons, revealed to them personally and intimately by Christ Himself.

May our reception of him personally, perfectly and intimately in the Eucharist today be a mandate for evangelization.  May those who love Him, and are loved by Him, be willing to be sent by Him.  Amen.

Monday, July 4, 2016

don't quit on America

Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time II
Year of Mercy
4 July 2016
Independence Day USA
AMDG +jmj +m
Daily Readings

I'm not pessimistic about our country.  I see too many signs of hope all around, too many signs of the resurrection.  I see the renewal of the church at its core among our young people, a real thirst for holiness and greatness.  The call of Jesus and the teaching of His Church are clearer and brighter when the culture is darker.  Yes, there are reasons to fear and doubt.  There are plenty of signs that our country is headed in the wrong direction.  Yet we should remember that holiness is forged most often not in times of complacency, but in times of adversity.  We should welcome the challenges before us, as each great generation has before.

Jesus chastises those in the Gospel today who give up!  He is short with those who had given up on the little girl who was merely sleeping.  It would have been easy for the woman with hemorrhages to have given up, afflicted as she was for such a long time.  But she didn't quit - she mustered the faith and strength to get near Jesus.  His touch made all things new for her, and the girl whom everyone else had given up on.

Don't quit on yourself
Don't quit on the United States of America!  Her promise is ever new for those who believe and act with integrity and courage.

Happy 4th of July friends!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

God Bless the USA

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Independence Day Weekend USA
First Homily as Director of St. Lawrence Catholic Center KU

Rejoice with Jerusalem, be glad because of her, all you who love her, for lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.

Happy Birthday America!  240 years young!

Now I know we don't have a history as a country like the history of Jerusalem.  For the ancient city of Jerusalem, so lauded by the prophet Isaiah in today's first reading, 240 years is but a blip on the radar.  Isaiah's great exuberance is related to the hope of the restoration of Jerusalem to its glory, to its destiny given and guaranteed by God Himself.  Our country in her brief history has had her ups and downs, but has never been conquered nor its people enslaved and exiled.  We have been down but not out, at least not yet.

Yet today's first reading has some relevance to a country that is in many ways the new Jerusalem and the hope of the world.  God has blessed the United States as an exceptional nation.  We say as much when we sing 'God Bless America.'.  There is a feeling of joy, gratitude and responsibility in being 'blessed' as the most prosperous, powerful and free nation the world has ever seen.  Shame on us if we do not appreciate that we live much differently than most men and women in history, who have lived under slavery and tyranny.

To say that the United States is a light to the nations today, much moreso than the ancient city of Jerusalem, is a great understatement.  Our country's greatness has been produced by the most heroic, generous and virtuous people the world has ever seen, and we give exceeding thanks for those who have believed in our country and sacrificed greatly to make Her the greatest nation.  Yet there is also the sense that God has ordained the United States to be the new Jerusalem, and that His hand is upon us.

I know all that is hard to believe if you just put on the news and see the bickering between Trump and Hilary.  You might even ask yourself where the greatness of our country has gone, and whether we are in sharp decline.  This is why St. Paul says in the reading to the Galatians that everything that the world considers valuable - prosperity and power and popularity - is vanity unless it is grounded in something deeper.  St. Paul says that Christians must boast in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Compared to the cross, even circumcision, which marked one as a member of the nation of Israel, means nothing.  Nothing.

Does St. Paul forbid anyone being a proud Israelite, or for that matter, a Christian being a proud American?  By no means!  Yet he points out rightly that there is something more fundamental than one's nationality.  It is one's relationship with God.  Our Church has thus been trying to remind our country the last few years of the most fundamental and important rights that a country can and must give her citizens, the freedom of religion that must not be compromised in a nation that purports to serve its citizens, not be served by them.

A worthy nation only exists, then, to produce the citizens of highest virtue.  Jesus Christ is the measure of man - and whether we are a selfish people, or a people who can give their lives totally to a mission greater than themselves - whether we find something worth dying for and something that produces life in greater abundance.  To put it another way, the United States exists for one reason, and for one reason only - not to provide the most prosperity and license to its people, but to enable true human flourishing.  The United States is exceptional only if she encourages citizens to choose the spiritual goods that lead to human happiness - truth and goodness, beauty and unity (from the mission statement of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center).

St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that nothing else matters save the opportunity he has to witness to the love of Christ and complete his mission.  The Catholic Church exists for one reason, and for one reason only, to produce saints - men and women of heroic virtue.  Jesus Christ sends the 72 ahead of him to proclaim a Gospel of truth and goodness, made effective by the presence of God Himself, that will produce the happiest, most free people that world has ever seen, people destined for the kingdom of heaven.

I have been sent here to St. Lawrence Center as its new Director to proclaim that presence of God and that call to heroic virtue and sacrificial love that helps every person find their best self.  Jesus Christ alone reveals man to Himself.  I pray that I can serve this University community with the same humility and credibility demanded by Jesus in the Gospel.  I humbly ask for your prayers.

Thanks be to God, that we have a chance to pursue the greatest truth, goodness, beauty and unity in what is still for today the new Jerusalem, the nation that has not yet lost her destiny to be a light to all nations.  Happy July 4th everyone. May God bless the USA.