Friday, September 24, 2010

On Pilgrimage

This afternoon, I leave with 24 other people on a pilgrimage with the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association to Germany and Switzerland. The two highlights of the trip will be the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, and a visit to Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. At some point, I plan to post reflections and pictures here on this blog and on Facebook - either during the trip, if I can find good internet connectsions, or once I return. In the meantime, pray for safe travels, and I plan to return on October 5!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Meeting in Prayer

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 8.4-7 Psalm 113 1 Timothy 2.1-8 Luke 16.1-13

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

There is so much in my mind this weekend, as we gather here to pray. Maybe it’s a symptom of the digital age, a result of the speed of information and news crossing the globe and projected into our lives in so many ways. There is much to reflect on – there always is – but this week seems especially full. On a global level, the real-life drama of the 33 miners trapped in Chile continues to unfold, and we continue to see the effects of hurricanes, floods, and oil spills all over the world. Here is the US, a final round of primary contests means that the news and campaigning for this fall’s election has begun in earnest. In the religious world, of course, the highlight of the week has been Pope Benedict’s monumental trip to England and Scotland, meeting with both Queen Elizabeth, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and victims of clergy sexual abuse, to name a few. And here on the local level, we have been shocked by the news that a much-loved local priest has been diagnosed with cancer. Here, today, around this table of the Eucharist, we’re not going to solve the problems of the world – we can’t free the trapped minors, or determine the results of elections, or bring about the unity of Christians. Here, today, gathered as a Christian community, we’re not going to find a cure for cancer. But what we can do is pray.

St. Paul gives us an outline for prayer in his First Letter to Timothy. We are to pray first for everyone – for all people throughout the world, especially those who are in need. Then, we are to pray for government leaders – for kings, as St. Paul says, but also for presidents and governors and members of congress and any other person with authority. And, finally, we are to pray for ourselves, that we may lead a “quiet and tranquil life.” It’s one of the most important things we do here, as a Church, or wherever we gather. It’s even our duty, to remember one another in prayer, to commend one another to the grace of God. Because it is prayer that we meet. It is in prayer that we meet God, that we try to make our will and God’s will come together. And it is in prayer that we meet one another, both here on earth and in the life to come, as prayer spans the miles and even the barrier of death to unite us in the same purpose and the same posture before our Lord. In prayer, we meet God, we meet one another, and united together, we can face anything that comes our way.

And so this week, there is much to pray for – maybe more than other weeks, from one perspective, but not necessarily. All the prayers that have occupied our hearts are brought here to this table, where we lay them before our Lord and Savior. We pray for a greater understanding and unity among Christians, that we may work together for the good of all people and the peace of our world. We pray for Fr. Mike Hilderbrand and the countless people in our families and community who suffer from cancer and other diseases. We pray that the men and women elected to public office consider first and foremost in their decisions the dignity of the human person, from the child in the womb to the family living in poverty to the elderly and retired. We pray for each of us, that we may become more and more like Christ each day. Through these prayers, we grow as individual Christians and as a Church. Because it is in prayer that we meet Christ and one another.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wabash, Nouwen, and the Pope in the UK

Yesterday, I spent part of the day at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for orientation for the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, which I will begin participation in come January. As part of the orientation, we were asked to read and reflect on Henri Nouwen's book on pastoral leadership, In the Name of Jesus. Nouwen's take on the specific way pastoral ministers are called to lead is that they do so in the background, by developing the habits of prayer, forgiveness, and theological reflection. This vision of leadership is not marked by personal accomplishment, being the most relevant person in a community, or widespread acclaim; rather, the Christian pastoral leader strives to direct people to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the true leader in any Christian community.

It is with those thoughts in mind that I read the transcript of the interview Pope Benedict XVI gave to a group of reporters earlier today while in flight to the United Kingdom. Here's one particular question and answer that struck me:

Q. - The UK, like many other Western countries - there is an issue that you have already touched on in the first answer –it is considered a secular country. There is a strong atheist movement, even for cultural reasons. However, there are also signs that religious faith, particularly in Jesus Christ, is still alive on a personal level. What can this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?

A. - I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ and to the extent that she is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power, but is simply the voice of another, she becomes truly transparent for the great figure of Christ and the great truth that he has brought to humanity. The power of love, in this moment one listens, one accepts. The Church should not consider herself, but help to consider the other and she herself must see and speak of the other. In this sense, I think, both Anglicans and Catholics have the same simple task, the same direction to take. If both Anglicans and Catholics see that the other is not out for themselves but are tools of Christ, children of the Bridegroom, as Saint John says, if both carry out the priorities of Christ and not their own, they will come together, because at that time the priority of Christ unites them and they are no longer competitors seeking the greatest numbers, but are united in our commitment to the truth of Christ who comes into this world and so they find each other in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism.

What a great perspective for all Christians to reflect on! The full text of this press conference can be found here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"A man had two sons ..."

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Exodus 32.7-11, 13-14 Psalm 51 1 Timothy 1.12-17 Luke 15.1-32

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

A man had two sons. The man’s name was Abraham. His sons’ names were Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born to Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in her old age, and he was chosen by God to be the father of a great people, the Jewish nation. Into the Jewish people, a man was born named Jesus, the Son of God; and that was the beginning of the Christian family. Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was born to a slave, Hagar, but he, too, was destined to be the father of a great nation, a people that many generations later would be called Muslim. Abraham loved both of his sons – each in a different way. And through them, his descendents became greater than the stars in the heaven or the sands on the shore of the sea.

A man had two sons. So began a story told by Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, a story told to a group of Pharisees and scribes, tax collectors and sinners. We don’t know the name of the man in the story, or the names of either of the sons, and that’s really not important. What’s important is the love that the man has for his sons, an unconditional love for each of them, a love that leads him to share what he has with them, a love that celebrates and rejoices when the younger son returns home after wandering away. We all know this man, this father, or at least we try to know him as Our Father. Because we are all his sons and daughters.

A man had two sons. It’s been almost two-thousand years since Jesus told his story. This man’s name was David, and he worked as a computer programmer on the 97th floor of Tower One at the World Trade Center in New York City. We’ll never know exactly what happened with David after the airplane hit the tower where he was working on the morning of September 11, 2001, but we do know that David never returned home to his wife and his two sons. His family still tells stories about how he could fix things in creative ways – like using pieces of car tires to patch up a pair of old, worn work boots. And they remember how much David loved each of them. Their lives were changed after that day nine years ago, and the family will never be the same. And there are many other families like them.

A man had two sons. This last man is symbolic, he represents the human heart. One side of the heart, one “son,” is love, mercy, and humility; the other is hate, jealousy, and pride. And they both live within each of us. We have the capacity to hate, we have the ability to put our needs first, always and everywhere. But we also have a heart to love, a soul to forgive, and a desire to seek peace. With God’s grace, we can be formed into his children, with the same characteristics of our heavenly Father, to the degree that we reflect his love. Or we can turn our backs from the one who made us and instead cultivate the self-seeking idols of pleasure, ambition, and power. It’s a choice that we must make – love or hate, mercy or jealousy, humility or pride. Only one path leads to life. Only one path leads to joy. Think about it. What will be the end of your story?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jesus and Anger

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 9.13-18b Psalm 90 Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Luke 14.25-33

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

It seems to me that if there is one emotion that is prevalent in our society these days more than anything else, it’s anger. We are an angry people, all around. Think about it. The struggling economy of the past few years has made virtually every US citizen angry at someone – we’re angry at politicians or corporate executives or banks for the mess we think they have gotten us into. At the same time, we find ourselves angry over things like the oil spill in the gulf, or health care reform, or the proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan – whatever side of that issue you fall on. And our anger isn’t just directed at public controversies – it’s right in the middle of our personal relationships. Children are angry at parents whose marriages have fallen apart or who focus so much on work or play that they’re never home. Friends get angry with one another so easily over petty things. We’re angry at the doctor who’s always running late, at the teacher who seems to treat our child unfairly, at the coach who should have retired years ago, at the child away at college who never calls home. And when there’s so much anger in the air, it becomes almost natural to take out that anger on the drivers around us on the road who aren’t driving the way we think they should – or the cashiers in the grocery store who just don’t understand that we’re in a hurry – or the family member who constantly has to listen to us vent about everyone who makes us mad. We don’t have to look very far to see that anger is all around us.

Now, it’s true that some anger is justified. And it’s also true that anger is an emotion, a natural response – which means that, in and of itself, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just there. But when anger becomes our dominant emotion – when it gets so powerful that we’re angry all the time – when anger turns into a deep seated rage or hate – well, then anger starts to control our lives. And that is not a good thing.

And on the surface, today’s gospel doesn’t seem to help. It sounds like Jesus is telling us – even requiring us – to be angry, to hate. And even more, he’s telling us that in order to follow him, we must hate our family and even our own life. Those are harsh words. And it doesn’t make sense coming from the same person who always tells us to love all people, all the time. What’s going on here?

It’s really all about priorities. If you think about it, anger most often comes when things don’t go our way, when something happens that is not the way we think it should happen. Sometimes we’re right and justified in that anger, sometimes we’re not. But the emotion itself comes from putting ourselves and our priorities and our desires first. The people or things we are angry at are less important than what I want. And I think that’s what Jesus is getting at. To follow him – to be a disciple – we have to put Jesus and his priorities first all the time. Everything and everyone else must be less important than Jesus. To hate our family or our own lives is not to be angry at them because of what they have done, it’s to recognize that they are less important in our lives than Jesus Christ. It’s all about priorities – Jesus first, then everyone else, ourselves included.

So what about all that anger? I bet, if we really put Jesus first in our lives, then most of the unproductive, pent up anger that has become so dominant in our society will go away. And once we calm down the powerful feelings of anger, then we will be able to work together constructively and peacefully to heal the brokenness in our families, in our relationships, and in our country. It’s all about priorities: Jesus first, then others, then yourself.