Sunday, March 22, 2015

Priesthood Promises


Solemnity of St. Joseph

Priesthood Promises

 

We are about to be inundated with a barrage of words, not me, I assure you. For me, this homily is fairly short. Rather …

At this celebration honoring St. Joseph, our deacon brothers will state their final intentions before being ordained as priests.

In this context we are soon to hear over twenty thousand words spoken, each set of which will end in an oath. Wordiness is the order of the day and so you may wonder what my paltry comments might add or detract from the performance we are set to witness. I wonder that to, but I have a question.

What will these promises contain? Well, in point of fact, nothing we have not already heard, heard once from them and heard from our soon-to-be deacons just as week ago.

The lives of our deacons and soon-to-be priests are, indeed confounded by wordiness, very uniquely so.

Perhaps they need the words they are going to express to us shortly to explain themselves. Perhaps they need to explain themselves in words, yet, God knows these men.

He knew them before they were born. Before their first gasping, their first mewing, his designing finger traced providence in the sand of their souls. He saw the grasping babe and he said something, he pronounced it very good. He schemed. He planned. He envisioned.

He knew them in their toddling years. They struggled to stand as if they could ever stand on their own. He placed his omnipotent hand in the small of their infant backs. He looked with the Father’s love on them, a big brother’s pride. He prodded, pushed, he plied. He cajoled, he encouraged, with words and gestures. He let go and fretted. He watched them walk, run, walk away, run away. They guarded their childhood games as they dressed up in the rags of independence. They tried to hide, and he pretended to seek, but only pretended, because he knew them. Even without words, he knew them.

He knew them as they learned to sin, experimented with the little league vices of bullying, petty theft, the lie, and then, more. Words of derision, accusation, ridicule, mocking laughter, they learned to use words to inflict pain in the most painful places, twisting the blade of self-image in to the hilt.

He knew them in their confusion as they struggled wordlessly with relationships, with vocation, family.

He knows them in their doubt in those moments of shear panic when they can hardly remember where they have been, hardly recognize themselves in the mirror, and believe without utterance that God is dead.

He knows them in their selfishness, their grasping, their groping through the treasure troves of self-promotion, gripping tightly to the handles of a loquacious golden cup called ego.

He knows them in their compulsiveness, their complacentness, their neediness, their laziness, their restlessness. their carelessness.

These men are about to barrage us with words, but we must always remember that the Word made flesh knows and knew them.

That was the same knowing God that approached Joseph through the angel.

Saint Joseph is a man whose aspirations and dreams were turned completely to the love of God and his nascent Church. In that he offers these men today and us a path to follow, a way of achieving our goal of being completely at the disposal of God’s designs, God’s wishes.

Tonight our brother deacons present themselves for promises, promises they have already made last year, promises, in a sense that were made from their birth. Promises that they will break or keep as their lives unfold into a manically wordy future.

How will the promises they proclaim tonight mirror the promise of the man whose life we celebrate on this solemnity of St. Joseph?

The love of Joseph was an unquestioning love, a love that could only have come from a complete embrace of the grace of God.

Will these men offer an unquestioning love to God and to his Church, will the remnant of original sin that still clings to them be wiped away in lives devoted to service, to tireless service lived as much in soup kitchens, food pantries and parking lots as in the sanctuary? Like Joseph will their hands be made for callouses and not just chalices?

The love of Joseph was so profound and intimate it offered to the child Jesus the basic needs of bodily and spiritual care.

Can these men remember what is needed most in this life? Will they recall in times of doubt and stress that God has called them to be his unashamed witnesses to a world drowning in its own anomie? Will they be willing to be present at the hospital, in the nursing home? Will they offer nights given up in prayer for the needs of God’s people when there is no one to witness their so-called heroism?

The love of Joseph was a self-less love, a love that put the needs of the body of Christ before his own needs and in that as well he offers them an important example.

Are they ready for such brazen, such heroic self-negation, promising as they do tonight to serve no master by Christ the Lord and him in the broken, often helpless people of his Church? Will they still be there once those new vestments lie in tatters to be burned because they have been used too often? Will they be there through the third re-gilding of that precious chalice and perhaps the third re-gilding of their ordination? Will they be there still after they have gone through rehabilitation for some addiction? Will they be there when the bishop asks them to go to the furthest corner of the diocese and minister faithfully without regret? I know they will.

Joseph is strong

Will they be strong, strong in weakness, strong in compassion, strong in gentleness? Can they offer good role models of fatherhood to those who are without them, to the abused and neglected? Can they be good fathers to addicts and to abusers? Can they give that model of paternity to those who are robbed of strength by lives lived with too many expectations and not enough native ability?

Joseph is tender

Can they offer the tender care of the savior to those reaching out, hungering as they are for dignity and bread? Can they cry thorugh the night with broken hearts for those so desperate that they try to take their own lives? Can they weep at the deathbed of a child with parents who are so bereft they cannot even stand up? Can they be there for the widow and the orphan, be there past the time of common mourning, on into the years of overwhelming loneliness?

Joseph is nurturing.

Are they willing to hold the hands of the dying and nurture them into life? Are they able to care for others and never think of themselves. Are they willing to see themselves in light of God’s plan and his plan alone, forfeiting all of their own designs to become a mere speck in the kaleidoscope of the divine life? Can they both give and be the bread of life for a world that has yet to realize that it is starving to death?

Brothers and sisters, if they can accomplish these realities, if they can make these principles living practices rather than dead precepts, then the words spoken, the promises made by these deacons tonight will be a time of renewal for all of us, for our parishes, our dioceses, our religious communities, and for this seminary and school of theology.

They cannot accomplish these lofty goals alone. They do not need to. They have each other. They have their families and those who love and support them. They have their communities of faith and their dioceses. Please God, they have us, the Church militant, and they have the Church triumphant, the saints, in particular, St. Joseph. What I find most interesting about St. Joseph is that in the entire course of the Gospel accounts, in their complete understanding of him, he never speaks a word.

 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Laetare Sunday


Laetare Sunday

John 3:16, the salubrious, stadium salutation. Here in the middle of the season it shines out in our Gospel like a bright white egg in the midst of the dark feathers of lent.

How is Lent going for you, standing today as we are at the fulcrum of this season, the tipping point, the edge of balance? How is Lent going for you?

Or perhaps there is a deeper question: What are the points of that balance?

Here we have an answer at the ready. We need only turn to the Gospel:

There is in today’s Gospel a sliding scale, on the one hand an assurance, but on the other a warning.

First we have this overly familiar passage from St. John’s Gospel

For God so loved the world … You know the rest.

Love is such an old-fashioned idea. Who needs love when you have the internet? And …

Isn’t it odd that in our time, we still long for love, a love with which God first loved us?

Loved us to creation

Loved us to forgiveness

Loved us to redemption

Loved us past our infidelities, past our exiles

Loved us past the darkness of our preferences

Loved us to the point that we long to feel it in the presence of others

Long to know it in our care for our brothers and sisters

And when we cannot find it

We seek in reckless places

Or we make up lies to give substance to our tastes

Or we convince ourselves that this or that is true

Or we hide our loneliness in mind and spirit numbing substances.

We bend over backward in our spiritual performance in the stadium of life

Never realizing that all we have to do is believe, believe a little for, whoever believes in him will not be condemned. Whoever hopes in him will not be cast aside. Whoever even in the small places of his heart calls upon something greater, something more will receive it from God’s infinite bounty.

 

This truth is in the very marrow of our being, we need God and what is more, we need each other

We need each other, we need our brothers and sisters even the jerks, the idiots and the sinners.

 We yearn for company, for understanding, for kindness, for human affection, for warmth, for a gentle hand, a consoling smile.

 We hope for presence and so this passage, this all too familiar passage on one side of the balance is one of singular promise

 

God is community, that is his nature, communion,

Entangled in the mystery of persons

Entrenched in the life of the world and in the beatitude of heaven

In touch with the longing of humanity

In contact with our deepest desires

In touch with the misery of the world

In contact with the pimply skin of creation

Present to us

Real presence

 

Intimate and primordial … And yet …

There stands today, in the balance, the fulcrum of this Latare Sunday, in addition to the warmth of 3:16, there stands here a warning, also expressed in the Gospel today, a warning that we have been given everything and have produced in return so little.

This is the verdict

The light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light

The words resound and condemn.

This is the verdict

The light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light

The starkness of these words ought to breed in us a kind of raw vulnerability, we are forced into the corner of our own condemnation: Where do we stand?

Because, we can wave that crappy John 3:16 sign all over the stadiums of life but this is the verdict:

We still prefer the darkness, there is still a part of us that loves to creep around in the dirt under the house of God. There is still cynicism in our lives, there is still resentment and jealousy. There is still a kind of sickness. There is still a waywardness in the human condition that wallows its way even into these sanctified halls.

I gave up internet news for Lent because, frankly, I can’t stand it anymore. Everyday a new scandal. This preacher wants a jet. This one hangs with prostitutes. This one is an adulterer. This priest is running a meth lab in the rectory. This one is committing God knows what atrocity behind the scenes.

We like to fool others

We enjoy the game of ministry and even of seminary

We believe with all our hearts that we can have it all

We enjoy pulling the wool sweaters of deceit over our brothers’ eyes

How can we expect to encounter a world filled with light when the darkness reigns within us?

Brothers and sisters, he is calling to us, reaching out to us today.

This is the other side of the fulcrum. This is his invitation on this Latare Sunday: Be converted and find the joy of the Gospel.

Be converted and …

Find the supreme dignity that is sliced from the good fruits of a life lived in sacrifice to God, sacrifice to his Church, sacrifice to one another, those good fruits that confound and repel the tree of Eden

Be converted and …

Find wonder in the very beauty of the earth, the heights of human creation that beckon to us to be released from the insidious snares of a life lived only for pleasures, only for seeming joys expressed in the passing of hours spent in front of the screen, expressed in every blip and boom of the video game

Be converted and …

Find excellence in yourself, deep within yourself in that place where you believe no goodness can be found. Give up on the lies of your youth, lies that speak of worthlessness and stupidity. Lies that lead only to the giving in to temptations

Discover wholeness in brokenness

Discover the infinity of gratitude in the finite, controlled landscape of entitlement

Discover Christ, perhaps for the very first time, a Christ that reaches out to us from the idiocy of the world and claims us for his genius, for his own.

Brothers and sisters, this is the verdict: That God wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves.

He is willing to release us from the shackles of our own indifference, our own sin

He wants to grasp our hand, to walk with us across the littered landscape of life’s losses, our life’s losses

He desires to hear our voice mingled with his in prayer

He hopes for the better world that he has forged but that we must realize.

God so loved the world

This is the vedict

Or this is the verdict: God so loved the world.

God brings us here. Brings us here to the very fulcrum of choice. It is our choice. What shall we choose?

Choose life. Choose joy. Choose dignity. Choose excellence. Choose wonder. Choose wholeness. Choose gratitude. Choose Eucharist. Choose thankfulness in the disarray of a stadium-obsessed generation.

And he will draw you home, draw you home to this altar which is your destiny, the only place we can realize, in the midst of sacrifice that God so loved the world and this, brothers and sisters, is the verdict.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Deacon Promises


Deacon Promises

 

My recent sojourn in the icy north yielded good results. We had a great mission with morning and evening sessions. I did a little presentation at Our Lady of the Greenwood parish. I did a day of recollection for another parish staff. There was some “round-abouting”  in the icy roundabouts of Carmel, but it was worth it.

Also making it “worth it” I will admit was my cozy room in the rectory at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, complete with cable television and my favorite, HGTV. Although I have to say I did not really care for Ellen’s furniture design challenge, which took up a bit of time, I did stumble onto a marathon of my favorite new show, Fixer Upper.

Fixer Upper features Chip and Joanna Gaines in Waco, Texas. They help home owners find, and I quote, “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods” and they, you guessed it, fix them up. Now I won’t bore you with too much detail but, the denouement is always the same, they place the couple in the street before their new house which is covered by a huge photo of the way it looked when it was a wreck, then Joanna says: “Are you ready to see your fixer upper?” and they pull back the screen revealing the wonderful newly renovated house. I love it.

Now tonight, it seems as though our promises ceremony is like an episode of Fixer Upper. We have taken some wrecks, generally from good neighborhoods. We have applied various renovative solutions which on this show we call formation. We have hammered, welded, excavated, drilled, dry-walled, painted, pruned away, landscaped, cut out, rewired, plumbed and spruced up. They are ready for the big reveal and tonight it happens.

In the promises our brothers are about to make their lives will definitively change. They are ready. Tonight they will tell the Church and the world, of which we are the ambassadors,  that they are prepared to present themselves for ordination under a very rigorous set of conditions. They are telling us, in the promises they are to make that they will serve, that they will offer their minds, their bodies and their spirits tirelessly for service. There will be no holding back. Tonight our brothers pour out their lives for you. Please hold them accountable for that pouring out, make sure that that pouring out never ceases because it is not theirs to check. God gives the grace and the glory and they provide the vessels of His Love, that love poured out in service on the Cross, and from the Cross and the empty tomb in continues to ceaselessly pour forth.

Now let me speak to the wrecks, I mean to the candidates. Men, you have a duty and that duty is two-fold. The first is to be willing to realize the wrecks you are. Count on your condition. Grow from it, nuance it, pray that the Lord of endless renovation offers you continuous upgrades so that you may ever shine more faithfully and more fully in your neighborhoods. If you have a weakness, God has given you that challenge so that you can help others in their great weakness. If you have a strength, bless God for your strength and in all humility offer you talents to the Church. Weak or strong, be prepared for some renovation. Be open to continuous hammering and drilling and rewiring and landscaping. Give your all to the Great Fixer Upper and he will yield priceless benefits through you.  Be honest, be an open floor plan, be true, be kind, be loving. Avoid cynicism, shun arrogance and clericalism. Make your houses showplaces for God’s love in the neighborhoods of life.

Listen again to the words you just heard in tonight’s reading:

Submit to God, resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God and he will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts, be humbled, that is willing to be renovated in the sight of God and he will raise you on high.

Now, enough from your sponsor. Church, are you ready to see your fixer uppers?

 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday of the Third Week of Lent


Monday of the Third Week of Lent

 

When confronted with today’s Gospel I suspect that we like to think of ourselves in the best possible light.

Perhaps we are the one crouching in the back thinking: That Jesus is a great guy, I don’t know what everyone’s so upset about

Or perhaps we like to think of ourselves like some Gentile in the street, this is, after all St. Luke’s Gospel: Look at those crazy Jews, at it again with their prophets.

Or perhaps, in our salad moments, we like to think that we are like Jesus, right all the time, but undoubtedly persecuted by the formation staff, the parish, whomever.

I suspect, however that when we are honest with ourselves we know we are the synagogue crowd, after all, this is also the first half of St. Luke’s Gospel.

We know, when we are honest, that we often drive Jesus to the brow of the hill of our own planning and expectation.

We threaten the peace-loving Jesus with the violence of our preconceived notions.

Like the Jewish mother, we harp on Jesus to be who we need for him to be, desire for him to be, demand him to be.

We encounter the true Christ, the prophetic Christ in the world and we cannot think of it as something valuable because it challenges us to do this, to be that.

We then go on and on about this and that acknowledging, observing endlessly that one speaks heresy and another pure folly, we judge, we condemn we inherit the wind but reap the whirlwind of our own carefully-guarded ecclesial fantasies.

Like a contagious disease, like leprosy, our need to be right, to be perfect draws us to the very brow of the hill of annihilation. And in our criminal state we might literally fall prey to our own deliriums

But

Thank God, we are all criminals in the hands of a God, a God coming to us in the synagogues of life, sinners in the hands of a God not precisely just, but steeped in a quality we so often lack, mercy.

Well, now the moment of reckoning has come and we must go to the very precipice of this altar and do what we should always do, give thanks and stand in awe of the mercy, the love, the perfect peace that often looks like warfare on our warring selves, stand in awe of what we receive here, the Lamb of God thrown over the cliff for our sins, who then walks through our midst, who has mercy and saves us.

 

 

Candidacy


For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

We have lived through another election season. Midterms. I suppose the outcome was a great surprise. The large headlines and the exclamation points at least indicated so.

And now all of those candidates in the different races, except for one, have gone away disappointed. Billions of dollars were spent. Promises were made. Some were broken. Some will be broken. Signs were printed and thrown away. The signs were ditched, Mitch was not. Still, those forlorn candidates knew the rules. Only one could win, the others must lose.

What about our candidacy? What about the liturgy of the Church we celebrate tonight? What is fulfilled as we move forward toward Holy Orders? What promises will be made and broken? Who will win and who will go away disappointed? Brothers and sisters, there is little doubt, that even in so excellent and rarified an environment as Saint Meinrad, we are not immune to a bit of competition. We engage it daily, subtle and not so subtle, one-upsmanship, promises made, vows to be fulfilled, perhaps a little display of masculine camaraderie that might degenerate into bullying. But tonight we celebrate another kind of candidacy, a move toward Holy Orders that is, while not definitive, at least defining.

Tonight our brothers present themselves to the Church in a new and more intentional way. What is the nature of that presentation? For an answer, we need only look to the rite itself.

Do you resolve to complete your preparation so that in due time through Holy Orders you will be prepared to assume ministry within the Church?

It is a question about context. Will you find the meaning of your life, exemplified in the new status you will receive, will you find the meaning of your life in ministry and service, will you find the meaning in your life in your formation for the same?

The second question, then, blatantly asks are you resolved to give faithful service to the Church? Is that not the reality that I am constantly harping about?

Tonight you present yourself to this community of faith, a microcosm of God’s Church, drawn from every nation and language, you present yourself to the Church as one who is willing to be a deacon and later a priest.

What will be the markers of success? I think there are three: 

The first is a dangerous life of prayer. There are three things that the Church requires of its priests: celebration of the Eucharist, celebration of the sacraments and prayer. There is nothing else that you are preparing for, so plan to give to these things your all. Give until it hurts.

Prepare yourselves for a life lived on your knees before God on behalf of the people you serve. Our ordination prepares us for this and demands this of us: pray regularly, constantly before the mercy seat of God.

Saint Paul tells us in the first letter to the Thessalonians to: Pray without ceasing for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The time has passed for you to be considering your commitment to a life of prayer. The time has long past for you to be lamenting your inability to pray, to get up in the morning. The time has passed for preparations. Now is the time for action. Pray until it hurts, not for yourself or your needs. Pour out your love, your life of prayer on behalf of the Church you have promised, will promise to pray for without ceasing.

Give your time to God. It is amazing to me that men have so much difficulty paying attention to our Lord in prayer for 15, 30 minutes, one hour, when they can give their undivided attention to a football game for hours on end. Where is the passion for prayer that we pour out on sports, on politics, on the crazy things that happen in our classes, on harping and griping with one another?

Your generosity in prayer is the marker of your success. And brothers, it is dangerous. It requires something of us, not only our time, but our souls, our lives. I have nothing to do all day except celebrate the sacraments and serve God and I do that best on my knees. Wear out your knees; have knee replacements not because of too much running but because of too much kneeling before the throne of the almighty, a throne mightily insinuated for us in this chapel, before this tabernacle. Here is the Holy of Holies our ancestors in faith worshipped before and died to preserve. Here is the altar of rough stones, that is, the new covenant spoken of in the Book of Maccabees. Here is the temple not made by human hands, that sanctuary of God. Give your life to God in its mighty shadow.

Live a dangerous life of prayer and never look back. Never count the cost. Die in your vestments and you will have lived a most successful life.

Second: Service until death. Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more beautiful in this life than to serve one another. We live to serve. It is a cheerful service. If we compete with one another, it is in service. We live it in hospitality, the desire to open my life and my room to all who come. We live it in volunteering, in doing small things with great love, in setting up the dining room, in cleaning the chapel, in preparing food, in the formal ministries we exercise and the informal ministries that are as close to us as our beating hearts.

From a human standpoint, service until death is built on three things: giving, giving and giving.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

The faith and the service we are called to is not divisive. It does not know strangers. It does not evaluate need according to creed. We do not make radical decisions about personal orthodoxy and then persecute those we find unworthy. We do not carry on heated conversations in our rooms that we would be embarrassed to offer in the chapel.

The life of discipleship and priestly service is the action of the Good Samaritan who sees the problem and promises to fix it, paying back all those who have helped him on his return. Service fixes us in the inn of life and it places us there with everyone, literally everyone, even those who deride, who hate our faith. Whenever I think of the inn, I think of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the way in which Chaucer illuminates the life of the Church through the image of rough pilgrimage.

Our lives as ministers of the Gospel present us in the inn with the poor, with the unloved and unlovely, with the heretic (and let’s face it, that is most of us and usually the ones pointing the finger most strongly). It is with the stupid, the pitiable, the leperous, the unacceptable, the barbed, the uncultivated. Continue the list.

And we make lists, don’t we, of those who are acceptable and those who are not? Perhaps we make lists here. This professor is acceptable; this one is not. This seminarian is orthodox and therefore okay; this one is not. Brothers and sisters, I reiterate to you what I have said often before. There is no doctrine worth preserving, no liturgical practice worthy of maintaining when charity is tossed out the window. Ideology that is soundly Catholic, solidly Christian, is an ideology built on service.  I can preserve the purity of the faith all day, but if that rarified quality is maintained in a palace surrounded by the ditches of neglect, suspicion and even abuse, then that palace must be destroyed. And I can assure you it will be torn down.

If you are living your priesthood ideologically, if you are preparing for an ideological priesthood, you are not living the priestly life at all – you are purchasing a one-way ticket to hell. And all of your agenda-driven mess will make no difference if it conducts you to that place where the fire is never quenched and the worm dies not.

But we do not need to fear that here. Here we see men who are dedicated to pouring out their lives in service. As rector, through these years, I have never asked a man to do something that he failed to do. I hope I never have the experience, but rather that the ready step of service inclines him in the direction of the ditches of life where there are so many to be cared for, so many to be wrapped in caring arms, so many to be brought to the inn of the Church for merciful deliverance.

Finally, build a community of love. Building a community of love means going out of your way for the one whose attention warrants not one second of your time in your mottled opinion. Building a community of love means primarily not tearing down. It also means seeking the lost sheep.

Seek the lost sheep.

Seek the atheist. Seek the liberal or conservative. Seek the divorced and remarried. Seek the dumb bunnies. Seek the complainer. Seek the noisy. Seek the nosey. Seek the poor. Do we even know the poor? Do we care about them at all? Are they the stray sheep, the one who got away? I can assure you we need not look far. Look to your families, your old friends, your fellow seminarians; look in the all-revealing mirror.

Seek the stray. Please God, we need to seek the stray because that stray sheep, brothers, is us. We are the one who got away and the Good Shepherd went looking for us and found us in the rolling hills of Southern Indiana. He found us in the crevices of the complex origami of our judgment.

Brothers, my sincerest prayer for you is that you will learn to find the love of God, that love for which you pray ceaselessly, that love which you serve to own. My prayer for you is that you will find that love in the mundane things of life, the tending to the flock and the sweeping of the floors.  Find God in the parish, in your presbyterates, your religious communities, your families, your daily lives.

The Holy Father says our concern must be for the marginalized. Let’s not make those folks the ones we marginalized in our judgmental priesthood, our delineating diaconate.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.


It is election season and we must run the race so as to win. We have been given a promise by Jesus the Lord that, in this real election, all of our candidates might be victorious, all might gain the promise of which they have so ardently campaigned, not only election to Holy Orders but with all of us eternal life.