Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Responsibility for the Kingdom

This is my homily from last weekend given at Saint Ambrose Parish, Anderson, IN (St. Mary's got a shortened version because it was oppressively hot and they do not have air conditioning in the church):

I grew up with an older brother and sandwiched between two sisters. My brother was the oldest and so I wasn’t all that close to him. I ended up being closer to my older sister and, being somewhat of a mama’s boy, I often found myself watching things like beauty pageants on TV, because that’s what my mom and my sister wanted to watch.

I don’t hear much about them anymore, but back in the ‘80s the Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Universe contests all had that allure of pageantry and glamour that made it all seem fascinating to me. For me the highlights were the talent portion, where these women would display their incredible abilities to play instruments, to sing, or to dance, and also the evening gown competition, as each tried to outdo the other in having the most luxurious dress. Then, there was the interview portion, where these women had to respond to questions with extremely complicated answers with poise and alacrity to prove that they could represent the best of our nation (or the world) on a world stage. Inevitably, the “one wish” question would come up. “If you could have one wish for anything in the world, what would it be?” After watching a few of these you quickly learned that if a contestant even hinted at wishing for something for themselves, that their chance at winning the crown was gone. And, as years went on, the answers to these became somewhat rote and always altruistic. “I would wish that there would be world peace.” “I would wish for an end to world hunger.” “I would wish for a cure for cancer.” While these are all wonderful things to wish for, the fact that they became the “pat” answer to this question made these young women seem to me to be rather fake and inauthentic.

In today’s first reading, we see God putting King Solomon through a similar “interview” as he is taking over the reins of the kingdom from his father David. As we hear the dialogue between God and Solomon, we can almost feel the tension building as Solomon discerns what it is that he should ask for from God. Waiting with abated breath we hear his answer: “Wisdom.” “Wisdom? NO! He is supposed to ask for world peace or an end to hunger or that everyone in the world would be as rich as he is! What was he thinking!?!?” Yet we soon hear that God was pleased with his answer… Why?

Well, first Solomon acknowledged his relationship with God. He acknowledged that the kingdom that he has been given is really God’s kingdom and that the people he is ruling are really God’s people and that, in actuality, it was God who had made him ruler over his people. Because he had a relationship with God, Solomon knew that God wasn’t just some divine magician who could be called upon to magically make everything wrong in the world right. Instead, he knew that God had called him to rule over his people and that God had given him the great responsibility to care for and provide for his people. With such a great task and the shadow of his father, king David, looming over him, Solomon humbly acknowledged that he couldn’t handle this task alone and that he needed God’s help to fulfill the work that he was calling him to. Thus, he didn’t ask that there would be no problems, but rather that he would have the understanding—the wisdom—to lead his people well in both good times and in bad. And God was pleased with his answer.

I think that many days we find ourselves in a similar situation to Solomon yet we hardly recognize it. Daily we are surrounded by the needs of God’s people and yet all we can think to do is to pray that God will wave his hand over the earth and make it all go away. We fail to recognize that the task of building God’s kingdom here on earth has been given to us. Certainly, God doesn’t need us for the building of his kingdom—he is all-powerful and can handle it himself—but in his desire for a relationship with us, he invites us to participate in the work of building up his kingdom here on earth. With that in mind, then, perhaps we can look to the example of Solomon to see how we can pray and thus know what to ask for when we come before God with our needs.

When we come before God we must first acknowledge our relationship with him. Solomon acknowledged before God that he was God’s servant, called to care for and to rule over God’s people. And so we too must acknowledge that God has called us to a particular task for the building up of his kingdom. Next our task is to ask God for the understanding to know how he has called us to participate in alleviating the problem or issue that we are bringing before him. Solomon, recognizing the great responsibility that God had given him, asked for understanding to be able to judge God’s people well. First time parents, I suspect, are quite familiar with this prayer. Faced with the responsibility of caring for and raising a child, new parents ought to find frequent recourse to pray for the understanding they need to raise their children. Finally, as we begin to take responsibility for the tasks that God has given us, then we will find the things that we truly do need God’s intervention for—such as a miraculous healing from an addiction or the conversion of a family member long estranged from the Church. Then, we can come again before God, trusting that he hears and answers these prayers too. When we pray in this way, taking responsibility for the things God has called us to and asking for God’s wisdom to fulfill them, we not only engage in our relationship with him, but we also make ourselves open to uncovering the hidden treasures that are the kingdom of heaven.

My brothers and sisters, the characters in the parables from today’s Gospel reading were “surprised by joy” to find the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. When we accept the particular way that God has called us to build his kingdom here on earth, then we too will be “surprised by joy” when we find the ways in which the kingdom is being realized in our midst—a family healed after the leaving off of an addiction or the deathbed conversion of that long-estranged family member. This is the same kingdom that each week we come together to realize and to celebrate when we come here to worship at this altar and to share in the meal that is a participation in the eternal banquet of heaven, the banquet of the God’s kingdom yet to come. Let us pray, then, for God’s wisdom to take up the task that he has given us for the building of his kingdom and thus to be surprised by joy when his kingdom appears like a great treasure before us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(Generally) Quick Takes...

It's been quite some time since I've posted and so I thought that I would simply throw some things out there that have been piquing my interest in the last few weeks to give you all a clue as to what's been going on with me. And so, in no particular order...
1. My summer pastor, Fr. Bob, has been out of town three times since I've been ordained a deacon and each time something has come up that has made very clear to me the responsibility that comes with the title "pastor." The first two times there were funerals and this last time I baptized a four year old boy who was about to go in for brain surgery. (Please pray for Wyatt!) It's amazing how the Holy Spirit comes through when you have no idea how to handle a situation!
2. The National Catholic Reporter recently ran this article in their publication about the Vatican promoting Eucharistic Adoration. Please read the whole thing. There are many members of the Church (clergy and lay persons) who think that promoting Eucharistic Adoration is a bad thing. After you've read this article, I think you will have a better idea of where they are coming from. I'm not trying to say that they are right, but I am trying to say that if we even want to begin to become unified as a body in the Church (and I think that Jesus probably wants that), then we need to try to understand where each side is coming from so we can begin speaking on the same terms.
That being said, I just have a couple of questions for the people who think that Eucharistic Adoration takes away from the celebration of the Eucharist... Isn't our God big enough for both? Why do we have to limit ourselves to one form of worship? With the limited availability of priests, wouldn't you think that providing a valid, Church approved form of worship (in the form of perpetual, or at least regular, adoration) would actually add to peoples' desire to celebrate the Eucharist, without which they wouldn't even have the opportunity to adore? Besides, it seems that the sensum fidei, led by the authentic Magisterium of the Church, is supporting the expanding of Eucharistic Adoration, so why try to squash something that is obviously helping the Faithful to deepen their devotion to God?
In my entirely un-magisterial opinion, it seems to me that those who discourage Eucharistic Adoration are placing limits on what Christ gave us when he gave us the gift of his Real Presence in the Eucharist. I want to understand more, however, so I hope that I can have an open conversation with someone who stands against the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration.
3. Last Thursday was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's feast day. Ever since I co-led a youth mission trip to a Native American reservation in Oklahoma a five years ago, I've had a devotion to this saint of North America. In doing some research for preaching that day, I came across this NPR spot that described a healing that is under consideration as the second miracle attributed to her intercession. I pray that it goes through as North America needs more home-born saints!
4. Work here in the parishes of Anderson continues to go well. The most frustrating thing so far has been that there is nothing going on during the summer. There's been a few youth events, but hardly any other type of organized activity. Thus, my days consist mostly of liturgy (morning prayer and mass) and visiting the homebound and those in nursing homes. Don't get me wrong, I am honored to bring Holy Communion to those who can't come to Mass, but I guess I was hoping that there would be more to get involved in while I was here.
5. Check out this article about the government in Ireland proposing a law that would require priests to break the seal of confession to report perpetrators of abuse. This is simply preposterous and shows how far the secularization of western culture has come. Don't think that something like this can't happen in the U.S.! Pray, pray, pray for our nation's leaders and get involved and vote!
Ok, I don't have any more. I don't know if there are rules for how many quick takes one's supposed to have when one does this. Thus, I feel free to just stop after five :) I think that this catches me up, however, so until next time - Adios!