Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another reason to love Iowa State and know that University of Iowa just doesn't get it.

I'm doing research into the tragic events at Northern Illinois University for a presentation I'm doing next week. On it's website, NIU has listed condolences it has received from different colleges and universities regarding the event. See if you are struck by the differences between

the University of Iowa


Iowa State University

When I read Iowa's, it seems like the president isn't even offering condolences. It's not until the last sentence that she encourages people to focus on those who were killed. For the first three paragraphs, it's all about how the University of Iowa is facing a challenge. President Geoffroy, on the other hand, has a beautiful paragraph of condolence before he makes a statement regarding how everyone needs to be vigilant to protect students.

It's so great to be part of a University whose president models concern and service before worrying about themselves.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lifting heavy burdens

I was really struck by today's gospel passage from daily mass. Especially this one

“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.

The part about not laying heavy burdens on people's shoulders reminded me of how often bureaucracy does that very thing. The expectation is that committees make decision but, almost invariably, one person ends up doing almost all the work. I think it's a danger of parish life and we need to make sure that we not just keep making work for people that are already too busy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Battlestar Galactica episode one

A friend got me addicted to the sci fi television show Battlestar Galactica. (Just to be clear, I'm talking about the next series, not the one from the 70's) and, since I'm supposed to be getting my taxes done but couldn't make it because of the weather, I decided to come home and watch an episode or two on a much needed day off.

I started from the beginning, from an episode that could easily define what it means to be frustrated. The (evil) cylons keep finding the (good guys) colonial fleet and attacking them every 33 minutes. For days, the fleet has to "jump" using to a new location in the hopes that they cylons won't follow. That's how I feel about the weather. Since Thanksgiving, basically, we have been on a five or six day cycle of snow, digging out, and incredibly cold weather. Each day, we seem to have two of those three things. We are either waiting for the storm, digging out for the storm, in the midst of the storm, or freezing. And, right once it looks like we are going to turn a corner, we hear that we will simply have more of the same. It looks like we are going to get above freezing and, when we do, it drops six inches of snow on us and gets freezing.

Where do we find the hope in this? The mundane can become overwhelming! As I read the Pope's latest encyclical, Spe Salvi, I hope to find an answer to that. As I prepare a talk for a group of parishes in northern Iowa, I ask for your prayers. Ask for the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas that I may see through the mundane times of life to help those parishes find hope.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Opening ourselves to the mountaintop experiences

Most of you are probably unaware that, by law, a priest is given four weeks out of the year to be away from his parish. Three of the four weeks we are vacation, which is why you haven’t seen Fr. Ev for a while. He’s using up all three weeks of vacation in one shot and won’t be back until a week from this coming Friday. Priests need to be able to get away from the rat race of parish work in order to be the servant-leader God has called us to be. So we pray for Fr. Ev’s safety as he is on vacation and that I, your acting pastor, not screw things up too much while he’s gone.

A priest is also expected to spend one week of the year in retreat. I still remember visiting with the Archbishop before I came here to Ames and telling him that I had spent my last retreat alone in my camper praying over the Bread of Life discourse from John’s gospel. He sort of laughed until he realized I was serious. And then this very seriously look came over his face and he said that a young priest needs a directed retreat. From then on, I vowed to find a place where I could have a directed, silent retreat. The strange thing was how God did that for me.

When the campus ministers were planning out the events we were going to facilitate, one of my responsibilities was to take a group of students to a monastery in Northern Missouri called Conception Abbey. I had already taken my directed retreat with my good friend, Fr. Bob Hart in Hawaii, so I assumed this retreat would be more for the students than for me. But, in the course of that week, I found myself changed. Even though I’ve shared this from this pulpit before, I almost didn’t come back at all. I found a depth in my spirituality there that I had never experienced and certainly didn’t expect to experience while playing chaperone to a group of college students. I found quiet and peace and, in the process, found a new depth in my relationship to God.

That’s what I find so believable about this celebration of the transfiguration. Jesus takes his inner sanctum, the three leaders among the leaders, the apostles to the apostles if you will, off by himself on a mountain. I can just imagine Peter, James and John thinking all along the way that this is a waste of time. They could be going to any number of towns to heal their sick, feed their hungry, and preach about the kingdom of God but, instead, they are taking a Sabbath rest on a mountain. What a waste of time. Yet, in the midst of this waste of time, Jesus is transfigured, changed, into his glorified self and we see him with the two Old Testament figures that represent the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah. It is the glorified image of Jesus not destroying the law and the prophets but fulfilling what they said. Peter’s first thought is that he needs to do something, he needs to build them a tent and preserve this glorified experience. But, just like David in the second book of Samuel was refused to build a temple for God, so Jesus forbids Peter from doing building them a structure. Peter had to come to understand what Paul would later articulate to Timothy, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design…” Peter, James and John weren’t earning this vision of heavenly glory. They were given it freely by Christ whose cross would alone earn it for them.

Sometimes, I worry that we give the false impression here at St. Thomas Aquinas that you need to earn your salvation through good works. We have numerous social justice activities for both resident and student parishioners and we spend a lot of time talking about doing service projects. I get concerned that people believe that Christ’s victory over salvation is insufficient, that we need to earn the forgiveness of our sins and glorified life offered to us in Christ instead of seeing it freely given to us. Yet, even the most socially just, most good work oriented philanthropist cannot be saved without knowing Christ, without being invited on the mountain to see Christ’s transfigured glory. We work because God has called us to live a life of love. However, this Sunday we are reminded that, just as important as a life of service is a life of prayer. We all need to take time each day to be drawn away from worldly concerns to be caught up with Christ on the mountain. Maybe we can’t find a monastery to do that and there will, undoubtedly, be experiences on retreats that will especially fulfill that need each of us feels. Yet, each day, we need to experience the God that makes us fall prostrate and reveals to us the identity of his son.