Education leads us to God

Last week, we went on a parish pilgrimage to Pilsen, KS. While we were there, we heard a talk on Fr. Kapaun’s life growing up, we learned about the miracles associated with him, and I was able to celebrate Mass on the High Altar that Fr. Kapaun would have used. It was a great day!

During the talk about Fr. Kapaun’s life, we heard that he would walk three miles to school and three miles back every day, and this was after doing all sorts of chores on the farm. At school, the teachers recognized that he was a sharp student. He was diligent in his studies, and it showed. Even when he went to school, the faith that his parents had taught them was very important to him. If the teachers ever lost track of him at recess, they would just go check the church and find him there.

As school is starting, all sorts of thoughts are swirling around in my mind, and they are all coming to the same conclusion: education, to truly be education, must lead us to God. When I was preparing for my talk at the Open House, I was playing around with the Latin word “duc”. Most of the time, the word “duc” means “lead.” It’s the root of many words, the most obvious being, perhaps, “duke.” Much more interesting to me, though, is that the word “educate” is a descendant of the word “duc.” The Latin components of the words literally translate as “to lead out.”

To lead out of what? When we educate, where are we leading one another?

When we look at the example of Fr. Kapaun, we can see where education must lead us: to God. God is the one who created us, who gave us the gift of reason, who gave us curiosity, who gave us the ability to wonder. He did not give us these gifts so that we would hide them. The true situation is quite the opposite, in fact. God wants us to look up at the stars and experience wonder at the cosmos. God wants us to be curious and ask, “how does that happen?” God wants us to think through a problem, even if we already know the answer, so that we can understand why. God wants us to recognize that he created us out of love and wants us to be happy with him, in heaven, forever.

Education leads us out of ourselves so that we might experience the universe God created in all its beauty, so that we can answer some of those questions we ponder every day, so that we can recognize that my true fulfillment comes not from myself, but from another. Education leads us out of ourselves, through wonder and curiosity, into knowledge. Not just book knowledge. Knowledge of reading and writing, history and science, mathematics and religion, all are important, but beyond that, we must have knowledge of life. We can learn in so many ways. We can learn through prayer about God and our relationship with him. We can learn through practice how to play a piano or to tie a knot. We can learn about the beauty of the stars by looking up at the night sky. We must learn in these many ways, because it is through all of ourselves and all of our knowledge—practical and theoretical—that we learn to experience God in all his glory.

Fr. Matt celebrating Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen, KS.

One of the ways Fr. Kapaun learned was by looking at the statues of saints and the windows in his parish church St. John Nepomucene. He is the most prominent saint in the whole church, placed at the top of the high altar. Looking at that statue every day, then-little Emil Kapaun learned that a priest would rather die than violate the seal of the confessional, because that is why St. John Nepomucene gave his life. Rather than betray the seal of confession as the king demanded him, he accepted torture and death by drowning instead. When we look around our church here at Blessed Sacrament, we can learn about the Gospels in the windows, we can learn about Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the Divine Mercy of Christ.

None of us can afford to stop learning. There is so much in this universe that is interesting and fascinating if we open our eyes and look for it. For example, even if we already know the stories in our church windows, we can always ponder their meaning and how they can teach me in my life right now. We must always keep learning: Learning helps us grow closer to God. We must help those around us learn, because Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Every day we are given the opportunity to wonder at the beauty of God. Let us take inspiration from Fr. Kapaun, and when we get a chance, let’s not be afraid to steal away marvel at God.

rebuke through wonder

God always works to lead us back to himself, because he loves us too much to be separated from us.

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

Humility, Truth, and Morality

We must have humility to seek the truth. We must use the truth to inform our actions.

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Humble Pursuit of Truth

In Romans today, St. Paul tells us that whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Conversely, if we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, then we will have life. This Spirit is none other than the Holy Spirit. This raises an important question: how do we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us through our love. (Commentary on Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626) Even though we received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and again in Confirmation, we drive the Holy Spirit out of ourselves when we sin. Venial sin damages and mortal sin destroys the relationship of love we have with God. The book of Wisdom tells us that God does not abide iniquity, sin, which logically means that our personal sin drives out the Spirit of God. (Wisdom 1:3, cf. Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626)

Driving sin out of our lives is extremely challenging. It is a life-long endeavor, but it is not something we do alone. God assists us regularly with his grace, and He walks with us through this life. He has also left us with the holy Scriptures. Readings the Scriptures and meditating upon them can allow us to grow closer to God and can allow the fertile ground in our hearts to be readied for the Spirit of God to dwell. Christ teaches us in today’s Gospel that he reveals all these things to little ones. Why does he reveal them to little ones and not to mature adults? I can think of a number of answers to this question; however, the strongest answer, I think, is that children have not lost their sense of wonder about the world, nor have they lost their sense of openness to others. A child is not afraid to look up at the clouds and the stars and to see all sorts of shapes and plants and animals. A child, to the horror of many parents, is not afraid to go talk to someone they don’t know. A child trusts his or her parents, and, generally, anybody multiple feet taller than him or her. A child wants to learn everything and is always seeking out truth in adventures, in friends, and in stories. A child also recognizes that sometimes he or she is wrong. In other words: a child has humility. Zechariah, in today’s first reading, tells us that the Messiah will be humble as well: he will not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, but on a donkey.

These three traits of children, of wonder, openness or docility, and humility, are essential to growing in love. No matter how hard we try to hold on to these virtues, we struggle to maintain them as we age. When was the last time you just looked up at the clouds or stared at the stars? When was the last time you admitted—to yourself—that you might not be the most knowledgeable person about any given thing? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be taught? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong?

Not counting the question about looking at the sky, none of these are “fun” things to do. As hard as the questions themselves are to stomach, it gets worse when I recognize that the answer is, to every single one of them, “it has been longer than it should have been.” We live in a society that proclaims that truth is whatever we make it. This relativism, which started in the realm of morality, has infected every area of our society. If we don’t like a truth, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, society teaches us that it is OK to decide that it is not true for us. Society tells us that this is good. Society tells us that we should be comfortable and that we should never have to experience the trauma of being wrong.

Society is wrong.

There is truth, and it is universal. If something is true, that will not change. If you jump up, you will come down. This is a truth. Just as gravity doesn’t change based on our feelings and what we want it to do, neither do the observable properties of the universe, such as the behavior of air molecules, non-living RNA and water droplets, etc. A newly conceived child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has a right to life no matter how we feel about the circumstances in which that child was conceived. No matter what our feelings are about something, no matter what our favorite political leaders tell us, truth does not change, because truth is grounded in God, and God does not change. This has been the teaching of the Church throughout all of time, and has been reiterated over and over again, for example, in the Second Vatican Council Document Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), then again in  St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), and again by the saint in Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason). Fides et ratio specifically discusses how, as Catholics, we are not only able to, but must use our reason in conjunction with our faith, because our reason is a gift from God. The Catholic Church, despite what some people may say, has always believe that science is a good thing. Through science we learn about creation. When we learn about creation, we learn about its creator, that is, God.

After informing myself on matters like this, I know more about creation than before. I have learned more about the truth. As Catholics, we must take one further step after learning the truth: We must allow the truth to inform our actions. As a result of my study and research this week, I am wearing my mask more. This is neither a mistake, nor is it a fluke. It is intentional. This is not due to government mandating that I wear a mask; however, Christians are, in most cases, bound to follow civil authority. 1 I am wearing my mask more, because I have come to the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. After informing myself with information from sources that make it their business to know these things, doctors and physicists and chemists, I see that the evidence is fairly clear that they help. I didn’t think wearing a mask was important, but I was wrong. Masks are effective, especially when combined with social distancing, at preventing others from catching disease from me. While the research shows that a mask does not protect me, it does protect those around me, that is: the mask protects my neighbor. Is it perfect? No. But it is significantly and scientifically proven to be better than nothing.

I don’t do this (wearing a mask) because I want to: Honestly, I don’t. But what I want and what I feel… it doesn’t matter. God demands that I love my neighbor as myself, always. This is truth, and like the truth, this demand will never change. If I don’t love my neighbor, I cannot love God, because it means my love is messed up. If my love is messed up and I can’t love God, then I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to live in me. God asks us, on a regular basis, to do things we don’t want to do for the good of ourselves and the good of others. This is, in fact, the essence of Christian love: to sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor. This is something every married couple knows: “I don’t always get my way, because I love my spouse.” As a priest, I see the situation a little differently. Daily, priests pray about sacrifice and remember what Jesus did to save us. The crucifixion is simply a part of priestly spirituality. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and crucified for us. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable. I can’t imagine that he really wanted to do it (at least, on the part of his human nature). Most importantly, Jesus did not need to die for himself. He suffered and died purely because he loves us, his neighbor, so that he could eradicate and conquer the most primordial contagion known to plague humanity: sin.

Brothers and sisters, let us always seek the truth with openness and humility, like children do. Let us allow the truth to inform our actions so that we can truly love our neighbor, and in doing so, open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Today’s Readings:
July 5, 2020
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Big Questions. Answers Beyond Words.

When was the last time you pondered the heavy-hitting questions that get right at the meaning of life?

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.