Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday Homily 9/25/2011 26th in Ordinary Time

This homily was preached at St. Thomas More, which serves the larger Brookings community:

I’m Father Andrew Dickinson, I serve on the north side of town at Pius XII Newman Center, working with Catholic college students at SDSU. Sometimes we do smart things, sometimes we do not so smart things. Saturday morning I ran 15.2 miles from the town of White, down to the Campanile. Not so smart. This weekend I’ve switched with Fr. Farke to tell you a bit about Newman Centers. Hopefully smart.

What is a Newman Center? First off, it is your Newman Center. If you’re a college student here in town, the Newman Center south of Brown Hall on 14th Ave and 8th St. is yours, come and see us. 80% or more of my week is spent with college students, stop me and talk to me on campus. If you’re a parishioner at St. Thomas More, we couldn’t exist without your CFSA, parish, other personal gifts, and most importantly, your prayers. Thank you for your generosity.

On April 30, 2009, when Bishop Swain asked me to come here, I asked him what he wanted me to do. He said, “Make it a safe place for college students.” Safety and security in the midst of college means different things for students in different places. For some students, it means simply a place to hang out. Your Newman Center has no exterior keys- it is open 24-7 and I couldn’t lock it if I wanted to. At least, not without some nails.

Your Newman Center is pace of safety for those are under attack. College can be a place of grave challenges to your beliefs and foundations. I know of several courses and professors who implicitly and even purposely challenge Catholic and Christian worldviews. Know that those challenges are not new and there are real answers for them. Your Newman Center will help you with those.

Your Newman Center also provides a safe place to hear God’s call. There are good and holy men and women who pray and play together. Wouldn’t you want a wife or husband that prays the same prayers as you? One of the biggest struggles for engaged couples is figuring out their life of faith. Also, you’ve seen how much Fr. Rod loves his priestly life and hopefully your hometown priest as well. You’ve seen how the good religious sisters her love their life of community, prayer, and service. In our open chapel you can pray with the Eucharist and with others to hear God’s call for your life. Come see why more than 100 of your fellow college students make daily Mass a part of their week with around 60 per day.

Finally, I want to leave you something for your heart. Your Newman Center is a safe place when you’ve failed. In our Gospel today, the second group is clearly identified as sinners and outcasts. How hard it is for the outcast to turn- certainly because sin is attractive but also because sin discourages? We all know that discouragement, when we haven’t been in Church in a while, when the confessional door looks dark and forbidding, when it seems like Father’s every look is one of dissatisfaction. Your Newman Center and my mission is to encourage you at just those times. I speak the words of great modern author, G.K. Chesterton, who says: “Anything really worth is worth doing badly,” because it is better to do it badly, than not to do it at all. I hope I don’t surprise you when I say, that saints started out as sinners.

What is the safe encouragement of your Newman Center? Jesus Christ. In our second reading we hear of his humility. He doesn’t wait for us, high, dry, and clean of everything while we struggle in darkness, doubt, and sin. Rather, he emptied himself becoming one like us and then humbles himself to the point of death.

Parishioners, college students, and I say this to my own heart too. What more could we want? Blessed Cardinal Newman, the English priest and university professor whom Newman Centers are named after expressed it this way. “Thou Lord, art ever waiting for me to ask Thee to be merciful to me.” Amen.

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Homily for 25th Sunday 9/18/2011

We are still 3 days away from the official start to fall but I’d like to offer you a Cornucopia homily, one full of the abundant riches of the Gospel. In other words, I couldn’t decide which area to preach on so you get three things. They are all important, though. First, what is justice? Second, what is the vineyard? Finally, why does the landowner act this way?

“You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.” What is justice?

Many, if not most of us suffer from an inaccurate understanding of justice. We conceive of justice in terms of our rights. In the United States we often think: “I have a right to do what I want, when I want, how I want, whenever I want.” Sometimes this is magnified while we’re in college. If justice were only concerned with our rights, then our we would eventually run afoul of each other.

Justice is most properly about our obligation to others. If you want to be a man or woman of justice, it isn’t that you are concerned about your rights, or their rights, it is that you are first concerned about your obligations. What do I owe to my neighbor, my friends and family? What do I owe to the stranger I’ve never met? Justice is expressed in several ways: divine justice, personal justice, and social justice.

Divine justice- what do I owe God? My worship, my gratitude, often represented by material goods. It’s interesting when college students can afford $40 a week on recreational drinking but $0 a week on God. Personal justice- what do I owe other people? This obligation to other people isn’t simply to people I know or like but to everyone. Social justice- what do I owe society? We see this in taxes and civic involvement, like informed voting. Yes, that means you sin when you are not an informed voter. We could go more indepth but that is an appetizer on the teachings of justice.

“He sent them into his vineyard.”

What is the vineyard in today’s Gospel? This landowner is very concerned about his vineyard and he obviously wants it to be well stocked with laborers. If we look at other stories about vineyards, then we can find a good answer. The vineyard is the Christian mission field. All of us are called to labor in the Kingdom of Heaven—we’ll hear more about this next Sunday. A bishop I knew used to express this duty like this: “What on earth are you doing for heaven’s sake?” St. Paul, in our second reading says it this way: “Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Are you asking God how he wants you to work? I remember asking this question as a sophomore in college. My uncle had just died suddenly and I wondered in prayer, “Lord, what do you want me to do for you?” I spent about 18 months on that question while he unfolded his answer. I haven’t been disappointed.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.”

Who is this landowner and why does he pursue so many workers? He pursues them not simply for the work but because it is better for them to be working with him. The landowner is the Lord God who has pursued us since the first moment of our rebellious sin. Going back to Genesis we know that from the first moment of our sin, God asked after us and wanted to bring us back to himself. God is always calling each and every human soul to a deeper relationship with him.
It seems that God is much more patient with us than we are with him. We ask God for something once, maybe twice. We might even spend a week in prayer, but then we say: “God doesn’t answer. God doesn’t care.” Yet how patient is God with our sins? Even we who are committed to Christ still sin and he still pursues us. Our reading form Isaiah says: “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” He is always near, like the landowner in the vineyard who goes out frequently to hire laborers.

Jesus Christ, I pray that you will build up a people of justice. People who first strive to reach perfection in personal and divine justice—giving to others and to you what is owed. I pray that you will give us the heart of a laborer. Do not let us think that the work of your Kingdom belongs to someone else. I pray that whatever we do, you will only keep us close to yourself. Separation from you, to be far from you is a fate worse than death. In your mercy and generosity, call to us and grant us the strength to hear and answer.

Cross posted at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

24th Sunday Homily 9/11/2011

On this terrible anniversary it would do us well to consider what it means to forgive. We will not learn to forgive unless we have known the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We will not be free to forgive others unless we have faith in the victory of Jesus Christ.

I remember September 11, 2001, quite well. I was in my senior year of college in the seminary. I was in my dorm room on a break between classes when I heard an odd sound for the halls of a seminary. A young freshman was running up the hallway, stamping and swearing. I leaned out the door: “Charlie, we do NOT act like this in the seminary.” “But…but…they just flew a plane into the World Trade Center!” And my world changed with everyone else’s.

What happens next? After your world is shattered, what happens next? Whether you were old enough for it to shatter on that Tuesday morning or it shattered in the decade long war that has followed, what happens next? It is worth noting that, though these Scripture passages are full of forgiveness, they were not picked especially for today. They were selected years ago in the 1960s and have been on a three-year cycle ever since. God provides these readings through the Church to teach the world, to teach you and I, where to go next.
To know where to go next we need to understand some basic information about our humanity. Anger is not a sin in itself but there is sinful anger. Anger is a natural passion who’s purpose is to tell us when we’ve suffered injustice. 9/11 was more than a tragedy, it was an unjust action by unjust men. It is right to feel angry.

Sin corrupts our natural passions: hunger, sleep, attraction, and anger. How does sin corrupt our anger? The book of Sirach tells us that “the sinner hugs [anger] tight.” What is anger hugged tight but bitterness and grudges. Bitterness and grudges poison us and bring no relief.
How, then, do we forgive? We must first learn forgiveness by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I ask you, if you struggle to forgive those who have harmed you, are you going to confession yourself? Are you learning forgiveness by hearing the priest absolve you from your sins and treating you with justice and mercy? Are you learning mercy by hearing it in the voice of the priest?

Finally, it takes faith to forgive. Forgiveness on its own seems weak. Forgiveness apart from faith seems foolish. Sin speaks in our hearts: “If you forgive them this, then they will do more and worse things to you.” Unless we are confident that Jesus Christ will bring victory and vindication: whether in this life or the next, the voice of sin will win out in our hearts.
Violence never defeats violence. Sacrifice and love defeat violence. Sacrifice and love swallow violence. Jesus Christ has swallowed up sin, violence and death on the cross; we await his victory. While we wait, we forgive because we know love in Jesus Christ. We forgive because we love our enemies and want them to have the same chances we have had.

Cross posted at