Unique And Unrepeatable Messages

Fr. Dan Morris’ Homily May 12, 2019

“Well once again, good evening everyone.  As I said at the beginning of Mass my name is Fr. Dan Morris and I am the vocation director for the Archdiocese.  You know, when Archbishop Naumann invited me into this role a little less than a year ago now I was genuinely excited about it because it’s not hard for me to look back on my time as a seminarian and my time in my first three years of priesthood and see that I’ve always had a heart or a passion for work in vocations, part of which was here at Church of the Ascension as a seminarian for 6 months about 6 years ago when Msgr. Tank asked me if I would help develop a vocations curriculum for then the 7th grade class in Mrs. Reed’s class so I worked with her on that project, but I’ve always had a heart or a passion for helping people, especially young people, find and discover their vocations that is, come to know God’s voice and learn to trust God enough to finally say yes to that.  It’s why I want to take this opportunity to thank Msgr. Tank for inviting me here this weekend to do just that, to talk to you about vocations and not just about vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life, no especially during this difficult period of time in our church I think it’s important to take this opportunity to talk about the vocation that each and everyone of us here has as a baptized Christian and I’m referring to our vocation in Jesus Christ to live a life of holiness and to become saints because I’m convinced that if all of us, myself and my brother priests included, focus on and recommit ourselves to this calling, to live our life of faith, to live our life in Jesus Christ every day to the full, to truly put God above all things, then vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life, to sacramental married life and to heroic single life, all of those vocations will take care of themselves.

And so with this in mind I want to begin by sharing with you something that I came across as I was preparing to move into this new role as vocations director and it comes from a document given to us by the Church on the importance of each of us answering our own call to holiness and in it there is one idea that continues to strike me in a very deep way and it has to do with the role that each of us are called to play when it comes to our commitment to daily answering this call, so in the section titled, ‘Your Mission in Christ, My Mission Too’ after reminding us that we need to see our entire life as a mission this document makes the following claim.  It says, ‘God the Father’s plan is Jesus Christ and our collective and individual lives in Him. In the end it’s Christ who loves in us for holiness and sanctity is nothing less than charity lived to the full.’ And then it goes on to say this and here’s the line that continues to strike me in a very deep way. It says, ‘Every saint needs to see themselves as a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives as a gift to the world.’ Let that truth and claim on your life settle into your bones for a moment when you think about your own vocation and calling. Every saint, every person here, that means you that means me no matter how young or how old we are, every single one of us IS is message.  Notice how it doesn’t say that every single one of us has a message to communicate from time to time, no every single one of us is always communicating some message for good or for ill and each of us is a unique and unrepeatable message in the history of the world that will never be repeated or created like us again, set apart and called to communicate God’s love in a particular way at each and every moment of our lives and to the extent that we choose not to say yes to communicating this message well then not only do we miss out on the fullness of life that we’ve been created for, but the body of Christ the Church. Think now of your spouse sitting right next to you, your children, your parents, your siblings, your family, your friends, your classmates, your teammates, your co-workers, well they miss out on experiencing that particular communication of Christ’s love as well.  In a word, that’s vocation.  More fully, our calling to share in a unique and unrepeatable way in the life and love of Jesus Christ.

You know when I felt the seeds of this calling in my own life?  Well in hindsight it was already at the age of 5 or 6. So, just a little background I’m not 44 years old, born and raised Catholic in Topeka, KS I’m the youngest of two and it was at my home parish already at the age of 5 or 6 that I can honestly say that I first felt the seeds of this calling.  It was nothing more than finding myself sitting in the first five rows at Mass every Saturday night with my family looking over time at the priest and recognizing at least two things. First, that this man’s life was obviously about something greater than himself. You know I joke with people, any guy who is willing to stand up in front of a bunch of people and put on what basically amounts to a dress week in, week out, that man’s life has to be about something greater than himself and second, that people were looking to him week in and week out for leadership, for guidance, especially when it came to spiritual things.  Now could I say at that young age that I knew then that I wanted to be a Catholic priest? Absolutely not, but I did know at that young age that I wanted to be like him. I wanted my life to be about something greater than myself and I wanted to be a leader. Only later in life and through a series of events would God reveal to me that this desire of mine would find its fulfillment in leading other people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest. Well that was around age 5 or 6. Apparently something happened over the course of the next 3-4 years that when I was around the age of 9 or 10 and my aunt asked me if I’d ever thought about being a priest my answer to her was, ‘Nope.  I think I’d rather get a real job.’ I don’t recall this conversation, but everybody in my family certainly does. The reality behind my answer, although I grew up in a family that was devout in practicing our Catholic faith, what I would say I did not grow up in back in the 80’s and 90’s was what I would call a culture of vocation that is one that actually encouraged and taught me how to discern my vocation in Jesus Christ. Parents, when you’re talking to your kids about their future, it’s not enough to ask them what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not even enough to tell them what you think they should be when they grow up, no you’ve got to ask them what they think GOD is calling them to be when they grow up.  First of all, it makes them realize that God is real and they need to be in communication with this God if they’re ever gonna find the answer to that question. Now much like today, the majority of the voices telling me how to live my life and promising me what would make me happy were just like they are for our young people today and for all of us were coming from our culture and from our world, so when it came to sports I played nearly all of them growing up and I was deceptively good enough at them that they consumed most of my energy and time and sadly they became my identity. If you go out to T-Bones stadium this summer for the Pitching with Priests, you’ll see that I haven’t completely let go of that identity. When it came to relationships as I grew older so too did my interest naturally in dating and because of this like so many young people I think I just kind of defaulted into thinking that one day or someday I would marry some beautiful woman and have an amazing family.  Well how easy it is for me now to look back on my life and realize that that was obviously a time that I was delusional. As to what it meant to be an authentic father, husband and man, well let’s just say that I too found myself influenced and formed in a lot of negative ways by the same lies that our world and culture continue to throw at us today and because of this for the longest time like so many men and so many young men I was never really growing up at all nor was I growing in a life of virtue that would free me to say yes to any vocation that God would one day call me to, let alone detach myself enough from the many worldly pleasures and pursuits that I could actually communicate God’s love to another and finally when it came to my faith even though as I said earlier my family was devout and even though I myself never stopped going to Mass even throughout my collegiate years at the end of the day I never really engaged my faith or took ownership of it either. That’s to say that I never really engaged in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Well two really big events happened in my life that would begin to change the direction or lack of direction that I was heading in both of which took place shortly after I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1998 with a degree in Graphic Design.  That first event was my mom’s sudden and unexpected death on the morning of February 11th, 1999 just two months after I had graduated college when she was in a car accident on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Suffice it to say at a time when I was just transitioning into the ‘real world’ her death caused me to step back and ask myself at least two questions: First, what is life all about in general, but second, what is my life and my faith all about specifically in relationship to what my mom’s life and faith had been all about.  As you might imagine through this event I came to realize in a very personal way just how short and how precious life is and second, through my mom’s life and faith just how much one person’s faith lived well holds the power to impact the lives of so many others.  So it kind of makes this weekend beautiful as I share my vocation story, it gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the gift of my mom’s life, faith and vocation and how that continues to impact my vocation even to this day, but also to take this opportunity to thank every woman and mother here both biological and spiritual for the gift of your vocation and the gift of your vocation and the gift of your motherhood.  We know that the women in our lives are often the ones who most devoutly become the heralds of the faith in our family.

You know parents, never underestimate the influence that you hold in the lives of your children.  Trust me when I tell you they’re listening to your every word, they’re watching your every action and for better or worse, there is no replacement for you as primary educators of your children in all things, but especially when it comes to the faith.

Well the second event in my life happened two years later and to this day I describe it as the event which made me realize the eternal importance of my saying yes to my own personal vocation.  So about two years after graduating college I began dating a woman who no more than three weeks into our relationship revealed to me that she was agnostic. Now for those of you who don’t know what it means to be agnostic, it simply means that this person has arrived at a point in their life when they no longer think it is even possible to know whether God exists or not and so they choose to live their life as if God does not exist.  You see this girl had lost her fiance several years earlier just a few months prior to the scheduled date of their wedding when he unexpectedly collapsed and died from a heart attack while playing tennis. Needless to say it was easy to see how this even cause her to lose faith in God. Well after finding out that I had experienced a similar loss in my own life and discovering that losing my mom actually led to a deeper faith in God, one night with a sincere heart as if wanting to be able to believe again herself she turned to me and she asked me the following question.  She simply said, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ That’s a really good question to ask yourself. Young people you have every right on the way home from church today to turn to your parents and say, ‘Mom, Dad, can you answer that question for me? Why do you believe in God’ But then realize that they have every right to turn back to you and say, ‘Well why do you believe in God?’ What would your answer be at this point in your life if someone that you truly cared about who was struggling with their faith came to you with that question? Do you think you would have a good answer?  Well I can tell you from my own experience at least on that night and at that point in my life the answer that I had for this young woman was not and let me jsut say that her question coupled with my inability to answer it convincingly became the lowest and most grace filled moment of my life because I felt like I had let both her and God down. I tell people it was like I wasn’t able to tell her why my best friend, Jesus Christ, was my best friend and of course therein lied the problem. Even though I was going to church on a regular basis and going through the motions of my Catholic faith, it was obvious that what I was doing Monday through Saturday that Jesus Christ was not truly my best friend, so from that moment on the search for an answer to her question became a very personal one to me.  I tell people that in that moment, boom, my life became about something bigger than myself. I can honestly say that my sole motivation became leading her within that relationship no longer to myself, but back to God and Jesus Christ which if you think about it makes perfect sense because that’s what’s going to be at the heart of any and every vocation that God calls us to. Here’s the rude awakening, your vocation is not about you.  Your vocation is about dying to self and rising in Christ in a way that you lead the people that he’s put in your life back to him and ultimately to Heaven.  

So I began reading countless apologetics titles and meeting with my parish priest on a regular basis hoping to find what I thought would be the answer to her next question, but here’s the really cool thing that happened over the course of that search which lasted for the better part of two years, the more I came to learn about the beauty, the depth, the richness and the truth found within our Catholic faith, there soon existed a motivation far outside that hope.  I tell people I went into that friendship seeking a relationship with a woman and I came out of it having fallen in love with and desiring to enter more fully each day into a relationship with both Jesus Christ and His Church and it was through this search which is life long and still very much going on for me today, but I now understood better why I believed why I believe and the rest as they say is HIS story. In hindsight I’m able to see how God used this one encounter as a means to reawaken and deepen my desire to answer a calling that He had placed on my heart already at the age of 5 or 6 and over the next eight years God would use this momentum as a means to help the seed continue to grow and to my understanding and desire to lead people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest.  As I continued to study and learn more about my faith, if you’re not already doing this now, sign up for one faith formation program every year here at Church of the Ascension. It’s a six week to ten week commitment, a bible study, a young adult prayer group, whatever that is. As I grew in virtue through a life of prayer and more frequently receiving the sacraments, you know the grace of God is real, but it’s only real for us to the extent that we avail ourselves to that grace. It’s not out of reach to say everyone here should be going to confession at least once a month to remain in right relationship with God and to continue to have the grace to live a life in virtue. As our Gospel reminds us on this Good Shepherd Sunday the voice of Christ is real as well so that means prayer. Jesus Christ’s voice is real, but we have to make and take the time to create the silence within our lives so that we can come to know that voice, hear that voice, trust that voice, and follow it daily in our lives especially in Eucharistic Adoration.  The next thing I did was I surrounded myself or was surrounded by other young adults who were striving to live the same kind of life of holiness. You know I don’t hesitate to tell young people, but really the message could be for all of us, if you’re currently surrounding yourself with people who are not leading you to Jesus Christ, it’s time to get new friends because it’s not a stretch to say that they’re leading you to Hell and as I became more and more involved in the Church by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy until finally in the fall of 2009 I found myself not only free, but now actually wanting to say ‘yes’ to God’s call to enter the seminary and discern a call to the priesthood something that when I was younger because I did not know God because I never trusted God in a way that I was actually open and willing to pursuing His plan for my life I never could imagine would be a life that would make me happy. Well how happy I now am to stand before you four years as a priest and admit how wrong I then was.

So I began reading countless apologetics titles and meeting with my parish priest on a regular basis hoping to find what I thought would be the answer to her next question, but here’s the really cool thing that happened over the course of that search which lasted for the better part of two years, the more I came to learn about the beauty, the depth, the richness and the truth found within our Catholic faith, there soon existed a motivation far outside that hope.  I tell people I went into that friendship seeking a relationship with a woman and I came out of it having fallen in love with and desiring to enter more fully each day into a relationship with both Jesus Christ and His Church and it was through this search which is life long and still very much going on for me today, but I now understood better why I believed why I believe and the rest as they say is HIS story. In hindsight I’m able to see how God used this one encounter as a means to reawaken and deepen my desire to answer a calling that He had placed on my heart already at the age of 5 or 6 and over the next eight years God would use this momentum as a means to help the seed continue to grow and to my understanding and desire to lead people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest.  As I continued to study and learn more about my faith, if you’re not already doing this now, sign up for one faith formation program every year here at Church of the Ascension. It’s a six week to ten week commitment, a bible study, a young adult prayer group, whatever that is. As I grew in virtue through a life of prayer and more frequently receiving the sacraments, you know the grace of God is real, but it’s only real for us to the extent that we avail ourselves to that grace. It’s not out of reach to say everyone here should be going to confession at least once a month to remain in right relationship with God and to continue to have the grace to live a life in virtue. As our Gospel reminds us on this Good Shepherd Sunday the voice of Christ is real as well so that means prayer. Jesus Christ’s voice is real, but we have to make and take the time to create the silence within our lives so that we can come to know that voice, hear that voice, trust that voice, and follow it daily in our lives especially in Eucharistic Adoration.  The next thing I did was I surrounded myself or was surrounded by other young adults who were striving to live the same kind of life of holiness. You know I don’t hesitate to tell young people, but really the message could be for all of us, if you’re currently surrounding yourself with people who are not leading you to Jesus Christ, it’s time to get new friends because it’s not a stretch to say that they’re leading you to Hell and as I became more and more involved in the Church by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy until finally in the fall of 2009 I found myself not only free, but now actually wanting to say ‘yes’ to God’s call to enter the seminary and discern a call to the priesthood something that when I was younger because I did not know God because I never trusted God in a way that I was actually open and willing to pursuing His plan for my life I never could imagine would be a life that would make me happy. Well how happy I now am to stand before you four years as a priest and admit how wrong I then was.

You know I mentioned earlier that I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from the University of Kansas in 1998 and so for ten years God blessed me with the opportunity to use my gifts and talents as a designer to work on some pretty amazing projects in the context of an albeit short, but pretty amazing career.  My job as a graphic designer was to communicate and tell a story within the context of designing museums, visitor centers, and hall of fames all across the country. The first project that I was blessed to work on was the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery Alabama and I actually was blessed to meet Rosa Parks at the opening of that museum in 2001.  The last project that I was blessed to work on, as many of you already know, was to be the lead designer for the Kansas City Royals Baseball Hall of Fame out at Kauffman Stadium. Well prior to completing this project I found myself alongside the director to the hall of fame walking around an empty Kauffman Stadium just a few weeks prior to opening day and as we looked around all the renovations and in the words of the Book of Genesis ‘saw that it was all very good’ my attention was quickly drawn to the new scoreboard now located in center field.  For those of you who have been out to a ballgame you know that the top of that new scoreboard was and still is a gold crown. Who wears a crown but a king? So in the silence of that stadium while looking at that scoreboard God placed the following question on my heart. He said, ‘Danny’ because that’s what he calls me as his son, he said ‘who is your king?’ And as he turned my attention to look around at the newly renovated stadium as well as thinking about a lifetime of being able to use those gifts that He himself had given me to work on such projects he said, ‘Is it all of this or is it me?  Will you finally say yes and trust that the life that I have planned for you in leading others to Jesus Christ as a Catholic priest will bring you the greatest fulfillment, happiness, and peace?’ I remember handing in my letter of resignation to the firm I was working for at the time and after thanking them there were only a few lines which read just as this, ‘For the past ten years I’ve been blessed to work on many amazing projects that have allowed me to use my gifts as a graphic designer to communicate many different stories to the world. At this point in my life I truly do not feel like I am changing what God is calling me to do.  I feel God still calling me to use those same talents passions and gifts to tell a story. The only difference, I will now be telling His story, the Gospel story with my whole life God willing as a Catholic priest and ironically that has become and still is my lifelong answer to that young woman’s question then ten years earlier. It’s what the Church calls evangelization, witness to Jesus Christ with the entirety of our lives is the most convincing answer we can ever give to anyone as to what we believe, why we believe and why we continue to put our faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ in His Church especially in the midst of difficult times.  In fact this is what the whole season of Easter that we now find ourselves in is all about. It’s why our first reading all throughout this season of Easter all comes from ACTS of the Apostles. Like Paul and Barnabas in our first reading today, our initial and ever deepening encounter with the risen Christ can not but result in our finally coming to act upon that relationship and become that light and instrument of salvation that our world so desperately needs today.
So, I’ll end with this funny story which means you have to laugh at the end of it, so after my boss who thank God was Catholic read my letter of resignation he slid it back across his desk, he looked up at me and he had this little smile on his face and he simply said, ‘We wish you the best.  We have no counter-offer for that.’ You know we laugh and it’s funny, but he could not have said truer words in that moment because there is no counter-offer that can ever come close to matching the offer and life that Jesus Christ has prepared for both you and me. Brothers and sisters in Christ, especially all the young people gathered here, this is our vocation, this is our calling.  Would that all of us come to see ourselves as the unique and unrepeatable messages that we are in Christ Jesus and together as the Body of Christ to unapologetically go forth to communicate this message to the world by the way that we live our lives each day as saints.  I promise, as your new vocation director, if all of us commit ourselves to doing this, then we will have all the vocations to the priesthood, consecrated religious life, sacramental married life and heroic single life that the Church and the world will ever need.”