Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 10, 2017

In keeping with the observation of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Austin, as well as the centennial of the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Bishop Joe Vasquez has decided, upon recommendation of the Priests’ Council, to mark the occasion with the dedication of the Diocese of Austin to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are doing so this Sunday, December 10.
What is this???? It is certainly not anything I would have thought of doing. It is a type of action more popular in the past, especially prior to Vatican Council II, but not so much in recent times. Indeed, in my nearly 40 years of priesthood have I never run across a dedication of a parish, organization, or diocese to Mary or any other saint. So it seems, at least to me, a bit odd and rather unusual. So what is it?
It is first of all a prayer. A rather long prayer, but still a prayer. This prayer, printed in our worship aid, will be prayed at each Mass this weekend. You are free, and indeed encouraged, to use the prayer for yourself and your family in your home.
It is also a pledge or commitment. By dedication of our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary we are pledging ourselves to strive to act more in accordance with the Will of God, as Mary did. She becomes our example in how to live. Especially in the section that states: “Assist us to defend the sanctity of marriage and the family. Teach us to preserve and nurture the dignity of every human being as children of God.” We are hereby committing ourselves to act in certain ways, fostering the dignity of every human being.
It is an expression of hope. As we pray “Awaken in each of us a desire to draw ever closer to your beloved Son” we are expressing our desire to live more and more as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, with Mary as our spiritual mother.
Finally, it is a reminder. This dedication is an opportunity to remind us our special relationship to Jesus and to His Mother Mary. It is therefore a reminder that we are called and empowered to be, and to live, as the children of God. 

In these ways, the dedication of our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary makes sense, but ONLY if we live it out.

Monday, December 11, 2017

HOMILY Second Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 10, 2017

Today in the Gospel we meet the strange and wild character of John the Baptist.  He is dressed funny: wearing a camel’s hair suit and a leather belt.  Some of you may have a camel hair jacket.  I have a leather belt.  John’s culinary tastes are even stranger: he dines on locusts and wild honey”.   
          But what is most intriguing is his location, where John is at.   Mark tells us John the Baptist appeared in the desert.”     The desert?  What desert?   The Negev?  The Sahara?  The Mohave or Sonoran desert?    Mark just tells us “the desert”. 
          John appears proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
That is the clue to the desert where John appears. 
          It is not a physical desert, not any desert you will find on a globe or on a map, a desert where life struggles because of a lack of water, like we have seen in droughts in Texas.  That kind of desert is bad enough.  But the desert where John appears is far, far worse, and much, much closer to us: in our own hearts.  Because, this is a spiritual desert: a dry, barren waste, where life struggles because of a lack of spirit, of justice, of forgiveness, of love. 
          Wherever there are dry, barren, hard places in our heart, places that are empty of life and love, that is the desert where John the Baptist appears.
It is a desert of hard, barren earth made sterile by bitterness, by envy, by prejudice and pride.  It is a land filled with the scorpions of lust, the prickly cacti of revenge and hate, and snakes full of the venom of greed and hard-heartedness.  It is a barren waste lacking in honesty and integrity,  chastity, and honor; where virtue is all dried up and listless, like dead, dried-up bones on the sand. 
          It is that desert where torture is acceptable as a means of national policy;  where services for the poor, the sick and the elderly are cut while the expenditures on armaments grow and fester;  where cheating is considered normal;  where lying is usual and common;  where other people become objects to be used;  where the stranger and the foreigner are seen as a threat.
          It is the wasteland where gossip is sought and prized; where greed and consumerism are extolled; where indifference and self-centeredness are the order of the day.    Indeed it is a barren, lifeless, onerous place.
          It is into this desert, the desert in our hearts, that John the Baptist appears, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
          In this Advent, right here and now, John the Baptist appears in your heart.  LISTEN!  Do you hear it?    “A voice of one crying out in the desert:  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." !!!      .John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   
          Repentance is like a life-giving spring in the middle of the desert, refreshing, soothing, healing, bringing life and joy.  Repentance cracks the hard soil of indifference and fear, and allows life to grow again in integrity, compassion, generosity, service and love.
          That is what we look for:  what our deepest, truest selves yearn for.   St. Peter in our 2nd reading today instructs us:  “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”    
          No longer a desert, no longer a barren wasteland, our hearts will be “ a new heavens and a new earth,”  blooming and fruitful with righteousness.   St Peter urges us:  
“Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”
          Repentance and conversion are how we prepare for the coming of the Lord.   Not at some time in distant ages or in some exotic land far away, but here, now, right inside us. 
His coming will be glorious, for the dry, barren places in our hearts will then blossom with righteousness and joy!  

Maranatha!   Come, Lord Jesus!  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirty Third Sunday in Ord Time Cycle A November 19, 2017

We just heard this long Gospel.   Do you like it?   What do you think? 
          I don’t much care for it.  It kind of frightens me.  The reason is more that I have to preach on this Gospel, and I think it can be very easily mistaken to sound like you need to earn your salvation;  you need to show a profit and that salvation is a reward for works righteousness. 
          You worked hard, invested yourself wisely, made a profit, SO….. welcome to the Kingdom of God.  OR You didn’t work hard and showed no profit, like the third servant, and so then you are thrown into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
          One could, rather easily I think, mistake this Gospel for an endorsement of salvation by works.  And that is a heresy called “Pelagianism”.    And especially  here in Texas, where we have a respect for people who earn their own way and pull themselves us by their bootstraps, that sense of self-sufficiency can subtly carry over into wanting to earn our own salvation. 
          But being a Paulist, I have a concern for St Paul’s insistence that salvation is a free gift, that ALL is grace, that we are saved not by our goodness but by God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, which makes us good.   And I fear I could end up preaching a homily exhorting you to strive to do good and invest your talents well, which I think is NOT the real point of this Gospel.
          I think the key to understanding the Gospel is FEAR.
The third servant fails to act out of fear.  Over and over again in the Scriptures, fear is the enemy.   The most repeated injunction in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.”  Fear is the enemy.
          The first two servants act with confidence, boldness, daring, risk-taking, and they make a profit.  They do not act out of fear.
          I really would like to re-write this Gospel and introduce a fourth servant.  And let’s say he gets three-and-a-half talents, so we can distinguish him from the others.  And this three-and-a-half talent servant went off and invested his talents just like the first two.  And he acted with the same boldness and the same intelligence as the first two, BUT his investments did not turn out.  Through no fault of his own, but due rather to something way beyond his control - a natural disaster, a foreign war, a blight on the crops - something he had nothing to do with and could not foresee, he lost the entire three-and-a-half talents.  He is broke.
          How would the master judge him?  Because as everyone who owns stocks knows, not every investment succeeds.  And sometimes it is due to circumstances beyond our control.  However, this three-and-a-half talent servant showed all the same gumption and ability to take a risk that the five and the two talent guys showed.  So how would the master judge him?
          I would argue that the Master, gruff and tough demanding curmudgeon that he is, would still praise this three-and-a-half talent servant for his industry and engagement.  He was involved in life.
          You see the real enemy is not loss, but fear.  Fear paralyzes us just as it paralyzed that one talent fellow. 

          Stinginess is a type of fear, that immobilizes and freezes us up.   Greed does the same thing.  Racial prejudice, homophobia and dislike of immigrants and refugees is a type of fear.  Self-centeredness is fear.  And all that stops us from investing the gifts, the talents, the compassion, the concern, the love we have is FEAR.  
          The one talent servant is not condemned because he failed to make a profit, but because he acted out of FEAR. 
          Over and over again the Scriptures tell us, DO NOT BE AFRAID.
          Today we have a very special second collection:  for the Campaign for Human Development.  There are those in the church and in society who are afraid of this collection, afraid of the effort to lift up dis-advantaged people and help them become self-sufficient, self-determining, and contributing members of society.  It is a shame.  I ask you to overcome fear and respond generously to our second collection today.
          We cannot be afraid.  We have been given great gifts in faith, in the promise of salvation in Jesus, and in the knowledge of God’s love for us.  {{At this Mass we welcomed Majida into the Catechumenate, and Zachary, Clayton, Payton, Michael and Ryan we welcomed into the process of becoming Roman Catholic.}} 
We need not to tell them, but rather to show them, how not to live in fear.

          We show our faith by acts of hope and charity.  Use the gifts you have been given.  Do not be afraid.