Monday, August 14, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 6, 2017

We have some important liturgical celebrations this week. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. This Feast goes back to the 5th century where it was celebrated in Syria, a country that is now in serious need of transfiguration. The Feast, however, was not added to the liturgical calendar of the universal church until 1457, when Pope Calistus III had the Transfiguration added to commemorate the victory of Christian forces against the Turks at the siege of Belgrade. Pope Calistus (or Calixtus) had worked diligently to organize a crusade to stop the invading Turks. He was also the Pope responsible for the re-trail and exoneration of St. Joan of Arc. She had originally been condemned as heretic in a trumped-up trial by the English after her capture. So today would be a good day to pray for improvement of Muslim-Christian relations. We worship the same God, and both claim Abraham as our father.
Tuesday, we get to honor the Dominicans as we celebrate the Feast of their founder, St. Dominic. 
Wednesday is the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known by her civilian name of Edith Stein. Born Jewish, she became inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, was baptized, and eventually entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites. Because of the Nazi persecution of Jews, she was moved to a convent in Holland, but during the Nazi occupation of Holland she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered on August 9, 1942. 
On Friday, we have a chance to honor the Franciscans as we celebrate the Feat of St. Clare, disciple and follower of St. Francis of Assisi, and founder of the Poor Clares.
But I want to focus on the Saint we celebrate on Thursday, St. Lawrence, and primarily he was a deacon. During the persecution of the Emperor Valerian in 258, Lawrence was arrested by the Romans. The Romans knew enough about Christianity to know that the deacons were the ones who handled all the finances of the church, because the deacons administered charity to the poor. So the Romans told Lawrence to go out and collect all the treasures of the church and bring them back in three days’ time. When the time elapsed, Lawrence showed up with a crowd of elderly, lame, sick, poor people. “Where are the treasures of the church?” the Roman authorities demanded, looking for silver and gold and rich vestments. Lawrence pointed to the crowd of the sick and poor people and said, “These are the treasures of the church.” That, of course, only angered the Romans, and so they executed Lawrence in a very dreadful way, by roasting him on a gridiron. 
Anyway, I would like to make two points about this. First of all, would that we could see the people we help through St. Vincent de Paul Society and through our Thursday Outreach program, through Casa Marianella and St. Louise House and Mary Catholic Worker House, and all the charitable organizations we support, not as burdens or drains on our charity, but truly as treasures of the church. And secondly, to note that St. Lawrence was not a priest or bishop, but a permanent deacon. In the early church, the diaconate was an important position in the church structure. Many historians believe that the diaconate fell out of favor because the deacons were so important and so powerful, controlling the money. In the Middle-Ages, the power struggle over who controlled the money between the priests and the deacons led to the suppression of the permanent diaconate. The priests won. 

But one of the many wonderful things Vatican Council II did was re-institute the permanent diaconate. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of the re-institution of the permanent diaconate in the church. And a great boon to the church this has been, especially in this country. So as you pray on Thursday, pray in thanksgiving for the return of the permanent diaconate to our church, and pray for more men to take up this service to the people of God.   

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A August 13, 2017

In our second reading today, from St Paul to the Romans, St Paul reveals that he has a problem.  He states: “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; … that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.”   A bit melodramatically St Paul even states: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ..”  WHY?   “… for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
          You see, many of St. Paul’s own people, that is, the Jews, or “Israelites” as St. Paul calls them, did not recognize, nor believe in, Jesus as the Messiah.  They did not have faith.  And this upset St. Paul.
          We may not be quite so melodramatic as was St. Paul, but still, plenty of believers do have sorrow and anguish in their hearts for the sake of their own people, their kindred according to the flesh, who do not practice any religion.  Many of us have siblings, or parents, or children, or a spouse, or good friends and neighbors, who have no interest in religion.  They often are not hostile to religion, but they have no felt need for the benefits of religion, and no interest in participating in any religious activity.
          Many parents have the regret, the heartache, of having striven to give a good example of living the faith to their children, of sending them to Catholic School or to religious education, of driving them to Confirmation classes, dragging them to church every Sunday, only to have the child cease any religious activity, except maybe for Christmas and Easter with the parents, once the child is on their own and able to make their own decisions. 
          Often, these loved ones are not mad or angry or hostile to the church and religion.  It is just that they have no felt need for what we offer.  And for those of us who do find joy and peace and a sense of purpose and meaning in our religion, it is a great sorrow that those we love apparently do not experience these graces. 
          And so we can identify with St. Paul in his “great sorrow and constant anguish in (his) heart.”  
          I believe however that we can take some consolation from our first reading today.  I find it a mysterious but attractive reading.  The Prophet Elijah has gone to the mountain of God, Horeb.  This is the exact same mountain where Moses received the tablets of the Law, Mt. Sinai.  Mt Sinai and Mt Horeb are two names for the same place, like “Town Lake” and “Lady Bird Lake” are two names for the same body of water, which is really the Colorado River.   
          What was Elijah doing way down there in the Sinai Peninsula?  // He was running for his life!  He had angered the wicked queen Jezebel, and she was out to have him killed.  So he ran.  And Mt. Horeb – Mt. Sinai is where he was hiding out.  By this time Elijah is tired, afraid, disgusted, dejected and ready to give up.  So God is going to strengthen Elijah by revealing God’s presence to Elijah. 

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind. 
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire. 
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. 
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak.

[Pause]    Perhaps some of our loved ones who seem to not have the gift of Faith are looking in all the wrong places:  in the heavy, rock-crushing wind; in earthquakes; in fire; and in other spectacular and dramatic signs and events.  But that is not where Elijah experienced God, and often that is true for us and our loved ones as well.
          We find God rather in the tiny whispering sound.  The sound of our own longings and desires, the subtle sound of our greatest hopes that we are afraid even to admit; of the impossible dream of a universe that is not only intelligent and purposeful but that loves us deeply and dearly, of an infinite destiny where Love is all. 
          That “tiny whispering sound” is often our lived example.  Not dramatic, flashy, attention-grabbing Bible waving and Hosanna-shouting, but our example of quiet, consistent, faithful living witness.
And when they are ready, they will hear.

          God bless!  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 23, 2017

This coming Wednesday, July 26, is the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. They are the reputed parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so are the grandparents of Jesus. Sts. Joachim and Anne are not mentioned in the Bible, but they are mentioned in an early Christian work with the infelicitous title of The Protoevangelium of James. This was a popular work, written around the year 150, in the form of a gospel.  (There were many gospels such as of Peter, of Jude, of Mary Magdalene, etc. that floated around for several centuries, but were not included in the Bible. Many of these had strains of a heresy called Gnosticism.) In any case, The Protoevangelium of James provided all sorts of details about the early life of Mary and of Jesus, many that still inform our Christmas traditions today. You can read this document for yourself (an English translation that is) at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm. But I digress.
Jesus also had grandparents on Joseph’s side as well. They never played much of a part in Christian imagination about the young Jesus, perhaps because traditionally Joseph was a widower and an old man when he married Mary, and so his parents were presumably already deceased. St. Matthew in his gospel gives us the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph, and tells us that Joseph’s father was named Jacob (Mt 1:16). Jacob may not have as much of a role in popular Christian imagination as that of Mary’s father, Joachim, but at least Jacob got mentioned in the Bible. 
On the other hand St. Luke gives us a genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, which is quite a feat of record-keeping! St. Luke lists Joseph’s father, Jesus’ grandpa, not as Jacob as St Matthew does, but as Heli (Lk 3:23). Are Jacob and Heli the same guy? If not, then they cannot both be the father of St. Joseph, and in that case, either Luke or Matthew was mistaken. Since there were no DNA paternity tests in those days, we will have to wait to find out. But the identity of St. Joseph’s father doesn’t really matter to our salvation, so I would not lose any sleep over it. 
Neither St. Matthew nor St. Luke bothers to mention St. Joseph’s mother. Another case of blatant patriarchy. 
In any case, I think it is a good idea to remember, pray for, and thank our grandparents when we celebrate the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday. There is an official Grandparents Day, which is the Sunday after Memorial Day, this year September 10, but I always wonder if this is not something thought up and promoted by greeting card companies. I think the religious feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne is a more fitting time to appreciate and thank our grandparents, and indeed all our forbearers. Some of them may have been less than stellar characters. Remember that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and he was an adulterer and murderer. Every family closet has at least a few skeletons hiding in the corners. Nonetheless, we would not be here if it were not for our ancestors, so as we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday, let us also remember, pray for, and give thanks for all our ancestors.