Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!


Today we celebrate the wonder of the Incarnation, the Mystery of God become flesh, of God loving us so much God even became one of us. I sincerely wish you a very Merry Christmas!

God Bless,


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 23


After much preparation, shopping, decorating, baking, mailing and hopefully a little praying, Christmas is just about here. Perhaps you are filled with a sense of joyful expectation, happy that Christmas is just around the corner. Perhaps you are feeling a little tired after all the exertion, a bit spent after all the holiday cheer and parties, a bit down or even depressed by the relentless expectation to be up and full of holiday cheer and “Ho, ho, ho” ad infinatum. Perhaps the terrible tragedy at Newton, Connecticut has you upset and disturbed. Maybe the inane drama of the “fiscal cliff” has you aggravated to distraction. Maybe it all has you down or upset.  That is entirely understandable. But you can still celebrate Christmas. Because for us Christians, Christmas is not about an emotion but about Faith.

As I stated in this column last Christmas: Many people do not feel merry. Many have lost loved ones around the holidays, and so the celebration is always mixed for them with a certain measure of sadness. My Mother died on December 21 five years ago, and so the holiday is always touched with a certain sense of loss and sadness. Others have problems with living family members or friends – over inheritances, or marriage, or any variety of issues – that lead to painful separations:  separations that are made all the more sharp and cutting by the holiday season when there is so much emphasis on family and togetherness, which they are so pointedly missing. Still others are separated from loved ones by war or work or illness or physical distance, and feel sharply the longing for those not present.

But for Christians, Christmas is not primarily about feeling, but about FAITH. Unlike office or most other Christmas parties, where it largely depends on your feelings and mood, for Christians we are not focused on “feeling Christmassy,” but rather on believing in God’s love for us made flesh; namely Jesus.

One of the great things about liturgy is that its success or failure does not depend on our feelings. We don’t have to feel a certain way for the liturgy to work. It is certainly nice to feel joyful and happy at the Christmas celebration, but it is much more important to believe in what is being celebrated. When we do summon up our faith in the preposterous belief that God became a helpless baby, and go through the motions of praying and praising and singing and worshipping, the feelings tend to follow along behind naturally.

So if you are not feeling particularly happy or joyful or merry this Christmas, if you are worried to distraction about your job or the economy, are disappointed because your children behave selfishly and badly, if you are estranged from your siblings, or your life seems stuck and going nowhere, or if you are missing a loved one like I am missing my Mom, or you are just overwhelmed by the fluster of activity and commercial craziness of the season, that really is all right. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. You do not need to apologize for or be embarrassed by those feelings. More importantly, they will not stop Christmas from happening.

I dare say that on the first Christmas, more than 2,000 years ago, the great majority of people were hungry, frightened, cold, sick, worried, oppressed, hurting in some way. It did not matter. Christmas happened nonetheless. In fact, that is the whole point of Christmas. It is God’s work, not ours. That is our faith.  

Merry Christmas! 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle C December 16, 2012


Would you like to hear some gossip?  Sure, why not?   So in the church in Phillipi there was a problem.  Two church ladies, both staunch pillars of the parish, well known and influential in the community, had a disagreement.  Now I know such an occurrence is exceedingly rare, but this sort of thing can happen.  The lady’s names were Euodia and Syntyche.  Now both were good women, dedicated to spreading the Gospel, but they had some sort of falling out, a difference of opinion, that was causing a problem for the church of Phillipi.   In fact a big enough of a stink so as to cause St. Paul to mention it in the verses immediately before our second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Paul wrote: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.”  In other words, get over it and move on. 
          Paul goes further and also asks one of his co-workers in Philippi to act as referee.  Paul wrote “Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate, (other translations have “comrade”) to help them, (meaning Euodia and Syntyche) for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  So obviously these ladies did more than serve tea, for St. Paul states that they struggled at his side in promoting the gospel.  They were missionaries or church leaders of some sort.  And so it was important for St. Paul that the two women get along, or at least “come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.”
          It is immediately following his dealing with this squabble that Paul continues with the passage we have as our second reading today: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” And so on. 
          I mention this little bit of the Phillipians’ “dirty laundry” to show that Paul’s optimistic and enthusiastic writing in our second reading is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, not some unrealistic fantasy, but is based in the day-to-day realities of living in community.  
          Not only did Paul have opposition from many of the Jews who rejected the New Way he preached, and not only did Paul have all the dangers and inconveniences of ancient travel, and not only did Paul have difficulties with the Roman authorities, Paul also had all the problems, divisions, squabbles, disagreements and arguments that every community is subject to, and he seemed to have it in all the churches he founded, and even with other Apostles.
          There was plenty of human reason for St Paul to be discouraged, disheartened, disgusted and even depressed.   But here he is recommending to us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” 
          The last sentence is the kicker.  It is Paul’s faith that the Lord is near that allows him to remain not just calm, but buoyant, optimistic, hopeful, positive, indeed joyful.    The Lord is near!   And for St Paul that is all that matters.  He knows that we are never going to find our way out of the mess that humanity has gotten itself into by moral reform or government action or economic development or scientific progress or academic excellence or artistic creativity or social development or any other human endeavor.  Paul knows that the only way out of the dead end of sin and death is through the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  And Paul knows that the Lord is near. 
          That is why St Paul confidently continues in our second reading:  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
          That is very good advice.   I urge you to take it to heart.  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The Lord is near!   AMEN.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 16


Shortly before Thanksgiving one of the younger Sunday Religious Education classes must have colored pictures of turkeys. I say this because as I was standing in the center aisle after Mass in my Mass vestments when a young man, about second grade or so, came up to me and gave me a drawing of a turkey brightly colored in orange and yellow and red, with his name in bold red letters on it. I was just about to compliment him on his fine rendition of a turkey when he announced with great assurance, “It is a phoenix!” I did not dispute this statement as he seemed pretty certain.

This got me to thinking. It certainly looked like a turkey to me. But just because it looked like a turkey, does that mean it really is a turkey? Was the creator of this picture able to see more deeply, below the colors and shape, to see the true essence of this creature, and was it in fact the noble phoenix? Perhaps this young man has a lesson to teach us.

Every day I meet people who seem to do silly or offensive or just dumb things. They walk too slow in front of me when I am trying to get somewhere in a hurry, they make sudden turns without using their turn indicators when driving, they take forever to find their wallet in the checkout line, and many more instances when, in my mind, I label them as “turkeys.” But even if they look or act like a turkey on the outside, if I could see more deeply, the way their Creator sees them, perhaps I would recognize that they really are phoenixes.

And that goes for myself as well. When I forget something, or trip on the sidewalk, or blurt out the wrong word, or clumsily drop something I then think of myself as a turkey. You  probably do, too. All day long we may see ourselves as turkeys, kind of dumb or klutzy or stupid, but if we could see more deeply, see us the way we were meant to be, see us as our final destiny will show us in resurrected glory, then we would see we are not turkeys at all, but genuine phoenixes.

So I thank that young man from our Religious Education program who gave me the picture of a phoenix that happens to resemble a turkey. And I try to remember that each of those turkeys out there is really, truly, a glorious phoenix.

God bless!

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

HOMILY 2ND Advent Cycle “C” December 9, 2012


                                                                                                            
 I’d like you to listen again to the beginning of today’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
     when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
     and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
     and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
     and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
     during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
     the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

The Gospel today begins very unusually.  Gospels usually begin in a very non-descript, amorphous sort of manner; with “at that time”, or “Jesus said to his disciples”, or some indefinite setting like that. But today we hear of these strange places and foreign sounding titles, of Tiberius Ceasar, tetrachs, of Ituraea and Trachonitis, of people named Lysanias and Caiaphas.  It can all seem very distant, and rather unreal, almost like listening to some legend or a fairy tale, another chapter in the Lord of the Rings.  I mean, when is the last time you saw a tetrarch, for crying out loud? 
But in fact, all these were real people, and rather hard-nosed, practical, politicians.  They were powerful, and often ruthless, leaders; men of action who knew how to get things done.  These were real people and real places, enmeshed in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day give-and-take of practical politics. 
Perhaps we would get a better sense of what the Gospel is telling us if we heard:
In the fourth year of the Presidency of Barrack Obama,
when Rick Perry was Governor of Texas,
and John Cornyn United States Senator,
and Lee Leffingwell Mayor of Austin , Julian Castro Mayor of San Antonio,
during the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI,
the word of God came to John in the desert.   

You see, St. Luke is taking care to situate this event squarely on the stage of world events, right smack in the middle of earthly wars, rulers, events and the 6 o’clock news.  This is not at all “once upon a time”, but rather a very definite and precise place and date. 
Now St. Luke has a particular theological reason why he wants the event of John the Baptist painted against the backdrop of world leaders and events, but I believe he is also making the point that the Word of God comes to us in our concrete daily lives.
It is in the real political, social, economic and cultural reality in which we find ourselves that God speaks to us.   It is not in the temple, nor in a synagogue that the Word of God comes to John, but out in the world, in the desert: a hard, difficult, uncomfortable place.  And so for us, we find God at work in our lives, not just in church, but also in the supermarket, at the work place, on the bus or while driving, with family and neighbors and friends and co-workers.  That is where you will find God.
So, let us look at our concrete historical, political, social, economic, cultural situation.  What is it like?  What do you see when you look around?  What do you see on the news?  What do you hear from your boss and co-workers?  What do you see on the street?  What do your kids and neighbors and friends say?  
Maybe you have an excellent job and things are going well for you.  Great!  Maybe your life is filled with disappointments and difficulties.  But for all of us, if you look at the larger issues, of state and nation and world, of the environment and the economy; it’s a mess!   The Middle East is falling apart in front of our eyes.  There are homeless all over the streets.  The economy is shaky and heading for the fiscal cliff.  We’ve just witnessed a super-storm hammer blow on the Northeast, while we continue to suffer from on-going drought.  And the Church, Oh boy!, don’t get me started.  In short, our situation is a mess.  We can feel like we are out in the desert.  So it was for John, son of Zechariah.  And that is where the Word of God came to him.
In response to this mess, we do something strange: we rejoice!  For example we just sang, in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy, we are filled with joy.”  Yeah, right! 
Sometimes I sit up there looking out at the congregation as we sing things like this: “we are filled with joy, we are filled with joy.”  And what I see sometimes doesn’t quite match what we are singing.  In other words, perhaps not everyone here is filled with joy.  In fact, if we brought in the Gallop organization, and did a poll of all of us here right now, I would be willing to bet that not even 50% of us are filled with joy.  Some days I wonder if we could get 5% to admit to that.  And yet we sing, “we are filled with joy!”   Why?
Because we believe the first half of the statement: “The Lord has done great things for us.”  Do we believe that?  Of course we do!  Why else would we be here? 
Well, a few of the younger among us may be forced to come by their parents, others have been drug along by their date or spouse, some others out of force of habit.  But most of us are here because we choose to be here: because we do believe that “The Lord has done great things for us.” 
Let’s get risky here.  How many here actually believe that?  If you believe that the Lord has done great things for you, raise your hand. 
GOOD!  The Lord has done great things for us.  We are getting ready to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, His own Beloved Son Jesus, at Christmas.  You can’t do better than that. 
God claims us as His own children, shows us the true meaning of life in His Son, and by His Son’s redemptive death and resurrection promises us eternal life, the fullness of life.  Not bad.  Hey,   It’s way better than any BLACK FRIDAY deal you stay up all night far.
And so in the midst of the mess that is our concrete situation in life, we struggle to believe the truly great things the Lord has done for us, and we try to open those creaky, rusty doors of our hearts to joy.  That is why in Advent we sing: “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to you Oh Israel.” 
Advent is a time to listen for the Word of God in the deserts of our life, in the tough and difficult and ornery places, to truly know that “The Lord has done great things for us;” and so to be “filled with joy”.  Happy Advent.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 9


This is the next installment in the occasional series on our church windows. We are now at the pair of windows between Station 12 and 13. These windows depict the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the left-hand panel as you face the window you see a white bird. This is a representation of the Holy Spirit, based on the passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel about the Baptism of Jesus: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him.” (3:16). The other Gospels have similar passages. Ever since the Holy Spirit has been represented as a white dove. You can see another representation of the Holy Spirit as a bird in the windows of the Mary Chapel.

Personally, I do not find the dove a very impressive symbol.  Pigeons are a type of dove after all, and don’t get me started on how I feel about pigeons. When I was pastor at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral we had to hire a special cleaning company to remove decades of accumulated pigeon poop in the church bell tower. They wore HazMat suits and had to take all kinds of environmental protection procedures. By the time we paid for the cleaning and repaired the damage the pigeon droppings had caused it came to $30,000! Hence, I am not a fan of pigeons or of doves generally for that matter.

Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as wind, and this is an image I find much more appealing. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:8)  Here in Central Texas we know that on a hot day a cooling breeze is most welcome, bringing refreshment and relief, and in difficult, contentious times in our life, the Holy Spirit can bring relief, refreshment and calm. However, we also know, from super-storm Sandy for example, that wind can be tremendously powerful, indeed irresistible. The Holy Spirit can also be a strong driving force in our lives, as well. So I find Jesus’ image of the Holy Spirit as wind to be much more compelling. Of course, it is difficult to depict the wind on a glass window, and this may be why artists prefer using the image of a dove.

In the right-hand panel we have yet another representation of the Holy Spirit. There are seven red items lined with white that look like a bunch of tulips. I believe these are the artist’s attempt to represent seven tongues of fire, such as descended on the disciples on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4). Thus St. Luke depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Why are there seven on this window? Why, for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit! I am certain you memorized the list of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit for your Confirmation, but if you have become a little rusty on that part, here for your edification are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (CCC 1845).

Finally there is a gold colored cross, which I take to represent the anointing with Chrism on the forehead in the sign of the cross. When the bishop confirms someone, he dips his thumb in the Chrism (olive oil with perfume that was consecrated during Holy Week) makes the sign of the cross on the          confirmation candidate’s head, and says “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is the heart of the conferral of Confirmation.

I hope this window will cause you to stop and reflect on your own Confirmation, on the gifts you received, and how well you put those gifts to use in your life now.

God bless!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 2


This Weekend we begin the holy season of ADVENT, which is the beginning of a new liturgical year. So “Happy New Year!” How are we to approach the season of Advent? Some writers will tell you that Advent is about “waiting,” both waiting for the Lord to come again in His triumphal Second Coming (especially in the readings at the beginning of Advent) and also waiting for celebrating His coming in the flesh at Christmas. 

Some time ago I lived in Manhattan in New York City. I was pastor of the Paulist Mother Church, St. Paul the Apostle, for eight and a half years. While I was there a frequent commercial on the TV had the line, “In New York, ‘WAIT’ is a four letter word,” and that is very true. New York is a place of hustle and bustle. Manhattan moves and moves quickly. If the light turns green and you do not immediately move your car then the drivers behind you will be honking their horns and cursing you in languages you did not even know existed. People walk quickly, always moving. Standing still seems unnatural to true denizen of Manhattan. They have places to go, things to do, people to see and they are on a tight schedule. If you should be so foolish as to try to shuffle along on the sidewalk you would be risking getting run over or pushed to the side. The last thing New Yorkers want to do is wait. Truly, in New York, WAIT is a four letter word.

Now I felt right at home in that situation. The best part of living in Manhattan for me was the forthright and assertive (some would say aggressive) style of driving that I enjoy. I am always trying to get a lot done and forever running short on time. I always felt (and still feel!) that I have important matters to attend to and things that needed to get done, and I did not want to waste time waiting. To this day, as Sr. Sharon can testify, I drive assertively because I am in a hurry and don’t want to waste time. In short, I hate to wait. 

Yet I like Advent because I don’t see Advent as being about waiting in the sense of a waste of time, of standing around twiddling your thumbs hoping something will happen; rather I see Advent in terms of expectancy and expectation. I think the best image of Advent is the pregnant Mary, waiting for the coming of the Christ Child, but also experiencing the thrill of pregnancy, the expectation of what this special child would be, the yearning of all the Prophets, the signs of growing           fulfillment towards the birth of this child. Mary was not just waiting. She was expecting, both as an expectant mother, and as a person of faith in the God of Israel. 

So I hope that for you Advent will not be about waiting. We wait for the celebration of Christmas, but we expect the coming of Christ in our hearts at Christmas, and the coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead at the end of time. Happy Advent! 

God bless,

 

Monday, November 26, 2012

HOMILY Feast of Christ the King November 24/25, 2012


          If you have seen the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy from a decade ago, you will know that the third and concluding portion was “The Return of the King”.  In this final part of the trilogy there is a battle of cosmic proportions, the evil ring is destroyed, good finally triumphs, peace and justice are restored, and the rightful king is established on his throne.  With the return of the King things are put right again, balance and harmony return, and justice flourishes.
          That is an image of what we are celebrating today.  For we too are awaiting the return of the King.  From the Book of Revelation we heard: “Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.
All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, " says the Lord God,
"the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."
          And from the Book of Daniel we heard: “the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
          We Christians are looking for the return and establishment of the world’s rightful ruler, for justice and peace to be finally and definitively established, for right to prevail over might, for the rights of the poor to be respected, for harmony and health and goodwill to flourish.  We eagerly await the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  We yearn for the return of the King. 
          This is basic to Christianity.  In the Creed which we will profess in just a few minutes we state: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
One of the earliest Christian prayers we have, in Jesus’ own Aramaic language, is Maranatha!  “O Lord, Come!” 
          Now the words we have today from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation are mythic language.  They tell us the truth about the meaning and import of Christ’s Kingship, and that it will be definitively established.  But this is not an literal description of a future historic event.  We don’t have the mental categories, much less the language, to be able to describe such an event.  But we don’t need to.  We know the meaning and the fact of the coming of God’s Kingdom, even if we don’t have a full description of the “how.”
          And this is important because this knowledge gives us hope.  In the grand cosmic struggle between good and evil, darkness and light, right and wrong, life and death, God wins.  In fact, in Christ Jesus, King of the Cosmos, God has already won.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the definitive triumph of God over sin, over death, over evil.  The issue is not in doubt.  Jesus is King.  But the full working out of His triumph has not yet occurred, and especially has not yet fully happened in my life nor in yours.  We still struggle against our frailties and sins to make Jesus the King of my life NOW.
          But this faith in Jesus the King does give us hope.  This hope is different from optimism.  Things may get worse before they get better.  Our leaders may, and probably will, mess it up.  We may, and probably will, give in to greed or fear or hate or lust or envy.  The power of sin is still very real.  But the ultimate victory is assured.  Because the victory does not depend on us; not on the skill and effectiveness of our political system, not on the brilliance of our universities, not on the productivity of our economy, not on the creativity of our artistic community, not on the might of our military, not even on the sanctity of our churches. 
          The victory depends on the King.  On Christ Jesus.  On the Cross.  And it is already won. 
          More importantly, He loves us.  Maranatha!   O Lord, Come!  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 25


This is Thanksgiving Day weekend, a time for shopping, overeating and football. Hopefully it is also a time of counting our blessings, so I want to take this opportunity to look at the experience of gratitude.

Gratitude is not so much a specific action like ‘thank you’ to someone as it is a mind-set, or better yet, a heart-set. It is an attitude, an approach to life. Gratitude is a fundamental awareness of having been blessed, and that makes a BIG difference. If we believe/sense/feel that God has been good to us in the past, and we trust that God is not some willy-nilly nit that is forever changing his divine mind or playing tricks, but rather that it is in God’s nature to be constant and faithful, then we can approach the future in trust rather than in fear. Trust in God’s goodness to us impels us to lead into life anticipating goodness, rather than holding back in caution and fear.

When we come to recognize that God blesses us, then we can be freed up to open ourselves in generosity, for we then do not have such a need to grasp and cling. After all, God is faithful and will continue to be good to us. As St. Paul tells us, “God who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:32) We have been given God’s own beloved Son! We can count on God’s continued blessing.

Gratitude leads to freedom and that leads us to more life. Generosity is generative, that is, life giving, and generosity is the result of gratitude. Stinginess and greed are sterile, a form of death, for they center on the self and do not lead to life. This clasping attitude comes from fear and a failure to recognize our blessedness.

As Christians we have been exorbitantly blessed by God. Indeed, I think one of the problems with the Christian message is that it is so wonderful that it is almost too good to be true. We are hesitant to accept that we have been so wildly and extravagantly loved by God. How are we to react to such overwhelming love?

There is an old song by the Damiens that captures the appropriate response in the song’s refrain: “And all that we can offer you is thanks, and all that we can offer you is thanks.”

As Christians we are called to be people of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!

God bless! 

 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 18

This week Fr. Robert Cary, CSP, is guest posting for Fr. Chuck's bulletin column!


Fr. Bob’s Occasional

Last month, October, was Respect Life Month. As Catholics we seek to respect and protect human life against what Pope John Paul II called a culture of death in our society that too readily accepts abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and war as the solutions to problems in society.

November is traditionally the month that we remember and pray for the deceased, those who have passed from this life to new life in the communion of saints. Remembering the dead and believing in their new life calls us to acknowledge and accept death as a part of life. As Christians we accept death with hope in our resurrection with Jesus Christ. So truthfully, November should be Respect Death month.

As humans, when we face serious illness, advanced age or imminent death, we can turn to certain guiding principles from scripture and Catholic tradition, but are also accessible to all persons as natural law. These principles are 1.) human dignity, 2.) duty to preserve life, 3.) fact of human finitude, 4.) the diversity of humans, and 5.) social nature of humans. Modern medicine provides us wonderful new technologies and treatments to help us preserve life, but medicine has limits and cannot postpone death forever. In addition, sometimes medical technologies and treatments intended to help actually hurt or burden persons under certain circumstance. What is our duty in caring for ourselves in such situations? What should be our loving and responsible actions for those we serve as caregivers?

Our Catholic tradition provides us very helpful guidelines in the Ethical and Religious Directives for healthcare givers (ERD). Depending upon the circumstances of a particular patient we respect his/her human dignity and unique nature and circumstancessome medical technologies and treatments may not be necessary to preserve human life and the patient can forego them. To the objection this seems like suicide or euthanasia the ERD would respond that foregoing these treatments, when they would provide little or no value to the patient or impose an excessive burden, is simply allowing a patient to die. Respecting life means respecting death when the times comes. As believers we allow the human person to move on to the next stage of their journey with God.

Our physical life is very important and we have a duty to preserve it, but it is not an absolute value. Our relationship with God our soulis absolute. As Christians we place a limited faith and hope in medicine. Our absolute faith and hope is in the resurrection. In faith and hope we respect death.

There will be a workshop, Tough Decisions, on Saturday, December 1 when this issue and related issues will be discussed. All are welcome. Bring your friends and relatives.

Fr. Bob Cary, CSP

 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 11


Happy Veterans Day! Our gratitude goes out to all veterans in our community: veterans of all the wars and conflicts in living memory, and those who helped preserve the peace in times of tension and conflict. Our gratitude cannot remain just a pleasant feeling but must be translated into concrete actions of support, especially for those physically, psychologically or emotionally wounded in the many conflicts of this century. Congratulations to you all! Thank you! Happy Veterans Day!

This coming week I will be at St Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. for the annual Paulist Pastors/Superiors meeting. This is a chance for the “middle management” of the Paulists to gather and get some updating. Last year we had an interesting presentation on our legal and moral responsibilities as managers for the use of parish and institutional internet and websites. We managers can be held responsible for illegal or inappropriate use of the internet in our organizations (parishes) if we have not stated that such use is not permitted. It seems like a no-brainer, but in this litigious society such is the case. The result was the inclusion of an “internet use policy” in our parish personnel handbook, which each employee signed. It is just part of all the wonderful aspects of being a modern pastor!

This year the presentation at the Pastors’ meeting will be by Dr. Marti Jewell, an assistant professor of theology in the School of Ministry at the University of Dallas. Her presentation will focus on reaching out to those who have left the Church and even more especially to those under 30 years of age. This is a big and growing problem in the United States. I hope I come back with some great suggestions to share with you. In this Year of Faith, with its theme “The Door of Faith is Always Open,” unfortunately the door swings both ways. Not only is the Door of Faith open to welcome everyone, too often it is open for people to leave the Church. In this country, for every person we bring into the Church through the RCIA, four others remove themselves. The most effective type of “New Evangelization” we could devise would be to stop loosing so many adherents.

Next weekend Austin hosts the first of the Formula One races to be held here. As I am sure you have heard, we are expecting MANY visitors to our city for this event, something like 300,000! I am avoiding the crowd by not attempting to fly back into Austin on the weekend after my meeting in D.C., but will stop to visit my family in St. Louis, Missouri and then return to Austin on Monday as the crowds are leaving.  However, for all of you I pray that you will have an easy time coming to church on Saturday or Sunday. Avoid downtown! Our garage will of course be open and available, so parking should not be any problem, and we are just far enough from downtown to avoid street closures and the brunt of the traffic. Therefore I encourage you to not be scared away from church next weekend. 

God bless!

 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 4



For the next several years we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. There is a great resource for observing this historic event produced right here in our own parish by your fellow parishioners. It is about 40 different personal reflections, each one on a different document or facet of VCII. Each week a different reflection is available in the pamphlet racks in the back of the church, but a much wider selection is available at the parish website, www.staustin.org. Currently FIVE different reflections are available, and more will be added as time goes by. Hopefully YOU will be inspired to submit your own reflection on VCII.

There are two ways to find the reflections on our website. The easy way is to watch the scrolling picture in the upper left of the home page and when it comes to the picture that says on top “THE YEAR OF FAITH” and on the bottom “Click to read parishioner reflections” just click anywhere on the picture. For those more technically prone who enjoy navigating web pages, put your cursor on the grey headline banner over the word “FORMATION.” This produces a drop-down menu, the last item of which is “YEAR OF FAITH.” Click on that and you will come to a short page that, not surprisingly, is a description of the Year of Faith. Anyway, on the left of that page is a column labeled “LINKS.” The first item in that column has the snappy title: “Parishioner Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.” Click on that and you at last arrive at the page with the St. Austin parishioners’ personal reflections on VCII. To go directly to the webpage, just type. (Or my technical director says you can just type www.staustin.org/V2Reflections into your web browser.)

It is worth the effort to go to this page because in addition to the personal reflections on VCII, there are links to a great many other resources. There is a timeline for VCII, videos on the history of VCII, synopsis of the VCII documents if you want to get just the gist of them, the full and complete versions of all the Vatican Council II documents – in several languages – and various commentaries on the meaning of Vatican II from different points of view. My favorite is the last one, the blog by Fr. William Grimm, a Maryknoll priest in Japan. So enjoy!

While you are navigating around our parish website, I recommend you place your cursor on the word “ABOUT” on the grey banner on the home page. On the drop-down menu that appears, click on the line that says “Parish Staff.” On that page you can see two very nice videos one an interview with Fr. René Constanza and the other with Deacon Billy Atkins, giving you a chance to meet and learn about them in a more relaxed, personal way. Eventually we will add video interviews with other staff members, such as Fr. Bob Cary.

While you are on the parish website, why not upload a picture of your family to the parish online picture directory? Help make this resource a great help for the parish staff (with so many new Paulists here this would be a fantastic help), and for all of the parish. You may even find out who that is who always sits in front of you at church! The only way I know to do this is go to the parish website, www.staustin.org, on the top grey banner go to the word “COMMUNICATIONS.” On the drop-down menu that appears click on Weekly Bulletins. Then click on Bulletin – October 14, 2012. When that loads scroll down to about the fifth page, where the right hand column is titled: “Are you ready for our online directory?” There you will find instructions to upload your family photo. Pretty neat.  (Or as my technical director points out, visit www.staustin.org/churchdb and look for the Directory instruction page.)

Our parish website is a great resource and tool. I encourage you to take advantage of it.

God bless!


Monday, October 29, 2012

HOMILY 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME CYCLE “B” October 28, 2012


            Was Jesus right handed or left handed?   Was he tall or short?  What color were his eyes?  Did He wear His hair long, or was Jesus fashionably bald?   Was He the skinny aesthetic type, or, as I like to think of Him, was He a jolly, rotund, 280 pounder?  What do you think?
            There are so many details that the New Testament never bothers to tell us.   We are never even directly told if Jesus was ever married or not, leaving room for all sorts of speculation.  So when we read a detail in the Gospel like, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus,” we have to wonder if the Gospel writer, in this case St. Mark, doesn’t mean for it to have more significance than a mere detail. 
            Bartimaeus, the blind man, “threw aside his cloak”.  Why?  What is this cloak?  What does it symbolize?  How does Bartimaeus cloak himself, i.e. hide his true self?  It is a cloak of self-pity?  “Oh, poor me, I am blind, I’m a beggar, poor me.”  Did you ever cloak yourself in self-pity?  Hide yourself from truly facing life and the work of relationship by cloaking yourself in self-absorption, self-pity?  I certainly have. 
            Or maybe it is “tough man” cloak Bartimaeus had to throw off: you know, “So I’m blind. So I’m a beggar. I can handle it.  I’m tough.  I don’t need anyone.  It’s fine.”   And so he hides his weakness, his vulnerability, his need, cloaking it with false bravado.  This is a cloak I think we guys like to use.  “I don’t need to see a doctor.  I don’t need any therapy.  I don’t need anyone; I’m just fine.”  Yehh, right.
            Or maybe it was a cloak of anger, or of false humility, or low self-esteem, or some other persona and act that Bartimaeus adopted to cloak his true identity.  He did this to protect himself, like putting on a shell, but in so doing he cut himself off from others, and so cut himself off from Jesus.
            What cloaks do you have?  Any personas or masks you adopt to cloak your true self, and so protect yourself, but only end up cutting yourself off from others?  
            We all have them.  And like Bartimaeus, we need to throw these cloaks aside in order to come to Jesus.  We need to come to Jesus as we truly are, not with our masks, our acts, our cloaks, but throwing all those false selves aside, come to Him with our excess flab and warts and our weaknesses, as we truly are.  For that is the only person Jesus loves.
            Back to the Gospel story:  Jesus asked Bartimaeus a strange question.  "What do you want me to do for you?"  Hey, the guy is blind.  Isn’t it obvious what he needs?  Why does Jesus ask such a silly question?  
            Well, first of all, note this is the exact same question that Jesus, in last Sunday’s Gospel, put to James and John when they came with a request to Jesus.  Jesus wants us to state what it is we want, because Jesus is asking about something deeper than physical needs.  Jesus is pushing the issue at a much deeper, more spiritual sense of blindness than just physical eyesight. 
            Just a few chapters before in St Mark’s Gospel the disciples totally misunderstand Jesus when He warns them to ‘beware the yeast of the Pharisees…’   They mistakenly think it is because they forgot to bring bread.  And Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (Mk 8:17-18)  Jesus is always asking about blindness of the heart, not of the eyes.  And so Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Jesus is asking if Bartimaeus really wants to see, to understand, to comprehend God’s plan for his life.
            And the same is true for us.  Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Do we really want to see?  Not everyone does.  Blindness is often a lot easier, a lot more comfortable.  A dramatic instance of this occurred in World War II when the allies liberated concentration camps, and made the people of the towns where the camps were walk through the camps and see what they had spent years trying to not see. 
            Do you see God’s plan for you, what God wants of you in this life, and that God’s plan is far better for you than your own plan for yourself?   That the most important thing you must do is love?  That love is more important than money, fame, power, sex, anything?  Until you truly see that, you are still blind.
            Do you see the face of Jesus in every other person in this room, in every person you meet?  Until you honestly see Him in every person, you are still blind. 
            Do you want to see that we are all brothers and sisters, regardless of our race or nationality or language or religion?  Seeing all this and more makes a great difference, and it is not all easy.  But it is true.
            We must come to Jesus, admit our blindness, and tell Him, "Master, I want to see."   I want to see your Goodness.  I want to see your Will for me. 
I want to see that you are God and I am not.  I want to see you in every person I meet. 
"Master, I want to see."
            This is what it means to be a disciple.  When Bartimaeus made this request he received his sight, “and followed Jesus on the way”.  The way means more than the road, it means Jesus’ way of life.  It is to be a follower of Jesus, it is to be a disciple. 
            The Gospel today challenges us to throw aside whatever cloaks we may be hiding under, to stand up, and come to Jesus.  As today’s Gospel tells us: "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."

AMEN.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 28


On Wednesday, October 17, I had the pleasure of visiting the third grade at St. Austin School. The same day, Fr René Constanza visited the first grade. I had gone there to speak about the Rosary (October being the month of the Rosary) and enjoyed it very much. What surprised me was that when I asked if there were any questions, one young lady in the class asked me why girls cannot become priests.   Surprisingly, on the same day Fr. René received the same question from a girl in the first grade class.

This, in my humble opinion, shows how sharp and intelligent our St. Austin students are. They are interested in the Church and the larger world around them. That is a good thing. They also are willing to ask questions and that is a very good thing.

Now I attempted to answer the third-grader by explaining that Jesus was very open to engaging women, like the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John’s Gospel, Chapter 4, and treated women respectfully (like with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38ff) and even had women followers. (See MT 27:55-56. The women who looked on at Jesus’ crucifixion had followed Him all the way from Galilee and had been providing for Him.)  Yet, in spite of Jesus’ surprising openness to and acceptance of women, Jesus never called any women to be Apostles. The teaching of the Church interprets this as an indication of Jesus’ intention that only males be ordained priests, making it impossible for the Church to ordain women. Since the Church is usually not reticent to claim powers and privileges for itself, when the Church does claim its inability to do something then I am especially prone to notice. In the case of the ordination of women the Church professes its complete lack of ability to do so. That is worth paying attention to.

Fr. René, more recently from the seminary and much more up-to-date on all things theological than myself, took a different tack in answering the first-grader’s question, arguing that since the priest represents Christ, the priest is a type of icon of Christ the High Priest, and since Jesus was a male, a male priest better represents Christ, and hence all priests are males. No doubt he expressed it much more cogently than I have. Now I know this is an argument often advanced by our Orthodox brothers, who are also opposed to the ordination of women. There are no women Orthodox priests, and the two oldest branches of Christianity are both firm on not ordaining women. Nonetheless, I find the icon argument less than convincing. When a female delivery room nurse baptizes a newborn in danger of death we say that is a real Baptism. We also believe that in all the sacraments that Christ is active. So Christ in that case must act sacramentally through a woman and hence she represents Christ the Priest. Or so it seems to me.

While the teaching of the Church is not in question, and is perfectly clear that only men can be ordained priests (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #1577), what is not clear to many are the arguments supporting this position. Fortunately, we live in a society where gender equality is growing and even assumed. Therefore we need to be able to explain why it is that the practice of not ordaining women is not an arbitrary prohibition, but is more like the case of why a man cannot be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader or why a woman cannot be a Dallas Cowboys linebacker. It is not prejudice, but rather simply they don’t have what it takes. Gender does, in some cases, make a difference. Mary could be the Mother of God (something no man could ever be), but yet could not be a priest.

Since people, even our little children, are asking about this, we owe it to them to find better arguments that are more compelling and satisfying. Pray for theologians and religious educators to frame more accessible answers.  

God bless!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B October 21, 2012


Anyone here ever work as a waiter or waitress?  As a chauffeur or maid or some kind of servant?  Did you love it?   Was it great fun?  Or did you do it only for the money, and as soon as a better job came along you grabbed it?
“Gospel” means “Good News”.  But I have a hard time hearing today’s Gospel as good news.  That is because I am lazy, and I like to be waited on.  I don’t want to serve, but rather to be served.  I like going to a restaurant, have someone else clean the room, someone else cook the food, someone else take my order and bring the food, and then I especially enjoy getting up and leaving someone else to do the dishes.  Now to me, that would be good news.  But that is not at all what today’s Gospel calls us to.
The Gospel is challenging us to go deeper into the issue of service.  You see there is service and then there is service. 
There is service that is rather degrading: that is forced and coerced, that demeans and makes us less.  This is always the case with slavery, with “involuntary servitude” to put a polite name on it.  And that is why, in spite of the teaching of today’s Gospel, slavery and human trafficking are always moral evils.
But there is also another kind of service.  Not one that degrades, but one that ennobles. 
I will tell you a little story.  My Dad Charlie is 91 years old.  He is still active and lives in the same house I grew up in.  He can do this because two of my sisters, Barbara and MaryJane, every Saturday get up early and drive an hour down to where he lives.  They wash the dishes piled in the sink, do the laundry, vacuum the floor, fix little things that break, throw out stuff my Dad has been hoarding, and generally clean up.  Now one of my sisters still works, and they have their own families, so they don’t have a lot of free time.  But they choose to use their Saturday mornings in service of their Father because they want to.  Because they love.  Service like this is nothing more than love in action.  Practical, actual, love serves.  That is what love does.   
This kind of service does not make us less human, but more human.  It is the kind of service we see in the lives of people like Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther King Jr., Kateri Tekawitha and Mother Marianne Kope who are being canonized today, and all the saints.
In Vatican Council II, this is what the entire church is called to.  The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, begins with these words: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.  Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”
In examining this, American Catholic theologian Paul Lakeland states: “the Church that bears the name of Christ exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the world.”
As Church we are called to serve the world, to be a servant.
Most importantly, this is the way God serves us in Jesus Christ.  Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.  Jesus did not do this out of some coercion, being forced to do it.  Rather it was the compulsion of love for us that lead Jesus to serve.  And in this way He raised loving service of others to the divine.  Loving service of others is not degrading, but is the best of human actions.  Indeed, it is God-like. 
So, as Jesus succinctly tells us: “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Jesus turns all of our assumptions about privilege and rank and status upside down - completely reverses our normal human approach to power and to perks: In the Kingdom of God power is not for self-aggrandizement, not for self-promotion, not even self-preservation.  Power is for service.
Clearly this is the mystery of the Cross - that the way to the fullness of life leads through death: that the way to wholeness and holiness requires letting go of ego and of dying to self. 
Paradoxically, selfishness and ego are traps.  If we live primarily for ourselves, then we live for something really rather small.  And the more the self turns in on itself, the more it shrinks, the smaller it grows, till our soul nearly disappears: no matter how rich, or powerful, or famous we are.
Selfishness is slavery.  Love is freedom.  Therefore, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
Still, that drive to promote myself ahead of others so clearly shown by James and John in today’s Gospel, that desire for glory of the sons of Zebedee, is deep, deep, deep in each of us.  
Even now, as I preach, called to serve you by proclaiming the Gospel, called even more to serve the Gospel by proclaiming it fearlessly and compellingly, I am at least as concerned that I will look good, that you will be favorably impressed, that you will say “Oh, that was a great homily, Father”, that “you really touched my life,’ and ‘you really made the Gospel come alive”; and I will have the glory of looking great - and you will like me and affirm me: all that ego stuff - as much as I want to serve the Gospel and serve you.
Dying to our ego is difficult.  Living a life of service to others, out of love, is not for sissies or the faint-hearted.
So how do we do this?  We can only do it in Christ.  More than our role-model, more than our teacher, more than our coach, He is our Saviour.  He has gone before.  He’s been there, done death, been raised to Life, and now empowers us.  He lives in us, so that we can do it too. 
As we heard in today’s second reading: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace in time of need.”   AMEN.