Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 1

Today is Passion Sunday (aka Palm Sunday). We hear the proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, according to Mark (this year). We hear of Jesus offering all of Himself for our sakes, His very flesh and blood, all that He is.

Reflection on this profound mystery can go in many ways. In this short space I wish to focus on one of the ways we can imitate Our Savior very concretely and pragmatically.

Jesus shed His blood for us. We can imitate Him in donating our blood, literally shedding our blood for others. For example, Fr. Bob Michele, one of the priests who resided until a few months ago at our Paulist house here at St. Austin Parish, received six units of blood after a bout of internal bleeding. The blood that was donated by others literally saved his life.

Jesus gave His Blood to save us for all eternity. It seems spiritually fitting and appropriate to give our blood to save the lives of others. Every Lent I try to donate blood as part of my Lenten practice (This Lent I was “deferred” because I had been in Guatemala). This is a very helpful thing to do throughout the year as blood is always in need, but during Lent it seems to me to have an added spiritual dimension. In some small way I can imitate Christ’s sacrifice. So if you are able to give blood, I encourage you to do so throughout the year. You can find out more about blood donations at It is easy, quick, and pretty painless.

Jesus also gave His Body for us. We can also imitate Him in this way by becoming an organ or tissue donor. Lives can be saved at the time of our death by setting up a donation of our organs ahead of time. There is a critical shortage of organs, tissues and eyes available for donation. There are more than 96,000 patients in the United States awaiting transplantation—more than 7,000 are Texans. A few weeks ago St. Austin     parishioner Beverly Thiel gave a presentation on organ donation that was very informative and moving. Watch the bulletin for a repeat of this presentation.

You can become an organ donor in about a minute at There you can find out a great deal more information about giving your organs to save the lives of others, in a similar way that Jesus gave His Body to save you and me.

My mother, Bernice, died in December of 2007. We don’t have a grave marker for her. This is not because we are slow getting it, but rather that she has no grave. She donated her body to St. Louis University Medical School. You see, there is a great need for cadavers for teaching doctors, physical therapists, and other medical students. My youngest sister ran into this when she went to St. Louis University to become a physical therapist. My Mother decided to help some future medical student by the donation of her body. My mother was a very giving person, and in this way her mortal remains continued to give back, helping some future doctor or therapist.

This weekend, as we contemplate the gift of Jesus’ total self – flesh and blood – for our sake, I hope that you will consider giving of yourself to help others by scheduling an appointment to donate blood if you can do so, by signing up to be an organ donor, or even consider donating your mortal remains for medical education.  In giving ourselves away, we find who we truly are.   

God bless, 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 25

Only nine more months till Christmas! Oh my, better start planning now!

Normally we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on this day, but because this year March 25 falls on the 5th Sunday of Lent, the Annunciation is pushed back a day. Jesus will just be a bit early this coming Christmas. This Feast is described in St. Luke’s Gospel, 1:26-38. There are also other annunciations in the Bible, to Joseph for example (MT 1:18-25), and to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist (LK 1:5-23), and in the Old Testament the birth of Samson (see Judges 13:2-5).

Since we are looking forward to Christmas it seems a good time to look at the next two windows in our church, which deal with the Nativity of the Lord. These windows are located above the 5th and 6th Stations of the Cross (a little Lenten allusion there!). On the left hand window as you face it we see the word PAX, behind it a yellow cross, and an olive branch. Pax is Latin for “Peace,” and Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The yellow cross is similar to the yellow cross in the first window, closest to the altar, on the theme of Baptism. These crosses suggest to me anointing. Jesus is the “Anointed One,” or in Greek, “Cristos,” or in English, the “Christ.” Jesus refers to His being anointed when in Nazareth. He reads from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:16-19)

Anointing is a sign of election, or being chosen. Kings (like Saul or David), prophets (like Samuel) and priests (like Aaron) in the Old Testament were anointed. Kings today are still anointed when they ascend their throne. And we anoint in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and Anointing of the Sick. We anoint by making the sign of the cross with olive oil on the person’s forehead, hence the yellow cross.

The olive branch is an ancient, Biblical symbol of peace. Even today in our speech, to ‘offer an olive branch’ signifies making at effort to end conflict and bring peace. So all these symbols speak together of Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

In the next window we see the Christmas star shining down on the manger – which was the feed box for the animals. We also see a bit of Jesus’ halo and the tip of His head – but most of Jesus is hidden in the manger. I rather like that representation, as Jesus’ coming to us was mostly hidden. Other than Mary and Joseph, a few shepherds and later a few Magi, most did not know about the most important event in all of human, indeed in all of cosmic, history that was occurring in their midst. It went by unnoticed by most people of the time, so it is wholly appropriate that the Christ Child is hidden in the manger.

This set of windows was given “In Memory of Edbert Julian Schutze by Mrs. C.A. Schutze, Sr.” We are grateful for their generosity.  
God bless, 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 18

This is the third in an occasional series of columns on the windows of our church. The fifth and sixth windows from the sanctuary on your right as you face the altar represent the Passion of Our Lord and so are appropriate windows to consider during Lent.

In the window on the left as you face this pair are the letters INRI in red around a blue-green cross. INRI is not a word, but rather the initials of the Latin words “Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm,” or in English, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” In St. John’s Gospel we read, “Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.’ Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.”  Ch 19, vss 19-20.
This was the indictment, or “crime,” for which Jesus was executed. St. John’s Gospel loves to use irony, and this charge is of course highly ironic, for Jesus truly is the King of the Jews. Pilate was unknowingly proclaiming the truth!

I am struck that the initials are in very bold red, almost gaudy, while the cross is somewhat subdued in color, almost subtle. I would expect the cross also to be bright red. It just doesn’t strike me as right. Was the artist emphasizing Jesus’ Kingship over His sacrifice on the cross?
The next window continues the theme of the Passion with three brown crosses on top of a yellow hill. The brown of the crosses makes sense since they were wooden. The image of three crosses refers to the fact that the Gospels report that two other criminals were crucified with Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel one of the criminals – traditionally called the “good thief” – asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into His kingdom, showing that the criminal recognizes Jesus as a king. Jesus responds by promising him Paradise (Lk 23:39-43). 

Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts have both of the other crucified criminals deriding Jesus, and St. John doesn’t mention it. However this does remind me of the story of an elderly, pious man who was on his death bed. He awoke to see his doctor on one side of the bed and his priest on the other. The man said, “I die like Jesus, between two thieves,” and expired.
The yellow hill reminds me of hills I’ve seen in dry seasons in California and in Texas, where the grass is all dried up and brownish-yellow. Perhaps the hill is yellow just to form a good contrast with the red smears on it that are evocative of blood.

Jesus suffered and died for us, shedding His blood, literally His life. For the Scriptures blood means life. Anyone who has received a blood transfusion knows that blood means life. Births are accompanied by blood. So for the Scriptures blood means both death and life. Jesus dies, shedding His blood, so that we now can live in Him.
We are so fortunate in this day to be able to receive the Blood of Christ from the chalice at Mass. Under the form of wine we take the reality of Christ’s Blood into us. We literally take His life into us. For many hundreds of years Catholics did not have that great privilege, and we are fortunate to now be able to do so.
According to the plaque in the vestibule, these two windows were generously donated “In Memory of Mr. and Mrs. G. M. Tacon and Rev. P.G. Delahunty by Mr. & Mrs. N. A. Giblin.”   The Rev. P.G. Delahunty was not a Paulist, and I have no idea who he was. I do not know who the others are either, or if they are still around. In any case, we are the beneficiaries of their generosity. 
God bless,

Monday, March 12, 2012

Homily Third Sunday of Lent Cycle B March 11, 2012

Please turn on your imaginations, and imagine a person who has spent her entire life in the deepest jungles of Amazonia, or in the most remote parts of Outer Mongolia, and had never before seen a church.  And then this person is transported to SXSW here in Austin, and accidentally wanders into our church, thinking it must be some large lecture hall.  OK, you can imagine this? 
            Now might not that person find it somewhat odd, even a bit bizarre, that right up front and center, in the most prominent place in this building, is the image of a corpse? 
            And yet that is just what we have in the most prominent position:  a dead man on a cross. 
            Not only that, but that is what we preach.  In the second reading today St. Paul tells us:  “Brothers and sisters:  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,”    
            Why Christ crucified?
            Would it not, in the terms of this world, make more sense to preach Christ in glory, Christ Risen, Christ the Triumphant King, the Christ of the Second Coming, in power and glory?  That has some spark, some pizzazz. 
But instead we preach Christ crucified.  Why?
            A dead body hanging on a cross is so … unsanitary, so repugnant. 
The Cross does not make sense.  Jesus’ death was a tragedy.  He was condemned on trumped up, phony charges.  There is nothing right and just about it.  It makes no sense whatsoever.
            The cross is certainly not about power.  There He is, pinned to the cross, immobile, helpless, open and vulnerable, totally powerless. 
            And yet St. Paul today tells us: “to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
            What kind of wisdom and power is this?   It is the power and the wisdom of love.  Because Christ crucified is the absolute sign of self-giving love.   And love is what God does.  God loves.  In the face of injustice, in the face of betrayal, in the face of cowardice, in the face of torture, in the face of death, God loves.  And Christ crucified is the full and complete sign of that love. 
Sometimes, love hurts.  And even in the midst of hurt, God still loves.
What the crucifix presents us with is God’s Wisdom and God’s Power in the face of human wisdom and human power.   It is the wisdom of loving obedience to the Father, no matter what the cost.   It is the power of “One who has chosen loving solidarity unto death with us to free us from all fear and bring us into the “liberty of the children of God.”*
            “For” proclaims St. Paul, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 


* Sr. Sandra Schneiders, “Religious Life as Prophetic Life Form” in National Catholic Reporter of Jan 04,, 2010

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 11

Since we have started using the Apostles’ Creed at Mass in place of the Nicene Creed, several people have asked me about the meaning of the line, “He descended into hell.” What does this mean? First of all, this is not hell in the sense of condemnation. It rather means the abode of the dead, especially for those who died prior to Jesus’ salvific death and resurrection.
One interpretation is that following his burial Jesus descended to the netherworld to proclaim redemption to those saints of the Old Testament – like King David, Noah, the prophets, John the Baptist, etc., who were awaiting His saving death. Jesus freed them from the grip of death and ushered them into heaven. On Holy Saturday Jesus was busy freeing all the holy people who had died before Him.
There is Scriptural background for this interpretation. For example, in the second reading we had two weeks ago, on the First Sunday of Lent, we heard from St. Peter’s First Letter, “Put to death in the flesh, he (Jesus) was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient…” ch 3 vs 19.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read: But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says: “He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.” What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
This understanding that Jesus descended into hell to set free those good people held captive there is probably the more common interpretation of this article of the Creed. As we see, it is supported by both St. Peter and St. Paul.
However, there is at least one other interpretation, including the one I favor. This interpretation views hell not as a place, but rather as the condition of alienation from God. Heaven is union with God, and hell is just the opposite, i.e. extreme separation from God. Jesus, in His work of saving us, went as far away from God as sinful humankind had gone, in order to bring us back from the very farthest reaches of our sinfulness. Jesus “traveled” as far from God as we had gone and yet remained totally obedient to the Father. There is nowhere, not even the depths of hell, where Jesus’ grace cannot penetrate. As far as we had moved away from God, Jesus went there to bring us back. 
This second interpretation is based on Scripture passages like what we heard in the second reading on Ash Wednesday, from the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” God made Jesus to be sin, i.e. not that Jesus committed any sins, but that rather Jesus experienced our alienation and separation from God. And that is what hell is. Jesus experienced our alienation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and yet Jesus remained perfectly obedient to God. Jesus was faithful as far as the furthest extent that we were unfaithful. In this more psychological sense, Jesus “descended into hell.” 
So in any case, the statement in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “descended into hell” is an affirmation of the power of Jesus’ salvific death and resurrection. 
God bless,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

HOMILY Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle B March 4, 2012

Testing your memory:  last Sunday in the first reading we heard of the covenant between God and Noah.  Actually God makes this covenant with all the earth.  God made a promise to never again destroy every living being by a great flood.  The primordial waters of the chaos that existed before creation will never again threaten to inundate the world and wipe out creation.  It was a great promise.  And as a sign of that promise, that covenant, the Lord God placed His bow in the heavens.  God told Noah: “When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings." 
Have you seen a rainbow lately?  Not a picture or drawing of one, but an actual, real, in the heavens rainbow?   With the drought last year we didn’t see many rainbows.  More recently, thanks be to God, we have.  Rainbows are wonderful sights.  They are magical.  I don’t know if I could ever get tired of looking at rainbows.  They still thrill me.  The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s covenant with the earth.  Rainbows are great.  We’ll come back to it later, but for now let’s put the rainbow right over here.
In today’s first reading we hear of another covenant, this time between God and Abraham.  After Abraham proves his faith, even to offering up his son Isaac, God states:  "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;” 
Last Fall I had the great privilege of visiting the McDonald Observatory in West Texas.  Accidentally but most fortuitously I was there on a clear, moonless night.  The sight of the stars was breathtaking.   I had not seen stars like that since I was a boy at  Scout camp in rural Missouri.  It was gorgeous.  The Milky-Way was clearly visible, and it was just fantastic.  You cannot see this in a city.  Have you ever seen stars like that? 
When God tells Abraham that “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless at the stars of the sky” God is saying something impressive, magnificent.  Abraham will have countless descendants.  And according to St. Paul, because of faith, we are Abraham’s descendants. 
We are as countless as the stars of the sky.  Another wonderful sign of God’s commitment!  Let’s put that magnificent sight of the starry night over here for now, and come back to it later.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John.  Some of Jesus’ glory as the Christ begins to show through.  His clothes became dazzling white.” Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, ….  Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son.”  In other words, God is giving us His most precious treasure, His heart.  God tells us: “Listen to him."  Quite a scene, isn’t it? 
God again takes the initiative like He did with Noah, with Abraham, and now with Peter, James and John.  God reveals His Son, and also commits His Son to them, and to us.  In telling us to “Listen to Him” God the Father is also giving His beloved Son to us to be our Savior and Lord.  It is a solemn and very marvelous occasion. 
Just as the covenant with Noah had a sign - the beautiful rainbow, and the covenant with Abraham had a sign - the magnificent starry night, so too this new covenant has a sign.  The sign of this covenant is even more beautiful, more wonderful, more spectacular than the previous covenants, just as this covenant is more beautiful,   more wonderful and more magnificent.  But it is temporarily hidden.
            On coming down the mountain Jesus “charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  For the sign of this covenant, the gift of God’s only Son for our redemption, is nothing less than the Resurrection of Jesus. 
            The beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection of the Lord: three wonderful signs of the Lord God’s commitment to us: to you and to me.  When God makes a promise, God always makes a whopper.  And God always does it up right. 
            In this Lent we strive to commit ourselves more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ.  (That is the significance or gist of the Rite of Reconciliation we are celebrating this morning with the RCIA candidates, as they – and we, strive to follow Christ more closely.)  
But we always do this in response to God’s commitment, to God binding God’s-self to us first.  The initiative always comes from God. 
God has given us such wonderful signs of God’s covenanted love for us: the beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection of His Beloved Son.  The Church calls these signs to mind for us at the beginning of Lent to entice us, to allure us, to open us up to the God Who has so marvelously covenanted God’s own self to us  - so that we may respond in kind, giving ourselves ever more and more to God.
            The beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection invite us into a deeper and fuller relationship with the God who gives us Himself.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 4

We are now ten days into Lent, at the second Sunday of Lent already. How is it going?
There are different approaches to the season of Lent. One is the stoic response, just suck it up and tough it through, promising yourself that the rewards will be all the greater at Easter. Another approach is to ignore Lent; just carry on as usual with no or just minimal changes to your routine, and then be surprised when it is suddenly all over. Still another way to deal with Lent is to embrace it enthusiastically as a way to grow in holiness or to practice self-discipline (or at least to shed a few pounds). A rather novel approach to Lent was practiced by my dad as I was growing up. Just before Lent he would make a trip to the public market in downtown St. Louis to stock up on all sorts of olives, cheeses, smoked fish, oysters and all kinds of other non-meat goodies we never had the rest of the year. Lent for him meant permission to buy all this stuff we usually did not have. I grew to look forward to Lent in order to enjoy these (for us) exotic delicacies. It was a rather novel approach and I don’t necessarily recommend it.

In any case this Lent is still young. It is early in the game. If you have not yet given any consideration to how you will observe this holy season then I urge you to do so now. It is not too late to enter fully and deeply into the spirit of this holy time. It is an opportunity to focus on the more transcendent parts of reality, on the deeper things of life. In the frantic pace we keep today this discipline is needed more than ever.

Instead of giving up candy or liquor or soda, try instead giving up some of the constant busyness and hectic activity with which we fill up so much of our life.  Try fasting from some of the noise in your life.  Practice giving up some of the busyness in your schedule. Maybe try to find some quiet in your life, some time for reflection and meditation, even just listening to the Lord. Perhaps instead of time in front of the TV or playing games on the computer, tune in to the Lenten podcasts produced by your parish, available 24/7 at for free!

You might just practice a few minutes of sitting quietly, stilling the inner restlessness, listening to your own heart, and listening for the Lord. Praying slowly and imaginatively over a piece of Scripture is a good way to do this. Take a scene from the Gospels, maybe the Gospel for that Sunday, and imagine the scene. Who is there? What sounds and smells do you perceive? Where is Jesus? What is He doing? How does He sound? Does He look happy, sad, angry, bored? What does He say? What are the Apostles doing? What about the bystanders, the Pharisees, the Romans? Where are you? Let your imagination play with the scene and see what happens. And then listen.

The season of Lent is a gift to us, but like any gift we have to take the time and make the effort to appreciate it. I wish you a FANTASTIC Lent! 

God bless,