Monday, June 18, 2012

HOMILY   11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME   CYCLE B      June 17, 2012

When someone applies to enter religious life you have to undergo a battery of psychological tests.  They want to know if you are crazy or not before they accept you.  And so a long time ago when I applied to the Paulists I had to do all these tests.
            Probably owing to the fact that this field of psychological testing was in its infancy 40 years ago - and so not very accurate - I came out mostly as normal.  There were only two scores that were anomalous.  One was some sort of proportional score of how you relate to people as basically good as opposed to basically evil.  The average male candidate at that time scored in the 90’s, meaning they saw people as basically good.  I scored a 07.  I remember the psychiatrist commenting on this result, “This is very Lutheran.”  Whatever.
The other anomalous score was for physical courage.  Again I tested way low.  Rather than lacking courage, I preferred to think of it as having a highly developed sense of self-preservation.
            Now I bring up this curious story because of our second reading today.  I was struck, even startled, by St. Paul’s assertion that “We are always courageous,…”.  And just a few lines later he reiterates this:  “Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” 
            These statements struck me because, well, courage is not my thing.
            So who are the “we” in these statements?  Does St Paul mean all Christians?  Undoubtedly some of you are courageous, and even a few of you are anxious to quit this veil of tears, and this physical body with all its ailments and limitations, and truly “would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord” right this very instant.   But I suspect that I am not the only one who is in no great hurry to leave.  At least not quite yet.
            Or is St. Paul speaking in an imperial way, with a kind of royal “we”, meaning primarily himself?  Certainly St. Paul was an exceptionally brave and courageous man, sometimes to the point of almost being foolhardy.  In the 19th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read about an incident that occurred in Ephesus.  Paul’s preaching there was successful, so much so that it was cutting into the business of the silver smiths who made images of the pagan goddess Artemis, whose shrine was in Ephesus.  So one of the silver smiths, a guy named Demetrius, got all the other silver smiths, and then the general populace of the town, all riled up over this threat to their livelihoods and the insult to their goddess. 
A mob gathered in the theater in Ephesus, shouting “Great is Artemis!” and started to beat up on two of Paul’s companions.  Paul immediately wanted to rush there to address the crowd, thinking he could change the mind of this mob.  But the other disciples, more prudent in their approach, sat on Paul and would not let him go to the theater.  They probably saved his life. 
            So was Paul speaking about himself?  Well, St Paul was not used to saying “we” when he meant “I”.  That was not his style.  And Paul was not idly bragging when he said “We are always courageous.”  So what does he mean? 
            I did some research.  In the New Revised Standard Version translation of this passage, as well as the Greek Orthodox Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and even the pre-1986 “unrevised” New American Bible, this is translated not as “courageous” but as “confident”“We are always confident…” 
            Confidence speaks more – at least to me – about FAITH than does courage.  Of course, it does take courage to live out faith, and given that the Greek word St. Paul uses in this passage can also be translated as “confident”, I think this is the kind of courage St. Paul is referring to.  Not physical prowess or machismo, but rather the confidence to put our faith into action.  More the courage of a Mother Teresa than the courage of a mountain climber or an extreme snow-boarder.
It takes courage to live out our faith:  the courage to not participate in office gossip and petty politics.  The courage to see all people as brothers and sisters, and not value them according to how much they make or what they own, or what they can do for me.  The courage to resist the allure and blandishments of consumerism, to think that things can make me happy, or even worse, to value myself according to what I wear, or drive, or what kind of electronic gadget I have in my purse or pocket.  The courage to tell the hard truth, to reach out to help the unpleasant person, to do what is right when everybody else is taking the easy way.  The courage to resist a culture of death that says sex is just for entertainment and that unborn persons can be disposed of. 
            It takes courage based on confident faith to live this way.  So, where do we get that confident faith that makes us “always courageous”
            It is a gift that God gives us.  It is not a big, spectacular, shiny, powerful, impressive gift, especially at first.  In fact, the gift is tiny, rather ordinary, kind of unimpressive, like a mustard seed. 
God plants that very small, seemingly insignificant gift in our hearts.  But once planted it can grow.  If we give that tiny seed of faith the sunshine of worship and good living, and water it with the tears of repentance for our sins, and fertilize it with the sacrifices of letting go evil and of doing right, that seed, according to Jesus, “springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”  The Kingdom of God grows in our hearts through faith.
            Then truly we will be always confident, always courageous.  As St. Paul says, “We are always courageous”. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 17

Our beloved Holy Mother the Church has been in the news a fair amount lately.
The continuing, decade-old (though it seems like a century) drama of the clergy sexual abuse has been playing out a new chapter in the courts in Philadelphia. Msgr. William Lynn, former Archdiocesan official in charge of clergy, is accused of moving around known abusive priests to various parishes and not reporting this to police, thus endangering children. He claims he was only doing what his Bishop ordered him to do. After 11 weeks of testimony the jury was still out after five days of deliberations. As I write this they have still not come back with a verdict. This is a very significant case, as this is the first chancery official who could go to jail for covering up for abusive priests. If Msgr. Lynn is convicted look for more court actions against other chancery officials, Monsignors and even Bishops.

In Rome the “Vatileaks” scandal continues. The Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, has been arrested and charged as the source of the leaked letters and papers, portraying a lot of back-stabbing, nasty politics and power-plays inside the Vatican, reminiscent of the time of the Borgia Popes during the Renaissance. Many believe the butler is just the fall guy and the source of the revelations goes much deeper. According to the New York Times, the leaks deal “with at least three shadowy Vatican machinations …: a campaign to undermine the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; controversy over the management of the Vatican bank; and intense infighting between Italian cardinals vying for position in the Conclave that will one day elect Benedict’s successor” (June 4, 2012 p 4). Rumors persist that the new Papal Nuncio (ambassador) to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was previously #2 man in the administration of Vatican City and was known as a financial reformer, was kicked upstairs to the U.S. because he was asking too many questions at the Vatican bank. The former lay head of the Vatican bank, Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted May 24 and is now being investigated by Italian prosecutors for money laundering.

All of this turmoil has of course not stopped the Vatican from issuing a “doctrinal assessment” of the main organization of U.S. nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, finding the LCWR wanting. Basically the nun’s organization has been put in receivership and taken over by the Vatican, with a U.S. Bishop to oversee the organization and to change its operating rules. This has stunned and deeply saddened many faithful and devout women religious as well as upset their supporters. And who doesn’t love the nuns? Also the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a few weeks later, also added a condemnation of a highly respected nun theologian’s critically acclaimed work on sexual ethics, Just Love. Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley was past head of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) and is a retired professor at Yale Divinity School.  She is one very bright lady.

Closer to home our U.S. Bishops are deeply concerned over the erosion of religious liberty in our country, especially with who gets to define what constitutes religious activity. The immediate spark is the HHS Mandate for contraceptive coverage in health care provided by employers. You can read more about this on the US Bishop’s website,, or pick up some of the handouts available near the doors of the church. The Bishops are so concerned that they are contemplating, and even advocating, civil disobedience. They are conducting a special “Fortnight of Freedom,” a time of prayer and fasting for the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July.

All of this, and more, leaves me feeling overwhelmed and a little numb. It’s as if some obstreperous spirit of contentiousness has been set loose in the Church, much as it is noisily prevalent in our society. Civil discourse seems to be anything but, and the contentiousness spills over into every other aspect of life. I think we could all be in need of the gifts of the Spirit in this time of the history of the Church; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-3).

My advice is to pray for the fruits of the Holy Spirit! 

God bless! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

HOMILY  Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ     June 10, 2012
Today is an important occasion in that Season Five of TRUE BLOOD premiers on HBO this evening.  Well, I don’t know if any of you are fans of vampire shows, but we are here to talk about a different, and much truer, blood.   There is a lot about blood in our readings today.  So lets talk blood. 
We say, "Blood is thicker than water."   Blood is a VERY, VERY powerful substance.  If you doubt this just think about any trip you have had to the dentist in say the last 15 years.  Dentists now wear masks, and gloves and even protective goggles.   Why?   Because of blood. 
Policemen, ambulance drivers, EMS workers, and all who have to respond to crime scenes and accidents, all carry these things, disposable gloves.  Why?  Because they don’t want to come into contact with blood.  Blood is powerful, scary stuff.  It can kill you.
These precautions today are almost like some ancient, superstitious, taboo; like there is some mystical power in blood.  In ancient religions holiness was seen as a physical power.  You could never touch the holiest object, lest you die.  In the second book of Samuel, for example, we hear of the unfortunate Uzzah, who reached out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant when it was tipping over, and was struck down dead on the spot, for touching the arc.  [2 Sam 6:6-7]   So today there is a taboo against touching blood, lest you die.
And yet, if you have ever received a blood transfusion, you know that blood is life.   When you donate blood - and I hope that all of you who are able to do so do donate - you literally give the gift of life.  Blood cannot be manufactured in a lab.  There is no substitute for it.  It must come from a living person, because it is the substance of life.      
So, blood is death and blood is life.  Blood is a VERY, VERY powerful substance.  And not just physically, but spiritually as well.
In our first reading, from the Book of Exodus, Moses told all the people the commandments and laws of God.  "We will do everything that the Lord has told us." they said.  Yeah, they were all for it.  But Moses was not going to take them at face value.  He knew they were fickle, and he did not trust them entirely.  So Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord, and read them to the people. 
And a second time they responded, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do."  
But that was still not good enough for Moses.  He wanted a stronger, more permanent, commitment.
So what did he do?  Moses took bowls of blood, from sacrificed bulls, and splashed half of it on the altar, symbolizing God, and then sprinkled the people with the other half of the blood.  Now think about that.  What if, like Moses, I sent certain young men to go out and find Bevo, slit his throat and collect the blood in a bucket.  And then I took the bucket of blood and splashed half of the  bull’s blood on the altar here, and then sprinkled you with the other half of the blood, just like I sprinkled you with water during the Easter season?           
It would probably get your attention.  You would not soon forget it. 
Why did Moses do this?  It meant that God and the people were now united by the blood.  They were "blood relatives", like blood brothers, united by the blood of the covenant.  God and the people shared the same life because they shared in the same blood.
In the same way, Jesus, on the night before he died, took a cup of wine.  He gave thanks over the cup, then passed it to his disciples.  They all drank from it, and Jesus said to them, "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many."  They were now united in blood, Jesus’ blood.
Jesus’ blood, poured out on the cross, is the blood of the new covenant.  And we share that blood, that life, here and now.  In a few minutes I will take the cup of wine, and together we will recall what Jesus did on the night before he died.  he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” 
We share that same blood, that same life, with Jesus in this covenant.  This blood binds us together as blood brothers and sisters, united in Christ.  Our communion in the Body and Blood of Christ is much more than just a pious custom or a quaint ritual.  It is a powerful blood union.  We become one with God in Jesus Christ. 
This is the Blood of Jesus, through whom, we profess, all things were made.  So this is the Blood that made the universe, that now hold all things in being, and that gives life to all living beings.  This is the Blood of God.  This Blood was poured out on the Cross for you and me.  This Blood is the firmest proof and the sheer essence of LOVE. 
More life-giving than any blood transfusion, this is the Blood that gives us TRUE LIFE.  It is powerful indeed.  AMEN.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 10

Recently, following the Paulist Ordinations on May 19, I was blessed to participate in a pilgrimage trip organized by the Paulist Office of Financial Development. Another Paulist priest, Fr Larry Rice, and I accompanied about 38 others on a cruise of the Baltic Sea. We flew to Copenhagen, Denmark and stopped in Warműnde, in former East Germany, then on to Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, to Helsinki, Finland and stopped in Stockholm, Sweden, and then back to Copenhagen. It was a marvelous trip.
We were able to visit Catholic, Protestant (predominantly Lutheran) and Orthodox Churches. We were experiencing some of the similarities and differences of these three great branches of Christianity. The churches were beautiful, ranging from the exceptionally ornate, such as the Cathedral of the Spilt Blood in St. Petersburg, where every square inch is covered in elaborate mosaics, to buildings plain to the point of being severe, such as the main Lutheran church of Helsinki and the Rock Church of Helsinki.

All of this was quite interesting, and especially as a Paulist committed to the ministry of ecumenism, i.e., of healing the wounds in the body of Christ that keep us as separate churches, I was very much interested in it all. However, what impressed me most is that taken all together, the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant active membership adds up to only a small percentage of the total population. Most of the people in all of the countries we visited did not actively practice any faith. Many were nominally Christian, but as the tour guide in Finland told us, they only go to church for Baptism, Christmas, Easter, their Marriage and their funeral. And the same is true in all the other countries. Christianity is by and large a cultural veneer for most. It is not a living faith.

You may be aware that Pope Benedict has called for a “New Evangelization.” This evangelization, or missionary activity to spread the Good News of the Gospel, is not like the “old” evangelization which carried the message of Jesus to people who had never heard it, people who lived all over the globe, often in places that were remote and difficult to get to. That work of bringing the Gospel to all the world is largely done.  The New Evangelization is new in that it involves bringing the power and liberation of the Gospel to people who have – at least superficially – heard it, but don’t find it compelling or worthwhile accepting. They have not felt a need for the salvation that the Gospel promises.

Their lives are reasonably comfortable. Medical science can treat many of their diseases. Science answers their questions about creation and reality. Family and culture fill their lives, and they have no pressing need to commit themselves to a life of faith. Except of course that they do. No created reality can ultimately satisfy us. We were created for God, and there is in us an infinite openness that only the infinite love and truth and beauty of God can fill. Helping people to recognize their need for God, and the fabulous offer of union with God made to us by Jesus Christ, is the challenge of the New Evangelization.

We face the exact same situation here in the United States, except that the challenge is more pronounced, more sharply etched and stated in Northern Europe. Seeing and experiencing this has made me more aware of the challenge and the work of Evangelization here in our own State and City.

God bless! 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 3

A few weeks ago (May 12) in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman had a column commenting on a new book by Michael Sandel, a Harvard philosopher: What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Apparently more and more corporations are paying for naming rights for more and more types of things, and people are wondering if it has gone too far and where will it end. In his column Friedman mentions the example of a 2001 “Russian rocket emblazoned with a Pizza Hut logo” taking ”advertising into outer space.” Also in that year a New Jersey elementary school got a $100,000 donation to rename its gym “ShopRite of Brooklawn Center.” A high school in Massachusetts got $10,000 for the naming rights for the principal’s office, and “by 2011 seven states had approved advertising on the sides of school buses.”
I began thinking about this. If you walk around the University of Texas campus, almost every building has some person’s name on it. Some of them are so named to honor some long-time or important member of the University, but I would be willing to bet that some of the names of the buildings and schools of various sorts are the names of the significant donors.

When it comes to naming rights, the Catholic Church has long taken advantage of this opportunity. As you walk on our lovely courtyard you see in the red bricks the names of many a donor, including several Paulists and Religious Sisters. I also found eleven naming plaques in the courtyard, many “In Loving Memory” of someone. There is one for the St. Francis fountain, another for a rose garden where there is no longer a single rose to be found, and one honoring three Paulists. I suspect another one or two plaques are hiding under the luxuriant growth. In the narthex (foyer) of the church we have plaques listing the donors of the windows, the donors of the church appointments, and another the donor of the main doors. In the sacristy area are plaques for the sound system, the renovation of the sacristy, and the prayer room, all in memory of various loved ones. The Mary chapel has another plaque for the windows there, and finally our main tabernacle, where the Most Blessed Sacrament is kept, bears the inscription “Given in Loving Memory of Their Father and Mother Carter and Mora Joseph, Their Children.” All these are really “naming rights.”

The main difference between the memorials that we have plastered all over our campus and the kind of naming rights that Michael Sandel writes about are that our memorials are all records of individuals or families who contributed to the church, while the naming rights that concern Sandel are corporate donations. Really they are a form of advertising. But how different is that from the kind of self-advertising that our memorial plaques proclaim? Should we take the next logical step and start auctioning off naming rights to corporate entities?

Would it matter to you if the parish were to accrue some needed income from selling naming rights to various corporations? We already have corporate sponsors on the back of our bulletin. Perhaps we could pay off some of the big debt we have on our parking garage by selling off naming rights to parts of our campus. How about the “ Narthex?” or the “All Saints Cemetery Mary Chapel.” or the “Such-And-Such Funeral Home Courtyard”? Or the “All Clean Laundromat Baptismal Font?” Well, maybe not.

We remember and give thanks for the generosity of many donors over the years. But we need to be careful about how we do this and exercise both appreciation and good taste. As our culture sinks ever more into consumerism, we need to be careful about what message we send. 

God bless!