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,