Wednesday, January 30, 2013

HOMILY Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle “C” Jan 27, 2012

THE FIVE FINGER FABLE.  Once upon a time there was a hand, much like this one (hold up left hand) with five fingers.  One day the fingers were standing around shooting the breeze when the thumb spoke up and said, “You know, I’ve been reading and I am the opposable thumb.  I am a great advance in evolution.  I allow the man to grasp tools and so to advance in culture.  And I am important.”  All the other fingers considered this for a short while and then said, “Yes, you are important.”
“Attention!  Attention!” proclaimed the index finger.  “I am a natural leader.  I point the way, I push the buttons, I make things happen and drive home the points, and I am important too.”  And all the other fingers agreed.   
Then came the deep husky voice of the middle finger: “Hey youse guys, I am the tallest and the biggest of all.  I got more street smarts than all the rest of you put together.  I tell it like it is, and I am important too.”  And all the other fingers hurried to agree because they did not want to cross the middle finger. 
“Don’t forget about beauty” came the mellifluous voice of the ring finger. “I bear the insignia of academic achievement and signs of love and commitment.  I am adorned with silver and gold, jewels and diamonds, and I am important too.”  And all the other fingers agreed.
Finally the high squeaky voice of the pinkie spoke up saying, “Hey guys, I’m the pinkie.  Don’t forget about me.  I’m important too!”   But this time, instead of agreeing, all the other fingers jeered and laughed. “You little pipsqueak important!?!  Get out of here!”  And they called him “shrimp” and “runt” and other names I cannot repeat in church. 
Well, the pinkie’s feelings were hurt.  But he was proud.  So he pulled himself up as straight and tall as he could and just stayed like that, ramrod stiff.  The other fingers looked and him for a short time, and finally said, “Well, let him go off by himself.  We don’t need him.  He’s useless anyway.” 
That afternoon the body was typing (keyboarding) an assignment, but with the pinkie stuck out straight and stiff, not doing his part, it was hard going, especially with the “A’s”.  The body was getting frustrated, but the left hand kept making excuses. 
Finally in frustration the body decided to go for a walk to relax.  It walked along a hillside where there was a steep cliff.  As the body walked along suddenly the cliff gave way and the body went over the side towards the deep ravine far below.  But luckily the body grabbed hold of tree root and so did not go over.  But with the left pinkie stuck out by itself the hand could not get a good grip and the hand began to slip.  The body ordered the hand “get a grip!” but it could not do it without all the fingers working together.  Finally the other fingers realized that they needed the pinkie.  He was necessary for the hand to work well, and he was important.  “Pinkie, you are important too” the other fingers shouted.  “We need you!”  “Really?” asked pinkie.  “Yes!” they shouted, and the pinkie quickly joined in and the hand got a grip like a vise on that tree root, until help came and the body was saved.  Afterwards all the parts of the body agreed that the pinkie was important.  In fact every part of the body is important and needed. 

St. Paul in today’s second reading gets a little weird.  He uses this rather unappealing image of a giant eye-ball.  He asks “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?”  It is a rather strange argument, but the point is clear, every part of the body is important, indeed necessary. 
In fact, the body can be a body only if there is a diversity of parts.  If it were all the same, it could not function as a body.  The diversity is necessary for the unity of the body.  Paul’s insight is that uniformity is the enemy of unity, that conformity is the enemy of community.  Our working together as one is predicated on our being different.  Only in our difference can we support and help each other in many different ways. 
Unity comes not from being the same, but rather from having the same spirit, the same mission and ideals.  In the case of the Body of Christ that means the Holy Spirit.  It is a simple, but radical, insight.  We need each other, and we need each other to be different.
This is easy to see but difficult to live out.  Many different gifts are necessary for the full functioning of a Christian community.   But I have been in parishes, and I bet you have too, where there were splits in the parish between the “contemporary” guitar group and the “traditional” organ choir:  Between the school religious ed and the CCD program:   Between the Anglo and the Hispanic groups:  Between the "pro-life" people and the "social justice" people, and so on.  And when we get out of church and into society it gets even worse.   Just look at the state of our political discourse in this state and in our nation.
We must value and work for our unity in Christ.  This means we must value and work for our diversity at well.  For the two - unity and diversity - are opposite sides of the same coin. 
All of us are one Body in Christ.  As St. Paul tells us: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”  By honoring all the parts of our Christian community, especially the weaker and more vulnerable, the pinkies among us, we will all be more honored as the true Body of Christ.  AMEN.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 20

Occasionally when checking around the church I come across some Cheerios that have fallen on the floor, or pieces of cracker, or a used, empty coffee cup, or some other indication that someone has been eating in church. While I like the church to be neat and clean, the fact that someone has been eating and drinking in the church does not bother me. Because eating and drinking is what we do in church. Mostly we gather in our church for the celebration of Eucharist, and among other things (sacrifice, memorial, etc.) Eucharist is a meal. Let me repeat that, our most central act of worship is a meal. So eating and church go together like, well… coffee and donuts.

I mention this because this is the next article in my series on our church windows, and we now come to the last set of windows in side walls of our church. Fittingly, this pair of windows (at the front on your left as you face the altar) represent the Holy Eucharist. On the left hand window as you face them we see a representation of a bunch of grapes and two stalks of wheat, and on the right side panel we see a host and chalice. It is fitting that the Eucharist be the completion of this set of windows  because the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” according to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) par. 11, of Vatican Council II.

Now we often don’t appreciate the full impact of the Eucharist as a meal because the host, which is made of wheat flour and water only, baked at very high temperature, does not much  resemble bread as we know it. Children preparing for First Holy Communion when they first have the practice host do not spontaneously react to it as bread. When I used to prepare children for First Communion I heard “plastic,” “fish food,” and other analogies, but not bread. And many people do not take the consecrated wine at all, and even those who do take only the tiniest smidgeon of a sip, rather than following the Lord’s    injunction to “Take and drink.” I always drink, not just sip, but only for religious reasons.

We are very blessed that we have easy access to the celebration of the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” such access is indeed a great blessing, and we have the opportunity to celebrate Eucharist every day. But there are many places in the world, and increasingly in our own country, where persecution, remoteness, and especially the lack of priests, makes the Eucharist uncommon, and even rare. In some places people are literally “starving” for the Eucharist. I hope we never experience that.

So as you consider these windows and reflect on them I hope you will offer a prayer of gratitude for the gift we enjoy of easy access to the Eucharist. Do not take this gift for granted. After all, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.

Can’t do better than that.

These windows were given in memory of Mr. William Swenson and Family by Mrs. William Swenson.

God bless! 


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 13

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is an opportunity not only to          remember and reflect on the event of Jesus’ Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River some two millennia ago, but also on the more recent event of our own baptism.

First of all, in regards to the Baptism of the Lord, in spite of the hundreds of beautiful Renaissance paintings you may have seen depicting John the Baptist delicately pouring a small sea shell of water over the head of Jesus standing knee deep in the Jordan, I regret to inform you that it did not happen that way. The Lord got dunked. Baptism in those days always involved full immersion, being plunged into the flowing waters of the river. It was a dramatic and effective symbol of dying and rising, of the death of an old way of life and being reborn to a whole new way of life. Only once have I seen an accurate painting of the Baptism of the Lord, that showed John the Baptist with his hand on the top of the Lord’s head, pushing Him under the water. That painting I saw in an ancient cave chapel in the Cappadocia region of Turkey (Google “Göreme Cave Churches” and the “Göreme Open Air Museum” to see the Byzantine frescoes that have been preserved there).

When Christianity spread from the warm and temperate climate of the Middle East to the cold and inclement weather of Northern Europe, baptizing in a still   frozen river at Easter time became     problematic. The custom of pouring a little water over the head,  symbolically impoverished but much better for the health and well-being of the candidate for baptism, began to take hold. Baptism by immersion is still practiced by some Baptist groups, mostly in the South. And baptism by immersion is permitted by the Catholic Church and encouraged by liturgists, but we don’t do it very often primarily because of the practical obstacles: for adults you need a large baptismal pool which most old churches do not have, you need rooms for the newly baptized to change, etc. For infants the physical requirements are less, but most priests are uncomfortable handling a squirming, wet, naked infant; not to mention the distress of the parents. Therefore the urge to convenience wins, and most baptisms in the Catholic Church, like at St. Austin, are done by pouring a little water over the person’s head.

Here at St. Austin we perform about 100 baptisms, adults and children and infants, every year. Some we do outside of Mass, and some we do during Mass. The premier time for baptisms liturgically is the Easter Vigil.

The normal celebrants for the Sacrament of Baptism are bishops, priests and deacons. However, according to Canon 230 ¶ 3, in case of grave necessity, lay persons (including women) can “confer baptism.” Baptism is conferred by pouring water over the person to be baptized and saying, “(name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That is a real and true baptism.

Since, as we state in the Nicene Creed, “I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” the Catholic Church will not re-baptize anyone. Every Christian baptism “counts.” Even if you want to be re-baptized, we won’t do it. Only one baptism per person. There are a few cases where we will “re-baptize,” mainly because we think something was wrong or deficient with the first baptism so that it wasn’t a baptism at all. This is the case with Mormon baptism since their idea of the Trinity is substantially different from the Christian concept of the Trinity, and also in the case of some very liberal congregations that baptize “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier,” rather than the more masculine “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Just as you can get baptized only once, so you cannot get de-baptized. Recently, someone set up a website in Holland for people to get de-baptized. This was really a site for people to register their formal leaving of the Catholic Church, primarily over the Church’s opposition to same sex marriage. And last year a man in France sued to have his name removed from the baptismal register but did not succeed. Once baptized, you are baptized forever. Baptism never goes stale, never wears out, never needs replacing. The guarantee on baptism is not just for a lifetime, but for all eternity!

Some people can remember their Baptism. Many of us who were raised as Catholics were baptized as infants and so have no memory of it. I myself was baptized at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in St. Louis, MO on December 10, 1950, less than two weeks after I was born. The priest who baptized me was Fr. L.T. Keitz. I know nothing about him, but in the scale of eternity, my baptism was probably the most important day of my life. I should remember him in my prayers.

As we celebrate this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I encourage you to stop and reflect on your own baptism, and to give thanks for this marvelous gift.  

God bless! 


Monday, January 7, 2013

HOMILY Epiphany 2013

At the end of today’s Gospel we hear:   “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”

          This is an interesting statement, that I think bears some reflection.  The Magi were searching, seeking something.  Other translations call the magi astrologers or wise men.  They were sort of like philosophers, people seeking to know the deepest truth and meaning of things.  They follow a star, and in doing so they find the Christ child.  They find the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  And recognizing this we are told in the Gospel that “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”, that is, they are overwhelmed and throw themselves on the floor and worship.  They recognized that in this child they had found much more than what simple appearances could reveal.  The magi recognized Jesus as all they were seeking and searching for.  More than the newborn King of the Jews, Jesus is the fulfillment of all their deepest longings and desires.  And so “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” 
          This recognition changed them.  It did not leave them the same.  This discovery of the Christ child required something different and new of them.  They were fundamentally changed.  And so they now had to travel life by another route, by another way. 
          The magi receive a warning in a dream.  This is not so much their dream, but rather the dream of God for the magi and for us.  It is God’s dream that we will fully and truly be what we were created to be, that is, the glorious children of God.  The dream warns the magi not to go back to Herod, not to go back to a former way of life, the way of conquest and domination, the way of greed and selfishness, the way of discrimination and hatred, the way of division and fear.   To go back to Herod means to go back to Herod’s way of being King: oppression, fear, greed and death. 
          Now having met the Christ-child the magi must go by another way, that is, Christ’s way of Kingship; the way of service, of generosity, of love, of life.  Their lives have been changed by the encounter with Christ and so they must now travel “another way”, the way of grace and life, rather than the way of sin and death.
          Brothers and sisters, we too have encountered the Christ Child over these last few weeks as we have celebrated Christmas.  Like the magi we have come to offer our Savior our gifts.  We have worshiped Him, just as did the magi.   This encounter also changes us.  God has a dream for us as well, the dream that we live truly as the glorious children of God.
          This dream of God for us warns us, as we now come to the end of the Christmas season, not to go back to Herod, that is, not to go back to the way of the world, the way of oppression and domination, the way of greed and selfishness, the way of destruction and death. 
          Having encountered the Christ Child, having come face to face with the incredible love of God for us that let go of all of God’s power and invincibility to become as helpless and dependant as a newborn baby, all for love of you and me, we are changed.  That encounter with the mystery of the Incarnation does not leave us the same.  To truly see God’s love for us does not leave us unchanged.
          And so now we too, as we go forward from Christmas time, are warned to go by another way; the way of Jesus, the way of service, of joy, of peace, of love.

          What corrections in our course or changes in our way do we need to make in light of finding the Christ Child?  What change in course are you called to make?  The encounter with God made flesh cannot leave us the same. 
          Do not go back to Herod.  Do not go back to the way of the world.
Recognize in the Christ Child God’s dream for you, to live as the glorious child of God.  Go by another way.  AMEN.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 6

Happy New Year! The liturgical season of Christmas continues this weekend with the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. As a child I loved singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” and today I still enjoy the long slide on the “Ohhh–ohhh” when the songs transitions from a verse to the refrain, “Star of Wonder …” I also like the way the music of the refrain sort of rocks back and forth, which to my imagination always has been associated with the swaying of the camels as they trudge across the desert. What I don’t like about this song is stopping it before the last verse, which deals with the Resurrection of the Lord, leaving Him “sealed in the stone cold tomb.” In this case it is important to sing the entire carol or you end up with very screwy theology.

The advantage of celebrating this Feast of the Epiphany, with a big “E,” is that it can help us notice the epiphanies, with small “e,” in our day to day life. An epiphany is simply an appearance or a manifestation of God. God can reveal Him/Her/Its self to us in many different ways. A loving embrace from a family member can reveal God’s care for us and be an epiphany. A verse of Scripture we read or hear that strikes us suddenly and like never before can be an epiphany. A beautiful sunrise or a starry night can be an epiphany of God’s magnificence. A sense of peace achieved in prayer is an epiphany of God’s healing power. A movement of our heart to forgiveness is an epiphany of God’s power. A downpour after a long drought is an epiphany of God’s goodness. Just about almost anything or event, approached in the right way, can be an epiphany. Because it is not the object or occurrence which contains the epiphany, but rather we who see it who contain the epiphany, if we can open ourselves to perceive more deeply. God is constantly revealing God’s self to us.

Even singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” loudly and off-key, if perceived rightly, can be an epiphany of God’s constant patience and care for us. So sing out! 

God bless,