Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 26

Happy Trinity Sunday! I hope you realize and appreciate that our belief in the Trinity is one of the things that sets Christians apart from all other religions in the world. While many religions share many beliefs (the holiness of God or universal brother and sisterhood, for example), all religions are NOT the same. And faith in the Most Holy Trinity is one of our distinctive Christian marks.

Muslims, for example, are radical monotheists. By this I do not mean “radical” in any kind of political or social sense but entirely in a theological sense. Muslims insist strongly and pointedly on the UNITY of God. God (in Islam) is ONE. There are no other gods. Anything that would seem to take away from the unity or transcendence of God is rejected (such as pictorial images of God). There is ONE God, period.

Christians also believe in one God. But then we immediately complicate the issue by saying that God, while only ONE, is really a community of THREE. This is, of course, illogical and as any first grader can recognize, bad math. One does not equal three. Yet we insist on this, and in a sense we are leading with our hearts. God in God’s self is not lonely. God is fundamentally a community of persons. God is so full, so total, so complete, that God is a relationship. I like to think of this as one total, complete love. God is Love (1 John 4:8), and in God there is the Lover (Father) and the Beloved (Son) and the Love that flows between them (the Holy Spirit): one complete love, one God, three persons. In this case one does equal three.

Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, Who is a community, we are not complete in ourselves. In spite of all our Texas insistence on independence, we need others to truly be ourselves. We can attain the fullness of life only in community. As the Protestant poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself.” We need to be in community in order to be whole.

So in the Book of Genesis God says: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” I take the word “man” in this sentence to really mean the human person. We all know about loneliness, and we all know it is not good. It is not good for the human person to be alone.

I think this is part of the problem the Church faces in its opposition to same sex marriage. A dozen states have now approved of same sex marriage. Some, like Rhode Island, are heavily Catholic, and this is in spite of the strenuous efforts of the Catholic Bishops there to prevent the recognition of same sex marriages.

Why is this? We all know the bitterness of loneliness. If it is not good for the person to be alone, how can those who discover (not choose) their sexual orientation is to their own gender, find intimacy, companionship and togetherness? The reason that so many Catholics support the legalization of same sex marriage (even more than the general US public as the poles show) may be due to Catholics’ instinctual understanding of our need to be in relationship in order to be whole. We value community.

Anyone who is married (bishops and priests are at a disadvantage in this argument in that they are not married and so cannot speak from firsthand experience) knows that marriage is about much more than reproduction. We humans have a natural desire to commit ourselves to another in a way that provides support, intimacy and companionship. Even as a celibate living in community I know how easy it is to turn in on myself in selfishness.

I think our church (that means all of us) needs to address the real need of homosexual people to be in relationship if Catholics expect to effectively slow or even stop the legal recognition of same sex marriage. Not every homosexual has been gifted with the charism of celibacy. How can single people, gay or straight, come to the fullness of their humanity in relationships of service and friendship outside of marriage? That, I think, is the real challenge presented to us in the same sex marriage debate. 

The Church teaches us that heterosexual marriage bears a unique resemblance to the Most Holy Trinity in that it is open to the creation of new life. This cannot be expressed by other types of relationships. As a USCCB statement says: “Male and female are made in the image of God - they are equal in dignity but different. Through their difference and complementarity, a man and a woman are able to form a unique and life-long communion of persons—one that is truly two-in-one-flesh, a total gift of self to the other. The communion of persons found in marriage mirrors the mystery of the Trinity, even if obliquely. A husband and wife’s communion respects each other, does not exhaust or consume each other, and leaves room for the third (the gift of a child).”*

So as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we are called to reflect on very basic issues, on how we are called to live in community imaging the Holy Trinity. God is a Trinity, and we are made in that image.

God bless!



*  Homily Helps On Marriage and the Family: Consideration to Assist Homily Preparation, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday May 26, 2013, page 3


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 19

Happy Pentecost! I could also wish you a “Happy Birthday” since Pentecost is also the birthday of the Church. It is also a special time to reflect and meditate on the Holy Spirit. Fr. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers, and the original Paulists had a strong devotion to the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who guides, comforts, strengthens and leads us to live more Christ-like lives.

According to St. Paul, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).  That is a BIG order!

In the Gospels there are three images used of the Holy Spirit – a dove, fire and wind. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River we are told the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (Mk 1:10). You can see the dove in the window depicting the Sacrament of Confirmation (above station 12) and in the window in the Mary Chapel. The dove has symbolisms of peace and of purity, but it is my least favorite image of the Holy Spirit, as it is rather tame and dull. Often representations look like a pigeon and so rather dismissible. There are times, of course, when the Holy Spirit comes to us as comfort, a sense of peace and security, assurance of God’s tender care for us. But to me the dove is the least interesting representation of the Holy Spirit.

Fortunately we have other, stronger, images. In the first reading today we hear of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). This is an image of energy, of force, of drive. And in the reading, the result of the gift of the Holy Spirit is that the disciples are driven out of the locked room to go and publicly preach with persuasion and power. It is the Holy Spirit that leads and strengthens us to live out our Christian life and especially to bear witness in our daily lives to Christ. This is a dynamic and powerful image, as anyone who remembers the wildfires in Bastrop and the surrounding areas two Summers ago will instinctively feel. The Holy Spirit can be so overpowering, so all-consuming, that it can almost appear destructive and out of control. Just as one should not play with fire, one should not mess with the Holy Spirit.

Finally the Holy Spirit is compared to wind. In the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vs 8). There is a sense of mystery in this image. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained or caused to perform on command. “The wind blows where it chooses,” and likewise the Holy Spirit is eminently free and unfettered by our expectations or demands.

Again, the effects of the Holy Spirit can be very gentle and tender, bringing refreshment and life, like a cooling breeze that suddenly picks up your spirits on a hot, sultry day in the Texas Summer. Ahhhhhhh! But the Holy Spirit can be forceful and display great power, like a tornado or hurricane. Then the Holy Spirit blows into our life disrupting our secure little routines, pushing us to forgive someone we want to continue to hold a grudge against, or to volunteer for some organization that will take away some of our free time, or even push us to respond to a vocational challenge. The experience of the Holy Spirit can be healing and calming, but it can also be upsetting, challenging and even dangerous.

So as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost I urge you to brace yourself and expect a lot! 

God bless,

Monday, May 13, 2013

Feast of the Ascension May 12, 2013

Today on this Feast of the Ascension I’d like to tell you all where to go.  I mean of course, to heaven.  
          Because our feast today, the Ascension, raises the question of “where do you belong?”  Another way to put this is, what is your ultimate goal?  Where are you headed?  Where is your heart’s true desire and destination?
          Today we celebrate the Ascension.  Jesus goes to heaven.  Some might think this was to get away from all of us fickle, faithless, half-hearted followers of His.   But that is not so.  The Preface which I will pray in just a few minutes puts it nicely: “He ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state / but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.” 
          This is an image that can resonate well with us Americans and Texans.  Jesus is like the frontier scout, the trail blazer, who prepares the way before us.  He ascended into heaven and so blazes the trail we are to follow.  The Prayer After Communion at the Vigil for this Feast states: “Lord, kindle in our hearts a longing for the heavenly homeland / and cause us to press forward, following in the Savior’s footsteps, to the place where for our sake He entered before us.” 
          The image I get is of Jesus as Daniel Boone or Davey Crockett, or John C Fremont.  Think of John Wayne as the wagon train scout intrepidly going ahead to open up the way for the settlers to follow.  Jesus finds and leads the way.  But Jesus leads us not to some strange and exotic place, some wild and wooly frontier settlement, but rather to our true homeland, to the place we were created to inhabit, where we truly belong, where our hearts yearn and long for, our true homeland.
          The Prayer After Communion for this Mass says “draw us onward to where our nature is united with You.”  The land we long for is not so much a place but rather a state of being united with God.  It is about relationship and union; the union with God that we were created for.  It is the fulfillment of all our deepest longings and desires.  It is the condition of our complete fulfillment.  It is our true destiny.  It is our true home.
          I conclude with the wish of St. Paul for you in today’s second reading: 
“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe,…” 
Happy Ascension!   Amen.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 12

Happy Mother’s Day! Beyond the flowers, candy, cards and presents it is important to tell your mother “thank you.” This extends not only to your birth mother but to all those who have nurtured and sustained you, whether they be aunts or grandmothers or teachers or whoever. Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, educate and help us to grow. Mothers who balance both a career and child-rearing are taking on quite a lot; often more than two full-time jobs! It is amazing that so many do so well in fulfilling both roles. We all owe mothers a debt of gratitude. Happy Mother’s Day!

Today we also celebrate the Feast of the ASCENSION, which commemorates Jesus’ going (or “ascending”) up to heaven, or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states “the irreversible entry of His humanity into divine glory.” (CCC 659)  This feast marks the final stage in the drama of Jesus’ redemptive work.  Jesus now remains exalted at the Father’s right hand till He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

We should not naively think of the Ascension as a physical going “up,” but rather as a passing into a different way of being. Or so it was for Jesus.

Technically the Ascension occurred on the Mount of Olivet (just outside Jerusalem) in approximately the year 36, 40 days after Easter, which would put it on a Thursday. Indeed, in the diocese of Lincoln, NE the Feast of the Ascension occurred three days ago, last Thursday. But here in Austin and in much of the rest of the United States Jesus has to hang around another three days to celebrate his Ascension.

What difference does the Ascension make? “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” we affirm in the Creed. But just what does that mean? No doubt it was good for Jesus, but what does that mean to us?

If Pope Francis were to do to the Ascension what Pope Benedict XVI did to Limbo, (which is to basically torpedo it as a Catholic belief and say it no longer counts and you don’t have to believe it anymore,) would it make any difference to you?

What is “ascension” all about and why does it matter to me? I think the Ascension only makes sense in the light of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead. But His triumph did not stop there. The completion of His triumph is His being exalted to the right hand of the Father, that is, to complete equality and power with God the Creator. The Ascension is the logical completion of Jesus’ complete and total victory over sin and death. The victory was won on Easter morning. Now at the Ascension Jesus enters fully into His Glory and all the formalities are completed.

In a way the Ascension of Jesus into glory is God’s complete ratification of the Resurrection and the guarantee that Jesus will raise us up as well.  The Ascension is a further affirmation for us of Jesus’ total victory. So we have reason to celebrate as well. Happy Ascension!

God bless,



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Homily 6th Sunday of Easter Cycle “C” May 7, 2010

          This morning I just want to reflect a bit on today’s Gospel from John.  It is kind of dense, and I think will bear some investigation.   This Gospel reminds me of eating whole crab.  Ever done that?  You have to dig into it and it is somewhat messy.  It is very good, but it is a lot of work.  You have to tear it apart.   So with this Gospel. 
          The Gospel begins:  “Jesus said to his disciples:”   ¿Where and when did Jesus say this?   This is from the 14th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.  The setting is the Last Supper.  This is just after Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.  And then Jesus gives a long speech, called the Farewell Discourse.  And our Gospel today is a small part of that speech.  So what did Jesus say?
          “Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;”   The difference between loving and not loving Jesus is simple and straightforward:  Those who love Jesus keep His word.  Those who don’t love Him don’t.  It is not about feelings or emotions, not about beliefs or theology, not about belonging to the right church or denomination, but about actions.  It is about doing.  This love must be lived out in action.
          Jesus says:  “I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”     Will teach you “everything”??   All of history and math and geography and philosophy and art and theology?   Oh my!  You would sure be good at Trivial Pursuit! 
          Well, Jesus doesn’t mean “everything” in the sense of more and more stuff, but rather that the Holy Spirit will enable us to see the full meaning of Jesus’ teaching.  In that sense we will understand it all. 
           You remember in the Book of Genesis the serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In the ancient Hebrew mind to understand good and evil was to understand everything – it was to know everything.  And knowledge is power.  To understand good and evil therefore is to become like god.  Well, what was denied to humanity at its creation is now graciously and freely given in Jesus Christ.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
          Jesus then gives us a great gift: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
Jesus’ peace is not like the world’s peace, which depends on everything going right, and is merely the absence of conflict.  Jesus’ peace is much deeper and richer, and comes from inside us, from deep in our hearts, not from external circumstances.  It does not make everything go smooth and calm and easy for us.  Rather Jesus’ peace strengthens us to remain focused on Him, confident in Jesus’ care for us, assured of His Love, and so able to remain centered and calm. 
           “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”    Yehh, right.  ¿How do we do that?  Well, we have to exercise faith.  Jesus exhorts us to trust in Him.  This is personal, not just some kind of head thing.  This is not knowing about, having intellectual knowledge of Jesus, but rather personally, experientially to know Him.  This requires us to spend time with Jesus, with His Word, and to truly get to know HIM. 
          Jesus continues:  “You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;”     I am kind of surprised to hear Jesus say, “If you loved me …”    It just is not a good way to start a sentence, at least not in my experience.  Have you ever had someone say that to you?  Or have you ever said that to your spouse or parent or someone?  
  ‘If you loved me’ you would let me go to the dance, or ‘if you loved me’ you would let me go fishing, or ‘if you loved me’ you wouldn’t talk to me like that, or ‘if you loved me’ you would buy me an ipad, or whatever.   This is not a good opening. 
          But Jesus says: “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father for the Father is greater than I.”    Jesus knows that His disciples love Him, but our love is not perfect.  Jesus says this right after Jesus washes their feet to show them what other-serving love is.  The disciples at this point love Jesus, but it is an immature love, a possessive love.  They love Jesus out of their neediness.  They can’t let him go.  They are clinging.  Anyone here ever been in that kind of relationship, loving out of need and possessiveness?   Oh God who hasn’t?  Jesus is challenging us to go deeper in our love of Him, beyond neediness to genuine love.
          Jesus concludes“And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”  Our correct response to Jesus is to believe.  AMEN