Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, January 19

On behalf of the parish staff and the Austin Paulists I want to wish all of you a very Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Day (observed). May we all take this opportunity to reflect on, and recommit ourselves to, the work of equality and justice. Amen!

Early this month (Mon through Wed, Jan 6-8) I had the opportunity to attend a Paulist Preaching workshop given at our seminary in Washington, DC.  It was for Paulists and given by Paulists. And I enjoyed it very much.

The Paulists are a very small group compared to the much better known religious communities in the Church, such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Salesians and so on. Paulists are only in the US and Canada (and one church in Rome), and we number only about 130. Our average age has been going up for some time so that I – after 35 years of priesthood – am still in the younger half of the Paulist community. 

And so the Paulist Fathers for the last several years have been struggling with maintaining all of our commitments with an aging, shrinking number of priests, as well as struggling with the rising costs of education of our seminarians and caring for our elderly members. Like many families we face challenges of trying to do more with less. It can get to be a downer dealing with these shortages of personnel and finances all the time. 

But one positive thing Paulists are known for is good preaching. I hope justifiably so. As you may have experienced, no two Paulists preach the same way, so it is hard to say that there is a distinctive Paulist style of preaching. However, there is (I would argue) something distinctive in the approach. I believe Paulists try to reach people where they are at, speak to their actual lives, and mostly don’t go on too terribly long. 

In any case, for me this preaching workshop was a refreshing and uplifting change: to be dealing with one of our strengths instead of one of the seemingly intractable problems we face as a community of priests. All the presenters in the workshop were Paulists, and all did an excellent job. Fr. Tom Kane, who teaches preaching to seminarians in Boston, gave us an overview and context for liturgical preaching (preaching at Mass). Frs. Jack Collins (who was stationed here in the past) and Jim DiLuzio (who visited here 2 years ago) presented on mission preaching. Frs. Frank DeSiano and Bruce Nieli (who now lives in Austin) gave a rousing presentation on preaching that evangelizes, and Frs. Steven Bell and Ivan Tou (both formally on the parish staff here) gave a presentation on preaching to college students and young adults. It was all very well done. 

Therefore it was an affirming and uplifting experience.

On behalf of all the Paulists here on the staff, I want to thank you for helping us in our mission to preach the Word of God. St. Austin is a great congregation to preach to because people really pay attention when we preach. No one is reading the bulletin, catching up on their sleep, or chatting with their neighbor when we preach, and we very much appreciate that. We also appreciate your comments, suggestions and even your constructive criticisms. It helps us to know if our efforts are hitting home or not. Thanks!

God bless!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Baptism of the Lord January 12, 2014

I call this Gospel, “Jesus Aces the Test”. 
          What is the setting?  This is the beginning of Jesus’ Public Career, when He would initiate the Kingdom of God in His own person and achieve our salvation.   Jesus is just starting out.  This is going to set the tone for His entire career.
          Jesus goes down to the Jordan and asks John to Baptize him.  John objects.  John recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God.  That Jesus is much more important that himself.  And so John says, this is not right.  It is all wrong.  Not the way it is supposed to be.  I should be baptized by You, and on and on.  John, after all was a preacher, and so incapable of saying anything quickly.
          Jesus tells John, Look, I know this is odd, kind of backwards, upside down, but let’s do it anyway.  Why?  to fulfill all righteousness.  In other words, this is the righteous thing to do.  Because Jesus’ mission is not about power and prerogatives and whose is most important and on top, but rather it is about SERVICE. 
          Because that is the Will of Jesus’ Father.  That Jesus comes not to be served, but to serve.  In obedience to the Father’s Will Jesus is taking the lower place.  Jesus is emptying Himself of power, of ambition, of self-importance, so that He can serve the lowly.  And to serve the lowly Jesus needs to get down with the lowly, with us.  This is one of the theme’s of Pope Francis’ talks: to serve the poor you have to be with the poor.  Jesus has to have the smell of the sheep to use Pope Francis’ image. 
          This is what Jesus is going to do at the culmination of His career on the Cross.  Jesus is going to empty himself, taking the form of a slave and a criminal.  In theology this is called “kenosis”, or emptying. 
          It is what we do when we serve another out of love.  When a parent gets up in the middle of the night even though she or he is tired and need their sleep, but drags themselves out of bed to comfort a child who is having nightmares, and sits with the child, sings to child, talks with the child till the child finally goes to sleep, that is the parent emptying his or her self for the sake of the child.  Kenosis.  See Philippians chapter 2.

          That is what Jesus does on the Cross.  AND it is how Jesus begins His public ministry in the Baptism by asking John to baptize him, to fulfill all righteousness.  
            In other words, Jesus does this because it is the Will of His Father, and Jesus is obedient to the Father’s Will.  That is righteousness.
          Well, Jesus has passed the test.  He aced it.  He scored a home run.  He knocked it out of the park.  Jesus got it that His mission is NOT about power or prestige, but rather about service and obedience:  Listening to the Father’s Will, being truly a child, a Son of God.
          And God the Father was PROUD.  God can’t keep it in.  God blurts out:  “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”    God is saying “THAT’S MY BOY!”   I am so proud of him! 
          Any of you parents here, can you identify with how God the Father felt?  Have you ever been just bursting with pride and joy over your daughter or son?   So filled with pride you thought you might explode?  Could hardly hold it in?  I hope so!
          And how do you think Jesus felt?   Well, if you have ever had someone you respect and love and care about – a parent or spouse or grandparent or friend – say how PROUD and pleased they are with you, and what you have done, of the great job you did, then you have some idea of how Jesus felt.  “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus must have felt GREAT!
          And you know what?  That is how God feels about us.   Each of us by our Baptism was joined to Jesus.  Joined so deeply we became members of His Body.   On the day of your Baptism God the Father looked intently at you and said, “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” 
          And every time we live up to that, when we live as God’s children in faithfulness; in honesty; in chastity; in generosity and charity; in giving of ourselves in love; then God the Father is very proud.  And God is well pleased in US, God’s beloved children.

          Make God the Father PROUD!     Amen.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 12

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We also recall our own Baptism by which we were joined to Jesus Christ as a member of His body, adopted as God’s own beloved child, and offered eternal salvation. A very special day for all of us who have been Baptized!

Now it may have occurred that during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays you were travelling, or hosting out-of-town guests, or just very busy and caught up in many holiday events, and because of these conflicts, or poor planning, or just totally running out of energy, you missed attending Mass on one of the Sundays of this season or one of the Holy Days of Obligation (e.g. Christmas, Solemnity of Mary on January 1). 

Have you committed a MORTAL SIN??? Well, in spite of what you may remember the good Sister who taught you in second grade telling you, probably not. Let me explain as it was taught to me as a seminarian in moral theology class at the Catholic University of America. 

In the Code of Canon Law, canon 1246 ¶ 1 states: “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.  Also to be observed are Christmas, the Epiphany, ..., Holy Mary Mother of God ….”  

And in canon 1247 we learn that, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.” 

This is the law, which forms the first Precept of the Church (there are 8 of them; see Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2041–2043 for the whole list.) But how is this law to be interpreted? Well, back in 1969 when the laws for fasting were changed (remember no meat on Fridays?), an official commentary was published about this change in the Vatican newspaper, La Observatore Romano. This commentary announced the principal that “substantial observance fulfills the purpose of the law.” What that means in our case is that there is nothing magical or taboo about Sunday Mass observance. The law that says we must go to Mass each Sunday is given for a purpose, namely to keep our relationship with God and with the Catholic community alive. It is sort of like a sign that says “DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS.” If you walk on the grass a time or two nothing bad happens. But if you make a practice of walking on the grass, pretty soon you will wear a path in the lawn and ruin it. In the same way, if you skip Sunday Mass once in a while nothing terrible happens, but if you continue to do so, soon your relationship to the Catholic community and to God begin to fade. It is the purpose of the law that is the important point.

So if you miss Sunday Mass once in a great while, you still have fulfilled the purpose of the law, and no harm is done. You have NOT committed a sin, and certainly not a serious one. 

But what constitutes “substantial observance?” How often can you miss before you no longer substantially observe the law? If you go three Sundays out of every four have you substantially observed the law? I think so. What if you skip Sunday Mass twice a month? That does not sound like “substantial observance” to me, and you are skating on some pretty insubstantial ice. What if you go to church only once a month? That is hardly substantial, and if you are going less than once a month, don’t even bother to try and make the case that that constitutes “substantial observance.”

In any case there is so much all week that puts us down, that depresses us, that discourages us, that temps us to live less than what we are called to be, that at least once a week we need to hear that God the Father loves us, that Jesus understands our situation and freely gave Himself for us, and that the Holy Spirit moves in us to strengthen and guide us. We don’t go to Mass for God’s sake but for ours. 

God bless!

Sunday, January 5, 2014


"We three kings of Orient are .. NOT Kings!"  In fact the whole "king" thing is all PR hype. These guys are passing themselves off as kings in the song, but in reality the Gospel tells us they were MAGI.  Magi are not kings.  Magi studied the occult and magic.  We get our word "magicians" from Magi.  They really were magicians.  These guys pulled rabbits out of the hat, did card tricks, sawed ladies in half and that stuff.
These guys are rather shadowy figures.  They have several aliases:  Other translations (old NAB) call them Astrologers: you know, psychics, horoscopes, auras, crystals, New Age weird stuff.   After all, they are wandering around the country-side trying to follow a star!  
We know almost nothing about them - we don’t know their names, nor their country, (only that they come from "the East", I mean, it could be New Jersey!) nor what happened to them - not even sure there were 3 of them.  The idea of THREE Kings is based on the number of gifts.  They were dreamers: they change their itinerary and route and go back another way on the basis of a dream!  They were not practical, sober, industrious types like us.  I mean who gives myrrh as a birthday present?  How weird is that? 
In any case they were NOT Kings - not responsible pragmatists, administrators, realists.  They didn’t know anything about budgets and personnel policies. They were, well, kind of flaky!
IN CONTRAST to these magi, take Herod – Now There was a KING!  He was a RULER!  In fact, he is known to history as Herod the GREAT
Unlike those shadowy, mysterious, flaky Magi/astrologers -HEROD made his mark on history.
King Herod the GREAT ruled for 34 years.  He was a wily, unscrupulous schemer and clever politician.  He ruthlessly and cold-bloodily eliminated anyone who stood in his way, or might possibly stand in his way.  Including most of his own family. 
King Herod went through ten wives.  He built theaters, roads, temples, amphitheaters, monuments, gardens, palaces and fortresses all over the place, and taxed the people severely to pay for his projects.  
If you go to Palestine today you can still see the ruins of his works.   Herod knew about POWER.  He was a ruthless, cruel, no-nonsense, realistic pragmatist.  
Notice in the Gospel how Herod interrogated the magi secretly to find out from them the time of the star's appearance.  The translation we used to use made this even clearer by stating Herod wanted the “exact” time of the stars appearance.  This man doesn't deal in dreams and visions and “feelings” - he wants the facts.  He wants what's real.  Because he was a doer.  He made things happen.  He was a POWER.  He was HEROD THE GREAT!

Still, .....   we don't sing any songs about Herod at Christmas time - or any other time of the year.
We don't put plastic statues of him under the tree in the Manger scene.
And Herod, for all his power and hard-bitten realism, never did find the Christ child.
This Gospel story instructs us to look beyond the facts, to see beneath the surface, to open ourselves to a deeper dimension of reality, in order to really see.  To dream that nations can resolve conflicts without war:    That in spite of scandals of sexual abuse by clergy, and then cover-ups by bishops, the Spirit is at work in the Catholic Christian community.   To see that the way to the fullness of life is not the result of trying to get all you can, but comes from fidelity, selflessness, and care of others.  That what we see is only the surface, and reality is much, much deeper.
Specifically, we are called to look beyond the surface reality of a new-born baby, to see the Glory of God's LOVE shining resplendent in the Christ Child.
Our friends the magi have yet another title, one that fits them better, the WISE MEN.  Because for all their mystic flakiness - they were wise enough to look beyond the mere facts - to peer into what was really happening - to follow their faith and hope - and so they came to the Christ Child.
King Herod, for all his accomplishments - was not great.  He was a FOOL, because he missed the whole purpose and meaning of life.
We are now called to be wise - to follow the Star of Faith - to bring along the gift of ourselves - to seek, to find, and to adore, The radiant splendor of the Father's Glory,
The Word made Flesh,    Jesus the Christ!

KEEP EPIPHANY WIERD!                                                                           AMEN.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 5

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. We recall the story in St Matthew’s Gospel about the Wise Men from the East who showed up to see and adore the baby Jesus, bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This was a very special event, but it was not the only epiphany.
According to the dictionary, an epiphany is an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity. The Greeks spoke of the epiphanies of their pagan gods. In the Eastern Church the Feasts of the Baptism of the Lord and of the Miracle at Cana (Jesus’ first miracle) are also celebrated as “epiphanies”.
In addition to these epiphanies in the life of Jesus long ago, can we experience an “epiphany” today? I see no reason why Jesus cannot manifest Himself as Son of God today just as much as He did in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago. However, I believe that Jesus’ epiphanies today are more subtle, and easy to miss.  We need to pay attention and be open to these epiphanies.
There are times in prayer, or a liturgical celebration, or prayerful reading of Scripture, when Jesus reveals Himself. We may have a deeper insight into Him, or an intense feeling of His love, or a better appreciation of the gift of salvation He offers, and that experience is a type of epiphany. The wonders of nature, a family relationship, an experience of grace that leads us to go beyond ourselves in generosity or forgiveness, an abiding sense of peace, and in many other ways, we may get a glimpse of the reality of Jesus Christ, and so experience an epiphany.
We should not think of epiphany solely as three funny dressed guys with camels and most unusual gifts, but also an event that can happen to us, that we can experience in our lives here and now. Whenever and however Jesus reveals Himself, that is an epiphany.
So as we celebrate this feast please do not think of it as simply something that was long ago and far away. This is also a feast about us, and God in Jesus revealing Himself to us here and now. I believe that is the deeper meaning of the Feast of the Epiphany. 
Happy Feast Day!