Monday, February 24, 2014


          Let me tell you a story.   When Franz was born his father was not married to his mother.  Franz’s natural father promptly went off to war and got killed.  Later Franz was adopted by another man who married his mother.    Franz was kind of wild as a child, not having the best upbringing.  He himself also fathered a child out of wedlock, a little girl.   But then a remarkable thing happened.  Franz fell in love with a deeply religious woman, and they got married.  Her strong faith began to change Franz.  He became religious himself.  While still a farmer, he also took on the job of sexton – a combination of janitor and sacristan - of the church in the little village in which he lived in Austria.  He went to Holy Communion every day.  He had three more daughters.
          When the Nazi’s took over Austria in 1939 his was the only vote in the entire district against ratifying the Nazi takeover.  For a while Franz had an exemption from military service in the Nazi army because he was a farmer.   But as the situation darkened for the Nazi’s he was eventually called up.  Franz did not know what to do about this.  His neighbors and friends were all serving in the army, but Franz thought it was wrong.  He began to question the morality of war. So he sought spiritual advice from his bishop.  The bishop was non-committal, tried to dissuade Franz from his foolishness, told him to serve his country.    Franz left unconvinced.   In 1941 Franz was called to military service again.  He went to the induction center and offered to serve as a medic or non-combatant, but refused to serve under arms.  He was thrown in prison.  His parish priest came to try and talk some sense into him.  The priest pointed out all the others who were serving.  The priest told Franz to be practical and think of his family.  But Franz remained firm in his refusal to fight for the Nazi regime.   And on August 9, 1943, at the age of 36, Franz Jägerstatter was executed by guillotine, leaving his wife and 4 young daughters. 

          Jesus today teaches us: “I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
          Clearly, this is not practical advice.  It is not the way things are done in the world.  It is, frankly, crazy.  It is God’s way, not our human way.  Franz’s Bishop and his Pastor suggested and urged the human way.  “Be sensible,” they said.    Franz held on to God’s way.
          In the Gospel Jesus asks this set of questions:  “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
          It seems to me that the tax collectors and the pagans are reasonable, sensible, practical people.  They are the kind of people you can count on to act in their own self interest, and so act predictably and reasonably.  Franz’s Bishop and Pastor would approve.  And frankly, don’t we want ourselves and our children to be that sort of reasonable, sensible and practical person?
          In contrast to this Jesus points to God.  Frankly, God acts a little nuts.  As Jesus says, God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust
.”   In other words God makes no distinction between the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. 
          And that is just plain silly.  If you are good, God loves you.  If you are bad, God loves you.  If you don’t care, God loves you.  God just loves.  That is what God does.  God loves.  And that is no way to enforce order and respectability. 
          None-the-less, God somehow makes it work.  God just keeps loving, and the universe somehow manages to plod along.
          That would be mildly disturbing but not particularly threatening in itself, but then Jesus makes it worse – much worse – by insisting that we should stop acting reasonably, sensibly, practically, and adopt God’s irresponsible, impractical, unreasonable behavior. 
          Jesus’ injunction flows from what we heard in the first reading today:  Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”  That is what we are called to be; HOLY.  You and me and all of us.  It is nuts, it is dangerous, but it is our calling.  Being holy brought Jesus to the cross.  Being holy brought Franz Jagerstatter to the guillotine.  Being holy will also costs us.  
Perhaps some discomfort, some ridicule, some misunderstanding, some loneliness.  But it is the way to incomprehensible, glorious life.  It is a wonderful invitation from Jesus.  But the teaching of Jesus is not for the faint of heart.

          Back to the story.  After his death Franz Jäggerstatter’s fellow Austrian Catholics criticized him for failing to do his duty to his country and to his family.  The town fathers refused to put his name on the local war memorial, and a pension was denied to his widow.  His story was practically forgotten.  But one American sociologist - Gordon Zahn - heard of his story and wrote Franz’s biography.   People got to know about his story.  A film about him was made in 1971.  Eventually his home town dedicated a plaque in his honor.  And in June of 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared Franz a martyr.  Franz was beatified, the step just before canonization as a Saint, on October 26, 2007.  The ceremony was held at the cathedral in Linz, Austria.   Attending the ceremony was his 94 year old widow, the lady whose faith had started it all, and all four of Franz’s daughters.  His feast day is May 21, the anniversary of his Baptism. 

          Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, February 23

Recently (Feb. 9-13) I spent the better part of a week in New York City at a Paulist General Council meeting. So let me explain to you a little about how the Paulist Fathers community works internally. You have all known several Paulists, and some of you have had the pleasure (I hope) of knowing many Paulists. In any case you may have noticed some distinction, slight or otherwise, between Paulists and other priests you have known. 
The Paulists are a Roman Catholic religious community, but we are not technically an “Order.” For that we would have to take vows. Paulists don’t take vows but rather make a promise to live according to the Paulist Constitution.  Our founders thought that “the word of a gentleman should be sufficient.” Instead of a Religious Order, in Canon Law the Paulists are a “Society of Common Life.” That and $3 will get you a ride on the new express bus! 
The everyday administration of the Paulists is run by a troika called the Presidential Board, or PB for short. It consists of the president (currently Fr. Michael McGarry but in May will switch to Fr. Eric Andrews), a vice-president, and the first consultor. They reside in a house in Jamaica Estates, in the borough of Queens, New York City. Come next Spring they will move into the rectory at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, and the house in Jamaica Estates will be sold. 
These three are joined by six other consultors who are elected by the Paulists by popular ballot. These 9 (6+3) form the General Council. The General Council (GC) meets at least four times a year, and this council approves Paulist community budgets, sets community priorities, appoints pastors and superiors, conducts a visitation to each Paulist foundation every four years, and generally operates as a board of directors for the Paulist community. I have just been elected to a four year term as a General Consultor. 
This means I will have to be away for the better part of a week at least four times a year, may also have to attend to several visitations over the next four years, and perhaps be involved in some GC committees, etc. I have served on the GC for a couple of terms in the past and so understand what is involved.
In addition every four years the Paulists hold a General Assembly to make policy decisions, update our constitutions and decrees, and set our direction for the next four years. It is where the Paulists try to read the signs of the times and chart our direction for the future. It consists of about 35 elected delegates (all Paulists) and usually lasts about ten days. The next one begins this May, on Memorial Day, right after we celebrate the ordination of one of our seminarians (Jimmy Hsu) the weekend prior. I will be going to that General Assembly.
To assist the General Assembly, which is more legislative, there is usually a set of regional meetings to solicit concerns, ideas, and directions for the General Assembly to deal with. This time we are having only one national meeting, which will be held March 10-13 (during UT’s Spring Break fortunately) in Las Vegas, NV. I am not happy about us meeting in Las Vegas during Lent, but that is where the best deal on hotel rooms and meeting space was found. All Paulists are expected to attend, as well as representatives from our collaborators (employees) in each parish or university center, as well as representatives of each of the Paulist Associate groups. Deacon Billy Atkins will be joining us as the collaborator from St. Austin Parish. 
So there will be some coming and going this spring of Paulists here at St. Austin, and indeed all over the country, maybe even more than usual. I ask for and appreciate your understanding as the Paulists undertake these tasks, and especially ask for your prayers as the Paulists deal with some difficult and important topics. Please ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to know how to move forward in our mission and for the courage to do it. Thanks.
God Bless,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 9

Last month there was a news story that one third of Americans don’t believe in evolution, and surprisingly that number is increasing in some groups. As for myself I would not say that I “believe” in evolution (belief being a different faculty of the human person than what is used in evaluating evolution or any other scientific theory), but I am thoroughly convinced by the evidence for evolution and accept whole-heartedly the theory of evolution. And what is more, I can see no conflict between thoughtful acceptance of evolution as a scientific theory and religious faith.

Here is how I see the relationship between the two: Scientific evolution, propelled by the engine of natural selection, pushes forward (though in evolution, properly speaking, there is no “forward”) the diversification of species into ever greater variety and complexity. And that is it. There is no goal, no objective, no endpoint towards which evolution is aiming. It just pushes, to all appearances, aimlessly. Species arise, thrive, are wiped out and then replaced by something new. We humans as a species are currently in the limelight, but it was not always thus and may not always be so. Evolution just keeps chugging along with no apparent end in sight.

But that is only half of the picture. On the other side, if I may phrase it that way, is the work of the Holy Spirit. From the beginning of time, from the instant of the big bang, the Holy Spirit has been at work, but not pushing development from below, but rather pulling it from above, enticing, alluring, calling matter and spirit into more complex forms capable of receiving and responding to the Holy Spirit (that is us). While evolution pushes onward the Holy Spirit draws forward to an ever greater self-communication of the Spirit, of God’s own life. God has a plan and a goal towards which all creation (including you and me) is drawn. I believe this is part of what we mean when we proclaim in the Creed each Sunday “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Our hope for eschatology (the end times) is that God will be all in all. Creation has a goal and a purpose. It is not all “sound and fury signifying nothing.” Rather, it is God’s communication of God’s self to all creation.

Now this process does not happen in a neat and orderly way. I wish it did. It offends my Germanic sensibilities of order and thrift. But it does not happen in an orderly way. Evolution puts the Federal government to shame in terms of waste. It seems totally random and pointless. But it is not.

A good way to think about this is St. Matthew’s Gospel 1:1-17. It is the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Jesus. As Matthew presents it, it is a mess. There are obstacles to the succession, there are dicey situations with prostitutes and adultery, there are wars, exile, slavery, empire, civil unrest, captivity, you name it. The history of the Chosen People looks as random and pointless as the history of any people or group you can find. But when you look back in hindsight it begins to take on the shape of a plan. In verse 18 we read, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. Through all that messy human history of some 1,600 years of the Hebrews from Abraham to Jesus God was at work. God was preparing for the coming of His Son, writing straight with crooked lines.  

Something analogous is happening in creation but over a much broader scope of time and space, making it even more complicated. None-the-less, God is pulling creation forward in a messy, tangled, complex way that we cannot really see from our vantage point. Someday I believe that we will, but we have to await the revelation of the children of God at the end of time.

God bless!  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Feast of the PRESENTATION of the LORD February 2, 2014

           Have you ever had the experience of seeing some product advertised on TV or in a magazine, and it looks just wonderful, absolutely great!  So with excitement and anticipation you order it, can hardly wait for it to come, and when it finally arrives it is just a piece of cheap plastic and doesn’t live up to your expectations at all?    And you feel disappointed.  Even cheated.  Did that ever happen to you?
          Well, that is how I feel about today’s readings.  They are, to say the least, a letdown.  In the first reading from the Prophet Malachi we hear this prediction:  “suddenly there will come to the temple, the LORD whom you seek,”   oohhh that sounds interesting.   The Prophet asks:  “But who will endure the day of his coming?  And who can stand when he appears?  For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.”  That sounds pretty impressive and dramatic.  I would expect something LOUD and BIG and even kind of SCARY!  “And who can stand when he appears?” the prophet asks.  The Lord’s appearance is gona’ knock you off your feet right on to your kiester.   It will be dramatic, or that is what I would expect.
          This is reinforced by the Psalm we sung today: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!”
   The Lord is too big to fit through the massive gates of the Temple.  And “Who is this king of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.”  This is a fierce warrior.  We are expecting something pretty dramatic and also DANGEROUS.
          And what do we get?  Our Gospel is clearly set as the fulfillment of these prophecies.  After all this build up in the first reading and psalm what shows up?   Nothing more than a dirt poor couple from way out in the sticks, with a little baby.  That is it.  That is the fulfillment of these dramatic prophecies.  It is hard not to feel let down, disappointed, gypped.  No wonder no one even noticed except that pious guy Simeon and the old church lady Anna. 
          What is going on?  Well, it is God’s peculiar modus operandi.  You see God can reveal God’s self in dramatic and awesome ways:  for example to Moses in the burning bush, or as we heard last weekend in the conversion of St. Paul, knocking him to the ground. 
But St Luke is telling us that often – indeed usually – God acts much more discretely, subtlety, clandestinely. 
          God doesn’t show up at the temple knocking over pillars and busting through gates with sound and fury and scaring the wits out of everyone.  God comes to His Temple not with special effects and drama and sturm und drang, but instead with patience, humility and gentleness.
          And so God comes to His Temple like an infant in the arms his loving mother.  Not anything unusual or particularly noteworthy.  Nothing that anyone pays any attention to except for Simeon and Anna.  Only they are in tune enough with the action of God to recognize what is really going on – literally under their noses.
          Today is no different.  God is not in the big headlines, the superstars, the advertizing glitz, the big-budget special effects, but rather in the ordinary, the common place, the meek and the humble, the forgiving, the just, the peacemakers. 
          God wants to come into our lives; into our hearts.  God’s Temple, where God dwells today, is in our hearts.  That is why God created us, to be in relationship with us.  But God is NOT going to come barging in and making a lot of noise and crash His way into our lives.  That would scare me off, and probably you too.  OK, Jesus did do that with St. Paul, but Paul was a very brave guy and a special case. 
          For the great majority of us God comes as Jesus first came to the Temple; that is, inviting us to see beyond the hoopla and fanfare, to listen beyond the noise and commotion of the world:  inviting us to listen with our hearts, to see with our hearts, to perceive God present in the ordinary and the simple and the everyday.
          It is like the story of Elijah the prophet.  When Elijah was running for his life from Queen Jesebel Elijah fled to Mt Horeb.  To strengthen him God told Elijah to stand on the mountain and God would pass by letting Elijah see God’s glory.  First there was a great wind, so strong it was splitting the mountain and breaking rocks.  But God was not in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake, shaking the whole mountain.  But God was not in the earthquake.  Then there was a mighty fire, blazing forth, but God was not in the fire.  Finally there was a “sound of sheer silence.”   God was in the silence and Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle because God was passing by.

          God acts in the ordinary and the simple and the commonplace.  This is a great problem for us, because we are so bombarded by noise and messages and dramatic flashes and billboards and videos and a zillion tweets and calls.  God gets lost in all of that.
          It takes spiritual discipline to slow down and perceive what is really going on.  Probably hundreds of people were in the Temple the day Jesus and Mary and Joseph showed up. 
Most were busy with many things, had important things to do, could not be bothered to notice some poor peasants from way out in the sticks, which Nazareth was.  Only Simeon and Anna had the spiritual discipline to tune in to what God was doing and to see what really occurred there that day.  Everybody else missed it.
          What is God doing today?                     God is at work in your life.  Jesus comes to the Temple of your heart.  Do you notice?  Do you see?   Do you hear?                      
Well, it is hard.  It takes work. 
          So this week I urge you to find some time to listen to Jesus.  Turn off the TV, your phone, set down your tablet, unplug whatever other gadgets you are wired to, and just spend 10 minutes in quiet.  See if you can hear where is God at work in your life.  How does Jesus want to be a bigger part of your life?  See if you can find 10 minutes once this coming week and just be quiet and let God speak to you.  What do you notice?  What do you see?  If you can do that even once, good!  If you can do it 2 or 3 times this week, wonderful!  If you can do that every day, Fantastic!
          In His care for us God does not knock us over and barge into our lives.  Jesus comes simply and quietly, wanting us to open the door to Him.  Let Him in. 


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 2

Less First of all, a very BIG Thank You to all who responded generously to the Annual Paulist Appeal this last weekend. We all very much appreciate your concern, your generous financial support, and especially your prayers. Please continue to pray that many young men will respond generously to the call to Paulist priesthood, as well as that many young women and men will respond to the call to religious life, priesthood and the diaconate. On behalf of Frs. Steve, Bob, René, Ed Nowak, Jamie Baca, Bruce Nieli and myself:  THANK YOU!

And it was great to have Fr Seven Bell back with us again!

The life of a priest is an interesting, indeed fascinating, one. This is especially true for Paulists, who tend to be more on the forefront of modern culture and reaching out to those outside of the Church.  It is an interesting and exciting place to be.

To be called to be a priest is, from my experience, a very great blessing. No one can take this position on his own, but I believe someone called to priesthood is offered a wonderful blessing. No matter what our path in life, we only truly find ourselves by giving ourselves away. As Jesus taught us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remain just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). It takes great maturity and wisdom for a young person (perhaps especially a young man) to realize this, but it is very true. Priesthood is an exciting and challenging way to live this out, and I guarantee you are never bored!

God bless!