Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 1

Taking off on Pope Francis’ urging “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them…unfailingly each day,” I want to continue to examine how we can concretely and actually do this. There are two important practices to develop. First is setting aside time each day to allow this encounter to occur. Second is to develop an openness to recognize the encounter whenever and wherever it occurs. The two are related, but different.
First is the most obvious, if not the easiest. Each day we must set aside time to pray. In our hectic world this is not easy, but as a New York mystic once told me, “yesterday’s prayer is like yesterday’s breathing. It won’t help you today. You have to pray and breathe ever day.” Just as you cannot go very long without breathing, you cannot go very long without praying. It really helps to have a set time and routine. It is just too easy to miss it if you don’t set a routine.
There are many different forms of prayer because there are many different types of people. Often it takes a person a while to discover the right way for him or her to pray. And in different situations, or different periods of a person’s life, different forms of prayer may be more suitable. The Rosary is a method of prayer many people have found valuable for a long period of time. Contemplative prayer, charismatic prayer, singing as a form of prayer, lectio divina, using your imagination when praying over Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, memorized prayers like the Our Father or the Morning Offering, meditation, and many other forms of prayer can be used. Daily Mass is an excellent way. Which form of prayer is not so important, but setting time aside to pray is. These prayer experiences are the building blocks for the personal encounter with Jesus.
An important part of the prayer time has to be dedicated to listening. This is very difficult for us. We hear so much, but unfortunately we listen little. Listening is an art that must be developed. We have to listen to the message and the emotions behind the message. In prayer we are listening to ourselves first of all. What is going on in my heart, in my guts, in my being? Where is it coming from? If it is from the Lord, what is it telling me? But we are also listening for the Lord. It is very uncommon for the Lord to speak to us directly, but rather we hear the Lord in the reactions that are going on inside us. What attracts us? What repels? How are we being pulled, lead, directed? This is the tricky art of paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit inside us. It takes practice, and it is not necessary to get it 100% correct each time. It takes some perseverance and patience – qualities I struggle with.
Perhaps the prayer time will be wonderful and fill you with a sense of Jesus’ presence and His love for you, but don’t count on it. More likely it will be like a lot of interactions you have with other people around you in your family or at work: more or less utilitarian and plain, and even a bit dull. That is OK. That is how relationship works. There are a few precious high points of emotional intensity, and a lot of ordinary times of useful but kind of boring communication. And it won’t be any different in a relationship with the Risen Lord. Most prayer experiences are day-to-day mundane interactions that are rather humdrum. That is just the way it is. But that can still be an encounter.
Next week: Openness to encounter at all times.

God bless,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 25

This past Lent our parish had as a common Lenten practice to read and study Pope Francis’ recent (and only) Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. It is a wonderful document that the Paulist Fathers are now using as a resource for our upcoming General Assembly. It bears repeated examination.
In Paragraph 3 of The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis states: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not mean for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”
Well that is nice. Have you encountered Jesus Christ yet today? How about yesterday? The Pope calls us to this “unfailingly each day!” I find this easier said than done. Do we know how to encounter Jesus daily assuming we even want to do so? If you want to encounter Jesus unfailing each day, just how do you go about doing that? I don’t think that it is obvious to people in our society. So I thought I would dedicate my next several columns to reflecting on this issue and see if I can come up with a few suggestions and practices and techniques that might assist you in a “renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” and to do that “unfailingly each day.” Wish me luck.
First of all, how does encounter happen in our busy, highly scheduled world? Someone wants to talk to me about some issue, about the Church, or about their marriage, or about parking here at St. Austin, or whatever it may be. They send me an email requesting a meeting. I email the person back with dates and times that work for me. The person responds with dates and times that work for him or her. After several such back-and-forth exchanges, we finally agree on a date and time. When that arrives the person shows up. We have our “encounter” for the specified time. Then the person leaves because they have another engagement to get to, and I have another appointment waiting for me. And this is how we often encounter one another in our hectic, highly scheduled society.
That is NOT a good way to encounter Jesus Christ. He is terrible at keeping schedules. Maybe it is His experience 2,000 years ago of a totally pre-industrial, pre-clock culture that marked time by the position of the sun, and there was always tomorrow. No hurries, no rush. Look what Jesus did when he learned His good friend Lazarus was sick. “Although Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (Jn 11:5-6). Keeping appointments just doesn’t seem to interest Jesus. So don’t expect Jesus to show up when He is scheduled. It just ain’t going to happen.
The invitation to Jesus has to be much broader and much more open. Jesus shows up when Jesus shows up, and we have to be always on the watch and ready to greet Him when He suddenly, and often unexpectedly, shows up. Frequently in the Gospels we hear injunctions to being constantly ready and prepared. See Mt 24:50, Mt 25:13, Mk 13:55, Lk 12:47 and others. Like a good Boy Scout we must constantly “Be Prepared!” Indeed, it seems Jesus rather enjoys surprising us, appearing at times we don’t expect and in ways we don’t anticipate. We have to learn to expect the unexpected when attempting to encounter Jesus. Not an easy skill to learn, and it takes a lot of practice.

Till next week, God Bless! 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 18, 2014

In the Gospel today Jesus tells His disciples – and that means He is speaking to you and to me – “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”   Now I don’t know about you, but I find that very difficult to accomplish.  How do you do that, not let your heart be troubled?  There are so many things that trouble and worry us.  Just listen to the news or read the paper.  There is so much to upset us.  Sometimes we can’t sleep.  We get down and depressed.  Some people even lose their appetite (I have not experience that.) 
          How do you NOT be troubled?   ¿Tell yourself, “OK, now I will not be troubled”, and by sheer force of will stop being troubled????    That doesn’t work for me, and I suspect it doesn’t work for you.  Certainly not all the time.
          I think it is important to know the reading of this line from the Gospel.  Is Jesus giving a command, an order, a commandment to us:  “You shall not let your hearts be  troubled!”  That would be pretty hard.
          Or is this more of an encouraging exhortation, almost a little bit of a pep talk?   As in “Oh, don’t let your hearts be troubled.”   I think it is more encouragement than commandment.
          We need to look at the context to understand how we should hear this line.  In the verse immediately before this Jesus has just predicted Peter’s three-time denial.  It reads “Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me?  Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” JN 13:38 
          This statement of the Lord’s must have come as an embarrassing and disappointing shock to Peter and even all the other disciples.  They have just been told by Jesus that they will desert Him and be utter failures.  They will blow the test completely.  Can you imagine how it must have made them feel?
          It is in this context that Jesus reassures them:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”   Jesus is telling them, don’t worry.  Yes, you will blow it and screw up.  But it is not all about you.  So don’t worry, because it really depends not on you but on God.  And God will come through.  Have faith in God and faith in me, rather than in your own self.  Put the faith where it belongs.

          This is not a message designed to make the apostles – or us – feel good about themselves.  But it is a message of great hope.  God is faithful, and God will deliver.   Even when we mess up. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

HOMILY Fourth Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 11, 2014 St Austin, Austin, TX

          In the Gospel today Jesus makes a rather odd or unusual claim:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”    “I am the gate.”   It just seems an odd thing to say.  Jesus says in the Gospel “I am the light of the world, I am living water, I am the bread of life, I am the way, the truth and the life,” and so on.  Jesus says He is many things.  But “gate” seems to me one of the odder choices. 
          Of course, gates are very important.  I grew up in St. Louis and while I was in high-school they built this huge stainless steel arch there.  Anyone ever see the Arch in St. Louis?  Do you know what it is called?   It is the “Gateway Arch”, because St. Louis was the gateway to the West.  It is where Lewis and Clark began and ended their journey of discovery, and for many years St. Louis was the jumping off point, the gateway, for Western exploration and expansion.  So gates are points of new beginnings and explorations.
          Before coming here to Austin I was pastor for 8 years in San Francisco, CA.  The iconic symbol of San Francisco, recognized all over the world, is this very long bright orange bridge.  Anybody know the name of that bridge?  It is the Golden Gate Bridge, because it spans the famous Golden Gate, a relatively narrow passage between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay and the interior of California.  The whole reason that San Francisco is there at all is because of the Golden Gate.  For over a hundred years sailors sailed right past it and never knew it was there, because of the fog.  Only later did the Spaniards discover it when they came upon it from the land side, from the East.  But only because of that all-important gate, allowing access to the Bay, did San Francisco come to be.
          Gates are important.  And Jesus tells us, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”   Well, who are the sheep?  Raise your hand because that is us.  Jesus is the gate for us.
          Where does this gate allow us to go?  Where does Jesus make it possible for you and me to go?  Well, Jesus enables us to go somewhere far better than the Wild West or San Francisco Bay.   Jesus tells us “Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
”  Jesus is telling us that through Him we can be saved and find what we need for the fullness of life.
          All of us want to be alive.  Not just breathing and continuing in existence, not bored, not barely existing; but to love what we do, to be full of enthusiasm, joy, excitement, energy, to really be alive.  That is what eternal life is about.  Not just a long duration – which would be pretty boring – but rather to be fully, completely and intensely  alive.  That is what Jesus promises us.  He says at the end of the Gospel today: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” 
                    Abundant life is wonderful.  And rare.  So many people in our society are barely alive.  They don’t know why they are here.  They don’t know what they want.  They don’t know what will make them happy.  They are only partly alive, like zombies, going through the motions, with a huge hole in their hearts where the love of God should be. 
          Is it any wonder that there is so much alcohol and drug abuse in our society, that people try to deaden the pain of being only partly alive, with no idea what their life means or what any of all this drama is about?  Or whose they are and why they are here?
          Jesus says “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;”   Drugs and alcohol, greed and materialism, ceaseless activity and frenetic schedules, pornography and sex for the sake of escape; all of these are thieves.  They rob us of life.  These things come only to steal and slaughter and destroy.
          But Jesus is entirely different.  He tells us:  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
          Jesus is the gate through which we can come to purpose and meaning and dignity in our lives.  Whoever enters through Him will be saved and find life-giving pasture; in service, in fidelity, in integrity, in honesty, in dignity, in love. 
          Jesus is the gate to salvation.  Jesus is the gate to the fullness of life.  As He assures us in the Gospel today:  “Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 4

On Last Sunday, April 27, two new Saints were canonized, Popes John XXII and John Paul II. Last week I wrote about Good Pope John, and this week I want to look at Pope John Paul II. He reigned as Pope for a long time (the 2nd longest in history!), and many people call him “The Great” in recognition of his many accomplishments.
Pope John Paul II is often credited with helping move forward the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism. Being the first Pope from Poland, this was an issue that John Paul II new intimately, and it was of course a great concern to him.
After the malaise that settled onto the Papacy after the disastrous reception (or non-reception) of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and Pope Paul’s declining health and energy, the dynamism and energy of Pope John Paul II’s personality, so engaging, so athletic, so expressive and dramatic, restored the image of the papacy greatly. He had charisma!
John Paul II had been an actor, and in his papacy he used those skills to very good effect. I remember when he came to Columbia, SC to meet with ecumenical representatives of other Christian bodies. First he came out of the building where they were meeting and spoke to the crowd gathered there, mostly students from the Univ. of South Carolina at Columbia. The Pope read his short speech in his labored English and everyone applauded politely. Then he put down his speech, looked at the university students and said, “It is good to be young.” All the students applauded. Then he said, “It is good to be young and be a student of the University.” And the students applauded more enthusiastically. Finally he said, “It is good to be young and be a student of the University of South Carolina!” The crowd went wild. In just three short sentences, Pope John Paul II had them in the palm of his hand. He was a master at working a crowd.
John Paul II took the papacy all over the world on his many trips. This gave the Pope great publicity and opportunities to speak to world affairs. However, some feel that he did not such a good job of keeping track of what was going on back in the Vatican and that many of the problems and embarrassments that surfaced under the time of Pope Benedict XVI were really planted by insufficient control over the curia during the time of John Paul II, being that he was often away and then the long process of his dying.
Pope John Paul II responded quickly to the problem of clergy sexual abuse that broke in the United States once it became a major problem in early 2002. But he seemed to offer contradictory messages, for example making Cardinal Bernard Law Archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Magiore in Rome in 2004, after Law had resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 over his handling of the sex abuse crisis. There was also the close relationship of Pope John Paul II with Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. In spite of growing accusations against Maciel of bribery and sexual abuse of seminarians, of fathering children by two different women, and other crimes, John Paul remained friendly and supportive of Maciel. It is unclear how much Pope John Paul II actually knew of all this, or how much he wanted to know. Maciel was producing many ordinations in his new order, which greatly pleased John Paul II. As soon as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, one of the first things he did was remove Maciel from head of the Legionnaires of Christ and send him to a monastery. This led many to speculate that he was held back from doing so during John Paul II’s papacy.
Finally, in his desire for Catholicism to show a united and robust face to the world, Pope John Paul II allowed no discussion within or from the church on several controversial topics, such as ordination of married men, artificial birth control, and the ordination of women. While this tactic kept the Church together in the short run, I fear that the lack of open discussion in the Church will serve us ill in the long run. Prohibiting open discussion does not make the issue go away—it only makes us weaker in confronting it and certainly in convincing others of our position.
So for me, the very long reign of Pope John Paul II is a mixed bag, but in the judgment of the Church, he was certainly a holy man, and is now a canonized Saint. May he pray for us!
God bless,