Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Sept. 21

A week ago I was at a Paulist General Council meeting in New York City (Sept. 8 to 11). The weather was nice, the meetings went well, I got some very good Italian food, and I had a chance to catch up with a couple of friends from when I was pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church there (1993-2001). I also had the opportunity to concelebrate the Noon Mass on Thursday, September 11, the 13th Anniversary of the terrible attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United Flight # 93. It brought back many memories of that day: people showing up at church covered in soot and grime who had run and walked all the way from down at the Twin Towers; frantic activity in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital (across the street from the church) as we awaited hordes of injuries needing emergency care, only to wait and wait and wait and have no one show up, as there were few wounded to treat because those who did not walk away did not live; news of a prominent member of our choir who was killed in the United Flight crash; and especially the awful acrid smell that persisted for days whenever the wind blew from the south.

I also remember the huge crowds at Mass the next several days. On the 13th Anniversary of that tragedy there was an increase in the daily Mass attendance, but it was nothing at all like the numbers we experienced in 2001. I remembered the theme of my preaching at that time, which was that if we give in to hate and intolerance and to seeking revenge, then the terrorists have won because then they will have turned us into terrorists too, with hearts bent on revenge. It struck me that thirteen years later, with Russia attempting to carve up Ukraine, with the tragedy of the Malaysian airplane shot out of the air and totally unsuspecting and innocent people killed for no reason, with terrorism still rampant in the Middle East (ISIS) and Africa (Boko Haram) and so many other places, that what I preached more than a decade ago is still a relevant and necessary message.

There are many evil and crazy people in the world, and a lot of them have guns and bombs. It is a dangerous planet that we live on, but the ultimate solution is not to destroy and obliterate all those who threaten us, or oppose us, or just disagree with us, because we then become the terrorists. They win by converting us to their lowest common denominator approach of ethnic cleansing and revenge.

We win by being true to what we believe. We cannot give in to facilely portraying all the members of any nation, creed, religion or region as terrorists, thugs, murderers, and enemy. Only by being true to our highest ideals and living them out do we overcome terrorists and crazies. Terrorists want us to hate because then we become like them. They must not win. We must not hate.

God Bless,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross September 14, 2014

As a young man, before he became Emperor, Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom.   Caesar maintained an attitude of superiority throughout his long captivity.  When the pirates were going to demand a ransom of twenty talents of silver, he insisted they ask for fifty.  During his captivity Caesar conversed and ate with the pirates, played games with them, gave them speeches, and struck up a friendship with the pirates.  
After the ransom was paid and he was freed, Caesar raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates.  He summarily had them crucified.   But redeeming a promise he had made to them while in captivity, he showed them a sign of leniency: he first had their throats cut.
To cut their throats was a mercy because crucifixion was such a slow, painful, agonizing and totally degrading way to die.  The cross was a horrible means of state execution.
Yet today we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  It should cause us some mental dissonance, like the Exaltation of the Hangman’s Noose, or a “celebration of the Electric Chair.”  The words don’t fit well together.
Early Christians did not display the cross, because it was such a sign of shame and degradation and pain.  They pictured Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the catacombs, but for 300 years did not picture the cross because it was so shameful and so painful.
So why are we exalting the Cross?  Because this sign of defeat and degradation has, most surprisingly, even irrationally, certainly counter intuitively, become the prime and foremost symbol of God’s love. 
In God’s mysterious plan even the cross – that instrument of torture - is redeemed and becomes a sign of overwhelming love.  
St. Paul tells us in the beautiful hymn he quotes in our second reading today – that Jesus became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” 
This obedience of Jesus is not at all like the obedience of your pet that you send to obedience school, a kind of learned reflex. 
This obedience of Jesus is not at all like the obedience of a soldier to the orders of a superior officer, where it is not important that the soldier understand the reason for the order but only that the soldier comply fully with the order.
This obedience of Jesus is rather the fruit of prayer:  of listening to the Father, of being with the Father in the Father’s desires and longings, in molding and forming and submitting Jesus’ own will to the Will of the Father, because the love between the Father and the Son is so strong.  They are one.  They are one heart, they are one Will. “Not my Will, but thine be done.”  This is Jesus’ obedience.
And so Jesus “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” 
In this way, even the terrible instrument of torture, of total and utter degradation and shameful death, became instead a symbol of the fullness of love that overcomes every obstacle, even the most gruesome. 
That is why we exalt the cross.  By believing in Jesus, and in His power to change and mold us into His way of thinking and feeling and loving, we can overcome sin, and so be one again with God the Father.  That union with God, that oneness of Will and heart, we call ‘salvation.’
That is why we exalt the cross.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 14

Our liturgies here at St. Austin, by and large, I think are pretty good. But the type of music, the preaching, and the overall atmosphere are consciously directed at adults. That is good if you are adult, but not so great if you are a child, and so some interested parents and some members of the pastoral staff have been discussing the possibility of incorporating a Children’s Liturgy of the Word in the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass, at least from time to time.
This Liturgy of the Word (LOTW) is directed to children. I am not a child psychologist nor a parent, but that does not stop me from having opinions about the religious abilities of children (in fact it makes it easier!). 
Most children are, I believe, naturally religious and spiritual. I also believe that most children take quite naturally to ritual and to liturgy. An example of this can be seen in the tendency of children to watch the same video over and over and over and over. An adult may complain that the child has seen the same video dozens of times, knows the dialogue by heart, and certainly knows how it is going to end. There is zero suspense for the child watching the same video for the 37th time. But novelty is not what the child is interested in. It is dependability, familiarity, and structure that the child wants in order to organize the many disparate experiences in his or her life. The child is not bored by the repetition, but rather is reassured and comforted. And so they watch the same video for the 37th time, and enjoy it. Liturgy is a lot about repetition and consistent form.
This, in a way, makes children naturally better at liturgy than adults in our hyper-entertained culture, which is always demanding something novel and odd and different and new. Liturgy does not do that well, so children are naturally better suited to liturgy than adults. But I digress.  
What exactly is Children’s LOTW? Well, first a couple of words about what it is NOT. It is NOT baby-sitting. We have a nursery for that, and the nursery will continue. The nursery is most appropriate for children who have not yet begun school.
Children’s LOTW is NOT religious education. We already have that, and it takes place between the 9 and the 11:30 Masses most Sundays during the school year. Children are hopefully first and foremost learning their religion in their home, in their family, and that learning is supplemented by what we do in our parish religious education program on Sundays or in the parish school.
Children’s LOTW IS liturgy. It is just as much liturgy as what the older people are doing simultaneously in the church. Adults who attend the Children’s LOTW are encouraged to participate just like adults in the church are encouraged to participate. It is Liturgy and it is Prayer. It is different because it’s directed at children but not less than the worship in the church. It has ritual, prayer, music, readings from the Word of God, homily, and profession of faith. (Unfortunately it does not have a collection, but that may come!)
More concrete and specific details will be forthcoming in the bulletin. For now I just want to get you thinking about Children’s Liturgy of the Word.
God Bless,

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Homily Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A September 7, 2014

          In our second reading today St. Paul tells us “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;”   
          Now as a Paulist I like and respect St. Paul, but I think St. Paul here is off-base.  I know he says “Owe nothing to anyone,” but I do not encourage you to needlessly cut up your credit cards, or return your student loans and drop out of school, or to not get a home mortgage nor an auto loan, etc.  Finance has developed some since St. Paul’s time, and we need to use these financial tools responsibly.   Even your parish owes money.  Quite a bit of it actually.
          The second half of St Paul’s injunction though we do need to pay attention to, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;”    We are most definitely called to love one another.
          In today’s Gospel we have a practical example of how this love plays out in action.  For the love we owe each other is not just some warm, fuzzy feeling of good will.  No.  This love is very concrete and practical and needs to be put into practice.
          What Jesus describes as an instance of this practical, down-to-earth, concrete love is sometimes called “fraternal correction”.  
          Jesus said to his disciples:  “If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” 
          This is a practical instance of the love we owe each other.  Living together in community we will occasionally, intentionally or not, sometimes bump into each other, bruise each other physically or emotionally, insult, demean or hurt one another.  Stuff happens.  Whether it is family, or work, or parish, stuff happens.
          When it does Jesus tells us what to do.  First of all He tells us NOT to ignore it.  Indifference is NOT what we owe each other, because indifference is not love, not loving.  Indifference and writing others off is easier, but it is not Christian.
          Jesus tells us NOT to go and tell everyone else.  “Do you know what that so-and-so did to me the other day?”   Rather, Jesus tells us    When you go and tell a third party that is called “triangulation”, and Jesus tells us NOT to do that.  Tell the offender alone.  It is no one else’s business.
           And of course Jesus instructs us to go and interact with the offender.  Why?  To put them down?  “You dirty so-and-so, look what you did to me!”    NO.   Jesus tells us:
 “If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”  That is the goal. This is about winning him or her over, that is, helping them to grow, to understand and accept the consequences of their actions, to become more mature and Christ-like, and to move forward in love.   That is the whole purpose of this confrontation.
          Fraternal correction, done well, is very helpful.  But it is also very risky and often difficult.   So here are some pointers.  Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you,
   So first of all, don’t go spreading it around to everyone else.  But there is someone you should talk to first before going to see your offensive brother, and that is the Holy Spirit. 
          First, take some time to pray asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in this.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an opening, and words that will truly help your offensive brother.  Pray that the offender will be open and receptive, able to hear the genuine concern you have for him or her.  So first of all pray.
          Second, think about how to do this in a way that will succeed in bringing your brother around and help him or her grow as a person.  What is a good time?  When is he or she most disposed to be open and accepting?  How can you best phrase this to clearly express your concern, not sounding condemning nor condescending? 
          Third, make your correction.  We all are responsible to each other for assisting each other in growth.  Make the correction with gentleness, not coming on like an authority, but out of genuine concern for the other person.
          If the person responds in openness and realizes their fault, and even thanks you for your help, then give thanks to God for that great grace.  Truly the Holy Spirit has touched that person’s heart and you should thank the Holy Spirit.
          But if the person rejects you, scoffs at your attempt to correct him or her, even insults or threatens you, then you just have to withdraw and ask the Holy Spirit for patience, and for the Holy Spirit to keep working to touch that person’s heart.   Ultimately we do not change our brothers and sisters.  They change themselves under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 
          Fraternal correction is a debt we owe to each other.  We as a community are called to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus.  It is a difficult task for every one of us, and we owe each other the help, the guidance and the support of genuinely fraternal correction. 
          May we pay our debt to each other in helping all of us to grow in the image of Christ. 


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 7

Do you like Birthdays? (Who doesn’t?) Do you like Mary, Jesus’ Mother? (Who doesn’t?) Well, then you are in luck because tomorrow is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Happy Birthday, Mary! It is not polite form to ask a lady her age, but I can assure you that it would have to be a very large cake to hold all the candles. And in any case we don’t know exactly what year, much less the exact date, on which she was born. Traditionally her parents are known as Anna and Joachim, though there is nothing in Scripture that tells us this.

So why do we celebrate this feast on September 8? Because it is exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which is all about Mary being conceived in the womb of her mother, Anna, NOT about the conception of Jesus. That is the Feast of the Annunciation, nine months before Christmas on March 25).

Historically, Mary, or Miriam as she was originally known, was poor (almost everyone then was), part of a conquered people, a rural peasant of Galilee. She never went to school and was most probably illiterate. This did not stop her from having a very full and deep life of faith.

Over the years the paucity of historical information we have about Mary has caused her to be cast in a great variety of roles. In the 4th Century, in the controversy over the relation of the divine and human natures in Christ, Mary was named “Theotokos,” Greek for “God bearer,” or as we say, “Mother of God.” This was to emphasize how close the two natures in the one person of Jesus are. You can even accurately say that Mary is not just mother of the human Jesus, but truly “Mother of God.”

Later, in the Middle Ages, the peasant woman Mary was given all the pomp and circumstance of royalty and courts. Mary was known as Queen of Angels, Queen of Apostles, Queen of All Saints, and Queen of just about anything else that was holy. Mary was never called “Lady” in her lifetime, but she was always referred to later as “Our Lady.”

In Mexico Mary became protectress of conquered and displaced peoples, appearing to Juan Diego as “La Virgin Morena” or the brown virgin, identifying herself not with the European conquerors but with the vanquished Indians. Even today Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe inspires great devotion among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

In the early 20th Century, as the Church battled atheistic Communism around the world, Mary became a warrior princess. Children in Catholic School up to my time joined the “Blue Army,” and later the “Legion of Mary,” military images to maintain the struggle as we prayed for the conversion of Russia, meaning the Soviet Union.

Nowadays the trend is to return Mary to her roots, a representative of conquered and oppressed peoples, someone who can identify with poverty because she lived it, someone who was a refugee and political exile (the Flight into Egypt) and mother of a man condemned and executed by the state.

Mary has been called on to serve many roles over the centuries, but always they center on compassion, tenderness and care. This has tremendous appeal and staying power. As the Italian atheist says, “there is no god, and Mary is his mother!” So Happy Birthday, Mary!

God Bless,