Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Sept. 20

In just about 10 days Pope Francis will make his first trip ever to the United States. He will be visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. This is an historic occasion and will be well covered (perhaps excessively so) by all the media. Pope Francis is a hot news item. He is, for better or worse, a celebrity.
However there is much more going on with this visit than just a big media event. For all the hoopla and hype it is important to at least try to remain focused on the deeper and more meaningful aspects of Pope Francis’ visit.
First of all, I encourage you to pray for the Pope’s safety during his time in our country. Frankly, Pope Francis is a nightmare for security personnel. Pope Francis’ love for people and his warm Hispanic nature, lead him to disregard security issues to make direct and personal contact with people. All people. People are drawn to him like a magnet, and Pope Francis is drawn to be close and among the people he both leads and serves. I applaud Pope Francis for that. But I also worry that given the number guns out there, and the number of mentally ill people who are not getting the treatment they need, that Pope Francis is running a big risk.
I remember many years ago when I was a young priest stationed near Fairbanks at St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska. We had a parishioner who was pretty high up in the Alaskan State Troopers. Pope John Paul II stopped in Fairbanks once on his way home from a trip to Asia, and the papal plane had to refuel in Fairbanks. The Pope was only at the airport for a couple of hours, but he came out and spoke to the crowd there. I was startled when our Alaskan State Trooper parishioner later stated, with evident relief, that he was never so happy as when he saw the Pope’s plane taking off from Fairbanks and leaving. So I am certain that many security people will give a big sigh of relief when Pope Francis departs the U.S.  To have the Pope harmed on your watch would be a terrible thing. So pray for Pope Francis’ safety.
Secondly, I urge you to pay attention to what the Pope says. He has come all the way from Rome not just to see the sights, not just to try a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, but he comes to us to bring us a message. Actually, probably several messages. It is much easier just to enjoy the hoopla, but I urge you to take the time and effort and really listen to his message. Listen with an open mind and a prayerful heart. He may speak to us about the insidious nature of too much wealth and technology, or about immigration and refugees, or our responsibility to protect the environment, or the need for communities of genuine concern and love, or something else. He will be making several major addresses at his Masses, at the U.N., to the U.S. Congress, and at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. So there will probably be lots of content. The Pope has multiple occasions to speak on various topics and it is a pretty good bet he will use them all.
The visit of Pope Francis is a rare and also beautiful opportunity. We can be proud to be members of the Catholic Church. More importantly, we can use this opportunity – no, this gift – to refresh and deepen our faith in Jesus Christ as members of His Body in the Catholic Church. That would be the best part of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.  
God Bless,

Monday, September 14, 2015

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 13, 2015

In today’s Gospel Jesus asks these penetrating questions:  “Who do people say that I am?  … But who do you say that I am?”   This last is an important question.  Who do you say Jesus is?   Many different answers are given. 
          When I was a student at the Catholic University of America getting my Masters degree in theology I would often go to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is on the grounds of the Catholic University.  Anybody ever been there?   Across the apse in front, over the altar, is a huge mosaic depiction of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is seated.  He is frowning.  Flames of fire shoot out from His head.  His hands are raised in a kind of “touch-down” sign, looking like He is ready to slap anyone getting too close. He stares intently forward out of his deep blue eyes, framed by his flowing blond hair.  His robe is slung over one shoulder, revealing powerful pecs and muscles.  We used to call him “Jesus of muscle beach” because of that.  He did not look very friendly, nor approachable.  Indeed, a cordon of angels in long chasubles stand hand to hand in front of him blocking anyone from getting too close. 
          This is not a warm and fuzzy answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  But it is a strong, powerful answer.  Here is a mighty Jesus who is definitely on top and in control.  The immigrant community who built this shrine probably wanted a strong Jesus to show that their Catholic Jesus could take on and best the Protestant Jesus:  ‘my Jesus can beat up your Jesus’ kind of thing.  And that is one answer to “Who do you say I am?”
          A more popular response today would be to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd, someone who lays down His life for the sheep.  This is a much more approachable image of Jesus.  Jesus seeks us out when we are lost, places us on His shoulders and caries us home.  It is a comforting image for people who are hurting.  It is just not very challenging.    
          I remember the surprise and delight I felt the first time I saw the image of “Jesus enjoying a good cigar.”  The humanity of Jesus is emphasized in this image, and makes Jesus truly one of us, not so stuffy and foreign and other-worldly, but human, approachable, someone you could even enjoy being with and have a good time with.  That is whole other way of understanding who is Jesus.
          And for many of us I think Jesus is still someone convenient to have around in case of an emergency or tragedy, kind of ignored most of time, but trotted out when we experience some great difficulty or illness, to plead with and hopefully receive relief from.  Jesus is kind of like a fire-extinguisher in a building: not something we pay a lot of attention to normally but we very much want there in time of need.
          And there are many other answers to the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’  You may want to spend some time this week reflecting on this question, and how you answer it in different situations in your life.
          In the Gospel today Jesus gives us a rather disturbing, disquieting, certainly challenging answer to this question.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.   For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
          That certainly does not sound like fun.  It is, in fact, quite off-putting.  But Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus does not soft-peddle this understanding of who He is.  The Gospel says “He spoke this openly.  
I suspect He not only said this openly, but forcefully and insistently as well.  Jesus is clearly being confrontational.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.   For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
          Jesus does not make us comfortable.  Does not tell us we are OK or precious.  Jesus does not calm our fears.  Instead He challenges us quite severely:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.   For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
          I wish it were otherwise, I wish it were easier, but there it is.
          The Good News in all this is that we don’t have to do this alone.  He has already gone there.  He has already shown the way.  We follow Him.  We are not alone in this journey, we are not wandering around aimlessly, but rather we follow in the path that He marked out, that Jesus has trod before us.  He has done it, and Jesus assists and guides us as we follow Him.  We know it can be done, and Jesus helps us to do it.
          Jesus, when we meet Him, challenges us to go beyond ourselves and to become something more.  Whatever your image of Jesus, do not keep Him at arms-length, but allow the Lord to draw close and to challenge you to do more, to be more:  more honest, more compassionate, more chaste, more generous, more prayerful, more merciful, more loving. 
          In his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis right away in the third paragraph challenges us:  “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.” 
          “A personal encounter with Christ” sounds somehow mildly Protestant.  But that is what the Pope is calling us to every day.  Every day deepening our personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel Jesus is asking that of us as well.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Who am I for you
          Open your heart to be invited and challenged by the Lord to go deeper, to grow closer to Him, to follow Him more closely, to know Him better.  Go beyond your present image of Jesus, to allow Jesus to guide you to deeper, fuller, better images of Him: in short to come to know Jesus more deeply and completely.

          That is the real challenge of the Gospel today.  “Who do you say that I am?”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

HOMILY Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C September 6, 2015

          They brought to Jesus a deaf person with a speech impediment.  The poor guy had a speech impediment.   Hmmm.  The man was deaf, and something impeded his speech. 
          I feel sorry for this guy because I can kind of identify with him.  Many of us, I think, can because from time to time we suffer from a speech impediment. 
          Sometimes it is as simple as taking someone for granted and so forgetting to say “Thank you.”  That failure to say “thanks” is a type of speech impediment: speech impeded by laziness or thoughtlessness or routine.
          Perhaps we are too embarrassed or too proud to ask for the help that we need.  We continue to be hurt and hurt others rather than dump our pride, admit our weakness, and ask for help.  That is a speech impediment.  The first thing at 12 step programs is to stand up and say, “my name is Chuck and I am an alcoholic, or an overeater, or whatever it is”.  Speech is the first step back to recovery.
          At times we might be too shy, or self-conscious to speak up and make our concerns heard, to voice our opinion, to share our thoughts.  That is impeded speech. 
          Or we might be too uncomfortable saying to someone we care about, that I really like you, I really appreciate you, I love you.  We may be afraid of turning red; afraid of our own feelings; afraid especially of being rejected.  That is a speech impediment when we can’t speak what is in our heart.  Who as a teenager hasn’t been tongue-tied and dumb in this kind of situation?   And even when older we still are impeded but we get better at faking it.
           Perhaps we are afraid to speak up when others might disagree with us, or afraid to tell the boss something she or he doesn’t want to hear, or to speak a truth that is unpleasant and unwelcome, afraid of what others will think or do in reaction, and so out of fear we keep quiet.  That is a big speech impediment.
          Perhaps we don’t pray because we are too busy, too distracted, too occupied with a zillion things and many electronic gadgets.  Then our speech with God is impeded.  For many of us our speech is impeded because we don’t praise and glorify and thank God nearly enough.  We are too busy, to pre-occupied, too centered on our own little stuff to stop and say “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You,” which we should be doing all the time.  And that is impeded speech.
          Some of us have a very hard time apologizing, of asking for forgiveness, of even admitting a mistake and saying we were wrong.  That is a big speech impediment, but I am sure no one here has that impediment.
          There are many, many ways to suffer a speech impediment.  Not all of them are silent.  Sometimes we gossip, and then sometimes we lie, and we gossip, we criticize severely, we gossip, we spread rumors, we gossip, we taunt and call names, we gossip, we tell secrets, we gossip, we curse and swear, and of course, we gossip.  All of these are mal-formed, broken, crooked, wrong uses of speech.  And that is also a type of speech impediment. 
          In a recent weekday homily Pope Francis declared: “To make gossip is terrorism. …  Whoever gossips is like a terrorist that throws a bomb and it goes off, destroys; destroys with the tongue, doesn’t make peace,” said the pope.
          So, they brought to Jesus a deaf person with a speech impediment.  Anybody here ever have a speech impediment?  Of course.
          Do you want to be healed??   The man in the Gospel got healed.  If you want to be healed of your speech impediment than do what he did.  He went to Jesus.  Go to Jesus.
          Because you see Jesus is the Word of God.  God spoke God’s self so perfectly, so completely, so totally that the Word God speaks is God.  As St. John tells us at the beginning of His Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”   
          Who better to heal a speech impediment than the very Word of God?  So the man goes to Jesus.
          Notice that the man is deaf.  He doesn’t hear the Word of God. He doesn’t hear the Gospel.  How can he speak the praises and glory of God if he has never heard the Good News of the Gospel?  You have to hear the Good News of God’s love for you and for all of us in Jesus Christ before you can proclaim the praises and glory of God! 
          So first Jesus touches the man’s ears.  The Gospel says He took him off by himself away from the crowd.   Jesus put his finger into the man’s ears…”  
Jesus opens the man’s ears.  You have to open your ears, not the ones on the side of your head but rather the ears of your heart.  Open your heart to let the light of God shine into your heart.  Even if it is only a little crack, the light will get in.  And the more you open yourself the more God’s light will shine into you, the more you will hear God’s love for you, the more you will hear the good news of the Gospel.
          Then having heard the man could speak.  Not about recent trends in politics or sports or late night TV hosts.  Not all the endless blabber about Donald Trump.  No.  Rather he could speak truth, he could speak words of comfort and forgiveness, words of mercy and tenderness, words of justice and righteousness, words of witness and proclamation of what God had done for him, words of praise, words of love. 
          Brothers and sisters Jesus wants to heal us too; heal our deafness, heal our muteness, heal our blindness, heal our lameness, and especially heal our sin.  He wants to heal us of everything that keeps us from speaking, acting, loving, and living as children of God.  For He is the only-begotten Son of the Father.  And He wants us to be His sisters and brothers.  He bet His life on it.
          And that is something to shout about.  God bless. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 6

Happy Labor Day Weekend!  I hope you and your family have a relaxing and safe Holiday Weekend. 
This year, as every year, the Catholic Bishops of our country have issued a Labor Day Statement.  It is pretty good, and can be found on the US Bishops’ website at this incredibly long address: It is a labor just to type it in!
Because of the synods on the family, and Pope Francis calling much attention to the family, this year’s labor statement reflects on labor as it affects families. The Bishops state: “This Labor Day, we have a tremendous opportunity to reflect on how dignified work with a living wage is critical to helping our families and our greater society thrive.”
I can affirm that statement from my own pastoral experience. All too often I have seen families stressed and even torn apart by the loss of a job, by chronic underemployment, by the necessity of working several jobs, by inadequate income and lack of medical insurance. These–and divorce–are the things that really affect families. The Bishops address this directly: 
“Is there any question that families in America are struggling today? Too many marriages bear the crushing weight of unpredictable schedules from multiple jobs, which make impossible adequate time for nurturing children, faith, and community. Wage stagnation has increased pressures on families, as the costs of food, housing, transportation, and education continue to pile up. Couples intentionally delay marriage, as unemployment and substandard work make a vision of stable family life difficult to see.
Is there any question that too many children feel the tragic pangs of hunger and poverty commonplace in a society that seems willing to accept these things as routine, the cost of doing business? Millions of children live in or near poverty in this country. Many of them are latch key kids, returning to empty homes every day as their working parents struggle to make ends meet.”
Clearly working conditions, income level, health insurance and many other aspects of work and labor have major impacts on families. We as Catholics are called to be pro-family. That means more than just opposing divorce or same sex marriage, it means working concretely to better the conditions of working families so that they have the resources and the dignity to be families worthy of the name.
For this Labor Day Weekend, I encourage you to take a few minutes, find the US Catholic Bishops Labor Day Statement, and spend a few minutes reading and reflecting on it. It is only two pages long. You could hardly find a better way to spend a small part of Labor Day. 
God bless,