Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 25, 2016

MERRY CHRISTMAS! As we celebrate this wonderful feast of God becoming one of us in the Christ Child, I wish you all Blessings and Joys of this Holy Season!
I especially want to welcome all who join us in this holy and holiday time. 

WELCOME to all our regular and faithful parishioners. We are so blessed by your presence!

WELCOME to any college or university students home visiting family from other institutions of higher learning. We are so happy to see you again!

WELCOME to any relatives or friends visiting family or friends here in Austin. We rejoice that you are with us and we hope your stay in Austin is WONDERFUL (but not so wonderful that you want to move here – just kidding!)
WELCOME to any visitors who were last with us for Easter or last Christmas. We are happy to see you again! Know that you are always welcome, and we are blessed the more that we enjoy your presence. I hope and pray that we will see you more often!

WELCOME to any Christians of another denomination. You are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and we are happy and honored to have you with us during this festive and holy time of year, or at any time. Glad you are with us.

WELCOME to the members of other faiths or of no faith. You honor us by your presence and we are pleased that you have come to visit us. We all live on this one planet, our Mother Earth, and we are all called by our common humanity to honor and respect each other. Thank you for joining us.

WELCOME to any who have come in just to get out of the cold or out of the night. You are most welcome. We are happy to share with you the music, light, decorations and joy of this very special season. WELCOME.

And to all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 18, 2016

Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent! Christmas is almost here. Every year about this time I stop to take account of what we – as people of faith - are really observing and celebrating. With all the hectic activity, parties, social expectations, buying or making gifts, mailing cards, decorating the house, with all this activity and stuff the more important aspect of Christmas can easily be lost.

We Christians are celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation. Literally that means the Enfleshment. We affirm the wild and even crazy belief that God has become human. If you don’t think that is a huge proposition to swallow, then clearly you have not thought long and hard enough about just what it is we are observing and celebrating at Christmas.

What is important about the mystery of the Incarnation, of God becoming fully human, is not so much what you feel about it, but what you believe. Feelings help, but they are not faith. So if you are not feeling very jolly, and the Christmas spirit has not touched you, if you are upset about the relationships in your family, depressed over the political situation in our country, if you are ill and not feeling well, or you are just turned off and depressed about the gross consumerism of Christmas, that is OK. All those feelings are fine, and many of them are quite appropriate and proper.

But if you are not feeling particularly Christmassy, and generally are stressed and out-of-sorts, you still are fully able to celebrate the really important part of Christmas, or Christ Mass as it once was, and that is to re-affirm your faith in God made flesh. For us, Christmas is not about sentiment and emotion, but about commitment to the faith that God has become one of us, in order to be with us, save us, and enable us to be with God forever. That is something to celebrate! Happy Feast of the Incarnation! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 18, 2016

Today’s readings on this Fourth Sunday of Advent present us with a contrast between two men, each of whom is asked to do something risky and difficult, with very different results.
          First we have our first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah.  It involves a King of Judah known as Ahaz.  The events depicted in this reading took place around 735 BC.  It was not a good year.  The situation was one of international politics and conflict.  The superpower in the Middle East back then was the Kingdom of Assyria.  The Assyrians were a mighty military force, and utterly ruthless.  Historians call them the Nazi’s of the ancient Middle East.  And they were conquering all the countries around them. 
          One of the countries in their path of conquest is the little Kingdom of Judah, where Ahaz is King.  His idea is to play ball with the Assyrians and make an alliance with them.  If you can't beat them, then join them!
          Now the Prophet Isaiah goes to the King to urge the King NOT to make an alliance with Assyria.  Because when they allied with Assyria they would have to accept and worship Assyria’s gods.   Isaiah’s message to King Ahaz was rather than ally with Assyria, instead to trust in God for help.  Follow God, trust in God, and God will deliver you from this powerful and aggressive Kingdom of Assyria. 
          But Ahaz doesn’t want to do that.  He is a realist.  Ahaz can see how strong the Assyrians are, their thousands of warriors, their war horses and chariots, their latest technology in siege engines and so on. He is impressed by their might.   So the Prophet Isaiah, to bolster Ahaz, says ask for a sign.  Let God show you His power.  Our reading states: “Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” 
          The Prophet wants Ahaz to ask for a sign so he can trust in God alone and not get entangled with the Assyrians. 
          But Ahaz plays phony piety and false humility and states “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!”  Ahaz does not want to take the risk of trusting in God’s protection and care, and so he doesn’t want the sign.  He wants to follow his own plan of trusting in political and military power. 
Needless to say, it ends badly.  Ahaz brings in worship of false gods, institutes slavery, tramples justice, oppresses the poor to pay the Assyrians, and leaves the Kingdom vulnerable to attack.  Ahaz goes down in history as one of the worst Jewish kings.  Under his successor, Hezekiah, the Assyrians besiege Jerusalem, but that is another story. 
          In any case Ahaz will not put his trust in God, and things go badly wrong.
          Now let’s jump ahead 735 years, in the same part of the world, to a carpenter named Joseph.  And Joseph is betrothed.  He is so happy.  He is to marry Mary, his sweetheart.  But a terrible thing happens.  Before they actually get married, Mary gets pregnant.  What a shock!  What a disappointment!  Poor Joseph can hardly believe it!  Mary is the last person he would have suspected of fooling around.  But the evidence is there, and so Joseph decides to call off the wedding.  However, Joseph still has feelings for Mary, and he is a good man who doesn’t want to make trouble for anyone, even if they have disappointed him like Mary has.  So he decides to divorce her quietly, with no fanfare, very simply, to not expose Mary to shame.   An awful day.
          Then he goes to sleep.  In his sleep he has a dream; a crazy dream.  An angel tells him it is alright.  That Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that she will bear a son who will save his people from their sins.  And finally, that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
          The next morning Joseph awoke.  What did he think?  What did he feel?  What’s he going to do?    He could have gotten up and said to himself, “oh man, what a weird dream!  I have to go easy on the jalapeno matzohs.  They give me such crazy dreams.”  
Joseph, like Ahaz, could have ignored the call from God.  Like Ahaz, Joseph was being called to take a big risk, to do something that would look foolish from the outside.  Joseph was being called to make a great act of trust in God’s care and concern for him.  Joseph knew God would not leave him hanging, and so the Gospel succinctly says: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him in a dream.  Joseph, unlike Ahaz, was open to the crazy, if demanding, ways of God.  And good for us that he was. 
          So two men asked by God to trust and do something that in the judgement of the world was crazy, something wild, something foolish.  Two different responses with two very different outcomes.
          What about us?  Do we act more like the hard-bitten political realist Ahaz, or more like Joseph the crazy dreamer?  Are we so responsible that we don’t respond to God’s call?
          How willing are we to take a risk in trusting God’s call to us?  Perhaps a call to volunteer for some ministry at church?  But, it might mess up my weekend schedule.  I am too afraid to read in public, what if I drop the chalice, I’m not holy enough to do that.  //Today’s readings urge us: Take the risk!
          Or maybe the Holy Spirit wants you to take the risk to be the first side to reach out to heal a rift with a neighbor or family member.  To risk forgiving someone who hurt you.  But what if I get shot down, what if I am rejected, what if I get taken advantage of, what if I get hurt again?    // Take the risk!
          Or perhaps for our college and high-school students here maybe God calls you to investigate being a religious sister, a brother or a priest.  Maybe God calls you to serve His people in the Church.   But that is not my plan for me life?    // Take the risk!  It’s not so bad, believe me.
          Or maybe God calls you to be a teacher, or to marry that particular person, or to volunteer for a mission trip, or do something wildly generous, or to speak the truth when no one wants to listen, or in some other way to trust in God and take a risk. 
          We read these stories in the Scriptures from thousands of years ago because God is still the same, and still acting in the same way today, after all those years.  Still alluring and inviting and calling us to follow in God’s way even when it looks crazy and ridiculous.  God is still calling you and me.   Take the risk.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday December 11, 2016

Happy Third Sunday of Advent! How time flies! Anyway, as this is the New Year of the Church I think there is still time to make a New Year’s resolution or two. And I have one that I would like to make for this new year of grace. I want to stop hearing confessions. No more hearing confessions. Period.

That might sound a little radical and over-the-top, but let me tell you how I came to this. A few weeks ago a person who I did not recognize came to me and told me about an encounter he had had recently. In another parish he approached a priest who was vested and waiting to celebrate Mass. He asked the priest if he could hear a quick confession. The priest declined, pointing out that he was ready to start Mass, and then added, somewhat emphatically apparently, that he was busy immediately after Mass and would not be able to hear his confession then either. The disappointed penitent asked me what I thought about this encounter. I’m afraid I disappointed him still further by not agreeing with him that the priest in question was derelict in his duties. Having been there myself I perhaps had more empathy for the priest then the petitioner did. I recommended to the questioner that he say a prayer for this harried priest, but that did not seem to satisfy him. I think he wanted me to assure him that his disappointment and anger at the nameless priest was justified. But I did not do that.

Anyway, this brief encounter did make me think about the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, and how we have turned it into a situation of quicky confessions. And I really don’t like quicky confessions. However, I really love celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In “confession” we put the emphasis on our confessing. It is about what we do. However, in Reconciliation the emphasis is on God. It is God who is reconciling us to Himself in His Son Jesus. The sacrament is not about us, but about God. And that is not a situation for a hurried, brusque, quick confession.

God does not play games. If we are sorry, God is anxious to forgive us. St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that there are many ways that sins are forgiven: prayer, good works, fasting, almsgiving, and especially reception of the Eucharist to name a few. Reconciliation celebrates what God is always eager and anxious to do.

Next week we will have our Advent Reconciliation Service here on Monday evening, Dec 19. I hope that you will join us. If you cannot, I hope that you will celebrate the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent.

And I will always be happy to celebrate, in an appropriate way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle A Dec 11, 2016

In the Gospel today we hear again about John the Baptist.  Just like we did the last two Sundays.  John the Baptist IS the Advent figure par excellence!
          But today’s Gospel finds John in prison.  Not only that, John seems perplexed, confused, befuddled.   Is Jesus the one or not???
          Well, obviously John cannot go and ask Jesus himself, since John is locked up.  So instead John sends his followers, his disciples to ask Jesus this very important question: “Are YOU the one we are waiting for?”   “Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”    
          I find this very curious.  I mean John the Baptist is the precursor, the one who was to go before the Lord and prepare his way.  That is John’s whole job, his entire reason for being.  And yet he is not sure if Jesus is the one or not??  
          Well, it seems that John had pretty definite ideas about what the Messiah was supposed to look like and what he was supposed to do.  And basically, the Messiah was supposed to establish God’s reign in power and majesty, primarily by smiting all the sinners, evil doers, and those who ignored God’s Will for their own will.  As we heard John declare last week in the Gospel:  the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.   I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
          John is a pretty forceful, fiery preacher, and he is looking for a very strong, powerful, mighty Messiah who will smite the ungodly.  John is squarely in the tradition of Old Testament Prophets of Fire and Judgement!
          But that is not what Jesus does.  Jesus announces GOOD NEWS.   Jesus preaches about God’s love.  He forgives people.  He heals people.  He eats with sinners.  He does all the wrong things according to John, and doesn’t smite a single sinner. So John is confused, and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one or not.
The early Church Fathers found this kind of embarrassing.  Shouldn’t John have known???  So they explained it by saying that John asked the question only to guide his disciples to Jesus.  That is kind of lame.  No, I think John was genuinely perplexed.  Jesus is NOT what John was expecting.
          Jesus’ answer is very interesting.  He lists His healings. ““Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight,  the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
          Instead of smiting sinners, Jesus forgives and heals them.  He does something different and unexpected, but even better.  Jesus inaugurates God’s reign not by blasting sinners and eliminating them, but by forgiving and healing them.

Personally, I find John the Baptist’s problem very reassuring.   If John the Baptist, the precursor, the one assigned to prepare the way of the Lord; if he could have difficulty recognizing Jesus, then maybe it is not so surprising that often I have a hard time recognizing Jesus.  Perhaps I can get a little slack in my failure at times to truly recognize Jesus.   Anyone else here have difficulty recognizing Jesus in your daily life?
          I think this is true because Jesus often comes in ways we don’t expect. Like John the Baptist we have rather clear ideas about what Jesus is supposed to do and be.  But Jesus is not bound by that.  Maybe Jesus comes to us as a person in need, or a bothersome relative, or even in the guise of an enemy.  Perhaps Jesus approaches us someday as a homeless person, as Jesus appeared as a beggar to St Martin of Tours.  Mother Teresa of Kolkuta saw Jesus in the dying poor.  Maybe Jesus comes to us when the Holy Spirit urges us to hold our tongue, to be a little extra generous, to be patient with our crabby neighbor.  Maybe we even see Jesus in the honesty and generosity of an atheist, or in the commitment, tenderness and love between a same sex couple. Maybe Jesus shows Himself in ways that we totally don’t expect. 
          This Advent we are called to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.  We are called to open ourselves and our lives for Him to live more fully and completely in us.  But not only in the ways we expect, but also, and perhaps even more, in the ways we don’t expect.  Jesus comes, as He did that first time so many years ago in Galilee, bringing healing, forgiveness and life.  Be prepared to be surprised.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 4, 2016

Well, at long last work has begun on the renovation of our church and rectory! The initial work began last week with gutting of the old church offices on the first floor of the rectory.  In a few weeks I hope that scaffolding will go up in front of the church, and that a covered sidewalk protection will be constructed in front of the church along Guadalupe Street. Once we know the stone is on the way the demolition of the current fa├žade can begin.  

The old stone will be removed and disposed of. Most of it is grey and dingy, full of “biological growth”, the architects' polite term for mold. Besides, we anticipate that much of the stone will come off in broken pieces, not in complete slabs. So it really won’t be usable, even if we did clean it.

The stone is the critical item for the timing. The stone is coming from Florence. I think it is incumbent on me to take some time off from the parish to travel to Florence and inspect the quarrying, cutting and manufacture of the stone. I am sure you want me to go to Florence and check this out. And since Florence is just a little more than an hour’s drive north of here, about three quarters of the way to Foot Hood, it should be an easy day trip. I am, of course, referring to Florence, Texas. But we can still boast, with all honesty, that the new stone on our church comes all the way from Florence!  None of the fancy suburban parishes have anything on us!

In any case I expect the new face of our church will be something distinctive, attractive, and something we can be proud of. I can hardly wait for construction to begin.

However, there is a downside. The construction will cause dust, disruption and inconvenience. Never having done this before we do not know exactly when, or how, this inconvenience will occur. We will just have to take it as it comes, put the best face on it and soldier through. When it is all over I think we will be glad we did.

God bless! 

Monday, December 5, 2016


In the Gospel today we are told that the people came to John the Baptist and were baptized “as they acknowledged their sins.”  As they acknowledged their sins.  Wow!  They must have had a lot of really bad, awful, terrible sins, don’t you think??   Oh those wicked Judeans!!!  Those sinful Israelites!
          Well, no.   I am pretty sure that they were not all that different than you and me.  After all, these are the people that went out to hear John the Baptist in the desert.   The really wicked people were too busy at home being wicked. 
          But even if these people coming to John the Baptist were basically decent folk just like us, they still had a problem with sin.  They were not perfect.  They still screwed up.  They still acted selfishly.  They still had bigotry and greed in their hearts.   They still gave into laziness, and gossip, and lust, and hardness of heart.  They still yelled at their kids, ignored their spouse, said nasty things about the neighbors, went to websites they should not go to, cheated on reimbursement requests and sometimes goofed off at work.  In other words, they were just like us.
          John the Baptist doesn’t come telling them - or us - that they are really fine, that they are not so bad, that they are OK just as they are.  Because they aren’t.  And neither are we.   They needed to acknowledge their sins and repent.   So do we. 
          John is also calling out to us:  “Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”  The way we have to prepare is not on Mopac.  The Path we must make straight is not on I-35.  Rather the way of the Lord we must make straight and smooth and ready for the Lord is in our own hearts.  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”   Advent is a special time of preparation.  Open yourself to the coming of the Christ!

Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees showed up to John, it was a different matter.  They came, not out of true repentance, but rather to be seen.  They were there to be noticed.  So everyone could see how holy and righteous they were.   John the Baptist was the popular attraction of the day and they wanted to cash in on some of his limelight.  You know the type. 
But John was not so easily fooled.   “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. “
          Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.   Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.  Don’t come parading before everyone to get baptized unless you are really going to live it out, day after day, every hour of the day. 
          The conversion we are called to is not for show, nor just for a day, but is a long-term, permanent commitment. 
          St Paul addresses this in our second reading today.  It is not just for today that we are called to repentance, but for the long-haul.  And that requires hope.  Hope energizes us for the long haul.
          St Paul states:  “Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.”   That by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.
In our fast-paced world, where we can have so many things almost instantaneously, endurance is not popular.  Endurance requires stick-to-itiveness, commitment, fortitude, and most importantly, patience.  To truly be a Christian we need endurance.  In the Christian life we must not be sprinters but marathon runners.  There are no quick fixes to the bent, twisted and broken parts of our human nature.  Letting go of lies, of selfishness, of envy and jealously, of turning away from gossip and lust and laziness, takes time and work and patient endurance.  Learning to be honest, and compassionate and generous and chaste and brave and loving requires endurance and lots of work.  Lots of work.  And it is not at all easy. 
          But in addition to endurance, St. Paul also mentions “the encouragement of the Scriptures…”   God’s Word in the Scriptures touches our hearts, breaks through the tough shell of indifference and selfishness, and softens the dry, hard fibers of our deepest self, calling us to new life and to hope. 
“…that by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”
          That we might have hope.  Hope is precious.  Without hope the situation is, well, hopeless.  Hopelessness is a very bad place to be.  False hope does not help. 
          Fortunately, our hope is very real:  forged on the cross and revealed on Easter.  We can face the future with confidence – and even joy - when we have such hope.  We look to prepare the way of the Lord in this Advent, so that for us, individually and collectively, “by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”


Monday, November 28, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 27, 2016

As you read this I will be in St. Louis, MO to celebrate with my family both Thanksgiving and my birthday on Sunday.

Well, we are now past the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. But we still need to work on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Earlier this year I did a series of these bulletin columns on the works of mercy. Most were pretty easy. However, the last corporal work, “bury the dead,” was kind of a stumper. We don’t get much opportunity to actually do that.

However, just a week ago I was presented with an opportunity for us to actually be able to do that. A good friend of mine, Sr. Evie Vasquez, ICM, has been a missionary in rural Guatemala for a long time. Originally from Virginia, she has been working there ever since I was ordained, and that was a long time ago!

She sent me an email last week with an unusual request. Here is her appeal: “Now, Chuck, I do have another big concern. It so happens that here in Guatemala there are people still wanting to find the bodies of their relatives [from] during the internal armed conflict, especially those who were kidnapped by the army, the Civil Patrols for the army, etc. There are local organizations who do this, taking their DNA, etc., and a lot do voluntary work. But they need money to travel to the old military bases, talk to many people in the villages where these bases are and abandoned, help people with the travels to come and go, etc. And there is a museum next to the old train museum with information, and the comunitaria-press contributes to bring these news out in the public.

Right now I know of a man, Salomon Estrada Mejia, who has a brother missing since 1982, and those in charge of this missing person museum, who are in need of funds to continue. So, I do not know what foundation would be willing to help in a direct manner. Our people are as such organized and would very much want to find their dear ones and give them Christian burial. Let me know if you know of one in Texas or any other state, involved in this kind of work. …. Always, your missionary friend, Evie.”

So, if you have had a desire to be able to practice this particular corporal work of mercy, and want to check off of your list ‘burying the dead,’ here is an opportunity to do so.

If you would like to contribute something to assist these poor and simple people to locate the remains of their loved ones, and give them the blessing of a Christian funeral, I would be happy to send it on to Sr. Evie. I must stress that since this is not a recognized, tax-exempt charity, any such donations would NOT be tax deductible. However, it would go far to assist people still hurting from a disastrous time of war and repression.

We all get MANY appeals during this holiday season. We all have our favorite charities; I know I do. But we don’t often get requests to help bury the dead. Well, this is one of those opportunities. And having known Sr. Evie for a long time, I know they will make every penny go as far as possible. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Nov. 20, 2016

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It marks the culmination of another Liturgical Year, or more poetically, a Year of Grace. It also concludes the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Hopefully during this Jubilee every one of us has opened our hearts more and more to the mercy that God wants to shower on us, and we in turn have lived that mercy more fully in our daily lives. Even though the Jubilee of Mercy is coming to a close, the need for mercy in our lives and relationships is greater now than ever. Don’t stop trying to practice mercy!

Next Sunday we begin a new liturgical cycle with the First Sunday of Advent. So Happy New Year! Fittingly, we also celebrate the secular holiday of THANKSGIVING this coming Thursday. We all certainly have much for which to be thankful.

Gratitude is – or should be – a basic stance for all Christians. God has offered us salvation by the life, death and resurrection His Son, Jesus Christ. It is not something we earned or merited or deserved. It is all gift, or in church language, grace.

Since gratitude is based on what God has already done, it does not depend on us, or on any circumstances or events around us going well. Gratitude is deeper than the results of any particular event in our family, our work, our country or our church. All those things are important, but they do not affect our stance of gratitude, because gratitude goes deeper. Much deeper. Gratitude goes all the way down to the very source of life and of grace.

On behalf of all the Paulists here in Austin, and the entire St Austin Parish Staff, I wish for you and your family a beautiful Thanksgiving full of Gratitude and Love. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 30, 2016

Well, here we are already at the end of October. Please note our Mass schedule for All Saints and All Souls Day Masses. Please remember to VOTE next week. If you are a citizen it is your DUTY to vote. Even if you wish you had other choices, even if you find it distasteful, please remember that politics is the art of the possible. You do not need a perfect candidate (they don’t exist), but you do need to make a prudential decision to exercise your responsibility in choosing our elected officials. Good luck!

October is also RESPECT LIFE MONTH, and as we come to the end of this month, I wish to raise up for your consideration the issue of assisted suicide. Life is a precious gift, and while we are not required to do everything possible to extend life, we most certainly cannot positively act to end our life. That is suicide.

Recently the State of California passed a physician assisted suicide law. When I was Pastor of Old Saint Mary’s Church in Chinatown, San Francisco, I regularly went to the Catholic Lobby Days to the state legislature in Sacramento, CA. Every year one of the issues we talked to our legislators about was the issue of assisted suicide. As Catholics we opposed making assisted suicide legal because of the immorality of suicide. Our biggest supporter in this struggle were the disabled and handicapped rights groups. They foresaw that when physician assisted suicide became legal, the insurance companies would be strongly motivated to urge people to take the much cheaper option of suicide than continuing to provide expensive medical and prescription coverage.  

Now their fears have become a reality. You can get a moving and perceptive instance of this desire of the insurance companies to encourage suicide by watching a 15-minute video produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBC). Titled “Compassion and Choice DENIED,” it tells the story of Jennifer Lahl, who has a terminal illness but wishes to live for the sake of her four children. Once California adopted the assisted suicide law, her medical coverage was denied, though she was able to get the life-ending drugs. I found it a moving story. The video is available on YouTube, and also at www.cbc-network.org. I recommend it to you.

It is only a matter of time before assisted suicide becomes an issue in Texas. The financial motivations for insurance companies are very high. Many people, believing they are giving people a choice to end their life, do not realize the ramifications for those with terminal illnesses who do NOT want to leave family and loved ones and the beauty of this life. All of us are terminal, but none of us are the masters of our final day on earth.

Our respect for life is comprehensive. It includes protection for life in the womb. It includes respect and care for human life from birth through childhood, adulthood and old age. It refuses to sanction the death penalty. It cares for the quality of every human life. And finally, respect for life does not kill people when they become inconvenient or a burden. Life is sacred and must be treated as such. We know that people who suffer chronic pain and feel abandoned and alone are under tremendous pressure, and hence sometimes choose to end their life. We want to offer them support and help to live meaningfully rather than to condemn them. But we also do not want them to feel financial pressure from insurance companies to choose the cheaper option of ending their life. 

Homily 32rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Nov 6, 2016

Anybody here ever order anything on-line?  A book from Amazon, or toiletries, or clothes, or cleaning supplies, or food?   You can now buy just about anything on-line.  And when you buy something it comes to your door in a box.  And in the box is packing material, and then the item is itself often sealed in a hard plastic shell.   You take off all that stuff and you finally get your item.  But what do you do with all the packaging?  You pitch it.  Hopefully you recycle it, but you throw it away because if you didn’t, soon you would be overwhelmed with empty cartons and mounds of Styrofoam peanuts and packing material. 
So it is natural for us to think of the packaging as useful but expendable.  Once it serves its purpose we trash it and dispose of it.
          Now, what about your body?  Is it a convenient, useful wrapper for “YOU” – whatever that may be – that once it serves its purpose is discarded and trashed, OR is your body something more?  Is it intimately and intrinsically a part of “YOU”? 
          We Christians have a very definite and firm answer to this question.  Your body IS you.  Period.
          Recently the Vatican issued a statement about cremation.  It really stated nothing new.  But it caused a lot of comment and even upset, because at least in part I think people are confused about what our belief in the Resurrection of the body really means.
          For some religions escape from the physical world, from the corporeal, from matter, from the body, is the goal.  To be spiritual is to be free of the physical and material and all its constraints.
          BUT, this was not the belief of the Jews, and not what we have inherited. 
So in the first reading today we hear from the young man being killed: “from God I hope to receive them (hands) again”     And “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever”.
          For these Jews and for us Christians, the body is not just the packaging of our true selves.  Not just the wrapper we will shed off at death and dispose of, to be discarded, forgotten.  Somehow, our body is going to share in immortality.  More, our body is us.  We must take the body seriously.  We are going to be with it a loooooooong time. 
          How are we to understand “resurrection”?   We know that the physical atoms that compose our bodies are being changed all the time.   The atoms that made me up when I was born nearly 66 years ago are no longer with me.  And when I die my body will decompose, and the atoms that make me up will become soil and minerals and plants and eventually other animals.   So obviously, resurrection does NOT mean that the physical atoms that make up my body will be reassembled into the overweight, suffering from hypertension, bald body that I am today, (thanks be to God!
          To think that literally is to get stuck into the strange problems of the Sadducees in the Gospel.  “Whose wife will she be?”  They are unimaginatively thinking of resurrection like the resuscitation of a corpse.   When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, that was not a resurrection.  Lazarus grew old and died again.  Resurrection on the other hand is a whole new way of being
          Rather, we have to expand our concepts, think “out of the box”, or in this case, out of the coffin.  We need to give God much more room to work.  We need to look more closely at the body and its meaning.
          Because it is so close to us we tend not to ask the question: “What is my body?”  But let us do that.  My body is my way of being in the world.  I, Fr Chuck, am in Austin, not in Berkeley, nor Sweden, nor anywhere else in the world, because my body is here.  My body grounds me, gives me a location.
          My body is “where I’m at” in more ways than one.  Because my body expresses my moods and feelings.  People say, ‘you look tired,’ or ‘you look happy’, ‘you look perplexed’, or more frequently, ‘grumpy’, or whatever.  Our bodies put us into the world, identify us and reveal us.  It is because of our bodies that I am me and you are you.  Our identity and our individuality are expressed, made present and real, by our bodies.  If we had no body, we’d be ‘nobody’.  It is by our body that we love, that we pray, that we work, that we feel, that we think, that we be.  We need our body to be our self.  In fact, our body is our “self”. 
          So resurrection of the body means that we will continue to exist as individuals, in all of our unique identity.  Our spirits do not return to some amorphous pool of life force, indistinguishable from all the rest of the energy of life, but rather each of us, as our unique self, will continue, because we will be raised up in the body. 
          St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, had to deal with these issues.   He said: “But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?"  You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.  And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body.”  In another place, Paul uses the example of an acorn: you plant an acorn and what you get is not a big acorn but rather an oak tree.  The two are connected but different.  Paul continues: So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.  It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”   [1 Cor 15:35-8, 42-44]
          So, St. Paul tells us that what is raised is not the physical body, but a spiritual body; whatever that is.  Paul doesn’t try to tell us, because it is beyond our concepts, other than that it is incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual.  But whatever this resurrected body is, it will be ME: in my unique personality, individuality and identity.  ME - Chuck Kullmann - for all eternity. 
          This means that not only for this life, but for all eternity, every one of us is unique.  Each one of us is special.  Each one of us is precious.  We are not just so many interchangeable parts.  Each of us is a unique piece in the grand mosaic of God’s creation, and no one else can take our place. 
          What you see next to you, sitting on your right and left, in front and behind, are not just “other people” who get in the way, a crowd of bodies, some young, some old, some plain, some attractive and some ugly, but rather individuals waiting transformation into resurrected bodies that are incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual.  The seed of eternal life is planted in every one of them, waiting to blaze forth in glory. 
          That is why we are called to have profound respect for our bodies, even in death.  That is why the Vatican is concerned about scattering of ashes, about ashes made into jewelry, about ashes set on the mantle as pieces of bric-a-brac. 
          Our bodies deserve great honor because they are to be raised up in glory.  They are NOT disposable, for they have an eternal destiny of glory.
          We need to open the eyes of our hearts, so as not to be blind to the power of God, like the Sadducees were, but rather to glimpse the great things God has in store for us.   We look to be raised up and share in the fullness of life, forever. 
          That is why we sing in our Responsorial Psalm, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”    


Monday, October 24, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 17, 2016

We are now into Summer. Mostly hot and humid. Or VERY hot. So it is a good time for us to tidy up the last of the two Spiritual Works of Mercy, thereby completing my overview of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The two works we have not yet looked at are “Comfort the afflicted” and “Pray for the living and the dead.”

Comforting the afflicted is very broad. This can be accomplished just by spending time with someone who is sick or grieving or hurting in some way. Active listening is a wonderful way to comfort people who are hurting. You don’t need to give advice or answers or tell them what to do. In fact, it is better if you do not. Just listen. It is not as easy as it sounds, but it is very powerful, and it is healing. Sometimes a phone call or a note letting someone know you were thinking of them can be a positive work.  Who is afflicted in your family, neighborhood, school or work place? Who is lonely, upset, dejected, or hurting? I don’t think it will take you a long time to find the afflicted. The afflicted are all around us. And if you are one of the afflicted, you can still do this spiritual work of mercy. You don’t have to have your business and your life all together in order to do this. Sometimes the best healers are those who have been wounded themselves and so can empathize and understand more deeply another person’s hurt. Comforting the afflicted is a great spiritual work of mercy and something all of us can do. All we need is patience and acceptance.
The last work of mercy to look at is to pray for the living and the dead. That is because prayer makes a difference. It may not make a difference in the way we want or hope, but it does make a difference. This is because it makes God the Father very happy to see His children express their care and concern for each other. And no matter how rich or poor, no matter how educated or not you are, no matter how eloquent or not, no matter even how holy or not you are, you can pray for the living and for the dead.

Praying for the dead is a particularly Catholic (and Orthodox) thing to do. We know we do not change God’s mind. We know we cannot change the free choices of another. But we also know that we are not individual atoms unconnected to each other. Somehow we are all in this together, and the salvation of one depends on the salvation of all. There is a real bond between us. This is why we ask the saints to pray for us, and while we pray for each other, including our dead. The Holy Spirit connects us together as the one Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is stronger than death. So we pray for our friends, relatives, and even our enemies not only when they are here with us on earth, but even after their death. And we ask them to pray for us, because we are all connected in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God.

And so we come to the end of our tour of the Works of Mercy. The important thing is not to able to name them or know about them but to DO them. Go and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 24, 2016

This week we have several interesting feast days of Saints. On Monday we celebrate St. James the Apostle. He was the son of Zebedee, and had a brother, John, who was also an Apostle. To make things a bit more confusing, there was another James who was also an Apostle. To distinguish the two, the St. James the Apostle whose feast is this week is referred to as “the Greater,” and the other unfortunate Apostle is referred to as “the Lesser.” I think this distinction was based on their ages."

St. James the Apostle should not be confused with the St. James who was the “brother of the Lord” and the leader of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. Nor should our St. James be confused with the St. James who wrote the Epistle of St. James. Apparently James was a very popular name in First Century Palestine.  St. James, as I said, was the son of Zebedee. We don’t know much about Zebedee other than he was a fisherman, and James and John abandoned him when called by Jesus (Mt 4:21-22). We know a little bit more about their Mother. It seems she was an ambitious woman and was willing to scheme to get preferment for her sons. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 20, we hear how their mother approached Jesus and asked for the best places in the Kingdom of God. Her ploy did not succeed and only served to irritate the other Apostles. James was one of the favored three to witness the Transfiguration, though. It seems that James and his brother were a bit hot-headed. They were nick-named “sons of thunder,” and on one occasion earned a rebuke from Jesus when they wanted Him to call down fire on a Samaritan town that did not welcome Jesus (Luke 9: 54-5). Perhaps it was this hot-headed and reckless nature that caused St. James to be the first of all the Apostles to be martyred.
On Tuesday we have the Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. The names of these Saints derive from a popular work of the second century, and who knows if they preserve a historical memory or not. But Jesus obviously did have grandparents, because He was like us in all things but sin. Did they babysit Jesus when He was an infant? Did they tend to spoil Him as many grandparents do with their grandchildren?  We really don’t know and can only speculate. This would be a good day to call your grandparents if they are still alive and wish them well, and if they are deceased, then to say a special prayer for them. Grandparents are important.

On Friday we celebrate St. Martha. She must have been a fabulous hostess, because Jesus seemed to like to go there (Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-53, and John 12:1-9). We all know that Mary chose the better part, but Martha is easier to identify with, and she was also a woman of great faith (John 11: 21 – 27). She is an appealing person (at least to me) because of her forthright and direct nature.

So this week we have a good opportunity to reflect on the many varied ways that we can become saints: as apostolic workers, as faithful and loving parents and grandparents, and in different roles of service. 

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 31, 2016

Today we make a big change in moving the 9 a.m. Mass 15 minutes earlier to 8:45. This may not sound like a big change, but when you start messing with liturgy, people tend to get upset. So I would like to address another possible liturgical change. You may have heard that earlier this month Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, urged priests and bishops at a liturgical conference in London to start celebrating Masses “ad orientem,” or facing away from the congregation, beginning the first Sunday of Advent this year. Those of us with long memories can remember as children the priest celebrating Mass with his back to the people. This is a call to return to that posture.

Very quickly the Vatican distanced itself from this suggestion, and the appeal for priests to go back to the old way of celebrating Mass rather quickly died. So don’t look for Frs. Dick or Rich or myself to don fiddle-back vestments and turn our backs on you at Advent. Still, some liturgical purists were very happy to hear such an important Roman official make this suggestion. And I have come across an article by one of them (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry) who makes his case for the priest celebrating with his back to the congregation in an article wittily titled, “The vast majority of Catholic priests are facing the wrong way.” If you would like to read it, you can find it online at: http://theweek.com/articles/635387/vast-majority-catholic-priests-are-facing-wrong-way

I probably am doing Mr. Gobry an injustice, but to me the crux of his argument for the priest to stand with his back to the congregation comes down to his assertion that the Mass is “not about you.” The Mass is about God. Mr. Gobry states that the priest facing the same way as the people “says, loudly and clearly, ‘This is not about you.’ The Mass is supposed to be about God — an act of worship of God. The priest does not have ‘his back to the people,’ traditionalists say. He faces in the same direction as the rest of the people: toward God, to worship Him.”  In other words, we are all worshipping God together, and so we all face the same way.

I look at it differently. For me the Mass is a dialogue between the Father and the Son. The structure of the Mass is dialogic. This is why the responses of the congregation (priest included) are so important. Joined to Christ, we are entering into this holy dialogue. The priest faces the congregation to facilitate dialogue. We form the Body of Christ. This is why it is more correct to call the priest the “presider” rather than the celebrant, because we ALL are celebrating the Mass. We form the Body of Christ, and that is the objective of the Mass. In Thomistic theology the goal (the res et sacramentum) is for us to form the Body of Christ. As an aside, this is why I never understood the custom of people standing facing the tabernacle till after it was closed following Holy Communion. The objective is not the Sacrament reserved but the Sacrament in us, transforming us into the Body of Christ. At Holy Communion each of us becomes a tabernacle, and the emphasis should be on us forming the Body of Christ by receiving the Body of Christ, not on the Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.

Because we as a community are called to become the Body of Christ and enter into the dialogue of the Father and the Son, I believe this is best facilitated by our gathering around the altar table, not all facing in the same direction.

Mr. Gobry is correct that the Mass is most certainly not about us. But it is about our being formed into the Body of Christ. And dialogue is important to that.