Monday, February 22, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent Cycle C February 21, 2016 “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Lk 9:28b-36

          Jesus takes three of his friends, Peter, John and James, and goes up to the top of a mountain to pray.   The Apostles promptly proceed to fall asleep, and while Jesus is praying, something happens.  His appearance changes, Moses and Elijah appear conversing with Jesus.  When they are about to leave, Peter – now awake - says he wants to set up three tents.  And then comes the climax, the highpoint.  A cloud en-velops them, and from the cloud a voice says, “This is my chosen Son.  Listen to him.”  
          Now think about what the voice of God says.  “Listen to him.”  I find that a little strange.  God could have said, “worship him”, or “obey him”, or “follow him”, or (like Mary at the wedding feast of Cana) “do what he tells you”.   But instead God says, “Listen to him.”   Why?
          Well, to fully understand this I think we need to know the reading.  How should this heavenly statement be heard?  Is this a great booming voice, like Charleton Heston, or James Earl Jones, God from on high, like on top of that other Biblical mountain, Mount Sinai, God authoritatively delivering another commandment: “THOU SHALT LISTEN TO HIM”?
          This is the way we have traditionally heard this.   The early Paulist and great preacher, Walter Elliot wrote a sermon for this Sunday, which began:  “Doubtless, my brethren, the voice of the Eternal Father commanding the three Apostles to hear and heed His Divine Son was a terrible sound; it overpowered them with fear.” 
          Maybe.  But as I was praying over this Gospel in preparing for this homily, I heard it differently: not so much a commandment, but rather as a sincere, almost imploring, invitation: “This is my SON, my Chosen, my Beloved, and that means I am sending you my HEART. 
I have given you the Law, represented by Moses, and you did not get it.  I have sent you prophet after prophet after prophet, represented by Elijah, and you did not listen.  But now, I am sending you my only Son, my Chosen and Beloved One.  This is the most I can give.  “Listen to him!”  
Almost pleading, a cry from the heart.  This, I propose, is how this Gospel should be heard.        God is anxious, even desperate, for us to LISTEN to His Son, Jesus Christ.  That is how God speaks to us this morning.
          Listen!        So simple, and yet so difficult.  Did you ever have the experience of trying to explain something to someone, who thought they already understood, but had it all wrong, and as you tried to explain it, they kept interrupting, assuming they knew the answer?  Never letting you finish.  You say, “Listen to me!”   Frustrating, isn’t it?  
          On the other hand, did you ever have the experience of being deeply listened to?  Someone really paying attention?  Giving you their full, undivided attention?  Really trying to hear what you had to say, really understand your position?  Such experiences are as wonderful as they are rare.  For listening is not easy.  It is difficult!
          And yet this is what God wants.  What God asks of us.  “LISTEN to him.”
          What do we have to do to listen?   Well, first of all we have to stop talking.  We have to shut up.  Both verbally and mentally.  We have to stop formulating our response, what we are going to say, and instead attend to the other, in this case God.
We must be silent.
           Then we have to turn down the noise, turn off the TV, the DVD player, the phone, the tablet, and all the other distractions, so that we can listen.  To listen to God we have to quiet ourselves and welcome the silence. 
          Then we have to open ourselves to receive what the other has to say, suspending our judgement, our critical comments, our knee-jerk reactions, and accept the other on their terms.
          Finally we have to pay attention, attend to the other, seek to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, smell with their nose, and think with their mind.  Then we finally hear.  Then we at last listen.
          This is what God asks of us this Lent, today, to do for His Son, Jesus Christ.   Listen to him.           This is a wonderful Lenten practice. 
Listen to Him.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sun., Feb. 21

In my occasional series on the Corporal Works of Mercy (in keeping with this Jubilee Year of Mercy!) we come to the next work on the list, to “clothe the naked.”   We all know (I hope!) about clothing drives and coat drives.   We all know that the St. Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Store resells used clothing and other items and uses the proceeds to help people in many different ways.  

The St VdP Thrift Store has been located on South Congress for many years.  But this Spring will be moving to a new location at 901 W. Braker Lane, into a building three times its current location.  They will continue to take donations, and you can help people in need by giving your unwanted, excess, no longer fitting items to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  What do they take?  According to their website: “Clothes, shoes, books, furniture, holiday items, and household items like china, dishes, knicknacks, linens, collectables, etc!”   So think of the St. VdP Thrift Store when you do Spring cleaning!

Our own Thursday Outreach program distributes coats and jackets to homeless people who need them, and also provides vouchers to people to the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store so that they can shop for the things they need. 

Mobile Loaves and Fishes, another great Austin organization, also distributes clothing to the homeless.  I remember Mr Alan Graham, one of the founders of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, speaking about the importance of a pair of clean socks, and how much that can mean to a person living on the street.  Sometimes it does not take a great deal if it is done with care and respect.

And in our neighborhood, at the University United Methodist Church up the street, they have a clothing store called Fig Leaf.  They state on their website that Fig Leaf  “offers families the opportunity to shop for clothing and personal needs. While most items are donated to Fig Leaf, certain items such as underwear, socks and toiletries are purchased through the Fig Leaf budget. We welcome drop-offs of gently-used items during regular church hours.”

In addition to donations of clean used clothing, all of these organizations also need donations of money and donations of service.  To keep overhead low they rely on volunteers to staff the store or distribute goods in the field.  So a lot of volunteers are necessary as well.  Do you have some time to give?

Clothing the naked is not hard to do.  There are opportunities all around us.  It does require some sacrifice on our part though, of some of our goods, of some of our money, of some of our effort and time.  Mostly it requires a change of heart to recognize the other as brother and sister, and to actively reach out in compassion and service.  As Christians and Catholics, that is what we are called to do.   

God bless!

Monday, February 15, 2016

HOMILY First Sunday of Lent Cycle “C” February 14, 2016

          The Letter to the Hebrews - which is not part of our readings today – tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet He never sinned.  It seems, from today’s Gospel, that He was also tempted in some ways that we are not.  He is tempted to turn stones into bread, tempted to fall down and worship the devil, tempted to throw himself off the parapet of the temple and be caught by angels. 
          Now I have been tempted, many times and in many different ways, but never have I ever had the slightest temptation to turn stones into bread, nor to fall down and worship the devil, nor even to jump off the tower of our church.  This makes it kind of hard to identify with this Gospel passage.  Would it not have been more instructive for St. Luke to show us Jesus being tempted to gossip, or to anger, or to lust, or just to plain old laziness?  What if the Devil said to Jesus, ‘You’ve been pushing yourself pretty hard.  Why don’t you knock off for a couple of days and go fishing with the guys?  There will be plenty of time to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  Relax.  Take it easy.”  
          You know the temptations, the kind of things we face every day.   And then see how Jesus deals with it.  That would be more instructive for us.  But turning stones into bread?   What is going on here?  
          Well, first of all, the scene of the temptation is a highly stylized theological account.  Much prayerful reflection has gone into the way St. Luke presents this material.   This is not a newspaper report of just the facts, but a very deep spiritual  reflection , and should be read in that light.
          The passage begins, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan. “ What was Jesus doing at the Jordan?  Fishing?  
NO, He was getting Baptized.  And at His Baptism “the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
          This must have been a truly wonderful experience for Jesus.  I mean, imagine if you heard a voice come from heaven declaring, “you are my beloved son/daughter, with you I am well pleased.”  Wouldn’t it be easy for you to think, ‘hey, I am pretty hot stuff?  Somebody up there really likes me!’   It would not be hard to feel proud and pretty soon start getting puffed up.  “Hey, did ya hear what heaven said?  I’m the beloved. The BIG guy is pretty pleased with me too.”  
          It would be pretty easy for this to go to anybody’s head, and that is true also for Jesus.  The temptation would be to stay in that special, elite, proud feeling of being the Beloved Son.

           The problem with that is that it keeps Jesus from entering fully into our human condition.  If He emphasizes being the Beloved Son, the tendency will be to pull back from true solidarity with sinful and fallen human kind like you and like me.
          And that is what I believe these temptations are all about.  The temptation to turn stones into bread is a temptation for Jesus to rely on His power as Son of God, and not truly enter into the weakness and vulnerability of being authentically human.  Jesus is tempted to escape human pain and physical hunger, including all the hungers of the heart, and just pretend to be truly human.  Jesus would look human, but still rely on His divine power to protect himself and satisfy His needs.  It would be only a charade.
          The devil has more to offer Jesus. Having shown Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world" the devil makes an offer many humans have, to one degree or another, accepted: Jesus can gain power and influence by worshiping at the altar of power, compromise and shady deals.
          We are already being bombarded with continuous news stories about Presidential candidates for November.  We hope that the candidates don’t secretly prostrate themselves before "the powers that be" to get the dollars and votes that will enable them to seek the presidency, which, as the most powerful position in the world, gives a person "power and glory" over "the kingdoms of the world."   But we know and fear than money and power is what politics is really all about.
          In rejecting this temptation, Jesus chooses to live an ordinary life, to undergo the subjection endured by his neighbors in an occupied land.  He will walk the path of the oppressed. Those without name recognition will see in him one who is totally faithful in his choice to be human.
          The devil goes on: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘God will command the angels concerning you, to guard you..."   It is tempting to think that a proof of God’s love for us is a comfortable and pain free life. Who would not want to be protected by a circle of angels???   Certainly this notion of a protected life, of expecting to be spared of all pain and disappointment as God’s beloved, would be a temptation throughout Jesus’ entire life.  Remember Peter tempting Jesus against rejection and crucifixion, and Jesus telling him, “get behind me satan.”  And it is also a temptation for us.
          Where is God when we are suffering?  We say to ourselves:  “I thought God loved me.  If God really loved me I wouldn’t be in this pain... this confusion ...failed at this project....been betrayed by those I trusted...etc.”

          But there is not an escape clause written into Jesus’ being one of us.  He didn’t get out in just the nick of time; and so His followers must resist the temptation to opt out when the path of discipleship brings suffering.   Standing in a protective circle of angels is not what it means to be human, and so that’s not what it will mean for Jesus as he fulfills His word to truly and completely be one with us.
          Through all the temptations, Jesus remained faithful to His mission, and faithful to His Father.  He also remained faithful to us, sharing fully in our situation, truly being one of us, so that we could be one with Him. 
          Like Jesus are tempted to break faith, to not be true to God our Father or to ourselves.  In these forty days of Lent, by our Lenten practices of penance, and by God’s grace, we seek to uncover these temptations, and all the compromises we have made with evil, the little concessions we make with the devil, and then to cut them out and return to the path of faithfulness. 

          Jesus is our model.  He is our source of strength.  In Him, we can do it.  Blessed Lent!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sun., Feb. 14

For this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I continue my look at the Corporal Works of Mercy. Today we focus on the second corporal work of mercy, to give drink to the thirsty. This is an especially appropriate work of mercy here in Texas.
We as a parish have tried to do this in our placing a drinking fountain on the corner of 21st Street and Guadalupe Streets. We had heard, through Micah 6, that it was getting harder and harder for the street youth and transients, and the general public, to find sources of water during the hot summer. Through a grant from Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and assistance from our parish Knights of Columbus, we were able to purchase and install a public water fountain, much like those used in parks. It has three levels, one for pedestrians, one for people in wheelchairs, and one for pets. It is especially used in the summer.
However, we cannot stop there. Providing clean, safe drinking water to the poor of our planet is becoming a greater need and challenge. Many pundits predict that water will become the new oil. Access to potable water is increasingly difficult as the demand grows. We as individuals, or even as a parish, cannot do a lot that is effective about this. But we can make our concerns and desires known to our elected officials to support programs that will bring clean water to people who desperately need it. You can learn more about these issues by going to the Catholic Relief Services website, in particular, the article “Water and Conflict” at You can also get a good overview by going to
Water is such a wonderful creation of God. And while God has blessed earth abundantly with H2O, it is not limitless. This requires all of us to be grateful for the gift of water and responsible in its use. One of Pope Francis’ major concerns is the environment. He has written a beautiful and extensive encyclical on the environmental crisis called Laudato Si’ (available online at And I believe in Pope Francis’ thought that the works of mercy and care for our environment are very, very close. Therefore as we consider this second corporal work of mercy, I think we can legitimately extend the call to give drink to the thirsty to include being wise in our use of water. Being careful in our use of water, not wasting it, conserving water, is in fact part of that corporal work of mercy of giving drink to the thirsty. So how you water your lawn, how long you luxuriate in the shower, how you retrofit your home and business to install water-wise appliances, how you conserve water, is a part of observing this second corporal work of mercy. I think that is especially clear here in Texas, where draught is ever a possibility and concern.
Giving drink to the thirsty means making it possible for people everywhere to have access to clean, healthy water. That is what this second corporal work of mercy is really all about.
 God bless!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C Feb 7, 2016

          First, a couple of questions.  ¿Are you a good person?   Well, here you are in church - on Super Bowl Sunday - so presumably, yes.   But, ¿Are you a saint?
          The questions are different, and not just in degree.  The first one, about being a good person, asks us how we see ourselves compared to other people.  But the second question, "are you a saint?" asks us how God sees us, and introduces the idea of holiness.
          Holiness is a tricky thing.  In 742 BC - a long time ago - the priest Isaiah went to the temple in Jerusalem for worship (our first reading today), much as you have come to church today.  But Isaiah had a vision, an experience, an encounter with God.  And Isaiah’s reaction is not, “Oh wow!  This is wonderful.  I got a neat vision of God.  God and I are BFF!!!”   No, Isaiah’s reaction is almost one of terror: "Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"  Isaiah is frightened.  He is scarred.  He is overwhelmed. 
          Fast forward now almost 800 years to 37 A.D.  While on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus also has a vision, an experience, an encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  Again, it is terrifying, unsettling.  Paul, as he becomes known, is struck blind.  Just a week ago we celebrated the Conversion of St. Paul.  It was a terrifying experience for Paul to meet the Risen Lord.  And Paul’s reaction, which we hear in the second reading today, is: "I am the least of the apostles; in fact, because I persecuted the church of God, I do not even deserve the name."
          Around 30 A.D. Simon Peter met Jesus.  And on his boat while fishing Peter had an experience, an encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  Again it is unnerving, unsettling.  Peter’s reaction is to fall at the knees of Jesus and cry, "Leave me, Lord.  I am a sinful man."
          What’s going on?  Three guys suffering from low self esteem?       I don’t think so.  That was certainly not St. Paul’s problem.
          Obviously, the experience of God is unsettling.  The experience of the Holy is over-whelming.  The three men in our Scriptures today meet God, but God doesn’t make them feel comfortable and cozy and at peace.  Their encounter with God is too much, too true, too real, and very uncomfortable.   The encounter with God is not an "I’m OK, you’re OK" experience, but rather a "You are Holy, and I’m NOT OK" experience. 
          The experience of the Holy One sharply and painfully and frighteningly reveals my own lack of holiness, my sinfulness.  And yet, this is a moment of tremendous growth and change for these three individuals.  Indeed, it is an experience of creativity and liberation.  For this is the moment that Isaiah becomes a great Prophet, that Saul
becomes the great missionary preacher Paul, and Simon becomes Peter, the head of the Apostles.  All three are radically transformed.
          It is only in recognizing their own unholiness, their own "defectiveness" before God, their puny creaturehood, that they were opened - indeed, violently torn open - to The Holy working through them. 

          Guess what?  The same is true for us.  The Scriptures are teaching us a paradigm of the spiritual life.  We must be shaken out of our little securities, our comfortable but constricting complacencies, to be loose enough to serve as God’s instrument, to be sufficiently open for God to work in us.   We need to be broken open in order to be transformed.
          This is not comfortable.  None of us wants to loose control.  But there can be no illusion of being in control when you are in the presence of the All Holy.   None of us wants to face the darkness and crud of our sinfulness; our laziness, our fear, our anger, our pettiness, our cowardice, our weaknesses that beset us.  They go far deeper than we are willing to admit.
          Therefore, most of us, I think, try to avoid The Holy.  It is too unsettling.  It reveals our un-holiness and challenges us.   The awe that God’s presence inspires does not make us feel self-sufficient, but rather forces us to recognize our dependence on God, our utter neediness. 
So to avoid this unsettling realization, we fill our lives with noise, and activity and diversions, and practically entertain ourselves into an oblivious state.  No need to face the Living God if you can obsess on Super Bowl 50 or on Donald Trump. 
          That is too bad.  Because we need God.  The encounter with the Holy, according to one Catholic theologian, "is awesome and beatifying. ....  It is only in contact with the holy that I am blissfully and intimately liberated from the ambiguity and vacuity of my self."    In other words, only God can fulfill that gnawing we experience in our souls, the craving for truth, for beauty, for love.  If we become self-sufficient, then we are doomed to endless frustration.
          God’s presence does not admit of complacency.  To be in the presence of God is to be in a highly precarious place, a dangerous place.  In the Gospel today Jesus tells Simon to put out into deep water.  Deep water is dangerous.  You can’t stand safely on the bottom; you are in over your head.  Jesus calls us out to deep water.
          God is not to be found in the shallows of life, where we can stand on our own two feet, but rather in the deep waters where we have to give over control to the Grace of God. 
          And yet, that is the way to the fullness of life.  Pope Francis keeps encouraging us to encounter Christ, to encounter Jesus daily!  But this encounter always has an element of threat and scariness.
          Isaiah, St Paul and St Peter were all called by God to serve God’s people.  Today we have a great need in the Catholic Church in our country for generous young men and women to respond to God’s call to serve God’s people as religious and as priests.  That great need is quickly becoming a crisis.  I have just come back from a Paulist General Council meeting where we looked at the numbers of how many Paulists there will be to staff parishes and campus ministries in 2025, and it is not looking at all good.  And every diocese and religious order in this country is facing the same reality.  It is a real crisis.  Continue to pray for vocations.  If you know someone who would make a good priest or religious sister, tell them so. You could be God’s way of calling that person.  It is really important for our future.

          Jesus’ word to Simon Peter is simple but profound: “Do not be afraid.”  We all need to move out of our comfort zone, from where we erroneously think we have some control, some security, out into the deep water of God’s grace, relying instead on God’s love for us, which is the only true security. 
          You are a good person.  But the more important question is: are you willing to risk letting God transform you into a saint?

          The Good News in today’s readings?  “Do not be afraid.”