Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 19, 2016

Moving right along in our review of the Spiritual Works of Mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we come to two very difficult works: “Bear wrongs patiently” and “Forgive offenses willingly.”

These are really tough ones. But they are absolutely essential. They are very much at the core of what following Jesus as a disciple is all about. 

Our American (and probably especially TEXAN) nature is NOT to bear wrongs patiently, but rather to vociferously and strenuously protest and complain. Demanding our rights is encoded deep in our political DNA. 

There are the legitimate demands of justice that we must act on, not only for ourselves but also for others.  Protecting the vulnerable (in Biblical terms, the widows and orphans), is an essential part of what following Christ is all about. 

But on a personal level, in relationships in family, work, neighborhood, school, and even in church, it is necessary that not infrequently we need to bear wrongs patiently, and even more importantly, to forgive offenses willingly.  We need to do this because we are not saints, and the people we live with are not saints. 

Now here is the tough part: even if we were saints, we would not be easy to live with. Living with saints is a real chore. Often those we care about the most are also the same people who upset us the most: a child, a parent, a spouse, a close friend.  

Anyone who is familiar with the life of St. Paul knows he was a difficult person to be around. He had a very public confrontation with St. Peter (Gal 2:11), another dispute with St. Mark, (Acts 15: 37-9), and finally even his close buddy and companion St. Barnabas could not take him and left him.  (Acts 15:39)

Thomas Merton, who many consider a saint, wrote:

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even the saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or the can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion. But love, by the acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.”

These two Spiritual Works of Mercy, i.e. bearing offences patiently and forgiving offences willingly, are especially applicable not only to our enemies but especially our loved ones. It is how we heal the wounds in the Body of Christ. They are difficult but essential parts of growing into the image of Christ. 

God bless,

Monday, June 13, 2016

HOMILY Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C June 12, 2016

         So in the Gospel Jesus accepts an invitation to dinner: something He did with regularity apparently, and one of the very few ways that I personally excel in imitating Jesus.   But inviting Jesus into your home or into your heart always is fraught with risk.  He can be upsetting.
          At dinner Jesus does an odd thing.   It says simply “Then he (Jesus) turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?”  Jesus points Himself in two directions, Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman.  Jesus is making a connection.  That is what Jesus does, He connects us to others and to God.  That is always risky.
          “Do you see this woman?”   This woman, this particular, individual person?
          And the answer is No.  No.  Simon doesn’t see the woman.  He is totally oblivious.  All Simon sees is a “sinner”.  Simon has reduced her to some sort of type, based on one piece of information about her.  But that is never the totality of a person.  So Simon doesn’t see this woman, only a “sinner”.
          Jesus is challenging Simon to see broader, farther, deeper, more completely.  “Do you see this woman?”        //
          It is a challenge Jesus gives to every one of us.  Do you see this woman, or this man, or this child, or this person?  
          Maybe instead what we see is a bum, or a street-person, or a loud mouthed bigot, or a gay person, or a pan-handler, or an illegal immigrant, or a redneck, or a drunk or drug-addict, or a rotten driver, or a foreigner, or a black, or an Asian, or a honky, or whatever.
          Over and over again Jesus asks us; “Do you see this person?”   This person?
          Simon the Pharisee was blind.  He thought he was fine.  He was righteous.  He was upright.  He was a leader in the community and well respected.  He was well off enough to invite Jesus to dine in his home.  But still, Simon was blind.  And the real tragedy is that Simon did not even know it.

          Jesus asks him a very important and penetrating question.  “Do you see this woman?”       Jesus asks you and me the same.  

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 12, 2016

Continuing our review of the Spiritual Works of Mercy in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we come to “counsel the doubtful” and “admonish sinners.”
Well, first of all, I don’t think that doubts are necessarily bad. They can lead us to do the hard work of delving deeper into our faith, to come to a more mature, more complete, more open and complex appreciation of our faith. Doubts do require work, and that can be uncomfortable and even scary but not necessarily bad. So the first thing to do if you plan to counsel the doubtful is NOT to blame the doubting person. 
Counseling is more often accomplished with our ears than with our mouths. People struggling with doubts don’t need platitudes, but they do need to be listened to and taken seriously. For every minute of talking and giving advice, try to spend at least five minutes listening. It often helps to admit your own doubts. For very few of us is our faith so strong that it is unassailable.  We see so much suffering and waste and horror in the world, we experience such bitter disappointments and failures, that doubts about a good and just God are bound to arise. If not, then you are not paying attention. Did not Jesus cry from the cross “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” (MT 27:46)
Maybe a better way of expressing this spiritual work of mercy is not “counseling the doubtful” as if we had all the answers, but rather “accompanying the doubtful.”  We walk with them on the journey of faith, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. We are fellow travelers, not know-it-alls.
The other spiritual work we look at today is “admonish sinners.”  Hmmm. Have any of you ever done this? I would bet the success rate has been pretty low. Sinners don’t normally take kindly to admonishment. Even though it seldom does any good, some people love to continue practicing this spiritual work and are forever admonishing sinners left, right and center.
It seems to me that the most effective admonishment is by example, not by words. This approach is much harder, more time consuming, and infinitely less satisfying. There is nothing quite so satisfying than a strong rebuke and admonishment of those sinners. It makes us feel righteous and important and holy. That is why we do it so often. It just doesn’t do any good.
If you really want to admonish sinners then you first of all need to stop sinning yourself. This is the first and indispensable step. So many of us try to skip to step two, but that won’t work. First and foremost we need to stop sinning ourselves. Then and only then can we have any hope of admonishing sinners. Jesus tells us to take the log out of our own eye first, and then we can help our brother take the splinter out of his (MT 7:3-5).  This is not easy, but it is certainly worthwhile. St. James, ever pragmatic, in his Epistle tells us: My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.  (5:20)
That is a pretty good deal! So I encourage you this week to think about, and hopefully practice, these two Spiritual Works of Mercy. You will be glad you did.
God Bless,

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 5

Back in April, I completed my sporadic review of the Corporal Works of Mercy. I hope you found them, if not instructive, then at least not boring. As we are still in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I now intend an inspection tour through the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Perhaps because they are more ethereal (spiritual, after all) and less corporeal then the Corporal Works of Mercy, the Spiritual Works are less easily grasped, less referred to, and probably less practiced. Ours is not a particularly spiritual age. What cannot be measured, quantified, labeled and categorized is held either to have no existence, or at least to be of no account. Nonetheless we shall buck this current materialistic outlook and examine the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The first such work in the traditional list is “Instruct the ignorant”. Perhaps in this politically correct time we could find a more felicitous phrase for this virtuous practice. In any case do not be put off by the name, which is merely a wrapping, but concern yourself with the content of this good work, which is to share the knowledge and insight you have freely received with others for their benefit. After all, Jesus tells us “You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Even the UT Tower, infamous in its own right, bears witness to this inscription.
How to practice this good work? So often when we try to instruct others we seem to be trying to teach or convince them of something that has importance and meaning to us, but is of little interest to the person we are trying to instruct. This rarely works. Far better is to entice the notice and curiosity of the other by the quality of your life, by the joy and faith that you exhibit. If you look joyful and at peace, people will notice. If they sense in you a peace, a joy, a contentment and a firm faith, they are very likely to want to know what is the cause of it. Is it something you are smoking? Or a pill you are taking? Or some special course in meditation? Once their curiosity is piqued, then is the time to instruct. As St. Peter tells us: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15).
You do not need to go to foreign mission lands to practice this work of mercy. Parents do it with their children, spouses do it with each other, friends do it for each other, RCIA teams and Religious Ed teachers do it with their students, neighbors do it with each other, and co-workers can do it. Every time and every place can be an occasion to instruct. In doing so both parties are blessed, for your own faith grows by witnessing to it, and the faith of the other is instructed. Even if your instruction falls on deaf ears you still benefit from witnessing to your faith. And if the person does listen, and you become a vehicle of the Holy Spirit for another to grow in faith, that is a wonderful blessing for you both.
It is not only the “ignorant” that need instruction. Faith is a deep, deep well. We will certainly never have God figured out in this life, nor indeed for all eternity. To go deeper and deeper into the mystery of Faith expands our hearts, for our hearts expand to hold more and more of the grace of the Holy Spirit. If our faith is small, our heart is small. If our faith is great, our heart will be great. So this is a work of mercy we can practice for all our life long.
God Bless,