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 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.”