Monday, February 27, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 26, 2017

This Wednesday is ASH WEDNESDAY.   We will soon be back into Lent.

In considering how you are going to observe this Lent, may I make a few suggestions?

Rather than trying to just give up sweets and loose a few pounds, I encourage you to do something positive to grow in holiness.

A simple way to do this is to try to compliment someone at least once a day. This helps take the focus off of yourself and put it more on others and how they are doing.

Another great spiritual practice is to sit in the center of the pew, giving up the prized position on the end. This makes it easier for others, those lesser Christians who arrive late, to get in without having to climb over you.

This year a great Lenten practice would be to observe moderation and decency in speech, especially about politics. Even if you are with people who agree with you, and maybe ESPECIALLY if you are with like-minded people, that you speak of the other side with moderation and respect. 

Of course the tried and true traditional methods of observing Lent: fasting, prayer and alms-giving, are ALWAYS appropriate. Attendance at weekday Mass during Lent is a most beneficial practice. 

Hoping you have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 19, 2017

This coming Monday, February 20, we observe PRESIDENTS’ DAY. I almost said we “celebrate” this day, but this year, given continued controversy over the actions and comments of our current President, not everyone is in a mood to celebrate and hence it may be better to use the more neutral term of “observe”.

This holiday started off as the celebration of Washington’s Birthday, which is February 22. Since Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday is pretty close to that on February 12, and since what everyone really wanted was a THREE-DAY WEEKEND, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed in 1968 to create Presidents’ Day always on a Monday. However, it did not officially take effect until 1971 with an Executive Order (they used to be rather innocuous) by President Richard Nixon. I do NOT include President Nixon in the observance of Presidents’ Day.

Efforts were made in the early 2000’s to re-establish proper birthday holidays for Washington and Lincoln, but the “Presidents’ Day Sale” lobby had grown too strong and could not be stopped. After all, what is more American than a sale? What better way to honor our great Presidents then to go shopping?

This year, however, I think we need to spend the day in some reflection and consideration about the Office of the President of the United States of America. We have truly wonderful tradition and examples of great Presidents such as Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and many very good Presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and James Madison, and some mixed bags such as Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and some poor presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant, a few forgettable presidents such as William K Polk, and a few stinkers. It makes a rather curious group of men.

Fortunately, we have a government based on the division of powers, between the judicial, the legislative and the executive branches. No one branch can go it alone. This was a GREAT idea of our Founding Fathers. However, the temptation is for one branch to try to accumulate enough power that it no longer needs the other two. FDR tried to get around the courts at a critical juncture in our history and got shot down. The principal of the division of powers stood. The division of these powers is being tested again today, and if we come through this test whole and sound, it will inevitably be tested again sometime in the future.

Maybe the best way to observe Presidents’ Day this year is to pray for our country and our current President. I suggest we all take a deep breath and calm down a little bit on Presidents’ Day. Prayer can only help.

God bless America and God bless the entire world. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homily Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A February 26, 2017

This past week I had the great pleasure of viewing a movie I have been wanting to see for a while, starring Tom Hanks, called “Bridge Of Spies”.   Anyone else here ever see it?
In the movie Tom Hanks plays an attorney defending a Soviet spy during the height of the cold war.  The spy is convicted, and during the sentencing phase, as the spy faces probable execution, the spy is calmly sitting at the desk next to Tom Hanks awaiting the judge to pronounce sentence.   Hanks turns to the rather placid spy and asks, “Aren’t you worried?”  And the spy looks at him and responds, “Would it help?”
          “Would it help?”   Well, no.  Worry doesn’t help.  In fact it can get in the way and detract us from dealing with a problem, only making things worse.  Worry doesn’t help.
          In the Gospel today Jesus tells us not to worry.  "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”   So don’t worry!
          But that is easier said than done.  It is very hard to turn off worry.  It is extremely difficult to not worry by sheer force of will.  “I will not worry!”””  
          Rather than trying to not worry, and then worry about whether or not you will be able to stop worrying, it is better to replace the worry with something else.   Worry comes from fear, and the best strategy is to get rid of the fear.
          The opposite of worry is PEACE.   Well, Jesus helps us because that is the gift He promised us.  “My Peace I give you, my Peace I leave you.”   Remember that?
The peace of Christ casts out fear and worry from our hearts.  When we are at peace in Christ, we are able to resist fear and the worry that accompanies it.
          I had a striking example of this when I was a seminarian many moons ago.  For the Summer of 1975 I was assigned to assist in Nome, Alaska.  I was going there to help on a radio station, KNOM, the Bishop of Fairbanks had and still has.  It broadcast all over Alaska to scattered Eskimo villages.  It was stationed in Nome, close to Russia, because it also broadcast into the Eskimo villages of Siberia.  I was excited to go to Nome and to work on the radio.
          However, when I got to Nome the first job I was given was to assist the Little Sisters of Jesus with a salvaging task.  Their home, and many of the Eskimoes homes, which were beyond the seawall that protected the white’s part of town, had been demolished in a terrible Winter storm.  When I showed up in late May things had thawed enough to start salvage operations.  And so I was assigned to help the Little Sisters see if we could find and save anything from their former home, which was now destroyed. 
          So we went out there to pick through the muck and the ruins to see if anything could be saved.  We found some pots and pans, some photographs, a few pieces of a broken Ivory crucifix, not much.   They didn’t have much to start with.
          I was a VERY UNHAPPY character.  I was brooding and sulking and P.O’ed because I had come to Nome to work on the radio, NOT to be picking through the muck and rubble.
          Then, DUH, it finally dawned on me that this was the Little Sister’s home we were picking through.  This was their stuff and their possessions, the few they had, and their home.  But they were not grumbling and upset and unhappy, like I was.  They were in a much better place than I was.  They were like on a picnic.  They were full of joy, even happiness.  You see, they had such confidence in God’s care for them, such freedom from possessions, such total trust in God as their loving Father, that they had no room left for worry or for regret.  They were free from worry and fear.  It really made an impression on me. 
Today’s reading calls us to that kind of confidence in God’s care for us.  Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah puts it very movingly.  God says to God’s people:  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
God cares for you even more than a loving mother for her child!
And our second reading also surprizes us:  St Paul assures us:  Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive….. “   
And we might be tempted to think we are going to receive judgement from God, or maybe justice from God.  What is hidden in darkness in our hearts will be revealed and we expect it to be something bad and evil.  But that is not what St Paul says.   Rather he states:  “and then everyone will receive praise from God.”  Praise from God!  How wonderful to be praised by your heavenly Father.  Children love to be praised by their parents, when it is well deserved.  How much more beautiful and moving and affirming to receive praise from your Heavenly Father!  It will be FABULOUS!

          Jesus today teaches and challenges us to let go of Worry, and to replace it with His Peace, based on trust of our loving Father.  " Seek first the kingdom of God and his righeousness, and all these things will be given you besides."  And that is Good News!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


          Let me tell you a story.   When Franz was born his father was not married to his mother.  Franz’s natural father promptly went off to war and got killed.  Later Franz was adopted by another man who married his mother.    Franz was kind of wild as a child, not having the best upbringing.  He himself also fathered a child out of wedlock, a little girl.   But then a remarkable thing happened.  Franz fell in love with a deeply religious woman, and they got married.  Her strong faith began to change Franz.  He became religious himself.  While still a farmer, he also took on the job of sexton – a combination of janitor and sacristan - of the church in the little village in which he lived in Austria.  He went to Holy Communion every day.  He had three more daughters.
          When the Nazi’s took over Austria in 1939 his was the only vote in the entire district against ratifying the Nazi takeover.  For a while Franz had an exemption from military service in the Nazi army because he was a farmer.   But as the situation darkened for the Nazi’s he was eventually called up.  Franz did not know what to do about this.  His neighbors and friends were all serving in the army, but Franz thought it was wrong.  He began to question the morality of the war. So he sought spiritual advice from his bishop.  The bishop was non-committal, tried to dissuade Franz from his foolishness, told him to serve his country.    Franz left unconvinced.   In 1941 Franz was called to military service again.  He went to the induction center and offered to serve as a medic or non-combatant, but refused to serve under arms.  He was thrown in prison.  His parish priest came to try and talk some sense into him.  The priest pointed out all the others who were serving.  The priest told Franz to be practical and think of his family.  But Franz remained firm in his refusal to fight for the Nazi regime.   And on August 9, 1943, at the age of 36, Franz Jägerstatter was executed by guillotine, leaving his wife and 4 young daughters. 

          Jesus today teaches us: “I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
          Clearly, this is not practical advice.  It is not the way things are done in the world.  It is, frankly, crazy.  It is God’s way, not our human way.  Franz’s Bishop and his Pastor suggested and urged the human way.  “Be sensible,” they said.    BUT, Franz held on to God’s way.
          In the Gospel Jesus asks this set of questions:  “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
          It seems to me that the tax collectors and the pagans are reasonable, sensible, practical people.  They are the kind of people you can count on to act in their own self interest, and so act predictably and reasonably.  Franz’s Bishop and Pastor would approve.  And frankly, don’t we want ourselves and our children to be that sort of reasonable, sensible and practical person?
          In contrast to this Jesus points to God.  Frankly, God acts a little nuts.  As Jesus says, God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust
.”   In other words God makes no distinction between the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. 
          And that is just plain silly.  If you are good, God loves you.  If you are bad, God loves you.  If you don’t care, God loves you.  God just loves.  That is what God does.  God loves.  And that is no way to enforce order and respectability. 
          None-the-less, God somehow makes it work.  God just keeps loving, and the universe somehow manages to plod along.  As St Paul reminds us in the second reading today, "The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God."
          That would be mildly disturbing but not particularly threatening in itself, but then Jesus makes it worse – much worse – by insisting that we should stop acting reasonably, sensibly, practically, and adopt God’s irresponsible, impractical, unreasonable behavior. 
          Jesus’ injunction flows from what we heard in the first reading today:  Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”  That is what we are called to be; HOLY.  You and me and all of us.  It is nuts, it is dangerous, but it is our calling.  Being holy brought Jesus to the cross.  Being holy brought Franz Jagerstatter to the guillotine.  Being holy will also costs us. 
          Perhaps some discomfort, some ridicule, some misunderstanding, some loneliness.  But it is the way to incomprehensible, glorious life.  It is a wonderful invitation from Jesus.  But the teaching of Jesus is not for the faint of heart.
          There are now great divisions in our country.  We are deeply divided over a host of issues.  As Followers of Christ we must stand up for Justice, for Compassion, for Respect for all of God’s children.  But we must not give in to violence and to hate.  That is NOT the way of God, but of Satan.
           Back to the story.  After his death Franz Jäggerstatter’s fellow Austrian Catholics criticized him for failing to do his duty to his country and to his family.  The town fathers refused to put his name on the local war memorial, and a pension was denied to his widow.  His story was practically forgotten.  But one American sociologist - Gordon Zahn - heard of his story and wrote Franz’s biography.   People got to know about his story.  A film about him was made in 1971.  Eventually his home town dedicated a plaque in his honor.  And in June of 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared Franz a martyr.  Franz was beatified, the step just before canonization as a Saint, on October 26, 2007.  The ceremony was held at the cathedral in Linz, Austria.   Attending the ceremony was his 94 year old widow, the lady whose faith had started it all, and all four of Franz’s daughters.  His feast day is May 21, the anniversary of his Baptism. 

          Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column February 12, 2017

Recently I read in our local paper that yet again the teaching of evolution is a contentious issue with the State Board of Education. Oh my!

These challenges to the teaching of evolution in Texas schools do not result from good science but from bad religion. Science deals with questions of how. Religion deals with questions of why. Science cannot answer the question of why there is such a magnificent creation, nor why we are here and what is the meaning and purpose of our existence. Similarly, Religion does not answer how all this wonderful creation works, nor the many complicated and wonderful steps by which it all came to be. You would not ask questions about the American Revolution in math class, and you would not ask what 3 + 3 equals in history class. Each discipline asks different questions. Similarly, science and religion ask different kinds of questions about reality. To deny the well-founded science of evolution is to confuse the creator with the means of creation. They are not the same.
Catholics know this. In the Vatican Council II document Lumen Gentium, paragraph 36, we read:
“If by the autonomy of earthly affairs is meant the gradual discovery, exploitation, and ordering of the laws and values of matter and society, then the demand for autonomy” [from religion] “is perfectly in order. …. We cannot but deplore certain attitudes (not unknown among Christians) deriving from a shortsighted view of the rightful autonomy of science; they have occasioned conflict and controversy and have misled many into opposing faith and science.”

So, for Catholics, science and religion are not opposed. True religion fosters good science. Therefore, the teaching of evolution in our schools and universities is not only allowed, but indeed required. The more we find out how creation works, its marvelous complexity and beauty, the more we are lead to awe and a profound sense of gratitude to the Creator. Genuine science can be a pathway to wonder, and then on to faith.

Do not be afraid of the teaching of scientific evolution. But do be afraid of any kind of closure of mind to wonders and beauty of creation, including the remarkable story of evolution.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column January 29, 2017

Welcome to Fr. René Constanza, CSP, here to preach the Annual Paulist Appeal. We are happy to have him back for a visit! And I hope you will all be supportive of the Paulist Fathers with your prayers (especially for vocations!) and your financial gifts. THANKS!
Let me update you on the renovation project of our church and rectory. The front half of the first floor of the rectory, which had in the past been the church offices and had become the nursery and a collection of various Paulists’ personal items and junk, has been totally gutted and cleared out. Following that, asbestos abatement took place after the carpet was ripped out and under it was discovered the original 1953 floor tile, containing asbestos. That is now all gone. Now construction in that part of the rectory has begun, putting back the walls of the nursery, including a new bathroom in the nursery, and clearing out the rest of the space. I foresee this new space as being used for a number of activities: a bride’s room, place for families to gather prior to funerals, meeting room for small committees and study groups, and space for children’s faith formation or Children’s Liturgy of the Word. The nursery will continue in this space as well.
In addition, the masons have been doing a lot of testing about the cleaning and repair of the stone on the sides where we are not replacing the stone. New stone will be only on the front of the church and rectory. The other three sides will be cleaned, patched and sealed. The masons have tested several products to see how they would work at cleaning our stone, and testing various options for patching and replacing pieces where needed. To see some of the test stones, step outside into the small alcove between the church and rectory (out the handicapped entrance) and look at the church wall. That spot was selected to test since it will be totally covered by the interior wall of the new lobby leading to the new bathrooms. Pull tests were also conducted on several types of anchors for the new stone, and happily, the least expensive option did the best. Meanwhile the stone is being quarried, cut and prepared. On Thursday, January 26, several of the staff and building committee were gone to Florence, TX to view the quarry and the stone preparation.  I will report on that later.
In March, scaffolding will be erected in front of the church. Starting at the top and working down, the old stone will be removed. It is expected to not come off in blocks, but in irregular pieces. Several parishioners have asked about acquiring the stone, and if they are willing to haul it away, they are welcome to it.
Once all the stone is removed, then beginning at the bottom and working up to the top the new stone will be installed. The trickiest and longest piece will be the tower.
As we get into the actual construction I will give you further updates. Please remember the workers in your prayers.