Monday, December 24, 2018

HOMILY Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle C December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas!   Ready or not Christmas is here. 
          Why do we spend so much time, energy and money on the celebration of Christmas each year?   Well, there are different answers.  For some it is a social thing.  Others it is primarily about family.  Some observe it as a warm, fuzzy feeling of good will to others.  Nothing wrong with any of that.
          But for us Christians there is an additional, and primary, reason for celebrating.  We remember and give thanks for the wonderful gift of God born in the flesh.  God’s gift to us of a Savior, to save us from a pointless and unhappy and meaningless existence of sin, and to save us for a life of peace and joy in harmony with God’s Will for us, and an infinite eternity of union with God as our beloved.  That is what Christmas is all about.
          In our short passage from the Letter to the Hebrews which is our second reading today, the author twice quotes the line from Psalm 40, “I come to do your will..”  That is the attitude of Jesus.  The operative word in this quote is the short word, “DO”.  I come to do you will, O God.    Doing is what is important.
          Doing is more important than feeling.  Doing is more important than belonging to the right religion.  Doing is more important than believing the right doctrines.  Doing is more important than following the right beliefs.  Doing is more important than your citizenship, your race, your university degree, your income, or the version of your cell phone. 
          The attitude of Jesus is “I come to do your will, O God.”
          This is what Jesus teaches us in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25.  In the image Jesus gives us of the final judgement, where Jesus separates people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, the criterion of judgement is what you did or failed to do.  I was hungry and you fed me, a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you visited me, or not.   The judgement is all about what you did or did not do.   DO.
          To truly celebrate the Feast of Christmas, at its deepest and most meaningful level, it does not matter if you got the house decorated, or the lights up, or how many parties you get invited to, or if you receive the present you really want. 
          What does matter is what you do.  How you care for others.  How you follow the example of Jesus.  That is what matters. 
          The very best way to celebrate the birth of the Christ child is to do what Jesus did.  Follow God’s Will in action.  “Behold, I come to do your Will, O God.”  That will make for the most meaningful, and most joyous, Christmas of all.
          Merry Christmas! 

Monday, December 17, 2018

HOMILY Third Sunday of Advent December 16, 2018

          One can make a pretty convincing case that the world is going to hell.  The government scientists recently issued a report on the climate, and it is bad.  Scientists are getting more and more dramatic in their speech and frantic in their calls for reform as evidence continues to mount of faster and faster climate change.  What kind of world are we leaving to the next generation?
          In world politics it is a mess:  Brexit fights in Britain, riots in France, right wing strongmen in the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary and Poland, endless wars in Afghanistan and in Syria, a truly tragic human disaster in Yemen.  Increasing authoritarianism in Russia and China. 
          In our own country the government is badly divided, and the president threatens a shut down of the government.  Every day is a new revelation and scandal.
          The economy is shaky.  A trade war with China.  A stock market all over the place.  Fears of recession and inflation.  A frontpage article in today’s New York Times states: “For the first time in decades, every major type of investment has fared poorly, as the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits is dampened by rising trade tensions and interest rates.”
          And in the Church?  Cover ups by bishops, more names of credibly accused priests and bishops being released, divisions of Catholics into camps, criticism of the Pope, and people leaving the church, especially the young. 
          As I said, one can make a pretty convincing case that the world is going to hell. 
          And so how are we to react?  What are we to think?  What should we do?  The normal reactions don’t apply.  Everything is up for grabs. 
          What should we do?”  That is the question the people put to John the Baptist in our Gospel today.  Their world was coming apart at the seams as well:  an oppressed people, conquered by Rome, their own priests collaborators with the enemy, everything was not what it was supposed to be, and they too felt overwhelmed, lost, disoriented.
          So, in the Gospel crowds come to John the Baptist and ask, “What should we do?”   Perhaps you are wondering the same thing. 

I LOVE John’s answer:  “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”  In other words, take care of one another.  John does not tell them something outrageous or extraordinary or wild.  John was a wild and crazy guy, living in the desert, dressed in camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey.  You expect him to say something wild and revolutionary.   But his response is very simple and pretty basic.  “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.” 
          If you feel overwhelmed by what is going on in the world today, take a deep breath, and then listen to John the Baptist.  “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.” 
          With caring for one another comes joy.  Ask anyone who worked on the St. Vincent de Paul Christmas Basket project this past week, or anyone who helps in our Thursday Outreach program. 
          In our second reading St. Paul urges us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all.”  Rejoicing goes with kindness, with caring for each other. 
          We can care for each other because God cares for us.  As we sang in the Psalm today: “God indeed is my savior, I am confident and unafraid.”   Confident and unafraid.  That is a wonderful witness in today’s world. 
We should be confident and unafraid.  God is indeed our savior. 
          There is a wonderful image of God in our first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah:  “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you….”
          That is quite an image, of God singing joyfully because of you.   Have you ever been so head over heals in love that you sang joyfully because of your beloved??
          Can you imagine God singing joyfully because of you?  And yet the prophet tells us this is so. 
          Fr Rich sings beautifully.  I sing loudly.  But God sings joyfully because of you.  Oh my!
          My sisters and brothers, the readings today remind us not to let ourselves be overwhelmed, depressed and paralyzed by the many real and terrible evils in our world.  We must do our part, but it is as simple and straightforward as John the Baptists’ teaching:  care for each other. 
That is how we will get through this.  AMEN. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Happy Thanksgiving!        I’d like to look at the setting of today’s Gospel.
          Jesus is continuing His journey to Jerusalem.  ¿What’s going to happen when He gets there, in Jerusalem?  ….  Not good.
          The Gospel states: “He traveled through Samaria and Galilee…”  Samaria was Samaritan territory and Galilee Jewish territory.  Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  Samaritans were descendants of the ten northern tribes of Israel that broke away after King Solomon, formed their own country, and with it their own worship.  There was a bitter civil war.  Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, the Samaritans on Mt. Gerazim, and they looked on each other as heretics.
          So Jesus is in a border area, a border between two opponents.  It would be like travelling today through Gaza and Israel, or Texas and Northern Mexico.  Lots of tension, lots of armed guards, lots of animosity.  It is a conflicted situation that is uneasy and not at all settled.
          In this situation ten lepers approach Jesus.  It is a mixed group.  Men and women perhaps?  Jews and Samaritans.  Young and old probably?   Their differences erased by their common affliction and misery.  Their identity was reduced to their disease.  Ten lepers.
          They shout, “Jesus, Master!  Have pity on us!” 
And Jesus does.  He tells them to “Go show yourselves to the priests” so that they can be declared healed and clean, and return to community.
          All ten are healed.  One returns.  And he is a Samaritan.  The one enemy is the one who returns to give thanks to God.  He is the only one to whom Jesus proclaims “Your faith has saved you.”  The heretic is the one with faith. 
          Wouldn’t you like to know what happened in this guy’s life after that?  Here is an opening for some speculation and midrash.  Did he follow Jesus?  Go back to Samaria?  Become a disciple?   Who knows?
          But this Gospel is about us.  How do we come to Jesus looking to be cleansed?  Cleansed of spiritual leprosy: of selfishness?  Of lies?  Of gossip and greed and lust and hard-heartedness?  Cleansed of fear so that we may truly be alive?
          Do we first of all have the wisdom and the courage to cry out, “Jesus, Master!  Have pity on us?”     That raises the question:  Is Jesus our Master?  And, do we recognize our need for healing? 
          The correct response to Jesus’ healing is gratitude.  Gratitude.
What are we as St. Austin Parish grateful for?  
- Anyone grateful for new bathrooms, nursery and new lobby area? 
- Anyone grateful for the Christmas Basket project that has been going on here for many years?
- And the for St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Thursday Outreach, which do such great but often quiet work through the WHOLE year, not just at the holidays??
- Anyone here grateful for our wonderful St Austin School, that not only does such a great job of preparing our children academically but even more importantly does a remarkable job of forming and developing our students’ morally and spiritually?
- How about the music ministries here, the lectors, ushers, eucharistic ministers, our deacons and the Paulists?  Anyone grateful for them?
- How about the phenomenal Kristallnact program we just had here, that was beautiful, touching, thought provoking, challenging, and so professionally done? 
          I am especially grateful for the Parish Pastoral Council, the Property Committee, the Finance Council, the School Advisory Board, the Development Committee, the Investment Committee, and many other boards and councils, and all the dedicated and talented people who generously share their time and talent in this plethora of endless meetings.  We can even be grateful for meetings!   AMEN?
Brothers and sisters, just like in the time of Jesus, we too are in a time of tension, of conflict, of animosity and disease.  But just like in the time of Jesus we also have much for which to give thanks.
          Our model is the Samaritan, who returned glorifying God in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.   Let us do the same.  AMEN. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 2, 2018

Welcome to Advent. Happy New (Liturgical) Year everyone.
This coming Saturday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the United States. On May 13, 1846, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously chose the Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as the official patroness of our country. Pope Pius IX approved this decision on Feb. 7 of the following year and published it in a decree of July 2, 1847. Why the bishops in those days made this choice is unclear to me. Certainly, our nation was not conceived without sin, since racism and genocide of indigenous people played such a large part in the founding of our nation.
If it had been up to me, I think I may have chosen one of the Apostles, like Peter or Paul or Andrew as the Patron of our country. Someone who was bold and missionary and had a vision. That would fit the kind of pioneering spirit of our land, growing, expanding, pressing forward, and missionary. Or maybe Saint George, a warrior, slaying the dragon. But that probably was not a good choice because of King George of England, from whom our country broke away.
But the bishops, unanimously, chose Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps this is a good choice after all. The point of the doctrine, at least as I understand it, was not so much what Mary lacked, which was original sin, but rather what she always had, or as the Angel Gabriel addressed her, “Full of Grace.” Mary had always been free from sin only because she was indeed Full of Grace, that is, of God’s love and life.
So maybe the Bishops in 1847 chose Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of our country because our nation, unlike almost any other, did not come about because of a particular ethnic group, or particular tribe or culture or historic area, but rather as a choice, constructed by people consciously choosing to do so. Our nation was, in a sense, free to be what it wanted to be. It was conceived out of ideals, not out of geography nor history nor ethnic group.
As we celebrate this Holy Day later this week, it seems to me a blessed opportunity to pray for our nation. We need prayer for our country right now. We need to live up to the ideals on which our nation was founded. Our institutions are under much strain. The checks and balances that our founders enshrined to protect us from becoming a monarchy again are severely tested. We all need wisdom, guidance, and perseverance to ensure that our descendants will also enjoy the benefits of a democracy in a republic committed to our founding ideals. Perhaps the bishops in 1847 knew what they were doing after all.