Saturday, May 18, 2019


Phone books.   Anyone here remember phone books?  Big printed books with lots of names and numbers.  Try and find one these days.  We have many more phones, but very few phone books. 
Even in this digital age, when some people read everything on their phone or tablet, we still know the difference between a novel and a phone book. You cannot read them the same.  You would not read the phone book as if it were a novel.  If you did, you would say, "Lots of characters, little plot".   On the other hand, if you read the novel like the phone book, you would find it very confusing, disorganized, un-informative.   So you need to know how to "read" a particular piece.
The same is true for Scripture.  The Bible is really not a book, but a library, with all sorts of literary forms in it: history, law, narrative, novella, poetry, prayers, songs, letters, and other forms.  If you want to understand Scripture, you need to know what form of literature you are looking at, and read it accordingly.
Today’s Gospel is very short, but powerful.  It contains a lot of emotions.  It strikes me as a love letter. These are tender words, private words, words spoken in intimacy between lovers.  They should be spoken softly, almost whispered, with sincerity and feeling. 
"Jesus said: ‘My sheep hear my voice."    "My sheep" is a term of affection and endearment.   When the Lamb of God refers to us as "My sheep", this is not a put-down, like “what a dumb bunch of sheep”, but rather an address of great tenderness.  Maybe you have a special name for a child or spouse or sweetheart; a name that expresses a lot of affection and care and tenderness. ...  My sheep” should be spoken the same way.                        
"My sheep hear my voice."  How important genuine listening is to communication!  To hear Jesus’ voice is open our hearts to Him.  It is communication and union on a level of intimacy.  To really hear another is a truly great gift.
"I know them," Jesus says.  This is much, much more than book knowledge, or information gathered from the internet.   Rather this is personal knowledge.  It comes from intimacy.  It is certainly not “I know what you are up to” kind of reading.
No, this is intimacy, shared secrets and hopes.  It is not knowing just about the person, but knowing the person herself.  Jesus knows us in this deep and close way.
"I know them, and they follow me."  Several times in the Gospels Jesus invites and commands: "Follow me."  This is what we do.  We are in love, and so want to be with Jesus, the Beloved.  We follow Him, because He is the desire of our hearts.
"I give them eternal life," Jesus continues.  This love is fruitful, fecund, lifegiving. 
Eternal life is not just life that goes on and on and on without end, but is rather full, complete, total, absolute life, all that we long and yearn for.  This is what Jesus gives us, the fullness of life, eternal life.
"And they shall never perish."  Jesus is faithful.  He is not a faithless lover.  All of us have been wounded and hurt by the pain of abandonment, by disappointment, by heartbreak.  But not with Jesus.  His love is firm.  It endures.  It prevails.   We can count on him.   "And they shall never perish."
"No one shall snatch them out of my hand.  My Father is greater than all, in what he has given me, and there is no snatching out of his hand."  There is safety with the Lord.  This relationship brings security.  As we heard in the second reading today: "Never again shall they know hunger or thirst, nor shall the sun or its heat beat down on them, for the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.  He will lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
There is no more need for fear, for anxiety and crippling worry, for headaches and sleepless nights, for the concern and worry that ties your stomach in knots.  All that ceases, for The Lord is our Shepherd, protecting and watching over us. "And there is no snatching out of his hand."  We are safe.
Finally, Jesus says: "The Father and I are one."  This is the deepest of all communion, of intimacy, of sharing life, of love.  The union between the Father and the Son is the fullness and perfection of love.  This is the love that birthed the universe, the love that is the completion of all that there is.  And this perfect love is the model of our union with Jesus.  As the Father and Son are one in love, so are we to be one with Jesus in love. 

The Gospel today is short, but powerful.  For the words are packed with meaning and emotion.  They speak to us of the tender love and care that Jesus has for us.  And that is wonderful.                   ALLELUIA!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, April 28, 2019

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! ALLELUIA!
It is wonderful to have you with us on this most Holy Day! Thank you for joining in our celebration of Jesus Christ’s triumph over sin and over death. THANK YOU also for your patience and understanding as we live and celebrate our way through all the congestions and the confusion of street closures and construction all around us. This is a changing and dynamic neighborhood that calls out for Christian witness. Easter happens regardless!
May this celebration of the victory of Christ’s love fill you will Joy and Happiness! The Resurrection of Jesus has changed all history and given it new and limitless meaning. It is because of the great event that we celebrate today that you and I have a future, indeed an eternal future. A future of LIFE and of LOVE!!! Alleluia!
In these dark times of crimes, crazy politics, mass shootings, and the rise of authoritarian dictators around the world we still have a secure reason to be filled with HOPE. So, don’t be sad, don’t worry, don’t brood over injuries and bad times and misfortunes. Today is a time to REJOICE and be GLAD. Life has purpose and meaning.  Life is filled with infinite worth and possibility. Death has been conquered! Sin has been overcome! All other problems are temporary. We have great reason to rejoice. And your presence today adds to the JOY!
THANK YOU for being with us.
Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! ALLELUIA!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, April 14, 2019

Blessed Palm/Passion Sunday! We now plunge into Holy Week, liturgically the most significant and meaningful time of the year. Holy Week culminates in the celebration of the Triduum, a memorial and celebration of God’s action in Jesus saving us from sin and death, and conversely saving us for the fullness of life with God.
The drama of the Triduum plays out in three acts. Holy Thursday focuses on service with the washing of feet, and on Jesus’s self-gift in the Eucharist. It is also a special time for focusing on the ministerial priesthood. Some people find this the most moving and beautiful of the three services, especially the washing of feet. The way we do this here at St. Austin welcomes all present to participate, and many are touched by that.
Good Friday service involves the proclamation of the Passion, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion. It is not a Eucharist. It is the only day we do NOT celebrate Mass. Because the themes of this service are very powerful and dramatic, some find this service to be the most affecting and moving. Personally, from a logistical point of view, I find it to be a sort of liturgical train wreck, with the three parts sort of jammed together with little inherent connection.
And then on Holy Saturday night we celebrate the Easter Vigil, with the lighting of candles, blessing of water, a big Gloria and Alleluia, several Bible readings, Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist, and generally pulling out all the stops. This is a long service, but very dramatic and it moves fairly quickly. This is clearly my favorite.
No matter which part of the Triduum is your favorite, I invite and encourage you to join us in this special three-day celebration of the mystery of our salvation. Come join us!

Fr. Chuck's Column, April 7, 2019

This Mon., April 8, at 7 p.m., we will celebrate our Lenten Communal Reconciliation Service. ALL are welcome!
This beautiful sacrament has undergone tremendous change in the long history of the Church. Even in the lifetimes of many alive today, we have seen this sacrament evolve.
When I was a child the sacrament was called “confession” or “penance.” Now we call it “reconciliation.” The change in name is to emphasize who is the important actor in this sacrament. I, the sinner, confess and do the penance; therefore calling it “confession” or “penance” puts the emphasis on what I do. But the most important actor in the sacrament is neither me nor the priest, but God. God is reconciling the world to Godself through Jesus Christ. What God does in the sacrament is much more important that what we do. Our participation in the sacrament is important, but God really does all the heavy lifting and the important work, reconciling us to Godself. So, the name change to “reconciliation” is an attempt to recognize that this is first and foremost God’s work.
Also, when I was a child, the sacrament was performed in a small, dark room often referred to as a “box.” It was rather intimidating and scary. It was not a celebration of God’s reconciling grace but a recognition of my sinfulness. The priest was unseen, just a disembodied voice, and the penitent was also anonymous and unseen. The whole thing was draped in secrecy and anonymity. It was more oppressive than celebratory.
Now at our parish reconciliation service we are encouraged to go face-to-face. This human encounter becomes part of the sacramental expression of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and welcoming us back to God’s embrace. Like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son we heard last Sunday, God is eager and anxious to welcome us, to pardon and to forgive us. This reality is better symbolized and celebrated by the face-to-face encounter in the sacrament that most people will experience in the communal penance service. There will be 6 or 7 confessors and all will have an opportunity to individually confess their sins, and receive individual, personal, absolution and blessing. There is also an opportunity to go behind a screen in the reconciliation chapel for those desiring that.
Soon we will celebrate Holy Week and remember the great gift of salvation Jesus won for us on the cross and His triumphal resurrection on Easter. A very good way to prepare spiritually for this celebration is the sacrament of reconciliation. You are invited and encouraged to join us Mon., April 8, at 7 p.m., right here at St. Austin Church. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, March 31, 2019

Two weeks ago I gave some thoughts on the process of dying. Last week I looked at Purgatory. This week I want to focus on the Resurrection.
Jesus is RISEN!! That is the center of our faith. He is the only human to have beaten death, and He shares that victory with us. We become members of His Body by Baptism, and since He is risen, so shall we. Death loses. God and life win. That is what Christianity, our religion, is all about. God wins!!!
What will resurrected life be like? We don’t know. But it is not just immortality of the soul. It is resurrection of the body, as we profess in the Creed, so in some form it is bodily life. I take this to mean it will still be ME and it will still be YOU. We will be different, but still be US. This gives me hope that we will be able to recognize each other in heaven. Relatives, friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches, neighbors, people who helped us and were good to us, will be there and be recognizable for who they are. We will not be alone.
We should have LOTS of time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. It won’t be like it is here on Earth, but we will all be in union with the Triune God, and in an intimate union with each other through God. I hope we will meet many relatives who came before us whom we have not even heard of, much less met. And we will meet many descendants who we cannot yet even imagine. It will make for quite a party! Also, I hope that it will be possible to meet some of the saints and some important figures from history and the arts. Can I eavesdrop on a conversation between Thomas Aquinas, Paul of Tarsus and Karl Rahner? It certainly won’t be dull.
St. Paul tells us: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) I am looking forward to knowing fully. I have a list of questions. Do you? Things like, ‘how come he was always angry with me,’ or ‘why didn’t I get that promotion,’ or ‘what was up with those two,’ and many, many others. I think it will be fascinating!
What will our resurrected bodies be like? We don’t know. St. Paul says it will be a “spiritual” body. When pressed as to what this spiritual body will be like, he has to just assure us that it will be, but now we don’t know. He resorts to an analogy. He says in 1 Cor 15:31 that when you plant a seed, what grows up is not a big seed, but rather a tree or plant of that species. The seed and the plant are not the same but are related. Similarly, a physical body is buried, but a spiritual body is risen. They are not the same, but have an essential relationship. Therefore, whatever is raised on the last day will still be me, Chuck Kullmann, but in a new way of being. Hopefully 25 pounds lighter!
Our belief in the resurrection gives our lives here meaning and value that is infinite. We will go on forever! Thanks be to God who has given us the victory in Jesus Christ. That is what we are preparing to celebrate this Holy Week.

Fr. Chuck's Column, March 24, 2019

Last week in my column I considered the question, “What happens to me when I die?” I argued that what we do in this life has some impact on how we experience the next life, both for good and for ill. But things on the other side of the grave are different and indeed often contradictory to what we experience here in this life. While we may want to get all that we can here in this life, Jesus tells us that in the next, what matters is what we gave away. Jesus often tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Or to use another image, unless the grain of wheat falls to earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. What works in this life does not work in the next, and vice-versa.
This brings up the idea of JUDGEMENT. It’s the consistent belief of Christianity and many other religions that after death, our conduct here on Earth will be judged. Jesus, in Matthew chapter 25, clearly gives us the criteria of this judgement: I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, or you didn’t. I was hungry and you fed me, or you didn’t. I was sick and you visited me, or you didn’t. I was a stranger and you welcomed me or you didn’t. It’s all about how we treat others.
Most of us here at St. Austin try to do what is right and lead a good, decent life. However, few of us are perfect. We get lazy, we are stingy, we lie, we hold on to prejudices, we go to places on the internet we shouldn’t go, and on and on. During Lent we try to do better and avoid these things, but we still fall and sin.
When we die, we hopefully will be basically good people and will be saved. But we will not have accomplished fully the growth into loving and generous people that we are called to as beloved children of God. There will still be areas of greed, selfishness, and evil that cling to us. To enter fully into the light of God’s love, these remaining areas of sin must be removed. The process of removing these areas that we didn’t clean up in this life we call purgation. It’s a fancy word for cleaning. We need to be purged of our remaining imperfections and sins in order to open ourselves fully to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Traditionally, Catholics call this process Purgatory. It’s not so much a place as a process. It’s more about growth than about sin. Growth is not always easy, fun, or convenient. Sometimes it hurts. Just as growing out of bad habits here on Earth is often hard and painful work, on the other side of the grave, this growth, being stretched to be more loving and capable of being loved, might very well be unpleasant. Think of someone trying to quit smoking or give up drugs or alcohol.
My image of Purgatory is that when we die, and stand before Jesus, we will see ourselves reflected in His eyes. And then we will see ourselves, for the first time, truly and completely as Jesus sees us: with all the compassion, all the hope, all the expectation that Jesus has for each one of us. We will see all the opportunities to love that we missed, all the times we could have been brave, or honest, or true, or loving, and did not. We will see all the times we chose to do wrong and to turn away from who Jesus calls us to be. We will see how much Jesus loves us, even suffering the Cross for us, and our response. Such knowledge will burn us like fire with remorse, shame, humility, and regret. Jesus looks at us with love until all hesitancy and reluctance to love is burned out of us, and we can finally love fully and completely as God created us to. That will be Purgatory. At least that is my take on it.

Fr. Chuck's Column, March 17, 2019

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” This is the traditional formula for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. It raises the question of what happens after death. It is an interesting, indeed intriguing question. The problem is that the most accurate answer we have to this question of what we experience and what happens to us when we die is, “we don’t know.” I suspect that it is a different experience from what we know here, so vastly different that we cannot describe, comprehend, nor understand it.
As an analogy, think of a baby forming in its mother’s womb. And let us, for the sake of argument, say that the baby knows that eventually it will have to leave the womb. Some babies may think that they are going to a bigger, better womb. Some babies may think that this is all there is and when you are born you just cease to be. Some babies may get it into their developing heads that there is a whole new kind of world beyond the womb that is so different from their current experience that they cannot conceive of what it is truly like.
Because I am a Catholic Christian, I think that our situation is like the last: we pass from this life into a whole new way of being that is so different from our ordinary experience here that we cannot talk about it accurately. All we can do is wait and see what it will be like.
But also as a Catholic Christian, I think that there are some things we can say, or postulate, about what happens after we die. First of all it will still be ME. The life that is in me does not simply join into some amorphous pool of life force. What continues after death is something that is still ME, Chuck Kullmann. This is a direct consequence of belief in the resurrection of the dead. In order for the dead to be raised, they have to continue in some way to be who they were in this life. So I believe that we will all be around for a very long time to come! And somehow, what I did and what I failed to do, both good and bad, will have an effect on me in the next life. Just as how a mother takes care of herself, eats well, gets good medical care and so on, or conversely drinks, abuses drugs, gets ill or is traumatized, all affects the child in her womb, so how I have acted and behaved in this life influences me in the next, for both good and ill. But it will be me, Chuck Kullmann. What I do, or what I fail to do, will make a difference in the next life beyond death.
So how we act now is very important. It has consequences that we don’t fully understand, but that are real and very, very long lasting. So it only makes sense to improve our lives now, as such efforts pay eternal dividends!
Next week I will look at judgement and purgatory.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Homily, 4th Sunday of Lent "C" March 31, 2019

Homily, 4th Sunday of Lent "C"                                                                          March 31, 2019

What is the name of the parable that we have just heard??  The Prodigal Son.  This younger son certainly is a significant character in the story.  With great brashness and insensitivity he asks for his share of the inheritance before the Father is even sick, much less dead, and then goes off and wastes it all on a “life of dissipation”, or as the Jerusalem Bible more evocatively translates it, “a life of debauchery”.  Debauchery is such a juicier word than dissipation.  In any case this younger son certainly did some stupid, mean, and very destructive things.  He hurt his family, wasted his money, and very easily could have ended up dead.
          We know, in fact, that God has given us a terrible freedom, and does not prevent us from doing horribly wrong things.  We know we are free to do mean, hateful, demeaning things that are destructive to ourselves and to others, things with really serious consequences.  We know this because we see them on the news every day.  We know this because we’ve ourselves have done them.  And God does not stop us.  God does not protect us from ourselves.  It would be nice if God would.  Think of all the heartache, embarrassment, painful regret and lasting, gnawing guilt that we could avoid if God would only stop us before we do something mean or vile or stupid.  If you’ve ever awakened some morning and said, ..”Oh God, what did I do?”… you know what I am talking about.  So we can identify, at least to some extent, with the younger son.
          There is also the older son, the “good” son.  Given the way the story works as a story, he is the key.  For at the end of the parable the issue is not with the younger son.  That is resolved.  Nor is the issue with the Father.  He’s O.K.  The critical issue is with the older son.  ¿Will he go into the party and accept his Father’s love and accept his brother as his brother, or will the older son remain caught in his bitterness, pride and self-righteousness, and choose to isolate himself? 
          We are given a clue to the centrality of the older son at the beginning of the Gospel.  You remember that the sinners and tax collectors were all gathering around Jesus to hear him.  This upset the Pharisees and the scribes.  They murmured and grumbled about this.  They didn’t approve. 

          You see, they didn’t think it was fair.  The Pharisees and scribes could tell that Jesus was something special, that he was very much in tune with God.  But here they were, the good people, the people who worked hard at keeping the law, doing what was pleasing to God, keeping the commandments, not sleeping in on Sunday morning but getting up and coming to church, and they end up standing on the outside of the circle around Jesus.  Meanwhile, all these sinners, tax collectors, drug dealers and prostitutes, had elbowed and pushed and squirmed their way up to the front, right in front of Jesus.  And instead of shooing them away and sending them to the back of the crowd, where they belonged, Jesus welcomed them.  And the Pharisees and the scribes did not approve.  They felt slighted.
          And so, Jesus addresses this parable to them.  Not to the disciples.   Not to the sinners and tax collectors, but to the Pharisees and the scribes.
          The Pharisees and scribes have gotten a bum rap.  They weren’t bad people.  In fact, they were the good people, the people who worked at it, who tried to do what was right. They were like us.  But they did have a problem.  They, like so many of us, began to believe that they did it. 
          That is understandable.  It is so easily, almost inevitable it seems, that when we have put a lot of effort and energy into something, worked hard at it, tried our best, stayed with it and succeeded, that we begin to believe that we did it.  But that is not true.  ¿Where did the talent, the energy, the perseverance, the intelligence, even the time and the opportunity come from?               We are tempted to believe that they all came from ourselves.  But they didn’t.  They came from God.  Everything is a grace.
          And so it is to them Jesus addresses this parable and forces them – and us – to make a choice.  Do we want to stand on our own self-righteousness and remain outside, OR are we willing to accept God’s free gift, not just to us, but to those undeserving others, and so embrace them as brothers and sisters?   It is not easy.  And Jesus does not answer the question for us.

          Finally, there is the Father.  When the younger son comes to him with the outrageous request that he receive his share of the inheritance, and in effect telling his Father ‘I wish you were dead,’ the Father, instead of doing what he should do and smacking the younger son up the side of his head, foolishly gives in and divides the property.  ¿ Would it not have been better, for the younger son’s own good, for the Father to not give the son any money, to take away the car keys, and to ground the younger son for a year or more until he got sane again?  I often think this way. 
          But God so badly wants us to be free to give ourselves to Him, that God even allows us to freely hurt one another and our own selves.  And so the Father lets the younger son go.  Freedom is tough.
          The Father is MUCH more prodigal in His love than even the younger son was with money.  What an image for God!  Here is a God Who is anxious and eager to forgive.  The Father stands on the hill top, anxiously searching the horizon for the younger son’s return.  As soon as he sees him, still a long way off, the Father doesn’t wait till the son gets back, but unable to restrain himself – with no concern whatsoever over his dignity and how he appeared - the Father runs out to meet him, throws his arms around him, kisses him, won’t let the son finish his little rehearsed speech of apology.  The Father  does not demand an apology.  He does not demand an accounting of where all the money went.  He does not require a listing of all the things the son did wrong.  Quite the opposite.  The Father gives him a new outfit and throws a big party.  This Father is more prodigal with his love and forgiveness than even the younger son was with his inheritance.  The Father is a great lover and a great image of God.  For Jesus knows a God who is always, always, always, eager and anxious to forgive.  God wants badly to reconcile us and heal us and love us. 
          The Father is the key to understanding the parable.  We know about people who do stupid and selfish things like the younger son.  We know about self-righteous and proud and closed in people like the older son.  But the Father who loves and gives and forgives so eagerly, so prodigally, so overwhelmingly, is not common. 
          The Father loves.  That is what He does.  He loves the younger son even when he is selfish and stupid.  He loves the older son even when he is self-righteous and up-tight.   It makes no difference.  The Father loves, because that is what God the Father does.  He loves.  Period.

          The correct understanding is given to us today by St. Paul in the second reading: "All this has been done by God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ." 
           "All this has been done by God,"   God does it.  God chooses us to be His children.  Any choosing we do is almost irrelevant compared to that.  God reconciles us to himself through Christ, and any good that we accomplish is the result of God’s grace, not the prerequisite for earning it. 
          This beautiful parable of the prodigal son is not addressed to the sinners out there on the streets, not addressed to the indifferent people out having coffee at Starbucks this Sunday morning, but to us, the church goers, the good people.  The parable instructs and warns us not to take our goodness as our accomplishment, but as God’s gift to us. 
           "All this has been done by God,"    

"All this has been done by God,"

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

HOMILY 3rd Lent cycle C March 24, 2019

HOMILY   3rd Lent cycle C    March 24, 2019

“There are several good protections against temptation: but the surest is cowardice.  Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. 
          Mark Twain’s observation may not be particularly uplifting, but it does have a kernel of truth.  What parent has not tried to instill in their children some fear, dread and horror at the probable consequences of mis-behaving?
          I mention this technique of ‘Motivation by Fear’ because that seems to be what we have going on in the Gospel today.  Jesus hears about some Galileans, His own people, who got murdered by Pontius Pilate while they were making their religious sacrifices.  Jesus’ reaction in the Gospel is:
"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way 
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  By no means!  
But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed 
when the tower at Siloam fell on them— do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?     By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"
          Clearly, motivation by fear.  Jesus agrees with Mark Twain.
          And there we would leave it, except for the parable of the fig tree that follows.  It follows in order to explain and to help us understand Jesus’ rather severe warning.  And as I see it, the issue is all about time. 
          A landowner plants a fig tree.  For three years he comes looking for figs, but no luck.  The tree is not producing any fruit.  What’s going on?   Well Jesus’ original audience would have understood that the fig tree was a traditional symbol of the community of the Israelites, of God’s own people.  And they would have understood that the fruit was not about edible figs,  but rather that the fruit is the righteousness and holiness that they were called to as God’s own special people. 
          Some Scripture scholars think the three years is a reference to the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, and for three years now Jesus has been looking for the fruits of repentance and of following the ways of the Lord in justice and piety from His own people. 
          But Jesus has been disappointed.  People want marvels and spectacles and shows, but are not really changing their lives for the better.  The religious leaders offer only opposition and criticism.  Jesus is not getting the expected fruit of His mission.  No figs. 
          Now after three years Jesus is frustrated, exasperated and disappointed.  Jesus recognizes that time is running out for the people to respond to Him as they should.  The point of the parable is to give them one more chance.  One more year.  In short, it is now or never.  Now is the time for repentance. 
          The gardener asks for another year.  He will dig around the fig tree to loosen the soil.  He will fertilize it, or in other translations, put manure on it.  If you have experience with ranching, or farming, or gardening, you probably know about manure. That is what this passage, this parable is talking about: manure. 
          So, with digging around it, putting manure on it, this is not going to be particularly pleasant for the fig tree.  It may be disturbing, smelly, messy.  But it is needed to get the tree to produce fruit.
          And so the same for us.  Jesus is not trying to frighten us into being good in today’s Gospel.  Rather Jesus is getting real about the fact that we do not have endless time to mess around.  Each of us has only so long here on earth, and it is time for us to get serious about reforming our lives, opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, and to producing the fruits of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (See Gal 5).  Now is the time for repentance and reform. 
          During the rest of this holy season of Lent, what do you need to do to be more fruitful in the Holy Spirit?  What can you do to loosen the hard, compacted soil of your habits, your set-in-your-ways hard soil, your stubbornness and resistance to change?   How can you fertilize your person with the remedies of prayer, of fasting, of generosity and almsgiving?  Maybe it is attending weekday Mass a time or two each week.  Maybe saying a rosary or setting aside time to read Scripture?  Maybe it is fasting from gossip, or from some television program, or some news item.  Maybe it is stretching yourself to address some issue in your family or with a neighbor.  Maybe it is being more generous with compliments, or with listening to others, or even with money. 
          The point of the Gospel is not to scare us.  The point of the Gospel is to get us to be more realistic about the fact that we do not have endless time.  We cannot put this off.  We need to start producing spiritual fruit.  We need to do it now, this Lent.              AMEN. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Homily Second Sunday of Lent Cycle C March 17, 2019

          In the Gospel Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.  What mountain???  St. Luke doesn’t tell us.  The mountain kind of appears out of nowhere in his Gospel. 
          But that is OK because this is not a specific physical mountain.  It is as much a spiritual mountain as it is a geographical one.  This is about a mountain top experience, an elevated, peak experience.  It could take place on an actual physical peak, or in your own bedroom.  The Transfiguration is an example or a “paradigm,” to use a 25 cent word, of what is true for all of us.
          Anyway, Peter, John and James had been “overcome by sleep.”  The NAB puts it, they “were weighed down by sleep.”  It is not just that they were tired, needed a few winks, and began to snore.  Don’t think of this only as physical sleep, but rather as a condition of being spiritually asleep. 
          Several times in the Gospels Jesus tells us, “Stay awake!”  Jesus is not urging us to insomnia.  Jesus is talking about staying awake spiritually.  It is all too easy to become spiritually dull and spiritually fall asleep and not be aware of what is happening in your own life spiritually. 
          However, up on this mountain, in this peak experience with Jesus, they became “fully awake.”  The eyes of their hearts were opened, and they became aware of what was going on spiritually.  The Gospel states: “they saw his glory and the two men (Moses and Elijah) standing with Jesus,”   The glory that Peter, John and James saw was not like strobe lights and glittering disco balls and cinematic special effects.  Rather the glory they saw was a spiritual reality: the glory, as St. John tells us, “of an only Son coming from the Father full of grace and truth.”  (Jn 1:14)  
          The Transfiguration was first and foremost a spiritual event.  Peter, prone to speaking before thinking, babbles a bit, and the situation changes.  A cloud came and cast a shadow over them.  They became frightened when they entered the cloud.   You see, they are not in charge.  They don’t control how this encounter goes.  The same is true for us.  When we approach mystery, we are no longer in control.  It can be confusing, disorienting, uncomfortable. 
          “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”
          Several years ago I took a trip on the Amazon River in Peru.  And they took us around to see all sorts of animals and villages and sights.  One of the most memorable was the evening we went out in the boat to a lonely stretch of the river.  They turned off the motor, and invited us to close our eyes and just LISTEN.  We did that for five minutes.  Five minutes is a very long time to listen.  But it was amazing what we heard.  The lapping of the water against the sides of the boat.  The occasional cough of one of the fellow travelers.  Various types of birds.  The breeze in the trees.  A fish jumping in the river.  And far, far off the howler monkeys.  It was really amazing.
          Do you ever go to some park or secluded spot and just sit and listen?  It is wonderful, but not easy.
          We have so many distractions.  So much noise.  And we become addicted to it, turning on the TV as soon as we enter a room even though we aren’t watching it.  It is hard to turn off the noise, to still ourselves, and just listen.  And that is simply to listen to what is going on around us in the physical world. 

          To really still ourselves and listen to what is going on inside us is even more difficult, but more revealing.  To still ourselves and listen for the Lord is even more difficult still, and more rewarding still.
          But the command God gives Peter, John and James in the Gospel today, and through them to us, is to “listen to him.”  Listen.
          We are still early in Lent.  Lent is a great time to LISTEN.   I think that is why we have this Gospel today.  I urge you to try to listen to Jesus this Lent.  Set aside time to read Scripture, to pray, and most importantly to quiet yourself and listen for God’s message to you.  It may come in words, but probably won’t.  It may come as a feeling, or a sense, or an emotion.  Maybe as an idea about something you need to address, like a relationship with another person.  Maybe it will be a challenge.  Maybe it will be a consolation and a comfort.  Maybe it will just be quiet.  “Be still and know that I am God” says Psalm 46.
          God the Father in the Gospel today tells us: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
          We could do much worse for Lent.  God bless!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, March 10, 2019

Lent has begun, and I hope that all of you have a most blessed and fruitful Liturgical season. The word Lent comes from the Old English word “lencten” meaning “spring.” It derives from an Old German word meaning “long,” referring to the lengthening of days in spring.
Fortunately for us, Lent here in Austin appropriately occurs with springtime, as we see blooming trees and plants, as well as the lengthening days of spring.
So Lent is not so much about hardship and penance and feeling bad but about longing and preparing for new life. The discipline of Lent only makes sense in the light of Easter. Easter is all about new life, victory over sin and death, and God’s abundant mercy and grace. That is what we look for, what we seek and anticipate.
I encourage you therefore not to be gloomy and grumpy during Lent, but to try to be filled with longing and anticipation. We are looking to celebrate something truly wonderful and magnificent at Easter. We must first confront and embrace the Cross, but we only do so as the true way to the joy of the Resurrection.
Blessed Lent!!

Fr. Chuck's Column, March 3, 2019

Well, it is that time of year again. This Wed., March 6, is ASH WEDNESDAY, the beginning of LENT. Time to pray more, be more generous, and do works of penance to prepare ourselves spiritually for Easter and for life hereafter.
All that is good. Very good, and I encourage you to do your traditional Lenten practices if you have some. But this year may I also suggest that in Lent we strive to be more careful about our statements and opinions? There is much going on politically in our country with the National Emergency declared by our President, the anticipated Mueller report, and the generally contentious nature of politics today. 
In addition there is much going on in the Church with revelations of sexual abuse, of cover-ups, of failures by bishops and priests both in our country and around the world. Every day brings more shocking headlines, accusations, and revelations of crimes and sins from all around the globe.
Before we jump to blame the other political party, or politicians in general, or all the Bishops, or homosexuals, or the media, or cell phones, or modernity, or whatever your particular pet complaint is, I suggest we all take a deep breath and just be quiet. In this Lent let us fast from accusations, bombastic speech, blaming and heated debate. Let us try that very difficult practice of LISTENING to those who do not agree with us. Let us try to UNDERSTAND one another. Let us fast from quick responses and immediate categorizations and scoring debating points and practice understanding and seeking to see the other’s point of view.
It will not be easy. It certainly won’t make the news. But it could make for a very fruitful and holy Lent.  
God bless!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

HOMILY First Sunday of Lent Cycle “C” March 10, 2019

          In the Gospel today Jesus 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.  What???
          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 to be caught by angels, a sort of spiritual bungee jumping.
          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 see it all the time.  We know and fear that money and power are  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 to 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.  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.   It is also 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 ... I would not have failed at this project.... I would not have 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, we 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!