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!