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!