Sunday, September 29, 2019

Homily Outline Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C Sept 29, 2019

Homily Outline   Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time   Cycle C    Sept 29, 2019
NOTE:  This is an outline from which I worked, but it gives you the general idea of the homily.

This past Wednesday I went for my annual check up to my ophomologist, my eye doctor. 

Seems that our eyeballs = basketballs, but I have eyeballs shaped like footballs.    It makes focusing difficult.

Therefore, I have worn glasses…         they are a nuisance, but necessary.

I mention this because in the spiritual life, like in regular life, seeing is very important.  An important question at the beginning of growing in the spiritual life, and throughout, is “WHAT DO YOU SEE?”

Our Gospel today poses that question to us.  What do you see? 

Our Gospel presents us with two men:  Lazarus the beggar, and a rich man with no name.

Our Psalm today describes those who “delight in the law of the Lord…”  It says “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all they do they prosper.”   Sounds pretty good.

Those who do not follow the Lord or keep God’s laws, on the other hand, “are like chaff that the wind drives away.”    A big NOTHING.    In another place the wicked are compared to withered shrubs in a barren, salt waste. 

The contrast is between luxurious growth and dried-up, withered, barrenness.   Between the well irrigated and watered gorgeous trees on UT..

So which of the two men in the Gospel is which?   What do you see?

Is Lazarus, the poor begger, covered with sores, longing to eat the scraps that fall from the rich man’s table, the tree planted by water, full of fruit and leaves that do not wither, or is the rich man, dressed in fine purple, feasting sumptuously each day, the verdant tree?

Which is like the chaff blown away by the wind, or like the dried up shrub in the desert, barely alive?

The Gospel challenges us to change our focus.  To see not the exterior, but the deeper reality that God sees.  To look beyond the surface.

When you see someone dressed in Armani suits, and driving a Lexus or a Tesla, with a big home and lots of material wealth, do you see someone who is really fortunate, someone you wish you could be like, someone you envy?  OR do you see someone who puts his pants on one leg at a time?   Someone who has hopes and dreams, fears, limitations, insecurities, foibles?   A fellow human in need of redemption?  \

And when you see when you see some dirty, smelly, off-putting beggar on Guadalupe Street, do you see just a bum?   Or an unfortunate fellow?  Or a fellow human being?  A brother?   A fellow human in need of redemption?

The Gospel today is like a pair of spiritual glasses adjusting our sight, to see better, to see deeper, to see more as God sees. 

What do you see?  

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 15, 2019

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Braiding Sweetgrass, a collection of essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She is a botanist and a Native American who values her heritage. She has an interesting perspective on ecological issues, interweaving the scientific and traditional outlooks. I recommend it as a good companion to Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.
In any case, she makes an interesting observation in her book that I would like to address today. She states “Ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention.” I like that because I agree with it and find it pithy. Ceremony, especially as we do ceremony here in church, is not just outward show. It has purpose and meaning. She continues: “These acts of reverence are powerfully pragmatic. These are ceremonies that magnify life.” The ceremonies that we celebrate here each weekend do, I maintain, magnify life.
But then she states: “In many indigenous communities, the hems of our ceremonial robes have been unraveled by time and history, but the fabric remains strong. In the dominant society, though, ceremony seems to have withered away. I suppose there are many reasons for that: the frenetic pace of life, dissolution of community, the sense that ceremony is an artifact of organized religion forced upon participants rather than a celebration joyfully chosen.” Hmmm. Here I have to object.
Certainly, there are many deadly dull ceremonies out there. I have endured more than a few. But I believe that you all return week after week, fighting the traffic and navigating the garage, putting up with endless second collections, not as something you must do as an obligation, nor as something forced on you, but because at some level you do experience the ceremony of our worship as meaningful, rewarding, sustaining, and as focusing attention so that attention becomes intention. We are all better for it.
Rather regularly, visitors to our parish comment on the congregational participation in the singing. One recently told me “that’s a singing church!” Indeed we are.
I sincerely hope that you do not find our worship “an artifact of organized religion” but rather something real and organic that speaks to you and your daily life. I know I find our ceremonies rewarding. Not every Sunday, not all the time, but more than enough to cause me to look forward to celebrating with all of you again and again. It is meaningful, uplifting, and frequently fun. When I stand out in front and greet people as they leave Mass they do not look grumpy, relieved the Mass is finally over or bored. They seem happy. Maybe they are just happy it is over, but I don’t think so. I think, overall, our ceremonies magnify life.
However, that does not happen on its own. It requires work: work on the part of the priest, the lectors, the hospitality ministers, the musicians and choir, and especially the congregation. You in the pews are the MAIN determinant if the celebration is truly celebratory or only vapid, empty show.
The key word is “participation.” You already know how to do it. And you do it! Keep working to do it better. May all our ceremonies focus attention so that attention becomes intention.
God bless!

*Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer ©2013 Milkweed Editions

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 1, 2019

Continuing our review of the side altars and shrines of our church, we come to the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This image of Jesus is in the same style as most of the statues in the church, which were presumably done by the same studio.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has its roots in the Middle Ages, with Saints like St. Gertrude, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Lutgarde and St. Mechtilde. But this devotion really got going with St. Mary Margaret Alacoque (1647-1690). She was a French nun who had mystical apparitions of the Lord Jesus for a period of 18 months beginning in 1673. In these visions she received instructions to promote frequent reception of Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and Eucharistic devotion in a holy hour on Thursdays, meditating on the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane by Jesus.
Mary Margaret was aflame with love, and in her excessive zeal, cut the name of Jesus into her breast with a pocketknife, using the resultant blood to sign her testimony giving herself to Jesus.
In ther vision of Jesus on the Feast of Corpus Christi in1675, Jesus said to her (in French) "Behold the Heart that has so loved men. ...Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude."
St. Mary Margaret’s writings and her devotions became very popular. This was during the height of Scholastic Theology, which was very formal and excessively dry and dull. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus responded to a need for the part of religion that speaks to the heart instead of to the head. It helped balance the overly intellectual approach to religion that was coming from universities and seminaries. In this it was a great gift to the Church.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart, which is a Solemnity on the Church calendar, takes place 19 days after Pentecost. Since Pentecost is always a Sunday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus always falls on a Friday.
Jesus’ gift of Himself to us is His total self, including His feelings and emotions. The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus helps us to appropriate the emotional commitment of Jesus to all of us. He cares deeply and sincerely for every one of us. He is not only an effective Savior but an affective one as well.

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 25, 2019

Continuing our examination of our side altars and shrines we come over to the south side of the church, and furthest from the main altar is the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The icon of Mary and Jesus originated from the Keras Kardiotissas Monastery in Crete and has been in Rome since 1499. Today it is permanently enshrined in the Church of Saint Alphonsus, where the official Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help text is prayed weekly. St. Alphonsus is the founder of the Redemptorist Order of priests. All five of the founders of the Paulist Fathers were originally Redemptorists, and presumably had a devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, so it makes sense that she is celebrated and honored in this Paulist church.
The first historical reference to the icon comes from Rome in 1499. According to a parchment that was attached to the icon, the icon was stolen from the Cretan monastery by an Italian merchant who had it in his private possession for a while. However, the stolen image of Mary seemed to bring him only bad luck. Or perhaps he began to feel guilty over the theft. In any case, he transferred it to the Church of San Mateo in Rome. There the icon rested for over 300 years, until in 1798 French troops entered Rome and destroyed the Church of San Mateo. Some quick-witted Augustinian monks saved the icon, placing it on a side altar in the Church of Santa Maria in Posterula (there are many churches in Rome).
In 1855 the Redemptorists purchased a plot in Rome for their new headquarters. A few decades passed, and then the Redemptorists built the church to St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who was their founder (and therefore spiritual grand-father of the Paulisits). Unbeknownst to the Redemptorists the spot they picked was the exact location of the former Church of St. Mateo, the first place the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was exhibited and venerated. Pope Pius IX ordered (much to the Augustinians’ chagrin) that the icon be venerated again in its original spot. The Redemptorists gave the Augustinians an exact copy as a gesture of good will.
In any case, it is an ancient icon filled with symbolism. On the left as you face Mary is St Michael the Archangel, holding the spear that pierced Jesus’s side and the reed and sponge on which He was offered wine, and the crown of thorns. On the right as you face Mary is St. Gabriel with a cross and the nails. The letters are Geek contractions. The MP – OY at the top signify “Mother of God.” The OAM signify “Michael the Archangel” and the OAΓ signifies “Gabriel the Archangel.” The IX XC are a contraction of the Greek for “Jesus Christ.” The child Jesus contemplates the instruments of this death (the cross and nails) while one sandal has become untied and is slipping off His foot. Some believe this indicates that contemplating His suffering and Passion Jesus ran to His mother for comfort, one of his sandals becoming loose in the process. But the luminous gold background also speaks of His glorious triumph over sin and death. Mary however is not looking at Jesus, but out at us, the beholder of the icon, as if she is presenting Jesus to us. And of course, that is what Mary does, leading us to Jesus.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Homily 25th Ordinary Time Cycle C September 22, 2019

Homily     25th Ordinary Time Cycle C                                                September 22, 2019
In today’s Gospel we hear what is called The parable of the “dishonest” steward.
Normally in church, dishonesty is held up as something BAD.  And yet this guy is held up as an example, which is confusing at best and disconcerting at worst.  But it is not his dishonesty that is at the heart of the parable.  What if – instead of dishonest - we called him “enterprising” or “ambitious”, or “prudent”, or a man of “initiative”?  True, his means were less than honest, but his enterprising spirit is highlighted, and is almost laudable.
          I am reminded of an incident that occurred in a parish in Florida.  A gentleman went to the pastor and said that he was a coin collector, and he would like to purchase all the coins that came in the church collection each week, so he could search them for collectable coins.  The parish would not have to worry about rolling the coins or lugging the coins to the bank each week.  They would just have to run them through the counter and then the man would give the church a check for the amount of the coin.  And that is what the parish did. 
          This continued for a number of weeks until one week the amount in coin was over $250.00 dollars.  As usual the coin collector wrote a check for that amount.  Later, the IRS contacted the church for verification of this “donation”.  It seems the so-called “coin collector” was actually going around to all the churches in the area, the Baptists and Methodists and everyone else, buying their coin, making a check out to the church and then claiming all these checks as charitable donations on his income tax.  He was getting credit for the donation but never making it.  Pretty clever, huh?  [And No we don’t sell our coins. ]

          When you hear of a scheme like this,  ¿don’t you often think that if this person had put as much inventiveness and creativity - that much imagination and enterprise - into doing something good and honest, how much good he could have done?
          Well, that is what our parable is about today.  Jesus tells us: “And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.  For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”   In other words, the worldly guys are more industrious at doing worldly things than the spiritual guys (presumably that is us) are at doing good things.
          The steward in the Gospel took the initiative when confronted with a threat.  Rather than stew and fret over the danger, he did something to protect himself, to feather his nest, to insure his future well-being.  He was enterprising!
          It is that initiative, that ambition, that enterprise that Jesus is commending to us for the spiritual life in today’s parable.  We are to be that “prudent” in seeking the spiritual advantage. 
If someone was perceptive enough to invest in Amazon when it first went public, we say that he or she is smart person.  If presented with a similar opportunity today we would want to take advantage of it.  So if that is true for passing wealth that we cannot take with us when we die, then should we not be all the more eager and vigilant to take opportunities to grow in spiritual wealth, in wealth that never depreciates and that lasts for all eternity?   Of course!
          Are you on the lookout for opportunities to increase your spiritual nest-egg, to maximize your eternal 401K?  All day long these opportunities to strike it spiritually rich are there.   How often do we go out of our way to compliment someone, or build up someone who is down or hurting?  How about turning off the TV for half an hour and giving a call to someone who’d like to hear from you?  That is seizing the initiative. 
          Every day we have lots of opportunities to console, to forgive, to heal, to practice generosity and honesty and patience, to work for justice.  When is the last time you wrote to your elected representatives about a matter of justice in legislation?  That is a great way to improve your spiritual “bottom line”.  What about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the ignorant, visiting the sick and imprisoned, praying for the suffering?  All the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are fantastic “spiritual investment opportunities!” 
          Do we seek them out?  Do we take initiative in pursuing them?  Are we, as St. Paul urges us to be, “ambitious for the higher gifts?” (1 Cor 13) 
          Today’s parable is uncomfortable, disturbing, even shocking.  It is meant to be, in order to shake us out of spiritual complacency and to show initiative in the spiritual life, to be ambitious for the higher gifts.  "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”   And that is not right.   We have to become as prudent, as ambitious, as filled with initiative in the spiritual life as all the Wall Street mavens are in seeking physical wealth, and even more. 
Be ambitious!  

Monday, September 2, 2019



In the Gospel today Jesus gives the Pharisees, and us, some good advice on how to behave at banquets and social functions.  “When you are invited, go and take the last place so that when the host comes to you he may say, “My friend, move up to a higher position.”  Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” 
          What is this all about?  Is Jesus just dispensing some good advice about manners?  Is he acting sort of as an early Emily Post?  Is this just ‘appropriate social behavior’ Jesus is talking about? 
          Obviously, I think not.   Part of the problem is that our reading leaves out 5 verses.  We hear verse one and then jump to verse seven.  What about verses 2 thru 6???   //    Would you like to know what happens in the missing verses?   Of course!  We’ve been gipped!
          Our first verse states that “the people were observing him carefully.”   Why?  Because this was a set up.  It was a trap.  Because they invited Jesus on a sabbath, the holy day when work was not allowed.  And in the missing verses it turns out there was a man also invited who had dropsy, what today we can endima, a painful swelling of the limbs, that would be pretty obvious.  They planted this man right in front of Jesus on a Sabbath to see what Jesus would do.  This was a trap. 
          In the missing verses Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?”  When they refuse to answer, Jesus heals the man, then asks: “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?”  But they were unable to answer his question.”   AND THEN Jesus gives this advice about where to sit at a banquet.  What is going on here?     //
         In the Gospel Jesus constantly preaches a theme of reversal:  The first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies it produces much fruit.  Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. 
          Over and over again Jesus teaches us that the way forward involves going backward.  That to go up you must go down.  To truly live you must die.  This theme of reversal is very close to the center of His preaching and His life.
          This is also what Jesus Himself did.  His whole life was about emptying Himself so that the Father could completely fill Him.   In the beautiful hymn from the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, read every Palm Sunday, St. Paul poetically expresses this: 
          Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
          Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
          Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 What Jesus is instructing the Pharisees about where to sit at table is a concrete specification of what His whole life was about, about all Jesus lived and all Jesus preached:  go down in order to be brought up.
          We see this also in the life of Mary, Our Blessed Mother.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to her to announce that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s Son, Mary did not seek her own advantage, but empties herself of all of her plans and desires, in order to make herself totally and completely available to God’s Will for her.  “I am the handmaid, the maidservant, the slave, of the Lord God” she stated.  “Let it be done to me according to YOUR Will.”  Mary let go of her own desires to place herself fully at the disposition of God’s Will, just as her Son emptied Himself totally, to be completely filled with God’s power and God’s plan.
          So instructing the Pharisees in today’s Gospel about where to sit at banquet and social functions, Jesus is doing much, much more than giving them good advice on etiquette.  He is giving them instead a concrete example of the spiritual principle of self-emptying, of dying to self, in order to allow God to fill us with God’s grace and love.
          This way of Jesus is radically different from what our society teaches us daily about self-promotion, about how to get ahead, about maximizing our influence, power and benefits.  Jesus’ way is profoundly counter-cultural.  And it is not easy.
          The way of Jesus is about dying to selfishness and ambition, to open ourselves to God’s Will for us.  As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “not my will, but Thine be done.”   So we, as Jesus’ disciples, are called to work, pray and open ourselves to the grace to deny our self, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus.
          Maybe that means accepting a call to religious life or priesthood.  Maybe that means taking care of an aging parent even though you will have to forfeit a great job opportunity.  Maybe that means giving up vacation time to spend time helping with refugees at the border.  Maybe that means stifling our tongue, swallowing the quick, cutting comeback, and bearing insult in silence.  Maybe it means working for compromise and cooperation rather than scoring a hit on political enemies.  Maybe it means taking the last place, at a banquet, or in line, or selection of desert, or whatever, because you are certain and secure in the knowledge of God’s tender love for you.
          Jesus shows us the way.  To win life we must die to self.  To gain we must loose.  To be filled we must become empty.  To have the higher place we must choose the lower.  The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. 
          Such is the wonderful, counter-intuitive, topsy-turvy world of the Spirit.  God bless!