Tension In The Priesthood Today

By , October 31, 2013 5:05 am


Last week, I attended a Day of Recollection for retired priests of the Diocese. It was conducted by one of the outstanding speakers and counselors in the State of Texas, Monsignor Michael Jamail of the Diocese of Beaumont. It was a wonderful presentation and he was dealing with the rather complex reality that priests who were ordained before the Second Vatican Council, and immediately afterwards, sometimes find themselves to have very different frames of reference regarding pastoral care at the parish level with priests ordained in the last 20 years or so. Older priests are sometimes described with disdain by the younger men as “Vatican II priests.” The older men take it as a great compliment. In return, the younger priests are often seen as being extraordinarily conservative having been formed and ordained during the long pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Monsignor Jamail has pointed out that today providence has placed us in a difficult situation, namely the dialectic of a monarchical Church and a democratic society that each of us brings both enculturations into all that we do, and at times understandably we fail to distinguish the proper norms that we should use. Monsignor Jamail holds that we are polarized over a ministry of the prophetic office or a ministry of the pastoral office. These two offices, prophetic and pastoral, are inseparable and complimentary, and containing nevertheless the potential for mutual opposition. We need to bring both into ecclesial life with more balanced deacons, priests and bishops moving fluidly between the two ministries – prophetic and pastoral – without polarizing at either extreme.

Monsignor Jamail goes on to say that:
“In selecting ministers, that selection is going to be of maximum effectiveness only when wisdom is prized above prophetic rhetoric and pastoral triumph.”

Let me ask my lay friends to be patient but I feel so strongly that Monsignor Jamail is right that I wanted to get this idea out to the many priests who follow this blog.
Thanks for your patience.

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Disease and Illness in the Third World

By , October 30, 2013 7:03 am

Doctors Without Borders

Citizens of Europe, North America, Japan and much of the Asian rim for the most part enjoy excellent health care provided by their highly developed economies. The same cannot be said for Africa and much of South America where tragically impoverished rural areas simply cannot provide the resources to deliver modern health care.

This is a tragedy but it has some bright spots and there are many wonderful programs where generous and talented people give not just of their resources but of their very lives in order to lessen this disparity.
One of the best known is called Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). Then there are two wonderful hospital ships that plod up and down the coast of Africa pulling into ports and making health care available to the tens of thousands who otherwise would never be able to receive it.

I am proud of the fact that right here in the Diocese of Austin there is a long established, generous tradition of reaching out to our neighbors in the south, whether it be Mexico, Guatemala or even the South American continent itself. The average medical mission from our Diocese usually lasts about eight days – one day going down, five days of providing health care in a particular city or rural center, one day of relaxation in that area and then home. When I used to work with these groups, I would say that on the average the Austin Medical Mission would deliver services to about 2,500 patients. In all honesty, it was not the greatest medical aid in the world but it was better than anything available in the area in which we visited. May God bless the generosity and faith of the hundreds of Central Texans who have done this over the last 25 years.

Without exception, volunteers have all expressed that this week of generous service to others is a profoundly moving experience. The day begins with Mass and breakfast, and when the work begins there are usually about 200 people already waiting in line. The medical team works vigorously until the end of the day and the cooks have cold beer and drinks waiting for them. I was a pill counter at first but then not being too good at counting, I was cut back to the job of icing down the beer.

The leading force behind this ministry is Mr. Tino Hernandez whose address is 110 Raley Road, Cedar Park, Texas 78613, telephone (512) 259-5746. If you want to help on the next one, you need to know that you don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse. We need cooks, drivers and pill counters.

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Priests Today – Pastors or Administrators?

By , October 29, 2013 5:03 am

In this space, I have said several times that the priesthood is the organizational block of the Roman Catholic Church. That doesn’t sound very theological does it but I think that most of us understand what I mean when I say that because priests should be key leaders and servants in every area of Church life. Priests have a vocation to ministry which always means service to the community and they are instrumental in bringing the sacraments to the community of faith. Because of their position in the Church, we certainly expect our priests to be exemplary examples of Christian living. Most of them strive for that but there are enough failures to document the ever present reality of humanity. We must remember: There is a vast chasm between knowing about God and knowing God. An effective priest must not only have studied theology and be prepared to administer a large community of faithful, but he must KNOW God.

However, no one can really know God in a profound and meaningful way, in a holy way, unless they know themselves. Self-knowledge is truly not all that easy to acquire. Self-knowledge requires complete honesty. We must acknowledge our goodness, skills and talents but we must always honestly acknowledge our crimes, sins and corruption. Only when we stand in complete honesty with ourselves will our being have room for God to come into our lives.

Let’s pray that our Church is blessed with the necessary priests to carry out its worldwide ministry. Let’s pray that our priests be talented, dedicated and filled with a lot of other virtues, but it is most important that priests be constantly striving after holiness.

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The Gift of Memory

By , October 28, 2013 5:47 am

Image: Grimes

It has been a long time since I was in elementary school. Were you around in the 1930’s? I am not familiar with modern methods of education but I am told that they have changed a lot since I was a boy. When I was in All Saints over in the Houston Heights, the Dominican Sisters really believed in memorization. I am told that today’s educators have shifted gears. If that is true, from my perspective, it might have been a mistake.

It has been 70 years since I memorized the “Wreck of the Hesperus,” a little less than that since I converted some of the most important lines in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” to memory, but when I want to show off I can still roll them out. It was the same in the religion classes. We had Ten Commandments, seven Sacraments, many gifts of the Holy Spirit and Four Marks of the Church. In the early 1940’s, I could effortlessly tell you that those four marks were that the Catholic Church was “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.” I can still repeat that to you but I have a much clearer understanding of what those important four words mean today than I did in the 6th grade.

Let’s take up the first one – the Catholic Church is “one”. When you say that, some people are startled since the Church is serving in about 180 countries to an extraordinary range of cultures, hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects. The membership of the Church ranges over every possible view or human perspective. The only unifying factor in all of this is faith in Jesus Christ and unity with the local hierarchy and the bishop of Rome. The oneness of the Church is one of a unifying structure not a question of cookie cutter identification. The unity of the Church is one of the highest goals perceived by its leadership because it was Jesus himself who challenged his followers to be unified and to be one with him and each other.

“I pray…for those who will believe in me through their word so that they may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

The unity of the Church is brought about principally by the Holy Spirit, not by competent leadership. There have been tragic rifts in history – first, the split with Orthodoxy in the 11th century and then the devastating explosion of the Reformation in the 16th century. Both were made worse than they had to be by ineffective leadership. Let us thank God for the Holy Spirit and may we continue to work for a reunion across the world of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The Roman Catholic Church is indeed united but Christians as a whole continue a painful and destructive lack of unity. We are called to correct this and everyone has a part to play.

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Who Does Not Experience Brokenness?

By , October 26, 2013 5:59 am

Pharisee and Tax Collector

October 27th, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The collage of texts for this particular Sunday, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, has been pulled together by the editors of the Lectionary in order to give us great encouragement. Maybe they thought that gray skies and falling leaves were signs of our approaching end and death that would get some of us down and so our spirits should be lifted by God’s holy word. There is also the fact that at any given moment many of our brothers and sisters are facing real difficulties from pain and suffering from sickness, embarrassment from financial or legal problems, misunderstandings that occur between friends and relatives, etc., etc.

So the Church asks us to look again at today’s Responsorial Psalm. Today’s text states,

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit He saves.”
And in the Book of Sirach we read that the Lord,
“hears the cry of the oppressed. He is not deaf to the wail of the orphan nor of the widow when she pours out her complaint.”

Then Sirach uses wonderful poetry when he says,

“The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds and it does not rest until it reaches its goal.”

I wonder if Sirach knew how fast light traveled? He must have had at least a rough idea. It is a beautiful symbol that our prayers shoot through the skies and towards God. That being true, we should all certainly pray more often.

While we are talking about trouble and pain, take a glance at Paul’s note to his young co-worker, Timothy. Paul is in chains, he is locked up in prison and on his way to execution. Grim though those circumstances were, Paul’s faith gave him calmness, confidence and even enthusiasm.

“I am already poured out like a libation. The time of my dissolution is near…from now on a merited crown awaits me. The Lord will award it to me.”

Finally, today’s Gospel picks up a message from our Lord that he has proclaimed time after time, that external acts of religious practice are not what saves us but rather what is in our hearts brings salvation. How deep is our faith and how humbly do we stand before the presence of God? Today’s Gospel brings us the old story of the Pharisee and a tax collector. Now in the society of that time the Pharisees were the cream of the crop. They did everything right and the Pharisee lists them right here for us. The tax collector, who is the absolute bottom of the barrel, does not brag about his good deeds but simply prays that God will forgive him. The tax collector is humbled and with eyes downcast murmurs silently, “Oh God be merciful to me a sinner.” Listen to the response of Jesus. “THIS MAN WENT HOME FROM THE TEMPLE JUSTIFIED BUT THE OTHER DID NOT.”

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I Believe In Miracles

By , October 25, 2013 5:49 am

I think that most of us would agree that there is an adequate supply of trouble in the world today. We see it all around us, we see it all around the world, we see it in our own lives and if we are not careful, we will be preoccupied by the pain and suffering that is so real. Personally, I think that we need to concentrate on the beauty of the planet, the wonders that are around us, the awesome reality of God’s creation and the innate goodness in most people.

I have used this space a number of times to point out what I consider to be little miracles (second-class?). I refer to certain things as being miracles when I see an individual or a small group become conscious of a problem or a painful reality, set their sights on it and use their faith, vision and generosity to help bring about a solution. Sometimes I am simply awe struck by what people can accomplish in the face of overwhelming problems and limited resources. In Austin, I have described Saint Louise House, a program sheltering homeless women with children and Casa Marianella for refugees and Mobile Loaves and Fishes as local examples of wonders being accomplished. Now I would like to call your attention to Eagle’s Wings, a retreat house located a few miles west of Burnet.

Eagle’s Wings is an extraordinary accomplishment. It is a retreat house and meeting place for youth and it is currently serving young people not only from Austin, but from San Antonio and San Angelo. It has been my experience that these little miracles always begin with a dream of someone who is not only a dreamer but has the faith, energy and generosity. In this case, the dream was experienced by Curt and Katie Haffner. They saw how little was being done for young people in that area located in the central point of those three dioceses. They also happened to own 100 or so acres in that beautiful hill country. They saw the need, they had the dream, they gathered together a few extraordinary people who thought the way they did and they launched the erection of a retreat house. Today there is a beautiful modern chapel, a building for administration and a dining hall, four dormitories, a chaplain’s residence, an athletic facility, etc., etc.

With all the resources of the Diocese behind me I was able to erect a beautiful retreat house in Belton. I am proud that it was constructed out of pine boards! Eagle’s Wings is built completely out of Texas limestone and it is really something to behold.

How did this get built? Well, there is the miracle. The Diocese was not in a position to help but this small cadre of dedicated men and women went to work and tremendous donations of time and talent from engineers, architects, mason people and so on. When several foundations saw the dedication and commitment of these hard working volunteers they responded with financial help and so there it sits.
Eagle’s Wings will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Because of them all of us have much for which to be grateful.

Eagle’s Wings is the name of my favorite modern American hymn and it is also an apt name because it is up the Colorado River Valley where a trove of eagles really do nest. It is a great name and finally it is descriptive too because when this group of men and women had the vision, they truly soared. Whether it was on eagle’s wings or angel’s wings, only God knows.

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Texans In The Spotlight

By , October 24, 2013 5:47 am


Texas is my state. I was born and raised here and will certainly die here. I love this state’s history replete as it is with heroism and sacrifice. I also know that it is sort of a crazy state.
Are you conscious of how many people laugh at Texans? In the campaign for the Republican nomination as president a year and a half ago, the governor of our great state repeatedly made a fool of himself and now it looks like he is getting ready to try again. But one Texas candidate may not be enough. Maybe we should have two. Not to worry. Ted Cruz has arrived on the scene and it looks like the country may see two shy Texans competing for the highest office.

Ted Cruz is really something. A year ago nobody outside of Texas knew who he was. Now everybody does. I really enjoyed the comment in Gail Collins column in the New York Times the other day.
“In Texas there is so much craziness it is hard for a normal crazy to get attention. Imagine an election with both Perry and Cruz on television every night. To get any airtime, the Texas guys in the House of Representatives would have to call for impeachment while bungee jumping. While waving “Secede!” signs. While carrying unconcealed weapons. Remember the Alamo.”

Texas is a great state and all of us ought to be proud of it. It is historically part of the old South, but the real political power is concentrated in East Texas and that is part of the old South where slavery and the Civil War still cast shadows over our story. We should not be discouraged by that. We should just recommit ourselves to moving on.

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A Miracle On Wheels

By , October 23, 2013 5:46 am

About 30 or so years ago, there was a very popular song that I really liked. It had a catchy tune but more importantly I think it encompassed a theological truth. The title of the song was, “A Hundred Thousand Miracles Are Happening Every Day.” I can’t guarantee that those numbers are correct but certainly miracles are happening every day and they are all around us. If you can see them through the eyes of faith, they are truly beautiful and exciting.

Would you like to see a miracle? It is very simple. Take a good size load of faith and mix in courage. Stir it with vision and lean hard work up against it. You may very well see a miracle unfold right before your eyes.

I received an e-mail the other day from Alan Graham. It informed me, as well as all other recipients, that Mobile Loaves and Fishes just completed 15 years of their awesomely beautiful ministry and in round figures has served 3.5 million meals. Did you hear that figure – 3.5 million times a hungry and needy person was given help in sustaining their bodies. All of the ingredients that I mentioned above were present in triplicate in Alan Graham and all of his magnificent co-workers.

Alan states very simply that “Fifteen years ago, a small group of friends packed a minivan full of sack lunches and set out to meet their homeless neighbors.” Every day one group of volunteers begins to prepare sandwiches and other types of food for distribution in the afternoon or early evening. Later, another crew comes by and packs their extraordinarily efficient and well-designed truck. The drivers know the routes. They know the little hidden pockets of poverty and destitution and as the truck drives up the recipients come forward with great optimism. However, it is not just food. I was very touched by the fact that men would cry out very frequently – “Do you have any socks? Do you have any socks? I really need a new pair of socks.”

There is a very human story behind each one of these people who get a sandwich or a pair of socks or a warm and encouraging pat on the back, a word of encouragement here or understanding there. We will never learn all of those stories but we know that life has been tough for them, mistakes have been made and are now being lived out in a very difficult manner.

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There Is More There Than What Appears

By , October 22, 2013 5:05 am


We are coming close to an end to my little series on the seven sacraments. The other day I mentioned that each sacrament is received by an individual at a particular moment in time. We must always keep in mind that every sacrament, every sacrament, has a communal aspect. So when we think about these seven gifts of divine grace we must always try to be conscious of this double dimension – individuality and communality.
That leaves us with two sacraments as yet uncovered – Matrimony and Holy Orders and, boy, talk about communal aspects. These two sacraments exude that quality with tremendous power.

In marriage, a couple, both baptized and therefore brothers and sisters of Jesus, give themselves to each other and commit themselves to live a Christian life, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth andhopefully to bring forth children to whom they can pass on the awesome reality of God’s love for the human family. We must not forget that fact but let’s take a quick look at the wedding ceremony.
You are at a wedding sitting on the eighth row on the bride’s side. She may be a close friend or a relative, but she is very beautiful and you know that she has made a good choice in that wonderful young man. You know that after the celebration and they begin a new life together that they, like every couple, will face difficulties and hardships but they are young and strong. You, like everyone else in the church, have confidence in them and you also pray for them.

But you are not just looking at a delightful young, romantic couple. What I am about to say does not sound very romantic, but it is a fact, a tremendously important fact that our society is in danger offorgetting.

That is not just a 23 year old man up there with his arm around your delightful and beautiful niece. You are looking at the building block of OUR society’s economic, educational and social reality. We wish them well but our well-being depends on them. They must succeed for our society to succeed.

More than 100 years ago our society was shored up powerfully by the bedrock of marriage and family life but many conflicting forces have damaged it. The Church has tried hard over the last 30 or 40 years to counteract those forces and prepare young couples to more maturely assume their responsibilities as being one of the building blocks of our society and culture. I congratulate the Church on this but it must endeavor to do ever yet more.

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Bullying Once Again

By , October 21, 2013 5:05 am


I am now in my 4th year of putting my thoughts onto this blog virtually every day and for the most part I try to never repeat the subject. However, from time to time it is necessary. This is the third time that I have touched on this subject and I also put a chapter on bullying in my recent book.

In watching the morning news today, I saw a terribly cruel case of bullying on a school bus and that is the second or third time I have seen that in the last year. How many countless cases have occurred that were not caught by a camera?

Bullying is cruel and destructive. Bullying ruins lives and sometimes costs lives. In addition to the bus incident, we just saw a case where the county sheriff arrested and incarcerated two minors whose cruel bullying led to the suicide of a young girl who was constantly abused. In the TV interview, the sheriff stated that he was looking into the possibility of bringing charges against the parents as well because they knew that the bullying was going on and did nothing to prevent it.

Whether or not that is the right way to go I don’t know, but certainly a great deal of the blame for destructive bullying in our society can be charged to both parents and teachers. Parents and teachers should have zero tolerance for bullying. If they had an abhorrence of it, if they sensed its destructiveness, they would recognize their responsibilities and not express some stupid and flippant remark like, “kids will be kids.” Kids will be what they are in responding to loving teaching and constant good example.

Bullies are cowards and teachers should see that bullies are humiliated when they manifest this type of behavior. Parents ought to understand that whether or not their children grow up kind and sensitive or cruel and stupid is to a great extent dependent on their parents’ love and example.

Bullying is a terrible problem but it is correctable!!!!

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