Sunday, January 29, 2017

Homily for The Feast of St. Paul the Apostle 2017

This weekend we Paulist Fathers celebrate our community feast day, the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle.  Our founder, Servant of God, Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker named our community after St. Paul, to do in North America what Paul did in the Middle East;  to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in new forms to all who will listen.  Paul did not want simply for people to “believe” in Jesus Christ, he invited them and us into a new way of life.  Paul invites us into a new LIFE-STYLE where it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us - giving shape and direction to our lives.
What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus some 2,000 years ago?  I am going to dare and say that Paul was not converted, from anything into anything.  Paul, rather, had a deep, personal, piercing INSIGHT, an aw-ha moment, an inner experience of Jesus Christ; and it changed everything about him - forever.  Paul was transformed.  He became, as he says in his letters, a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit that transformed Paul’s life, transformed the early communities he founded all the way from Ephesus to Athens and Rome.  They were on fire, not just believing in the Christ but living members of His Body.
Paul did not derive his authority to say and do what he said and did from his Jewish leaders, nor from the apostles in Jerusalem; he derived his authority from the very power of Christ dwelling within him.  That same spirit dwells in every person here this morning.  We need, desperately, to rediscover the mystical roots of our faith and our religion.  So often we just settle for believing, we just settle for going to mass and receiving Holy Communion when so much more is possible.  Paul discovered this “more” on the road to Damascus; he was transformed by his awareness of Christ living in him; and Paul trusted that inner awareness.
Others, through history, trusted that same inner awareness; St. Francis of Assisi was transformed by touching and embracing the sores of lepers.  Facing his worse fears Christ transformed him into the living Gospel for all to see.  So too, with St. Clair and Theresa of Avila and Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day.  So too with Servant of God Isaac Hecker our founder.  All of them could look into their worse fears, and the darkest corners of our world and see the grander of God.
Fr. Hecker, trusting his own inner awareness of the Holy Spirit, desired a religious community whose inspiration came from the Holy Spirit, a mystical inspiration if you will.  A mystic is simply a person who can see the divine imprint baked into every single thing in existence.  Isaac Hecker could even see that goodness in our  political system here in the United States; he dreamt of religion and politics, civil and religious life working together for the common good.
Fr. Hecker knew as Paul knew and Jesus taught there is no such thing as sacred and profane.  All of creation, and everything in it, is sacred but we do desecrate it in many ways.  Gerard Manly Hopkins proclaimed that “all of creation is charged with the grandeur of God.”  

It is our call as Christians, as followers of Jesus, disciples of St. Paul, our call as Paulist Fathers, and all of us as a Paulist parish wake up and take up the task of being  the life-giving light of Christ in the darkest corners of God’s Grandeur.  We are Christ’s light by gathering in prayer here this morning; by becoming what we receive here at the table of the Lord - the very living, breathing, Body of Christ for all to see.  It doesn’t end here but begins here as we take our life in Christ out into the Streets of San Francisco.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday, December 12, 2016

Homily for Third Sunday of Advent 2016

To paraphrase the Gospel, what did you come here to see?  Pretty Advent decorations?  What did you come here to see?  Finally dressed people?  What then did you come here to see?  A prophet, a homilist who could string words together in a complete sentence?  Ah, yes, and more than that.  You came to see if love is really possible, to make sense out of nonsense, to feel comforted and a bit more centered by a Word of HOPE.
We all need a huge dose of HOPE and we spend a lot of time and do a lot of things to try and find HOPE if not enduring LOVE.  At times we say “we placed all our hopes on (you fill in the blank) only to be somewhat or hugely disappointed.  Some of you, if you are close to my age, will remember at time when cereal box came with coupon offerings for toy and nick knacks on the back.  If the sugary non-nutritional cereal wasn’t enough they would grab us with outrageous offers.  I’d send them off and then wait, and wait, and keep watch for the mail-carrier. Ah the expectation that the underwater “ATOMIC” submarine would really work as described on the cereal box.  It didn’t, the picture on the box always looked better.
As we grow up this waiting and hoping gets more serious and the results can be more devastating.  I always tried to be home on Christmas Day because of course my mother just loved it. We had a tradition in our family, It was a rather unspoken tradition, that the smallest package was always the best gift. So I always saved the smallest until the last. About 25 or 30 years ago which would make me in my mid 40s or so, I went home as usual and we started opening the gifts and I saved the smallest alas. With great expectation I opened the box, which had that heavy weight feeling of something really important or at least expensive. I opened it and looked inside and my heart sank right out through the bottom of my feet. There before me was a brand-new, state-of-the-art, probably the most expensive, Electric shaver that you can possibly buy! I didn't know what to say! You see the problem is, I have never, and I mean never, have I used or had any use for an electric razor. I sat there for a moment, it seemed like a long time, and thought of all the things I could have bought with that electric appliance.  A few days later I finally got up the nerve to ask my dad "Why did you give me an electric razor?" He said well when you're a teenager we never gave you one and we've always felt that we should have and we're trying to make up for what we didn't do back then.  That razor now sits on my shelf or I can see it everyday as a sign that love is often and sometimes hidden in things that we don't even want.
I believe that the Advent season is the most beautiful season of the Church year; but it is also the most hidden.  Its peace, love and joy is buried under all of our activities, buried under all our expectations and preparations.  In our rushing around we miss so much because we are focused on what might bring us hope and miss the hope right in front of us; in fact well live most of our years so absorbed.  This is not new.
Even John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, missed seeing what Jesus was really all about.  John was expecting something different, maybe more powerful and flashy; but Jesus tells John disciples “tell John what you SEE happening.”  The blind are given their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear — the really GOOD NEWS that John was looking for was right in front of him; and he failed to see it.  This is true for us as well.

Last Sunday evening Fr. Joe and I went for a walk to look at the city’s Christmas decorations.  I laugh when people whine and moan about the war on Christmas — my word, everything around our city is screaming CHRISTMAS — people may want to call them Holiday Trees, or say happy holidays be we know they are screaming CHRISTMAS.  The love, peace, joy and hope are found in the eyes of children, and in those hanging on to the edge of the skating rink in Union Square trying their best to look like graceful skaters.  It is all there, it is all here - if, if we take the time to notice, to really see behind even the things we don’t care that much about.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New York Times review of a new book on Hitler

This is a very good and very scary read:
HITLER, The Assencion
How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?
A host of earlier biographers (most notably Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw) have advanced theories about Hitler’s rise, and the dynamic between the man and his times. Some have focused on the social and political conditions in post-World War I Germany, which Hitler expertly exploited — bitterness over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a yearning for a return to German greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Depression of the early 1930s; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of “foreignization.”
Other writers — including the dictator’s latest biographer, the historian Volker Ullrich — have focused on Hitler as a politician who rose to power through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses. In “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939,” Mr. Ullrich sets out to strip away the mythology that Hitler created around himself in “Mein Kampf,” and he also tries to look at this “mysterious, calamitous figure” not as a monster or madman, but as a human being with “undeniable talents and obviously deep-seated psychological complexes.”
“In a sense,” he says in an introduction, “Hitler will be ‘normalized’ — although this will not make him seem more ‘normal.’ If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.”
This is the first of two volumes (it ends in 1939 with the dictator’s 50th birthday) and there is little here that is substantially new. However, Mr. Ullrich offers a fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country — and, in Hitler’s case, lead to an unimaginable nightmare for the world.

Mr. Ullrich, like other biographers, provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a “Munich rabble-rouser” — regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style” — into “the lord and master of the German Reich.”
• Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

• Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”
• Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences. Although he concealed his anti-Semitism beneath a “mask of moderation” when trying to win the support of the socially liberal middle classes, he specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus. Here, “Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,” Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
• Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better “to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.”
• Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, “it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences” with “repeated mantralike phrases” consisting largely of “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.” But Hitler virtually wrote the modern playbook on demagoguery, arguing in “Mein Kampf” that propaganda must appeal to the emotions — not the reasoning powers — of the crowd. Its “purely intellectual level,” Hitler said, “will have to be that of the lowest mental common denominator among the public it is desired to reach.” Because the understanding of the masses “is feeble,” he went on, effective propaganda needed to be boiled down to a few slogans that should be “persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”
• Hitler’s rise was not inevitable, in Mr. Ullrich’s opinion. There were numerous points at which his ascent might have been derailed, he contends; even as late as January 1933, “it would have been eminently possible to prevent his nomination as Reich chancellor.” He benefited from a “constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously” — in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an “erosion of the political center” and a growing resentment of the elites. The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”
• Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. Early on, revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance, Mr. Ullrich writes, led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating “evening’s entertainment.” Politicians, for their part, suffered from the delusion that the dominance of traditional conservatives in the cabinet would neutralize the threat of Nazi abuse of power and “fence Hitler in.” “As far as Hitler’s long-term wishes were concerned,” Mr. Ullrich observes, “his conservative coalition partners believed either that he was not serious or that they could exert a moderating influence on him. In any case, they were severely mistaken.”
• Hitler, it became obvious, could not be tamed — he needed only five months to consolidate absolute power after becoming chancellor. “Non-National Socialist German states” were brought into line, Mr. Ullrich writes, “with pressure from the party grass roots combining effectively with pseudo-legal measures ordered by the Reich government.” Many Germans jumped on the Nazi bandwagon not out of political conviction but in hopes of improving their career opportunities, he argues, while fear kept others from speaking out against the persecution of the Jews. The independent press was banned or suppressed and books deemed “un-German” were burned. By March 1933, Hitler had made it clear, Mr. Ullrich says, “that his government was going to do away with all norms of separation of powers and the rule of law.”
• Hitler had a dark, Darwinian view of the world. And he would not only become, in Mr. Ullrich’s words, “a mouthpiece of the cultural pessimism” growing in right-wing circles in the Weimar Republic, but also the avatar of what Thomas Mann identified as a turning away from reason and the fundamental principles of a civil society — namely, “liberty, equality, education, optimism and belief in progress.”