Monday, October 16, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 15, 2017

One of the prayers we learn early on is the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” We recite it so frequently, and usually so rapidly, that we sometimes don’t pay much attention to the words that we are actually saying. I know it is easy for me to get distracted and think about what I have to do next, or some other random thought, as I pray. Even when standing up at the altar, leading the “Our Father” at Mass and facing all the people, I can easily be distracted by the people I see in the congregation. I think about this one I want to ask to do something, or this person I need to call, or that person who I don’t like, etc. So if you are anything like me, it is good occasionally to stop and pay attention to the actual words we pray.
The “Our Father” is full of pronouns. However, the words “I,” “me,” and “mine” never appear in the prayer. That alone makes it different from much of our speech. 
The first emphasis in the prayer is GOD. “YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done.” The primary emphasis is not on us, but on God. And the second emphasis is on US as a collective group. We do not pray “give me this day my daily bread” but “give US OUR daily bread.” I think that is very different for asking for MY daily bread. When we pray for us to receive our daily bread, we are praying not only for what we need but also for what our brothers and sisters and neighbors and everyone needs. To truly pray this means we are committing ourselves to work that none of our brothers and sisters–that is all humanity–goes hungry. If we say these words in prayer, but then do nothing to feed the hungry people of the world, our prayer is meaningless and empty. Our words have “traction” and meaning only if we act on them, and to pray “give US this day OUR daily bread” means we are pledging ourselves to help all in need.
Likewise, we pray “and forgive US OUR trespasses as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” To pray this way, it seems to me, means that we are not concerned solely, nor even primarily, with our own personal transgressions. The personal failings we have need to be addressed and forgiven, but this prayer teaches us to recognize our collective hardness of heart and our sin as a community. We sin in perpetuating racism and homophobia, by permitting the conditions that promote the scandal of mass shootings, of the epidemic of opioid addiction, of huge disparities in the distribution of the world’s goods, of allowing the sick and elderly to be abandoned and forgotten. How well do WE forgive those who trespass against us, not only as an individual person, but as a parish, a race, a nation, a Church? That is something to ponder.
The prayer concludes: “And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from evil. AMEN.” We do not pray for individual deliverance and protection, but for communal protection. Again, to pray this way means we are committing ourselves to protect and deliver others, if they be the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the unfortunate. Only if we do this do our words have any credibility and meaning.

I find the “Our Father” a radical and challenging prayer. I think it is meant to be so. And I hope that you find it a challenge to pray too. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 8, 2017

This past weekend we experienced another tragedy with the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Again, we are left numb with grief.
How did this happen? Why would someone do such a horrible thing? What drove this man to such despicable acts of violence and hate? What was he trying to prove? 
Living in the shadow of the UT Tower, these are questions that are very real to us, and we know that this sort of horrible event will likely occur again someday.
This sort of terrible occurrence brings us face to face with our own contingency. In spite of all our schedules, plans, preparations, and intentions, there is NO guarantee that any of us will be here tomorrow. Some senseless act of violence, some random act of terrorism, some inattention by another driver, some freak accident, may instantly end our life. 
This realization reminds us that we are NOT in control. This realization reminds us that every day is a gift. This realization reminds us not to put off the really important things of reminding our loved ones of our love and of thanking God for the gift of life. This realization helps convince us to keep the small things small. This realization reminds us of the more important bigger issues of gratitude and appreciation. This realization is, ultimately, not a downer, but a gift.

We pray for all the victims: the victims of recent natural disasters, the victims of war, the victims of terrorism, and the victims of senseless tragedies like occurred this past week in Las Vegas. We know that we too so easily can be added to the list of victims. Let us also pray for ourselves, for the wisdom to take to heart the beautiful and precious gift of life. October is pro-life month. Let us pray for a greater appreciation of all life from conception to natural death. And let us enjoy the great gift that we have.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 1, 2017

This coming Saturday, Oct. 7, has a couple of interesting things going on. First of all, we will have the annual BLESSING OF ANIMALS in the morning. Wednesday, Oct 4. is the actual feast of St. Francis of Assisi, but we always do this blessing on the Saturday closest to his feast. We get dogs and cats, and occasionally a guinea pig or a mouse. We have had police dogs, and even in the distant past a horse - or so I am told. It is a wonderful celebration, and I encourage all those with pets to come, and even if you do not have a pet you are most welcome to pray with us. 
Having recently completed a book discussion group on a book by Sr. Joan Chittister, “Two Dogs and a Parrot” subtitled “What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life,” I think this year’s blessing of pets will be more meaningful for me. Our four weeks of discussion about pets, and what the participants have received from their pets, and what they have learned about themselves and about life from their pets, will make this year’s blessing of pets a richer and more significant experience for me. God uses His creation, and especially the animals in our lives, to instruct us and help us experience positive instances of loyalty, of trust, of being needed, and especially the joy of companionship. So, I invite you to join us next Saturday for the Blessing of Animals. There are details elsewhere in this bulletin and on our parish website, www.staustin.org.
Next Saturday is also the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is historically an interesting feast, established by Pope Pius V in 1571 to commemorate a great naval victory of the Christian forces under Don Juan of Austria over the Ottoman (Muslim) naval forces that were planning to invade Europe. The Ottomans greatly outnumbered the Christians in men and in ships, but the Venetians had a secret weapon, a new kind of ship that basically was a gun platform. Thus, the Christians out-gunned the Turks and shot them to pieces. It was a terrible slaughter and something like 50,000 people lost their lives that day, with the Christians losing 17 ships and the Ottomans 137. It was a great victory for the Christians. Anyway, in the lead-up to the battle, Pope I had urged people all over Europe to pray the rosary to save Europe from the Muslim invasion. The Pope then attributed the surprising and overwhelming victory to the intercession of Mary, and established this Feast on the anniversary of the battle. 

Today we are unlikely to ask Mary’s help in conquering and slaughtering our enemies, though as a child in Catholic grade school we all prayed to Mary for the conversion of Russia. At least we had moved far enough to not want to kill our enemies but to convert them. Now we need to move further to learn how to live together on this one planet we have in mutual respect and harmony. Having just spent two weeks in a Muslim country (Morocco), I was impressed and grateful for their kind hospitality and welcome. I was also impressed by the public way they live out their religion in daily prayer. Their commitment to religious observance puts me to shame. Perhaps we make our religion too private and individual in the West, to the point of making it totally hidden and secret. In any case, there is plenty to contemplate this coming Saturday. It is good to reflect on all these things.