Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 28

All bureaucracies, whether government, business, academia, military, non-profits, or even the Church, have the same tendencies and internal dynamics. I mention this because on Wednesday and Thursday of this week I will be at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton attending the NEW PASTOR’S TRAINING workshop.

Now I first became a pastor in August 1986 at St. Andrew’s Parish in Clemson, South Carolina. That was (and still is) part of the Diocese of Charleston, SC. The parish consisted of the three small churches that covered two entire counties (Oconee and Pickens) and the Campus Ministry at Clemson University.  I was very fortunate to follow a wonderful pastor, Fr. Bill Brimley, CSP, who left the parish in very good shape physically, financially, socially and spiritually, so at least I had a good example to follow.
However, I had hardly any other training on how to be a pastor. I asked the Paulist administration about some kind of course or training as I was beginning this new ministry, and they sent me a three ring binder with a self-taught course on how to pastor.  It wasn’t very good, so I never really had any formal training in this role.
Nonetheless, after seven years as pastor in Clemson, I became pastor of the Paulist Mother Church (where we were founded), St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, in midtown Manhattan.  I was pastor there for eight and a half years. During that time I oversaw the completion of an extensive interior renovation, the sale of $14 million worth of air rights, the construction of a new three-story ministry building, the renovation of the pipe organ, the air-conditioning of the church, and unfortunately I witnessed the attacks of 9/11.
After a six-month sabbatical, I then became pastor of Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, on the border between the Financial District and Chinatown. There I was involved in a major $11 million seismic retro-fit of the historic old cathedral.  After eight years as pastor there, I came to St. Austin in July of 2010, and have been acting like a pastor here ever since.
Having been “pastoring” for the last quarter century (except for the six month sabbatical), I was a bit surprised when I    received the invitation from the Diocese to attend the New  Pastors’ Workshop. The invitation made it clear that this is a command performance (“Because of the importance of this meeting, it is expected that you should attend…”). I checked with the Vicar General to make sure that including my name on the invitation list was not an oversight, and it was not.
So, finally I am getting the training to pastor that I requested 25 years ago. Well, better late than never! I hope that after this workshop I will finally figure out what it is I am supposed to be doing, and hopefully you will notice a marked improvement in my performance. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.
God bless! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Have you ever lost your keys?   Who hasn’t?  How do you feel when you can’t find your keys?  Awful   Have to change door locks.  Real pain.  Important to have your keys.  

Let me tell you a story about keys.  A long time ago, just after I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis I joined the Paulist Fathers. The first year is in the novitiate, which at that time was located in Oak Ridge, NJ.  At Christmas time I flew home to St. Louis, MO, and while there borrowed my sister’s car to go around visiting some college friends.  I then returned to the novitiate in New Jersey, but discovered in the pocket of my winter coat my sister’s car keys.  No problem.  Because shortly after returning we had another dull lecture at the novitiate, but a couple of my friends in the novitiate, who had worked at our parish in New York City in the Fall, had to return to New York to finish up a few loose ends.  So I cooked up an excuse to go with them, and we drove the 40 plus miles into New York.  We parked the car at the parish in mid-Manhattan, they went to do their stuff, and I walked down to Rockefeller Center, went to the Post Office, bought a mailing bag, and mailed the keys back to my sister.  Then I went off to enjoy the day in New York.  Had a great time, a wonderful dinner.  And that night I met my friends back at the car, reached in my pocket, and pulled out my sister’s car keys!  I had mailed the wrong keys back to St. Louis.  So I had the pleasure of calling up the Novice Master, Fr Vinny McKiernan, and telling him that I had driven the car over 40 miles into New York and then mailed the keys to St. Louis, and could he send out another car with a second set of keys?   Obviously, the Paulists were so desperate that they kept me.

We have keys mentioned in the readings today: In the first reading: “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut.  When he shuts, no one shall open.” 
And in the Gospel, Peter receives keys: I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” 
In our readings today both Eliakim and Peter are chosen, and with this are given keys.  The keys represent ability, power, authority. 
Why is Eliakim chosen, and Shebna, master of the palace, pulled down?  I have no idea.
Why is Peter chosen, rather than Thomas or John or Andrew or one of the other Apostles?  I have no idea.
God chose them, and God does not explain why.  Often, we can legitimately wonder about some of the people God has chosen.  Peter - impetuous, unfaithful, soon to deny Jesus - certainly seems like a strange choice on God’s part.  Some of the choices of Bishops and Pastors, and even of Popes, you have to wonder about. 
Our second reading today fits well here: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God: How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”   
To us, some of these choices don’t make sense.  But God chose Eliakim, and God chose Peter, and in choosing them gave them keys: ability and power to carry out that election, that choice.
We too have been chosen by God.  Each of us at our Baptism was called by name.  Why me?  I have no idea.  Like with Peter, so with myself I have to say: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God: How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”   It is not because of my talents, my innate holiness, not even my good looks that God has chosen me to be His own child.  And frankly, it is not because of your special holiness or your tremendous talents, or even your very winning charm and delightful personality that the Lord has chosen you to be God’s son or daughter, a member of the living Body of Christ. 

But God did choose you:  Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God: How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”    
And in choosing you God also bestows on you keys: the keys for your place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Not literal keys, but the abilities to live out the life of holiness that you are called to.  The power to truly live a Christ-like life in self-sacrificial love: in honesty, compassion, justice, reconciliation, fidelity, and love. 
And that is quite a bit!  That is a lot of keys!  Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God: How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” 
Be careful with those keys!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 21

Recently, at a wedding rehearsal, one of the grandmothers of the groom approached me with concern.  She badly wanted to be assured that her grandson was getting married at a Catholic church. She was a pious lady, familiar with many saints but she had never heard of a St.“Austin.” She wanted to know if there really was such a Saint. I assured her that St. Augustine of Canterbury and St. Austin were one and the same, just two names for the same holy man. This relieved her anxiety.

However, it got me to thinking since I have never seen another St. Austin Church in all of my time as a Catholic priest. Could we be unique in all the world, with our rather unusual saint’s name? Even though we pride ourselves on residing in the LONE star state, I would feel a bit eccentric, and if truth be told a bit lonely, if we were the ONLY St. Austin church on the globe. I would not want to be common, one of many hundreds of churches dedicated to the same saint (e.g. our cathedral), but on the other hand I would not want to be unique, out there all alone as the only church dedicated to St. Austin in all the world. Being simply extraordinary is sufficient for me.

Due to the wonders of Google, I am happy to report that we are not alone in laying claim to St. Austin as our heavenly patron. There is, in Minneapolis, another St. Austin Catholic Church!  Fr. George Kallumkalkudy is listed as the Pastor. I was not able to open their parish website to find out the history of the parish, and why they are named St. Austin. L  From the Catholic Directory I see it was founded in 1937 and is listed as a Polish parish, with a total of 10 students in its religious education program. So it can’t be very big. I have since learned that St. Austin has been designated to merge with St. Bridget (the church that is, not the Saint) by the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese, but that the plan has been appealed to Rome. So we may become the only functioning St. Austin Church in the USA in the near future. If anyone ever gets to that part of Minneapolis, on Upton Avenue, please send me a copy of the bulletin!

There is, in the town of Austin, Minnesota, a St. Augustine Church. I discover from their website that the original church was built in 1886 (before our first church), and you would think that in the town of Austin they would be dedicated to St. Austin, but sadly I learned in an email from their administrator that they are dedicated to that other St. Augustine, the one of Hippo. They too are part of a merged parish of three churches.  It is a sign of the times. This town of Austin, Minnesota, is the home of the Hormel Corporation. For this reason the town proudly proclaims itself as SPAM® Town USA. Hmmmm.  That kind of fits in with “Keep Austin Weird” as a slightly different take on hometown boosterism.

So as far as I can tell we and the small parish in Minneapolis are the ONLY two parishes named for St. Austin in the US. If you know of others, please let me know.

However, there is another St. Austin parish in Nairobi in Kenya. They have a nice website at This parish was founded on August 13, 1899, making it almost a decade older than our parish. It was founded by the Spiritan Fathers (a/k/a Holy Ghost Fathers) like the Paulist Fathers founded this one.  One interesting fact I learned from their website is that the missionaries first planted coffee in Kenya at St. Austin’s, and so “St. Austin mission is regarded as the birthplace of coffee in Kenya.” While we don’t plant or grow coffee here at this St. Austin’s, we certainly drink enough of it. So we do have something in common.

God bless!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 14

This weekend at all the Masses, we take up our monthly PERSONS IN NEED collection. Your donation is a phenomenal investment, paying wonderful dividends in the amount of help and relief it provides and in the spiritual benefits that accrue to you.

Half of this collection goes to support our parish chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP). This organization is one of the jewels of our parish. They do a great deal with a lot of compassion and commitment but not much money. Your donation is one of the best returns on investment that you can make. Unfortunately, with these tough times, the St. Vincent de Paul of St. Austin is being stretched to the limit. SVdP helps people in our neighborhood. In fact, they are limited to assisting the needy only in our five surrounding zip codes. They are  particularly short on food to help the hungry. Even though the need at our local Micah 6 food bank is great, I believe the need at our parish SVdP Society is even greater, and so for the next month or six weeks, we will divert the donations of food stuff that you bring in so that it goes to the St. Vincent de Paul pantry. Please donate food this month! There is more information in this bulletin about that.

The other half of the Persons In Need collection goes to the Thursday Outreach Program. This is our effort to assist the needy who come to us who are homeless and so do not have a zip code as well as those who live outside our zip code area. It, too, is a wonderful work of our parish. We provide assistant with paying rent and utility bills and with obtaining ID’s, eye exams and glasses, work boots and work clothes.
If you ever want to see hands-on Christian charity in action then come most any Thursday morning to the church office between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Each week dozens of people come to us seeking assistance. People in need line up outside the door   before 9:00 most weeks, even though we hold a lottery drawing to determine which persons we will help and so no one needs to come early or be in a certain place in line. On July 28 there were 85 people at our door. Over the past month our total     number of persons seeking assistance on Thursday mornings has been between 80 and 95. Depending on the weather and the need, the numbers could be as low as 37 or as high as 117.

The clients are registered (they can receive help here only once in a six month period), provided with coffee and a donut, and we try to treat them with dignity. When the lottery  is held, we draw 10 to 15 names whom we can help, depending on how much money and how many volunteers we have that morning. The rest are invited back to try again the next week.

So I invite and encourage your generosity to the PERSONS IN NEED collection this weekend and every month. If you can contribute food in the next month, it is badly needed by the SVdP Society. If you are free on Thursday mornings and can volunteer with the Thursday Outreach Program, help is always needed. Just contact Pat Macy.

You will also see in this bulletin a continuing plea from Catholic Relief Services for help to relieve the famine in East Africa The need there is staggering. I am sure that if you are desperately hungry, and have no food, it matters little to you whether you are in Africa or in Austin.

Given the fragile nature of our economy, and the recent downturn of the stock market, the unsettled economic situation in Europe and the devastating effects of the drought, when we all feel financially insecure, it is naturally more difficult for us to be concerned about others and to be generous. This is truly a time that requires faith. It is a test of our Christian faith that requires us to put that Faith into action. Your generous donations of money, of food, of time and of prayer are urgently needed. I trust that St. Austin’s parishioners will respond generously. Thank you.

God bless!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homily, Aug. 7, 2011 Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Normally the readings for each day can be found at  For this Sunday I have expanded to first reading to include several verses left out of the lectionary.  Below is the reading I use in the following homily.   Fr Chuck

A reading from the First Book of Kings:  (1 Kings 19-9-13)

At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him: Why are you here, Elijah?  He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.”  Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;  the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;  after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?
The Word of the Lord. 

            O Peter.  What a guy!   In the past when I have heard this story about Peter’s soggy attempt to walk on water, I always thought that he had been trying to show off.  That his request of “Hey Jesus, tell me to come to you across the water” was an example of braggadocio on Peter’s part, and then when through his own foolhardiness he got in over his head, literally, he had to cry out for help. 
            Then reading the Anchor Bible translation of this story in Matthew’s Gospel I read this version of his words: “Sir - if that is who you are - tell me to come to you on the water,”
            ¿”If that is who you are”???     I kind of overlooked that part, but sure enough, there it is: Peter says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
            “If it is you???”  Well, who did Peter think it was walking on the water?   A figment of his imagination?  An evil spirit pretending to be Jesus?  
            It is a strange question, and to my mind at least, makes Peter’s action a bit more complex, and yet more understandable.  This question shows that there was some doubt or hesitation on Peter’s part even before he got out of the boat.  It is as if Peter was looking for an excuse NOT to go strolling on the sea. 
Perhaps what is going on here is that Peter, who loved Jesus very much, is obviously pulled to be with Jesus; and something in him is urging him to go to his master, to Jesus.  Peter is hearing a tiny whispering sound that is calling to him.  And Peter, though he loves Jesus and wants to be with Him, is also aware that the water is not too firm.  And so - a little hesitant - Peter questions - “Is it really you, Lord??  Or is this some crazy cockamamie idea of my own?”   
Because if it is Peter’s own imagination, then he can dismiss the idea!  Maybe Peter is looking for an out here.  Maybe his getting out of the boat is not about braggadocio and showing off as it is a less than full-hearted response in faith.
            If so, I think then it is truer to some of our experience.   For example, a long time ago when I was in college, at Washington University in St. Louis, my intention was to become a lawyer, and then perhaps go into politics. 
But then this kind of quiet, nagging thought would come from time to time about priesthood.  And then of course the question is, “is this a prompting from God, or is this just some crazy figment of my imagination?”  Of course I hoped for the later, and for several years I tried to ignore the idea and say it wasn’t real.  Remembering that time I can identify with Peter in his asking; “Is that really you, Lord?” who beckons me? 
            It is like that “tiny whispering sound” that Elijah hears in the first reading today.  Elijah is hiding in this cave on Mt. Horeb.  Mt. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law.  And Elijah is hiding there because Queen Jezebel is out to kill him.  And God had already, in a verse left out of the lectionary but included in the reading today, asked Elijah “Why are you here?  
            Then there was a strong and heavy wind, a storm so strong it crushed rocks.  But God was not in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake.  But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was FIRE, but God was not in the fire.  Finally there was “a tiny whispering sound”, and Elijah hides his face, because God asks Elijah a second time, “Why are you here? 
Guess what?  Elijah did not want to hear God, because God was saying, “What are you doing hiding here when I have work for you to do?” and God gives Elijah instructions to anoint another person as king, to appoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet and do other stuff.  Great story you can read in 1st Kings, chapter 19.  But the point is that the “tiny whispering sound” calls Elijah to leave the safety of the cave, the safety of being anonymous and hidden in the crowd,  and go do God’s work.
            God’s does not always speak to us words of comfort and consolation.  A lot of times that prompting, that attraction, that nagging thought, that tiny whispering sound calls us to get out of the boat, to leave the hiding place, to move out of our comfort zone and take a risk. 
            It could be a lot of things.  Maybe it is a call to apologize to someone you hurt or disappointed.  Maybe it is an urge to reach out in reconciliation to a sibling or in-law from whom you have been estranged. 
Perhaps it is a call to generosity in spite of the economic uncertainties.   Maybe it is an unpopular call to defend the rights of immigrants in the face of rising neo-nativism, or the rights of those not yet born.  Perhaps it is the idea of checking regularly on a homebound neighbor and offering help.  Or maybe even the nagging thought of becoming a priest or religious!  
            Because it always involves some risk, some insecurity, some walking on water, our natural tendency is to repeat the question of Peter: “Is it really you, Lord, or is this some nutty idea I can safely and conveniently ignore?” 
            When finally we listen, and we do get out of the boat or leave the cave or respond to the call, and then like Peter we fail or mess it up, or start to sink, like Peter we cry out “Lord, save me!”, and also like Peter, the Lord will be there to catch us, and pull us up again. 
            Peter is not such a bad model after all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 7

On Sunday afternoon, July 24, I drove up to Dallas to see my sister Barbara (my favorite, but don’t tell the others!), who was in Dallas (actually Grapevine) for a conference. We had a delightful visit.

Driving up was rather depressing. Not because of the heavy traffic, but because of the terrible drought. While we are aware of the drought in the city, we are shielded from its full impact. Because of the watering and irrigation and sprinkler systems all around us, we don’t see the full ugly scar of the devastation. However, driving up to Dallas, the distress caused by the drought was inescapable: mile after mile of burnt grass, parched land, drooping trees and dusty roads and walkways. It was emotionally taxing. The land looks forlorn and forsaken. A feeling of barren dryness began to creep into my soul.

A few days before I went to Dallas I had gone out to McKinney Falls State Park for a short hike. I could only take about an hour of the heat. I was surprised to see the falls almost totally dried up. Only a small trickle of water was still flowing over the falls, and by the time you read this they may have dried up completely. I was distressed to see curled leaves, dried out bushes and tinder-dry vegetation everywhere. It is really bad.

All the life seems sucked out of the land, and there seems no relief in sight. There is a relentlessness to the drought which effects just about everything in nature. It almost has a spiritual aspect to it, a sort of manifestation of evil, or at least of great loss.

What can we do? Well, we can pray for rain. So I offer you this prayer. It comes from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. They had composed a Novena in Honor of St. Isadore, the Patron Saint of Farmers, and this prayer is from that. I figure they should know about praying for rain, so I recommend you use it. 

Prayer for Rain

God, in Whom we live and move and have our being, grant us rain in due abundance, that, being sufficiently helped with temporal, we may the more confidently seek after eternal gifts. Through Christ, our Lord.


God bless! 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Favorite Quote

The following is from St. Robert Bellermine, SJ.  My middle name is "Robert", so perhaps that has something to do with why this quote appeals to me.  However, I think it is the thought so succinctly expressed.  Enjoy!

"If you are wise, then know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation.  This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart.  If you reach this goal, you will find happiness.  If you fail to reach it, you will find misery." 

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

HOMILY    18th Sunday in Ordinary Time  Cycle A        July 31, 2011

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.     
            Why?   Jesus was grieving.   We see the great human affection of Jesus for John, looking up to him in a way.  Jesus admired him.  So there is sadness.  Jesus’ good friend was just unjustly executed, and of course Jesus is upset.  We’ve all experienced losses of people close to us, and we know it hurts.
            Maybe for Jesus there is also some sober realization that what happened to John was also likely to happen to Jesus if he continued down the path of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  That, unfortunately, is the story of all the prophets.  And now it has come home, has come very close to Jesus in the death of his close friend, and on the human level His teacher and model, John the Baptist.  So Jesus has to think about the consequences of his own actions.  
            Grieving and wrestling with his own vocation Jesus seeks to be alone with His Abba.  Jesus goes to a deserted place by himself.   A perfectly normal, understandable desire to withdraw, to grieve, and to think, and to pray.
            But this was not to be.   “The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.   he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,”   Jesus is denied the respite to be with his grief and his questions. 
            And this is the really interesting part, which is Jesus’ reaction.  Jesus doesn’t react at all like I would react.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Can’t I get a moment to myself?  Hey, I am hurting and I need a little peace and quiet.  This is time for me now.  You all go away and come see me next week.” 
            Jesus doesn’t say that.  Instead, the Gospel says, When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,  his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.”
            Jesus lets go of his own hurt and pain, his own needs, and responds instinctively to the people before him.  His heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
            Contrast that to the approach of the disciples.  When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,   “This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
            The disciples see the crowd as a problem.  They want to get rid of them.  They are an inconvenience and a bother. Even a threat!  Dismiss the crowds, send them away, get rid of them, is the disciples’ approach.
            Jesus’ response is pointed and classic.  Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;   give them some food yourselves.”
            Jesus is challenging the disciples (and that always means you and me) to change their way of thinking, their way of feeling, their way of seeing.   Jesus saw the crowd and was moved to pity.  He healed.  He taught.  He forgave.  Jesus did not focus on himself and his own hurt and need, but rather on the crowd and their need.
            The disciples, on the other hand, saw a lot of hungry mouths, a problem they want to get rid of.
            What do we see?  We see famine and starvation in East Africa.  We see youth on the street who have been rejected by their families, who have messed up and who smell bad.  We see mothers with children living in cars and shelters and tents.  We see elderly who have to choose between their medications and food.  We see people addicted, and broken and hurting.  We see people hungry and needy in many, many ways.
            We usually see them as a problem. We are overwhelmed by their need.  We want to get rid of them. We want to send them away.  We understand perfectly where the disciples in the Gospel are coming from, because they are us.
            Jesus, in the Gospel today, right here and now, says to you and to me, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” 
            Jesus shows us how.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.   They all ate and were satisfied,” 
This action by Jesus is Eucharistic. Jesus said the blessing, in Hebrew the Berekah:  “Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have this bread to offer you.” 
            Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it.  That is a Eucharistic action.  It is what we will do right here at this table in just a few minutes.  And our participation in the Eucharist has the power to transform us to see in a new way, to see as Jesus sees, to see with compassion and with generosity in place of seeing with fear or greed. 
            Jesus invites us to the Eucharistic table so that we might be transformed, just as the bread and wine are transformed. We become the Body and Blood of Christ, so that just like Jesus we can let go of our focus on our own self to respond to those in front of us.
            Be open to transformation, like the bread in the Gospel was transformed to feed 5, 000 men plus women and children, like the bread will be transformed at this altar into the Body of Christ, so you are called to be transformed. 
Open your heart to see with the eyes of Jesus.     AMEN

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, July 31

On Tuesday evening, July 19, we had another gathering of the Men’s Adult Faith/Spirituality Formation group. This is a not-very-structured gathering of men that has met four times to share and discuss spiritual topics. In the past we discussed marketplace spirituality (faith at work issues) but on the 19th we changed focus and discussed “Fathering” (we don’t have any mandated agenda and so are free to follow our inclinations).

It was a very good discussion with 20+ men present, and everyone participated in the discussion. As you can imagine with a group of 20 men from this parish, it was a rather wide-ranging discussion. We touched on the difference of fathering to sons as opposed to daughters, of what we had received from our fathers and what we wished had had gotten, of negotiating parenting roles with spouses, of the differences of fathering little children, adolescents and adult children, and many other topics. Needless to say there were not a lot of solutions offered, but there was plenty of practical realization of our own limits and a lot of mutual support among the men in recognizing and accepting those realities.

On a more spiritual plane we also discussed how our experience of our own fathers influenced, for better or for ill, our image of God the Father. We reflected on the way our “doing fatherhood” revealed or concealed the image of God the Father for our own families.

I tried to point out that Jesus had a special name for God, “Abba,” which means Papa or Dad. The best expression Jesus had for the ineffable mystery that is God was “Abba,” and when Jesus taught us to pray He instructed us to begin “Our Father…” While there has been much theological work in recent years on the feminine in God, and some (in the attempt for gender neutrality) have spoken and even baptized in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, the great majority of Catholic theologians, and the Church hierarchy, find that language inadequate. There still is something vital and significant about referring to God as “Father.”

This came out fairly clearly, I think, in our men’s discussion about fathering adult children and the need to relinquish control, but that the father still loves the adult son or daughter, and most importantly, is still there for the adult child. The father may disapprove, may disagree totally with the son or daughter, may warn strenuously against the action the adult child chooses to take, but the father still loves the child and is there, always there, for the adult son or daughter. We heard a couple of powerful stories about that, and I would argue that is what God the Father is for us. God the Father is always there for us.

It was a very worthwhile evening. The next gathering of the Adult Faith Formation for Men will be on Tuesday evening, August 16, at 7 p.m. in Newman Hall. The topic will be “Husbanding.” Watch the bulletin for more details. All men are welcome, married or not. It should be a stimulating discussion.

God bless!