Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 25

According to American Express, “Membership has its privileges.” While I usually do not consider AMEX to be a great font of spiritual wisdom, on this point at least I find myself in agreement with them. All of us have a need to belong. Even that quintessentially Protestant theologian and poet John Dunne (1572–1631) recognized that “No man is an island entire of itself.” We are incomplete by ourselves. As God states very early in the Book of Genesis, “It is not good for the man [or the woman] to be alone.” (Gen 2:18)  

As Catholics we are very fortunate and blessed to belong. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9 ). We are members of the Body of Christ, as St. Paul impresses upon us (Romans 12:5). We are a part of the Church that connects us in a real and   spiritual way to over a billion believers worldwide, as well as a very real connection to all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, with the Church Triumphant (all the saints and angels in glory) and the Church Suffering (the members of the Church still undergoing cleansing and purification). One of the many privileges of our membership is the very real connection we have with Catholics and Christians all over the world, of every nation and language and race, as well as people who lived centuries and centuries before us. It is really quite mind-boggling!

This membership expresses itself in concrete and palpable ways by our membership in a particular local Church (in our case, the Diocese of Austin) gathered around our Bishop (Joe Vรกsquez) and even more particularly in our specific, local parish. That would, of course, be the BEST parish in the Diocese (but I may be biased), St. Austin!

With membership comes not only privileges but also responsibilities. One responsibility is to show up. We are less without you. You add something to our community that no one else can. If they could, God would not have created you. Only you can be the gift that you are to our parish, so we are always happy to have you here.
Another responsibility is to let us know you are here, which you do by registering. Next weekend at all the Masses you will be invited to re-affirm your membership in our parish. The process is very simple: sign the statement of Affirmation of Membership and turn it in. The forms are in the pews. If any of your contact information has changed in the past year, please update it on the form. If you aren’t sure, then please give us your latest info. If we already have the information, then just sign and date the form. It is as simple as that.
Finally there is the responsibility to support our parish with your gifts of time, treasure and talent. We emphasize your gifts of treasure in the Spring, and we encourage and invite your gifts of time and talent all year long. You can always go online at, click on the “Stewardship & Discipleship” button near the top right, and follow the links to give or volunteer. If you have questions about supporting the parish, you can always call Ida Malina, our Director of Stewardship, at 512-477-9471 ext 325.

Glad to have you as a member!

God bless!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 18

Way back on the 23rd of July, nearly two months ago, there was an article in the Austin Statesman titled “Science shows us that God didn’t make humans; rather, human made gods.” The article was by J. Anderson Thomson (a psychiatrist at the U. of Virginia) and Clare Aukofer (a medical writer) [see].

In an oversimplified nutshell, their argument is that religious experience is hardwired into the physiological make up of the human animal. These religious abilities derived over eons because they provided a survival advantage and so were favored by evolution. Therefore the experience of religious phenomenon, or more simply religious experience, does not require any divine intervention to account for them.

My response to that is, of course not! The Thomistic philosophers many years ago taught that human beings are in-spirited animals. We are not pure spirits like angels, but we do have souls.  Since we are animals, the only way we can know anything is through our senses. If we cannot touch, taste, smell, hear or feel it, it cannot be real to us. We do not have any direct, infused knowledge. (By the way, this is why Sacraments are so important!) So for any Thomist, of course we have hardwired in our brains and in our DNA a capacity for religious experience. There is no other way we could ever experience it. The capacity for this experience must have a physical basis or we would never be able to connect with it. But the presence of the mere capacity to experience religious phenomenon does not explain the origin of the actual experience. The experience may have an actual, real, outside cause.

Of course evolution (which is the way God creates) favors these capacities as survival mechanisms, because belief is good for us and promotes our well being. It would be more of a challenge for faith if faith was not good for the human person and did not promote human survival and well-being.

Often (it seems to me) those who question belief in God set up a false idea of God, some big guy out there who is supposed to be calling the shots and causing things to happen. Then they attack this straw god. But god is not a proper name. Whatever you think of when you hear the word “God” is not God.  Rather God is the absolute mystery that grounds and supports all that exists. To quote Fr. Michael Himes,
God is not one being among many beings, not even the supreme one. 
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God is the power of being, being itself (esse),
but not a being (ens), supreme or otherwise.
Thomas made “God” more like a verb than a noun.” 
(© 1995 Paulist Press, Michael J. Himes,  “Doing the Truth in Love,”  page 18)

For Christians, of course, this absolute mystery is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection (i.e. the experience we have of His continuing presence and power) of Jesus of Nazareth. He called this absolute mystery “Abba.” St. John the Evangelist called the absolute mystery “Love."

Fortunately, we will never have God figured out. God will always remain mystery, which is a good thing. For Karl Rahner, SJ, the fact that we will never have God totally figured out is a good thing. In fact he stated that “the incomprehensibility of God is the blessedness of man.” That means for all eternity we will go deeper and deeper into the mystery of God, and never exhaust, never come to the end, of learning more about God. We will forever be surprised and delighted by new and fuller insights into the absolute mystery we call Father.

God bless!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 11

Except for the very young among us, we all remember where we were ten years ago on September 11, 2001. It was a terrible day.

On that day I was Pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church on the West Side of mid-town Manhattan, New York. We were just about 5 miles from the Twin Towers. On that morning, I was speaking to one of the parish employees expressing my dissatisfaction with his performance. He kept trying to tell me that there was something big going on with the Twin Towers, and I thought he was just distracting me from the agenda I had. Eventually, however, he convinced me that something serious was occurring, and I went up to the Paulist common room (our living room) to watch events on TV. It was, as we all experienced, shocking and horrifying.

While we were not directly affected where we were, several miles from the site of the Twin Towers, we could see the smoke. More vividly, we saw people fleeing from lower Manhattan who were covered in ash and smudged with smoke, and terrified. Several stopped at our church, exhausted. They had fled as far as they could, and finally stopped when they got up to our area at 59th Street. We did our best to comfort them and minister to them.

What sticks in my memory though is the smell. For days afterwards, whenever the breeze came from the South, an offensive, acrid, burned stench was in the air. It had a smell of tires and chemicals burning, and it lasted for days. That is what I most remember, and that is something you don’t get from the pictures and videos and news reports. The memory of that smell lingers with me still.

The next day, September 12, we had HUGE crowds at the church. I preached all the Masses. My theme was “do not be afraid.” The terrorists intend to cause us fear and to respond with anger. If we respond with hate, fear, anger, desires for revenge, then the terrorists win. That is what they want. If we react with confidence, hope, self-control, seeking peace while defending our loved ones and our interests, then the terrorists loose. It is really up to us.

The same is true today. As the recent shootings in Tuscon and Norway have amply demonstrated, terror comes in many forms and guises. Ultimately I believe the battle against terror is a spiritual battle; and it takes place in our hearts. We must hear over and over again what Jesus tells us so many times in the   Gospels:  “Do not be afraid!”

God bless!  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ord Time cycle “A” September 3 & 4, 2011

           So I was feeling pretty good this past week because I just had gotten my brand new “diamond preferred” Mastercard. [pull out and show the card]  It is all black, pretty cool, looks rather clerical and all.  I was contemplating what I would purchase with it, when I read the opening line of today’s second reading:  “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”  Hmmm.   Then I was given this recent edition of “REFLECTIONS”, a newsletter from our Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, and on page 4 are listed “11 ideas for financial freedom & biblical simplicity.”   And guess what #3 is?  “NO CREDIT CARDS”.  
     Well, as much as I always pay attention to everything that comes from the Diocese, I haven’t cut up my credit cards quite yet.  Because I am convinced that St. Paul is not talking about finances, not arguing against borrowing, but rather is concerned about community relationship, about what holds us together.
            This statement, taken in a superficial and unreflective way, can seem rather amorphous, fuzzy, and easy: kind of romantically idealistic.  “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”  (sing) “All we need is love.” Do, ta doo, doo, do,
            But we are saved from the Beatles by today’s Gospel, which spells out in very concrete and pragmatic terms what this rather general command “to love one another” implies. 
            The test case of love is not how we love each other when we are all getting along and feeling chummy, and really like each other, but rather how do we love one another in the midst of disagreement, conflict, opposition, and hurt?  How do we love when we get on each other’s nerves and can’t stand each other?  What does this command to love mean when my brother or my sister sins against me?   ….
            Well, the love we owe each other does NOT mean taking the obvious and easy way. You know what I mean:  if someone hurts me, takes advantage of me, puts me down, sins against me, then I avoid that person, cut them off, ignore them, leave them to their own devices.  Good riddance!   Or I want to attack, to get even, to hurt them back, at least as much as they have hurt me, plus a little more just for good measure. 
            But of course this in NOT what love means.  Jesus tells us that if your brother or sister sins against you, then out of the love you owe them, you have to do the really difficult  thing, you have to go to the person and point out to him his fault.  NOT as an accusation, but as a service, as an act of love.    Hmmmm     Anyone here find that a difficult thing to do?  
            It is much easier, I think, to ignore the fault, and with it the person.  But that is an abdication of our responsibility for each other.  We really are tied together in mutual care and concern for each other.  We are that responsible for each other that we have to help each other grow.  We cannot ignore each other simply because it is easier.
            And we have to do it between us alone.  So often when I have been hurt by someone I want to talk about it, but not with the person who did it, not with the person I should talk with about it, but with everyone else.  “Do you know what that so-and-so did to me?  Can you believe how terrible they are?” 
That is called triangulation, making a triangle out of the incident, bringing in a third party.  So, if the pastor or the associate or the school principal or the music director does something you don’t like, calling the Bishop is NOT the correct first response.  That is triangulation. 
            The love that St. Paul urges us to, is not just some warm fuzzy feeling of tolerance and acceptance.  That is NOT Christian love.  Christian love is messy, involved, a struggle with, speak up and confront love.  It is involvement.  It is intimacy.  It is taking responsibility for each other’s growth and development, because we love each other.  That is work.
            But it is real.  It is love that genuinely wants the other to grow.  It is the way Christ loves each of us.  It is what we are called to.
            That is what I owe you.  Like the Prophet Ezekial in the first reading today, if I see something amiss, and fail to talk to you about it, I become responsible.  You are not perfect, yet.  But if I do my job, and love you as I should, I will take the risk to love you enough to call you to be more than you are, to correct your faults, to challenge you to be more holy, more loving, more Christian. 
And you know what?   You owe the same to me.  With your loving help, I can grow.  I can become a better pastor and priest, and more importantly, a more mature, loving, and holy person.  I am relying on you to help me.
            And you owe the same to your family, and your fellow parishioners as well.
            Exciting, isn’t it?   
And so I ask you, that as we work together to build up our St. Austin’s Parish community, and as we carry out our baptismal mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, and of being the healing and compassionate presence of Christ here and now, that we make a commitment to each other to love each other enough to do what Jesus says.  No, what Jesus COMMANDS in today’s Gospel. 
            And that is, that we love each other enough to not tolerate each other, but risk becoming involved in each other’s growth and life. 
            When I do or say something that you find offensive or hurtful, or scandalous, then please love me enough to come and tell me about it.  Talk to me.  Let me know.  I may react defensively at first, brush you off, get angry or attack back.  That happens.  But keep praying and eventually I will come around.   And you will have done me a great service, and helped me to grow.  
            And likewise, when you individually, or you as a community, listen too much to the world and get a bit off the path to the Kingdom, I promise to screw up my courage and speak to you the truth, even if you are not eager to hear it.  And I will keep praying for you.
            That is a BIG responsibility we have for each other.  But that is what genuine Christian community is all about.   We owe nothing to each other, except, except, except to love one another as deeply as we can. 
That’s better than diamond preferred.  That’s genuine Good News.  God bless!  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 4

Two weeks ago in this space I went looking for other churches dedicated to St. Austin, aka St. Augustine of Canterbury. What better place to look for churches dedicated to him than in the country he helped to evangelize, Merry Ole England? And  indeed there are a few churches there claiming him as their heavenly patron, just as we do here in Austin, Texas.

First of all there is St Austin's Roman Catholic Church, 561 Aigburth Road, Grassendale Garston, Liverpool. The church was built in 1838, a mere 70 years before our first church was built, and at the time was described as “a neat and commodious building in the plain Gothic style.” According to their website it is surrounded by mature trees and a cemetery. In a recurring theme it is staffed by a religious community, in this case the Benedictines.  

There is another church, Ss. Austin and Gregory Catholic Church in Victoria Road, Margate, Kent, but St. Austin only gets half credit (though he at least has top billing), and I have so far not determined if this is truly Augustine of Canterbury or the other St. Augustine (of Hippo). In any case this parish was founded in 1797, quite a while ago. I was intrigued by the statement on their website about their church: “It may not look much from the exterior but many are  pleasantly surprised by its beautiful interior.” Some would say the same about our church. 

There is also a St. Austin’s R.C. Church in Wentworth Terrace, Wakefield. This church “was built in the latter half of the 1820s according to the design of Joseph Ireland, one of the leading architects of the day and is a fine example of his classical Grecian style.”

And finally there is St. Austin’s Church in Stafford, which  appears to be a very active parish. They have five Masses on the weekend (just like us), and one of them is in Polish! The foundation of this parish goes back to the 1760’s, with the present church dedicated on July 16, 1862. Their website [] includes a virtual tour of the church.  

One interesting fact is that all of the St. Austin’s Churches I could find, in the US, Kenya and in England, are all Roman Catholic. I expected to find several Anglican or Church of England St. Austin’s Churches, but did not come across any.  

However I did find a St. Austin’s School in Thatto Heath, St. Helens, England. I have no idea where that is, but their website [] has some lovely pictures of English schoolchildren. So there is at least one other St. Austin’s Catholic School besides our own. 

And finally, we are not the only St. Austin’s that is proud of its choir. The above mentioned church in Wakefield has a separate webpage for its choir, which with a rather evident lack of modesty declares “One of the best choirs in the area, St Austin's Choir enthralls audiences everywhere they perform with music from the Renaissance to present day.” You can go to the website and listen to several audio clips, and decide for yourself if they are being honest or just bragging. []
There may be other St. Austin’s churches out there (Australia, New Zealand, who knows?) but these are the ones I found. If you know of others, let me know. I will start collecting them.   But of all of them we know which St. Austin’s is the very best!!!  

God bless!  

Friday, September 2, 2011


Peter is in trouble again. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do Jesus bellows!
But personally I think we shouldn’t be too hard on Peter, because God apparently thinks in very strange ways.  
First of all, who is it that Jesus predicts will do Him in, will kill Him, when He gets to Jerusalem? ….  Now if Jesus had said the Gentiles, - those occupying, oppressive Romans - and the tax collectors - those traitors who collaborated with the Romans enemies - and the sinners, all those evil and bad people, well that would have made some sense: The BAD GUYS were out to get Jesus.  What do you expect?
But notice that is not who Jesus says will cause Him to suffer greatly and will kill Him.  Rather, Jesus points His finger at a very surprising group: “the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes”.   Whooaw!   These are the leaders of the people, the religious authorities, the holiest people, the leaders of society, the most honored and respected types!  It would be as if Jesus said that the people who would be doing Him the most violence were the Bishops, the Pastors and the Theologians.  Part of the reason Peter is so shocked, in addition to the gruesome torture and death Jesus predicts, is that this will be at the hand of the religious establishment.  (pause) 
Well, ....  Come to think of it.....   It is the “respectable”, establishment, powers that get you in the end, if you follow Jesus.  
At an even more profound level Jesus turns our ideas on their heads and shows us God’s off-the-wall approach.  For today Jesus presents us with a paradox: something that seems contradictory on the surface, but that contains a great truth.   This is the basic Christian paradox: “whoever wishes to save his life will loose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Saving means losing, and losing means finding. 
What is Jesus talking about?  Let us reflect a bit on His teaching:  “For whoever wishes to save his life...”  Save it in what sense?  We are in no imminent danger of being killed.  So this is not about life saving in the purely physical sense.  This is saving our life in a broader and more meaningful sense.  Save our life FROM what?  Save our life FOR what? 
How do we “save our life”???  Well, what do we save?  Money, if we can.  Maybe you save stamps or coins or baseball cards, or Barbie Dolls or beer cans, or old love letters, or some other collectible.  And what do we do when we “save” something?  We set it aside.  We put it someplace “safe”, where it won’t get damaged, where it won’t get used.  If it is money, we put it into a bank.  If it is stamps or photos, we put them into an album; if Belike or Lladro, or firearms, in a cabinet, and so on.  We save things by taking them out of use and protecting them.
So what does it mean to “save our life”?  Jesus is telling us that if we try to protect our life, set it aside, keep it safe by taking it out of use, then we lose it.  We don’t lose it in the sense that we die, but we lose our life in the sense that we fail to truly live. 
Only by engaging in life, by giving and by loving, in a sense by giving ourselves away, do we truly live.  When we try to protect and hoard our life, insulate ourselves from hurt and disappointment, keeping others at arm’s length, and never engage nor become involved in life, never put ourselves on the line - then we lose our life.  It evaporates like smoke, and we fail to live. We lose it.
Jesus says: “but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Jesus certainly is  speaking here in the most concrete sense of martyrdom.  After all the context is his prediction that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.
But that is not the only meaning of Jesus’ words.  We can also lose our lives for the sake of Christ by not clinging and clutching to our life, but lose it by giving ourselves away in generosity, in compassion, in fidelity and in love. 
I think this is brought out in the Anchor Bible translation.  These scholars translate this paradox as:if anyone will come with me, then let him deny self, take up his cross and follow me.  For one who grasps at self will lose it, but one who lets go of self on my account will gain it.”   Grasping at self means loss of self, but letting go of self on account of Jesus means truly gaining yourself.  It is contradictory, but true.
When you commit to someone, either in a friendship, or in a marriage, or even as a fellow Christian or human being, you in a sense loose a part of yourself.  Because the other now has a claim on you.  For example, when you undertake to visit a neighbor who is homebound, and perhaps help with their grocery shopping, or with cleaning their apartment, or running to the post office for him or her, you lose a little bit of your freedom.  The homebound person begins to depend on you.  Then you may not be able to do everything you want on Saturday morning - say just lay in bed all morning - because you know your homebound neighbor is counting on you, relying on you, to pick up milk and bread, or take out the trash, or whatever, for him or her.  You have become “obligated” by Christian charity, and you lose a piece of your life through that.  You can no longer do exactly what you want, are no longer totally in control of your time, of your life.  A piece of your life is, in a sense, “lost”. 
And yet, according to Jesus, this is how you find yourself: in service, in the work of justice, in generosity, in compassion, in fidelity, in love.  Because in living this way you become more like Jesus Christ, and your truest identity as a Christian is “a member of the Body of Christ.”  Deeper than your identity as an Austinite, or a Texan, or an American, or even as a man or a woman, is your identity as a Christian.  In finding your resemblance to Christ, you find yourself: for this is what you were created for.   “I once was lost but now am foundsays the old hymn.  Finding our self means finding ourselves in the Body of Christ, as part of the Body of Christ.
St. Matthew, in this Gospel passage is very clear that Jesus delivers this teaching not to the Apostles only, but to the disciples; that is, all the followers of Christ, including me, and including you.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  The way of the cross, a sign of gross human cruelty, an oppressive instrument of state execution, has been transformed by Jesus’ self-sacrificial love, into the way to life eternal.  Jesus lost his life on the cross, and found Himself completely.  He therefore makes it possible for us to do the same.  “For one who grasps at self will lose it, but one who lets go of self on my account will gain it.”       A very deep paradox. 
Which only goes to show, God’s ways are not our ways.