Monday, October 31, 2011

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A St. Austin October 30, 2011

First: a  pop quiz to see if you have been paying attention.   Don’t worry, there are only two questions, they are multiple choice, and you get to score yourself.  So the first question:  In our second reading this afternoon St Paul describes his time among the Thessalonians.  Did St. Paul say he was a) forthright with them?   Or b) gentle with them?  Or c) firm with them?  Or d) honest with them?     
 The correct answer is B, “gentle with them”. 
            OK, you did great with that.  This one is a little more tricky.  Second question:  Paul uses an image to describe his being gentle.  Did he say he was a) gentle as a summer’s breeze?  Or b) gentle as the dew in the morning?   Or c) gentle as a butterfly?   Or d) none of the above?   
            The correct answer is D, “none of the above”, because St. Paul said that he was “gentle among you as a nursing mother cares for her children.”    Paul uses the image of a mother nursing her infant to describe himself and his behavior. 
            Now I don’t know about you, but I find that rather surprising.  It is a beautiful image, but somehow I don’t naturally associate that picture of a nursing mother with St. Paul.  Being a Paulist, I very much like Paul, but I think of him as bold, forthright, decisive, fearless, passionate, brave, and many other wonderful qualities, but not usually as “gentle”.  I mean this is the guy who boasted in his letter to the Galatians that he took on St. Peter, and publically withstood him directly to his face when Paul thought Peter was not accepting the gentiles fully, and he made Peter change.  This is a guy who got quite worked up in controversy, who when arguing against those who preached on the need for circumcision for salvation, stated Would that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!  (Gal. 5:12)    That’s kind of harsh.  He just doesn’t come across as particularly “gentle”. 
            Anyway, gentle is what Paul says he and his co-workers Timothy and Silvanus, were.  Even so, a nursing mother is not an image that jumps to mind for St. Paul.  Fr. Bob Scott, whom many of you know, is certainly a very gentle person, yet I would never think of describing him as being like a mother nursing her infant.  Or Fr. Jim Wiesner, or  Fr. Steven Bell, and most certainly not myself.  St. Paul is freer at gender-bending than I am. 
Still, it is a beautiful image, because the mother feeds the infant at her breast not with something outside her, but literally with her own self, her own body.  And perhaps this is the point that St. Paul was trying to get at, because he continues, “we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” 
            St. Paul wanted to give them his very self, his own substance, to nourish and feed them.  This beautiful image of a mother nursing her infant is a very Eucharistic image.  Just as the mother feeds the infant with her own body, so Jesus, in His love for us, gives you and me His own Body to eat, His own Blood to drink, His very self to nourish and feed us. 
In just a few minutes, right here at this table, Jesus will nourish – or nurse – us with His own self, His very Body and Blood.  I think this is what St. Paul is trying to get at.  Paul is using a Eucharistic image in comparing himself to a mother nursing her infant.
            St. Paul is therefore an example of the good priest or minister.  He is in it to serve, to benefit the people he is called to, to give of himself. 
            St. Paul is very different from the Pharisees Jesus condemns in the Gospel today.  Jesus criticizes, indeed condemns, the Pharisees as ministers, because they are in it - not to serve, not to benefit the people they are called to minister to - but rather the Pharisees are in it for themselves, for their own benefit and glorification and gain.  That is what all this widening their phylacteries and lengthening their tassels is about, for these were signs of power and importance.  “They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi’.” complains Jesus  That is all about public respect and signs of honor.   The Pharisees were in it for the money and the honor and the power.  In short, they were in it for themselves.
            That is the opposite of the ministry of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.  It is how He taught us to be.  “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Jesus declares in today’s Gospel.  And this is what St. Paul did. 
            St. Paul is therefore an example for us. 
All of us by our Baptism are called to be a Royal Priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to the Father, through His Son Jesus, in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.  Like Jesus, and like St. Paul, we must not only do our particular responsibilities, but share “our very selves as well.”  We must give not just our time and our money and our talents, as important as those are to the mission of the Gospel, but ultimately we must give ourselves as well. 
            To authentically receive Eucharist, we must become what we eat.  We in turn must become Bread for the World; we must become Blood poured out for the World, to respond to all the deep hungers of people by giving ourselves for them.
            To truly be Christian we must be gentle, as a mother nursing her infant, giving ourselves to others in love for the sake of Christ. 
            Maybe St. Paul didn’t pick such a bad image after all.  AMEN.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 30

This week, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 we  celebrate the Feast of All Saints, and on Wednesday, Nov. 2, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls.

On Tuesday we ask the saints, both the canonized, “official” saints, and all the holy men and women in whom God’s grace has been victorious - which is the great majority of saints - to pray for us. I hope you have your favorites among the canonized Saints. I am partial myself to St. Athanasius, St. Ireneaus of Lyons, and of course (being a Paulist), St. Paul. A recently canonized Saint I also find very attractive is St. Mother Mary MacKillop. A strong Australian woman, she ran into conflicts with her Bishop (something with which I can identify). He wanted her to educate the daughters of the wealthy, but she was impelled to work with the poor.  When she would not give in, the bishop excommunicated her, so she is one of the few Saints who was also excommunicated. I admire her courage and determination, even to being kicked out of the Church for a while.
I hope you have your list of favorite Saints as well:  not only the canonized ones, but all the holy people you have known who have shown in their lives the goodness of God.

On Wednesday we in turn pray for all the faithful departed.  We express our care and concern for them, and support them by our assurances of concern and love.  We have the power to extend forgiveness to those who have died who have hurt us, and in so doing free them and also free ourselves. We also ask those whom we have hurt or ignored or neglected to forgive us, and so free themselves to live more fully the life of the        Resurrected Christ.

All of us are connected in a great, interlocking network of care and concern, expressed in prayer.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is God’s inner life of love, we are connected to each other as members of the Body of Christ. Since the Holy Spirit is stronger than death, all the cords of care and affection that knit us together in life do not cease with death. Through Christ we are still mystically, though really, connected with all those who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith.”  How this takes place is something we cannot now explain, but we believe that we still have a connection of mutual support that endures.

The Christian doctrine of the “Communion of Saints” is all about solidarity; solidarity in the struggle for salvation, in the ultimate victory of good over evil, of life over death, of love over hate. We support, encourage, instruct and stand in solidarity with each other. Our celebrations of All Saints and All Souls are concrete examples of that solidarity in Christ.

We are all called to be Saints. We all need prayerful support as struggling souls. May our celebrations this week bring us hope and encouragement.

God bless!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 23, 2011

I am in the habit, especially when I am busy, of making lists of things to do, so I can prioritize them.   I use bits of paper, backs of envelopes, or whatever is handy.  Anyone else here make lists of things to do?    What is on the top of yours?  What is first?  What is the top priority?  What is the one thing you absolutely must get done today? 
            That really is what the lawyer is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel.  "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"     The lawyer is really asking about priorities.  If you don’t keep any of the other commandments, which is the one you have to do; what comes first on the list:  not first in order, but first in importance.  What do you have to make sure you do first? 
            Jesus gives, as always, a wonderful answer.  He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.   This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it (in importance):  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
            So this is the most important, the most critical, the one thing you have to do even if you don’t get to anything else today, and that is to love:  Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.  That is at the top of your list today, and every day of your life. 
            Now just a couple of things about this.  First of all, what do you need in order to love?  Well, in spite of Fr. Bell’s insistence I get an iPhone, you don’t need a smart phone, or a tablet computer, or any electronics at all in order to love.  It doesn’t make any difference what clothes you wear, what car you drive – or if you even drive at all.  You don’t need a college degree, or citizenship papers, or a photo ID, or membership in any club or party in order to love.  In fact, you can be poor, sick, disabled, handicapped, homeless, undocumented, and even have bad breath, and still be able to love.  Everyone can love.
            Secondly, it is a good thing that everyone can love, because this is the one thing that really, really matters.  In fact, it is about the ONLY thing that really matters.  A hundred years from now how much money your made, how popular you were, how many awards you received, how big your house was, how clever and charming and sexy you were, how big your flat screen TV was, will not matter to you at all.
St. Paul tells us that in the long run, for all eternity, only three things will matter: 
Faith, Hope and Love.  And guess which of those three is the greatest???
            So, the most important commandment is to love.  To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  That is the main thing you have to do.  IF you don’t do that, then how popular, or powerful, or rich, or feared, or sexy, or talented you are won’t matter at all. 
Love is what matters.
            Third and finally, Jesus is NOT talking about love as a feeling, or an emotion, or anything like that.  For Jesus love is an action, a decision, a commitment.  It must be lived out in acts.  So going back to the beginning of our first reading today we hear:  Thus says the LORD:   "You shall not molest or oppress an alien,…”     
This passage is not talking about Martians and extra-terrestrials.  Aliens here means people from other lands and countries; what we today call immigrants.  You shall not molest or oppress an immigrant:  legal or illegal.  If you disagree with that you will have to take it up with the Lord. 
This is how love is lived out.  God also says in our first reading:  You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.”  These are the classic Biblical categories for the poor and the powerless.  In other words, looking out for the welfare and rights of people who are vulnerable -  immigrants, widows, orphans, the poor - is how we love.  And Jesus reinforces that teaching.  Just read Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25 if you doubt it. 
            The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recognizes this of course, and gives us some tools to use on their website.  They have an entire website dedicated to the issue of immigration called  Our Bishops give us some practical actions to take to show our concern for immigrants.   The opening page of their website is titled “Help Block the Expansion of E-Verify in the Absence of Compre-hensive Immigration Reform.”  Not a very catchy title, but an important work of justice.     
On that web page is information to help you take action NOW to assist in this work.  Later on the page, you can send a postcard to the President and to Congress in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and in particular defense of the DREAM Act, which would give students who have grown up and graduated from high school in
the United States the opportunity to earn legal status through higher edu­cation or military service.
        These are the practical, nuts and bolts ways of following the Lord God’s injunctions in today’s first reading.  These kinds of actions are the practical ways of doing what Jesus teaches us:  to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as our self.   There are copies of some of the information sheets from the website available at the doors of the church, or you can go online and see for yourself. 
            We are called, above and before all else, to love.  But not love as some sort of gushy emotion.  The love that Christ shows us is love that acts, that gives, that speaks the truth, that helps others, that puts oneself on the line.  That is the kind of love Jesus speaks of.  That is the kind of love Jesus lived.  That is what Jesus calls all of us to. 
It is how we will be judged.  It is the only thing that really matters. 
It must be at the top of your list.   AMEN.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 23

First of all, a  BIG THANK YOU to the wonderful team who pulled off the Annual St. Austin Fair Trade Chocolate Festival (ASAFTCF?). It was DELICIOUS. It was FUN. It was EDUCATIONAL. And it involved CHOCOLATE! What more could you ask for? All of us owe a debt of gratitude to all those who were not daunted by last winter’s worst storm, but persevered to keep the idea and momentum alive and present us such a great event last Sunday. If you were there, I am sure you would agree it was a great success! THANKS to all involved, including: Elizabeth Cole (lead), Sarah Yanes, Ginger Zanetti, Cyndi Kohfield–decorating, Deanna Fahey, Holy Cross Liturgical Dancers–African Dancing, Kathy Rowell–Drumming, Cazamance Cafe–Peanut Soup, Trisha Salcher–games, posters and support, Kathy Airel, Pat Macy and many volunteers to serve food and sell chocolate and clean up. WELL DONE!!!

This week I am starting an occasional series in this column on our church windows. As the most colorful part of the interior of our church, the windows are one of the most prominent features of our worship space. They add a great deal to our environment.

The first window on the right, as you face the altar, above the First Station on the Way of the Cross, depicts Baptism. There is a white object in the center of the window which at first I took to be an eyelash, with a tear coming down from it. I suppose you could support that interpretation if you wanted to see it as repentance for sins, but what it actually is meant to represent is a sea shell and drops of water. This represents the later practice of Baptism as pouring a little water over the person’s head. Many Renaissance paintings of the Baptism of the Lord show John the Baptist holding a sea shell and pouring a dribble of water over the forehead of Jesus, while the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, and today at St. Austin we too use a white sea shell for pouring water on the head of the person being baptized.

Of course this is not at all how it happened in the time of Jesus. John the Baptist would have plunged Jesus’ full body into the Jordan River, much like modern day Baptists do Baptism. The full significance of dying and rising, of going into the water and being reformed and coming up again, would shine forth. The custom of pouring a little water over the head came about in Northern Europe when it was too cold at Easter time to take people to the river bank and baptize them. Rather than expose people to pneumonia, a little water was poured over their heads. And while we have the option to do Baptism by full immersion here, we succumb to the temptation of convenience, as well as modesty, and pour a little water from a sea shell.

There is another symbol of Baptism in that window in the yellow-gold cross. This reminds me of the anointing with chrism that is part of the Baptism ceremony. Chrism is olive oil that has perfume added to it and is consecrated (as opposed to merely blessed like the Oils of the Sick and Catechumens) by the Bishop during Holy Week at the Chrism Mass. The word “chrism” comes from the same Greek root at the word “Christ,” meaning “anointed.” Hence Baptism is sometimes referred to as “christening,” meaning anointing. In the Old Testament, priests (like Aaron) and prophets (like Samuel) and kings (like David) were all anointed to show that they were chosen by God, so in Baptism we were anointed with Chrism, in the sign of the cross, indicating our dignity in the priestly, prophetic and kingly people of the Body of Christ.

This window was, I believe, paid for by the St. Austin Altar Society. Now we have no Altar Society. If any of you have some of the history of this group, when it existed, what it did, who was in it, why it ended, I would be interested in learning about it.

From time to time as occasion permits, I will reflect on the other windows of our church.

God bless!

Monday, October 17, 2011


HOMILY      29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME   CYCLE “A”                  October 16, 2011
"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.
Well they might go away amazed.   Jesus slipped through their carefully laid trap.  That was a pretty nifty answer Jesus gave: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”    I happen to have a dollar bill here.  It has Washington’s portrait on it.  Today Jesus might say, “Give to Washington what belongs to Washington, and to God what belongs to God.”       
            While this is a very good answer, we need to understand it correctly.  The unspoken assumption behind Jesus’ statement is that EVERYTHING comes from God, and everything belongs to God.  We owe everything to God, but in a way different than we owe taxes to the government. 
I think it is easy to distort this response of Jesus into a way Jesus never intended.  We could - rather easily - begin to think that there are in fact two different areas or spheres in our life: God’s sphere and Caesar’s or the world’s sphere.  We then slip into living in a world that is split, or bifurcated into two different and separate realms: the realm of God and the realm of the world.  God gets Sunday morning and perhaps a few minutes every day when we pray, and the world basically gets the rest.  We then adopt one sort of codes and rules for one realm, and a different set of rules for the other.  Then our world has become split between the secular and the sacred, the holy and the profane, the realm of God and the realm of Caesar or Washington; that is, of worldly power. 
It is all too easy to do this.  It is a lot more convenient to divide the world this way.  But this is not at all what Jesus was talking about.  There is only one realm, and that is God’s realm.   The first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is all about very secular politics, the power plays and intrigues and competing empires of the ancient Middle East.  It was just as secular and hard-nosed and cynical as the current political situation of the Middle East.   And yet the Prophet Isaiah sees this totally secular situation as part of religious history, and God as the real actor in the playing out of imperial power-struggles.   Isaiah states: I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.  It is I who arm you, though you know me not,…”    Ultimately it is God who is in charge of all this mess.  Is God in charge of the mess in the Middle East and Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan today?   Contrary to appearances, our faith tells us YES. 
So in telling us to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” Jesus is not telling us to divide our lives between the sacred and the profane, but rather to recognize that everything - even paying taxes - is sacred: it is all part of God’s realm.  All belongs to God, and especially all of our life and all of our experiences belong to God.

Let us move on to epistemology.  Perhaps you are feeling epistemological  today?  There is another way of bifurcating our lives and our universe, based on how we know things.  A large part of this problem began with Galileo.  Prior to him, people learned things by what they received from authorities, usually religious authorities like the Bible, or scientific authorities like Aristotle.  But Galileo began to learn by experience.  That is what experiments are all about: careful observation of experience.  We call this the scientific method.  And Galileo began to learn things that conflicted with what he had learned from authorities.  The most famous example certainly is that the earth moved around the sun, not the sun moving around the earth.  This caused a lot of problems, certainly for Galileo, since the Church, on the authority of Scripture, taught the opposite.  Galileo was placed in a dilemma between what he had learned by experience, that is observation and experiment, and what he learned on the other hand from the teaching of the Church. 
Well of course Galileo was correct about the sun sitting at the center of the solar system, and eventually people and the Church came to understand that Scriptures - in the well-worn phrase - teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.  And for centuries the Church has accepted heliocentrism. 
Creationism - a belief in the literal creation of the universe in seven days - has also (in most places) been replaced by the acceptance of the Big Bang Theory, evolution, and a scientific understanding of the immensity and complexity of the universe that makes creation an even more marvelous work of God. 
What we have learned from observation and experiment about the physical sciences has - I believe - first challenged but then deepened our appreciation of God’s wonderful ways.  This challenge is not over.  As observation and experiment have moved beyond the physical sciences to social sciences, a whole new set of challenges has arisen to what is received from our past and is considered as revealed by God.
Some of you may be able to remember the Papal Birth Control Commission established by Pope John XXIII during the Second Vatican Council.  The priests, theologians, doctors and laity who worked on this commission came to the conclusion, primarily motivated by the experiences of sincere committed married Catholics, that the teaching of the church on the regulation of birth was able to be changed, and should be changed.  Many people expected a change on the morality of artificial means of birth control.  However, Pope Paul VI reiterated the church’s ban on artificial means of birth control as intrinsically evil in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
            For many people at that time it created a dilemma of choosing between what their experience and the experience of others taught them about the expression of married love, and the clear and authentic teaching of the Church.  In that situation, Which do you choose?  Which is “truer”?  Which is more compelling, more authentic, more of God?
In a similar way today many struggle with a conflict, on the one hand, of what they have learned from their experience of committed same sex couples who are neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members - and the commitment, the compassion, the joy and love they see in these relationships, and on the other hand the clear teaching of the Church that marriage as instituted by God is reserved only to the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman.  In that situation, Which do you choose?  Which is “truer”?  Which is more compelling, more authentic, more of God?
I am NOT trying to make this easy for you.  Quite the opposite, I am trying to make it hard, because I think that is what the reality is.  This is difficult.  But we need to struggle with this because there are not two truths; one secular and one divine.  There is not Caesar’s truth and God’s truth.  There is only one truth and it all comes from God.  The truth that we get from revelation and the truth we get from experience must ultimately be one and the same, because it is all from God.
It is not true to divide the world between secular and sacred, between some things that fall into God’s realm and other things that are outside of God’s realm, but rather in Washington’s or Caesar’s. 
The answer can only be found, I believe, in Jesus.  He is fully, truly, completely God, and He is fully, truly, completely human, AND (and this is the most important part), He is entirely and totally ONE.  There is no bifurcation in Jesus.  There is not a divine part of Jesus, and a human part of Jesus, stuck together: as if His right arm is divine but his left is human.  No way.  He is fully divine, fully human.  He is BOTH in each and every part, and He is entirely one.  This is why we say that Mary is not just the mother of Jesus, but in fact the mother of God.  You cannot separate the divinity and humanity of Jesus.  That is pretty difficult for us to get our minds around.  But that is TRUE.     
While it is difficult and often painful to hold the divine and the secular in union, we cannot use Jesus’ directive to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God"  as an excuse for dividing our lives into distinct realms of the secular and the sacred.  It is all God’s.  It is all sacred.  It is all one. 
As we hear in the Prophet Isaiah today: “ I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 16

A few weeks ago we presented you with the opportunity to re-affirm your membership as an active part of the community of St. Austin Catholic Church. I am deeply appreciative of those willing to literally “sign on the line” and step up to claiming their membership in our parish. 


If you did not have the opportunity or were reluctant to do so, you still can sign one of the forms found in the folders in the pews, and in the information racks near the entrances of the church. University and college students are also invited to be formally a part of our community by filling in the orange section near the bottom of the page. 

Once you declare you are a member, the next step is to get involved. We have a new tool to help you! This weekend we introduce (drum roll please) our 2011-2012 Ministries Brochure. In addition to helpful information about our times and hours, it also lists ways to participate in parish life. Our Parish Mission Statement (conveniently found on the lower left-hand corner of the front page of our weekly bulletin) proclaims that “we strive, through prayer, education, and service to others, to manifest God’s transforming love in the world and to deepen our relationship with God, one another, and the universal Church.”  Listed under the headings of “PRAY – LEARN – SERVE” you will find all sorts of activities and ways to get involved.  I urge you to take one of the brochures, read it over, give it serious, prayerful thought, and respond to become an active member of our parish community. 

It is important to note that these ways of involvement, good in themselves, are not the final ends. These are to train and motivate you to more fully live your Catholic Christian life in your home, your neighborhood, your school or workplace, the marketplace and the civic square. Our goal is not to simply have you become more involved in church. That is not the true objective of your Baptismal call to ministry. The vocation of the laity is to take the message of the Gospel into all strata of society and change it from within. According to the teaching of Vatican Council II, the Church does not exist for its own sake, but rather for the sake of the world. So our ultimate goal is not to get you to be more focused on church, but through your church activities to be empowered and emboldened to live more fully your Christian vocation in all the rest of your life. As our Parish Mission Statement states “to manifest God’s transforming love in the world and to deepen our relationship with God, one another, and the universal Church.”  

So please take a copy of Ministries 2011-2012 and participate. The members of the parish staff are willing and eager to assist you in any way we can. The call to more fully live out your Baptismal call is there. All you need to do is respond. You will be glad you did.  

God bless!  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

HOMILY 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle “A” October 13, 2011

There are invitations and then there are invitations.  Some invitations you are very happy to receive. You look forward to them.  You know it is going to be a great party, see people you like, and you anticipate you will have a great time.  
            Other invitations are not so welcome.  The boss invites you to a cocktail party.  You can’t refuse, but you are not crazy about going either.  The people are boring, the food is off your diet, the chit-chat is inane, and it is the same time as your favorite TV program.   Or you receive an invitation to a wedding of someone you don’t really care for, but you have to get a present, get dressed, go, etc, etc. 
            Our Gospel today is about an invitation.  The invitation is sent out by a king who is giving a wedding feast for his son.  This is not the kind of invitation one can easily turn down.  When the king invites you, you better have a pretty good reason for not accepting.  This is more like a summons or a command performance.  It would be like the Bishop inviting me to the chancery office for a chat.  I can’t just say, “Oh, no, I’d rather not.”  It doesn’t work that way.
            Our Gospel comes from the 22nd chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  There are only 28 chapters total. So things are quickly coming to a climax.  The hostility and opposition to Jesus on the part of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees has broken out into the open.  There is no covering over it or making it look nice.  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate every year on Palm Sunday, has already occurred in the previous chapter.  So in this Gospel we are now in the early days of Holy Week, and the events that lead to Jesus’ arrest, condemnation and crucifixion are building quickly to a head. 
            I think that is partly why the reactions of the people in the story are so extreme, so violent.  Some of the invited guests not only declined, but “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.”   That seems a pretty extreme manner to refuse a wedding invitation.  Likewise, the King’s reaction is way over the top:  “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.   Perhaps Jesus is reflecting the extreme tension and hostility that He was then living through.  This invitation is a serious event, in fact a matter of life and death: indeed of eternal life and eternal death!  It requires a serious response.
            In any case the Gospel is about invitations.  There is a lesson here for us in how we respond to God’s invitation.  Because the same temptation exists for us.  
The Gospel tells us that “Some” of those invited “ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  This implies that they were too busy, too distracted by worldly cares to respond to the King’s invitation.  It is interesting that the New Revised Standard Version translates this verse as “But they made light of it and went away….”  They did not take the invitation seriously.  It seemed to them of little import.  What did it have to do with the “real life” of farms and businesses?
            My friends, you and I have been greatly blessed.  Because we too have been invited to the wedding feast of the King’s Son.  Each of us by our Baptism have been called to that heavenly banquet.  But it requires of us attention and effort.  The temptation is to become distracted by our farms and our businesses, by all the cares and activities of this world, and so totally lose sight of our true destination.  We can make light of God’s call to us, think it all a fairy tale, not want to be bothered by the effort to live the life of God’s Kingdom, and ignore it.  
This is what the strange part at the end of the parable is about with the person without the wedding garment.  Our Baptismal robe, symbol of our new identity, is also our wedding garment.  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” St. Paul tells us (Gal 3:27).  That new identity in Christ must be lived out.  We can enter the wedding feast only clothed in a life of living like Christ, in service, in obedience, in love. 
            We are invited into the great feast of heaven, the eschatological banquet of the fullness of life.  It is not a something to make light of.  It is something we must take care not to get distracted from.  Jesus tells us “Many are invited”.   Indeed, in some way everyone is invited.   “but few” – He says – “are chosen.”  The invitation and being chosen are not automatic.  It demands an authentic response from us.
Accepting that invitation whole-heartedly, with all our strength and all our being, is our life’s work.  It is the fullness of all we yearn and long for.  It is LOVE, in capital letters.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 9

This past Tuesday, October 4, we celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan orders and the patron saint of ecology.  Just recently I had the rare privilege of celebrating Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.  Let me tell you how that came about.

On the week of September 17 to 25 I was blessed to go as a chaplain on a tour of Italy.  We went to Rome, Assisi, Florence and Venice.  We were a group of about 16, and we had very pleasant weather the entire trip.  In addition to myself, there was another priest on the group, Fr. Edward Inyanwachi.  He is from Nigeria but has worked for the last several years in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and I knew him from priests’ meetings when I was stationed in San Francisco, prior to coming here to Austin. 

Normally on this tour we had Mass every morning. But on Thursday, because we had to leave Rome so early to go to spend the day in Assisi and then travel on to Florence that evening, we did not have Mass.  So when we arrived around 11:00 a.m. in Assisi, I asked the Franciscan manning the desk in the back of the Basilica of St. Francis when Mass would be, and he told me that there would be Mass at 1:00 p.m. in English.  So I invited our group to join this Mass in English.  As the time drew near, Fr. Edward and I went to the sacristy to see about concelebrating.  But there was no group there. So we vested and started Mass at 1 p.m.   Fr. Edward presided and I preached.  Our group was very happy that we were able to have Mass together in the Basilica of St. Francis.  I feel certain that since Fr. Edward lives and works in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and I had worked there for eight years, St. Francis was looking out for us and had arranged it all.  It was a great experience.

As we finished the group who was supposed to have the Mass showed up, having mistakenly thought it was at 1:30.  So they got their Mass in too. 

Assisi is a wonderful place, high on a steep hill, a walled medieval city with narrow, crooked streets.  It is very picturesque.  I was able to walk across the town to the Church of St. Clare, and then back.  In spite of all the tourists, I still found empty streets where I could imagine being back in the 13th century, in the time of St. Francis and St. Clare.  It is a very spiritual place.  The Basilica of St. Francis is not as big or showy as St. Peter’s in Rome, but to me it is more beautiful in its charming medieval simplicity, almost naiveté. 

If you ever have the opportunity to go to central Italy, I hope you will remember to stop in Assisi.  You won’t be disappointed.  

God bless!   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 2

I am very pleased to report that on Monday, September 12, we had a very informative and lively presentation on Islam by Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail of the Nueces Street Mosque, which is just two blocks from our church. Approximately 60 people attended, including about 10 from the Mosque. Imam Esmail’s talk covered a lot of territory, from the basic five pillars of Islam to why Muslims dress the way they do and what Sharia Law is all about. The audience listened attentively for 45 minutes. Then the Muslims broke for their evening prayers (prayer five times a day is one of the main aspects or “pillars” of Islam) while the rest of us took a break for snacks and to socialize. After this Imam Mohamed-Umer answered questions that we had written on cards during the break. There were questions about Muslim theology, the role of women, Muslim dress, and proper interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims. On the whole it was very informative, and all who attended got a lot out of it.

This evening reminded me in some ways of way back in the early 1980’s when I was pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Clemson, SC, and we participated in the Irish Children’s Summer Program (see Children from the Belfast area of Northern Ireland came to spend several weeks in South Carolina. Protestant children were hosted by Catholic families, and Catholic children were hosted by Protestant families. Every Sunday the host family would bring the child to their respective church for worship. They also had many activities scheduled. One of the more interesting was a trip to the local police station. For the Catholic children in particular, the idea that the policeman could not only be safe, but even friendly and helpful, was often quite a shock. And of course the bond would grow between the host family and the family of the child back in Belfast. Working through the children, families of different denominations could grow to know and appreciate each other. It was very elemental, but effective, peace-building.

Likewise, the event we had here hosting the local Muslim Imam was a simple, basic, but effective effort at building understanding, trust and peace. Peace is something we all want; something we all need. But peace – which is much more than the mere absence of conflict – is not something that just happens on its own. Peace requires effort. Peace must be built.  It is constructed on justice, on knowing our neighbors, on frank and respectful dialogue, on respecting one another and ultimately on working together to solve the common problems we all face: the economy, the environment, our society. I am very happy and proud therefore to see the St. Austin Parish community participating in the effort to build peace.   

God bless!