Monday, November 28, 2011

HOMILY First Sunday of Advent “B” November 27, 2011

What are you waiting for??  Christmas?    For the Dow to go back over 12,000?   For the next national election?   For Retirement? 
            All of life is waiting.  We are born, and then we basically wait till we die.  And we fill up the time in between with all sorts of activity and stuff.  And the question of today’s readings is, ‘what do we wait for?’   What do we expect? 
            St Paul in the second reading today tells us in his typically round about and convoluted way: “I give thanks to my God ... for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus ... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for (and here it comes!)  - the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  
“The revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            Is that what you are waiting for?   What does this revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ mean, and more importantly, what’s in it for me?   Well our belief is that Jesus, in his own body and soul conquered sin, and with it death, on the cross.  Jesus, by His radical obedience, by His perfect harmony with the Will of the Father even unto death, healed the wound of disobedience that plagued all people.  And in doing this Jesus healed humanity, and made it possible for us to live in accord and harmony with God’s Will for us, and so fulfill the purpose and meaning of our creation.  No longer essentially frustrated from being who we most desperately and fundamentally yearn to be - that is, true children of God - we now have the opportunity to live in harmony with God. 
            The Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed at the end of time.  We don’t know when this is, or very much what it will look like.  However, we do know that when Jesus comes in Glory our true identity as children of God is going to be made real and manifest and triumphant.  Then God’s Will will be done, and all people will live in harmony and peace with God, with each other, with their own inner selves, and with all creation.  And that will be wonderful, fantastic, spectacular!  It is something definitely to look forward to.  So we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” as St. Paul today tells us.
            But, ¿Do we wait for that?  Do we long and yearn for that?  Do we want the world to be the place that God wants it to be, a place of justice, of compassion, of care for the environment, of truth and beauty and love?  That is what the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ will bring, and we are supposed to long for it.
            There is a wonderful example of this longing in our first reading today.  The Prophet Isaiah is discouraged and disgusted and fed up.  All the news is bad, nothing is the way it is supposed to be.  The government is corrupt, the bishops are out of touch and stuck in the past, the politicians can’t agree on the budget, the Euro is going down the toilet, there are riots and revolutions everywhere, the company you work for is going broke because of dumb mis-management, the family is all at odds with each other, the NBA season is on hold, Mopac and I-35 are parking lots, and it is just one miserable thing after another.  And the Prophet Isaiah sees everything so badly screwed up and so out of whack that the only hope – the ONLY HOPE - he can see is God’s direct intervention.  He cries: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.” 
            Have you ever felt like that?  That everything is so bad off and so messed up that only God’s direct intervention can save this mess?    I have.  The Prophet Isaiah states, “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”  That is what we wait for; God’s direct intervention: or as St. Paul says, “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            It is important not only what we wait for, but how we do our waiting.  That is the point of today’s Gospel.  “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful!  Be alert!”   The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates that as “Beware!”   The Jerusalem Bible renders this warning as “Be on your guard!  In any case this is not a passive waiting, like in a doctor’s waiting room, a waiting of just killing time.  Rather it is an active waiting that demands preparation and vigilance, like soldiers expecting an attack.  We have to be actively involved in this waiting. 
            Jesus warns us: “You do not know when the time will come. ... Watch therefore;”  The NRSV states, “Keep awake!”  It is too easy for us to become complacent, and then NOT watchful.  We are then unaware, we are asleep spiritually. 
             We either become cynical: nothing will ever change, it is all hopeless.  Or we become complacent: everything is what it is and that is fine, because I am basically OK. 
Advent, and the whole Christian life, requires a sort of holy discontent.  We can never become satisfied with the way things are, because they are not the way God intends for them to be.  Genocide, human trafficking, drug abuse, starvation, abortion, racism, poverty, ignorance, war, raping of the environment, and a whole list of many other evils, are NOT what God wills.  We can never become complacent with this.                    
            We have to stay alert and vigilant and hopeful, yearning and longing for “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We have to be open and willing to welcome God’s Kingdom wherever and whenever we find it, especially in our own hearts.
            God can come to us demanding a response from us in unexpected and startling ways: in forgiveness of those who hurt us, in compassion for those who are hurting, in appreciation of beauty, in generosity to those in need, in sorrow and repentance for the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to do.  God can call us at any time and anywhere.  The writer, Ann Lammot, in one of her books has an insightful passage about finding God in the Ladies Room.  God can find us anywhere ... even in church!
            And so Jesus warns us: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”   “Stay awake!”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 27

 HAPPY ADVENT, HAPPY NEW YEAR!   At the beginning of this new Liturgical Year of Grace we also implement the new translation of the Roman Missal, 3rd edition.  So this is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings.

New Roman Missal (NRM) brings some changes.  For you, the parishioners, the changes in what you say are fairly simple and easy.  We have already been doing some of them in the Gloria, the Memorial Acclamation, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei.  The other changes in what you SAY (e.g. “And with your spirit”) will come equally smoothly.   On the other hand, what you HEAR will have substantial changes.
A couple a points about the NRM.  First of all, all change is disruptive and somewhat clunky at first.  To truly judge how well the NRM impacts (or not) your experience of liturgical prayer you will need to wait till the newness and awkwardness wears away and you have some mastery of and comfort with the new responses.  Therefore I urge you to suspend judgment (either way) on the NRM for about 6 months.  Only when you have mastered a facility with the responses will you be able to judge it accurately.

Secondly, why are we going through this change?  Well, the new translation is much closer – almost mechanically so – to the original Latin.  Official Catholic prayers for the last 1,500 years or more have been composed in Latin.  The words have very specific meanings.  And so the new translation adheres much more closely - in vocabulary, sentence structure, entirely – to the Latin original.

So, why do we want to be so close to the Latin?  Well, in actually it is not something we want so much as something that the Vatican wants.  To explain this let me tell you a story.  Back in May, 2009 I had the great benefit of a tour of Turkey hosted by a group of Moslems who live in California.  As part of this tour I found myself in a restaurant named “Friend” in Turkish, just north of the city of Antalya (gorgeous place on the Mediterranean Coast).  This restaurant is situated next to a fast flowing stream filled with trout, and of course the specialty of the place is trout.  While enjoying my fresh trout lunch I was listening to our Turkish tour guide explain that the greatest number of tourists to Turkey each year come from Russia, the second most from Germany, third most from Scandinavia, and so on, with Britain down the list and the US even farther down.  “But” I objected, “in all the museums and sights the signs are not in Turkish and Russian or German, but rather in Turkish and English.” The guide looked at me condescendingly as a dumb American and replied, “But everyone speaks English.”

And this is true.  In science, transportation, business, medicine, English rules supreme.  And this dominance of English also affects liturgy and theology.  People who do not speak Latin (a dead language, after all) will look not to the Latin originals of liturgical prayers, but to English.  So out of concern that the liturgical prayers remain true to the original compositions, the Vatican cares greatly about the fidelity of the English translation to the Latin.

In addition, the NRM translation is more clearly Scriptural.  One of the great accomplishments of Vatican Council II was to introduce and familiarize Catholics with the Bible.  The NRM makes the Scriptural allusions in the Mass prayers clearer.  So for example, in Eucharistic Prayer III, where we previously said “from East to West”, we will now pray ‘from the rising of the sun to its setting…”, which is a clearer allusion to Psalm 113:3, Malachi 1:11, and Isaiah 45:6, as well as being considerably more poetic.
Another example can be found in the words of consecration, or more technically called the “Institution Narrative”.  In the past we stated that Jesus’ Blood “will be shed for you and for all….”  Now we state that Christ’s Sacred Blood “will be poured out for you and for many  The reason for the change from “ALL” to “MANY” is that “many” is a direct quote from the Gospel: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (MT 26:28)  However, our faith is still that Christ died for ALL, not just for many, so I am not entirely pleased with this particular change.  However, it is closer to the Gospel.

Next week I will discuss the difference of singing during the liturgy, as opposed to singing the Liturgy.  Meanwhile, welcome to the NRM!  Happy Advent! 

God bless!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 20

This is the second in an occasional series of columns on the windows of our church. The second window from the sanctuary on your right as you face the altar is to me something of a puzzlement. It appears to be a cross on top of some sort of stand, with what appears to be lightning bolts emanating from it. I believe that this window, like the one to its left as you face it, is connected to the theme of Baptism. I am guessing that the object immediately below the cross represents a Baptismal font, such as was nearly universally, and still is commonly, used in Catholic churches in this country. The cross is of course closely related to Baptism, to the theme of dying to sin and self and rising to live a new life in Christ. The lightning bolts are something altogether different. To me they are reminiscent of a 1930’s Buck Rodgers kind of art. I find them very retro. I am not certain, but I would hazard a guess that the lightning bolts are an attempt to show the power of grace operating through the Sacrament of Baptism. This is a very physical and concrete idea of grace as almost a kind of spiritual energy and power, like taboo or manna in traditional Polynesian culture; practically magic. Today we think of grace more in terms of relationship and way of life, and would not represent grace artistically (and certainly not catechistically) as electrical energy or lightning bolts. I find the bolts shooting from the font rather quaint. If you have another interpretation, let me know.

The next two windows, working our way towards the back of the church, represent symbols of the church. The first window contains an image of crossed keys. This is a symbol of the papacy. It is a visual reference to Jesus giving the power to loose and bind in heaven to St. Peter (Mt. 16:18-19). In the Gospel this is about the power to forgive. It has since been used to represent the authority of the Church, especially of the Pope. Everywhere you go in Rome you see the symbol of the crossed keys. Everything connected to the Vatican and the papacy is marked by crossed keys. So this is clearly a symbol of the Church, and particularly the papacy.

The next window shows a boat. This is traditionally referred to as “the barque of Peter.” “Barque” is a small sailing ship, and St. Peter, being a fisherman, would have had a boat, and so the church was referred to as “the barque of Peter.” It is not a very common image of the church today, not so much because it is a bad image, but the way it was often used in the past has sort of tainted it. The emphasis given to the image of the barque of Peter in the past was an idea that the church was a ship that we were in to pass through the rough and stormy seas of life. The idea was to get through this world of woes and troubles to the safe harbor of heaven, and as soon as possible to leave all this behind. The LAST thing you wanted to do was “rock the boat.” Just do your duty and don’t cause trouble. The role of the laity was to “pray, pay and obey.” Since VCII, images of the church more open to the world have become popular, especially the Biblical image of a “light to the nations” (Lumen Gentium in Latin). The Second Vatican Council taught that, rather than shunning the world, the Church exists as a Sacrament for the salvation of the world, and is to penetrate the world with the Sprit of Christ. Hence the image of the barque of Peter, with its negative associations of the world, has fallen into disfavor.

I am rather surprised that the imagery is so dated since these windows were dedicated not in 1953 when the church was dedicated, but almost 18 years to the day later, in 1971, which was after Vatican Council II began. I suspect that the windows were designed when the church was originally planned, but the funds were not available to install them when the church was built. Nearly two decades later when the funds were        available, they simply dusted off the original designs and used them rather than update them. Overall the window designs do seem more like 1950’s  than 1970’s.

I would also like to mention that, according to the plaque in the vestibule, these two windows were generously donated “In Memory of Alfred & Catherine Beiter by Dr. & Mrs. G.R. Beiter.” Members of this family are still part of the St. Austin parish community. It is nice to see that continuity!

God bless!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 13

Beginning Thursday this week and through next weekend we will be playing host to two Paulist priests, Frs. Michael McGarry and Brett Hoover. Fr. McGarry is the President of the Paulist Fathers (hence, along with the Bishop, my boss) and Fr. Hoover is a theologian and teacher at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA and a member of the Paulist General Council. I was stationed with Fr Brett in New York, when he was just a deacon and a new priest: I was his first pastor. They will be here in their official capacities as Visitors.

The Paulist Constitutions call for an “Official Visit” at least once during the president’s term of office. The last Visitation occurred almost exactly two years ago. Many of you will recall that during that Visitation the tragic death of Fr. Jim Wiesner occurred (this Friday, Nov. 18 will be the 2nd anniversary of Fr. Jim’s death). That unforeseen and tragic event really overshadowed the entire Visitation and, to say the least, threw everyone off kilter. Probably because that Visitation was so compromised by the tragedy is why the Paulists are    conducting another Visitation only two years later. Usually they fall about four years apart.

Frs. McGarry and Hoover will be meeting with the Paulists in Austin, both individually and at least twice as a group. Important matters to the future and functioning of the Paulist Community in general (mission direction, finances, vocations, the state of our aging population of priests, etc) as well as local concerns and issues will be discussed.

The Visitors will meet with the parish staff, the Parish Pastoral Council, representatives from the School Advisory Board and the parish Finance Council, and other interested parishioners. In addition to meeting with the various elements of St. Austin Parish, they will be doing the same for the University Catholic Center, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Horseshoe Bay, meeting with the Vicar General of the Diocese, Paulist Associates, former Paulists in Austin, and so on. I am not sure how they will fit it all in during the time they have!

The results of these periodic Visitations are important in helping the Paulist General Council in making determinations about where we want to stay and leave as our numbers grow smaller.

One of the Visitors will be at most of the Masses at St. Austin, at the University Catholic Center (UCC), and at St. Paul the Apostle in Horseshoe Bay. You will have a chance to meet and greet them after the Masses. Fr. Brett Hoover will also be hawking his new book: "COMFORT: An Atlas for the Body and Soul." He will be giving a talk on his book and signing books after the 9 a.m. Mass at UCC. You can read an excerpt at Paulists are not shy about blowing their own horn. 

I ask for your prayers that the Visitation will go smoothly and productively, and may God deliver us from any tragic surprises like two years ago. Please make the Visitors feel welcome. Thank you!

God bless!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Readings for each Sunday can be found at  click on the calendar for desired date.

St. Paul, in our second reading, addresses an interesting question: “How should believing Christians react to the death of a loved one?  What is the proper response when someone we love - a parent, spouse, child, good friend - dies?  This was a question for St. Paul in that he, and many of his converts, expected Jesus to return momentarily, in their own life-time.  But Jesus did not show up, and their friends and relatives began to die.  This created a worry that those who died before Jesus came again in glory would lose out on entrance into the Kingdom of God.  St. Paul re-assures them that the dead are not excluded.  “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, [that is, died] so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” 
This is also a question for us, for each of us must face the death and loss of loved ones: a parent, spouse, grandparent, good friend, child, co-worker, fellow parishioner.  Death is a reality for all of us. 
When we lose a loved one to death, there is sadness and sorrow.  Christians feel just as much as anyone else, and when a Christian loses someone they dearly love, their heart breaks with sadness.  But believing Christians do not grieve as if they had no hope. 
For we do have hope for all of our loved ones who have died.  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. “  That is, bring them with Christ Jesus into his eternal kingdom of life and glory.
This hope makes a great deal of difference.  Having presided at numerous funerals, I have seen all different kinds of reactions in families to the loss of a spouse, parent or child.  And for people who believe, it is different.  There is certainly sorrow and sadness and tears, but there is also something more, something deeper; for the loss is not the final statement, not the end.  There is more yet to come, and death is NOT the final word.  We shall be together again.
In the meantime we pray for our beloved dead, and we ask them to pray for us.  Why do we pray for them?  Because we love them, and we believe that our prayers are somehow supportive and helpful.  We don’t know how, but we believe that our prayers do help them.
            Catholic teaching speaks of a time of purification, or purgation after death.  It is a time of cleansing.  If you are basically a holy and good person, there are probably still areas where you need to grow, bad habits that still need to be shed, impatience and anger and laziness and lust and greed you still have not totally been freed from.  So the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030 states:  All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  We call this state of purification “Purgatory”.  It is not so much a place as a state.  Think of it as spiritual buffing and polishing so that you can shine with glory.
            I think a good analogy for Purgatory is Charles Dickens’ beloved story, “A Christmas Carol”  We all know that Ebenezer Scrooge has grown self-centered and unloving through greed and life’s hurts.  What does Scrooge need to do to be healed, to be opened up to love fully and freely?  He has to be purged – that is what purgation is – he has to be purged of the hurts, the resentments, the bitterness, the greed that he so tightly clings to.  He does this by going back into the past and coming to terms with his failures to love, to give himself away in relationship and in service.  The Spirit of Christmas Past takes him to confront the times in his life he refused or failed to love.
            Purgatory is something similar.  I think that when we die we go before our Lord Jesus.  We then see ourselves as Jesus sees us, through His eyes, with all the love and forgiveness He has for us.  And in His eyes we see all the possibility, all the potential, all the wonderful capacity for love and for service that each of us was born with.  And inevitably we see our failures, the times we refused to love, to give of our selves.  We see the times we made ourselves small by our stinginess, our laziness, our fear.  We see all the times we made ourselves less and degraded by rage or lust or greed or hate or envy. 
We see all that we could have been.  And we have to come to terms with that.  We can only do that through the loving gaze of the Lord Jesus. 
            Scrooge is freed up by this process of coming to terms with his failures.  He grows in ways he should have but failed to in life.  Similarly, in coming to see ourselves truly, as Jesus sees us, and to love ourselves truly, as Jesus loves us, we are purged.  All the evil and fear and selfishness are burned out of us. 
     For to see ourselves in the Lord’s loving gaze is initially painful.  The recognition of so much love refused, so many opportunities lost, so many mistakes repeated, such intimacy with the Lord denied, that truly this revelation will burn like fire.  Not physical fire, but the fire of remorse and embarrassment and shame and regret.  If you have ever had the experience of really betraying or seriously letting down someone who you really do care about, and then think of how you feel when you next see the person, you become overcome with shame and embarrassment and remorse.  You are burned by the recognition of love betrayed. And I believe that is what the purgation and purification of Purgatory are like.
But the result is that we are purified, cleansed, burnished and polished to shine magnificently with the glory of the Son of God.  And we do not do this alone.  For we are still connected to our loved ones here on earth who are part of the Body of Christ, and they to us.  By their prayers and good works, and above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, they encourage and support us.  We are all intimately connected.
This has major implications not only for how we react to the death of a loved one, but also how we are to live each day.  The moral or point of today’s Gospel parable is very simple: “Stay awake!  For you know neither the day nor the hour.”               
We know neither the day nor the hour of our own death, only that it is certainly coming, so we must stay awake to be prepared.  This is not an injunction to insomnia, but rather to consciousness - to recognize that our final end is not here, that everything here is transitory, and to realize therefore what is really important in this life.
It is so easy for us to be lulled into unconsciousness by all the incessant demands and enticements of this world, to get so caught up in deadlines, social obligations, petty politics, trends and fashions, the opinions of others, and so many things, that we become dulled to real meaning, to what is really going on, to lasting importance and value.
As we come to this end of the liturgical year, in this time of Fall as the days shorten and the leaves fall and the weather turns cooler, the Church by these readings is calling us to stop and take stock; to wake up;  to remember what is most important; and recognize anew our true destiny, our true identity. 
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.   Including you and me. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 6

Facade of St. John Lateran Basilica, Rome
On Wednesday of this week (Nov. 9) we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. Its official title is: “Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptista et Evangelista in Laterano.”  That is quite a mouthful, even in Latin, which translates into English as: “Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran.” After having been to Rome previously at least three times, I finally got to visit St. John Lateran on my most recent trip in September.  It is, like all the churches in Rome, very ornate and very beautiful.  But why is it so special and why do we, in the center of Austin, TX, care about it and celebrate its dedication?

Because this is the Pope’s official church. It is the seat (literally) of Pope as Bishop of Rome. It is his Cathedral, and as such is the central church of all Catholicism. Therefore it has the title of the “Mother Church” of all Catholic churches throughout the world.

Now perhaps you were under the impression that St. Peter’s in the Vatican is the Pope’s official church. It is not. The Pope’s Cathedral (where his cathedra, or chair, the official symbol of teaching authority, is kept) is St. John Lateran.

Who is St. John Lateran? Well, like a lot of things in church, it is a bit confusing and complicated. “Lateran” is not a last name, but a location. It really is St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, at the field or place called “Lateran.” It seems there was a prominent Roman family, the Laterani, who had a palace there at one time. They eventually fell into disfavor, and the Emperor acquired their palace. However, the family name stuck to the place. It was just outside the walls of Rome, so it was a good location.  

After the Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD) legalized Christianity, he gave the Lateran palace to the Pope, at that time Pope Miltiades. It became the Pope’s residence and eventually his Cathedral in 324 AD, and it still is today. On Wednesday we will celebrate the 1,687th anniversary of the dedication of the church by Pope St. Sylvester I. While the Pope may celebrate his big Masses at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, the Pope’s official church is St. John Lateran.

Detail of apse mosaic, St. John Lateran Basilica, Rome
One of the most beautiful parts of the church is the 4th Century mosaic in the apse.  Not only is it gorgeous, it is full of Biblical symbolism. My favorite is the two deer who stand on either side of the central tree of life. They are visual references to Psalm 42:2; As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.”     

I was quite disappointed, as I contemplated this gorgeous apse completed in the 4th Century, to learn that this is not the original but an exact replica. It seems that in 1880’s the then reigning Pope, Leo XIII, felt that the apse was too small and wanted a larger one for “the ordinations and other pontifical functions which take place in this   cathedral church of Rome” (Catholic Encyclopedia), so he destroyed it and then rebuilt it after extending the nave. Talk about widening your phylacteries and lengthening your tassles! (cf Mt 23:5).  I might point out that Pope Leo XIII is the same Pope who wrote, “Testamentum Benovelentiae” to Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, condemning the phantom heresy of “Americanism” and by implication Paulist founder Isaac Hecker. The desecration of the ancient apse is only   another black mark in my book against Leo XIII. He does somewhat redeem himself in my eyes by his famous Encyclical on social justice, “Rerum Novarum.”  But I digress.

You don’t need to go to Rome to explore and enjoy this wonderful Basilica. It has all been digitalized by Villanova University and is available for viewing at (the actual website address is quite long; my technical ghost writer has shortened it thusly for print). 

Anyway, on Wednesday we celebrate the dedication of this ancient church, and in so doing we re-affirm our unity in the Catholic Church. We may not always agree, but our unity under the Pope and the College of Bishops is a great blessing and a gift of the Holy Spirit.  

God bless!