Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 29

Hello from Guatemala City, Guatemala! I am filing this report from the Maryknoll House in Guatemala. I have been here for a week on a retreat/pilgrimage to the sight of many modern martyrs in this part of the world. So far it has been both moving and challenging, and I hope to share more of this experience with you. Meanwhile let me just share one small experience with you.  By the time you read this I hope I will be safe and sound back in Austin, Texas.

This morning, Sunday, January 22, 2012, I awoke in the dramatically beautiful city of Santiago Atitlán. The city sits on the shore of a gorgeous lake with an enormous volcano immediately behind it. It is truly one of the world´s more dramatic settings.  The church of Santiago Atitlán opens out to look directly at the volcano. I concelebrated Mass here this morning with the other 23 participants on this retreat/pilgrimage and approximately 1,500 worshippers, 98% were Mayan Tzutujil Indians. The men were mostly dressed in their native costume of embroidered shirts and very colorful pantaloons. The women were even more gorgeous in their traditional costume of brightly colored skirts and blouses, with the younger women wearing a type of folded shawl on their heads, while the older ladies wore a head gear of elaborately wrapped, very long strips of red cloth.  Holding on to their traditional dress is an important statement of the Mayan people about respecting and maintaining their traditional culture.

Since the Maya are a rather short people, walking down the long aisle we Gringo priests looked like a bunch of giants, towering over the crowd of faithful. Little children shook our hands as we processed up the aisle, they reached out to touch us, some took our hands and walked with us up to the altar.  It was a wonderful sense of acceptance and welcome.

The church was absolutely packed, with many people crammed in the pews, standing in the aisles, people flowing out the side and back door. There were children and old, wizened peasants,  nursing mothers, and everywhere you looked lots of smiling children. I was fortunate to get one of the seats up on the altar (rather than in the front pews) so that I could look out over this incredible scene. I was attracted by the choir, which sat in the front pews far to my right. In the very front was a beautiful young girl-woman, with very strong Mayan features, dressed from head to toe in traditional Tzutujil garb. She could have been straight out of a scene from the 16th Century. At that point one of the Maryknoll priests conducting the retreat got up to proclaim the Gospel in Spanish. Watching the young lady who so captivated my attention I saw her whip out her cell phone and snap the priest´s picture!

It struck me as a very good image of this land, so steeped in history and culture, and at the same time plunging – headlong it seems at times – into the future. This is just one small example of this two week experience full of surprise and new horizons

God bless! 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Update from Fr. Chuck!

Things here are fine.  I have visited the sight of several martydoms and one massacre.  All have been very moving, though not particularly happy.  Only a few times have we been accompanied by armed guards, so it is not too bad, and I have gotten sick only once, which is pretty good!  See you next week.


Click here to find out about Fr. Chuck's retreat & pilgrimage in Central America!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 22

This weekend we take up the Annual Paulist Appeal. First of all I want to thank all of you for your support of the Paulists by means of your donations and your prayers. THANK YOU!

The Paulists are a small order in the Church. We always have been. We serve only in the United States and Canada, and the church for American Catholics, Santa Susana, in Rome. Unlike most orders Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers, which cover the globe we are pretty much confined to North America.  While our small numbers and limited range limits the impact the Paulists can make, in our chosen area of North America we have had an impact greater than what our numbers would suggest.

This is because we have been able to attract talented men of the caliber of Steven Bell, of Dat Tran who was here a few years ago and was ordained last May, and of Tom Gibbons who was here just two years ago and will be ordained a priest this coming May. The Paulists have always been about quality, not quantity.
Because our numbers are small we rely greatly on you, the lay people in the foundations where Paulists serve, to be our partners in mission. First and foremost we rely on your prayers.  Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth.” (1 Cor 3:7) Without the Lord’s help none of our efforts will count for anything. So your continued prayers are very important. Pray especially for more vocations to the Paulists.  

Secondly, we Paulists rely on your active participation in the mission of Evangelization, Reconciliation and Ecumenism. Obviously we Paulists by ourselves can only reach out to a few people. We rely on you to take the message to your family, your work place or school, the market place, the civic forum, to all levels of society. By your way of life, the way you deal with difficulties and blessings, the witness you give to compassion, charity and honesty, says more about the power of the Gospel than all the homilies all Paulists preach. So your witness is vital to the Paulist Mission.

And we rely on your generous donations. Fr. Steven and I earn a salary from the parish, as do most Paulists. But this does not come close to all the costs associated with caring for our elderly members, like Frs. Bob Scott, CSP and Bob Michele, CSP, and the very expensive proposition of educating our seminarians. That is why we have this Annual Appeal which we take up this weekend. THANK YOU!

Finally, if you know of some young (I leave it to you to define that term) man who you think has the intelligence, zeal and commitment to become a missionary to North America, in other words to be a Paulist, then I ask you to pray for him AND to ask him if he has ever thought about priesthood or religious life. An invitation (or several) is very important in the process of someone taking the risk to try out this way of life. An invitation is a wonderful help to man thinking about priesthood.

God bless! 

Fr Chuck is away this week on a retreat/pilgrimage in Central America. To see what he is up to, go to

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 15

It used to be that Catholics and Protestants would not speak to each other or associate with each other. They called each other names, were convinced the other side was all going to hell, and often did far worse to the other side. On the whole there was plenty of downright un-Christian behavior on both sides. Thank God that has all now pretty much come to an end. At least since Vatican Council II, Catholics and other Christians have prayed and worked together, and carried on years of dialogues on official church levels. Here at St. Austin we are proud to be part of the founding group of congregations of Micah 6, which does so much to feed the poor, help people in need and now is stretching to reach out more effectively to homeless youth in our area. Joining our efforts together we are able to do so much more. All this is VERY GOOD!

However, this progress brings with it another danger, one that is less obvious but none-the-less insidious, and that is the danger of complacency. Because we now get along much better, because we have come to not only tolerate each other but respect each other as we work together on projects of common interest, we can become comfortable, accepting of and complacent with the status quo. We think, “Well, some Christians are Lutherans, others Presbyterians or Baptists, still others Catholic, and it is all OK.”

But it isn’t OK because we are still divided. On Sunday mornings we still trundle off to our own places of worship and all call on Jesus as Lord, but each doing it separately. It is like the Body of Christ is broken into parts, an arm here, a leg over there and so on. And that is NOT what Jesus wanted. Jesus wanted just the opposite!

According to the Gospel of St. John, at the end of His life, just before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed for His disciples. And what Jesus prayed for us is that we be ONE. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. (John 17: 20-23)  

This was Jesus’ fervent wish at the end of His life Unity. That the followers of Christ are NOT one is a terrible SCANDAL. Our divisions are the primary block to the effective preaching of the Gospel, preventing the world from coming to believe in Jesus. As long as we claim Jesus as our Master and try to follow His will, then we cannot accept the current situation of division among the followers of Christ. In some ways, complacency about our division is worse than our previous fighting with each other. At least then we knew our division was important. Now it all too easily becomes acceptable.

One way to combat this complacency is prayer. Every year, from January 18 to 25, there is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Anticipating that week a bit this year, the Micah 6 Congregations will hold an Ecumenical Prayer Service this Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m., right here at St. Austin Church. I encourage you to attend and to pray for Christian Unity and for an end to the scandal of separation in the Body of Christ. Certainly pray during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and all through the year as well. Thank you.

God bless!

Good Morning from the Land of Eternal Spring!

Had a few minutes so thought I would wish you a Good Morning from Guatemala. Had a nice breakfast, with fresh papaya and good strong Guatemalan coffee. Today's schedule is lite. I am well. Temps here are in the 70's with a pleasant breeze.

What's Fr. Chuck doing in Guatamala? Click here to find out about his retreat & pilgrimage in Central America! (Luckily for you, his faithful readers, Fr. Chuck left on Friday morning with a column already written for January 22!)

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Today’s Gospel presents us with a very nice, and very familiar story.  It also presents us with a rather stark contrast that I find both instructive and challenging.
            On one hand we have the Magi.   On the other we have King Herod.
            First of all, in spite of singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are”, the Magi were not kings.   They dabbled in arcane arts.  “Magicians” comes from their name.  One translation calls them “astrologers”  They watched the stars for signs. They were like psychics.  Into auras and crystals and things like that.  They follow a star.  They make their itinerary and plan their route on the basis of dreams.  They are, all in all, rather funky, and even a little flakey.
            Herod, on the other hand was a very hard-nosed realist.  He was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 BC.  He was a massive builder, and many ruins of his building projects still remain till this day.  We have references to him in historical documents.  We have statues of him and so know what he looked like.  We know a lot about his life.
            The Magi we know little about.  We do not know their names. The names Casper, Balthazar and Melchior come from much later embellishments of the story.  We think there were three only because the number of gifts were three: gold, frankincense and myrrh, so we don’t know how many of them there were.  We don’t know where they were from, only from “the east”.  That could be Bayonne, NJ or even Weehawken.  They are very shadowy figures.
            Herod, in contrast, was very real.  He clung tenaciously to power for forty years, and did whatever was necessary to stay in power, including murdering his wife, two of his sons, and a whole slew of various other relatives.  When he died, afraid that people would rejoice at his passing (he had taxed them heavily for his many projects), he had a large group of prominent men apprehended, with orders to have them killed when he died, so that people would grieve on his death.  Fortunately for the men, once Herod died no one paid any attention to his orders. 
            The Magi must have been incredibly politically naive to walk into Jerusalem loudly proclaiming that they were looking for the new born King of the Jews, the one to replace old Herod, when Herod was known to be such a homicidal maniac.  With their eyes fixed on the stars they were hopelessly out of touch with events on the ground.  Some responsibility for the massacre of the innocents that followed must fall on them. 
            So on the one hand we have this very hard-nosed, highly effective, if brutal and ruthless, King Herod, and on the other these very shadowy and rather flakey guys, the magi. 
            And yet:  we don’t sing any songs about King Herod like we sing each year, “Oooh, Star of Wonder, Star of Night” about the magi.  And no images of King Herod appear on countless Christmas cards the way the magi and their dromedaries do.  And no statuettes or figurines of King Herod appear in crèche scenes across the globe like the magi do.  And most importantly, the magi found the Christ child, but Herod never did.
            So how about us?  Are we to be hard-boiled, unsentimental, movers and shakers like Herod, or to be somewhat flakey and dreamy like the magi? 
            I think it helps, if you are looking for the Christ, to be a bit flakey and dreamy, a bit visionary; to look for deeper meaning behind the obvious surface reality.  To find the way of Christ it helps to follow stars and to dream dreams.  It is necessary to seek for deeper meaning beyond the obvious, to see more deeply, to perceive a new born king in a stable. 
            We call the magi “wise men”, because they had the wisdom to see a deeper reality, a fuller meaning than just the physical and the obvious.  Like the magi we need to be a little “off”, just funky enough to be able to see Jesus in the poor and the lonely, to realize that it is in giving that we receive, that the meek shall inherit the earth, that in bread broken and shared and wine poured out the reality of Jesus, His very Flesh and Blood, is truly and powerfully with us. 
To truly perceive these things it helps to be a little flakey. 
Keep Epiphany weird.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 8

As you know, we have many second collections here at St. Austin. There are MANY worthwhile and worthy causes that we come to you, week after week, asking for your support. It would be wonderful if you could support all of them.  But in the real world that is just not realistic.  So what do you do?

Well, you could just throw a couple of bucks in each one, and leave it at that. But Jesus tells us to be not only “as innocent as doves” but also “as wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16). In the case of second collections, I take this to mean that we not only have to be generous, we also have to use some discretion in our giving.  There may be three or four special causes or collections that you want to especially support, and give more generously in those collections (say, the annual Paulist Appeal!). There may be a few that you frankly are not at all excited about, and on these you simply pass the basket without making a contribution. This is what I do. I would rather give more generously to causes I am particularly concerned about and less generously about causes I care less about. This involves more thought and planning, but I think it is a more involved approach than simply placing a dollar or two in the basket each time it is passed.

So to assist you in your planning for the rest of the year (we have already had a couple of second collections), I am providing you with the list of collections that are scheduled for 2012. There may be additions. If there is another horrible natural disaster, like the fires in Bastrop or the tsunami in Japan last year, we very well may take up a special collection in that case. But what you see below is pretty much what the second collections will be for 2012. I do not publish this to discourage you, but to urge you to be both generous and thoughtful in your giving. Be both innocent and wise. 

God Bless!  

8       Persons in Need
22     Paulist Appeal
12    Persons in Need
22     World and Home Mission (Ash Wednesday-second collection -- Offertory Collected First)
26     Diocesan Masters in Theology and Campus Ministries (Diocesan)
4       Persons in Need
18     Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
25     Grand Tour Collection (for St. Austin School - Grand Tour is April 14.)
1       Persons in Need
6       12 noon, Stations of the Cross–Offertory  Collection
6       Holy Land (Good Friday)
8       Bishop’s Diocesan Easter Collection (second collection – Easter)
22  –   St. Austin Pledge Weekend
13     Persons in Need
27     Seminarians and Priest Education and Formation (Diocesan)
10    Persons in Need
24     Peter’s Pence
8       Persons in Need
12     Persons in Need
9       Persons in Need
7        St. Austin’s Affirmation of Membership W/E
14      Persons in Need
21      World Mission Sunday / Propagation of the Faith
4        Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) (Diocesan)
11       Persons in Need
18       Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD)
9         Persons in Need
16       Retired Clergy and Religious
25       Bishop’s Diocesan Christmas Collection (second collection – Christmas)
30       Feast of the Holy Family / Family and Pro-life activities and Maternity Homes

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God New Year’s Day Jan 1, 2012

Children, inevitably, turn out in some ways different than their parents.  You are – in some ways, big or small – not like your parents.  And if this discrepancy has ever caused you to wonder if you are adopted, then no less of an authority than St. Paul the Apostle tells us the answer is a resounding YES.  In our second reading today to the Galatians we hear:  When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, … so that we might receive adoption”.   All of us who are Christian have been adopted.
It is interesting the way St. Paul puts it:  not that we have been adopted, but that we might receive adoption, as in receiving a bequest, or a legacy, or a very great gift.  For St. Paul, to “receive adoption is all about being chosen. 
Once God’s chosen people were only the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham.  But now, according to St. Paul, all who have faith in Jesus are also God’s chosen people, and receive adoption as sons.
Now for us, living in a Western democracy in the 21st Century, when we hear receive adoption as sons”, we inevitably think of this as referring to males, to boys.  But, if you were a 1st Century Galatian, living in a very different society with very different preconceptions, you would hear this somewhat differently.  The point about receiving adoption as sons is not so much about gender, about being male as opposed to female, but rather the issue is about status, and specifically your status in the family.  Because in that society only the son inherits.  Only the son, often only the first born son, is the heir to the family wealth.  The daughters marry and go off to join some other family, but the son remains.  He has the permanent place in the household and so it is the son who inherits everything.  And that is the status that St. Paul is talking about, using an example from his own time and culture.  So,” he says,you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.”   The point about being “sons” is not about maleness, but about being the beneficiary of the inheritance. 
Now fortunately, in our society, both sons and daughters inherit.  And if St. Paul wrote his letter to the Austinites rather than to the Galatians, presumably he would have phrased it differently.  The New Revised Standard Version therefore translates this passage as So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” 
So it does not matter if you are male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, you still have the status of the Son, and so inherit eternal life.   This is clear in St Paul’s statement that:As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"   The Spirit of Jesus is poured out into the hearts of both women and men, and makes all of us “sons” in that sense, so that with Jesus we inherit the fullness of life. 
            The Spirit of God’s Son, the Holy Spirit, is poured into our hearts, proving that we are “sons”, and the Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father!”  This is a cry of intimacy.  Scholars tell us it is better translated as “Daddy, or Papa” than as “Father”.  This is not a term that the slave would use of the master, but that the loving child would use of his or her papa.  It is a sign of closeness, familiarity and love.  That is the relationship we are called to have with our loving Abba, one of intimacy, trust and love.
            As we begin this New Year, it is good for us to hear this passage from St. Paul, to remind us of our special and privileged position.  You are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.”   
This is totally God’s free gift, given to us through the birth of the Christ Child that we celebrated a week ago.  It is a gift that provides us free and intimate access to the source of all Being and Love.  It is a noble status that brings with it the responsibilities of a free person.  It is all gift.
Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying out, "Abba, Father!"
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.

Happy New Year!