Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 30

Where do you belong? It is important, for some sense of identity and orientation in life, to belong. It is one of those deep, existential kind of things. Belonging matters.

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

I have been fortunate to travel all around this great country and to a fair part of the rest of the world. Everywhere I go I usually find a Catholic Church, and when I enter I know I never go in as a stranger. I am always a part of the family, even if I have never been there before. I am not a guest, I belong. I am a member. The same is true for you: you never enter a Catholic church as a guest or visitor or stranger; you are family.  

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

With membership comes not only privileges but also responsibilities. One responsibility is to show up. We are less without you. You add something to our community that no one else can. If they could, God would not have created you. Only you can be the gift that you are to our parish. So we are always happy to have you here!

Another responsibility is to let us know you are here. You do that by registering. Next weekend at all the Masses you will be invited to re-affirm your membership in our parish. The process is very simple: sign the statement of Affirmation of Membership and turn it in. The forms will be in the pews. If any of your contact information has changed in the past year, please update it on the form. If you aren’t sure, then please give us your latest info. If we already have the information, then just sign and date the form. It is as simple as that.

Finally there is the responsibility to support our parish with your gifts of time, treasure and talent. We emphasize your gifts of treasure in the Spring, and we encourage and invite your gifts of time and talent all year long. You can always go online at, click on the “Stewardship & Discipleship” button near the top right, and follow the links to give or volunteer. If you have questions about supporting the parish, you can always call Mrs. Ida Malina, our Director of Stewardship, at 512-477-9471 ext. 325.

Glad to have you as a member!

God bless!


Monday, September 24, 2012

HOMILY 25TH Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B September 23, 2012

            Jesus and His disciples (HINT: that’s Gospel code for US) go on a journey.  That is how our Gospel begins today:  Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee.”   On the way Jesus teaches His disciples, giving them the second prediction of His suffering, Passion and Resurrection in St. Mark’s Gospel.  (Last week we heard the first prediction of the Passion in St. Mark’s Gospel.) 
            Once they get to their destination, Jesus asks the disciples a simple but difficult question:  “What were you arguing about on the way?”  I can imagine the scene: the disciples all standing around, shuffling their feet, hemming and hawing, glancing guiltily  at one another, not saying anything. 
            The Gospel says they were silent because they had been “discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.”  Oh, you got to love the Apostles.  Jesus is predicting His Passion and death, and they are preoccupied with who is the greatest.  Talk about clueless!  Talk about oblivious!  This is an example of exactly what St. James in our second reading today addresses:  “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”
            So knowing what was going on on-the-way Jesus sits down.  He doesn’t sit down because He was tired from walking, He sits down because in the ancient world that is the position of the teacher.  This is why the Bishop’s chair, his “cathedra”, kept in the cathedral, is important, because it represents his teaching authority.   Jesus sits down because He is now going to deliver an important teaching.  He calls the Twelve to Himself and gives this solemn teaching:  “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” 
            Greatness, being first, is about SERVICE.  Any greatness that we humans can achieve is really less than insignificant compared to the greatness of God.  God is NOT impressed with our human strength, wealth, brilliance or greatness.  But, Jesus says, God is impressed with service.  Because that is what God does.
            So to make the point Jesus takes a child, places the child in the midst of the Apostles, places His arms around the child and says: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
            What does it mean to “receive” a child?  Other translations (NRSV) have “welcome” a child.     What is this welcome or reception all about? 
            We need to understand that a child in that culture had no rights. Children were literally property.  They could be sold or given away by the father.  The child had no rights.    Receiving or welcoming a child therefore means welcoming the lowliest and most vulnerable.  Jesus is teaching us to have a concern - not for the great and the mighty - but for the lowly.  In welcoming those of no account, we welcome Jesus, and in so doing we welcome God.  And to receive God is to receive the source of all life.   It all depends on service.  Because service is what God does. 
            That is different than our world.  In the ancient Roman world when a child was born the mother would place the newborn at the feet of the father.  The father had two options.  If the child was crippled or deformed, or he already had too many mouths to feed, or he wanted a boy and this was a girl, or for any other reason he could turn away and the child would be left outside to die.  This was the Roman way of dealing with a problem pregnancy.  In some ways we have not come very far.  We just make the decision to receive the child or not before the birth.   We still, like the Romans, must choose to receive the child.    The Latin word used for this reception of the newborn is  “suscipio” .  It means to raise up, to maintain, to support, to accept, to receive.
            And this is what Jesus does in the Gospel.  He takes the child in his arms.  He welcomes or receives the child.   In Latin the word used for Jesus’ action is sucipio.
            This is what God does.  In “Psalm 54” the word sucipio appears again, in “The Lord upholds my life”, which we just sang as our Responsorial Psalm.  God accepts and welcomes and lifts up us.  This is what God does for us.  God receives us.  God serves us. 
            So Jesus is teaching the disciples and us:  if you want to be greatest, if you want to be first, if you want to be like God, then do what God does:  God welcomes, receives, upholds, suscipio, the lowly and those of no account.  God serves.
            Our Gospel today begins with a journey.  We too are on a journey like those earliest disciples, only not through Galilee, but rather the journey of life.  

When we come to the end of life, and reach our destination, I think the Lord Jesus will still be there asking the same question:   “What were you arguing about on the way?”  On your journey of life?  What pre-occupied you?  What were you invested in during your life?    
            May our answer be “SERVICE”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 16

This weekend, following all the Masses, there will be an opportunity to register to vote. One of our most precious inheritances as American citizens is the right to vote. Men and women have worked, fought, suffered and died to obtain this precious right for us. We have the ability and the obligation to choose those who govern us in our name.  This is not only a civic duty but a moral one. As the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship clearly states:  “Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” 

I want to repeat that:  If you are a citizen of the United States of America, and you will be at least 18 years old by or on November 6, 2012, you have a most solemn obligation to participate in the election of our next governmental leaders by voting. 

To assist you with this, this weekend Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for Travis County will be available after all the Masses to assist you with registering to vote. Several of our parishioners have been trained and duly sworn in as Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDR) just to be able to do this. 

I myself went this past Friday to the Travis County Tax Assessor’s Office to take the training and be sworn in as a VDR. While the Right to Vote is sacred and exercising this Right is a high-minded civic duty, the actual workings of government are much messier and more mundane. As Bismark once quipped: “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” So the training and process of becoming a VDR proved to be more like making sausages than patriotic pageantry. After waiting around in the Tax Assessor’s Office waiting area, we finally traipsed through a bewildering array of corridors to a small, stuffy room barely able to hold the 15 or so of us at the training. The instructor, with clear, simple statements, began to instruct us. It was almost like she was talking to a class of second graders. At first I was put off by this, until I realized that several of my classmates were having great difficulty following her! With infinite patience the instructor answered questions about material that had just been clearly covered, or responded to ridiculous hypothetical situations, and answered them all with remarkable restraint. I, however, was quickly becoming exasperated, and only with maximum effort able to restrain myself from throttling one of my fellow students. An hour and a half later, in what should have taken no longer than 45 minutes, I and my fellow students were duly sworn in as VDR’s. Fortunately, directly across the street from the Tax Accessor’s Office is Lammes’ Candy store, and a visit there after the training did much to improve my equilibrium. 

I now have an official card on yellow paper, and more importantly, a registration number as a VDR, so I too am able to assist you in registering to vote. 

If you are looking for some guidance in how to vote from a faith perspective, then you are in luck. Just go to, and on the home page under the “DONATE” button is another that says “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Click on that button to get a slew of materials from the Diocese and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  

Please do NOT put off registering to vote. Election Day is November 6. Early voting in Travis County begins on October 22. The deadline to register and be able to vote in the Presidential election is October 9, less than a month away. So REGISTER TODAY!!!!

God bless,


Sunday, September 9, 2012

HOMILY 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle B September 9, 2012

            So our Gospel today is kind of weird.   Jesus is way up in the North of Israel, up near Tyre and Sidon in pagan territory.  He passes through a series of ten small cities called the “Decapolis” in what is now Jordan.  And people bring Him a deaf man with a speech impediment.
            Note well: He has a speech impediment.  Maybe he had some birth-defect, or medical problem, something did not work right with his tongue.  But I think it was more than that.  Because even if you have perfectly functioning ears and mouth and tongue, you probably still have a speech impediment.
            Have you adults and parents ever had the experience of coming across a group of teens babbling and yacking away to each other like crazy, and then you walk up to them, say “hello” and suddenly they all go mute.  Or if you are the parent of a teen, and you ask him or her what happened at school today, suddenly they have a speech impediment, and you get, at best, a grunt? 
            Or yourself, sometime you wanted to tell someone how much they mean to you, but you feel embarrassed, awkward, and the words won’t come.  You want to give someone a compliment, tell them they did a great job, how much they inspired or helped you, but you feel awkward, foolish, tongue-tied.  You don’t want to sound overly sentimental or gushy, so you let the moment pass, unspoken. 
            Perhaps you need to apologize to someone, and you really want to, but when you try the words get stuck in your throat, caught there by pride, or embarrassment, or the fear of appearing weak.  
            Maybe you need to say “I forgive you” to someone who hurt you, but every time you think about it all the hurt, all the pain, all the bitterness balls up in your windpipe and you can’t get those words out. 
            Maybe you have seen something going on that is wrong: like a co-worker telling a racist, sexist or homophobic joke; or witness something that is violent, that is dishonest and illegal.  You want to shout “stop that!”, or blow the whistle on some dishonest practice of your employer, but fear about losing your job, or fear of being physically assaulted, or fear of ridicule, fear of being labeled a “goody-two-shoes” has impeded your speech, so that you keep silent.  
            Maybe you just need to say “I love you” more often to your spouse, your parents, your children, your family: but busyness, embarrassment, just lack of practice, keep you from speaking plainly your feelings. 
            Maybe you just can’t say what is truest about yourself, of what you believe, of what moves you, what you find compelling and meaningful; because you are afraid of misunderstanding, rejection and ridicule.
            Maybe you want to be able to speak of your faith, your love for God, your relation with Christ, your experience of the holy, but you don’t have the words, you are afraid of being labeled some religious nut, you are embarrassed, and so remain mute.
            All these, and more, are speech impediments.  And the man in the Gospel is in the same boat with us.  He doesn’t hear the Good News of the Gospel.  He is deaf to God speaking to him.  So he has a speech impediment.  But they bring him to Jesus.
            Jesus then does something strange.  He takes the man off by himself away from the crowd.  This is not a public healing.  It is private and personal.  Why?  Jesus has no hesitancy to heal in public in other places, but this time He does.  The healing itself is unusual.  Jesus puts His fingers in the man’s ears.  I know our translation says “finger” in the singular, but every other translation puts it in the plural.  So Jesus puts his fingers in the guy’s ears.  Like this: (demonstrate).  Isn’t that kind of an invasion of personal space?  Isn’t that rather “intimate”?    It has been a loooooong time since anyone put their finger in my ears, and certainly a long time since I poked my finger in anyone’s ear. 
            What Jesus does next is even more odd.  Jesus spits (bad enough) but then touches the man’s tongue, presumably with His spit.  It all sounds very unsanitary.  And then Jesus “groans”.  Uggghhh!   Let’s all try it now.  Together, give me a groan Uggghhh! 
Why groan?   It is like this is a great effort, a huge push that Jesus is making.  This is a struggle.  And so He groans with the effort. 
            This healing has elements of an exorcism.  This is not just a purely physical or medical cure, it is also an emotional, psychological and spiritual cure.  Jesus makes physical, tactile, intimate contact with this man – putting His fingers in the man’s ears and touching his tongue with His spit – and an effort, a struggle, a push that causes Jesus to groan.
            “And immediately” we are told “the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.”  His ears were opened to hear the Gospel, the Good News.  He was freed from embarrassment, shame, and especially fear, and so he spoke clearly, distinctly, correctly:  about his faith, about his love, about who he truly and most deeply is.  His speech was no longer impeded. 
            This is much more than just a physical healing. 
Jesus wants to do the same for us.  He wants to open our ears to hear deeply the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, and so cast out fear and all those blocks that keep us from speaking plainly.  Jesus wants to loosen our tongues to speak our praise, to declare our faith, to profess our love. 
            Are we willing to let Jesus do this for us?  Are we willing to let Him poke His fingers in our ears, and spitting to touch our tongues, to get up close and personal with us, to struggle and groan over us, so that we are no longer blocked, but open? 

            Is not that what we do in the Eucharist, getting up close and personal with Jesus, receiving Him into our hands and mouth, into our guts, that He may heal and save us?
Let us pray:  O Lord Jesus, we implore you to come to us this morning, to touch and heal us just as you healed that man with a speech impediment so long ago.  May the power of your Spirit now struggle to free us.  Command us now as you once did the mute man in the Decapolis, “Ephatha!”, BE OPENED!          Amen.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Homily 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle "B" September 2, 2012

            First of all, I have a complaint, because we are all getting gypped.  Our First Reading today, from the 4th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy has verses 1 & 2, skips verses 3, 4 & 5, and then concludes with verses 6 & 8.  So the whole middle is gone.  
            Our 2nd reading from the Letter of James starts with verse 17 & 18, skips verses 19, 20 and the first half of 21, includes 21b and 22, then skips verses 23 through 26, and tags on verse 27 at the end.  It’s a mish-mosh. 
            And our Gospel, from Mark chapter 7 includes verses 1 through 8, skips 9 though 13, includes 14&15, skips 16 through 20, and then ends with 21 to 23. Like Swiss cheese, it is full of holes.   
            Now maybe you like short readings, and would favor cutting out a bunch more verses, making for really efficient Scriptures on a holiday weekend.  But I am the kind of guy who likes to get my money’s worth.  I want to see the whole thing.  After all, I am from Missouri, the “show me” State.  So I encourage you, at home, to read the full passage and see what is really going on in today’s readings.  It is a good practice to read the Sunday readings before you come to Mass.  You can find them on the US Bishop’s website,, and also the full Bible passages as well, to see what you are being gypped out of.  Enough! 

            In today’s Gospel the Pharisees observed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.  And the Pharisees got upset.  The Orthodox Bible puts it well: “they found fault”.  Didn’t their Parents train them to wash their hands before they ate?  Well, this was more than a concern for unsanitary manners and habits.  It was a concern for PURITY.  "On coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves."
            The argument the Pharisees have with Jesus is an argument over purity. 
            So let’s talk about purity.  Now when you hear the priest in church start talking about purity, what immediately comes to your mind? ......
For most American Catholics, it is SEX.  But that is not what this ancient argument was about.  Because, for the Jews this issue of purity was about FOOD.  That is what all the kosher dietary laws are about.  What foods are clean, and what foods are unclean.  But in any case, sex or food, purity is about basic, elemental things. 
            So, ¿Who wants to be pure?  Do you strive to live a pure life? .......? Do you want to be known as a “pure” person???   “Oh, that Fr Chuck, he’s so pure!”  
            We have a great deal of cultural ambivalence about the issue of purity.  But let’s take it out of the moral and religious arena for a minute. 
             Do you want purity in your food?  I do.  Just check out the organic food at Whole Foods or HEB.  No pesticides; it is pure!  It costs more, but people will pay it because it is pure.   
            How about purity in your drugs and medicines?  I think so.   Would you prefer your jewelry be pure gold, or just some gold with other stuff thrown in there? 
            Purity is often very valuable.  So, ..... Would you like your life to be pure?  That is, a life that is authentic and genuine; Unalloyed? Uncorrupted? Undefiled?           Sounds a lot like innocence.  And who, at one time or another, hasn’t yearned for innocence?
            Impurity is more than just sexual.  Impurity is also prejudices and racial hatreds.  Certainly dishonesty is a form of impurity.  So is cowardice, especially in the face of injustice.   In the second reading today St. James, ever practical and concrete, tells us:  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
            For Jesus, purity and impurity are not matters of ritual, nor even of acts.  Rather purity and impurity are matters of the heart, of the things that come from within.  We hear the negative side of that in today’s Gospel: "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.  All these evils come from within and they defile."
            In St. Matthew’s Gospel we hear the positive statement of this reality: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  (Mt: 5:8)
            It was not the unwashed hands of the apostles that were really impure, but rather the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts that was really impure.
            Jesus invites us to live His life, a life of total, pure, obedience to God, so that we too might be cleansed of impurity to live pure in heart. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 2

Monday is LABOR DAY! Traditionally this day marks the end of Summer, and is most often celebrated by taking a day off of work. Hurray, another three day weekend!

But there is more to the meaning of Labor Day. Work and labor have basic religious value. In the Book of Genesis God places the man in the Garden of Eden with a task to perform. We read in Ch 2, vs 15: The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The man was not created to lay around all day, watch TV and play video games, but rather “to cultivate and care for” creation. We have built into us a need to do productive work, to contribute to the building up of society. It was only after man sinned, after the Fall, that work became onerous and a burden. It was because of mankind’s disobedience that God said, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” (3:19), and work became drudgery and toil. Still, work has great religious value. Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical on the spiritual value of work and issues of justice for workers, called Laborem Exercens. The entire encyclical is available to read online at

Closer to home and currently, the Bishops of our country have issued a Labor Day Statement for 2012. The opening paragraph of this statement is worth quoting:

This Labor Day, our country continues to struggle with a   broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation. As people of faith, we are called to stand with those left behind, offer our solidarity, and join forces with “the least of these” to help meet their basic needs. We seek national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.

I believe our Bishops are right on target with this statement. Following the above opening paragraph, the Bishops’ Statement has three sections, each not quite a page long. First is The Broken Economy Leaves Too Many Without Decent Work in which they state:

These harsh economic realities bring terrible human costs for millions of families, who live with anxiety and uncertainty and cope with stagnant or falling wages. Many are forced to work second or third jobs, which places further strain on their children’s well-being, and millions of young adults are denied the ability to begin families.

Then in a second section, entitled A Call for Economic Renewal and Support for Workers, the Bishops state:

Unions and other worker associations have a unique and essential responsibility in this needed economic renewal. Our Church has long taught that unions are "an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies. 

And the final section, titled Building a More Just Economy, concludes:

This Labor Day, millions of working people and their families have urgent and compelling needs. I ask you to join me in a special prayer for them and all workers, especially those without a job struggling to live in dignity. May God guide our nation in creating a more just economy that truly honors the dignity of work and the rights of workers.

You can read Bishops’ the full statement at:

So as you celebrate Labor Day I hope you will observe as more than just another day off. Think about how much you depend every day on the labor of others. Pray for all workers and especially those seeking work. Take a few minutes to read and reflect on the US Bishop’s Labor Day Statementand maybe thank some worker who makes your life a little better.

Happy Labor Day!