Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 29

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I will pass over the contentious issue as to whether there were other members of the family (Jesus’ so-called brothers and sisters, see Mt. 13:55-56). Although, being the oldest of six children myself, and now very grateful to have five brothers and sisters, I rather wish that Jesus had grown up in larger family, full of the give-and-take and learning that a passel of siblings  provides. But for this Feast at least Jesus remains an only child.
On this feast we naturally are reminded of our own families: the one we grew up in and the one we may have formed and now live in. Families today come in many more configurations than in the past. Some include grandparents, some have adopted members, some are “blended,” some are broken by divorce, some go beyond traditional configurations, some are a single person by themselves as perhaps a widow or widower. All these families, like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, are also called to be holy. What made the Holy Family “holy” was of course the presence of Jesus, in the same way our families today are made holy by the presence of Jesus. Jesus dwells in our hearts, and so Jesus can dwell in our families. The more we are explicit about that, the more we openly invite Him to be a part of our family, the more we try to make room for Jesus in our family life by prayer, worshiping together, and as a family performing good works and helping others, the more Jesus will be with us in our family, and hence the more our family will be truly holy.
Then today’s celebration is not only, or even primarily, about some Galilean peasant family of two millennium ago, but is a celebration of who we are, what we strive to be, what we are called to be right here, right now. Our families can truly be holy families by  inviting Jesus to be present to us as a family.
In addition we are also members of the Church, which is itself a “holy family.” The bond that we share, which is the Holy Spirit, is stronger even then the blood ties that unite us to our earthly family. Jesus is explicit about this. In Mt. 12:50 Jesus declares: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” In ancient Galilee, and indeed in all the ancient world, family ties were extremely important. They were literally a matter of life and death, for your survival depended on being able to rely on your family. Jesus radicalizes this idea of family and invites all who seek to follow the will of God the Father into intimate familial relationship with Him. So as members of the Church, if we are indeed trying to live as His disciples, we are then the intimate family members of Jesus Himself.  Pretty cool.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family we are also celebrating ourselves, as God’s own children adopted in Baptism, and the wonderful invitation to familial relationship with our brother, Jesus. 
Happy Feast Day! 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 22

After much preparation, shopping, decorating, baking, mailing and hopefully praying, Christmas is just about here.  Perhaps you are filled with a sense of joyful expectation, happy that Christmas is just around the corner. Perhaps you are feeling a little tired after all the exertion, a bit spent after all the holiday cheer and parties, a bit down or even depressed by the relentless expectation to be up and full of holiday cheer and “Ho, ho, ho” ad infinatum. That is entirely O.K. Because for us Christians Christmas is not about an emotion but about Faith.
As I stated in this column the last couple of Advents: Many people do not feel merry. Many have lost loved ones around the holidays, and so the celebration is always mixed for them with a certain measure of sadness. My Mother died on Dec. 21st six years ago, and so the holiday is always touched with a certain sense of loss and sadness. Others have problems with living family members or friends – frictions over inheritances, or marriage, or who is spending Christmas at which set of in-law’s house, or any variety of issues. These differences can lead to painful separations:  separations that are made all the more sharp and cutting by the holiday season when there is so much emphasis on family and togetherness. Still others are separated from loved ones by war or work or illness or physical distance, and feel sharply the longing for those not present. So there are plenty of emotional landmines in this season of such high expectations to blow up in our faces and get us sad, or down, or feeling blue. Add to that the short daylight, the cold, and you have a pretty good recipe for disappointment.
But for Christians, Christmas is not primarily about feelings. Rather, it is about FAITH. Unlike office or most other Christmas parties, where it largely depends on your feelings and mood, for Christians we are not focused on “feeling Christmassy” but rather on believing in God’s love for us made flesh in His Son, Jesus.
One of the great things about liturgy is that its success or failure does not depend on our feelings. We don’t have to feel a certain way for the liturgy to work. It is certainly nice to feel joyful and happy at the Christmas celebration, but it is much more important to   believe in what is being celebrated. And when we do summon up our faith in the preposterous belief that God became a helpless baby, and go through the motions of praying and praising and singing and worshipping, the feelings tend to follow along behind naturally. Faith does not come from the feelings, but the other way around.
So if you are not feeling particularly happy or joyful or merry this Christmas, if you are worried to distraction about your job or the economy, or you are disappointed because your children behave selfishly and badly, if you are estranged from your siblings, or your life seems stuck and going nowhere, or if you are missing a loved one like I am missing my Mom, or if you are just overwhelmed by the fluster of activity and commercial craziness of the season, that really is all right. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. You do not need to apologize for or be embarrassed by those feelings. And more importantly, they will not stop Christmas from    happening.
I dare say that on the first Christmas, more than 2,000 years ago, the great majority of people were hungry, frightened, cold, sick, worried, oppressed, hurting in some way. It did not matter. Christmas happened nonetheless. In fact, that is the whole point of Christmas. It is God’s work, not ours. That is our faith.  
Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

HOMILY THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT December 15, 2013 St Austin, Austin, TX

          Some years ago when I lived in Manhattan, New York City, there was an ad on the TV that stated, “In New York ‘wait’ is a four letter word.” meaning a nasty word.  And it is true.  Everyone in that city always seems to be in a hurry.  People always rush, are in a hurry, have no time, are go, go, go; impatient, and … I LOVED it. 
          You see I grew up taking after my Mother who had no patience.  Bernice, my Mom, was always very action oriented.  “Do it, do it right, do it right now” could have been her motto.  So I am NOT a patient person and I come by it naturally.   I hate to wait.  And so for me, wait is a four-letter word.
          So when I read in today’s second reading from the Letter of Saint James “Be patient, brothers and sisters,” I have a problem.  “Be patient,…”   NO!  I don’t want to be patient.
          This is the only time all year long that we get a selection from the practical and wise Letter of Saint James in the Sunday readings  - and what they give us is “Be patient”!  Oh come-on. 
          Now some of you may find patience to be a difficult virtue, if you even think of it as a virtue at all.  But that is our reading.  So let us take a deep breath and see what we can make of all this.
          “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
                    We have been waiting nearly 2,000 years for the Lord to return.  He is certainly in no rush, and there is no indication that He is coming anytime soon.  So this requires a great deal of patience.
          St. James continues: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You too must be patient.”  Note that this is not waiting for waiting’s sake.  Something is going on.  Something is developing.  It is not noticeable, but the seed is changing, growing, preparing for the conditions to be right to appear above the ground.  This is not waiting for waiting’s sake, but rather allowing things to develop to the right point in order to appear.  The farmer knows the crop is coming, but only at the right time.  The same with the Lord’s coming.  The time is not yet ripe. So we must be patient.
          St. James tells us:  “Make your hearts firm.”  This waiting is not passive.  It is not inactive or indolent.  This patience requires firmness, strength, perseverance.  “Make your hearts firm” in faith, in hope, and above all in love.  The patience that St James calls us to is not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs.  Rather this is a patience that is purposeful.  “Make your hearts firm” by doing good deeds, by forgiving those who hurt you, but giving alms and by generous acts, by speaking the unpopular truth, by standing up for what is right, by prayer and even by penance.  “Make your hearts firm.”
          Too many of us Christians I am afraid have rather flabby, lazy, weak hearts.  Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation asks: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"   Good question.  Well, we know why.  It is because our hearts are in the wrong place.  Our hearts are not firm, but weak and flabby.  St. James calls us to make our hearts firm.
          As if it is not bad enough that St James tells us to be patient, he then goes on to say:  “Do not complain about one another.”  What?!?  Do not complain?  What am I going to do all day long?  I mean, one of our favorite past-times is complaining about one another.  What would happen to politics in our country if we all stopped complaining about one another?  The cable news networks would all go out of business.  It is preposterous.
          But St. James gives us a very good reason for not complaining about one another.  He says so “that you may not be judged.”  The more you complain about others, the more you set yourself up to be judged.  You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that setting yourself up for stricter judgment is not a good policy.  “Judge not lest you be judged” as Jesus told us.  Don’t even complain about one another, because complaining involves judging.  So don’t do it.
          Well, maybe it is a good thing this is the only Sunday all year long that we hear from the Letter of St. James, because in these few short lines he gives us three difficult challenges: “be patient”, “make your hearts firm”, and “do not complain about one another.” 

          That could keep most of us busy for the whole year.  Amen.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 15

Pope Francis attracts attention. It is all well deserved in my humble opinion. He is a real gift to the Church from the Holy Spirit. I like almost everything about him. Even the red wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina seem to taste better since the Archbishop of Buenos Aires has become Pope!
Recently Pope Francis troubled the ecclesiastical waters once again by issuing his first (and I hope not last) Apostolic Exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium, or in English, The Gospel of Joy. For Pope Francis, the Gospel certainly is “Good News of great joy!” You can read it on the Vatican’s website, www.Vatican.va. Click on English, and near the Holy Father’s picture find the words “Apostolic Exhortations.” Click on that, and it is easy since there is only one to choose from. It runs for a full 58 pages of densely packed text with no pictures. It is more readable than most church documents, but still has some heavy going in places. Sometimes the Pope employs a more homey turn of phrase, but much is still theological and in places dense. He is not a lightweight. Nonetheless it is worth the effort to read it. I hope to use this document for my Lenten book discussion group in the Spring of 2014.
Meanwhile let me give you one paragraph where he talks about challenges involving the laity, the ordinary people in the pews like you. Here it is:
102. Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.
For Pope Francis, indeed for Vatican Council II, the vocation of the laity calls them (that is, YOU) not so much to be involved in church but rather in the world. It is good that many St. Austin parishioners get involved in the choir and music ensembles, in teaching CCD, in being lectors and Eucharistic ministers and such. But this involvement “remains tied to tasks within the Church” as Pope Francis says. And the real vocation of the laity is not in Church but out in the world.  The Pope is calling for “a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society.” We continually need to work to help all of us, clergy and laity, to finally get it into our thick heads and down into our guts that the real vocation of the laity is out to the world: to the workplace, the public forum, media, education, recreation, the arts, politics, to all the world “applying the Gospel to the transformation of society.” That is the vision of Vatican Council II. It has yet to be lived out in the church. It is still radical after five decades. It is a work Pope Francis is calling us to.
It is easier to be a Eucharistic Minister than to try to transform society. The “transformation of society” does sound a little daunting I must admit. But let us trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, and with Pope Francis’ guidance and encouragement, start on the task. After all, it doesn’t depend on us, but on God.
God bless!



Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 8


This week we have two very important celebrations in honor of the most blessed virgin, Mary. On Monday we observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the title under which Mary has been designated as the heavenly patroness of our nation. In our nation’s capital, on the grounds of the Catholic University of America, is a very large church of questionable beauty dedicated to Mary under the title of The Immaculate Conception. This is a rather recent title for Mary. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was never separated from God by selfishness or sin, and by a special favor of her son, Jesus, was kept free of all sin from the very first moment of her being, i.e. from her conception, was not officially declared until December 8, 1854. So in terms of church things this is still pretty new.

Sometimes people mistake this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception for the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, but that is called the Annunciation, after the angel Gabriel “announcing” to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Savior. It occurs, correctly, exactly nine months before Christmas, on March 25.

Usually this Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8, but this year the Second Sunday of Advent falls on that day. It may seem a little odd to you, but in church thinking the Second Sunday of Advent is more important and takes precedence over the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Wouldn’t want to miss lighting that second candle on the Advent Wreath! So this year Mary’s conception is delayed by one day till December 9, in order to observe the Second Sunday of Advent. Well, at least that is better than the fate of the Feast of St. Juan Diego, the Indian to whom Mary appeared in 1531 at Tepeyac (near Mexico City) as Our Lady of Guadalupe. That feast is normally celebrated on December 9, but this year has been pushed off the calendar entirely by the Immaculate Conception. Too bad, Juan. Perhaps at San Juan Diego High School they will sneak it in on the 10th!

The other Marian feast this week is on Thursday, December 12, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This feast has special significance for all Mexicans, but is also significant for us gringos, as Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is revered as Empress of All America, both north and south. So we can count this one as ours, too! On this day we recall Mary’s appearances near Mexico City in December of 1531, expressing her concern for the native Mexican people. They had been recently conquered by the Spanish, and like all conquered peoples were not in a good space as they say. Mary asked for a church where she could display her favor to those in need. And if you visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe you will see the most remarkable outpouring of fervor and faith by the people. It is always moving.

Both the Feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe give honor to the poor, most likely illiterate, peasant woman of Galilee who lived nearly 2,000 years ago, called Miriam (Mary in English). Her accomplishment, one of the greatest of all history, was simply to open herself entirely and without hesitation to God’s Will for her. It may not sound like much, but it literally changed history. And this week we get to celebrate (and hopefully imitate!) that.

God bless!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 1


Happy Advent! This liturgical season focuses on the coming of Christ and of waiting for Him. Of course we recall the long time of waiting of God’s People: the Hebrews (and later the Jews) for the Messiah. We recall especially the time of Mary’s pregnancy leading up to the birth of our Savior at Christmas.

But especially in these early weeks of Advent we focus not on historical events but on the trans-historical event of the Second Coming, also known by the Greek word Parousia or “arrival.” This is an important part of our faith, but one that is not often given much attention.

The very earliest Christian prayer we have, in Jesus’ own language of Aramaic, is “Maranatha.”  It means, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ It expresses a wish and desire for the Second Coming, the arrival of Jesus as Lord in glory. Then the Kingdom of God will be ushered in in its fullness. Evil and sin and decay will be done away with; God’s Justice and Mercy will be triumphant. It will be wonderful! No wonder early Christians, especially those persecuted for their faith, tried to urge on and hurry up the Day of the Lord’s Coming. Dramatic imagery is used because it will be a dramatic reversal of how things are done on earth and in history. God’s Will will be done, and that will be a dramatic and fundamental change from how things are now, to say the least.

Early Christians hoped for the Second Coming of Christ to happen soon, in their own lifetime. After nearly 2,000 years, we have lost that expectation. But the Second Coming is still a part of our faith. Every Sunday when we recite the Creed, we state: “and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Or for our neighbors who use the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

Are we to expect Jesus’ Second Coming as an actual historical event? Is there an actual date in the future when Jesus will appear again on earth? Or is this teaching a sort of symbol for the judgment that each of us will face on the day of our own particular death? The first option of an actual historical event seems very hard to fit with our current understanding of cosmology. If creation has taken over 13 billion years of work up to this point, to suddenly and “out of the blue” interrupt it all and bring it to an end with some divine intervention from without the whole creative process just strikes me as a kind of a cheesy “deus ex machina” solution that seems unworthy of the God of such intricate and complex and prodigal creation.

And yet, to limit this creedal statement of the Second Coming to a symbol of our individual judgment does not do justice to the centrality and importance of this belief to our creeds and faith. God’s creation is not static. It goes somewhere. It has meaning because it has purpose. In Christian understanding time is not cyclical nor eternal. Rather it has a destination. It goes someplace. This is called teleology. Time ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, Who is All in All. Time is not just a meaningless accumulation of endless moments, but proceeds to a destination determined by and known only to God. So figuring out the destiny of the universe is a little above my pay scale, and also above yours. Nonetheless, as we hear the prayers and readings of early Advent that direct our thoughts to the Second Coming of Christ in glory, these are beliefs to chew on and wrestle with. Not only does this article of faith give meaning to all of creation, but also to our particular part in it, to each of our lives.

Happy Advent!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 24


It is a time of endings and beginnings. Today liturgically we mark the end of the church year with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. Next week begins a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. Christmas is not far away!

Also this weekend marks the end of the Year of Faith. It was actually a little longer than a calendar year, but now it is over. If you had been meaning to strengthen or increase your faith during the Year of Faith, but somehow never got to it, don’t worry because actually every year is a Year of Faith, and also of Hope, and especially Love. So EVERYDAY is a good time to strengthen your Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

This week also brings us to our wonderful national holiday of THANKSGIVING. Again, every day is an appropriate day for thanksgiving and gratitude. We all have much for which we should be thankful. Every moment of existence, every breath, every harmonious note, every pleasant smell, every pretty sight, every comfortable touch, every delicious taste is all GIFT.

Gratitude opens us to more and more gifts. The more we stop to recognize what we have been given, the more we are conscious of our blessings, the more we give thanks not only for the big blessings but also for the countless myriad of small blessings that are bestowed on us unexpectedly and capriciously, then the more aware we become of just how truly blessed we are. And that awareness is itself one of the best blessings of all.

Learning to live in gratitude is a spiritual discipline. It requires us to go out of our busy pre-occupation with myself, my needs, my desires, my agenda, and pay attention to God’s action in our lives. Gratitude is the proper disposition of a creature (you and me) to our creator (to God). Indeed, there are some theologians who believe that the primordial sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of ingratitude, of taking for granted all the wonderful blessings of the Garden of Eden, and not saying “Thank You” to God. Unfortunately we continue to fall into that fundamental sin today.

So as we celebrate Thanksgiving and give thanks for our blessings, hopefully we will commit ourselves to be more thankful EVERY day, and not just for big blessings, but for all the blessings we receive each day. In this way we become more aware of God’s presence and action in our lives, and open ourselves to receive even more of God’s manifold and generous blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

God bless!


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 17


First of all I want to thank all of you for your response to my announcement this past weekend about our parish’s financial challenges. Your understanding is much appreciated. Working together, with confidence in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will move forward and resolve this challenge successfully.*

One of the things we need to respond to soon is the construction of a sidewalk protection structure in front of the church. Pieces of stone have been falling from the front of the building for some time: for years in fact. Fortunately no one has been hurt. All the loose stones were removed by the firm that did the inspection and study of the church and rectory fa├žade, so I do not anticipate any stones falling for a while. Nonetheless, it is prudent for us to take measures to insure everyone’s safety until the church and rectory facades are replaced.

We have received a permit from the city to do this. The structure they require is rather large and not very attractive. It will take up the entire sidewalk in front of the church. We have a contractor set to construct it. The only reason we have not given the go-ahead on this project is that we do not have on hand $25,000, which is the cost of this structure. As soon as we can afford it we will have it built. Stay tuned.

On a totally different note, if I may express it that way, this Friday is the Feast of St. Cecilia. She was a martyr. While details of her life are sketchy at best, historical research suggests she was martyred in Sicily under Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. By 500 there was a dilapidated church in Rome dedicated to her. So devotion to St. Cecilia goes back a long way. She is a very ecumenical Saint, being celebrated on the calendar not only by Roman Catholics, but also by Eastern Rite Catholics, Orthodox and by Anglicans.

She is best known as the patroness of music, and especially of church musicians. We are especially fortunate here at St. Austin to have such good music. Our choir and our ensembles are all quite extraordinary. The high quality of music here draws people to our worship, and so is a great evangelization tool. We owe Dr. Hoffman, the musicians, the cantors, choir and ensemble members all a debt of gratitude.

More wonderful and extraordinary to my way of thinking is the great participation in singing and the music that you – the people in the pews – exhibit. This congregation both likes to sing and sings pretty well. There is always room for improvement, of course, but I bet St. Austin parish sings better than most parishes in this diocese.

This is significant for making real the liturgical vision of VCII.  In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy we read: “Liturgical action is given a more noble form when sacred rites are solemnized in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.... Choirs must be diligently promoted, but bishops and other pastors must ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightfully theirs....  (paragraph 112)   

So I invite you to celebrate St. Cecilia this weekend, and all the year, by singing out with gusto.

God bless!

 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

HOMILY 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time November 10, 2013

          Perhaps you have seen the 1954 movie musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.  Great dance scenes.   Well in our Gospel we have something similar, but different.  We hear a story of ONE bride for seven brothers.  Seven brothers, following the injunction in Deuteronomy chapter 25, each marry this woman and then he dies childless.  Finally, this lady with the strong constitution ups and dies. 
          This creates a problem for the Sadducees.  Actually, not a problem but rather an opportunity for them to put Jesus on the spot.  The Sadducees – unlike the Pharisees - did not believe in the resurrection of the body.  You died and pzzzt, that’s it.  So they bring this strange case of one woman with seven husbands to confuse and confound Jesus.   Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?  For all seven had been married to her."    //
          Are these guys serious?  Are they so convinced that they know how eternity and resurrection work that they think this is a serious problem for God?  Don’t they understand that eternity is going to be different than how things are now?  What is wrong with these guys?
          Well, what is wrong with them is that they have no imagination.  They think eternity will be just like life is here and now, and so they are stumped by this odd – and rather silly – question:  “whose wife will that woman be?” 
          Imagination is a very important, and often undervalued, faculty.  Sometimes we dismiss it:  “Oh, is only a figment of your imagination.”   “you’re just imagining things.”  And so on.  And we consider imagination only important for daydreaming, artists, wishful thinking, and in general other non-productive pursuits. 
          But I hold that a good imagination is essential to being a religious person, and in particular a Christian.  It is not only those Sadducees that lacked a religious imagination.  Often enough I think that we do too.
          Too often we think we know what God wants, how God reacts to every situation, and especially what God ought to do about it.  We know exactly what God should be doing about every aspect of our lives.
           But God is mystery.  God has options that we cannot even imagine.  God is not bound in any way by our “ought’s”.   And then when things do not go the way we expect God to handle them, we either are disappointed in God, or we begin to question if God really exists. 
          We need great imagination to expand our concept of how God acts.  That we do not see the results we expect does not so much mean that God has failed us, as that we have failed to imagine a great enough freedom for God to act in surprising and unforeseen ways. 
          Even in the natural world we need imagination to understand what is.  Cosmologists tell us that all the billions of galaxies we see, each with billions of stars and even more planets, all that makes up less than 5% of what is actually out there.  The rest, more than 95% of the total, is dark matter and dark energy.  They call it dark because they have no idea what the heck it is.  They just know that something’s there.  Without imagination you cannot even begin to get a correct idea of what the universe is like.  This is why Albert Einstein stated that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
          Many of you university students will spend most of your career in jobs that don’t yet exist today.  Without imagination you will never succeed. 
          The amount of technical information is doubling every two years.  This means that for students in a technical four year degree program, half of what they learn in their first year will be out of date by their third year.  In such a fluid situation imagination is essential.
          With all these possibilities and rapid changes, you need imagination to approach and prepare for the future, just in the everyday, practical world. 
          In the life of the spirit imagination is even more essential.  Imagination opens us up to new and larger possibilities.  Because what God the Father wants for you is much greater than you can reason; even much greater than what you can imagine.  God did not send you God’s most precious Beloved, God’s own Son, just so you can be “reasonably happy and moderately comfortable.”  The love beyond all telling compels our imaginations to work overtime to grasp even the feeblest hint of the glory that awaits us, and all the love God wants to pour out on us.  
          In the words of the French essayist, Joseph Jouber, “Imagination is the eye of the soul.”  Or more concretely in the words of Lauren Bacall, “Imagination is the highest kite that one can fly.”
          Let your imagination soar!  Your imagination is a precious gift, given to you by God to reach for things beyond the grasp of our knowledge and experience.  The God of mystery is both here in the concrete AND in the beyond, where imagination helps us comprehend God’s greatness and goodness. 

          Imagine that!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 10


Back on October 23 we had a very good meeting of many different parish leaders: from the Parish Pastoral Council, the Finance Council, the School Advisory Board, the Property Committee, the Pastoral Staff, and others. It was an informative and somewhat sobering meeting. To get a better idea of what was said you can speak to one of the 40 or so people who were there, or you can watch a video of the presentation made at that meeting on our parishes’ physical and financial situation at: www.staustin.org/stewardship.

If you watch that video you will see, as the representative of our Property Committee explains, we have pieces of stone falling out of the front and side walls of the church. This is not new. I have written about this situation in my bulletin column before (Sept. 29, 2013). We are fortunate in that it is a slow-moving problem. It must now be addressed, but we do not have to panic. We can take the time to study the alternatives and come up with the best and most cost effective response, and that is what we will do.

A much more pressing issue for us as a parish is the repayment of the debt on the garage. We built the garage at the height of a boom when construction was most expensive. We ran into large overruns of approximately $1.6 million, mostly for increases in the cost of cement and steel. Then buried gas and oil tanks were found on the property from when it had been a service station. Removal and remediation for those tanks added an additional $200,000 to the garage construction costs. And as construction kicked into high gear, we experienced the financial downturn of 2008, and all the projections for income on the garage fell through the floor. We had just about the worst timing possible.

Since then we have been paying the interest on the loans, but not paying anything on the principal. Now that we have leased all the retail spaces in the garage, the principal is also coming due. Our total loan indebtedness is approximately $5.1 million, most of which is for the purchase of the land the garage sits on and the construction of the garage. This leaves us with very large debt payments.

At the same time our collections have begun to decrease. Our offertory income is down 6% from the projections from last year, which is the level on which we based our current budget. We are currently forecasting a deficit for this fiscal year of over $500,000.

This has put a severe strain on our cash flow. So far we have been able to meet payroll and all our other immediate commitments, but frankly I do not know how long we can keep this up.

We could try cutting our current budget, but most is in fixed costs such as insurance, utilities and payroll. Surprisingly little, only about 10%, goes to pay program costs. So to cut the budget substantially will be very difficult. 

The other option is to increase our giving. If every family in the parish increased their giving by $20 a month, about $5 a week, we would be able to meet our commitments, pay off the debt, and have no shortfall. 

Personally, I think we have a pretty great parish here at St. Austin. I am loath to start cutting personnel and programs, but obviously that is what will happen if it is necessary.

However, I am willing to increase my donation by $20 a month and am doing so. I hope you will too. So I am asking every family to consider, pray over, and try your best to increase your donation to the parish by $20 a month. If you have been blessed by God and can do more than that, please do. If you are able only to increase a smaller amount each month, please help us out with what you can. If you have not been donating in the past, now is the time to start. We need everyone involved in this critical effort. 

If you give by credit card or by bank transfer, you can increase your donation online. Cash, checks, gifts of stocks, are all most welcome. More info on how to do this is available at www.staustin.org/stewardship or you can contact our Director of Development and Communications, Jennifer Anderson, at 512-477-9471 x325 or janderson@staustin.org for assistance.

And please pray for our parish leadership as we grapple with these difficult situations.

Thank you! God bless!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Homily 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C November 03, 2013

Do you like this story about Zaccheus the wealthy tax-collector?    I do. 
          This story we hear in today’s Gospel appears ONLY in the Gospel of St. Luke.  He is the only one that tells us this story about the wealthy tax collector, Zaccheus. 
          It is interesting where Luke situates this story.  Immediately before this passage, as Jesus is approaching the city of Jericho, there is the story of the healing of a blind beggar.   Luke 18: 35-43   
          Now Luke gives us another healing that involves sight:  not physical sight, but rather insight.   For we are told that Zaccheus was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
            The crowd that keeps Zaccheus from seeing who Jesus is, was not just a lot of tall people standing in the way.  It can also mean that the crowd is that set of expectations that get laid on us of “going along with the crowd”; all the conventions and expectations of society, what those around us expect of our behavior, what everyone is expected to do.  And these crowd expectations can get in the way and block us from truly seeing who Jesus is.  All the expectations about keeping up with the Joneses, all the subtle pressure to have the latest fashion, the fastest smart phone and tablet, the recent model car, a certain type of house, who to like and who to disdain, and on and on.  All that stuff can become clutter in our lives that keeps us from seeing who Jesus truly is.  And so it was for Zaccheus.
          For all his faults, Zaccheus is still an attractive and sympathetic character because he is persistent.  You see Zaccheus doesn’t give up.  He takes the initiative and breaks away from the crowd to get a different perspective.   So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.     
          When is the last time you climbed a tree?  On the way here to church?   Probably not.  For most of us it has probably been a good long while.  Climbing trees was NOT what a chief tax collector, a wealthy man, an important personage, was supposed to be doing.  In a society that put great emphasis on dignity and decorum, this would have been highly unusual.  It tells us that Zaccheus was willing to risk appearing ridiculous, risk looking foolish, in order to see who Jesus was.   So intense was Zaccheus’ desire, so driven was he to see ‘who is this Jesus?’
What is Jesus all about?  What is it about Jesus that is so attractive and so compelling?    
So Zaccheus throws dignity to the wind, leaves the crowd behind, runs ahead and climbs up into a sycamore tree along Jesus’ route.
          Along comes Jesus. The scene is rather comical.  There is Jesus standing on the road, talking to Zaccheus up in the tree. 
          What does Jesus see?  He does NOT see someone acting foolish.  Rather, Jesus recognizes in Zaccheus a burning desire for something more in life than just making money.  Jesus recognizes the hunger and thirst in Zaccheus that all his wealth does not satisfy.  Jesus sees that Zaccheus is hungry; so Jesus invites himself to dinner, not to be fed but rather to feed Zaccheus“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
               This little Gospel scene is a beautiful lesson for us.   First Jesus heals a beggar of blindness, and now Jesus is going to heal a wealthy man of his inability to see.  They are equally needy and equally blind, but in different ways.  We too have blind spots.  We don’t see clearly our purpose in life; we don’t see how we are blessed by God; we don’t see what Jesus is calling us to do.  Jesus wants to heal us also.
          Often, like Zaccheus if we want to really see then we have to break out of our routine.  We have to get away from the crowd, from all the conventional expectations.  We have to stop worrying about looking foolish, we have to take a risk to go out on a limb to get a different perspective on life.  Probably that does not mean literally climbing up in a tree.  But it might mean turning off the TV and the smart phone and all the other distractions to spend time in quiet and prayer.  It might mean including daily mass in your schedule, something totally different than the rest of your day.  It might mean taking time for a retreat or an evening of recollection, even going off to a monastery or a retreat house.  Your family and co-workers may think you have gone a little nuts, but we will never hear the Lord’s inviting Himself to our house, that is into our hearts, until we stop to listen.
          We can then receive the Lord with joy into our hearts, into our lives.
This will, of course, require changes.  For Zaccheus it required a fundamental shift from looking on his possessions as something to hoard and from the accumulation of more and more and more, to a very different approach of seeing his possessions as the opportunity and the means to do good, to achieve something positive and lasting with them rather than to hoard them just for himself in a sterile way. 

          Zaccheus found his true treasure in the Lord.  So can we.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Nov 3


Last Sunday, Oct. 27, following the 9 a.m. Mass, we had a very nice blessing of the new water fountain that our parish installed a couple of months ago. Mr. Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes (who gave us a big donation for the fountain) and about 40 to 50 parishioners participated, including some who donated money to the project and some who donated sweat equity, or both. It was a nice, simple affair.

Well, it must have been a slow news day because we appeared on page one of the Metro Section of the Austin American Statesman. Our parish appeared on KXAN news. Our water fountain was a subject of discussion on a radio talk program on KLBJ, AM 590. The fountain blessing got picked up on “Morning Briefing” on the National Catholic Reporter website, and a notice in USA Today. But the best of all was that St. Austin and Mobile Loaves and Fishes got a “horns up” in the Oct. 28 issue of The Daily Texan, the University of Texas newspaper!

What to make of all this?  First of all, it is of course very heartening to see that our efforts got recognized. But also it is a bit disturbing that when a church congregation does something not just for itself but for the general community as a whole it makes such a big splash. Is it really that unusual that a church would do something that primarily benefits people who are not its members?  There are two possible explanations.

The simplest of course is that we don’t do very much for those who are not our members. To the extent this is true we need to look at why we as a church body exist and how well we are carrying out that mission. Vatican Council II teaches us that the Church exists as a sacrament for the salvation of the whole world. Our concern needs to extend to everyone, because that is the mission that Jesus gave us. If we are not doing that then we need to do better!

But the other explanation is that we do reach out beyond our church boundaries but do it in quiet and unassuming ways that often fail to get noticed. The day before the fountain blessing we had close to 100 people here packing meals for Catholic Relief Services to ship to Burkina Fasso in Africa in order to feed hungry people. In just over two hours our dedicated crew of St. Austin parishioners packed 10,000 meals! You should have seen them go! All of those meals are going to feed hungry people in another country on another continent. That is outreach!

The same afternoon following that blessing, a wonderful organ concert was presented in our church, feeding a different need of the human soul for artistry and beauty. Man does not live on packaged meals alone.

Every day in our worship, in our parish school, in our charitable and social justice ministries, St. Austin reaches out in support, in consolation, in help. Maybe we need to make these efforts better known.

In any case, we do NOT do these things because of the positive publicity that they attract. The publicity is good and I am glad our fountain made such a splash (pun intended). But ultimately we do all this because this is what Jesus told us to do. As long as He sees, the effort is worthwhile.

God bless!











Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 27


This week, on Nov. 1 we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. On Saturday, Nov. 2, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls. Friday 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. On Saturday we in turn pray for all the faithful departed.

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 even the chasm of death.

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. So take a few minutes to think about the saints you have known in your life: maybe a grandparent who had a rich life of faith, a coworker who always had an inner source of joy, or a teacher or coach who was unfailingly kind and fair. Be sure to ask for their help in prayer on All Saints Day. And who do you in particular wish to remember, support, and pray for on All Souls Day? We have a Book of Remembrance at Our Lady’s Altar in which you can inscribe their names. Expressing your prayer and concern for them in prayer will bless both you and them.

May our celebrations this week bring us hope and encouragement.

God bless!

 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

HOMILY 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C St Austin, Austin, TX 10/20/2013

          In our first reading Moses instructs Josua: “Pick out certain men,
and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle.
I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand."
I happen to have here an in-exact replica of the Staff of God that Moses used, the same staff that Moses held out over the Red Sea in order to part the sea in two and that Moses used to ensure victory in today’s reading.  Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, with Charlton Heston playing Moses. 
          Anyway Josua goes and does as he is told, engaging the horrible and dreaded Amalek in battle.  Moses goes up to the top of the hill, with the staff of God, and raises up his hands, presumably holding out the staff, like at the Red Sea.  (Hold out staff.)
          Now admittedly I am not in very good shape.  None-the-less, this is not easy to do for very long.  If you don’t believe me, try it.   In any case our reading tells us: “Moses’ hands, however, grew tired;”   I bet they did.  But Moses couldn’t let his hands down to rest, because when he did Amalek started winning.  Only when Moses had his hands raised with the staff did Joshua win.  I can picture poor old Moses, standing up there, holding out his hands with the staff, saying to himself, “Oh Josua, come on, get with it, hurry up!”  But the battle was dragging on. (put down staff)
          What was poor old Moses to do?  He could not keep his aching arms up on his own, and he could not put them down to rest lest Josua be defeated and the Israelites be massacred.  So what did he do?   Moses relied on other people.  He did not rely on his own strength, but accepted the help of others.
          The reading states:  “they put a rock in place for him to sit on.
Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands,
one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”
          That was a long time.  Moses could never have done it on his own.  He had to rely on the help of others.  But it did the trick:  “And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”   Gory but effective.
          Now hopefully you don’t want to mow down some other tribal leader and his people, or anything as bloody as that.  But if you are human then you do have some things you need and deeply desire:  health and protection for your family,  especially your children.  Wisdom and guidance in some difficult ethical situation.  Strength to tell the truth in the face of opposition and the courage to do what is right.  Assistance to be able to use your talents to better yourself and support your family.  Patience to bear an illness or to deal with difficult people.  Guidance to find a life partner, significant career decisions, or direction in life.  And many other needs and basic desires.  And so we have to pray. 
          Jesus in the Gospel tells us a parable that teaches us to be persistent in prayer.  The Gospel begins: “Jesus told his disciples” – that is you and me – “a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary
.”  
          That is hard.  It is difficult to pray always without becoming weary.  Just try it.  Being humans we get tired of asking, we get discouraged, we become impatient, we become disappointed, in short we become weary.  We don’t have to physically hold up that staff, but praying always is still work, it still takes effort, and we still get weary.   We pray and pray and pray and nothing happens.  We get weary and disappointed and then we give up.   Then old Amalek wins.   YUCK!
          What should we do?  I think we should take a leaf from Moses’ playbook.  We need to get other people to help us to pray.  We need to rely on other people.  Like Moses, get someone to put a rock for you to sit on.   This is not a physical rock.  I think this is rather someone’s strong, rocklike faith.  When we are in the presence of someone of strong faith it is a comfort.  We sort of lean against their faith, that allows us to rest, to relax, to find comfort.  Just as the rock was not bothered or harmed by Moses’ resting on it, so their faith supports us without harming or weakening them in any way. 
          I remember in another diocese where I was first pastor we had a Dean – a priest who is the local representative of the Bishop who was far away in another part of the state.  And this Dean was a very unpleasant and difficult man, a regular Amalek.  He was a Monsignor, you see.  Anyway we were celebrating Confirmation at the parish and the Monsignor showed up just before the ceremony and wanted to change everything around.  I was upset and intimidated.  So I went to see my rock, the Director of Religious Education - Sr. Doris Faber who weighed about 90 pounds “dripping wet” as they say. 
          When I informed her what was happening she hustled over to the Monsignor and explained clearly and directly in her most authoritative nun voice how the ceremony was going to go.  And so it did.  She was a rock I could lean on. 
          If you know someone whose faith is strong and secure then lean against that person’s faith to strengthen your faith.  Take them as an example and a support.  Let them be your rock.
          Then Moses had Aaron and Hur hold his arms.  We are told “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”   Who can be an Aaron and Hur for you?   Who can you ask to support you in prayer, so that you do not become discouraged and tired and give up?  Who can you ask to pray with and for you? 
          Better yet, for whom can you be an Aaron or a Hur?  Who can you lift up and support in prayer?  It goes both ways.  The support is mutual.
          You see, when we pray we are not alone.  We are very much in this all together.  We support, encourage, help one another as we pray.  It is one reason while at least once a week we need to gather together as the Christian community to pray and worship and give thanks.  We need the reminder that we do not pray alone.  We are part of a much greater undertaking, and are supported by our fellow Christians on earth, and by all the good people - the saints - that have gone before us, and also by the angelic choirs.  That is a lot of support.  The prayerful support stretches vastly through space and through time.
          When it comes to prayer we are not rugged individualists.  We pray in, and as part of, a community of faith.  And that makes our prayer much more meaningful.  

          Today’s second collection – for world mission Sunday – is another tangible, concrete expression of our inter-connectedness with Christians all throughout the world.  I encourage you to be generous.  You are really helping yourself, for we are all in this together.   God bless!