Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 28

This week we open the month of May. In some places May is associated with Spring, but here in central Texas it is pretty nigh on to Summer. In any case, Wednesday is the First of May. This is “May Day,” known as the International Workers Day. It is held on this day to commemorate the 1894 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, IL. The Chicago Police opened fire on a crowd demonstrating for the eight-hour workday, killing dozens of the demonstrators and several of their own number. The commemoration of this bloody event was taken up especially by socialists as a worker’s memorial. The International Workers Day became a popular holiday in all Communist countries, primarily marked by large military parades. May Day parades were ways for the red countries to show off their military might.

It seems that in response to this International Workers Day which was heavily socialist and communist, Pope Pius XII in 1955 instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The Pope wanted to show that not only communists cared about workers and their plight, but Catholics did, too. Today the communists are pretty well discredited, but we still celebrate St. Joseph the Worker and will do so this Wednesday.

There is good reason to do so. Work is still a very important part of our lives. For many it is how people spend most of their waking hours. Work provides us with the wherewithal to live, and by our work we support our families, advance society and add to the strength of the economy. Work is very important, and by celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, we recognize the spiritual significance of work.

Through work we exercise our God-given talents. We cooperate with God’s plan for building up the human family. So it is good for us to honor St. Joseph as a worker.

Traditionally Joseph has been viewed as a carpenter. More recently some scripture scholars claim that Joseph was not a carpenter in our sense of the word, but rather a “builder” who worked in stone and other materials as well as wood. Like other Palestinian peasants, he probably took any job he could get and was a jack-of-all-trades. His skills probably extended beyond carpentry.

So on Wednesday thank the workers in your family. Pray for all workers, invoking especially the intercession of St. Joseph. And perhaps reflect on how the feast you celebrate has its origins in the bloody suppression of a 19th century Chicago strike.

God bless,



Monday, April 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter Cycle C April 21, 2013

          Why are you a Christian?  What is the purpose of the gift of faith you have been given?  To answer this question I need to do some set up.

          In our first reading we see Sts Paul and Barnabas preaching.  They go to a Synagogue in a place called Antioch in Pisidia, which is now just a bunch of ruins in central Turkey. But their fellow Jews in the Synagogue reject them and so Paul and Barnabas turn to the non-Jews, the Gentiles in this town, who do accept their message gladly. 
          Paul and Barnabas then quote a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, ch 49 verse 6:
For so the Lord has commanded us,
“I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”   (Isaiah 49:6)
          Now in Latin, the phrase Light to the Gentiles is “Lumen Gentium”   I hope that sounds vaguely familiar to some of you.  It is the title of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the four major constitutions of Vatican Council II, some 50 years ago. 
          That Council taught that the Church is to be a light to the nations, and an instrument of salvation for all.
          In Lumen Gentium we read: “So it is that that messianic people, although it does not actually include all people (men), and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race.  Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, [the church] is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” LG #9  
          “An instrument for the redemption of all.”  That was a change from the previous common understanding of most Catholics that the purpose of their being a Catholic was to insure their own personal salvation, or more simply put, to get to heaven.  The common idea was that you stayed in the church, obeyed the rules, passed through the stormy seas and tribulations of this miserable life on earth, and finally reached the shores of heaven where you would be happy forever, Amen.
          All that changed with Vatican Council II.  Now our responsibility got a lot greater.  Not only were we working on our own personal salvation, we got stuck with working for the “salvation of the whole human race”! 
          This means that how we live our lives is not only important for our own individual self, but also for the salvation of the whole world!  What a lot of responsibility!
          A theologian named Paul Lakeland who has written on this topic states:  “Because it is part of God’s design for salvation, the Church’s meaning is always to be found in relation to the divine will for the salvation of all people.  The Church does not exist for the sake of its members, so much as for those who are not its members.”  P37
          Our mission, our reason for being Catholic therefore, is not just for our own sake, but in a very real sense, for the sake of EVERYONE. Just like the bread and wine we use at this Mass are a sacrament, a sign of the real presence of Jesus with us, that effectively makes Jesus present, so you in your life are a sacrament, a sign, of God’s Will to redeem and save ALL people.  What you do and what you fail to do is critically important not only for you, but for the whole darn world!
          Clearly, this gives your life of faith much greater dignity, significance and importance.
          It also affects the way we look at Church.  Because for the church to carry out its mission, for it to be a light to the nations, for it to be an effective instrument of salvation for the whole world, that mission cannot be carried out inside of churches.  The mission must be worked out in the world, which is its goal. 
          To quote again the theologian Paul Lakeland:  “the Church that bears the name of Christ exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the world to which it is sent.” p58 
          So, if the primary mission of the church is out to the world – not inside the churches – then guess on whom falls the primary responsibility of carrying out the mission of the church?  YOU!  The laity.  The people out in the world. 
          As Lakeland states:  “Relative to the other-directed mission of the Church, [the clergy] are all – in the best possible sense of the phrase – support staff.  …the heart of the Church’s mission’ is ‘primarily carried out by laypeople, since it is the laity who shoulder by far the greater part of the task of being the loving presence of God in the world.” p58
          The church’s mission, to be an instrument of salvation for the whole world, is primarily carried out by you, the laity.  By what you do in your daily life, by how you live in integrity, by how you practice compassion, and by how you love. 
          Fr René and Fr Bob and myself, Bishop Joe Vasquez and even Pope Francis, are just “support staff”, to help you carry out the real mission of the Church, to be a light to the nations, to truly be Lumen Gentium
          That is why you are called to be a Catholic.  This gives your efforts to live a Catholic Christian life great importance and transcendent dignity.  We have a great mission as Catholics.  We are privileged and blest to be called by Jesus to be part of His flock; and we are entrusted by Him with a part to play in a most important mission, which indeed is His mission: the salvation of the world. 
          Be that Light to the Nations, be Lumen Gentium!

Paul Lakeland:  “Church  Living Communion”   Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN  2009

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 21

Many years ago, when I was a lad, I was taught that rights and privileges brought with them corresponding responsibilities. A right or freedom could not be exercised willy-nilly as I may wish on a sudden impulse but had to be exercised    responsibly, in benefit for the common good and not purely for personal gain. For example, the freedom of speech does not allow me to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, unless that is actually the case and I and my fellow movie-goers are facing immanent conflagration. Nor does the freedom of speech give me the freedom to spread malicious and damaging gossip about my neighbor, especially if it is not true or without a good cause even if it is. Rights are intrinsically linked to responsibilities.

This idea may now seem quaint to many, but I still think that way. That is why I find the current national debate about gun control so exasperating. The right to bear arms – a very potent right – brings with it, in my way of thinking, also very compelling responsibilities. Just as there must be rules of the road for those who drive automobiles in order to insure the safety of all, so it seems to me self-evident that there should be rules and regulations for those who own guns, or in constitutional parlance, bear arms.

I would not want to live in a state that did not require an applicant for a driver’s license to first pass a driving test. And so it seems to me only logical to the point of being self-evident that universal background checks for the purchase of firearms are a very good idea indeed. The criminally insane should not be armed. And some demonstration of knowledge of firearm safety would be a good thing as well. Likewise, limitations on the amount of bullets a magazine can hold makes good sense to me for the protection of all of us.

No amount of traffic laws will eliminate all accidents, but I do not thereby wish to abolish all traffic laws! The fact that common-sense restrictions on firearm ownership will not stop all gun violence is likewise hardly a reason for not enacting them. After all, we have the Second Amendment right to bear arms for the sake of our protection. We need sensible gun control laws for exactly the same reason, i.e., our protection.

There seems to me a certain “Catholic” sense in all this, for deep in the Catholic psyche is the vital sense of community, that somehow we are all connected, that we are all in this together, that we all have responsibility for one another. It is never sufficient to simply insist on my “rights” without also acknowledging my “responsibility” for you and everyone else as well. We are, after all, one body, the Body of Christ.

God bless,



Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 14

Last month, on Tuesday of Holy Week, Bishop Joe Vásquez blessed the oils that are used in the celebration of the Sacraments. There are three such oils: Oil of the Catechumens, Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism. The Oil of the Catechumens, as the name implies, is used in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in ceremonies preparing the catechumens (those to be baptized) for their baptism. The Oil of the Sick is used in the Anointing of the Sick, a wonderful prayer of the Church asking for healing physically, mentally and spiritually. This sacrament is celebrated communally each month here at St. Austin. And finally there is the Sacred Chrism, which is oil that has perfume in it. Interestingly, while the Oil of the Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick are “blessed,” the Sacred Chrism gets a more elevated designation in that it is “consecrated.”  This oil is used in Baptism, in the celebration of Confirmation, and in Ordination. So of the three it has the most work to do.

We ceremoniously received our oils on Holy Thursday. These oils were then used in the Sacraments celebrated at the Easter Vigil, that is, Baptism and Confirmation. The old oils from last year are burned when new oils are received.

According to Canon Law, canon 847, ¶2 we have to receive the oils from our own Bishop. The canon states: “The pastor is to obtain the sacred oils from his own bishop and keep them carefully in a fitting manner.” Apparently I am not permitted to go to the Archdiocese of San Antonio and get the oils there, nor to the Diocese of San Angelo to get them if I happened to be passing by that way. Only oils from the local bishop are permitted.  Perhaps this is to give the local bishop a greater sense of, and control over, who is celebrating sacraments in his territory.

This canon also states that the oils are to be kept “carefully in a fitting manner.” I presume that local custom prescribes what constitutes “a fitting manner.” For a long time the oils here were kept in a closet in the sacristy, along with chalices and patens, cruets and pitchers and other altar ware. It was a safe space, but not particularly “fitting.” But now I am pleased to announce that we have an actual ambry, which is a small closet or niche specifically designated for keeping the three sacramental oils. Our ambry is located in the Reconciliation Chapel but is still visible through the grate. You can easily see the cabinet in which the three oils are now kept in the left corner. Thanks to Miriam Mellon for urging us to acquire an ambry, to John Hoffman for suggesting the location, and to Frank Garcia and Kevin Barry for making it so. I think the ambry is a very nice addition to the furnishings of our church. 

God bless,


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 7

Happy Easter! ALLELUIA! What a great weekend we had last weekend: wonderful music, great preaching, huge crowds, fabulous decorations and flowers, and a warm, lively spirit. It was a great celebration of Easter. ALLELUIA!

Many thanks to all those who made it possible.  The biggest thanks, of course, go to God the Father, the Holy Spirit and to Jesus. Without God’s phenomenal gift to us of His Only Son, and Jesus’ acceptance of the cross, we would have nothing to celebrate. But God’s love is so great, so forceful, so pervasive and unstoppable that it has overcome death and sin. WOW! We have something to celebrate not only on Easter, but every day of our lives.

The proper response is gratitude and thanks. Unlike the Government (hope you all have your taxes done because tax day just over a week away!), God does not withhold any of our earnings. God allows us to graciously respond in generosity, as we are moved by gratitude, never coerced or forced.

We all have an opportunity to respond in gratitude to God’s phenomenal generosity to us next weekend, April 13-14, as we observe our annual PLEDGE WEEKEND here at St. Austin.

Less than a quarter (about 22%) of our parish makes an annual pledge. The pledge is a commitment of membership and belonging, of taking a share in the responsibility of supporting and growing our parish community. Regardless of the size of the pledge, the very act of making a pledge is tantamount to accepting responsibility of this parish community as an active member. Spiritually it is a good thing to do. So I urge you to pledge.

My hope is that we will be able to increase the number of parish families who pledge by 10%. The main focus is on giving in thanksgiving and in gratitude for God’s countless blessings. Our giving is always a response to what God has done for us first. So first of all you have to consider how you have been blessed by God, and there is no better time for that than the Easter Season.

So I ask that you please read the letter and materials you will soon be receiving from me. If you do not get one this week, call the church office (512-477-9471), and we will send you one. Please pray over how God has blessed you and your family, and take some time to study the Guide to Weekly Giving that is printed on the back side of the Financial Support form. This is meant to be a reality check to help challenge you to greater gratitude – not a guilt trip. And of course, make your pledge by returning the form in next weekend’s collection, online or by mail. THANK YOU!

God has given His Beloved Son so that we might become Children of God. Please respond in gratitude.

God bless,