Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 1

Wishing you all a very happy Labor Day weekend! This Monday we honor all workers and laborers, paid and unpaid. Hopefully, by our labor we build up the Kingdom of God as we support our families and ourselves and benefit society.  Happy Labor Day to all who labor in any way.

This past weekend we had a very successful Parish Pastoral Council Retreat. New members coming onto the Council as well as those going off joined together to talk and explore about our parish’s commitment to evangelization. We were also joined by the other clergy of the parish: Deacon Billy Atkins and Frs. René Constanza and Bob Cary.

Evangelization is a word that is slowly becoming more familiar to Catholics. Simply put it is the effort to share the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. It is introducing others to Jesus, and giving witness to the life, the love, the joy that knowing Him brings into our lives, within the community of His people, the church.

We do evangelization because 1) Jesus commanded us to do so, and 2) we have something very wonderful, precious and life-giving that, out of concern for others, we want to share.

In the past we have always had evangelization in the Catholic Church, but we often used different words for it, such as missionary effort, or apostolic action, or “apostolate,” or something like that. Recent Popes have called for a “new” evangelization. Whereas in the past evangelization was a missionary effort to bring the Gospel to people who had not yet heard it in foreign lands in Africa or Asia, today the new evangelization is directed to countries that are nominally Christian but not active in the faith today.

All Catholics are called to be evangelizers, giving witness to our Faith by our lives. But as members of a parish staffed by the Paulist Fathers, a group founded to evangelize North America, we have a special reason to be doing evangelization. So our Parish Pastoral Council decided to focus on how we as a parish, concretely and practically, can evangelize. We came up with many good ideas, and I hope that soon you will be hearing more about this as we focus on just a couple of practical efforts we can accomplish as a parish.

The members of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) who have gone off are:  Kerri Kallus, Mark Harrison, Susana Campos, and Karla Basham. THANK YOU to all of you for your service to our parish!

The new members coming on the PPC are: Patrick Hunt, Josie Barrett (Recorder), Shannon Frangenberg and Jennifer Kirsch. Welcome!

Continuing on the PPC are Ray Mechler (Chair), Kennedy Columbo, Susan Cimino, Mary Kay Hemenway, Ed Anderson, Emily Kleine, Kathy Airel and Frank Morris (Vice-Chair). We as a parish are blessed with a diverse and active group of parishioners on the PPC. Please keep the PPC and our parish in your prayers.

God bless!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

HOMILY 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C St Austin August 25, 2013

all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,  So observes our second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews.  And I tend to agree.
          So let’s talk about discipline   How were you disciplined by your parents, or those who raised you?   Was it too much?   Was it too little?  Was it ‘just right’?  
          Do you think you do a good job of disciplining your own children?   Are you too strict or too lax? 
          Do you do a good job of disciplining your own self?   Are you too hard on yourself and need to ease up some?  Or are you more like me,……. skimping a bit on discipline? 
          Discipline is often difficult to get right.  You can sin against discipline by excess and being too rigid, thereby stifling growth, development, and natural curiosity and even killing someone’s spirit.  Or you can sin by defect with too little discipline, leading to lack of self control, impulse issues, inability to stay with a project and even inability to commit one’s self to a group or to another. 
          Learning how to discipline correctly is not easy.  It is, I believe, more art than science.  As the oldest of six children I know that what worked for me in terms of discipline would not always work for my brothers or my sisters.  Some children need a lot of freedom to explore, to try things out, to discover who they are.  A lot of rules will stifle them and stunt their growth as giving human beings.   Other children, with a different type of personality, require clear guidelines, specific rules, published boundaries or they feel lost, overwhelmed by options, insecure and confused.  Different children need different levels of discipline.  At different ages they need different amounts.
          I personally think that the popularity today among some college age students and young adults with pre-Vatican II devotional practices - such as receiving Communion on the tongue, Holy Hours, emphasis on clerical dress and titles, genuflecting in the Communion line, and so on  - stem from a desire to have clear, visible, concrete outward signs of Catholic identity because of some lack of clarity about their faith identity.  This lack of clarity derives from growing up in an atmosphere of faith that was indefinite, cloudy, kind of hap-hazard, generally kind of fuzzy, loose and unclear, amorphous, more about felt and burlap banners than about clear doctrine. 
          I grew up, on the other hand, at a time when it was excruciatingly clear what it meant to be Catholic.  The expectations were specific and well defined, and what was acceptable and especially what was not, was routinely drummed into us.  So the outward markers of identity seem more a distraction.  But I digress. 
          The Letter to the Hebrews today tells us:  You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:   “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;  for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;  God treats you as sons. 
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?”
            For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews the concept of “son” is not about gender – about boys vs. girls - but rather about being the rightful heir.  Today, in our society when fortunately both daughters and sons are able to inherit from their parents, the author would say “daughters and sons” or “children”.  This passage would read: “God treats you as beloved children.  For was child is there whom his or her father does not discipline?”   For the Letter to the Hebrews the point is that the discipline is a sign of love.  A parent who is not truly loving does not bother with discipline because it is hard work and generates resentment (hopefully temporary) in the child.  Most of us are fortunate to be able to look back and see the discipline we received as really an expression of our parents’ love for us.  A parent who abdicates the responsibility of disciplining is too concerned with their own comfort to love their child fully. 
          So for The Letter to the Hebrews the point is that discipline is a sign of parental love.  And since God loves us at least as much as any loving parent, therefore God disciplines us.  And by this discipline we grow.
          Our second reading states:  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
            It takes time to see the result, the fruit as St. Paul says, of this discipline.  That is hard.  We want instantaneous results.  It requires trust on our part that God our loving parent knows better than we do what is best for us, and wants more for us than we can even imagine.  Such trust is based on love.
          In the Gospel Jesus warns us: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”   The strength Jesus speaks of is not physical or mental or even personal strength, but strength of FAITH.  To get that strength of Faith takes training and work, just like building physical strength.  God’s discipline makes us stronger in Faith.   We saw an example of that strength of Faith this past week in the school in Atlanta, when Antoinette Tuff talked down a very disturbed man who wanted to hurt school children.  That was strength that came from living Faith.
          When God disciplines us, with loss or disappointment or failure or illness or opposition or injustice or in many other ways, we are called to open ourselves to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and have trust in God’s love for us.
          Our second reading today urges us:  So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. 
Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 11

Perhaps you have noticed that the front of our church and the rectory next door look as though they have just been transplanted from some battle-scarred city in the Middle East. All over the front of these two buildings chunks of stone are missing. Well the chunks, or divots, are not the result of rebels shooting wildly their AK-47’s, but rather the insidious result of OXIDATION. In other words, RUST.

Our church and rectory are both 60 years old. I can tell you from personal experience (now having reached the ripe old age of 62), that once you hit 60 systems begin to fail. This is certainly true for our church and rectory. In fact it has been going on for a while.

Our buildings are clad in a four-inch thick veneer of limestone. That is what you see on the outside. This limestone is held onto the building by metal angle-irons. And it seems these metal fasteners were not galvanized steel but ordinary steel which is prone to rust. And as it rusts it expands. Slowly, inexorably, incessantly the rust pushes and pushes until finally the stone can stand it no longer and a piece (a divot) pops out relieving the pressure. And when they pop out they fall to the ground. Perhaps in the past you have seen parts of the limestone façade lying on the ground around the church. I have.

As I wrote in my column on June 2, we have hired a team of architects, engineers and contractors to do a study of the outside of the church. We wanted to know both the condition of the building and how we could clean the dark staining (mold). As the team did the study, they removed any loose pieces before they could fall and hurt someone. They also found many places that were patched in the 70’s, and most of those were loose and dangerous. With all those removed it left our front looking rather battered. But while less attractive, it is safer.

But that is not all. They also examined the cross on top of the tower. A large chunk of stone came off in their hands. The cross is badly weathered and in poor shape. They had to do emergency remedial action, and so if you look closely you will see the cross is bound up with orange nylon straps. This is not UT burnt orange. It is strictly a safety issue. We will be monitoring the cross to insure it remains stable and safe. We are also pursuing a permit from the city for sidewalk protection.

You can see four pictures of the damage on line at our parish website, I have sent additional information to the parish staff, the finance council, the parish council and the property committee.

The study team is to give us their final report at the St. Austin Parish Property Committee on Wednesday, August 21. I am sure I will have more to report to you after that. This promises to be a major project, one we will be living with for a while to come.

Our parish is vibrant, active and healthy. Our building is in need of repair. Between the two, buildings are much easier (if terribly expensive) to fix.

God bless!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle “C” August , 2013

          In today’s Gospel we hear this sobering line: “This night your life will be demanded of you.”   This night, August 4th , your life will be demanded of you.” .....    
Could be.  We know that this blunt and startling statement someday will be true for each of us.  For some night, or some morning, or some day, your life will be demanded of you, and my life will be demanded of me.   There will be no continuations, no extensions, no appeals.  It could be a disease, an accident, or just old age.  It could be a surprise.  It was already 47 years ago on August 1st that a gunman with a high powered rifle in the UT tower killed 14 people and wounded 32 others.  It could be a lot of things, but it will be something.      So let us assume, that like in the Gospel, it is tonight.   Hmmmmm.
          What do you look back on?  What is important to you?     In the Gospel today Jesus assures us: “one’s life does not consist of possessions.”  Obviously there is much more to life than possessions.  You probably were not thinking about your favorite possessions just now.  But we do spend an awful lot of time and energy earning, buying, and accumulating stuff.
          The rich man in the Gospel runs into a problem: “I do not have space to store my harvest”.  Anyone here ever run into that problem, not have enough space to store all your possessions, all your stuff?   Yeah, most of us.  So we sometimes do what the rich man did - not tear down our barns and build bigger ones - but we get more space:  we rent a storage locker, we buy more organizers and storage units, sometimes we get a bigger house, or at least we wish we had more space to store more stuff. 
          But, ... “one’s life does not consist of possessions.”    So, ¿What does it consist of?   In the second reading from St. Paul to the Colossians, Paul urges us “seek what is above.”  What does Paul mean?  What is “above”???
          Well, the things of God, the things of the Holy Spirit.  Immediately following the passage we have as our second reading today, St. Paul continues:  Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another,  …over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.    … let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.   And be thankful.”
          These are the things that are above.  As Christians, followers of Jesus, our life is to be much more about these things that are above than about possessions and money.  The rich man in the Gospel is labeled by God a fool, because he stored up treasure for himself, but was “not rich in what matters to God.”  
          Being rich in what matters to God does not require bigger barns, nor more closet space, nor storage lockers, nor anything like that, but it does require a bigger heart.  It means being rich in heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and especially in Faith, Hope and Love. 
          Now please understand that the Gospel is not telling us that money and possessions are bad.  The rich man in the Gospel was a fool because he stored up his treasures for himself.  He was a fool because of his greed and self-centeredness, not because he was rich.  He was a fool because he thought the bounty of his harvest was all about him.  He foolishly failed to recognize that this blessing was given to him for a purpose, as a privilege and a responsibility to help others. 
          The poor and the middle class can be just as greedy as any rich person.   Greed is about a stance of clutching and grasping.  The opposite of greed is generosity, a stance of openness.  And the poor can also be as generous as any billionaire.
          Money is therefore, not about accumulating more and more possessions, but about doing good with it: supporting yourself and your family, and then helping to alleviate suffering, and making the world a better place.  With wealth comes the opportunity, and the responsibility, to grow rich in what matters to God. 
          “This night your life will be demanded of you.”  It is a sobering thought.  But in contradiction to our first reading today, we do not believe that “All things are vanity!”
          Wealth does not need to make us greedy.  We do not need to waste our lives in mindless consumerism and the exhausting and silly pursuit of more and more useless stuff.  Shopping is not our destiny.  We are called to more than that.  The gift of God’s Holy Spirit calls us to a new way of life in Christ.
           As St. Paul exhorts us in today’s second reading:
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”

And that is something to look forward to!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 4

Let’s talk about singing. I like to sing. Some of the more perceptive of you may have noticed that I sing loud. I don’t always (or for that matter, usually) sing well. Nonetheless, I sing. And I enjoy it.

I hope you like to sing, too. As Americans we are generally not very good singers. When I was on sabbatical at the Catholic University of Belgium I was impressed with how the Belgians were so much more at ease with, and so much better at, singing than most Americans. The Belgians sang at the drop of a hat. They have a saying that the Belgians are born speaking three languages and singing in four parts. Unfortunately, just as we don’t speak any foreign languages, we don’t sing very much either.

Partly this is due to our educational system. While singing ability will surely make your life much richer, it won’t make you richer in terms of money, so therefore it is regarded as frivolous and of no account. That is too bad, since singing really does make life much fuller. My Mother told me toward the end of her life, when she had cancer in her cheek, the thing she missed most was singing. And I remember an elderly, tough, Scottish lady I brought Holy Communion to in New York. When she could hardly speak she could still sing songs of her youth with relish and gusto. Truly singing is a treasure.

Where do we get an opportunity to sing these days? Families don’t sing together except for 30 seconds at a birthday party. Maybe we croak out a carol or two around the Christmas tree once a year. Perhaps you croon in the shower when you think you won’t be heard. And certainly we do not sing at a baseball game, as most of us cannot hit the high notes in our national anthem. Singing in bars and pubs and at social meetings is just not done here as it is done in Europe or many other places in the world.

Let’s face it, the main chance most of us get to sing is at church. If you miss church one Sunday you may not get another chance to sing for the whole week. Church is your opportunity finally to open your mouth and belt out a song, and I encourage you to take full advantage of it. It is a wonderful way to pray. St. Augustine (not our St Augustine of Canterbury but the other one of Hippo) famously said that to sing is to pray twice. If you are out of practice and think you cannot sing, don’t let that stop you. I have it on very good authority that God is tone deaf. God will not be upset if you hit a couple of sour notes. If on the other hand God gave you a truly bad voice, then in all fairness you should plague God with it since He created you that way. Let Him suffer the consequences!

Of course, you can learn how to sing better, practice and improve. And the more you improve there is a very high likelihood that you will enjoy singing even more. It just so happens that this Monday & Tuesday, and then again the following Monday & Tuesday, we have a Singing School right here at St. Austin, “available to any adult in the parish who would like to improve their singing abilities.” The details are available elsewhere in the bulletin. I hope to see you there!

God bless!