Monday, September 30, 2013

Homily 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C September 29, 2013

          Back in April of 2012 I had the great pleasure of visiting Palo Duro Canyon up in the panhandle of Texas.   One of the things that impressed me was, as I was getting close and looking for the canyon, not seeing anything, just driving along on a flat plain like a table-top, when all of a sudden the ground gave way and down the road and I went into the massive canyon.  And I never saw it coming. 
          Anyone here ever been to Palo Duro Canyon?   Or perhaps to the Grand Canyon out in Arizona?   Both are quite impressive.  In nature canyons are intriguing and beautiful things.  But in the spiritual life it is a whole different matter all together.
          In our Gospel today we hear about a canyon, or as the Gospel calls it, a chasm.  When the rich man, from the netherworld, raised up his eyes and saw Abraham and Lazarus at his side, and asked for assistance, Abraham told him this was impossible because: between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”
          But this is not the only chasm in the Gospel.  Earlier, at the very beginning of the Gospel, we see another chasm.  We are told: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table.” 
          In truth there was in life a great chasm between these two individuals; economically, culturally, spiritually.  They shared physical proximity: Lazarus lay right at the door of the rich man.  Physically they were not far apart.  Coming in and out of his mansion the rich man probably saw Lazarus laying there.  But the chasm was great and deep none-the-less.  They probably did not speak.  The rich man did not reach out to help.  They certainly did not socialize together.  In truth there was a huge and deep chasm between them already in life.  Like my experience of Palo Duro Canyon, the ric man never even saw it. 
          And it is important to recognize that the great and deep chasm that divided the rich man in the afterlife from Abraham and Lazarus was the exact same chasm that had been dug between them in this life.
          Why do you think the rich man in the story is in torment?  Why was he condemned?  Why was he damned?  We are never told that he did anything wrong.  We are not told that he cheated on his wife, or more likely, wives. 
We don’t know that he mistreated his employees, that he knowingly sold inferior goods, that he watched dirty movies, that he kicked the family dog.  No.
          What we do know is what he didn’t do.  He did not reach out to Lazarus.  He did not step across that chasm in this life when he was able to.  And that is enough to understand why he was condemned. 
          Because it is not enough just to avoid doing evil, just to avoid breaking the commandments.  That is a start.  But it is not enough.   In our second reading today from St. Paul to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy “Compete well for the faith.“ 
          Now you have to do something to compete.  It is active.  It is not enough to simply avoid fouls.  You will never win a game that way.  You have to compete and strive and score.  Simply avoiding fouls is a recipe for loosing.  And similarly simply not breaking the commandments is a recipe for damnation. 
          By ignoring Lazarus laying at this doorstep the rich man was dredging a deep and impassible chasm, and working towards his own eternal doom.  He dug this chasm by his indifference, by his refusal to get involved, by his lack of concern for the person hurting at his doorstep.   When Congress threatened to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, the rich man did not call his congressman; he raised no protest.  He never volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul or the local foodbank.  He never even did the simplest of all: contribute money.  He just never saw Lazarus in need there, because he never gave Lazarus a thought. 
          And in that way he dug a deep chasm of indifference, of lack of empathy, of isolation, of hard-heartedness.  And that is the chasm he was trapped by in the afterlife.  He had dug it himself. 
          There are many different chasms we might dig in our life.  Maybe a chasm of refusal to forgive someone who hurt you, of holding on to bitterness and hurt that cuts that person off.  Maybe we dig a chasm of fear of others that isolates us from “them”.  Or a chasm of prejudice or stereotyping that separates us from “those people”. 
          Or like the rich man in the Gospel, we may dig a chasm of simple indifference, / of lack of empathy, / of an absence of basic human concern, / that creates a gulf between us and others.  When we cut ourselves off from others we also cut ourselves off from Christ.
          We have to do something to live as Christians.  We have to “compete well for the faith” as St. Paul tells us today.  We must put our faith into action.  That means reaching out to others in charity, in concern, in love.  Otherwise we are doing damage to ourselves.  We are isolating ourselves by chasms of indifference and selfishness.  And those chasms just don’t go away by themselves.  They can last for eternity.

          In our second reading St. Paul tells Timothy: Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Our Gospel today is also teaching us to be pro-active in living the life of a disciple of Jesus.  Lay hold of eternal life by putting your faith into action.   AMEN.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 29

Well the time has come to talk about the exterior of the church and of the rectory next to the church. Back on June 2 of this year I announced in this column that we as a parish had contracted with the architectural firm of Kincannon Studios, in partner with an engineering firm and a general contractor, to conduct a study of the outside of our church. Specifically, we wanted to know what to do about the discoloration of the exterior stone that makes our church look so dirty and grungy. In preparing a bid for this study the architect quickly realized that many pieces of stone have fallen out of the façade, and our problem was more than just cosmetic, but structural. We authorized the study which cost $26,706.50.

As they did their study they found things worse than they had expected. In this column on August 11, 2013 I reported on their initial findings, especially about the heavily damaged condition of the stone cross on the top of the church tower and the pieces of stone falling out of the church façade due to rusting of the angle irons behind the stones that hold them to the building.

Finally on Wednesday, September 18 the Parish Property Committee had a presentation by the architect on the study’s findings. A digital copy of the report can be found under News on the homepage of our parish website at In a nutshell, the exterior of the church is slowly falling off. As the condition continues it accelerates. However, the interior of the church is structurally sound, and it is safe to use. But someone on the outside possibly could be hurt by a piece of stone falling off the exterior of the building.

The architect’s study recommended three solution options: one estimated at $2,849,573.88; a second option estimated at $2,589,347.40, and a third solution estimated at $3,674,593.34.  Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like these amounts of money in the bank. And my experience of such estimates is that as conditions are more closely examined, more problems are found and the solutions only increase in cost. This is going to be an expensive affair no matter which way we choose to go.

So what are we going to do? First we are going to take down the stone cross off the top of the tower. It is just too precarious, being held up by chicken wire and plastic straps, which was an emergency repair done by the contractors on the study while they had the lift and could get to it. The tower will not look good, but in this case looks must be sacrificed to safety.

Second, we have applied for a permit to the city to erect sidewalk safety scaffolding around the north and east faces of the church and rectory. As soon as we receive the permit we will erect such scaffolding. I don’t expect it to be pretty, but it is the only responsible course of action. I expect we will get real used to it being there.

Third, we will study the options, seek more opinions, look at our finances and try to plan a course of action. With this in mind I am planning a meeting for parish leaders (Finance Council, Parish Council, Property Committee and others) for Wednesday evening, October 23 to get as many parish players as possible up to speed on the issues and on board with a process to find a solution. And of course we will be consulting with the Diocese of Austin.

Finally, and most importantly, we will pray. I strongly urge all of St. Austin’s parishioners and friends to pray for a good (and affordable) solution to this problem.  

God bless!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 22

This Friday, Sept. 27, is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul. You have probably heard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or as it is called in some other places I have been, “St. Vinny’s.” The Society is a wonderful organization that does a tremendous amount of good, and every active parish where I have been has one. What you may not realize is that St. Vincent de Paul did not himself found the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Vincent was born in Gasgony in France in the late 1500’s. A good student, his father sold his oxen to pay for his son’s education. In the year 1600, at the early age of 19, Vincent was ordained a priest. At that time being a priest was a fairly comfortable career economically, and so Vincent was set.

Everything was going fine until he got an inheritance in Marseilles. While returning from claiming the inheritance he was captured by Barbary pirates. These are the same set of pirates that more than a century later would end up fighting the Marines of a brand new country, the United States of America. Anyway, in 1605 poor Vincent was hauled off to Tunis and sold as a slave. After two years in slavery Vincent escaped with the help of the wife of his owner. He went to Rome for further study, became involved in political missions to France, and eventually ended up as confessor to the wealthy and influential family, which gave him entree to many noble and high-society families in France. Using this position, in 1617 Vincent founded the Ladies of Charity to organize the efforts of wealthy and powerful women to assist missions, found hospitals and assist the victims of war. They also ransomed 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. This organization grew, and with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, the Daughters of Charity was founded. Sr. Sharon Groestsch, who has worked here as a spiritual director for years, is a Daughter of Charity. In her work with St. Austin’s Small Christian Communities, Sr. Sharon helped in the founding of Saint Louise House in Austin, which cares for homeless women with children.

In 1622 Vincent was appointed chaplain to the galley slaves and worked among imprisoned galley slaves in Paris. As if he did not have enough to do, Vincent became the leader of a group of priests called the Vincentians, dedicated entirely to helping the rural poor. Vincent worked tirelessly giving retreats for clergy, improving clerical training and founding seminaries. Vincent died in Paris on September 27, 1660, at the age of 79. He was canonized in 1737. Among the many causes and organizations that St. Vincent de Paul is a heavenly patron of is, rather unusually, Richmond, Virginia and of course, De Paul University.

However, we still have not gotten to the St. Vincent de Paul Societies. We must shift forward to Paris in 1833, more than 170 years after Vincent’s death. A group of students from the University of Paris, lead by Frederic Ozanam, responding to the poverty they saw around them in the slums of Paris, founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Ozanam was only 20 years old when the St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded, which shows what university students can do when motivated and organized. Today, St. Vincent de Paul Societies are in 148 countries and have about 700,000 members, doing a lot of very practical, hands-on, direct charity and help. We have a chapter here at St. Austin that quietly but effectively responds to the needs of people in our area, regardless of religion, race or politics. If you would like to know more about the St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter at St. Austin and how you can help, call 512-477-1589 or contact Michael Murphy (president) or Jack Gullahorn (vice-president) or our parish Director of Social Ministries, Ms. Pat Macy,

God bless!


Monday, September 16, 2013


          In the Gospel today we hear the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Of the four Gospel writers, Luke is the only one that tells us this parable.  Why is that?  Why didn’t Mathew, Mark and John bother to tell us this story?  Did they not know it?  It is a pretty good story that you think would have made the rounds.
          Maybe the other Gospel writers left it out on purpose.  Maybe they didn’t like this parable.  That’s possible, because I don’t much like it either.  Because even though we call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I don’t think this story is really about him.   And the older son, while important to the story, is also not the real focus.  It is the father who is, I believe, the center of the story.  And it is a depiction of God that is highly unusual and rather unsettling.
          How are we to understand the story?  Remember the context.  In Jesus’ day society was very patriarchal.  One’s social, economic and even religious standing depended on your relation to the head of the household.  Respect for the father of the family was very great.  So it would have been shocking for the audience of Jesus to hear that the younger son should brazenly demand his share of the estate.  First of all he had no share coming to him.  Inheritance at that time followed the law of primogeniture, meaning that the eldest son got everything, and daughters and younger sons got zip.  This was kind of harsh, but it prevented small plots of land being divided into useless, tiny parcels.  So the younger son had no claim whatsoever.  And secondly, the younger son was effectively saying he wished his Father was dead, since that is when the inheritance would come into effect. 
          The only thing more shocking than the younger son’s atrocious behavior is the Father’s.  Instead of smacking the kid up the side of the head as he so richly deserved, the Father indulgently and foolishly gives the younger son half of his estate.  What?  Are you kidding?  That is totally irresponsible!      This is not a parable about good parenting.
          The younger son, egotistical twit that he is, is soon parted from his money and finds himself in dire straits.  Driven by hunger, if not by remorse, the younger son returns home in the hopes of finding a meal. 
          Meanwhile, the doting Father is yearning for the younger son, scanning the horizon for his hoped for return.  While the younger son is still a long way off his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.  He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”   In that culture, where the appearance of dignity counted for a great deal, to see the old man running down the road would be most exceptional.   That sort of thing was just not done.  It would have been undignified in the extreme.   
          Not letting the prodigal son finish his apology, the Father commands his servants to get a ring for his finger, sandals for his feet, a robe for him to wear, and to kill the fatted calf for a home-coming feast. 
          That is the last we see of the younger son.  Has he really matured, or just been driven by hunger?  Probably the latter.  In any case the Father is a hopelessly irresponsible parent.   As one commentator writes, “Indeed, we might well wonder if the reason the son is impossible is that the father is so inept.” 
          Now the story shifts to the older brother.  He was supposed to inherit everything, but now half of the estate has been squandered away by his wastrel brother.  He got jipped!  In his anger he refuses to go into the feast.  Ever indulgent, the Father comes out to plead with him.  The older son states his case, that he has been dutiful and diligent but has not been rewarded, while this younger son blows off half the estate in parties and loose living and then he is given a hero’s welcome on his return.  It is unjust, unfair, and wrong to say the least.
          The Father never answers the just claims of the elder son.  Rather he states a deeper need, a deeper reason than strict justice.   He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always;  everything I have is yours.   But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
          The Father operates by a different logic than what is fair, what is just.  And the Father is, of course, a stand in for God.  This is not a parable about repentance, but rather a parable about the incomprehensibility of love and the mystery of God.  God’s love just doesn’t make sense.  It is not fair. 
          God just doesn’t see as we see.  God doesn’t think like we think.  God loves.  That is what God does. 
          God loves in crazy, prodigal, even unfair and irresponsible ways.  But God loves.  That is what God does.  It is unnerving and upsetting and even unjust.  But God loves.  That is what God does. 
He makes his rain come down on the bad and the good, shines his sun on the good and the bad.  That is the God Jesus knows, and that is the God Jesus teaches us about:  a crazy Father who loves first, foremost and always, even in the face of the claims of justice. 
          He loves.  That is what God does.  And we are to be like Him. 
          The younger son doesn’t deserve anything.  But God loves him.  The older son is uptight and focused on his rights, on what is due to him.  God loves him. 
          God loves.  God loves.  God loves.  That is what God does. 
Are they open to receiving God’s love? 

Are we?  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 15

First of all I would like to give a big THANK YOU to the members of the Parish Council and the Knights of Columbus and to all who worked so hard to make the Parish/ School Picnic on Saturday, September 7 such a FUN time. Everyone who was there really enjoyed it. It was a relaxing, easy-going, fun event; just right for marking the end of Summer. It was great to see so many parishioners just hanging out and enjoying each other’s presence. The objective of the picnic was to strengthen our sense of community as a parish, and in my book it succeeded admirably. THANKS!

This week brings us the celebration of several Saints who were martyred. On Monday we remember Saints Cornelius, an early Pope, and St. Cyprian, a North African Bishop. They were martyred during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decian. Cornelius died in 253 and Cyprian in 258. Not only did they have to face persecution from the pagans, but they were both vexed by the controversy in the church over what to do with the Christians who had lapsed during the persecution and now wanted back in the church. Cornelius and Cyprian had some differences with each other over this, but basically they both supported a middle position that allowed lapsed Christians to return to the faith.

On Thursday we remember St. Januarius, who was Bishop of Naples. He was martyred in the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian between the years 300 to 305 A.D. We don’t know how he died. One legend is that he was thrown to wild bears in the amphitheater; another legend is that he was beheaded. In any case he is still very much revered in Naples. The local legend is that his blood, which is kept in a sealed vial, liquefies on his feast day. It is the cause of celebration in Naples each year.

On Friday we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, priest, Paul Chon Ha-sang, and companions, all martyred in Korea. There were 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who were martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men. Collectively they are known as the Korean Martyrs.

And on Saturday we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. By tradition he is also accounted a Martyr, though there is no historical proof of this. 

So this week we are reminded of martyrs from the earliest Christian times (St. Matthew), to the turbulent early years of Christianity (Cyprian, Cornelius and Januarius), and well up into historical times with the Korean martyrs. In every age and culture there has been opposition to the Christian message, and often this opposition has turned violent. In our own day, right now in many places around the earth, Christians suffer for their faith. Most prominently we see the Coptic Christians suffering in Egypt and the Syrian Christians also caught in the middle. 

As we remember the Saints on the calendar, let us especially keep in our prayers all those around the world who today suffer for their Christian faith. Pray that they will be triumphant like the Saints whose feast days we celebrate, and that their heroic witness will convert their persecutors and bring peace to the Church and to their countries. 

God bless!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 8

We all know that the U.S. Catholic Bishops have gone on record against many things: no-fault divorce, artificial means of contraception, same-sex marriage, and most vocally, legal abortion. It may come as a bit of surprise and a bit of welcome change that our Bishops also have come out strongly in favor of something, and that is comprehensive immigration reform. You can read the position of the United States Catholic Bishops on immigration reform at: After a couple of paragraphs on the current situation in our country and a few paragraphs on the principles of Catholic social teaching, it lays out the Bishops’ position on the following items: Earned Legalization, Future Worker Program, Family-based Immigration Reform, Restoration of Due-Process Rights, Addressing Root Causes, and finally Enforcement.

For a complex, multi-faceted issue it is a pretty concise statement, just over one page long. I highly recommend it to you.

Another great source of good information in this emotional and often confusing debate over immigration is The Immigration Policy Center. They focus on accurate statistics which often punch holes in some of the more popular myths surrounding the issue. For example, did you know that in 2010, in our great state of Texas, nearly one quarter of all business owners were foreign born? Furthermore, from 2007 to 2010, immigrants in Texas founded 31.3 percent—almost one in three—of all new businesses in the state. Those are the facts, which belie any myths about immigrant laziness or lack of initiative. It makes sense that those who have the courage and gumption to leave their native land to try for a better life in a new country and culture would be just the sort of people with the initiative and energy to try new things. The kind of people who are willing to immigrate are exactly the kind of people who make this country great. You can read more about the facts at

From a personal note, I know that my mother’s father fled from Bohemia as a teenager to avoid fighting in the army of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary in World War I. I am very happy he decided to do so and came to the U.S. I value my immigrant roots. Somewhere up in Bell County, Texas A&M University has an archeological dig of Paleo-Indians that arrived here some 15,000 years ago, making them the first to arrive. If you are descendants of those first settlers so many millennia ago, or if you just arrived here last year, all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We owe it to our ancestors to welcome immigrants today with justice and respect.

I urge you to study this issue, to get informed and to please share your views with your elected representatives. We have an opportunity right now to finally accomplish comprehensive immigration reform in our country. And that would be a very good thing indeed.

God bless!