Monday, December 29, 2014

Homily HOLY FAMILY December 28, 2014 St Austin’s Austin, TX

          Several months ago I made a trip to Chicago as part of a Paulist board investigating whether Chicago Theological Union would be a good location for the formation of Paulist seminarians.  It certainly would be, but that is not why I bring this up.  Rather, while I was there chatting with several of the theology professors I discovered a curious fact which I had not known.  It is this:  In Catholic Social teaching the basic unit is the family.  The basic, fundamental unit of society is the family.  Isn’t that amazing?
          Being an American, and something of an individualist to boot, I had always assumed that the basic unit of society was the individual.  The single, solitary, person.  But it makes perfect sense, given Catholicism’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things and the communal nature of reality, that the basic unit of society, and hence of rights, is the family.
          Fascinating!  I mention this of course because today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Even though our society doesn’t always fully recognize it, families are so very important.  So today we want to recognize and emphasize that importance.  Like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, every Christian family is called to be a holy family, which is to say a family where Jesus is truly present and active.
          These days the Church seems to be taking the family more seriously.  We have just had an extraordinary synod of bishops on the family.  It met in Rome in October, and if you followed the news stories about it you will remember that extraordinary things were said about families at that synod.  Especially about families that experience divorce and remarriage, and families that have gay and lesbian members, and even same sex couple families.  It was truly an extraordinary synod.
          And that is not all.  It will be followed this coming October by another “ordinary” synod of bishops, again on the subject of the family, and I would not be surprised if that synod too is extraordinary. 
          Then next September Pope Francis is coming to the United States, to Philadelphia.  Why?  To get a good Philly cheesesteak sandwich?  No.  He is coming to attend the 8th World Meeting of FAMILIES!   Maybe a family from our parish will go to Philadelphia to meet the Pope?
          So the Church is paying a lot of attention to families, and addressing many of the pressures, problems and social developments that affect families.  There are many different forms of families today: traditional families, empty nester families, single parent families, blended families, same-sex families, and many other permutations.  Families face pressures from economic stress, changing gender roles, migration, war and refugee issues, from unrealistic and too many expectations, and many other issues.  Families need help.
          In the face of all these pressures and challenges, all families are called to be holy families.  What made the first Holy Family genuinely holy was the presence of Jesus.  So today, it is the presence of Jesus in any family that makes it holy.   In any family where there is genuine compassion, care, respect, support, forgiveness, understanding and love, that is a holy family.  Even if that a family does not fit a perfect ideal, it is still a holy family.  And any family that is torn by dissention, jealousy, mean-spiritedness, power-plays and hard heartedness, even if they had their wedding in the Vatican with three octogenarian cardinals and are prominent in their local parish, that is not a holy family. 
          Families are very, very important.  They either greatly help us to grow, or they can block and hinder us.  We don’t choose our families.  We have to play the hand we are dealt.  I was very fortunate and grew up in a stable, warm, supportive and loving family.  It should be like that for everyone.  But in my business I also see that far too many families are not at all ideal, and some are downright destructive and evil. 
          While the Church recognizes the great importance of families and supports families as best it can, Jesus also radically relativizes the importance of the family of birth.  In the third chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel a rather curious thing happens when Jesus is preaching in a packed house.  Jesus’ Mother and brothers show up wanting to see Him, waiting outside.  The crowd in the house tells Jesus that “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.”  Jesus “looking at those who sat around him said ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”  
           Jesus radically changes the whole meaning of family.  In addition to the human families we are born into, we are also invited into a new family, indeed into a familial relationship with Jesus.  His followers, His disciples, form a new family as Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters.  All of us are invited into that special, familial relationship with Jesus.  This – right here - is the Holy Family, because this is where Jesus is proclaimed, listened to, sought after, and where in faith Jesus is to be found. 
          Our call, to every one of us, is to be that Holy Family of Jesus, just like Mary and Joseph were so long ago and so far away.
          By our Baptism we have been reborn into that other, much larger, and much much holier family, the family of Jesus.  [Today at this Mass we welcome into that holy family    SAT 5 = Henry Alan Hodges and Cole Bruce Johnson.       SUN 7:30 None      
SUN 9:00 = Torin Joseph Michaels 
SUN 11:30 = Tatyana Miranda Anatalio        SUN 5:30 = ?]

          Today as we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we are also celebrating our call to be a holy family, a place where Jesus can truly be found.   Happy Feast Day!


Merry Christmas!  This afternoon we heard those ancient and beautiful words from the Prophet Isaiah:                                                                                               

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,….  For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

Oh yes, that wonderful, glorious, happy Day of Midian.  ¿¿What the heck is the day of Midian???   

          Well, the Day of Midian has to do with a battle.  More than 1,000 years before Christ, even before King David, so more than 3,000 years ago, Midian was a neighboring Kingdom of the Israelites.  The Midianites were nomads.  And they were bullies.  They would swoop in on their camels, beat up the Israelites, take their crops, steal their sheep and goats, make fun of their God, and generally make the Israelite’s life miserable.  The Israelites cried out to God in their suffering, and God responded.  God raised up a leader, a hero, a judge.  A guy by the Name of GIDEON.  Gideon was reluctant to play the hero.  He took some convincing, but finally agreed to lead the people.  Gideon sent out the call to arms and raised a large army. 
          Gideon had 36,000 men.  For the time a BIG military force.  With this huge army Gideon knew he could whip the Medianites and kick their behinds.  He was all set to go when God called him and says, “Wait a minute.  You have too many men.  If you win with this large army you will think you did it, but I am going to do it.  This is my show.”  So God tells Gideon to tell the army, “anyone afraid, go home”.   26,000 guys pick up and leave.  They could see this was not going to be any picnic.  

          So only 10,000 left.   But Gideon thinks he still has enough to win the battle.  God calls Gideon again.  Guess what?  “You still got too many guys. If you win the battle with this army you will think you did it. You will take the credit.  But I - GOD - will provide the victory.”  So God tells Gideon to take the army down to the stream to drink.  Those who kneel down to drink the water, send home.  Those who scoop up the water and drink standing, keep.  Only 300 are left.  BUT with these 300 Gideon wins the victory.  Not only does he beat the Midianites, he whips them thoroughly.  Kicks their keesters.  It is a great story, and you can read it all in the Book of Judges, chapters 6 through 8. 
          Now the point about the Day of Midian is not only that it is a great victory for the Israelites, but more importantly is that God wins the victory.  This is God’s doing, not Gideon’s, not the Israelites, not mankind’s, not humanity’s doing, but God’s. 
          And that is what we are celebrating here tonight.  As on the Day of Midian, God does the heavy lifting at Christmas.  God will provide the victory.  But this time the victory is not over Midian, or any other earthly kingdom or country, but over the much more insidious enemy, over sin.
          As St Paul tells us in the second reading tonight: “Beloved, The grace of God has appeared, saving all ...”   This is God’s doing, God’s free gift, God’s grace.
          Look at the Christmas story.  Next to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus this is the most important event in all history.  But this is not the work of the EMPEROR.  Caesar is in far off Rome, issuing decrees, totally unconcerned and unaware of what is happening on that momentous first Christmas night.  This is not the work of any human government, or the U.N. or any political party, no N.G.O nor any human power.    NO HUMAN POWER does this.
          There is no Roman LEGION involved in accomplishing the First Christmas.  No military power, no army, no bombs or guns or swords or drones flying over head, no ICBMs or stealth bombers or submarines or any weapons at all involved in this victory.  NO MILITARY POWER does this.
          There is no GOLD, no silver, no money, no high finance, no banks, no riches involved in this wonder.  Not a single financial consultant, investment banker or hedge fund manager in the whole story!  Rather there are a couple of poor peasants who don’t even have the money to get into a motel, and a few lowly shepherds.   NO WEALTH does this.
          There is no SCIENCE, no academics, no professors, no scholarly bodies, no universities, no peer reviewed journals, no high-tech, no whiz-bang gadgetry involved in this victory.  Nothing on the internet, nothing in the cloud, no iPads or smart phones.  Just a donkey and natural child-birth. Pretty low tech.  NO TECHNOLOGY or SCIENCE does this.
          None of the things that we humans pride ourselves on are involved in this accomplishment:  no political power, no military might, no economic power, no scientific or technical achievement.   None of that stuff. 
          This is all God’s doing.  A baby is born, and EVERYTHING is changed.  The darkness is over. The long reign of sin is ended.  Salvation and the fullness of life will be offered to all.  And it is all God’s doing.  Because God loves us.  What there is in this story is lots and lots of LOVE.
          For the birth of the Christ child is “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”

Now that is quite an accomplishment!    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, December 28

So here we are, almost at the end of 2014. It was, as they say, one for the history books. Will you be sad to see 2014 go? Was it a good year for you and your family, or at least your portfolio? Do you wish 2014 would go on for a bit longer? Or are you distressed that the years just are slipping by too fast and wish they would slow down?

In contrast and on the other hand, are you ready to say “good riddance” to this year with ISIS, Ferguson, political grid-lock and a cruddy season for the Longhorns, and are hopeful that 2015 will be better, or at least not any worse?

Time is such an elusive thing and yet so precious. If only we could slow time down in order to do more and achieve more and get more done. But it is probably good that we cannot because then we would never move forward!

Time keeps on its inexorable course. How much more time does any of us have? How much more time do the Paulist Fathers, or St. Austin Parish, or the United States of America have? None of us knows.

Time is invariably moving all of us forward to our meeting with death. Many try to delay that meeting. Some look forward with confidence and hope to that meeting, expecting new horizons and visits that cannot now even be imagined. Many of us hover somewhere between the two, hoping for the best but in no hurry to find out.

What will 2015 bring? A visit by Pope Francis to the United States for the World Meeting on Families?  I expect so. Our Faithful To Our Mission capital campaign for the renovation of the exterior of our church? That is certainly our intent. More political wrangling and gridlock? Count on it. Completion of the Mopac express lane project? A consummation devoutly to be wished! A perfect season for the Longhorns? Keep dreaming! We will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile let me take this opportunity, on behalf of the entire St. Austin Parish Staff, and all the Paulist Fathers of Austin, to wish you a Blessed and Happy New Year, and a 2015 full of Joy and Peace!

God bless! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Dec. 21

Christmas is almost here!  It is not too late to invite a relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker to join you at Mass for Christmas.  It could be the very best Christmas present you give this year!
Our Christmas Masses fill up, especially the 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  There will also be a family Mass at 5:00 p.m. at Christmas Eve at the University Catholic Center, just two blocks from our church.  They have more room.  Even so, last year they also filled up.  Other Masses for Christmas (9:00 p.m. here on Christmas Eve and 10:00 a.m. here on Christmas Day) are much less crowded, and I urge you to consider attending one of these Masses instead of the 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  All these Masses are wonderful, joyful celebrations.
If you are travelling over the Christmas holiday I pray that your journeys are safe, that your time visiting family and friends is relaxing and joyful, unburdened by overly-high or unrealistic expectations.  While you are away please remember you can always stay up-to-date with St. Austin’s Parish by checking out the parish bulletin and other news on our fantastic parish website:  You don’t need to miss out on anything of the many activities here by simply staying in touch on line.  You can even follow my bulletin column and my homilies on my blog, at  If you forget that there is a convenient link to my blog on our parish website.
Next Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family.  This is an especially important year to pray for all families as we have just finished an Extraordinary Synod in Rome on the family, and next year have the Ordinary Synod on the family.  So be sure to pray for all families, especially those experiencing stress and problems due to war, violence, drugs, illness, economic hardship, migration, and on and on. 
On behalf of the entire Parish Staff here at St. Austin’s Church, and the Paulist Fathers here in Austin, I wish you and all your family a Blessed, Joyous and Merry Christmas!  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

HOMILY 3rd Sunday of Advent Cycle B St. Austin Church December 14, 2014

          I know it is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and in keeping with the season I should be talking about John the Baptist, and his cry of “make straight the way of the Lord. But I would rather talk about St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, and so that is what I am going to do.   I am a Paulist after all!
          St. Paul – in contrast to his usually long, complex, convoluted, highly theological and deeply spiritual statements - today gives us some very concise and pragmatic advice.  It is the kind of practical statement you can get your hands on.  He tells us “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”    Then Paul goes on to say something a little surprising:  “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Do not quench the Spirit?  The old NAB had “Do not stifle the Spirit.”   The JB has “never try to suppress the Spirit.”  What is St. Paul talking about?
          Well, think about this.  Have you ever met anyone who is a Spirit quencher?  A Spirit stifler?  A Spirit squelcher?  Of course you have.  They are all over the place.  And most of us, at one time or another, have done this ourselves. 
          The Spirit squelchers are people who are “realists,” who see all the problems and obstacles to getting anything done.  They stifle the Spirit by criticism, by lethargy, by hopelessness, by cynicism, by lack of imagination, by anger, envy and hatred, and above all by fear.  Fear quenches the Spirit.
          So let us say you feel an impulse of the Spirit to reach out to a stranger at Mass and welcome him or her.  But it involves effort and you’re tired.  You might get rejected and you don’t want to face that.  You may get one of those talkers who goes on and on and on, telling you all sorts of stuff about their life and you certainly want to avoid that.  Reaching out takes effort and is a risk.  It is easier to stifle the Spirit and just not bother.
          Maybe the Spirit inspires you to reach out to a neighbor who has no church community, and invite them to Mass for Christmas.  Maybe the prompting is to bring up the topic of religion with a co-worker who seems receptive.  Or to invite a family member who has kind of drifted away from church to join you at Mass.  But that involves a risk.  You could be rejected.  It takes some effort.  And the Spirit can be squelched by laziness and fear.
          Perhaps you have been touched by the Spirit to volunteer for a ministry at the parish; or to work with a civic organization; or to reach out to an estranged family member; or to be more generous with your worldly possessions; or to donate blood; or to speak up in an unjust situation; or if you are a young person even to investigate a vocation as a deacon, priest or religious. 
          There are a myriad of ways the Spirit prompts and leads us.  And there are a myriad of ways the Spirit can be squelched, but they all come down to fear.  How often in the Scriptures we hear the injunction, “Do not be afraid!”
          The Spirit leads us not just as individuals but even more importantly as a community.  How well do we as St. Austin Parish open ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, listen to the Spirit, and follow through on the promptings of the Spirit?  On the other hand, how much do we give into cynicism, inertia and fear?  How well do we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to be an evangelizing parish, a community that proclaims Good News, reaches out, and welcomes in those called by the Spirit? 
          St. Austin’s is not a typical suburban parish.  St. Austin’s is not a typical ethnic parish.  St. Austin’s is not a typical parish.  But none-the-less, we are called to be an evangelizing community.  How much and how well do we really evangelize? 
          Evangelization is not a program.  It is a way of life.  It is carried out in the ordinary day-to-day effort of living as a Christian, as a disciple, as a follower of Jesus who has heard Good News.   The Holy Spirit leads, guides, directs and strengthens us in this effort.  Pay attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Do not quench the Spirit.
          Take to heart the advice of St. Paul to us today:  “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.”

Happy Advent!  Amen.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Dec. 14

Happy Advent!  This is a time of expectation and preparation.  Expectation because we look forward to something better, because the current situation does not satisfy.   It should not.  We are on the way to something better, and we long for our lives to be changed and fulfilled.  Preparation because we have a part to play in ushering in the new state of being.  This season of Advent is about much more than preparing for parties, celebrations, and gifts.  It is about preparing ourselves to be made new.

Therefore Advent is about HOPE.  What do you hope for?  I encourage you to try to find a few quiet moments and examine your hope.  Who or what gives you hope?  What does what you hope for say about you?  Hope is not about feeling merry.  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.  Next Sunday, Dec. 21, will mark the seventh anniversary of my Mother’s death.   So for me the holiday is always touched with a certain sense of loss and sadness.  And we all know others who have lost loved-ones around this time of year.  To be merry would seem shallow or insensitive.  To be hopeful however would be an act of faith.

Other people 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, and 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 hectic round of shopping and parties and obligations coming from family and work and even church, 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,

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Dec. 7

            It is a busy time of year, and many things are going on.  I usually find it difficult to keep track of them all, so I am doing myself a favor and reminding me (and also you) of a few of the events going on here over the next week. 
            This weekend is the Holiday Fair.  Please stop by the gym and check it out.  You can do some shopping for gifts, treat yourself to some goodies, spend a little time chatting and conversing with other parishioners, and generally have a good time.  In addition, this year I ask you to stop by the booth that displays the next generation of a concept scheme for the renovation of our church and rectory.  We received a lot of good input and suggestion from parishioners since the three schemes were put out a month ago.  It is now time to move it forward and narrow down just exactly we want to do.  We need to get some pricing done so we know exactly what we are asking for when we approach donors.  So your reactions, suggestions, and input on this next level of refinement of the renovation plans is needed.  Members of the Parish Property Committee, or Pastoral Council, or Finance Comm. will be there to answer questions and solicit comments.  So please plan to take a few minutes, stop by and check it out, and make your comments.  THANKS.
            Tomorrow, Dec 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  This year it is a Holy Day of obligation.  We have Masses scheduled at 8 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m.  All are, of course, most welcome.  This Feast celebrates that Mary, from the first moment of her being, was always full of grace. She was never tainted by sin.  This was a special favor given to her in view of her becoming the Mother of God.  However, we all hope that when all things are made new in Christ, that we too shall indeed be “full of grace,” that is, totally in harmony with God’s will.  So in celebrating this special favor that Mary has already enjoyed we are anticipating what we hope one day to be, that is, totally in harmony with God.
            Friday December 12, at 7:00 p.m. is the St. Austin School Advent Cantata.  Always a joyous, lovely affair it fills up early.  The children do a wonderful job.  All are welcome.
            Saturday, Dec. 13 at 3:00 p.m. is when we have our Advent Communal Reconciliation Service.  There will be several priests, and after a short communal liturgy there will opportunity for individual confession and reconciliation.  What better way to prepare spiritually for celebrating the true meaning of Christmas?  All are welcome!
            And Monday, December 15 at 7:30 the Austin Handbell Ensemble will perform their Christmas Concert.  What sounds more Christmasy than handbells?  This is always a great concert for the whole family.  A freewill offering is accepted.

And that just takes us ahead about a week.  After that is the Christmas Basket Project, decoration of the church, and then the wonderful Christmas celebrations themselves.
I get tired just thinking about it all, but I also get excited about all the positive and joyful events (even Reconciliation!) that go on here.  With so much anger, division and hatred in the world, we all need to focus on what gives life and affirms our deepest beliefs.  Advent is truly a wonderful time of year.  God bless!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Nov. 23

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Next weekend we start the new Church year by celebrating the First Sunday of Advent. Lots going on!

We all have much for which to be thankful. We can be grateful that Christ is our King, our ultimate authority and purpose. So many people serve lesser gods or success, or fame, or riches, or pleasure, or drugs, alcohol and so on. Making Christ truly the King of your life is not at all easy, but it does give your life transcendent purpose and meaning. We have something to look forward to not only for the rest of our lives but for a long, long time after that; indeed for all eternity!

We are blessed to be part of an active parish. I pray that we will strive everyday to share with those around us the great benefit we have received by faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that St. Austin will more and more become an evangelizing community that lives its faith fully and joyfully reaches out to share that Good News with others. This is done not at church but rather in the marketplace, at work, in the home, in the neighborhood, in all the places we live and encounter others. And as Pope Francis has shown us over and over again, the best tool we have for evangelization is JOY. Joy attracts. Joy wins over. Joy evangelizes.

So as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, OUR King, and as we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving, may we more consciously immerse ourselves in the joy of the Gospel, let that joy permeate all the aspects of our lives, and then let that joy shine forth.

St. Austin can be a truly joyful, evangelizing community. Now that would be something to really be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

God Bless,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 16

St. Austin’s – an evangelizing parish, served by the Paulists, deep in the heart of Texas – is always a busy and active place. I NEVER find this parish boring. And that is wonderful!
Last week we had a very moving and marvelous exhibit here for KRISTALNACHT. I hope that you had a chance to take it in, meditating on what is our sad, but all too common, history. The memory of this tragedy should make us sensitive to all the forms of intolerance and hate in our world today, and hopefully engage us to move beyond apathy to work for justice, mutual respect and peace between all the religions of the world. We all live on the same planet, and regardless of your religion we are all affected by climate change, the economy and war. We do not have the luxury of not working together.
This coming week here at St. Austin’s – an evangelizing parish, served by the Paulists, deep in the heart of Texas – we are fortunate to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. Bishop Joe Vásquez will be with us to seal about 24 of our parish’s young people with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. That sealing is the “confirmation”.  Like a confirmation number when you book a flight or hotel room, or that you receive when you order something on-line, that confirmation is God’s guarantee of God’s choice of this person as God’s beloved son or daughter. God made that choice at the person’s Baptism, and now God confirms that choice in this Sacrament which is the completion of Baptism, by sealing the person with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You cannot find a better guarantee than that. It is not only a life-time guarantee, but an eternal life-time guarantee!
The primary meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation is NOT that the young person is confirming the choice made for them at their Baptism when he or she was an infant, but rather God confirming His choice of this person as God’s own. What God does in this Sacrament is vastly more important than what we do. Sometimes I think we put so much emphasis on what we do, in preparing and studying and service projects and so on that we get out of balance with the importance of what God does in this Sacrament. We can even fall into the trap of thinking we have somehow “earned” or “deserved” this grace because we have fulfilled all the requirements, done all the things on the checklist, attended all the classes, and so we now claim this by right. But Confirmation is not a merit badge. That is the heresy of pelagianism. God’s gifts are always grace, that is, free. All is gift. (see Eph 2:8).
I invite you to come and join us for the celebration of Confirmation here at St. Austin’s Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. This is a celebration for the whole parish, as we see God pour out the Gifts of the Holy Spirit on our young people.
God Bless,

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 9

As a parish community we have been talking a lot more recently about church architecture. This is due, of course, to the need we face of repairing the exterior of the church and rectory, which has acquired the unattractive habit of having pieces of stone fall off.
Because what is ultimately driving this is a safety concern, we are only talking about renovating the exterior of the church and rectory. Nothing will be redone on the interior of the church worship space, though we may make a few adjustments to the bathrooms in the church, and repurpose some of the parish space on the first floor of the rectory. Also the small gateway (courtyard) between the church and the rectory may be changed.
Even though we are not touching the church’s interior, the inside and the outside of the church remain vitally connected. Several parishioners have made comments that the outside of the church should not be in dramatic contrast in architectural style, color palate and materials with the inside; that there should be consistency and coordination between the interior and the exterior. That makes sense to me, and happens to be a guiding principle for architects.
There is, however, another tradition that plays off the contrast between the exterior and the interior of the church, focusing on the theme of reversal. What is the front door on the outside of the church is really in the back of the church on the inside. And what is the back of the church on the outside is the front of the church on the inside. Not only is the architecture flipped in the church; so is the order of values. Outside the values of the world rule, and inside the values of the Kingdom of God operate (we hope!). Jesus repeated this theme constantly, reminding us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Outside the wealthy, the beautiful, the strong, the crafty, the “best people” rule. Inside blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers. It is a total reversal of perspective.
In many medieval churches the doors are ornately decorated, to symbolize the separation between the two worlds. Inside is the Kingdom of God, outside is the kingdom of mankind, and the place of transition (the doorway) is a place of tension. The church door marks the transition from the secular to the sacred, from the profane to the holy.
While I generally do not ascribe to this two story idea of the universe (the secular and the holy as distinct realms) and see the holy in the world and the unholy in the church, there is something dramatic and rather appealing about the theme of reversal of values and of what is important in going from the secular world into church. Having that conflict or change brought to mind is important and salutary. It challenges us to examine our priorities, what we really hold important and commit ourselves to, and that is a good exercise to engage in regularly.
So while we want the exterior and the interior of our church to not be in conflict, I think we also should recognize a certain tension between the exterior and interior of our churches, reminding us that we live in both worlds and need to reconcile the two.
God Bless,