Monday, June 30, 2014

Homily Sts Peter & Paul St Austin Church, Austin TX June 28, 201 based on Acts 3: 1-20

          I’d like today to look at our first reading.  If this reading seemed a bit surprising to you that is because it is from the Mass of the Vigil for this Feast, not from the Mass of the day. 
          In this reading we start by finding the Apostles Peter and John on their way somewhere.  Now I know this Feast is Peter and Paul, but in this reading it is Peter and John.  So John gets in today’s feast as well.   The more Apostles the merrier.  Anyway they are on their way.  Anyone remember where they were going?  
          To the Temple!  And why were they headed to the temple at 3 o’clock in the afternoon?   ¿To get there early for a parish fish-fry or fried chicken dinner?  NO.  To attend a lively book discussion group?   NO.  To arrange for a bar-mitzvah or some other ceremony?   NO.  We are told they are going to the temple to pray.  Specifically “for the three o’clock hour of prayer.” 
          You see, the ancient Jews had certain set hours for prayer, which they prayed four times each day: at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., Noon, and 3:00 p.m.  In the Middle East you can still see this being done in the Muslim call to prayer.  They pray five times a day: pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening.   Has anyone here ever been to the Middle East or an Islamic country and been awakened at an un-godly hour by the loud-speaker wailing call to prayer?  
          We Christians also have this practice of prayer at certain times of the day.  We call it Liturgy of the Hours, or in older parlance, the Breviary.  In monasteries and religious houses different times of the day are sanctified by Morning Prayer or Lauds, Evening Prayer or Vespers, Night Prayers or Compline, and several other services for the enthusiastic.  Some parishes do some of these prayers on a regular basis, and individual laity pray them as well.   But, unfortunately, prayer at certain hours is not as common among Christians as it is among Moslems. 
          Isn’t it interesting that ancient peoples, whose primary clock was the position of the sun, were much more committed to making holy the various portions of the day by regular prayer than we modern types who are so completely – even obsessively – conscious of time, down to the minute and second and milli-second.  With our atomic clocks, watches, cell phones, buzzers, and other time keeping devices we live by the clock.  God help us if the Mass starts 4 minutes late! 
But we don’t stop to pray as Peter and John were doing in our first reading.  Of course, we have so many more important things to do than they did.  (that is irony). 
          But I digress. 
          Peter and John see a crippled man there begging for alms.  Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit looked intently at him and said to him, “Look at us.”     Look at us.   I find that an interesting thing to say.  Why did Peter say that?  What did Peter want the crippled man to see?  I am guessing but I think Peter wanted this man who was disabled to see in Peter and John the result of their encounter with the Risen Lord.   Peter wanted him to see the Joy, the Peace, the Faith, the Love, that filled their hearts and their lives, because that is what Peter was anxious to share with him.  Peter knew the Resurrected Christ and the fullness of life that flowed from Christ.  And that inner healing was what the crippled man needed most of all.  His dis-ability was spiritual as well as physical.
          It is what all of us need most of all.  All over the world, in our very city, in our very neighborhoods and families, there are people who are spiritually crippled.  They don’t know why they are here on earth, why they bother to get up each day, what tremendous worth they have, whose they truly are, what their eternal destiny is, that they are deeply loved by God.  They are spiritually crippled. 
          Peter was sent as a messenger of Good News, of the Gospel.  And so are we, you and me!  Dare we – like St Peter - say to the people who are lost and lonely, who wander aimlessly through life looking to greed or pleasure or drugs or booze or some other thing to help them escape the loneliness and emptiness of their lives, dare we say to them, “Hey, Look at us”?  Look at us. 
          And if they do, what will they see?  Will they see Good News?
          People all over the world love to look at Pope Francis.  Catholics, other Christians, people of other faiths, people who are “spiritual but not religious”, even atheists, love to look at Pope Francis.  Why?   He is alive!  He does not look bored.  He may be angry and upset at how the poor are treated and at organized crime.  He may be terribly sad at the loss of lives of people fleeing violence and poverty.  But still he is alive.  Because he has heard Good News.  And he shows it.  Look at him.
          And so St. Peter says “Look at us.”  Brothers and sisters that is what we are called to say as well.  Announcing “Look at us,” to all the spiritually crippled in our lives.  Dare we say that?  What will they see if they do look?  Will they see Christians alive with hope and faith and love and generosity and peace and joy?   They should.
          That is what the crippled man in the Gospel saw when he looked at Peter and John.  Peter took him by the hand and raised him up.  And when the man was healed what did he do?  Did he run home and tell his family?   Did he go to the mall and buy some new shoes that he now needed?  Did he get on 24-hour cable news and tell his remarkable story?  NO!   The first reading states:  “He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.”    For he was healed not only in his limbs, but in his heart.   And so the first thing he does is go into the temple to praise and thank God.  He has truly been healed of a confused, meaningless, pointless life.  He has been healed to worship and praise God. 

          Today we celebrate two great Apostles, Sts Peter and Paul.  They were heralds of the Good News.  They are examples and inspirations for us.  For we too are called to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  Happy Feast Day!  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 22

It is now Summer here in Austin, and while things slow down a little bit, there is still plenty of activity in the parish.
I am happy to announce that Mr. Fred Valle has been hired as the new Principal for St. Austin Catholic School. He has extensive experience as a principal of a Catholic school (Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen, TX) and as Director of Good Shepherd Network that oversaw eight Catholic Schools in San Antonio, TX.  He will be starting on July 1. I am also happy to report that Ms. Barbara Kennedy, who has done such a good and faithful job as Principal of our school for the last 5 years, will be staying on as the fourth grade teacher. I look forward to a really great year at St Austin School next year.
You may have been wondering about our issue with the fa├žade of the church and the rectory, where stone has broken and fallen away. Now that we have finished with the 2014-2015 offertory campaign that was so successful (many thanks to all of you who have helped us out financially!), we are now concentrating again on the issue of the exterior of the church. We are looking for solutions to keep people safe that will not involve the expense and the eyesore of a huge covered walkway in front of the church, and I hope soon you will see some results. All the loose stone has been removed, the cross on the tower has been secured, and we feel we can keep the area safe with less intrusive solutions.
Meanwhile the parish Property Committee has been hard at work trying to find a long term solution to the exterior problem. We sent out requests for architects to five different firms here in Austin and promptly received five replies of “Not Interested” due to the building boom and activity in Austin – all the architectural firms are swamped. This is understandable. Our project is rather small and also it is somewhat complicated and not clear cut, so it will require a lot of work with comparatively little return.
However, undismayed, our Property Committee worked hard and succeeded in finding two firms that are interested in our project, both of which have a relationship with St. Austin Catholic Parish. The Property Committee is interviewing both firms on Tuesday, July 1, so by Independence Day, we hope to have a firm selected to help us solve our problem.
In addition to finding a solution for the small pieces of stone falling off the face of the church and rectory, we also want to use this opportunity to give the church greater impact and presence on Guadalupe Street, possibly expand the bathrooms in the back of the church, and maybe even create a nicer place for the nursery and to begin having children’s Liturgy of the Word. The immediate question, however, is over what material to use to replace the damaged limestone exterior. Replacing the limestone would only lead to the same problem we have currently, so we hope we can find a better solution. Stucco? Manufactured composite stone? Some other material? I have (factiously) suggested aluminum siding, but the Property Committee has (fortunately) ignored me. I hope we can come up with a creative solution. Please keep us in your prayers.
God bless, 

Fr. Chuck

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday June 15, 2014 St Austin’s Austin, TX

          God walks into a bar and orders a beer, a red wine and a spritzer.  [pause.   Well, it is Trinity Sunday!] 
          Now that is – of course – not only ridiculous, it is theologically all wrong.  God is one.  There are not three separate wills and intellects in God.  We say there are three persons in God, but we don’t mean ‘person’ in the modern psychological sense of three separate individuals. 
          We Christians are monotheists.  We believe there is only ONE God.  Like the Jews and like the Moslems, we believe there is one and only one God. 
          But we are not content to leave it there.  We make it more complicated.  We go on to say that while God is ONE, God is a Trinity of three “persons” defined by their relationships.  The Trinity is all about relationship. 
          In this we are quite different from Moslems.  For them God is ONE and God is totally other.  God is completely and entirely different from us, or to phrase it differently, God is all Holy.  God is God, and we can never comprehend nor touch God.  God is always distant and different.
          We Christians take a different approach.  Yes we believe God is all Holy, and entirely different from us, but then we also believe that God is total and complete in God’s own self as a community of relationships: God the Creator or Father, God the Beloved Son, and God the Holy Spirit who is the Love breathed or “aspirated” between the Father and the Son. 
          That is not only nice for God, so that God is not lonely in God’s self but from all eternity God is a community, it also is very important for us.  Because of the Most Holy Trinity, God, without ceasing to be all Holy and Wholly Other, also in the second person of the Trinity became one of us.  God got intimately involved with us, with our hopes and dreams, our disappointments and failures, our grime and our beauty and our love.  God not only came for a visit, not only dressed up in a human person like in a costume, rather God truly and irrevocably became a human person, Jesus Christ. 
          It is pretty mind-boggling if you think about that.  The creator of all the billions of galaxies each with billions of stars and God knows how many planets, and then all the dark matter and dark energy which is even more, and who knows what else we haven’t yet discovered; that very same God truly became a human, born of Mary, exactly like us in all things except sin.  He lived and preached, died on the cross, and now lives in glory.  His name is Jesus.
          And Jesus did this so that we could be joined to Him as members of His body, and so we can share in God’s own life.  WOW!
          We experience that life already in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.   God lives in our hearts through grace.  God is not only totally Other, God is closer to us than our own breath. 
          The feast we celebrate today, of the Most Holy Trinity, is all about relationship:  relationship within God, and our relationship to God, invited in Jesus to enter into the very life of God.  But it doesn’t stop there.   Because that amazing reality, in turn, has very definite implications for our relationship to each other.  So, that crappy driver you ran into on the way to church this morning is not just some idiot, that driver may very well be part of the Body of Christ.
          We are called to relationship with each other as part of our relationship to God.  We hear a reflection of that call to relationship in God in our second reading today from St. Paul to the Corinthians:
“Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 
          You see, it is all about relationship.  

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 
Happy Trinity Sunday.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 15

It is good to be back in Austin.  For 12 days I was in Washington DC at the Paulist seminary, St. Paul’s College, participating in the Paulist General Council. This “general chapter” of the Paulist order, which happens once every four years, deliberates on the state of the community and sets priorities and directions for the next four years. It was a good meeting.
First of all it was good to re-connect with many of the Paulists. Thirty-one delegates to the General Assembly were there, as well as several Paulists stationed in DC, plus the four Paulist novices. It was good to see and chat with novice Evan Cummings who you may remember was with us during this past Lent.
We had a presentation from our community treasurer, a sobering and challenging morning. We passed statements on the topics of Conversion and Mission. The document titled “Radical Paulist Conversion” states: “As Paulists we are called to the Roman Catholic priesthood within the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle. This call comes from the Spirit of God and not from ourselves. To answer the Spirit’s call requires every Paulist to experience an ongoing, inner conversion: a deepening of faith that grows throughout our life and ministry.”
We also passed a statement on mission. Both of these documents are short, less than two pages. If you would like to read them and see how the Paulists see themselves at this particular juncture in history, you can find them on our parish website at
The Paulists are in the process of selling St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC. Designed for 40 or more students, the building is killing us financially. It costs over $400,000 a year in salaries and utilities to operate the building. While we were gathered there, several prospective buyers came through to view the building. This will be a big change for our community, but I believe a better one as we “right-size” our formation program.
We also did some more practical items such as re-arranging our election procedures, provide a clearer path for retired Fathers to remain involved and active, moved forward on issues of “branding” (i.e., giving ourselves a more consistent and clearer public image) and enacted measures to revive and promote the Paulist Associates.
Given the time, effort and expense, the resulting product of the General Assembly may seem small. It does to me. But the results of this meeting will be played out over the next four years, and we won’t know the real success or failure of this gathering until we see how this all proceeds.
I ask you to please keep the Paulists in your prayers. Continue to pray for vocations to the Paulists and to the religious life. On a more personal note I ask for your prayers as I have cataract surgery on my left eye on Tuesday, June 24. Thanks.
God bless, 

Fr. Chuck

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Red.  How do I look in red?  What do you think of when you see the color red?
Watermelon?  Firetrucks?  Why are firetrucks always red, never blue or green?  
Or perhaps you think of a stop light, a red traffic light?   
Or do you think of something more political?  Red states vs. blue states?  Or if you are older, The “Reds”?  Red-China?  Anyone remember “Better dead than red?” 
Or do you think of the opposite, as in “red-blooded American”?  And the “red, white and blue”?  Why is red first?  Why not the white, blue and red????
Any members of the red hat society with us today? 
For our Asian brothers and sisters red means joy and happiness.  Some years ago I did a wedding in South Carolina.  The bride’s mother was coming from Hong Kong, and the young couple asked me to wear red vestments for the wedding, since in Chinese culture white signifies death, but red signifies joy.  So I wore red for the wedding.
In church we wear red for several different occasions.  Red signifies blood; but not blood as a sign of death, like in some Hollywood horror flick with gallons of fake blood over everything, but rather blood in the scriptural sense as a sign of life.  So we wear red on the Feast of the Martyrs, like Sts Peter and Paul and John the Baptist.  Also for the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 
But today we wear red primarily for the symbol of FIRE.  In the first reading we heard that tongues as of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. 
The result is that the disciples went from frightened and confused people hiding in fear to bold and effective proclaimers of the Gospel, of the wonderful things God had done in Jesus Christ. 
The symbols of fire and the “strong, driving wind” are signs of energy, of life, of vitality: and that is what the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Just as when God formed man out of the clay of the ground in the Book of Genesis, and blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being, so in the Gospel today the Resurrected Jesus breaths on the Apostles and says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and so they came alive. 
           The Spirit is all about life: just like when you have team spirit or school spirit, the school is exciting and vital and energized and alive, so also the Church, God’s people, when the Holy Spirit is present the Church is vital and energized and alive.  “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul assures us in the second reading today.  St. Paul is not talking about physical words, but to make this statement with conviction and sincerity and deeply lived faith. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”  The life of faith comes from the Holy Spirit.    
So when you see faith-filled Christians who are alive, and filled with concern for others, and generous, and actively putting their Faith into action, who look like they have heard Good News and so radiate the joy of the Gospel, you recognize that these are Spirit-filled Christians.  Amen!  And you praise God for that.
But when you see Christians who look grumpy, and are stingy, and think of religion as all about rules, and “don’t”s, and radiate an up-tight, constricted sense of narrow-mindedness and small-heartedness, you recognize that they are Spirit-lacking Christians. The life is just not there.  They are dead in the Spirit.
The former are bright, brilliant, bold, red Christians: so red it hurts your eyes: you need sunglasses in their presence.  The later are nothing but dingy, insipid, beige Christians.  They make you yawn, and put you to sleep.
Today, on this Pentecost, we are called to be RED Christians, to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit that we received at our Baptism and were sealed with at our Confirmation.  People should be able to see the Spirit of Christ at work in us.  Look and act like you have heard Good News, not bad news.  Act with courage in living the way of Christ.  Proclaim boldly by your deeds what you believe.  Jesus is Lord!

May you be on fire with the Holy Spirit!  Happy Pentecost!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, June 8

The last two weeks I have been looking at Pope Francis’ challenge to us “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
Last week I wrote about setting aside a time each day for prayer as the basis for the encounter with Jesus Christ. But Jesus is totally free to encounter us at any time, and just about in any way, so while we need the stable foundation of a daily practice of prayer, we also need to develop an on-going awareness and alertness for the presence of Jesus. He can show up in many different disguises and in many different situations and places, and we have to constantly be on the look-out for Him.
Maybe a sunrise while driving to work, or a sunset on the way home, touches you in a way that leads you to say “Thank You” to the author of that beauty. Maybe during a difficult day of work when you have way too much to do and many people hounding you with too many demands, you suddenly push away from your desk, take a breath, and realize that having talents and abilities, and having a job, are good things. And you just quietly say “thank you.” Maybe in the smile of stranger, in a phrase of a song from church last Sunday that pops into your head, in a random act of kindness you receive, in a hug from one of your children, a “hello” from a beggar on the street, a quote from Scripture that comes to mind and helps you decide the right thing in a decision you are facing, in these and a great many ways we encounter Jesus. It can even be a mystical experience, such as Thomas Merton had on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, KY in 1958, when he experienced the glory of God revealed in God’s love for all the people he saw hurrying by on that busy street corner.
So we have to keep our antennae up and our sensors on to perceive the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus.
It is important to recognize that the encounters with Jesus are all not warm, fuzzy and rosy. There certainly are personal encounters with Jesus that are experiences of strength, comfort, and especially peace. We should savor those. But these are not the only, nor even the most common, encounters. Jesus also challenges, corrects, re-directs, and even convicts. These encounters are uncomfortable and embarrassing. It is easy to try to hide from these encounters and avoid them. However, they are never meant to harm or even to punish us, but rather these encounters are always directed towards growth. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus ever speak of feeling guilty, because guilt never helps us move forward. Guilt always looks back to the past. Jesus does talk about repentance, and repentance is always about moving forward in a new direction. Jesus is always about growth and more life.
Jesus can also be encountered in tragedies. Often when terrible things happen people are caught up short, put aside the trivial matters that so occupied them before, and begin to focus on things of greater substance and worth. That was certainly true in New York City immediately following the tragedy of 9-11. People saw, at least for a while, the great if fragile value of human life, and for many of us, Jesus was in that awareness.
The more we practice this kind of openness, the better we usually get at it. We can find that Jesus has been hanging around a lot more than what we had suspected.
God bless, 

Fr. Chuck