Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A St Austin, Austin,TX July 27, 2014

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’

          After extensive investigation and exhaustive research – mostly in my imagination – I discovered that the person mentioned in today’s Gospel was not the first person to discover the treasure buried in that field.  
          It seems the first person to find this buried treasure was a guy named Zigon.  Zigon hid it again, realizing the treasure could be his if he bought the field.  But Zigon was rather timid.  To buy the field he would have to sell everything he had: his iphone, all his investments, his fancy coffee maker to which he was very attached, and so on.  Everything would have to go and that was taking a huge risk.  What if the treasure turned out to be fake?  What about the tax implications?  What if someone stronger stole it from him?  In addition to being timid, Zigon was also kind of lazy.  And to fill in all the paperwork to cash in his life insurance , and then to hold a garage sale, and then complete the purchase of the field all seemed, not only daunting but overwhelming to Zigon.  And so instead of doing anything about it, he thought and fretted about it.
          Meanwhile, Hyacinth found the treasure in the field.  She too realized if she bought the field she would be fabulously wealthy and set for life.  She hid the treasure again and began planning her approach.  But the field was expensive.  She would have to sell everything in order to get it.  She did not have any problem selling her bowling ball which she had not used for years.  But she hesitated when she came to her prized collection of troll dolls.  And she completely waffled when it came to selling her favorite little black dress, with all its memories.  And because she could not bring herself to sell all that stuff, Hyacinth never was able to raise enough money to buy the field and get the treasure.  She was too attached to the less valuable stuff she already had.
          Finally, Priscilla found that treasure in the Gospel.  Priscilla was not timid nor lazy, nor was she owned by the stuff she owned.  Quickly Priscilla cashed in her investments, life insurance and her retirement plan.  She sold her car, her condominium, the Barry Manalow tapes her mother had left her, the souvenirs she picked up on a trip to Mexico, her furniture, most of her wardrobe, everything. 
It was not easy but she kept her eyes on the prize and with joy sold all that stuff.  It gave her a joyful sense of freedom.   Finally she had enough to buy that field.  She got the treasure and was very wealthy. 
          But that is not all.  It turns out that field was in West Texas, and six weekss after she purchased it, oil was discovered on Priscilla’s field, and of course she had the mineral rights, and she became fabulously wealthy.   
          Now you know the full story. 
          The point of the Gospel parable is not that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure.  That is pretty obvious.  The point is that the Kingdom of Heaven requires an absolute commitment
          I believe that the field spoken of in the parable is not in West Texas, nor in Palestine, but rather inside us.  That field is your own heart.  That is where the treasure of the Kingdom of God is buried.  And you have to go search for it, to find out Who is your King, Who you belong to, Who loves you into being, Who loves you completely. 
          But a lot of stuff gets in the way of truly possessing that treasure: stuff like fear and greed and laziness and hate and lust and pride.  We have to stop clinging to all that stuff, let it all go, to open ourselves to gaining the true treasure, which is the Kingdom of God.  Or to put it another way to make God King of my life. 
          This requires work, and persistence, and dedication.  But it also brings freedom and joy.  We have to find that treasure of God’s love for me and for you, and then we must get rid of everything that stands in the way, that distracts, that prevents us from having that treasure fully. 
          The treasure is not hard to find.  Jesus has shown us the way.  God the Father was truly King in Jesus’ life.  Jesus’ Spirit strengthens and leads us in the correct way to the treasure.  We have to do our part of allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and tp be ruthless in getting rid of all that keeps us from gaining that treasure.

          Happy treasure hunting!  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

HOMILY 16TH Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A July 20, 2008

          The Gospel is too long, and already has it’s interpretation within it.  So I thought today we would look at the second reading, from St. Paul to the Romans.            Paul begins: “Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;”  Hmm, as an American male – and now a resident of Texas - I don’t often talk about, or even admit, my weakness.  But in St. Paul’s spirituality, coming to grips with your weakness is very important.  Christianity is all about salvation, and you can’t appreciate the salvation Christ brings until you realize the mess you are in and your inability, your weakness, to escape it.  Otherwise Christianity is pointless.
          John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great English churchman and writer, wrote: “This is why many in this age (and in every age) become infidels, heretics, schismatics, disloyal despisers of the Church .... They have never had experience of God’s power and love, because they have never known their own weakness and need.”   This awareness of our weakness and therefore our need for God’s help and salvation is so important that St. Paul even writes: The Lord “said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  And St. Paul comments: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Cor 12:9-10)    Instead of denying or downplaying his weaknesses as I do, St. Paul rather boasts gladly of his weaknesses!
          So first of all we have to own up to our weakness.  And once we start looking it usually is not too long before we start discovering some.   But St. Paul assures us, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;”
          Where and how does the Holy Spirit come to our aid?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit prompts us to greater generosity in the face of need, helping us to overcome our stinginess, as in today’s special second collection.  Or perhaps the Holy Spirit fortifies us to tell the truth when it is difficult to do so.  Or perhaps the Holy Spirit inspires us to say a comforting or healing word to someone who is sorrowing.  Or the Holy Spirit might strengthen us to reach out in forgiveness, or avoid that porn site, or relinquish the bitterness we’ve been holding on to, or give us greater patience and understanding with co-workers, or in many other ways.  
           In the first reading today we hear this unusual line:  “in those who know you (meaning God), you rebuke temerity” i.e. timidity or faint-heartedness.  God does not want timid followers.  Perhaps we are timid in sharing our faith, timid in speaking up for what is right, timid to intervene in a situation of bullying, timid in expressing our true feelings when we think we will be ridiculed, timid in refusing to go along with the crowd.  God rebukes such temerity, and encourages us to do more, to be bold in faith.
          I think the power of the Holy Spirit to stop us from saying the mean and hurtful word, to “bite our tongue” in moments of intense emotion, is one of the most powerful demonstrations of the strength of the Holy Spirit.
      There are many, many ways the Holy Spirit aids us in our weakness.
          But St. Paul in today’s second reading focuses on one particular way that the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, for St. Paul states: “we do not know how to pray as we ought”
          Now this is curious.  Most of Paul’s letters were written to Christian communities he had founded, but Romans was rather a letter of introduction.  You see, there was already a Christian community in Rome, and Paul is sending this letter to them before Paul arrives there, laying out Paul’s theology, by way of introduction.  So, how did St Paul know that the Romans did not know how to pray as they ought?  Were the Romans widely known as lousy prayers?   And did the Roman Christians take umbrage at this, were they offended by Paul - who had never met them - telling them they didn’t know how to pray properly?       
          Well, if the early Roman Christians were anything like today’s Roman Catholics, they probably agreed with Paul.  For many of us I think would agree, “we do not know how to pray as we ought”.    So, IF you are totally satisfied with the state of your prayer life, please stand up.  (pause)    OK, that is a bit hokey, but most of us have feelings of inadequacy about our prayer.  Many of us think or feel that we should pray more, but we don’t feel very good at praying, and so it seems like a waste of time.  If we were better at it, then it would seem more like a good thing to do. 
          But St. Paul tells us there is help: “but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings”, or as the New Revised Standard Version more felicitously  translates it, “with sighs too deep for words.”   The Holy Spirit helps us to pray in ways we cannot comprehend or even imagine.
          What is important for prayer is not the method or the technique, but rather openness to the Holy Spirit.  Prayer can use the body, or the voice, or the imagination, or all together, or simple stillness.  There are many ways to pray and you need to find the way that works for you.  There is story about an old Polish peasant who spent many hours in church praying.  And when he prayed he mumbled softly.  One day the pastor grew curious and snuck up to the pew behind where the old man was sitting, to listen to his prayer, what was he saying.  And the priest heard the man saying “a, b, c, d...” until he finished the alphabet, and then started again: “a, b, c, d ...”  The priest stopped him and said, “what are you doing?  That is no prayer, reciting the alphabet!”  The man responded, “Well, I am just a simple peasant, I don’t know how to make elaborate speeches with fancy vocabulary, so I just give God the letters, and He makes the words.” 

          I think that is openness to the Holy Spirit.  Let the Holy Spirit guide and lead you in prayer.  Openness means lowering the barriers of fear, the barrier of needing to be in charge and in control; but rather letting the Holy Spirit guide me where the Spirit wants me to go.  It means trusting that the Holy Spirit will come to the aid of my weakness.  St Paul assures us: “And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Homily Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle A St Austin’s Austin, TX July 13, 2014

          Last week, my CD player, which I have had for about 16 or 17 years, started skipping on the CD’s I was trying to play.  Well, you say to yourself, it worked for over 15 years, what do you expect?  Because we all know, from firsthand experience, that everything, including you and me, eventually falls apart.  Everything, sooner or later, breaks down.
          We can, with apologies to the physicists here, express this more scientifically.  The second law of thermodynamics, as famously enunciated by Rudolf Clausius in 1865, states that: “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.”  The laws of thermodynamics dictate… that nature should inexorably degenerate toward a state of greater disorder, greater entropy. (a la Wikipedia)
          In short, everything falls apart.  It is just the way it is.
          But that is NOT God’s plan.  St. Paul in our second reading today gives us a frankly mind-blowing vision:  For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
(that is, us!)
for creation was made subject to futility, (that is, to falling apart)
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
  (that is, from falling apart)
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  
          For St. Paul, creation will be redeemed along with us.  There will be, according to St. Paul, a new heavens and a new earth where things will NOT fall apart.  Creation therefore has great spiritual value, and even eternal worth.  Creation is not pointless.  It is not ultimately futile, not “subject to futility” as St Paul puts it.   Creation will be redeemed along with us. 
          What will redeemed creation look like?  What proportion of matter and energy will redeemed creation contain?  Will the atoms that now make up my body, but 10,000 years ago were part of a fern, and 10 billion years ago were part of a star, and 100,000 years from now may be part of some CD player, what will eventually happen to them when they share in the glorious freedom of the children of God? 
          We don’t know. 
          Here is what we do know.  We should respect creation.  It has a destiny and it has great worth.  It is not disposable.  It will share in our redemption, for we are part of creation and unable to truly be who we are without it.  To be fully human we need creation.  We are part of creation and creation is a part of us.  So our redemption in some way involves creation’s redemption, and visa versa. 
          Already creation in some mystical way begins to share in our redemption.  The bread and the wine that I will offer in a few minutes will become - through the action of the Holy Spirit - in a real but not physical way the presence of Christ.  It will be already changed to a different state of being, or in theological language, “transubstantiated.” 
          We take it into ourselves, it becomes part of us, and we in turn become part of it.  We are what we eat and drink.  We share in the Body and Blood of Christ, to live as the Body of Christ, to be the Body of Christ active in the world.  Here and now, in the creation which is us, in you and me, we are the Body of Christ.
          The theologian Michael Himes has a beautiful reflection on this, which he sums up as follows:  “If one little bit of the universe, the bread and wine we employ in the celebration, can be the fullness of Christ’s presence, then all the rest of the universe can be.  The eucharist is the tip of the iceberg.  It is the first step in the transubstantiation of all creation.”  (Doing the Truth in Love, p 129)

          All creation will share in the glorious freedom of the children of God “ when Christ is All and in All (Col 3:11) .   And that makes creation very special indeed.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, July 13

As you may know, we have a problem with pieces of stone falling off of the fa├žade of the parish rectory and our church. If you look at the front of the church you will see it has many pockmarks. This, I have learned, is technically called “spalling”, from the Middle English spalle a chip. Anyway it is a problem.
While not much has been happening that is easily visible, some things have been occurring in a quieter way. Both the parish Finance Council and the parish Property Committee have been quietly working on this problem, and doing more than just discussing it. A couple of things have been undertaken so far. 
First of all, we as a parish have contracted with a professional fund-raising group, the Steier Group, to conduct a “Feasibility Study” to occur in the month of September. The point of the study is to help us gauge our fund-raising potential for this project. Some kind of fund-raising will have to be done, given the fact that our parish is already in debt to the Diocese of Austin for about 5.7 million dollars, primarily from the construction of the parking garage.   After talking to several fund-raising consultants, and more importantly talking to other parishes and churches in our area who have recently done fund-raising campaigns, we settled on Steier Group, and at this point I am quite pleased with them.
Secondly, the parish Finance Council and the parish staff submitted a grant request for one million dollars to the Kennedy Foundation. We learned the Kennedy Foundation was soliciting grant proposals for church repair and renovation. We figured we are a prime candidate for that type of grant and quickly responded. This request has to go through the Diocese of Austin. They will choose four grant requests to forward to the Kennedy Foundation, and I hope that by the middle of July we will know if we made the first cut or not. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the diocesan officials appropriately!
And lastly, the parish Property Committee has been studying various solutions to our problem, and also looking at what other benefits we might be able to gain if we are going through this expense and effort anyway. We have been looking at how we might increase the number of bathrooms, make them handicapped-accessible, give our church a greater sense of presence on the drag, and items like that. We realize we are now at the point we need professional help to move forward. On July 1 the Property Committee interviewed two architectural firms that came to us highly recommended. Both gave excellent presentations, and it was very difficult to make a choice. But weighing a number of considerations, we unanimously chose Sixthriver Architects. They have done much in this area, and considerable work with the Diocese of Austin. So I am quite happy and excited that we have a first class team coming together to work on this problem.
Please keep us in your prayers, and as things develop I will report to you our progress.
God bless,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Homily Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time St Austin’s Church July 6, 2014

          Today’s Gospel is much beloved, and rightly so, for it is a message of great consolation and comfort.  But we need to understand under what conditions Jesus uttered this invitation of comfort. 
          In the opening of today’s Gospel we read:  “At that time Jesus exclaimed:”  What time was that?   I think it is important to know when, and under what circumstances Jesus speaks these very consoling words: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  ¿Was this at some idyllic retreat, out in a gorgeous meadow of wildflowers, under the shade of an elegant willow, birds chirping sweetly in the branches? 
          Well, NO.   We need to go back five verses before our Gospel reading for today begins to get the setting and properly understand what is really going on here.  The five verses immediately before our reading today are:   Then Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon (two notoriously wicked pagan cities) on the day of judgment than for you.   And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?   You will go down to the netherworld.’  For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.   At that time Jesus said in reply,* “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”  
          The soothing and comforting words of today’s Gospel follow immediately on Jesus chastising and condemning the Galilean towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  What is going on?  Well, obviously Jesus is really, really angry.  Jesus went to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (where St Peter was from), all fishing villages just a couple of miles from each other, on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus preached there, He worked “mighty deeds”, that is miracles, there, Jesus gave it His best shot, and ….. nothing.  Jesus flopped.  Big time. 
The people did not respond, they did not repent, they did not follow him.  The people were too busy with their jobs, their friends, their hobbies, their favorite TV programs, following the local sports teams, political debates, and just trying to get ahead.  They insult Jesus in the worst possible way:  they ignore him. 
          And Jesus gets pretty riled up.  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”  Jesus is telling His audience they are worse than those awful pagan places. 
          “And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?   You will go down to the netherworld.’   In other words, Jesus is saying, “go to hell”.  “For – He says -  if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, (and we all know that Sodom was like Las Vegas, sin city) it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.  
          Jesus gives it to them with both barrels because He is frustrated and upset and angry.   And so what does Jesus do?                  He praises God. 
          He praises God.  “At that time Jesus exclaimed:  ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned you have revealed them to little ones.” 
          Now I don’t know about you, but when I am really angry and hot and bothered and all worked up, praising God is NOT the first thing that comes to my mind.  But that is what Jesus does.  Jesus is so in tune with His Father that rather than focusing on His own disappointment, failure and defeat, Jesus rather focuses on what the Father is doing in this disappointing result. 
          Because Jesus sees the Father leading him away from these rather busy and successful towns people to instead reach out to the little people, the people who don’t count for anything, the people on the margins, the poor, the vulnerable, the socio-economically oppressed.  The Biblical term in anawim.    That is what Jesus means when He says the “little ones”, meaning the ones of no account socially. 
          Letting go His frustration and anger and disappointment Jesus turns His attention to where the Father is guiding Him, to the anawim.  “Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. …   Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
          What are we to make of this remarkable turn, where Jesus goes from denouncing and condemning to in the next paragraph speaking words of such comfort and invitation?
          I believe that in this instance we see the essence of sacrifice.  Jesus lets go of His desire to be successful, to be acclaimed, to be approved especially by those who count, who are movers and shakers, to be a success.  Jesus lets that go to instead follow the Father’s Will, which leads him to the outcasts, the downtrodden, the broken, the sick, the poor, the stranger and the immigrant, the anawim.  It is an example in action of what Jesus would pray in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death, “not my will, but thine be done.” 
          For us it is clear.  As we enter into the sacrifice of the Mass, it is much more demanding than simply repeating certain ritual actions.  We must praise God the Father in the way our brother Jesus did:  By letting go of our own willfulness, to be open and empty to see and follow God’s Will for us, and to praise God for that. 
          In that way we will enter into Jesus’ peace, Jesus’ rest.  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”     
          Today our nation is involved in a complicated, heated and sometimes rancorous debate about how to respond to thousands of undocumented women and children coming across the border, mostly here in Texas, as they flee violence and murder perpetrated by gangs and drug cartels in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  These children and women, victims and poor, are anawim, little ones.  How are we to respond?
          As individuals, as Christians, as Americans, we are called to follow the Will of our Father in Heaven.  That is the only way to the fullness of life.

          Our brother Jesus says:  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, July 6

I doubt that it will come as a surprise to you but Austin has a traffic problem. Given how fast this area is growing (I’ve heard figures as high as 150 people a day are moving into the area), there is no way to build roads fast enough to keep up with the growth of traffic.
This gives us all lots of opportunities to work on our patience. Mine needs a lot of work. The solutions to this congestion are mostly not very good. The quickest solution would be a major economic depression. People out of work don’t need to drive to work, and probably couldn’t afford the gas anyway. But that is a pretty drastic approach that none of us want to see!
A much better approach is to foster mass transit and alternate transit opportunities. The city has installed new bus routes and exclusive bus lanes. I hope that works and more people start using the bus for their commute. It is perfectly acceptable to come to church by bus. There is also a plan to bring rail into Austin, with all the debate over the route, the cost, the impact of building rail in the heart of the city, etc. And finally the city has encouraged people to bike rather than drive in order to help alleviate traffic.
I mention all this because several months ago the city installed a dedicated bike lane down Guadalupe Street, right in front of the church. In theory I am in favor of promoting bike travel in the city, but in practice there are sometimes other complications.
For us here at St Austin the problem is the interaction of pedestrians and bicycles. While bicyclists sometimes complain that automobile drivers do not watch for bicycles and respect them, in much the same way sometimes bicyclists do not watch for nor respect pedestrians. Specifically here at St. Austin, we have had a few instances where drivers parking in front of the church were nearly run over by a bicycle flying down the bike lane between the parking lane and the sidewalk. I also notice that pedestrians crossing Guadalupe at 21st street congregate in the bike lane, and occasionally there are near misses between bikes and pedestrians there as well.
So I am asking all of you to PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL when crossing the green bike lane in front of the church. Think of it as a danger zone, like a minefield, and be very careful. Bike ridership is predicted to increase, and I think we will see more and more bike traffic going by in front of our church. Please look both ways and watch out for the bikes. Stay safe. Thank you.
God bless,