Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 31

Happy Labor Day Weekend to you all!  On this holiday when we focus on the dignity and importance of labor, I want to share with you the following announcement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about their annual Labor Day Statement. I think it has several points on which all of us can profitably reflect.
Happy Labor Day! 





2014 Labor Day Statement Focuses On Unemployment Among Young People

August 13, 2014
WASHINGTON—The high unemployment rate of young adults, both in the United States and around the world, is the focus of the 2014 Labor Day Statement from the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. The statement, dated September 1, draws on Pope Francis’ teaching against an “economy of exclusion” and applies it to the millions of unemployed young adults in the United States.
“For those fortunate enough to have jobs, many pay poorly. Greater numbers of debt-strapped college graduates move back in with their parents, while high school graduates and others may have less debt but very few decent job opportunities,” wrote Archbishop Wenski. “Pope Francis has reserved some of his strongest language for speaking about young adult unemployment, calling it ‘evil,’ an ‘atrocity,’ and emblematic of the ‘throwaway culture.’”
Archbishop Wenski added, “Meaningful and decent work is vital if young adults hope to form healthy and stable families.” He noted that in other countries unemployment among young adults reaches as high as three to four times the national average.
Archbishop Wenski said policies and institutions “that create decent jobs, pay just wages, and support family formation and stability” help honor the dignity of workers. “Raising the minimum wage, more and better workforce training programs, and smarter regulations that minimize negative unintended consequences would be good places to start.”
Archbishop Wenski noted that Pope Francis has called young people a source of hope for humanity. “We need to do more to nurture this hopefulness and provide our young adults with skills, support, and opportunities to flourish,” Archbishop Wenski wrote.
He also called for greater solidarity: “Since each of us is made in the image of God and bound by His love, possessing a profound human dignity, we have an obligation to love and honor that dignity in one another, and especially in our work.” 
The full text of the 2014 Labor Day Statement is available online in English:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time August 24, 2014

          In the Gospel today Jesus puts a very important, indeed critical, question to His disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?”   Addressed to the disciples, that includes all of us; you and me.  In the Gospel Jesus is asking us this question.  It is time to ante up and put it on the line.   Who do you say that Jesus is?  And that is really to ask, “What role, and what importance, does this person, Jesus, have in your life?”
          This question is very important, because how you answer that question really determines how you are going to lead your life.  If you think Jesus is a nice guy but nothing special, you will lead your life one way.  But if you believe He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, verily God in the flesh, the Fullness of Life, then you obviously are going to want to follow Him much more closely.
          It is interesting to me where Jesus pops this question to the disciples.  Usually when someone asks a very critical question, like “Will you marry me?” some thought and planning goes into WHERE the question will be asked.  It may be a fine restaurant, a romantic location, some spot significant to the couple.  It is usually not broached in the aisle of a grocery store, or in a laundromat or on a parking lot. 
          In the same way, for an important, pivotal moment like this, a critical moment of decision, of declaring our allegiance, I would think that Jesus might go up on a mountain top.  Mountain tops seem to be very special, holy places for Jesus.  He likes to go there to pray.  He is transfigured on a mountain top.  Mountain tops are special to Jesus and for this special question I would expect Him to go there.  But He doesn’t.
          Or perhaps Jesus would go to the Holy City of Jerusalem, site of the Temple, God’s Holy City.   But Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for this important and solemn question.
          Anyone remember where Jesus goes to ask his disciples this question, “Who do you say that I am?”  According to our Gospel, “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi…”  That is where Jesus chose to put this question. 
          ¿Where the heck is Caesarea Philippi?   
          Well, interestingly, it is way up north, 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, out of Jewish territory, into pagan lands.   Caesarea Philippi was an entirely Gentile, that is non-Jewish, community.  It was built around a cave from which a stream flowed, one of the main sources of the River Jordan.  At the cave was a famous shrine dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and to Nymphs, and it was associated with fertility rites. 
          This is a strange place for Jesus to be asking such a critically important question.  It would be like Jesus going to some totally secular location, like Wall Street or Times Square, or more locally like Jesus going down to some of the more active stretches of 6th Avenue in Austin, a place where there are pans and nymphs and sometimes fertility rites, or at least so I am told.   Why would Jesus pick such a non-religious, totally secular, even unholy place to address this critical question of just who do you say that I am? 
          I don’t think it is by accident.   I think Jesus chose this location, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, on purpose for a reason.   Because that is where our answer really counts. 
          You see it is one thing to come to Church on Sunday, sing the hymns, say the prayers, stand up, sit down, kneel, go through the actions and say, “Oh Jesus is the Lord of my life.  He is the ONE.”   That is nice, but it doesn’t cost much.
          But it is another thing when you are at home, and the kids are on your nerves, and your spouse is in a foul mood, and the air conditioning breaks, to really say and really mean, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And therefore I am going to live like YOU are the center of my life.  That takes commitment.
          And in the market place, when we go shopping, and we make all sorts of ethical decisions by what we purchase and where we shop, it is a whole other thing to say You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Then we have to consider if we are supporting a store that pays its employees a living wage.  Are we buying goods produced by child labor or in sweat shops?  Are we spending money on frivolities and that money could be used to help others?   How much are we giving in to consumerism?  When you are shopping who do you say Jesus is?
          And at work, it is a whole other thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Because if you really mean that then you need to forgo the juicy office gossip around the water-cooler.  And you may not be able to pad expense accounts like if you did not say that.  And you would need to seek to enact company policies that are fair and legal and respectful of the environment.  And you would need to treat your employees and your fellow co-workers not just as economic units but as children of God.
          And in the public forum and in politics to really say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”  is a whole different thing, that means eschewing the politics of separation, of labeling others, of pandering to people’s fears and of the leaders that divide, and instead, to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, means seeking justice, and care for the victim and the oppressed, and working for respect and peace.

          You see it is one thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”  here in church, but another thing altogether to say it and mean it in Caesarea Philippi, in all the rest of your life.  But that is where Jesus wants to meet you, where Jesus calls you to be a disciple: not here in church, not on the mountain top, not in the Jerusalem temple, but in all the Ceasarea Philippi’s in your life.  Everywhere out there.  That is where Jesus comes and asks you, “Who do you say that I am?”    

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 17

It looks like before long we will be starting school (this week!), Religious Education is starting up in just a couple of weeks, and soon we will be back in full swing for the fall programming. Where did summer go?  Oh well, at least we are never bored here at St. Austin!
In addition to all the usual and normal fall activities, this year we also will be engaging in the repair and renovation of the exterior of our church and rectory. If you have not heard about all this over the past year, just go outside on Guadalupe Street and take a good look at the front of our church. You will see we have a problem.
This is not going to be an easy or cheap problem to fix. Because we still have a large debt on the parish (approximately 5.7 million dollars) due largely to acquiring the land for and the construction of the parking garage, we obviously need to do fund raising to address the exterior situation. Next month we will have professional fund raising consultants (Steier Group) conducting a feasibility study to determine how much we can reasonably expect to raise. You will be hearing more about this soon.
Once we have that information we will figure out exactly what we are able to do. At a minimum, we have to create a safe condition around the church and make sure no one could be hurt by falling stone. Hopefully we can go further than that. But let me nip two potential rumors in the bud right now:
We have NO intention, absolutely zero, of knocking down the current church offices and building a new church there, as was envisioned slightly over a decade ago. That is neither feasible nor desirable. We are looking at living with our current worship space for some time to come, maybe even another century. (However, the rectory, which also has the same problem with its exterior as the church, we are treating differently.)
Also, we are NOT looking at or contemplating any changes to our current church interior arrangements. That simply is not in the discussion. We may (depending on many factors) try to increase the number of bathrooms and make them more accessible, but otherwise everything will be addressing the exterior situation of the church and rectory.
The Parish Pastoral Council discussed all this at their planning retreat on Saturday, August 9. I proposed something to them that I had seen work successfully when we were planning to build a new church in Seneca, South Carolina, when I was pastor there. The architect, David Brown from Notre Dame, IN, urged us to have a “Good Shepherd” committee. This group would specifically be concerned NOT about the church building but rather with the church community during the design and construction process. Inevitably different people are going to want different things, and some compromises are going to have to be made. The purpose of the Good Shepherd Committee is to make sure that the members of the community are not hurt through the process. We want to make sure we build “Church” as we work to repair our church building.
So the Parish Council has adopted this committee. It’s duties will be to pray for the success of our repair and renovation project, to keep reminding the rest of the community to pray for its success, to make sure through the process we treat each other with respect, remain open, try to heal any wounds, help us all remember exactly why we are doing this, and through it all to maintain a good sense of humor.
While this is a committee of the Parish Pastoral Council, it is open to parishioners who are not on the PPC. If you know someone you think would be a good addition to this committee, even yourself, please forward his or her name to me at There will be a few meetings to organize, but most of the work of this committee will be done outside of meetings.
God Bless,

Monday, August 11, 2014

HOMILY Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A August 10, 2014

           Our first reading takes place on Mt. Horeb, which is just another name for Mt. Sinai, where God gave Moses the Law.  It is like “Lady Bird Lake” and “Town Lake” are two names for the same body of water, so Horeb and Sinai are two names for the exact same mountain. 
          So what is Elijah doing there?   Sightseeing?   Nope.  He is hiding.  Elijah is on the run from the evil Queen Jezebel.   She is out to kill him, and Elijah is on the lamb.  It is worthwhile reading the whole story in the First Book of Kings.  Anyway, Elijah is scarred, defeated, disgusted, and hiding out in a cave on Mt. Horeb.
          For Elijah to stop hiding and continue serving as God’s prophet he needs a boost, a total reboot, something to get him out of hiding in the ground and to go do his prophetic duty.  So God is going to encounter Elijah, and thus energize him to continue his mission.  That is the setting of our first reading.
          Elijah goes out to meet God.  First there is “a strong and heavy wind”, so strong it rending the mountains and crushing rocks.  You could not ignore this wind.  It was strong and powerful and unavoidable.  It was very definite.  But God was not in the wind.
          Then there was an earthquake.  It is pretty hard to ignore an earthquake, especially a big one.  You KNOW when a earthquake happens.  It is pretty much in-your-face.  But God was not in the earthquake.
          Then there was fire.  Again fire is attention getting, clear and pronounced.  You don’t walk through a fire and not notice it.  It is pretty obvious.  But God was not there either.
          Finally there was a “tiny whispering sound.”  It is faint.  Easily missed. Not sure if you really heard that or not.   But there is where God was, and Elijah hid his face in his cloak, because it was too much to bear. 
          How much easier it would be if God only came to us with clear, dramatic effects that really got our attention.  If God would only appear to us with Imax 3-D and Dobly surround-sound and huge, explosive, attention-grabbing wonders.  Then belief would be easy.
          One of the early Roman critics of Christianity asked, “¿if Jesus is truly raised and is a god, why doesn’t he just appear in glory before the Roman Senate, clearly and unambiguously, and then we would all believe in him?”  That is a good question.  Why not make it clear and obvious, removing all doubt?
          But faith doesn’t work that way.  Why is faith so thin, so tenuous, so easy to miss, so iffy?
          St Paul in our second reading wrestles with the fact that his compatriots, the Jews, whom St Paul loves, did not respond in faith to Jesus as Messiah.  IT is a problem St Paul can’t figure out.  He says: theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;

theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ.”
And still, they didn’t see it, they didn’t hear it, they didn’t get faith in Christ.
          Today we know people who went to Catholic grade school, and even Catholic high school, who grew up in faith-filled homes, maybe even have uncles who are bishops and aunts who are nuns, and yet, faith never took root in them.  Like St. Paul we wonder why, and we wish we knew what we could do to help them come to faith in Jesus as the Christ.
          Faith is difficult to achieve.  It is so subtle, unsubstantial, effervescent, hard to pin down. 
          And it is risky, because it is NOT a sure thing.  A genuine adult faith is a risk.  It means getting out into the deep waters of life, where the wind and the waves are strong, where life-long commitments are made, where forgiveness and generosity and compassion make more sense than greed and self-centeredness, where everything is less sure and more iffy, and then doing the foolish thing of getting out of the boat and walking towards Jesus. 
          Faith means walking with gratitude and compassion when fear is all around us, ready to drown us. 
          Faith means moving forward in acceptance and tolerance when the waves of hatred, racism, homophobia, nativism and anti-immigrant intolerance are raising up around us.
          Faith means believing when the Church does stupid things, when the music is insipid, the preaching dull, and our fellow Christians are unattractive.
          Faith means not looking for big, concrete, clear observable proofs, but rather listening for that faint, difficult to discern, “tiny whispering sound”. 

          It ain’t easy.  But with faith you can walk on water.  Today Jesus says to us: “Come.”  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 10

This coming Friday is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We will celebrate Mass here at 8 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. I hope that you will be able to join us.
On this day we celebrate the victory of Christ over death, already complete and total in the case of His Mother, Mary. She was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, to share fully and completely in her Son’s victory over death. As the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (Nov 1, 1950) that proclaimed this doctrine stated:
“Therefore, it seems almost impossible to think of her who conceived Christ, bore Him, nourished Him with her milk, held Him in her arms, and pressed Him to her breast, as separated from Him after this earthly life in her body, even though not in soul. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, surely, as the most perfect observer of divine law, He could not refuse to honor, in addition to His Eternal Father, His most beloved Mother also. And, since He could adorn her with so great a gift as to keep her unharmed by the corruption of the tomb, it must be believed that He actually did this.”
Basically the argument is that since Jesus is such a good son, and could do this for His Mother, obviously He must have done so. It is an argument that leads with the heart, not the head.
The best reflection I have ever read on the Assumption comes not from a theologian but an artist. In Feb. 3, 1951 issue of the British magazine, The Tablet, the author Graham Greene asks why the doctrine of the Assumption was declared now, in 1950, when there were no heresies about Mary to combat. He connects it instead to the events of WWII, especially the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He wrote:
“In our day there are no obvious signs of heretical beliefs within the Church concerning the Assumption of Our Lady and therefore it was believed by some Catholics that to proclaim the dogma was unnecessary. But Catholics today cannot remain quite untouched by the general heresy of the time, the unimportance of the individual. Today the human body is regarded as expendable material, something to be eliminated wholesale by the atom bomb, a kind of anonymous carrion. After the First World War crosses marked the places where the dead lay, Allied and enemy: lights burned continually in the capitals of Europe over the graves of the unknown warriors. But no crosses today mark the common graves into which the dead of London and Berlin were shoveled, and Hiroshima’s memorial is the outline of a body photographed by the heat flash on asphalt. The definition of the Assumption proclaims again the doctrine of our Resurrection, the eternal destiny of each human body, and again it is the history of Mary which maintains the doctrine in its clarity. The Resurrection of Christ can be regarded as the Resurrection of a God, but the Resurrection of Mary foreshadows the Resurrection of each one of us.”
So as we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary what we really are celebrating is our faith in the resurrection of each one of us. Happy Feast Day!
God Bless,

Sunday, August 3, 2014

HOMILY 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A August 03, 2014

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.     
          Why?   Why did Jesus want to be alone.  Well, Jesus was grieving.   We see the great human affection of Jesus for John,  looking up to him in a way.  Jesus admired him.  So Jesus is sad.  Jesus’ good friend was just unjustly executed, and of course Jesus is upset.  Wouldn’t you be?
          Maybe for Jesus there is also some sober realization that what happened to John was also likely to happen to Jesus if he continued down the path of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  That, unfortunately, is the story of all the prophets.  And now it has come home, has come very close to Jesus, in the death of his close friend - and on the human level - His teacher and model, John the Baptist.  So Jesus has to think about the consequences of his own actions.  
          Grieving and wrestling with his own vocation Jesus seeks to be alone with His Abba, His Father.  Jesus goes to a deserted place by himself.   A perfectly normal, understandable desire to withdraw, to grieve, and to think, and to pray.
          But this was not to be.   “The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.   He disembarked and saw the vast crowd,”   Jesus is denied the respite to be with His grief and His questions. 
          And this is the really interesting part, which is Jesus’ reaction.  Jesus doesn’t react at all like I would react.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Can’t I get a moment to myself?  Hey, I am hurting and I need a little peace and quiet.  This is time for me now.  You all go away and come see me tomorrow.” 
          Jesus doesn’t say that.  Instead, the Gospel says, “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.”
               Jesus lets go of his own hurt and pain, his own needs, and responds instinctively to the people before him.  His heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
          Contrast that to the approach of the disciples.  When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,   “This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
                The disciples see the crowd as a problem.  They want to get rid of them.  They are an inconvenience and a bother.  Even a threat!  Dismiss the crowds, send them away, get rid of them, is the disciples’ approach.
          Jesus’ response is pointed and classic.  “Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;  give them some food yourselves.”
               Jesus is challenging the disciples (and that always means you and me) to change their way of thinking, their way of feeling, their way of seeing.   Jesus saw the crowd and was moved to pity.  He healed.  He taught.  He forgave.  Jesus did not focus on Himself and his own hurt and need, but rather on the crowd and their need.
          The disciples, on the other hand, saw a lot of hungry mouths, a problem they want to get rid of.
          What do we see?  We see thousands of children and women coming across the border of our state.  We see people fleeing from death and violence and poverty.  We see people hungry and needy in many, many ways.
          We usually see them as a problem. We are overwhelmed by their need.  We want to get rid of them. We want to send them away.  We want to close the border and block their entrance.  We understand perfectly where the disciples in the Gospel are coming from, because they are us.
          Jesus, in the Gospel today, right here and now, says to you and to me, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” 
          Jesus shows us how.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.   They all ate and were satisfied,” 
This action by Jesus is Eucharistic. Jesus said the blessing, in Hebrew the Berekah:  “Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have this bread to offer you.” 
Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it.  It is what we will do right here at this table in just a few minutes.   And our participation in the Eucharist has the power to transform us to see in a new way, to see as Jesus sees, to see with compassion and with generosity in place of seeing with fear or greed. 
          Jesus invites us to the Eucharistic table so that we might be transformed, just as the bread and wine are transformed.  We become the Body and Blood of Christ, so that just like Jesus we can let go of our focus on our own self to respond to those in front of us.
          Be open to transformation.  Just  like the bread in the Gospel was transformed to feed 5, 000 men plus women and children, and just like the bread will be transformed at this altar into the Body of Christ, so you are called to be transformed right at this Mass. 
Open your heart to see with the eyes of Jesus.     AMEN