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,

Sunday, November 2, 2014

HOMILY All Souls Sunday, November 2, 2014

Death is evil.  Death rips apart our life-giving relationships, hauls away our loved ones, and tears asunder our hearts.  If there is not a hole in some part of your heart, an aching emptiness for someone taken away by death, then you have not loved nearly enough.  And if you really love as a Christian, then your heart will look like swiss cheese.   
For Christianity death is not “just a natural part of living.”  It is, rather, the Great Enemy.  We oppose death and all that leads to a culture of death.  We stand against the deliberate destruction of the unborn, the use of war as an instrument of national policy, the death penalty, and all that devalues the life of the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, the handicapped and the elderly.  We are for life and against death.
Death, at least as we now experience it, is a chastisement and a punishment.  As one of the Preface prayers for today’s Mass states: "For even though by our own fault we perish, yet by your compassion and your grace, when seized by death according to our sins, we are redeemed through Christ’s great victory, and with him called back into life."   Death is evil.  But it is not victorious.
We all die, but we do not live in despair, nor do we face life stoically with a stiff upper lip, but rather we thrive in HOPE.  St Paul today assures us “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” 
It is the Holy Spirit that unites us to each other and forms us together into the Body of Christ.  And that connection of the Holy Spirit is stronger even than death.  The real spiritual connection we have with other Christians does not end with death.  It remains, and in a real way we are still connected, still attached as member of one body in Christ. 
So in Christ and through the Holy Spirit we can still express to our departed loved ones our care, our concern, our love.  We pray for them in order to encourage them in their continued growth, even beyond the grave, so that they can be fully open and receptive to all the love God the Father wants to give them, and not be hindered nor blocked by any resistance, by any evil, by any lingering selfishness or sin. 
That is what the purgation or cleansing of purgatory is all about:  it is growing and stretching to be fully open and receptive to all the love God wants to shower on us.  It is not so much about punishment as it is about growth.  That growing and stretching may be painful.  The beautiful gaze of the incredible love of Jesus may burn as we cling to self-centeredness, fear and sin.  The dropping of our defenses and the opening of ourselves in vulnerability to others may be really, really scary.  But it is what we must do to become the truly loving people that God has created us to be.  To be truly open to such transforming love will be a big change for many of us.
But we are not in this alone.  We are all members of one Body.  We here support, encourage, root for our deceased loved ones from the sidelines and assist them with our prayers.  That is what we are doing here today.
In addition, we can unburden them by offering our forgiveness for any ways they have hurt or sinned against us.  Maybe a parent was too tired after working all day to really be the mother or father we needed.  Maybe they had been damaged by their parents.  Maybe there was no excuse other than shear laziness.   In any case we can unburden them by offering our forgiveness and peace. 
Likewise, we may need to request their forgiveness.  Perhaps we need for them to accept our repentance and apology.  With the Holy Spirit’s guidance and assistance, they most surely will forgive.  Forgiveness is the road to the fullness of life, and our deceased loved ones will certainly be eager to respond.
This Feast of All Souls is about community, the Communion we have in Jesus Christ.  We are all members of One Body.  We are all in this TOGETHER.  Both in life and in death, we support, encourage and assist one another by our prayers. 

Our Faith is our encouragement and hope.  In our Gospel today Jesus gives us this most encouraging and welcome assurance:  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”   AMEN.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 2

A Happy All Saints Day (belatedly) to all you saints of St. Austin Parish! And a Blessed All Souls Day to you all as well.
The prayer, discussion, discernment and decision about our church and rectory renovation project continues to move along. Your comments, suggestions and questions about the three plans are still being solicited. These three plans were to get us thinking about what we want our appearance to be. We are getting ready to move to the next step in the planning process, so please email your ideas, hopes, thoughts and feelings to us at Positive statements of approval are also welcome, as are all thoughtful comments.
Meanwhile, in an effort to help identify costs, we are having testing done on the buildings to confirm if there is asbestos in the mastic that helps hold the stones to the building. That will affect our costs. Likewise, we are having some roofers evaluate the state of the church roof. If the roof needs to be replaced, that is obviously a cost we have to include. We have also, at the suggestion of the Diocese Facilities Planning department, engaged Robert Rizzo of Rizzo Construction, Inc. as “General Contractor at Risk” to assist us in the pricing during this design phase. He has already been very helpful in directing our thinking according to pricing.
The Property Committee has also directed the architect to give us a more refined plan to move the process forward. He is basically using Scheme 1 with some additions and refinements, and moving it forward to greater detail that we can more accurately price. The architect is in contact with the Property Committee (PC), and will present the new scheme at a PC meeting on Wednesday, November 19. The following week is Thanksgiving and the process will slow down for a bit. 
Then on the weekend of December 6/7 we will have a special booth at the Holiday Fair with a presentation of the new scheme. Members of the PC, the Finance Council, the Parish Council, and/or the Good Shepherd Comm. will be there to answer questions and receive comments and feedback. This will be an important milestone in the process and requires your participation. So plan to spend a few extra minutes at the Holiday Fair getting updated and sharing your reactions and thoughts.
Out of this will, I hope, come a much clearer and stronger architectural statement of who we are as a community; both our deep roots in this neighborhood and our strong desire to reach out, invite and welcome all who wish to hear the Good News with us. Please keep St. Austin Parish, the Property Committee, the Parish Council, the Finance Council and our great Pastoral Staff in your prayers. Thanks.

God Bless,