Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sun., Dec. 27

Merry Christmas! On behalf of the Paulists here in Austin, and all the St Austin Parish Staff, I wish you and yours a Christmas full of fun, loving family, and good cheer! As people of faith we have ample and firm grounds for celebrating this Feast. We celebrate not because of anything we have done, not because of anything that is going on in our society and government and international situation, but because of what God has done for us. God has sent His Only Son to lead us out of darkness into beautiful, wonderful, warm, fragrant light. So MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! 
On this weekend of December 26-27 we celebrate the Holy Family. It is a reminder and inspiration for all of us to live as a Holy Family—our own nuclear family, the family of our neighborhood, the family of our parish, city, nation and world. Because Christ is present in every one of these, they are, at least potentially, a holy family. We must live is in such a way as to make that real.
Next weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Not only do we recall the visit of the Magi to Jesus, but we more profoundly and deeply celebrate the revelation of Christ to the entire world. Each of us is called to be a witness to that, a manifestation of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. We are not merely recalling an event from long ago and far away but reminding ourselves of our duty to help make the Christ event known in the lives of all those around us.
We have much to celebrate.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sun., Dec. 20

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Certainly there are plenty of decorations, parties, gifts, music and all the paraphernalia of the holiday. But for us Christians there is also something more and of much more meaning and consequence.
We are celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation. We affirm the wild and even crazy belief that God has become human. If you don’t think that is a huge proposition to swallow, then clearly you have not thought long and hard enough about just what it is we are observing and celebrating at Christmas.
The God of all the universe, existing before all time, Who is the cause for and continues to hold in existence all of creation (billions of galaxies each with billions of stars and even more dark matter and dark energy), has become a helpless human baby. That is pretty wild. And yet that is what we profess every Sunday in the Creed and what we will celebrate on Christmas. If you think about this seriously for any length of time it will make you a bit giddy, it is so overwhelming.
Back in 1977 seven English theologians (Christian but not Catholic) wrote a book titled: “The Myth of God Incarnate.” Recently Cardinal Christoph Schöborn, of Vienna, wrote a response (published by Paulist Press of course!) entitled “The Mystery of the Incarnation.” It is a short book, describing how mythic language can also speak of a concrete reality. The Incarnation is a mystery that is all that we say it is and more that we cannot say.
Even more mind-blowing is the section where Cardinal Schöborn discusses the goal of the Incarnation. In short, God became (hu)man so that we might become god. We mortals receive divine life in Christ. In this context, the Cardinal quotes St. Paul, “You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
So as we celebrate the Feast of Christmas, let us not forget to look beyond the eggnog, the candy, the lights, the festive costumes, the food and the endlessly repeated music, to look lovingly into the breath-taking mystery of the Incarnation, which in sum is the Mystery of God’s Love for us.  
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle C December 16, 2012

Our second reading today, from St. Paul to the Phillipians, startsBrothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always.   I shall say it again: rejoice!”     Paul sounds pretty happy, don’t you think?  Everything must be going really well for him, especially in the community he founded in Philippi.  It must be all peace and harmony and understanding and everyone just getting along famously.  Right?   WRONG!
          In the four verses immediately before our second reading today we hear:  “For these reasons, my brothers, you whom I so love and long for, you who are my joy and my crown, continue, my dear ones, to stand firm in the Lord.  I plead with Evodia just as I do with Syntyche, come to some mutual understanding in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, too, my dependable fellow worker, to go to their aid;  they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and the others who have labored with me, whose names are in the book of life.”
          What is going on here, what is Paul talking about?  Well, there is a division in the community.  Two church ladies, Evodia and Syntyche, both staunch pillars of the parish, well known and influential in the community, had a disagreement.  Apparently a pretty serious and public one.
          I know such an occurrence is exceedingly rare, but this sort of thing can happen.   Now both Evodia and Syntyche were good women, dedicated to spreading the Gospel, but they had some sort of falling out, a difference of opinion, that was causing a problem for the church of Phillipi.   In fact a big enough of a stink so as to cause St. Paul to ask one of his co-workers in Philippi to act as referee.  Paul wrote:  I ask you, too, my dependable fellow worker, to go to their aid;”  Go try to help them resolve this thing.  For these two ladies were leaders in the church.  They did much more than just serve tea, for St. Paul states that they struggled at his side in promoting the gospel.  They were missionaries or church leaders of some sort.  And so it was important for St. Paul that the two women get along, or at least “come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.”  Because their division was hindering the mission.
            The point I want to make here is that it is immediately following dealing with this squabble, this rupture in the community, that Paul continues with the passage we have as our second reading today: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”  And so on. 
          I mention this little bit of the Phillipians’ “dirty laundry” to show that Paul’s optimistic and enthusiastic writing in our second reading is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, not some unrealistic fantasy, but is based in the day-to-day realities of living in community, with its tensions and squabbles and disappointments.   
          Not only did Paul have opposition from many of the Jews who rejected the New Way he preached, and not only did Paul have all the dangers and inconveniences of ancient travel, and not only did Paul have difficulties with the Roman authorities,
Paul also had all the problems, divisions, squabbles, disagreements and arguments that every community is subject to, and he seemed to have it in all the churches he founded, and even with other Apostles.
          So, there was plenty of human reason for St Paul to be discouraged, disheartened, disgusted and even depressed.   But here he is recommending to us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” 
          The last sentence is the kicker.  The Lord is near!  It is Paul’s faith that the Lord is near that allows him to remain, not just calm, but buoyant, optimistic, hopeful, positive, indeed joyful.   The Lord is near!   And for St Paul that is all that matters.  He knows that we are never going to find our way out of the mess that humanity has gotten itself into by moral reform, nor government action, nor economic development, nor scientific progress, nor academic excellence, nor artistic creativity, nor social development nor military intervention, nor any other human endeavor.  Paul knows that the only way out of the dead end of sin and death is through the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  And Paul knows that the Lord is near. 
          That is why St Paul confidently continues in our second reading:  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
          That is very good advice.   I urge you to take it to heart.  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The Lord is near!   AMEN.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sun. Dec. 13

This past Tuesday, The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, was the official opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It runs till Nov. 20, 2016, The Feast of Christ the King. So we are now in the official Year of Mercy.
We anticipated the Year a bit by having a Parish Mission on Mercy, given by Paulist Fr. Frank Desiderio, CSP, Nov. 7–11. It was well attended and well done. Fr Desiderio defined mercy as “having a heart for the poor”. He demonstrated this very well with stories and incidents from the life of Pope Francis. He indeed has a heart for the poor.
It is important that we participate in and celebrate the Year of Mercy not only as individuals, but even more importantly as a parish community. How are we as St Austin Parish called to observe the Year of Mercy? Well, I am not entirely sure. The Parish Pastoral Council is pondering this issue. If you have specific ideas, feel free to share them with me, or one of the members of the Parish Pastoral Staff, or with the Parish Pastoral Council. The Holy Spirit (I believe) is at work throughout our parish, and we should be open to any inspiration that comes to us.
For me “mercy” is much more than just forgiving those who offend us, though that is central. By defining mercy as “having a heart for the poor,” we open ourselves to a much more proactive stance of mercy. We already do many things to help the poor here (the Christmas Basket program this coming Saturday being one of the clearest examples).
I hope, in the new year, to write an occasional series of bulletin columns on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I would like to have a mini “film festival” to show some movies that contain the theme of mercy and that would stimulate discussion about mercy. If you know of a good film for this send me an email.
Perhaps we could have a book discussion on a book that raises issues of mercy. Or have some speaker come and talk to us about forgiveness, especially from a personal point of view. Maybe the artistic members of our community would put on a show of original works of art on the theme of mercy. The parish’s Christ Renews His Parish community is working on a retreat for women that will include the theme of mercy. I would like to have another parish mission at the end of the year of mercy to mark its close. And I am sure that there are other ways that we could examine and be touched by the themes of mercy. It is pretty broad.
With creativity and spirit we should be able to make the Year of Mercy both memorable and spiritually profitable for us and our neighbors.  
God bless!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

HOMILY 2ND Advent Cycle “C” December 6, 2015

I’d like you to listen again to the beginning of today’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
     when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
     and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
     and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
     and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
     during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
     the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

The Gospel today begins very unusually.  Gospels usually begin in a very non-descript, amorphous sort of manner; with “at that time”, or “Jesus said to his disciples”, or some indefinite setting like that.  But today we hear of these strange places and foreign sounding titles, of Tiberius Ceasar, tetrachs, of Ituraea and Trachonitis, of people named Lysanias and Caiaphas.  It can all seem very distant, and rather unreal, almost like listening to some legend or a fairy tale, another chapter in the Lord of the Rings.  I mean, when is the last time you saw a tetrarch, for crying out loud? 
But in fact, this was an actual historical time.  It was late in the year 27 A.D.  All these names were real people, and rather hard-nosed, practical, politicians.  They were powerful, and often ruthless, leaders.  As one famous biblical commentator, Fr. Carroll Stuhmueller, wrote: “All in all, this list of names draws a gloomy picture.”*  These were real people and real places, enmeshed in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day give-and-take of practical politics. 
Perhaps we would get a better sense of what the Gospel is telling us if we heard:
In the seventh year of the Presidency of Barrack Obama,
when Greg Abbot was Governor of Texas,
and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz United States Senators,
and Steve Adler Mayor of Austin , Sarah Eckhardt Travis County Judge
during the Pontificate of Pope Francis, when Joe Vasquez and Danny Garcia were Bishops of Austin, the word of God came to John in the desert.      

I will leave to your judgment weather this modern list of names, “all in all … draws a gloomy picture.”

You see, St. Luke is taking care to situate this event squarely on the stage of world events, right smack in the middle of earthly wars, rulers, events and the 6 o’clock news.  This is not at all “once upon a time”, but rather a very definite and precise place and date. 
Now St. Luke has a particular theological reason why he wants the event of John the Baptist painted against the backdrop of world leaders and events, but I believe he is also making the point that the Word of God comes to us in our concrete daily lives.
It is in the real political, social, economic and cultural reality in which we find ourselves that God speaks to us.  It is not in the temple, nor in a synagogue that the Word of God comes to John, but out in the world, in the desert: a hard, difficult, uncomfortable place. Not in Austin, but out in some lonely place in West Texas. 
And so for us, we find God at work in our lives, not just in church, but also in the supermarket, at the work place, on the bus or while driving, with family and neighbors and friends and co-workers, on the evening news.  That is where you will find God.
So, let us look at our concrete historical, political, social, economic, cultural situation.  What is it like?  What do you see when you look around?  What do you see on the news?  What do you hear from your boss and co-workers?  What do you see on the street?  What do your kids and neighbors and friends say?  
Maybe you have an excellent job and things are going well for you.  Great!  But maybe your life is filled with disappointments and difficulties.  And for all of us, if you look at the larger issues, of state and nation and world, of the environment and the economy, or terrorism and disregard for life; it’s a mess!   The Middle East is falling apart in front of our eyes.  There are homeless all over the streets.  Every week seems to bring the news of another mass shooting.  The wealthier are getting wealthier and the middle class gets squeezed.
And the Church --- well I think Pope Francis is doing a great job, BUT, he is facing quite a bit of opposition in Rome, as the recent leaks there demonstrate. 
Anyway, we can feel like we are out in the desert.  So it was for John, son of Zechariah.  And that is where the Word of God came to him.
In response to this mess, we do something strange.  Because instead of moaning and groaning and griping, we rejoice!  For example we just sang, in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy, we are filled with joy.”  Yeah, right! 
Sometimes I sit up here looking out at the congregation as we sing things like this: “we are filled with joy, we are filled with joy.”  And what I see sometimes doesn’t quite match what we are singing.  In other words, perhaps not everyone here is filled with joy. 
In fact, if we did a poll of all of us here right now, I would be willing to bet that not even 50% of us are filled with joy.  Some days I wonder if we could get 5% to admit to that.  And yet we sing, “we are filled with joy!”   Why?
Because we believe the first half of the statement: “The Lord has done great things for us.”  Do we believe that?  Of course we do!  Why else would we be here? 
Well, a few of the younger among us may be forced to come by their parents, others have been drug along by their date or spouse, some others come out of force of habit.  But most of us are here because we choose to be here: because we do believe that “The Lord has done great things for us.” 
Let’s get risky here.  How many here actually believe that?  If you believe that the Lord has done great things for you, raise your hand. 
GOOD!  The Lord has done great things for us.  We are getting ready to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, His own Beloved Son Jesus, at Christmas.  You can’t do better than that. 
          God claims us as His own children, shows us the true meaning of life in His Son, and by His Son’s redemptive death and resurrection promises us eternal life, the fullness of life.  Not bad. In fact, that is a GREAT deal!
And so in the midst of the mess that is our concrete situation in life, we struggle to believe the truly great things the Lord has done for us, and we try to open those creaky, rusty doors of our hearts to joy.  That is why in Advent we sing: “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to you Oh Israel.” 
Advent is a time to listen for the Word of God in the deserts of our life, in the tough and difficult and ornery places, to truly know that “The Lord has done great things for us;” and so to be “filled with joy”.  Happy Advent. 

*  Carroll Stuhlmueller in JBC

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Nov. 29

This Wed., Dec. 2, we will celebrate here at St Austin Parish the Sacrament of Confirmation. We are hosting Bishop Danny Garcia here to celebrate this wonderful Sacrament with about 30 of our parish’s high-school youth, about 30 young adults from the University Catholic Center, and a couple of others. So it will be a celebration of abundant grace. Please keep all the confirmandi, that is, those being confirmed, in your prayers.

Please note that I did NOT say please keep those who are confirming their faith (active voice) but rather those being confirmed (passive voice). Unfortunately this is frequently misunderstood.

When you make a reservation for a plane flight, or a hotel booking, or a rental car, you usually receive a long string of letters and numbers called a “confirmation” number. The confirmation in this case is like a guarantee. It proves you made the reservation. It is a promise of future service or goods. Similarly, in the Sacrament of Confirmation there is a promise or guarantee of future performance.

There is, to be sure, a promise made on the part of the one being confirmed, namely, to live more fully the life of faith of an adult and responsible Catholic. But this is greatly overshadowed by another and much more important confirmation or guarantee: the one made by God. God confirms, or re-affirms, God’s choice of the person as God’s adopted and beloved son or daughter. God made this original choice at the person’s Baptism. In the Sacrament of Confirmation God “confirms” that choice. This is made clear in the formula of the Sacrament: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

It is not what we do, but what is done to us, that is important. This is why in some cultures (Spanish) children are often confirmed as babies at their Baptism. The Orthodox churches also confirm infants. Some Catholic dioceses (such as San Angelo,Texas) also confirm children BEFORE they make their First Holy Communion.

I think this would be a good practice for us to follow. It would make clear that the Sacrament is not a merit badge you earn by doing a certain number of service projects, going to a certain number of classes, learning certain things, memorizing certain passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, etc. Rather the Sacrament is grace, which means “free.” God pours His grace on the confirmandi, even though there is no way they could ever earn or be worthy enough to receive it.  

It seems fitting and appropriate that we celebrate this Sacrament in the First Week of Advent, at the beginning of the new liturgical year, a time of new beginnings and new grace. I regret that I am not able to be here for this celebration, as I will be in a meeting in New York City Tuesday through Thursday of this week. But all of the confirmandi, their sponsors and their parents will be in my prayers. I hope that they will be in yours as well.

God bless!