Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, February 1

This guest post on children in church is written by Marti Salas, Director of Religious Education here at St. Austin.
Recently Pope Francis said, "Babies cry, make noise, go here and there. But it annoys me when a baby cries in church and there are those who say he needs to go out. The cry of a baby is God's voice: never drive them away from the church!"
I’m not one to publicly go against Pope Francis; however, I have worked in the Catholic Church for almost twenty years, and I can promise you that the topic of babies and young children in church can incite some pretty heated discussion and call forth strong opinions.
On one hand we have parents of young children (of whom I am one) who are just doing well to get to Mass on Sunday. Getting everyone fed, dressed, out the door, parking the car, and finding a pew is not as easy as it sounds. Many of us are doing well to get there, even if it is five or ten minutes late. As modern, educated parents we are trying to teach our children to be self-sufficient, thinking, questioning, participative and dialoging human beings and members of society. We encourage babies and toddlers to explore their world, because experts tell us that it’s good for them. Then, come Sunday morning, they’re expected to sit quietly for a full hour. Church “experts” admonish us for bringing books or Cheerios or anything not liturgical or Church-centered. Occasionally, we might wonder if the Church is trying to make it harder on us on purpose. It’s even possible that we’re so used to our pre-school child or toddler or infant squirming or making noise that we don’t really notice that it’s really bothering the people around us. As parents, the threshold for what bothers us is a pretty high bar.
On the other hand, our parish community is wonderfully diverse. We have families, college students, single adults and retired couples. All of us come to Mass looking for God in different ways. An adult or college student whose week is over-full might be looking for a nice, peaceful hour of prayer and worship. Maybe it’s the only time of the week they get to sit still and not answer their phone. They come and find a nice corner pew in which to pray and listen attentively to the word of God. And, then, a three year old sits behind them, jumping on the kneeler and banging their sippy cup on the back of their pew. The mom and dad are just thankful that the three year old is quiet. Yet, the person in front of them—the one who thought they’d found a good seat for Mass—can’t hear the readings or the homily and spends the hour feeling frustrated.
How do we be a community for all? How do we recognize that children move and make noise and don’t naturally fit into an adult liturgy? How do we respect that other adults around them come to Mass with needs for quiet prayer, inspiration, song, community and worship? Can we be a place where both are welcome—and, more importantly, valued and respected?
Over the past few months, I have been part of many discussions on this matter. Our parish staff and parish pastoral council have taken up the issue. We have looked online for resources. We have started a Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the 9 a.m. Mass. And, still, once a month or so, the issue comes up. So, we want to start a dialogue here in our parish community on the topic. The short answer is that, if your baby or toddler is making a racket, please take them out to the narthex of the church. A good gauge might be that we have moved from one part of the Mass to another and they haven’t quieted down, it’s likely disturbing folks around you. Conversely, if a child near you is making a little noise or causing a small-but-manageable-and-short-term disruption, please take a deep breath and try to be patient for just a bit. We really are glad they’re here.
If you have helpful comments, ideas, resources or suggestions, please email them to me at the parish office ( In the coming weeks, we will publish some of them here in the Sunday bulletin. We’d love to hear from all members of our community. All are welcome and celebrated in our community!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 25

Happy Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul! ALL the Paulists thank you most generously for your support this weekend in the Annual Paulist Appeal.

Recently, while stopped at a traffic light at MLK Jr Blvd and I-35, I counted 8 enormous cranes on the horizon, all around where the new teaching hospital is being constructed, south of MLK. With the construction of another high-rise dormitory going on caddy-corner from our gym on San Antonio and 21st Street, the construction on MLK on either side of Hotel Ella, and the massive construction project across from our church of the new Rowling Graduate Business School, it seems that everywhere you go in central Austin you are in sight of a lane closure, a huge crane, an earth-moving truck, or other evidence of construction. Our neighborhood is changing dramatically right before our eyes.

There are certainly good aspects of all these signs of growth. Anyone fighting the traffic, the noise and the dust also knows that there are down sides as well. It certainly says to me that St. Austin Church will continue to be in the thick of the action in Austin. I don’t know if the first Paulists and parishioners here knew what a great spot they chose for being in the center of the action (or “eye of the storm” if you prefer), but they seem to have had an uncanny sense for choosing a spot that would remain active and dynamic for many generations to come.

So for better and for worse, here we are in the center of the action. I see this as all the more reason to repair, renew and refresh the exterior of our facilities. This can only help us to continue carrying on our mission of an evangelizing parish, served by the Paulists, deep in the heart of Texas!

Today also concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Please do not make this very important effort to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ the subject of your prayer only one week of the year! We have to keep praying for Christian Unity all 52 weeks of the year! Thank you.

And finally, this coming week is Catholic Schools Week in the Diocese of Austin. There will be an Open House Monday evening, January 26th from 5 to 7 p.m. Prospective parents will be able to tour the campus, meet faculty and visit with current students, school board members, and parents.  But ALL parishioners are cordially invited to stop in and see our parish school. St. Austin Catholic School is not the building, but the wonderful community we have here. But all parishioners are welcome to stop in and see the school. Especially if you attended St. Austin Catholic School, please stop by and say hello.

God bless, 

Monday, January 19, 2015

HOMILY Second Sunday in Ordinary Time “B” January 18, 2015

So in today’s first reading from the first Book of Samuel we hear about a problem in communication.  The Lord God keeps calling Samuel, and Samuel keeps missing that it is God who is calling and thinks instead it is his teacher and mentor, old Eli.  On the face of it, it appears that Samuel is inexperienced, a bit slow on the uptake, not quite getting it that it is the Lord who is calling him.  As our reading says, “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.”  Well, that could be, but being of a suspicious nature I wonder if there is not something else going on. 
          You see, I wonder that because I know what the Lord said to Samuel.   It is very interesting and even shocking.  But it is deliberately left out of today’s reading.  Samuel finally says “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And then we skip 8 full verses, which is the Lord’s message to Samuel, and skip to Samuel growing up and the Lord being with him. 
          What was the Lord so persistently trying to get Samuel to hear?  I know because I read the 8 missing verses.  It is surprising, really.  Would you like to know what the Lord was trying so persistently to tell young Samuel?  You would?   Well I will tell you.
          Wow!  An irrevocable condemnation.  Then poor Samuel had to convey this message to his teacher and mentor, Eli.  Which he did.  Yuck.  I mean, how would you like it if God came to you in the middle of the night and gave you a message: “go tell you boss that I am going to wipe out him and his whole family because of their sin, and nothing they can do will appease me.”  You probably would not be anxious to get that message, and neither was Samuel.  So I wonder if Samuel did not have some inkling, some idea of what was coming and so try some selective deafness, trying not to hear what the Lord was going to say, hoping maybe God would change His mind and give up.
          I can identify with that.  When I was a senior in high school the idea of priesthood started coming to me.  I pretty much ignored it, shoved it in the background, thought about other things, because that was not my plan for my life.  I wanted to be a lawyer.  Maybe even go into politics or government.  Later in college the idea of priesthood started coming back again.  I would put it off, I’d investigate it for a while, then push it off again for a year, and so on.  Till finally as I was getting near graduation I thought, “Look, I have spent all this time in school with no break.  I will go to the Paulist novitiate for a year, take a break from school, get the priesthood thing out of my system, and then go to law school.”  Well it did not work out that way.  But I can identify with Samuel in his reluctance to hear the Lord speak to him.  I think many of us can.  Because what God says is not always what we want to hear.  But what I heard was much much better than what I had wanted.  I know that now.  But at the time I did not want to hear it.
          Let’s now jump to the Gospel.  John the Baptist sees Jesus and proclaims “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Intrigued, two of John’s disciples abandon him and start following Jesus.  Jesus turns to them and asks a really important question.  “What are you looking for?”  The Jerusalem Bible puts this as “What do you want?”  The Orthodox Study Bible renders this as “What do you seek?”  In any form it is a powerful question.  What do you want?  What are you seeking for in life? 
          That is a pretty basic question all of us have to face.  Many of us are confused about what we really want.  Some of us get it wrong, at least for a while, looking for love in all the wrong places as Johnny Lee sings on the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack. 
          What do you want?  What are you looking for in life?  What do you seek in the depth of your heart?
          Jesus puts this question to the two ex-disciples of John the Baptist, and in today’s Gospel Jesus puts it to all of us right now.  And Jesus, standing right there, is the answer.  Right in front of them.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires and hopes. 
          What do you want?   Here I am! 
          And He is here with us now.
          Listening deeply to God is often scary, unsettling, risky.  It is all not sweetness and light.  We may not hear what we want to hear.  It may not fit into our plans and desires.  It may be a message of judgment like Samuel heard.  It may be a call to something we don’t want to do, like I heard.  It may be a challenge that stretches and makes us uncomfortable and scared.  But it is really what we most deeply want.
          It is a risk to listen and to respond.  That is what the two disciples of John the Baptist did.  They sought the Lord Jesus.  In the Gospel we are told: “He said to them, “Come and you will see.”  
          Come to the Lord, and you will see. 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 18

Next Sun., Jan. 25, all of our neighboring parishes will be celebrating the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. But not here at St. Austin (or at the UCC)! It is not that we have any particular dislike or hard feelings towards the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. Rather, it falls on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Jan. 25, and as this parish has been staffed by the Paulist Fathers for over a century, we will divert slightly from the liturgical season and instead celebrate the Paulists’ patronal feast.
Perhaps it would be good to give a thumbnail review of the Paulists and our history, because next Sunday not only will we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul, we will also be asking for your support of the Paulists in the Annual Paulist Appeal. You will be receiving an email from me about this in the next few days (if we have your current email address!).
The Paulists are a group of Catholic priests. There are some in the Church who would question if we really are Catholic, but we are. We have the proud distinction of being the first order of priests founded in the United States. We were founded to covert the United States to Catholicism.
Fr. Isaac Hecker is our founder. He grew up in Manhattan, New York City. His family owned a bakery, and they were Methodists, but rather lukewarm ones. Isaac was always a seeker and of a religious bent. He got very involved in reform politics in the 1830s but eventually became disenchanted with politics. He then moved into philosophy and some of the “new age” movements of the day, spending time with the New England Transcendentalists at communes like Brook Farm. Eventually Isaac found this approach unsatisfying as well. He then began searching religions. After studying many different Christian denominations, he became convinced that Catholicism was the true form of Christ’s Church. Interestingly, it was the Doctrine of the Communion of Saints that tipped him from Episcopalian to Roman Catholic. He was re-baptized (an abomination we would not commit today) and then joined the Catholic religious order called the Redemptorists.
After ordination as a priest in London, Isaac returned to the U.S. and was assigned to one of the Redemptorist mission bands. Redemptorists were and still are famous as preachers, and they would go around giving parish missions. Preaching dramatically and forcefully, they would fire up the withering faith of the Catholics across the land, urging them to Confession and to reform their lives.
Isaac and his friends noted that not only Catholics would come to these parish missions. Before movies, TV, radio or just about any entertainment, a lot of non-Catholics would show up for the mission to check it out and hear some good preaching. Inspired by this, Isaac Hecker and four of his Redemptorist friends, who also had grown up in the U.S. as Protestants and later converted to Catholicism, wanted to start giving missions directed at Protestants. Their goal was to share with their fellow Americans what treasures they themselves has found in the Catholic Church, and invite them also to convert to Catholicism. They hoped to make America Catholic.
At the time, the Redemptorist superiors were overwhelmed by hordes of Catholic immigrants coming into the United States. They had more work than they could already handle, and many thought all those Protestants were going to hell anyway, so it would be a waste of time and effort to try to convert them. The superiors told Isaac and his friends “NO.” Better to stay with what we know.
Fortunately, Isaac’s older brother George was really fond of Isaac, and George had made a lot of dough – in both senses of the word – in the flour and baking business, so George bankrolled a trip for Isaac to Rome to appeal over the head of his local Redemptorist superiors to the big wigs in Rome. The Roman superiors did not like the idea of an upstart from the U.S. telling them what to do any more than the American superiors did, and they threw Isaac out of the Redemptorists.
But Isaac had been canny enough to go with a pile of testimonial letters from U.S. Bishops who did really like the idea of an outreach to Protestants, so he could not be so easily dismissed. The head of the Church’s mission office (the U.S. was then mission territory), Cardinal Barnabo, was a political foe of the Cardinal who was head of the Congregation for Religious (under which the Redemptorists were goverened), and so he intervened. After several months of enjoying the sights of Rome (all the while funded by George), with Cardinal Barnabo working on his behalf, Isaac Hecker eventually got to see the Pope. Pope Pius IX said, in typical Roman fashion, “Look, there is more than enough work for everybody. You Redemptorists go do your thing, you Americans go do your thing, everybody be happy.” And so Isaac Hecker and his four friends founded the Paulist Fathers.
Today we Paulists try to take our inspiration from Isaac Hecker, and share the Catholic faith with those who do not have it, especially seekers and those with no church home. We also try to reach out to Catholics no longer active in the Church and to build bridges of understanding and fraternity with Christians of other denominations in order to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ. It is a challenging mission but a very fulfilling one. I hope that you will join us in it!
God bless,

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, January 11

Since we are at the beginning of the year I think it would be good to stir up some controversy. It is the surest cure for boredom. The easiest way to do that, which holds true for all of us, is to talk about something I really don’t know much about. But as in the case of many a commentator, lack of knowledge of a subject is really no restriction on having an opinion on that subject. Indeed, understanding of a complex subject and firm opinions on a subject usually are in inverse proportion to each other.
In any case it was widely and erroneously reported that Pope Francis declared all dogs go to heaven. That never happened. That lack of factual occurrence did not of course stop a blitz in the news. Just about anything about Pope Francis gets a blitz in the news anyway! However, there was another Pope, Pope Paul VI, who did in fact tell a boy who was very sad over the death of his pet dog that the boy would see his dog again in heaven. But that was a while ago and so not news worthy.
However this false news report got a lot of attention and has raised the issue of having and enjoying our pets in paradise. And so I would like to share what I think about that.
The Scriptural basis for expecting to see your pets in heaven comes from St. Paul. In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans St. Paul states: “For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  In this wonderful passage St Paul expresses a profound hope for the redemption of all creation. Not only is this a great Scripture quote for all environmentalists, it also is positive for all pet lovers. For since pets are part of creation, ergo in St. Paul’s view, they are also awaiting “redemption.”
So do all dogs go to heaven? I am hesitant to say that. We cannot say for sure that all humans go to heaven, so I am reluctant to claim that privilege for dogs. My personal view is that many dogs do go to heaven. Certainly service dogs, working dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs, hunting dogs and watch dogs: all canines that served loyally on earth. Also all the dogs that are faithful friends and companions are certainly in heaven. In short the great majority of dogs go to heaven. However it is questionable that dogs that chew up cell-phone, tv-remotes, and other electronics are heaven bound. Also, I am quite skeptical that yappy, nervous little dogs that bark incessantly will make it. I cannot see how heaven would be paradise with such yappy annoying creatures running around.
Cats, in my opinion, are more problematic. Certainly some cats go to heaven, but only after a period in purgatory atoning for their indifference and lack of concern for others.
Most birds go to heaven. Grackles do not.
Goldfish mostly go to limbo, where they are perfectly happy in a natural state. Indeed that is pretty much the state they are in on earth, swimming around in a bowl, and they mostly don’t notice any change or difference between the states of being alive and being deceased. In either case existence is pretty simple.
Snakes, with their unfortunate association with the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, would seem to have a very slim chance of slithering into heaven, though we should not be too anxious to limit the mercy of the Almighty.
About gerbils, pot-bellied pigs, mice, skunks, ferrets, turtles and other exotic pets I have no hard and fast opinions. In cases such as this I think it best to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. Some day we will know for sure one way or the other.
None of this is, of course, doctrine. It is rather my theological reflections on this issue. Perhaps you see it differently. I can think of no better way to begin the New Year than with a juicy theological discussion!  
God bless,