Monday, March 30, 2015

Passion (Palm) Sunday March 29, 2015 St. Austin’s

          We have just heard the Passion of Our Lord according to Mark.  There is a tremendous amount at stake in this story.  It is every bit as much about life and death as any battle or extreme natural disaster.  It is certainly a case of extreme conditions.  And as happens in times of life and death consequences, all the niceties of social behavior are stripped away and people’s true character is revealed.  Under such pressure people’s true nature is brought to the surface and exposed.  So we see the chief priests with their plotting and conniving and grasping at power; we observe Pilate fearful and suspicious, pushed into a corner; Judas is revealed as greedy and a traitor; Peter so full of braggadocio and yet is revealed as a denier and a coward; the other disciples all turn out to be just fair weather friends; the women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome, and others, who in the face of the ghastly horror of crucifixion hang in there, looking on from a distance, but still faithful; and Joseph of Arimathea, a caring man, who “courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”  Many different reactions to this make or break situation.  No room for fudging, hedging bets, finessing the issue, trying to please all sides.  In this story of the Passion you have to put up, you have to reveal your cards.
          So, where do we see ourselves?  In the retelling the Passion we are there too.  Am I with the crowd calling for blood?  Or am I with the Roman soldiers bored and indifferent, just another messy job?  Perhaps I am with the disciples, afraid and frightened, trying to hide?  Or with the women, sorrowful and anxious?….
          And then of course there is Jesus.  His character is revealed in the story too.  Knowing that the trial before the high priest, and later before Pilate, is just a kangaroo-court with a foregone conclusion, Jesus refuses to participate in the spectacle,  and largely remains silent.  He does not play games.
          Jesus rather reveals His character by his actions, by how he accepts and even embraces His death, in total trust of the Father’s care for him.  And so, “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’”  

          In the manner of His suffering and death Jesus reveals His true self.  “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 29

Today we observe Palm/Passion Sunday. It is an unusual celebration, beginning festively with the blessing of palms and celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then going into the proclamation of the Passion of The Lord, with its betrayal, cowardice, unjust condemnation and terrible execution, ending with Jesus cold in the grave. It is a liturgy designed to cause us to ponder sober things.
In this sober vein I would like say that several people during our “Faithful To Our Mission” capital campaign have inquired about St. Austin’s having a columbarium. It seems that a few other parishes in our area have one or are planning one.
A columbarium is a structure with niches where urns or boxes with the cremated remains (sometimes called “cremains”) are stored. It is a cemetery for cremated remains. So if someone had a long association with our parish, or found our church attractive, or our community helpful, or just liked our parish, they may wish for their mortal remains to be kept in a structure here at the parish. The columbarium would allow them to do that. They would purchase a niche in their lifetime, and then when the time of death comes their remains would be interred in the columbarium. Fellow parishioners could see their resting place, remember them and pray for them.
The columbarium could be either in the church somewhere, or a free-standing structure outside the church, say in our courtyard, but on the parish grounds.
Some Catholics don’t realize that the Catholic Church now allows cremation. There is some history to this. In the earliest days of Christianity, all Christians were buried because that is what was commonly done in the Greco-Roman culture that Christians were a part of. It fit well with the central Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. Many centuries later, during the period called the Enlightenment, European free-thinkers, the “phillosophes”, regarded faith as old wives’ tales and superstition. And to show that they did NOT believe in the resurrection of the body they had their bodies cremated. It was their way of thumbing their now ashen noses at a central Christian belief. The Church, in reaction to this, banned cremation for the faithful. It was outlawed by the Church.
Jumping ahead a few more centuries to Vatican Council II, the Bishops of Indonesia at the Council asked the Church to permit cremation. That was their cultural custom, and they did not have the land needed for cemeteries. So the Church, in response, dropped the prohibition of cremation. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2301, it states: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” Well of course, people get cremated today for many reasons: for cost, for concerns about the environment, for reasons of personal preference, etc. I have never heard of anyone getting cremated today as a declaration of disbelief in the resurrection of the body. So for Catholics cremation is OK.
Because we believe in the resurrection the human remains should still be treated with respect. They should be interred in a cemetery, or in a columbarium or other suitable location.
If you are considering cremation for yourself, and think you would be like to have your ashes interred in a columbarium at St. Austin’s Church, drop an email to It would be helpful to us to see if there is much interest in this possibility or not.  Thank you.
God bless,

Monday, March 23, 2015

Homily Commitment Weekend March 21/22, 2015 Austin, TX

          In today’s Gospel some Greeks – that is, Gentiles like almost all of us – come to the Apostle Philip and say “We would like to see Jesus.”   Well, in the Gospel of John seeing is always MORE than physical sight.  When these Gentiles ask to see Jesus they are asking for something much deeper than a mere sighting.  They want to understand, to grasp, to “get it” about Jesus. in the sense of “Oh, now I see!”.  And this is because Jesus shows us what our life here is really all about.
          We all know we are here in this life only a short time.  And we know instinctively that life has a meaning, a purpose, that my life has value.  We sense deep inside us that my life matters: that I have some work to do; someone to become.   I am not here just for consumption, not just for pleasure or a great time, not just to make money and accumulate a bunch of stuff that I must leave to others, not just fill up space until I die. 
          But knowing what my life IS truly all about is not easy to discern; to “see” as St. John would say.
          We have however the example of a truly authentic life – a life completely lived way beyond any petty selfishness, way beyond any confining or restricting attachment to things, way beyond fear:  a life of nobility , of authenticity, of love.  I am speaking of course of Jesus.
          To “see” Jesus is to really understand – to comprehend – to grasp, or better to be grasped by the beauty and authenticity of His life that empowers us to be authentic Children of God. 
          What a blessing it is to truly see Jesus!   To follow Him gives us balance, a center, meaning and purpose.  To follow Jesus gives our lives dignity, grace and spiritual beauty.  It fills our hearts with love and casts out fear.  What a blessing it is to truly see Jesus.
          Not that following Jesus is easy.  It is often difficult.  Most truly worthwhile things usually are.   To see and follow Jesus requires sacrifice.
          We as a parish for over a month have been involved in a campaign – the Faithful To Our Mission campaign.  I am here to urge and encourage your participation in this effort to be Faithful To Our Mission.
          Hopefully you know what this campaign is about, what we need and want to do.  You received a letter from me, and a beautiful brochure, there are FAQ pages in the racks around the church and church offices, so I won’t rehearse all of that again.
          Rather I want to ask for your participation in this campaign.  First, I ask for your prayers.  Prayer does not change God.  Prayer changes us.  We need to pray for our parish, that we will truly be faithful to our mission.  This is so important.  Pray for our parish daily.  Pray for our campaign.  With prayer we are bound to succeed.  Without prayer we will fail. So pray!
          Second:  Our mission is to evangelize, to help others to see Jesus.  They are looking, they are searching.  They are in our workplaces, our supermarkets, our neighborhoods, our own homes.  People restless, searching, seeking deeper meaning in their life.  How can they see Jesus if we do not reflect Him? 
          We must show Jesus forth in our lives:   in our words, in our purchases, in our work, in our recreation, in our compassion, in our speech, in our generosity, in our voting, in our daily life every day all day.  We are how other see Jesus.  That is how we fulfill our mission.  And in reflecting Jesus ourselves we also come to see Him more clearly.
          And thirdly, I am asking for your generous financial support of our Faithful To Our Mission capital campaign. 

This is where we practically and concretely move our mission as a parish forward.  I ask EVERY parishioner to please participate – no matter the amount.   As long as your gift represents a genuine sacrifice, and therefore a real commitment to our mission as a parish, the amount is secondary. 
          For myself my financial commitment is $2,000.00 over three years.  For me that is a sacrificial commitment.  For someone else it may be $200, and for another it may be $200,000.  I wish!  But regardless of the size, every gift is important.  Because this is a parish-wide activity. 
          We soon will be celebrating the Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.  And I know from past experience that we will do it well.   Am I right?   But the vastly greater and more important part has already been done by God.  There is no greater sacrifice than what God has given you in His Son Jesus on the Cross.  We respond by giving of our treasure and of our selves. 
          This is a parish wide effort.  St. Austin needs all parishioners to participate in this campaign to ensure success!  Our campaign Volunteers were unable to reach some of you, and others have not yet had a chance to respond.  Everybody is so busy.
          So to give everyone the opportunity to participate in our campaign, today is our Commitment Weekend, an in-pew appeal.  I ask that everyone to please pass down the blue folders at the end of the pews and take a pledge card and envelope out for your family.  Even if you have already completed a pledge card, please take one.  Our collection will be a visual show of your support.    University & College students, I urge you to join us. 

  ·       In section one of the card, please provide your contact information.
·       In section two, please indicate a gift which, over three years, would be a meaningful sacrifice for your family in support of St. Austin Catholic Parish.  If you have already made a pledge, please mark the first box indicating this.
·       This will allow us to confirm our records for your family.
o   I would ask you to also consider increasing your commitment in recognition of the importance of this campaign and in hopes of reaching our goal.  This is so important to our parish moving forward.   As I mentioned earlier, I have made a commitment of $2,000.00, but Now I am going to INCREASE that by $500 to $2,500.  I want to challenge all of you who have made a commitment likewise to increase your pledge to be a truly sacrificial gift.  Join me in making sure the Faithful To Our Mission campaign is a success!
o   There is a blue box on the back of the card with some suggested gift amounts if your family would like to review those.
o   There is also a box you can check if you are unable to make a financial pledge but can pledge to pray for the success of our capital campaign and renovation project.  Everyone is urged to pray for our parish and this campaign. 
·       On the back of the card, in section three, please indicate how you want to provide your pledge.
o   You can contribute via cash or check, credit card or bank account draft, or gifts of securities.
o   Instructions for credit card and bank drafts are provided on the card. If we have any questions about your information, someone from the office will contact you next week.
o   Please be sure to seal your pledge card in an envelope if you include any banking information.
·       Finally, in section four, please note how often you would like to receive pledge reminders and how your family would like to be acknowledged for your gift.
          In a few minutes, we will pass our pledge cards to the center aisle, and the ushers will collect and bring them forward for a blessing.
          Your response to the Faithful to Our Mission Capital Campaign has been impressive. With more than two million dollars pledged, we are on the cusp of obtaining the one million dollar challenge gift!
However, the fact remains we have not yet reached the challenge gift goal of two point two five million dollars nor have we reached our overall goal of four million dollars.  We want to achieve that goal today, and we can!

          We are blessed with a really good parish here at St. Austin’s – not perfect – but still something special.  This community has a mission.  As we soon go into Holy Week we will focus on the great saving mysteries of our faith.  May the celebration of Holy Week empower us to ever greater efforts to be Faithful To Our Mission – and so ever better to SEE and to FOLLOW Jesus!  God bless!  THANK YOU!  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 22

This weekend, at all Masses, we are observing Commitment Weekend for our Faithful To Our Mission Capital Campaign. The campaign has been chugging along now for several weeks. We are doing well. Volunteers as campaign workers have been contacting parishioners and soliciting pledges and donations. Over $2 million has been pledged so far. Much work, effort and some money has been spent on this effort. It is time now to begin to bring our capital campaign to a successful close. So at all Masses this weekend I will be preaching, making the request to support our campaign. We need the participation of all of St. Austin’s parishioners and friends to truly be Faithful To Our Mission.
It is vitally important to the mission of our parish that we succeed in this campaign. I cannot stress that enough. We could do for a while longer without handicapped accessible bathrooms, and we could go on for several more years as we have, with an unattractive exterior, but we absolutely must deal with the issue of the spalling of the stone and make the campus safe, and we absolutely must make a significant dent in our debt to have the resources to allow our various parish ministries (religious ed, music, liturgy, RCIA, social justice, clergy, etc.) to function well, much less to flourish.
This campaign is truly about being Faithful To Our Mission. Without a mission there really is no reason to have a St. Austin Catholic Parish. So what is our mission? Why do we have this parish? After four and a half years as the pastor here, it is not easy to put into words. Partly this is because we have several missions, and they do not always pull easily in tandem.
The most obvious mission is being a Catholic parish of the Diocese of Austin. We serve the spiritual and pastoral needs of this area of the Diocese, strategically situated near the State Capital, near one of the country’s leading State Universities, in the center of one of America’s most dynamic and fastest growing cities. That, in itself, is a fairly tall order. While there is plenty of room for improvement, given the resources we have in facilities and in our financial resources, and also the enormous talent and engagement of our parishioners, I think we do pretty well.
But in addition to that whole aspect of our mission, we also are a parish founded and staffed by the Paulist Fathers, who have their own agenda. Succinctly put, the Paulists are concerned about out-reach and evangelization. This entire parish is invited, encouraged, indeed expected, to own and participate in this Paulist mission.
Our concern should be for “Who is NOT here? Who is missing? How can we invite and entice them in?” This takes place in many ways, most of them not programmatic, not efforts you can easily point to. It involves good music that helps people to pray and so keeps them coming back. It involves good preaching that makes sense to adults and makes them want to come back for more. It involves a sense of hospitality and welcome that makes people feel at home when they walk in our doors. But most of all it involves active and faith-filled parishioners who evangelize by the example of their lives and by the witness they give. Evangelization is NOT proselytizing, which involves beating people over the head with their need to go to church, but rather a sharing of something the evangelizer has found helpful and important in his/her own life. It is sharing a gift. It most often takes place outside of church.
If all we do is pay down some of the debt, repair the fa├žade of the church and rectory, clean up and enhance the exterior, add a couple of spaces, but do not further our mission(s) as a Paulist parish, then the effort and the time and the money spent don’t really matter. But if we use all of this to strengthen and enhance our mission(s), then we have really accomplished something important, something worthwhile, something neat. I hope you recognize what a special and important place St. Austin Catholic Parish is and are willing to join so many other committed parishioners in advancing our mission. Only then will we be Faithful To Our Mission. Thank you!
God bless! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, March 15

I would like to bring you up to date on a few things. Two Sundays ago, on March 1, we had an incident in the church between the 9 and the 11:30 a.m. Masses. A man from our area, against whom we had a “criminal trespass order,” ignored my request to not go into the church and then refused to leave. Because he is known to us and we have had some problems with him in the past, I called the Austin police. He refused to listen to them, and by the time it was over, he had an altercation with the officers and was arrested. He is a very large man, fell under the pews, and it took about 8 to 10 police officers to get him out. Hence we had a large number of police vehicles parked out in front of church on Guadalupe Street between the Masses. If you saw or heard of this, that is what was going on.
The man was charged with resisting arrest and at last report was in jail. I have since heard from a relative of his that he had been spiraling downward for the last several months, primarily because he refused to take his medications for mental illness. I have since heard from his attorney that they are having him evaluated by a psychiatrist and trying to get him some mental health help, which would be the best outcome for him and his family.
It is all too common that someone who needs medication begins to function well, and then once they feel good, they think that they do not need the medication and stop taking it. Then the mental illness again takes over.
This person and his family definitely need our prayers. Our community, too, needs prayers. We are an urban church with a good number of homeless in our area. The incidence of mental illness in the homeless population is unfortunately high. We welcome all kinds of people who come through our doors, and we try to do the best we can to both help and also keep everyone else safe and protect our property. It is sometimes a difficult balancing act. On the whole, I think we as a parish generally do pretty well. If you have questions or comments about this, please let me know. Thanks.
On a totally different subject: you may see that we have gotten some more hymnals. These are a generous donation from St. John Vianney Parish. Thank you! They have gotten new hymnals and gave their old hymnals to us. We needed new hymnals since some of ours are worn out and falling apart, but we cannot afford a whole set of new hymnals, which are expensive. Given our tight budget for ministries, we are very happy to make do with these hand-me-down hymnals.
One thing I particularly like about these hymnals is that they do not have the Sunday readings in them. We are fortunate to have good lectors here at St. Austin. The experience of “listening” is a little different than “reading along.” Listening is more a communal stance, whereas reading along is more of an individual approach. I am fully in favor of the more communal approach. The Word of God is proclaimed to us as a community, not as a collection of individuals. Just as you miss a lot if you have your nose buried in the libretto if you go to an opera, so I think you miss out on something in the proclamation of the Word if you are focusing on reading a book rather than the experience of hearing the Word proclaimed. So I, for one, am glad the readings are not there.
If you need the readings because of hearing difficulties or for any other reasons, then know that we are attempting to keep the hymnals with readings in them at the front of the church. If you want to read along, your best bet is to come to the front of the church.

God bless,