Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 31

I like to think of St. Austin Church as an evangelizing parish served by the Paulists deep in the heart of Texas. To be “evangelizing” means many things, but at a minimum it means to be welcoming. That barely scratches the surface of being an evangelizing community, but without a genuine sense of welcome, no evangelization efforts are going to go anywhere.

A welcoming attitude is comprised of many small things. It starts in the parking garage (or on the street or around the blacktop) and continues on the passage to the church doors, entrance to the church, how people are greeted and welcomed, being able to find a place to sit without having to walk over half a pew’s worth of people, finding a worship aid and hymnal, directions on how to find the hymns, and many other small practical bits and pieces that together make for a welcoming and inviting atmosphere.

One of these pieces is the simple physical process of entering into the church. And frankly we could do better. It would seem natural to a first time visitor (I did this myself when I first got here 5 years ago) to go to the main center doors at the front of the church to be able to enter. But usually you cannot come in that way. There are no handles on the front center doors, and no indication how you do get in.

Once you’ve figured out that you must enter the front of the church at either of the side doors, then you can enter. That is, IF you can get the door open. Especially with the south side door, it is difficult to get the latch to work, and to open the door and enter. The doors are now over 60 years old, and being that age myself, I understand how they can be wearing out. The lock mechanism on the south side door in particular has been repaired numerous times, and now just won’t work well. These lock mechanisms are no longer made, so replacing them would be very expensive.

Therefore we are having new panic hardware installed on the inside of the two side doors, the type with crash bars that you see all over nowadays. There will be simple pull handles on the doors and no latching mechanism. That will be inside on the crash bar. When the door is unlocked all you have to do is pull and it will open.

Likewise, pull handles will be installed on the center doors. When the door is unlocked all you have to do is pull and it will open. The door closure mechanism at the top of the door will pull it closed again.

While this will cost us about $2,600, I think it will be well worth it to make our church building a lot easier to enter, and hence more welcoming. It is a small step in the right direction.

God bless!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

HOMILY PENTECOST 2015 St. Austin’s Austin TX May 24, 2015

Happy Pentecost!  It is hard to find good pictures or statues of the Holy Spirit, because it is hard to picture or to imagine the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  We have all these insubstantial, amorphous images of the Holy Spirit:  fire/ breath/ wind / dove = they are all not very impressive, not physically commanding, not substantial like a rock or iron.  And yet, they are images of something very powerful; something influential. 
In the Gospel Jesus breathed on them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit."  A mere breath, so small and seemingly inconsequential; and yet so powerful, so potent!  This breath gave new life, and changed everything.
I had a powerful experience of this one year when I was in Alaska.  My first priestly assignment was at St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska, near Fairbanks.  Just like the Summers here in central Texas are loooong, so the winters in the interior of Alaska are loooooong.  I know, I lived through four of them.   It is bad enough that it is dark most of the time, with only three hours of available daylight in the Fairbanks area on the shortest day of the year.  And it is bad enough that it is darn cold all the time, and just to go outside requires a major effort of putting on coats and boots and masks and gloves and so on.  The coldest I ever experienced in the time I was there was 62 degrees below zero.  That’s cold.
But Alaskans, like Texans, are tough.  The Alaskans can handle the cold and the dark.  The worst is the ice-fog.  Ice-fog is the frozen exhaust from people and building and cars that forms a very thick, impenetrable cloud, thicker than any fog you see here in Texas.  And it builds up.  You cannot see in ice-fog, even with your lights on.  It makes driving very dangerous.  Schools never cancel in Alaska due to the cold, but they do cancel when the ice-fog builds up.  You feel trapped, confined, hemmed-in, because you can never see very far.  Usually this lasts only a short while, until the first little breeze comes along, which blows the ice-fog away.  But the winter in the Alaskan interior can be very still; deadly still. 

The snow builds up for inches on telephone wires, because there is no breeze to knock it off.  And when the mercury drops below 20 below zero, and there is no wind or even the slightest breeze for days and days, then ice-fog builds up. 
One year was especially bad.  People got depressed, irritable, feeling blue and down.  School was canceled.  It was dangerous to go out.  You felt cooped up. Hemmed in.  Trapped.  There was not a breath of air, not the slightest breeze.  And the ice-fog got thicker and thicker. 
Finally, there was a slight breeze, a breath of wind, and the ice-fog suddenly and totally disappeared.  Everyone’s mood abruptly changed: instantly, dramatically and for the better. I have never seen such a big change in an entire community, all because of a mere breath of air.  So insubstantial, so amorphous, and yet so very powerful. 
That is what the Holy Spirit is like.  That breath that blows away the fog, allows us to see and understand, to be free to go out to live again, that lifts up our hearts and spirits. 
It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to comprehend and see God’s love for us, to understand what is really important in this life.  The Spirit gives, not just intelligence, but wisdom; the ability to know what matters in life.  The Holy Spirit enables us to hear the other, to keep an open mind, and the greatest miracle of all, to change our hearts.
The 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation puts it beautifully:  "…by Your Spirit you move human hearts (so) that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries join hands, and peoples seek to meet together.  By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect."  That is powerful!
The Spirit is nebulous, insubstantial, almost tenuous, but has the power to enter into the very fiber of our hearts and souls, and change us from within.   The Spirit seems fragile and inconsequential.  A mere breath, flimsy and feeble as a soap bubble, but so very, very powerful.   Jesus breathed on them, (blow bubbles) and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." 
A mere breath.  (Blow bubbles).  And yet beautiful and oh, so powerful.

¡Come Holy Spirit!           AMEN.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 24

Happy Pentecost! We celebrate the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on the Church. Paulists have a particular devotion to the Holy Spirit, so for this Pentecost Feast I share with you some thoughts on the Holy Spirit from St. Cyril of Jerusalem. He was Bishop of Jerusalem from 350 to 386 AD. He wrote a famous series of instructions for the newly baptized, and the selection below (which is now used in the Office of Readings for Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter) is from that. Enjoy!

Happy Pentecost!

The living water of the Holy Spirit

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

Friday, May 15, 2015

SIXTH Sunday of Easter May 9/10, 2015 St Austin, Austin, Texas

There is spiritual writing that is fluffy and light, kind of breezy and makes you feel good, and then there is the Gospel of John, which is always thick and dense and packed tight.  John spirals around repeating the same phrases but going deeper and deeper.  It can seem repetitive and boring, and requires concentration and deep thought.  John gives me a headache.  And of course today we have the Gospel of John.

We just heard:  “Jesus said to his disciples: (that is us), “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.”  Short sentences that pack a lot of wallop.  Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” 
          The word “remain” in some translations is rendered “abide”.  “Remain” here does not just mean get left behind, but rather denotes an active, conscious commitment to be there, to abide.  It is a choice and a commitment. 
          Then Jesus says something I find interesting.  “I have told you this so that …”   ¿so that what??   So that you will be impressed with the closeness between Jesus and the Father?  No.  So that you will do what Jesus tells you?  No.   So that you will understand what Jesus is all about?  No.  Rather Jesus says “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”  Jesus instructs and teaches us so that we might share fully in His joy. 
          Hmmm.  Everyone here have complete joy???    I guess not.  Joy is a difficult concept to define and identify.  A long time ago, when I was a seminarian, we used to sing an awful song by the Medical Mission Sisters called “Joy is like the Rain.”  (sing first refrain)….    Anyone remember that?  Well, maybe not.  
          Joy is different than “happiness”.  I suspect that joy is under-rated.  It is too closely identified with “happiness”, which it is not.
          Happiness depends more on what is going on outside of you, on external circumstances.  Joy however comes from within.  It really is not related to what our exterior circumstances are like.  I have met people in very distressing circumstances, like the Little Sisters of Jesus I met in Nome, Alaska, whose home had been destroyed in a terrible winter storm but yet were some of the most joyful people I had ever met.        
          And I have met plenty of people who lived in big homes, had fancy cars and every electronic gadget, huge salaries, healthy children, lots of worldly goods and still were crabby, bitter, discontented and anything but joyful.  I am sure you have met these people too.
          Jesus proclaims: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”
          What is Jesus’ joy?  How do we share in it?  What would complete joy look like? 
          I believe joy comes out of a deep and firmly held conviction of God’s love for me.  Jesus had that joy, and Jesus wants us to have it too.  Joy is the evidence of the presence of faith.  Because, as St. Paul tells us, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”  The only one who can screw up my relationship with God – which is all that really matters in the end – is myself.  This is why freedom from sin is the basis of all true freedom. 
          Jesus wants you to have joy and that it be complete.  No lacks, no gaps, no thin or worn spots, no lacunae, just full, total, complete joy.  Not in the future, but NOW.  That would be wonderful!  

          From speaking of joy, and how Jesus wants us to have complete joy, Jesus immediately goes to an odd place, to giving us a command.  “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”   Joy and commandments don’t easily go together in our minds.  And yet they are intimately related, tightly bound, two sides of the same coin of discipleship.  Joy and the commandment to love are connected.
          That is because the command to love is an odd command.  An authority can command us to do something or to not do something.  But can love be commanded?  It is of the essence of love that it be free.  Maybe “duty” or “respect” or “obedience” can be commanded, and it might mimic love, but genuine love is, by its very nature, free.  It must be given freely.
          How can Jesus command love?  Well, I am not entirely sure.  But He does, so He must be able to.
          I think His “command” is a funny and odd kind of command.  It is not an order, not an apodictic statement of “Thou shalt love” given from on high, not a “do this or else” kind of statement.  Rather His command is more like an invitation.  But it is an invitation made with such incredible love that it is, in effect, irresistible.  It is not a command that pushes and shoves, but rather a command that invites, entices, allures, pulls the strings of our hearts.  It is in this way that Jesus commands us to love.
          And in surrendering to His invitation to love as He loves, we discover the complete joy that He wishes us to have.  Love and Joy are two sides of the same coin.  They are inseparable.

          “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”     
      John’s Gospel is pretty dense.  And that is good.  God bless!       

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 10

Happy Mother’s Day!  Beyond the flowers, candy, cards and presents it is important to tell your mother “thank you.” This extends not only to your birth mother, but to all those who have nurtured and sustained you, whether they be aunts or grandmothers or teachers or whoever. Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, educate and help us to grow. Mothers who balance both a career and child-rearing are taking on quite a lot; often more than two full time jobs! It is amazing that so many do so well in fulfilling both roles. We all owe Mothers a debt of gratitude. Happy Mother’s Day!
Mothers (and Fathers) have always had a difficult task, but today the demands and expectations for what a parent should be are so high, and so all-encompassing, as to seem almost impossible to fulfill. Since they are human, no mother is perfect. Every mother has, somewhere along the line, in spite of all the love that is in her heart, been too tired, too distracted, too confused, too ill-equipped, too inexperienced, too uneducated, to be the perfect Mother at all times. And some mothers have been downright controlling, vindictive or even abusive. Not every woman is fit to be a mother. And those in their charge have suffered.
On this Mother’s Day, perhaps the best gift you can give your mother is really a gift to yourself: the gift of forgiveness. By letting go of bitterness, hurts, bruised and damaged feelings, resentments and losses, you not only forgive your Mother but also free yourself. This is a gift much greater than any amount of flowers, candy, or sentimental cards. It is a gift you can give not only to the living, but also to Mothers and Grandmothers who have died. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to give on Mother’s Day, or any day of the year.
We have not only a physical and biological mother, but also a spiritual mother. That mother is the Church, or in the traditional phrase, “Holy Mother the Church.” As anyone who has read a newspaper or listened to TV or radio in the last several years well knows, the Church has been far from a perfect mother. Sin is an aspect—an all too prominent part—of the church on earth. So it has been from the beginning (read the letters of St. Paul), and so it will be till the Lord comes again. The clergy sexual abuse, the financial malfeasance, and other scandals should not be unexpected, even though they are disheartening and discouraging. A wise old priest and former president of the Paulist Fathers once told me that when you see the church doing stupid and inhuman things it “is like seeing your mother drunk.” It is embarrassing.
What are we to do? No more than we can change the fact that we are our mother’s child can we change the fact of our spiritual bond to the church. Giving in to feelings of hurt, bitterness, resentment, anger and desires for revenge, will hurt ourselves as much as anyone else. Working through to forgiveness frees us to grow as spiritually mature people. The Church needs reform. The Church needs to listen. We need to work for the protection of children and all people. We need Bishops who are shepherds, not careerists. Fortunately, Pope Francis gets it and is appointing men who are shepherds.
And we also have our part to play. We also need, like adult children of alcoholics, to not collude in lies, but to take responsibility for our own actions, and especially to open our hearts and souls to forgiveness. Being responsible, adult, loving children of the Church is the best gift we can give our “Holy Mother the Church.” Thank you all!
God bless,

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 3

This weekend we have reason to celebrate! We have surpassed our “Faithful To Our Mission” capital campaign goal of $4,000,000.00. Currently we are at $4,287,108. WAY TO GO!
This was not an easy task, and it is quite a significant accomplishment. My sincerest gratitude to all who worked so hard on this campaign, to all who care enough about this parish to contribute so generously, and to all who kept the prayers coming for our success.  This is a great day for St. Austin Catholic Church.  THANKS!
On April 21st we had the final report of the professional fund-raisers, The Steier Group. They were impressed with our success. We spoke about the parish’s generosity, and how much money was raised (they were a little skeptical we would make our goal, which was ambitious). But we also talked about some of the other benefits of the campaign that are not measured in dollars. And they are significant too.
One benefit was updating of our database. By sending letters and calling all of our registered parishioners we found plenty of people who had moved, or moved away, or who changed their phone number, etc. This updated information is most valuable to us in staying in touch with our parishioners. So that was a big plus.
Another less tangible benefit was the interaction between parishioners. Several of the campaign workers spoke of how enjoyable it was to visit other parishioners who they knew only slightly, see their home, find out about them, put a face with a name. I know that Fr. René and I visited one of our parishioners who had been wanting to have us over but never got to it. This campaign provided the perfect opportunity for us to visit and we had a most enjoyable time. So that was certainly a benefit of the campaign.
Fr. Bob tells of another such story. An elderly gentleman who has been in the parish since the 1950’s, but no longer can attend, sort of fell off the radar of the parish. With all that goes on around here it is, unfortunately, the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. One of our campaign volunteers called this gentleman, found out about his situation, and passed it on to Fr. Bob. Fr Bob visited him bringing him Holy Communion and arranging for him to be visited regularly. The man had been receiving our bulleting weekly, but we never knew he was not attending church.  So now he is more fully connected to the parish. And that is a great benefit of the campaign. If you know of someone who has not been able to attend Mass here, please let us know. Better we hear about it three times than not at all.
Finally at the campaign workers meeting we addressed the issue of the light on the top of the tower. We are now at the point in the design process that some decisions need to be made. By overwhelming consent the campaign workers decided we should have the lantern top on the tower to give us greater visibility at night. Unless it causes huge problems with cost or permits, we will have it.
Thank you all!
God bless,