Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 1

Happy All Saints Day to all saints and all saints in training! This day we celebrate both the canonized Saints (with a capital “S”) and all the saints we have ever met or known. Perhaps you have family members or friends or know fellow parishioners who you pretty well expect are saints, even if they are not canonized, i.e. declared so by the Church. Today we celebrate them all!
I have just returned from a wonderful conference in Salt Lake City, Utah called the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The first of these gatherings promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation was held in Chicago during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It was revived in 1993 as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since then it has been held every five years, in Cape Town, South Africa; Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Australia and now in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had the great pleasure of attending the one in Melbourne as well.
This is a BIG conference: 9,500 participants, from 70 different countries, representing 50 world religions. It is quite amazing to rub shoulders and converse with Jains, Bahais, Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Shieks, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Taoists, Indigenous folk (in this case, Ute Indians), and a collection of Wiccans, Mother Goddess worshippers, Gaia adherents, and modern Pagans. It makes for a lively group!
Though we have different religions, we can learn to respect and dialogue with each other. We also can work together on common problems. The areas of common concern identified for this particular Parliament were five: respect for and protection of indigenous peoples around the world, addressing growing income equality, war/violence and hate speech, emerging young inter-faith leaders, women’s concerns and human rights, and the big one was addressing climate change.
There were hundreds of workshops and speeches. It was possible to get to only a small fraction of the offerings, which began at 7 a.m. and went until evening. And sometimes there were evening events. It was a rather demanding schedule. I attended workshops on various topics, including one by a woman theologian from Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary on “Rethinking Salvation: images and metaphors of salvation for a pluralistic world” that was very stimulating and “Spiritual Formation in the age of the Singularity,” about the impact of technological change on spirituality, which was quite interesting. A very helpful workshop was “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which was a response of Muslim scholars to Pope Benedict XVI’s comment in 2007 that Islam is a violent religion. Out of that has come a fruitful Moslem-Catholic dialogue that continues today. One workshop I planned to attend but missed because it was re-scheduled was “Transforming Patriarchy in Religions: The Promise of Gender Reconciliation.” There was a great deal of energy at the Parliament over women’s issues. More than 50% of the participants were women.
And we also had performances, such as a wonderful inter-faith concert held in the Mormon Tabernacle with over a dozen different groups performing from all the continents (except Antarctica) and a combined inter-faith children’s choir that was spectacular. And there were many more workshops and such I participated in, more than I could list.
For me the most important part of the Parliament was meeting with other Roman Catholics involved in inter-faith work. It is not the most popular ministry in the Church right now, and it was good to give and receive mutual support. One very positive sign is how often, and how positively Pope Francis was quoted by ALL religious groups, especially about environmental concerns.
I have not digested this whole experience yet. As I sort out this experience I will share more with you in this column. Meanwhile it is good to be back at St. Austin parish community.
God bless!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Homily 30th Sunday of the Year Cycle B October 25, 2015

          Anybody here old enough to remember in Star Trek the Romulan “cloaking device”, which the Klingons also got hold of?  Anyone remember that?
          If you are too young to remember that than maybe you can remember Harry Potter’s Invisibility cloak?  
          I mention this because of our Gospel today.  Three Gospels tell us of the healing of a blind man in Jericho: Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Today’s passage is from Mark.  Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and woefully short on details.  I would like to know what Jesus looked like. What did he like to eat?  What was His favorite color?  Mark tells us none of that.  We get very few details in his Gospel.  And yet in this story Mark, and Mark alone, gives us two interesting details.  Only Mark tells us that the blind man’s name was Bartimaeus.  And only Mark includes the curious detail that the blind man threw off his cloak before coming to Jesus.
          I think we are supposed to pay attention to that cloak.   What is that cloak all about, and more importantly, what about our cloaks?
          Most of us have cloaks.  They may not be physical, but we have ways of hiding, of cloaking things about ourselves from others and even from ourselves.  I think Mark is pointing out that we have to get rid of, throw off these cloaks, in order to come to Jesus.
          What are we trying to cloak?  What do we want to hide?  Well, whatever we see as ugly and unattractive about ourselves.  We try to look better than we think we truly are.
          We even cloak our individuality, all that makes us unique and different.  Many young, and not so young, people just want to ‘fit in”, blend in with the crowd, not stand out, and so cloak over whatever is distinctive, unique, personal about themselves.   They use the invisibility cloak of fitting in to become invisible in a way, no different from anyone else.  No use drawing attention to yourself they think.
          May be we try to cloak our past?  Something we are ashamed of, something we really screwed up, some mistakes we are hiding so that people will not judge us and think less of us?  We hide any parts of us we think shameful or bad.
          We often cloak our weaknesses.    We hide behind a cloak of bravado, of boasting, of blaming others, so that we won’t be found out for who we truly are.  We pretend to be something we are not in order to hide from others, and from ourselves, our fragility, our weakness.
          And a lot of us cloak our fears.  We not only cloak them from others but from ourselves.  Fears we don’t want to look at.  Situations we can’t handle.  Parts of our personality too painful to face.  Anything we find distasteful and embarrassing.  We cloak these fears over with many distractions – electronics, entertainment, frenetic activity, alcohol, drugs, pornography.  All these are types of cloaks.  We use them to make invisible things that are painful to face. They become our cloaking devices.
          Well, sometimes cloaks are good.  Sometimes we need them to protect us against the wind and rain.  We should not wear our feelings on our sleeves, because some things are not to be public and shared.
          But with Jesus it is different.  With Jesus cloaks just get in the way.  With Jesus we can safely and securely share not only the good, but also the bad, the shameful, the sad, the embarrassing, the odd, the different, the unusual, the funky, the ugly.  We can – indeed must – share it all.   //
          Bartimaeus wanted to see.  He wanted to become fully alive. 
He wanted to live his full potential.  He wanted to know, to understand, to get it, to see.  He was tired of sitting on the side of the road and letting life pass him by. 
          So Bartimaeus calls out for Jesus. They try to silence him.  He calls out even louder and more stridently, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  Jesus responds and calls him.  Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.”  He “threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.” 
          And Bartimaeus was healed.     Bartimaeus is an example for us.  That blind beggar can teach us a lot.  If you are tired of missing out on what is really important, tired of sitting on the side of the road and letting life pass you by, if you really want to see what life is all about, if you want to know about God and who you are and whose you are, if you truly and deeply want to see, then follow the example of Bartimaeus. 

          Throw off your cloaks, your disguises, your efforts to hide and make obscure, open yourself to the light, jump up and come to Jesus.  You will find welcome.  You will find healing.  You will find forgiveness.  You will find peace.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bringing Women’s Voices to the Synod on the Family

I hope you enjoy this guest post by parishioner Chiara Brown.
God Bless,
Fr. Chuck

Bringing Women’s Voices to the Synod on the Family

I recently returned from a trip to Rome, where I had the privilege of participating in the book launch and symposium for the recent Paulist Press book release, Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table. The book is a collection of essays by Catholic women sharing their lived experiences and voices, created specifically to help remedy the scarcity of female voices at October’s Synod on the Family.

As translator for two of the book’s articles by Italian theologians Lucetta Scaraffia and Cettina Militello, and through the generous gift of the sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ), I was able to attend the symposium. There we heard theologians such as Ursula King (one of the first women ever to earn an MA in Theology) and Elizabeth Johnson speak on changing role of women and family, as well as theologians and sociologists from the global south such as Nontando Hedebe and Ana Lourdes Su├írez speaking on the effects of poverty and marginalization on women and families, and finally theologians including Lucetta Scaraffia and Cristina Lledo Gomez speaking on how women can “bring their gifts to the table” within the Church. The discussion was passionate and informative, with women from around the world and from various perspectives sharing their true, lived experiences, wrestling with the problem of how to have these experiences and perspectives heard and acted upon by the Church hierarchy.

During the Symposium, we were treated to the good news that the book’s editor, Tina Beattie, was able to have copies of the book delivered to the Synod for the bishops to read. We were later told that the books were quickly snapped up, so we are all eager and prayerful that the message of the book has been heard by the bishops and taken to heart.

A few of us also took the occasion to attend the Pope’s General Audience on Wednesday, and it was a real experience to be in St. Peter’s Square, amongst thousands of the faithful, to see our Pope Francis in person! I have to admit to some disappointment that I missed seeing him coming by in his Popemobile, because everyone’s hands shot up with their cameras to take his picture, effectively blocking my view, but I was thrilled to be in the same space as him and to hear his address, fresh from his visit to Cuba and the United States.

If you are interested in reading Catholic Women Speak, you can order it from the Paulist Press website at And let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Oct. 18

St. Austin Renovation Project Update

The renovation of the exterior of our church and rectory is moving along slowly. That is totally to be expected. We have hired surveyors and had an official survey done of the property. If you see little white marks all over the courtyard and other parts of our property, that is from the surveyors measuring everything around here. We have not yet received the certified survey, as it is still being prepared.

We also had some geotechnical testing done last weekend. After much digging and sawing, three soil samples were taken from locations around our facilities on Sat., Oct. 3. If you used the ramp from the alley to enter church on Saturday or Sunday, you definitely noticed this as you dodged the plywood and cones in the middle of the ramp. One more location was dug up this weekend.

Our architects are working on revisions and changes to schematic drawings. Once this process is complete, construction documents will be produced, city permits will be obtained, and the project will be put out to bid. Usually, when prices come back on the bids there is some adjustment to the plans and some negotiating with bidders.

I expect this whole process to take six or so months. Then construction can actually begin. I have instructed the architects that I do not want to start construction till after Easter. Having lived through church construction projects in Lent and Easter, when we have our largest crowds, I know that is not a good thing. Our entrances will be affected by the construction, and it will take at least till Easter to finish all the preparation and city permits anyway.

Meanwhile, we continue to collect our campaign pledges and reach out to those who were missed or came to our parish since the campaign. This period to collect funds so that we have the cash in hand when we start is very helpful.

I now need to explain about the “cathedraticum.”  Basically, it is an income tax levied by the Diocese on all of its parishes. It is how the Diocese of Austin is funded, along with the Catholic Services Appeal and the special collections for seminary education and supporting retired diocesan priests. We pay 9% of our regular income (Sunday collections, sacramental offerings, etc) to the Diocese of Austin. In many dioceses it is higher. However, we have a 12-month (or so) window on our capital campaign that is EXEMPT from cathedraticum. That window runs from Jan.2015 through Jan. 2016. This means any money you have contributed to the Faithful To Our Mission capital campaign already is exempt. We at St. Austin keep the entire amount to use for the renovation project and send nothing of it to the Diocese. That is also true to any pledge payments or additional donations made between now and approx. Jan. 31, 2016. After that, 9% of the pledge payments goes to the Diocese. So if you were thinking about making a pledge payment, if you do so before Jan. 31 of next year, St. Austin will be richer by 9% of your payment. Please note the exemption period covers two US Federal tax years. Just thought you would like to know this.

God Bless,

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, Oct. 11

First of all, I want to wish all of you a Happy Columbus Day weekend!

In spite of a few rough edges, our Religious Education program got off the ground a few weeks ago and continues to grow and expand. At the time we started we did not have a Director of Religious Education, but thanks to careful prep work done by our former DRE, Marti Salas, the generous response of both experienced catechists and first-time volunteer teachers, and the great organizational skills and background of Trish Salcher and Jennifer Anderson, we pulled off the successful launch of another year of Religious Education.  

I am VERY PROUD of this parish community for stepping up, and instead of gripping and fault-finding, rather pulling together to make our efforts to pass on the faith to our children a great success. This year I have been spending more time visiting the Religious Ed classes on Sunday and am impressed by both the numbers in the classes (we have 255 students enrolled in the Rel Ed program) and by the competence and enthusiasm of our teachers. It is really wonderful!

We have a precious gift - our faith - to hand on to the next generation. Every generation needs faith of course, but it seems to me the need grows more critical every year. The enthusiasm with which Pope Francis was greeted in his visit to the United States speaks of the hunger we all have for the witness of genuine faith. In this day of hype and constant advertising, authentic witness is both rare and precious.

All this reminds me that the critical task of handing on our faith to the next generation is not only a job for our catechists (25 cent word for religious ed teachers) but for all of us. We all know that children pay far more attention to what we DO than to what we say.  All of us who profess to be followers of Jesus need to make this REAL and EVIDENT to all the members of our community.  How we treat each other in the parking garage as we arrive for church, how we greet and respond to each other in church, how we sing and pray and participate in the Mass, how we greet each other at the sign of peace, how we interact with each other as we exit and make our way back to our vehicle, all these are seen and recognized by the children among us. We are constantly giving witness to them and to each other. Hopefully they see in us what we see in Pope Francis: a lively faith that is lived out in how we treat one another. That is the BEST religious education possible, and ALL of us have the opportunity, and the obligation, to teach in this way.

So let me take this opportunity to remind you that you are being observed by the children of our parish, and for better or worse you are teaching them by your example. Keep on passing on the faith to the next generation by witnessing to your faith by your actions.

God bless!