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!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Feast of Christ the King November 21/22, 2015 Austin, TX

          If you have seen the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy from a decade ago, you  know that the third and concluding section was “The Return of the King”.  In this final part of the trilogy there is a battle of cosmic proportions, the evil ring is destroyed, good finally triumphs, peace and justice are restored, and the rightful king is established on his throne.  With the return of the King things are put right again, balance and harmony return, and justice flourishes.
          Is this all just a fairy tale, wishful thinking?   Or is it an artistic image of the truth?  I want to argue for the later.  I believe that is an image of what we are celebrating today.  For we too are awaiting the return of the King.  From the Book of Revelations we heard: “Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.
All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, " says the Lord God,
"the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."
          And from the Book of Daniel we heard: “the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
          We Christians are looking for the return and establishment of the world’s rightful ruler, for justice and peace to be finally and definitively established, for right to prevail over might, for the rights of the poor to be respected, for harmony and health and goodwill to flourish.  We eagerly await the establishment of the Kingdom of God. 
We yearn for the return of the King. 
          This is basic to Christianity.  In the Creed which we will profess in just a few minutes we state: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”   He will come!  That is central to our Christian belief.  One of the earliest Christian prayers we have, in Jesus’ own Aramaic language, is Maranatha!  “O Lord, Come!” 
          // Now the words we have today from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation are mythic language.  They tell us the truth about the meaning and import of Christ’s Kingship, and that it will be definitively established.  But this is not a literal  description of a future historic event.  We don’t have the mental categories, much less the language, to be able to describe such an event.  But we don’t need to.  We know the meaning and the fact of the coming of God’s Kingdom, even if we don’t have a full description of the “how.”
          And this is important because this knowledge gives us hope.  In the grand cosmic struggle between good and evil, darkness and light, right and wrong, life and death, God wins.  In fact, in Christ Jesus, King of the Cosmos, God has already won.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the definitive triumph of God over sin, over death, over evil.  The issue is not in doubt.  Jesus is King.  But the full working out of His triumph has not yet occurred, and especially has not yet fully happened in my life nor in yours.  We still struggle against our frailties and sins to make Jesus the King of my life NOW.
          But this faith in Jesus the King does give us hope.  This hope is different from optimism.  Things may get worse before they get better. 
          Our leaders may, and probably will, mess it up.  We may, and probably will, give in to greed or fear or hate or lust or envy.  The power of sin is still very real.  But the ultimate victory is assured.  Because the victory does not depend on us; not on the skill and effectiveness of our political system (thank God!), not on the brilliance of our universities, not on the productivity of our economy, not on the creativity of our artistic community, not on the might of our military, not even on the sanctity of our churches. 
          The victory depends on the King.  On Christ Jesus.  On the Cross.  And it is already won.  MEANWHILE, we draw hope and inspiration from our faith in order to struggle against evil.  The struggle is not in vain.  It is not useless.  We have very well found hope for victory.  But we must struggle.  We struggle in our own hearts – against laziness, selfishness, pride, envy, greed, lust, fear and hate.  We struggle in our own families and neighborhoods for understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, love.  We struggle in our society for justice, for peace, against the fear and prejudice that would keep Syrian refugees out of our State, against racism, injustice, against degrading others because of their religion, or sexual orientation, or national origin, or economic status. 
          We are still deeply involved in the struggle.  But we know that Christ the King is victorious.  He is coming.
          Most importantly, He loves us. 

Maranatha!   O Lord, Come!  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 22

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It marks the culmination of another Liturgical Year, or more poetically, a Year of Grace. Next Sunday we begin a new liturgical cycle with the First Sunday of Advent. So Happy New Year!
Fittingly, we also celebrate the secular holiday of THANKSGIVING this coming Thursday. We all certainly have much for which to be thankful. I am particularly thankful for the Parish Mission that we had here Nov. 9-11, and especially for the very good turn-out of parishioners and others to the Mission. It was a most worthwhile experience, and I think all who attended enjoyed it. I know I did.
The theme of the mission focused on the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy as proclaimed by Pope Francis. Hopefully all of us will participate in the Year of Mercy by practicing mercy and working at being more merciful. I hope that we will not only do this as individuals, but also as a parish. How can we as St. Austin Catholic Parish practice mercy during this coming year?
I was impressed by Fr. Frank Desiderio’s definition of mercy as “having a heart for the poor.” Usually I think of mercy as being all about willingness to forgive, but he opened my understanding to a broader view of mercy. We, as a parish, probably don’t have a lot of forgiving to do this coming year, though I would be very hard pressed to find it in myself to forgive the vandals who graffiti our walls and exterior surfaces. But aside from that we are fortunate in that our needs and our opportunities to forgive are rather few.
But we as a parish certainly can practice having a heart for the poor. We do a fair job of that already – by our St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Thursday Outreach program, our participation in the Micah 6 Food Bank and the drop in center for homeless youth, support for St. Louise House, and various other programs we participate in. But we could get wider participation in these programs from our parishioners, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the needs we see around us, and more creative and effective ways of responding. There is no lack of genuine need immediately all around us!!! Hopefully we can figure out a way to be a more merciful community during this Jubilee Year and beyond. If you have any good ideas forward them to our Parish Pastoral Council.
A good place for us to start, I think, is gratitude. With Thanksgiving this Thursday, I encourage you to spend some time each day consciously and purposely being grateful. If you are breathing, you have something for which to be grateful. We all have much for which to be grateful. But because we take so much of it for granted so much of the time, we need to stop, think, reflect, remember and recall some of the MANY reasons we have to be grateful. And I think doing that prepares us for moving forward to mercy.
So I wish you a great Thanksgiving. Not just good food and drink and football, but a deep and authentic sense of Gratitude. It will pay benefits to you.
God bless!

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to Explain What You Do When You're A Pastor

Texas Catholic Bishops' statement on refugees and security

When our bishops get it right we should promote it. ~Fr. Chuck  :-)

Texas Catholic Bishops' statement on refugees and security
In this moment of grief for the victims of continued extremist violence in the Middle East and Europe, the Catholic Bishops of Texas pray for our leaders to show judicious discernment to find a means to help those genuine refugees who struggle to find shelter from the violence of their homelands. We must not forget that we are a nation of immigrants.
We acknowledge that every government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from violent aggressors, and this would include the application of the most rigorous screening procedures of refugees coming from areas known for the exportation of terrorism.
We must not be led by our fears, but guided by our mercy and prudence to develop a means to protect refugees while also protecting ourselves at home. As Pope Francis recently said so eloquently before the U.S. Congress, “if we want security let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunity, let us give opportunity. The yardstick by which we measure others is the yardstick by which time will measure us.”
For more on the Catholic Church's position regarding Syrian refugees and security, please follow the link below:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 15

            This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.  This is the Pope’s cathedral, his official church.  It is NOT St. Peter’s in the Vatican, but rather the Lateran Basilica.  It has been the official seat of the Diocese of Rome since the year 324 A.D., which is a good long time.  Celebrating this feast reminded me of a very interesting workshop I attended at the Parliament of the World’s Religions a couple of weeks ago.  The workshop was pretentiously titled “The Architecture of Faith: A Global Interreligious Pilgrimage from Hopewell Earthworks to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, in Twelve Architectural Steps.”  Actually it was interesting and stimulating.

            What it did for me was emphasize the difference between a temple and a church.  A temple is a house for a god.  Themples don’t need to be very big because god’s (especially if they are idols) don’t need much space.  The temple is not for the congregation but for the god.   Churches, on the other hand, are built to be gathering spaces.  The word “church” has its etymological roots in an Aramaic word, quahal, which means a gathering.  When Jesus in the Gospels says to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church”, what Jesus is saying is that Peter is the rock on which Jesus is building His gathering.  It is the gathering of the Christian community that is the church.  

            We have in Christian history some ambiguity about what we want the church to be, a temple or a gathering place?  When I was little (admittedly a very long time ago) the church emphasized many aspect of a temple.   The tabernacle was in the center at the front, just like an idol would be in a temple.  As in many pagan temples there was a sacred space reserved only to the clergy that was defined by the altar rail.  Except to do cleaning or decorating the laity (servers excepted) did not go on the other side of the rail.  That was the holy side.  I remember vividly being in Catholic grade school and one of the good sisters commenting wistfully that she – unlike the altar boys – would never go on the other side of the communion rail.  That was the holy area where lay people did not go.  The church was seen as “the house of God” and the proper disposition in church was quiet, subdued movements, no playing around or loud talk, a sense of reverence and respect.  The idea was that you are in God’s house and you better behave.

            Of course all of that changed when Vatican Council II occurred.  The communion rails disappeared, laity (men and women) became lectors, Eucharistic ministers, altar servers, etc.  The church building took on less of the aspect of temple and more of a gathering space for the church, that is, the congregation gathered.  As we repeated incessantly at the end of VC II, “we are the church”.  

            Still, some hints of the church building as “the house of God” remain.  Bishops in this country want the tabernacle front and center and to be the main focus of the building.  In earliest Christian churches the tabernacle was in a side chapel, primarily for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament to take to the sick.  

            It might be an interesting exercise to examine your own thoughts and feelings.  Do you look at the church building as “the living room of the church” as one liturgical writer phrased it?   That is, the church (building) is the place where the church (the congregation) gathers.  Or do you look upon the church (building) as the place were God dwells, a special and sacred place?  In any case St. Paul is pretty clear that we are the dwelling place of God, the church:  Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   1 Cor 13.   
God Bless,

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, November 8

We have a busy week ahead of us here at St. Austin’s Parish.   Every four years each Paulist foundation gets an official inspection tour from headquarters, called a “Visitation”.  Just a couple of weeks ago I was on the inspection team at a Visitation of the Paulist parish in Portland, OR.  And since we are a parish staffed by the Paulists, it is now our turn.  The University Catholic Center and St Paul the Apostle parish in Horseshoe Bay are also on the Visitation agenda. 

Two Paulist priests conduct the Visitation.  In our case it is Fr Frank Desiderio, CSP.  He is the “First Consulter” of the Paulists, one of the three men full time in administration of the Paulist Community.   Joining him will be Fr Tom Gibbons, CSP.   Tom is one of six elected “General Consulters.”   (I also am one.)   The Visitors will be looking at our financial reports, talking to parish staff, have a meeting with Bishop Joe Vasquez and the Vicar General of the Diocese, Bishop Danny Garcia.  They will meet on Thursday evening with a group of parish leaders, have a meeting with the pastoral staff of the parish, and be available after Masses this weekend and  next to hear from you.  They are certainly open to hearing of problems and complaints, but also open to suggestions and even to compliments and kudos. 

Since the Visitors are already coming (and on the Paulist dime) we are benefiting from this by taking advantage of their presence having Fr Frank Desiderio give us a preached mission, on “The Church of Mercy”.  Fr Frank will be preaching at all the Masses this weekend, and then hold special preaching events this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening here in St. Austin Church.  ALL are invited.  Bring your neighbors and friend.  Fr Desiderio is a very good preacher, and I hope many of you will take advantage of this special opportunity.

Fr. Tom Gibbons, the other half of the Visitation Team, was assigned here to St. Austin’s Parish as a seminarian for his “Pastoral Year”.  That was five years ago.  Fr Tom has expressed to me his delight in returning to St. Austin’s for this visit. 

Between the preached mission Fr Desiderio is giving, and visiting three places (St. Austin, University Catholic Center and St. Paul the Apostle in Horseshoe Bay) I expect that they will be pretty busy.  Please make them feel welcome.  This would be a very good week to show your Paulist spirit.

God Bless!