Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 1, 2016

Those of us who are old enough to remember can recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard of the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. At the time I was the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church on the West Side of Manhattan, about 5 or 6 miles due north of the World Trade Towers, which the planes crashed into and which collapsed, causing thousands of deaths and injuries, as well as major property damage. A prominent member of our parish choir was killed on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, the attack was personal to us all.
The next day, which was a Wednesday, huge crowds attended all the Masses. I remember I preached that if we as individuals and as a nation reacted with fear, hatred, anger, desires to seek revenge, and a willingness to hurt and destroy and kill, then the terrorists win. Their goal is to suck us into the unending cycle of revenge and hatred. If they succeed in getting us to act like them, then they win.
I still believe that. Recently, in Paris, Belgium, and other places, terrorists continue to do all they can to incite us to revenge and violence and hate. And they are very good at it. But we do not need to be sucked into their trap of becoming like them: full of fear, hate and violence. As Christians we are stronger than that.
Because the world is such a scary and dangerous place, because there is so much to induce fear and worry in all of us, because we are always tempted to resort to violence to fight violence, we need to constantly be on our guard and work against hatred and violence in our hearts.
More than that, we need to take a stand against violence and hatred, against labeling others who are different from us as evil, bad, dangerous. Like Jesus, we need to respond to violence in a different, more healing, way. A wonderful example of this is King Christian X of Denmark, who resisted the Nazi occupation and especially the treatment of Jews. When the Nazi’s threatened to force Danish Jews to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing, King Christian wrote in his diary, we must clearly refuse such [a demand] due to their [Jews] protection under the Danish constitution. I stated that I could not meet such a demand towards Danish citizens. If such a demand is made, we would best meet it by all wearing the Star of David.
Given this stand by the King, the Nazis backed down and never required the Danish Jews to wear the yellow star. They knew the King would make good on his threat, that all Danes would follow him, and no one could then tell who was a Jew and who was not. Taking a stand makes a difference.
Because of the growing fear and subsequent scapegoating of our fellow Muslim citizens and neighbors today, 17 churches in Austin are taking a stand by erecting a banner on their building that states that they stand with their Muslim neighbors. The University United Methodist Church did this on April 28, this past Thursday. Next Friday we as a parish community also will join in this effort to fight back against stereotyping, against fear and against hate. We will proudly post our banner on Guadalupe Street, for all to see. Our Muslim neighbors, children with us of Abraham, worship the same God we do. It would be less than fully Christian for us to not take a stand in support of the religious freedom and dignity of our neighbors. They may have to do the same for us someday. But in any case, it is the right thing to do.
The pastoral staff of the parish and the Parish Pastoral Council have discussed and approved of this step. I hope you will, too. I would like to hear your thoughts and concerns. You can email me at
We are a parish that respects diversity. We are a parish that extends a helping hand to people who come to us in need. I believe we are also a parish that stands up for justice and for respect for others. I think it is what Pope Francis would do. I think it is what Jesus would do.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Even in this digital age, when some people read everything on an e-reader, we still know the difference between a novel and a phone book.  You cannot read them the same.  You would not read the phone book as if it were a novel.  If you did, you would say, "Lots of characters, little plot".   On the other hand, if you read the novel like the phone book, you would find it very confusing, disorganized, un-informative.   So you need to know how to "read" a particular piece.
The same is true for Scripture.  The Bible is really a library, with all sorts of literary forms in it: history, law, narrative, novella, poetry, prayers, songs, letters, and other forms.  If you want to understand Scripture, you need to know what form of literature you are looking at, and read it accordingly.
Today’s Gospel strikes me as a love letter.  These are tender words, private words, words spoken in intimacy between lovers.  They should be spoken softly, almost whispered, with sincerity and feeling. 
"Jesus said: ‘My sheep hear my voice."    "My sheep" is a term of affection and endearment.   When the Lamb of God refers to us as "My sheep", this is not a put-down, like “what a dumb bunch of sheep”, but rather an address of great tenderness.  Maybe you have a special name for a child or spouse or sweetheart; a name that expresses a lot of affection and care and tenderness. ....   “My sheep” should be spoken the same way. 
"My sheep hear my voice."  How important genuine listening is to communication!  To hear Jesus’ voice is open our hearts to Him.  It is communication and union on a level of intimacy.  To really hear another is a great gift.
"I know them," Jesus says.  This is much, much more than book knowledge, or information gathered from the interned.   Rather this is personal knowledge.  It is certainly not “I know what you are up to” kind of reading.
No, this is intimacy, shared secrets and hopes.  It is not knowing just about the person, but to know the person herself.  Jesus knows us in this deep and close way.
"I know them, and they follow me."  Several times in the Gospels Jesus invites and commands: "Follow me."  This is what we do.  We are in love, and so want to be with Jesus, the Beloved.  We follow Him, because He is the desire of our hearts.
"I give them eternal life," Jesus continues.  This love is fruitful, fecund, lifegiving. 
Eternal life is not just life that goes on and on and on without end, but is rather full, complete, total, absolute life, all that we long and yearn for.  This is what Jesus gives us, the fullness of life, eternal life.
"And they shall never perish."  Jesus is faithful.  He is not a faithless lover.  All of us have been wounded and hurt by the pain of abandonment, by disappointment, by heartbreak.  But not with Jesus.  His love is firm.  It endures.  It prevails.   We can count on him.   "And they shall never perish."
"No one shall snatch them out of my hand.  My Father is greater than all, in what he has given me, and there is no snatching out of his hand."  There is safety with the Lord.  This relationship brings security.  As we heard in the second reading today: "Never again shall they know hunger or thirst, nor shall the sun or its heat beat down on them, for the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.  He will lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
There is no more need for fear, for anxiety and crippling worry, for headaches and sleepless nights, for the concern and worry that ties your stomach in knots.  All that ceases, for The Lord is our Shepherd, protecting and watching over us. "And there is no snatching out of his hand."  We are safe.
Finally, Jesus says: "The Father and I are one."  This is the deepest of all communion, of intimacy, of sharing life, of love.  The union between the Father and the Son is the fullness and perfection of love.  This is the love that birthed the universe, the love that is the completion of all that there is.  And this perfect love is the model of our union with Jesus.  As the Father and Son are one in love, so are we to be one with Jesus in love. 
The Gospel today is short, but powerful.  For the words are packed with meaning and emotion.  They speak to us of the tender love and care that Jesus has for us.  And that is wonderful.              PAUSE
It also requires of us a response.  We must reciprocate by giving ourselves in love to Jesus Christ.  We must follow Him, in His way of obedient closeness with the Father, in our concern for all those that Jesus cares about.
We have, today, a concrete and practical way to put that union into practice, because this is our annual PLEDGE Sunday, when I ask you to make or renew your donation pledge to St. Austin Parish.
Obviously, we as a parish can function only with your generous support.  Our Finance Council and parish staff are minding our budget very closely these days. Pledging is VERY important. It helps us budget better. 
          Your pledge helps us to plan and undertake projects knowing we can count on the income to be able to carry them out.
Please don’t think, “the amount I give is so small, it isn’t important. They don’t really need to know.’  Every pledge is important – EVERY pledge is important, whether it is $5 a month, $50 a month, $500 a month or more.
I will now give each of you the opportunity to reflect and renew your sacrificial commitment to support the mission of St. Austin Church.  Each household should have received a Commitment Card with the Program Brochure this past week.  If somehow you did not get one, or misplaced it, DON’T WORRY!  If you do not have your Commitment Card with you, please simply take one from the folders in the pews. 
Please pass down the row the blue folders
          Let’s take a moment to complete our Cards.  You can donate in several ways.   I choose to use a monthly bank transfer.  That is the easiest for me, and the least costly way of collecting for the parish.  So it makes sense. 
          Currently I make a monthly donation to the parish of $53.  I am leaving my commitment at that amount this year because of the sacrificial commitment I chose to make for the capital campaign we are just ending.  Certainly if you are blessed by God and able to increase your regular contribution to the parish, we would be most happy to receive it.  We will have no problem putting it to good use.  We will now have a slight pause (for music) while you complete your card.
          At this time, celebratory music should be played. 
(following the music)   THANK YOU everyone for your attention, patience, and especially for your participation.  May God bless you all abundantly! 
          It is the Lord’s love for us, which we hear in the Gospel, that is the attraction for us to give, the ultimate reason and the real basis for our sacrificing for our faith and religion.  God gave us His only Son – quite a gift.  We are thereby impelled to respond back in generosity.  THANK YOU!
          Please place your completed card in an envelope, seal it, and then pass your cards to the aisle for the regular offertory collection along with your donation for today. Everything goes in the one basket.  There is only one collection for everything.  



          This homily is about glory.  But I would like to start with tears, specifically wiping tears from eyes.
          Last Sunday our second reading was from the Book of Revelation chapter SEVEN, and we heard: “… and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 
          This Sunday our second reading is also from the Book of Revelation, but this time chapter TWENTY-ONE, and again we hear: “He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes…”
          This image of God wiping away the tears of the saints appears only twice in the Book of Revelation, chapters 7 and 21, and we have them two Sundays in a row.   Hmmmm.
          Have you ever had someone wipe a tear from your eyes?  Perhaps when you were little and had fallen, or older when you lost someone very close to you, or had some terrible disappointment? 
          Did you ever wipe the tears from someone else’s eyes?  Maybe from the eyes of your child, or your spouse, or a very close friend?
          Think about that act of wiping tears from someone’s eye.  The Book of Revelation tells us that is what God will do for His people, for us.   ¿What kind of an act is that?
          Well, it is a caring act.  It shows tenderness and intimacy.  It is an act of service and concern.  It is very personal.  It is something only people very close to each other do for each other.  It is a sign of empathy.  It is beautiful.
          I also believe it is glorious.  And I will explain how in just a minute.
          GLORY is a central theme of the Gospel of John.  In our Gospel today we heard: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.    If God is glorified in him,    God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.”   
That is a lot of “glory” talk.  And when does Jesus proclaim all this glory?  John tells us When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified,…”
and so on.    
Jesus is proclaiming He is glorified when Judas left them.  Where was Judas going?  Well, this is the account of the Last Supper and Judas is going off to betray Jesus.  Judas’ betrayal starts the whole action of Jesus being falsely condemned in a kangaroo court, His being insulted, whipped, and finally crucified, a painful death designed to maximize shame and insult.  It was hardly “glorious”.
          And yet Jesus chooses that critical moment of Judas going to betray Him that Jesus states “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” 
          How can that be?  Well, Jesus is talking about a different glory than what we usually see here on earth.  Jesus is not talking about power, about spectacle, about extraordinary wonders, about glory as we normally think about it here on earth.  Rather, as St. John tells us at the very beginning of His Gospel, in that beautifully poetic prologue to his Gospel, that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,   and we saw his glory,   the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
         “The glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”   This is NOT the worldly glory of power, of domination, of conquest and subjugation.  This glory from heaven is very different, almost the opposite:  “The glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”  
          This is the glory of truth, of compassion, of tenderness, of service, of righteousness, of love.  It is NOT the glory of the world, but rather the glory of God.  And it is expressed in tenderness, in wiping the tears from the eyes of the saints.  It is the glory of a parent getting up in the middle of the night to care for a child.  It is the glory of a neighbor helping an elderly neighbor to get groceries.  It is the glory of a friend listening patiently and attentively to a friend who is troubled.  It is the glory that shines in Jesus. 
          That is the glory each of us, and all of us together as a community, are called to by our Baptism.  “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  It is important and necessary therefore for us to practice that glory by wiping the tears from the eyes of all those around us.  We are called to reach out to support, to help, to sustain all those in need.  That is our glory.  It is the glory of Jesus Christ.
That is our call.  That is our hope.  That is our glory. 


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 17, 2016

We now come to the last of the Corporal Works of Mercy in my occasional series for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. I hope you are being inspired by Pope Francis and the Holy Spirit to practice mercy more consciously and more fully this year!
The last of the Corporal Works of Mercy on the list is to “bury the dead.” This is not a work in which we get directly involved now in our day and time. The two funeral homes that we mostly deal with, and that advertise in our bulletin, have been very good in accommodating the needs of families with limited resources at the time of a funeral. So the actual, physical burying of the dead is not something we are likely to do.
However, there is a more psychological way in which we can practice this work of mercy. And that is to bury the past resentments and slights and insults and other hurts that are past and over, but like the undead zombies, keep haunting us. Sometimes we need to let go of those past hurts if they are now truly over and resolved. We need to bury them in order to go forward with life. So if you are carrying around a load of past stuff that is truly over, let it go. Bury the dead of your past hurts and humiliations. You can practice this work of mercy for yourself.
And while we are on the topic of burying the dead, I hear from our local funeral homes that cremation of a person’s remains continues to grow in popularity. A couple of parishes in our Diocese have a columbarium (a structure for the repose of the cremated ashes) and several of our parishioners have requested that we have such a structure as well. Some of our parishioners have even written to Bishop Joe Vasquez requesting permission for us to construct a columbarium. However, their request has been denied. The response from Bishop Daniel Garcia, the Vicar-General of the Diocese, states:
“the Church allows cremation, but still has a theological preference for burial of the body without cremation. According to the guidelines we have received from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, columbaria should not be established apart from cemeteries. Since St. Austin Parish does not have a cemetery, our diocese does not intend to grant permission for the establishment of new columbaria there.”
I believe that people will continue to opt for cremation, partly because of cost, partly because of concern for the environment, and partly because families are spread out all over the country and do not visit cemeteries any more. Parishioners should plan how there remains will be respected and taken care of.
On another note, this weekend is national day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Please pray for vocations, especially for the Paulists! If you know of someone who would make a good priest, sister or religious brother, tell them so. You could be the voice the Holy Spirit needs to plant this idea in the person’s heart.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, April 10, 2016

Continuing our occasional look at the Corporal Works of Mercy in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we come now to the work of Visiting the Sick. This is something you can do most easily and naturally with those you know who are sick, infirm or elderly. You do not have to be witty, nor entertaining, nor even interesting. The sick, the homebound, those in nursing homes and facilities, just enjoy company. Touch is very important. Be sure to shake hands and if appropriate, give a hug. Just your presence and your smile are enough. Any small talk you can add is a bonus. Visits to the sick may not take much effort, but they are very worthwhile.
I try to not visit immediately after surgery. Give the patient a day or two to recover from anesthesia and the medical procedure, and they will get more out of your visit. And again, all you have to do is show up.
We also are blessed here at St. Austin Parish with a core of Eucharistic Ministers that take the Blessed Sacrament to 3 hospitals and 2 nursing homes that St. Austin covers, as well as to our homebound parishioners. This is a great help to the priests, and those who do this ministry find it very rewarding. If you would be interested in this ministry then please contact Fr. Dick Sparks.
Sometimes it is not possible to go visit in person. A phone call or a note card expressing your wishes for health and wholeness can also be a boost to the sick person. It does not take a large investment in time or money but can pay very big dividends. Don’t put it off until the person has healed or passed on. It is important to do it promptly.
The next Corporal Work of Mercy, Visit the Imprisoned (sometimes listed as “Ransom the Captive”) is similar to the last work. You would think in a country that has more people locked up than any other country, with the world’s highest rate of imprisonment, it would be easy to do this. But it is not so easy today to visit those in prison. Having visited a couple of times to the Travis County Correctional Center in Del Valle, it is a bureaucratic hassle. However, you can still practice this important work through a program sponsored by the Dominican Fathers called “Postcards to Death Row Inmates.” The name pretty much explains it. Each week a Dominican priest in North Carolina lists the names of several NC death row inmates. You can see it at First Impressions is primarily a tool for preachers, but the death row inmates are also listed on there. I don’t know of anything like this for Texas death row inmates. If someone does, please let me know. Perhaps might have something like this. And you can always pray for the imprisoned.
It is also important to understand why we lock up so many people in the U.S. and the inhuman use of solitary confinement, and then to urge your elected officials to address these problems, and for you to vote accordingly. That is what the Lord calls us to do.
The part of “Ransoming Captives” goes back to the days when the Mediterranean was full of pirates. Moorish pirates captured Christians and sold them into slavery. Ransoming the captive meant buying some Christian’s freedom from slavery. Today we don’t have that problem, but you can still practice this work. Human trafficking is a huge problem in the world today. You can help stop this nefarious trade in human beings by first of all becoming informed. Check out Several congregations of Catholic women religious have become active in combating human trafficking, especially of women and girls for the sex trade. You can read an article on this at It is important to learn the signs of a possible case of modern slavery, and if you see something to say something.
In all these ways (and many more) you can put into concrete action the corporal works of mercy.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Easter Homily April 3, 2016

Consider Thomas in our Gospel today.  "Doubting Thomas".   Cautious.  Skeptical.   Critical.  He is afraid of being taken in, of being duped.  He is a doubter.  He tests everything, he trusts no one.  He wants to see it for himself.
The other disciples said to him: "We have seen the Lord!"  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now growing up in a Catholic parochial school I was trained to recognize that Thomas was wrong in his skepticism.  After all, what could be more important than belief in the Resurrection of The Lord Jesus, this belief which is crucial for my eternal salvation?
But at the same time, being from Missouri, that state of the Union that takes as its motto "The Show Me State" and as its symbol the stubborn and highly independent mule, I have always felt a certain affinity with Thomas, that doubter, that questioner.  I even secretly admired him.   Questions and doubts have always been kind of attractive to me.  In fact, growing up, my Dad who taught night school and knew something about learning, did not ask me when I came home from school, “what did you learn today?”  But rather “how many questions did you ask today?”   Because he knew that only by questioning and probing do we assimilate knowledge as truly ours.  Questions and doubts, done right, are wonderful ways to learn and grow. 
St. John, I believe, means for us to identify with Thomas, who is called Didymus = twin.  He is our twin.  And we are likewise doubters.
Having lived through the lies of the Viet Nam war and Watergate, then the Iraq War and the alleged “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and through so many political scandals, and having been disillusioned by the Church on the sexual misconduct of priests and then worse, the cover-ups by Bishops, and seen the self-serving moral weakness of too many businesses, too many academic institutions, and too many professional sports teams and other organizations, I understand well why we as a culture have lost our innocence and must protect ourselves with the most profound skepticism.  I have even subscribed to “Skeptical Inquirer” magazine.  (hold up issue)  We have come to value skepticism.
Doubting Thomas would fit right in our modern, skeptical, world.
So I am reluctant to come down too hard on Thomas.  In fact I think doubts are an important part of the process of our growing in faith.  You see we will never have God figured out.  As St. Augustine of Hippo tells us, “whatever you think God is, that is NOT God.”  God is way bigger than any concept or idea we could possibly have of God.  God is an infinite mystery, and our hope is for all eternity to go deeper into that mystery, coming to know God more deeply, but never having God figured out completely.  It is like the relationship of two people who have been married to each other for many years.  They know each other intimately. They can finish each others sentences. They can read each other’s moods and expressions flawlessly.  And yet, there remains as aspect of mystery.  The relationship still has life and vitality because they have not exhausted the mystery of each other.  The relationship still has the capacity to surprise.  Because it is still alive. 
So with us, our relationship with God can grow for all eternity.  It is inexhaustible.  Our understanding of our faith is always somewhat provisional, somewhat inadequate.  It is never full and complete. 
Doubts about our faith can be gifts of the Holy Spirit urging, pulling, prodding us to go to a deeper, more complete, more mature level of faith. 
Doubts and questions can be the impetus, the push, to go beyond the comfortable formals of faith we have fashioned to struggle and achieve deeper, more comprehensive, more inclusive and mature concepts and levels of faith.  Doubts can be gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas, that doubter, strikes me as a presciently modern man.  Thomas will not accept the testimony and the witness of his friends and peers.  The other disciples said to him:  "We have seen the Lord!"  That won’t wash with this skeptic.  "But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 
Thomas must see for himself.  Only personal experience will convert him.  Thomas cannot accept the word of authority or of tradition - but only what he has personally experienced.
This buys Thomas protection against being deluded and mislead.  But at a very high price.   If all we can trust is our own personal experience, then any communal understanding of God is ruled out. 
In that case, we must each become a church unto our own-self.  And this is a profoundly lonely place to be spiritually: it is existential isolation.  It is Yuck!
Well, Thomas did not remain a skeptic.  The whole point of the Gospel is that he became a believer.  Thomas had an experience of the Risen Lord that lead him to profound faith: "My Lord and my God!" was his response.  No holding back, no inner mental gymnastics, but authentic, integral faith.
What about us?  How do we remain appropriately critical so that we do not have to turn our minds off when we enter church or deal with religious things, but also move beyond the sterility of skepticism so that we can authentically embrace the faith that gives life?  Must we too, like Thomas, personally experience the Risen Lord?
Yes.  I believe that we must.
When we gather in worship and praise of God as the Body of Christ, and Christ’s word is proclaimed to us in the Gospel, and the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is shared among us, then The Risen Lord is truly present with us, and His presence is Real.  And therefore His presence can be sensed.  We can experience The Risen Jesus with us, even after all these years and so many miles from Palestine.
But our mere physical proximity is not the same as being gathered in togetherness.  And the mere hearing of sounds is not the same as being open to the proclamation of the Gospel.  And mere eating the host and drinking the wine is not the same as receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.  It takes openness to another kind of seeing, another kind of sensing.  It requires, at the very least, a willingness to be touched by God in and through one another.

And then a miracle can happen.  Occasionally dramatically, but usually slowly, imperceptibly, in an organic manner, the gift of faith blossoms.  We come to sense more clearly and more deeply the presence of the Risen One with us.  And not only with me individually, but more importantly, with us communally.  We are able to say: "My Lord and my God."         Then we are alive.

For as St. John tells us at the conclusion of today’s Gospel, he wrote his Gospel “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”   AMEN.