Tuesday, May 31, 2016

8th Grade Graduation Mass May 26, 2016 St Austin School

8th Grade Graduation Mass    May 26, 2016    St Austin School
          In the Gospel we just heard, from Matthew chapter 11: verses 29 – 30, Jesus says to His disciples, that is, to US:  “Take the yoke I give you.” 
          Take the yoke I give you.     What is a yoke?   The yellow inside of an egg?   No.  That’s a different yolk.     Is it a Swedish joke?  As in “That’s some yoke, boy oh boy!”    NO!
          Anyone know what a yoke is?    A device for putting together a team of oxen or mules for pulling a load, or a piece of wood that goes over your shoulders to carry a pair of buckets.   It is a device for work.  WORK. 
          “Take the yoke I give you.”  Hmmm.   That implies effort.  That implies work.  Do you like to work?  
          Work is an important part of being human.  It is how we shape our destiny, it is how we express our talents, it is how we support our family and ourselves, it is how we benefit our community.   Work gives us dignity and worth, worth beyond whatever we get paid. 
          Jesus tells us “Take the yoke I give you.”     Hmmm.   Well, there are different ways of working, different yokes.  There is the yoke of selfishness – working only for me, for my benefit.  I am in it only for what I can get out of it.  I have no concern for anyone else or for the social, or environmental, or communal effects of what I do.  It is the ME yoke.
          That is NOT the yoke Jesus offers.
          There is also the yoke of laziness:   I won’t develop my talents, I won’t challenge myself, I will not work hard to excel and do better, but rather I will do the bare minimum, coast along, take it easy, do as little as I need to just in order to just get by.    The LAZY yoke.
          Guess what?   That is NOT the yoke Jesus offers.
          Rather Jesus tells you eighth graders as you graduate this evening:  “Take the yoke I give you.  Put it on your shoulders and learn from me.”  What is the yoke Jesus gives you as you leave St. Austin School and prepare for high-school?  It is a yoke of learning, of challenging yourself, of growing in awareness, of concern for others, of responsibility beyond your own circle of friends, of becoming your own person, of integrating your Christian faith as your own, not just something you have received from your parents and teachers.
          The yoke Jesus offers you is the yoke of service, of care for others, of compassion, of integrity, of respecting your own sexuality and the sexuality of all those around you, of working and longing for justice, of living and loving as a child of God.
          Jesus tells you “Take the yoke I give you.  Put it on your shoulders and learn from me.”  “Learn from me.”   Even though you are graduating you are not done with learning.  You are really just beginning! 
          What are you to learn from Jesus?   Mathematics?  Sociology?   Spelling?   NO.  Rather what you are to learn from Jesus is how to live authentically as a child of God, how to live like God, in honesty, in compassion for others, in service. 
          Jesus assures us “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.”   Well, …. perhaps Jesus is exaggerating a little teeny bit, perhaps Jesus is stretching the point here.  Because in fact His yoke is not always “easy,” and not always “light.”
          But in the long run, when all is said and done, when your life is judged for whether it was lived fully and in a worthwhile way or not;  When you get to the end of the road of life and you look back at what Jesus’ yoke allowed you to do and what other, alternative ways of life offered you, His yoke is by far the best deal.  The fullest and truest life, life truly worth living, Life that is significant and meaningful and genuinely worthwhile, comes from taking on Jesus’ yoke. 
          “I am gentle and humble,” Jesus tells us, “and you will find rest.”  Genuine, satisfied, honest rest with the deep satisfaction of a job well done.  That is something to look forward to.
          Graduating class of 2016, that is what your teachers, your parents, the priests and parishioners of St. Austin Parish and School wish for you:  a full life of integrity and satisfaction as a genuine child of God.   Congratulations!

Holy Trinity May 21/22, 2016

Happy Trinity Sunday!

Do you ever think about God?      If you do, “What image comes to mind?”

          Now, no image can ever give a complete, or even an adequate, understanding of God.  St. Augustine, not our St. Augustine of Canterbury but rather the other St. Augustine, of Hippo, tells us that whatever you think God is, that is NOT God. 
          To comprehend God you would have to somehow grab hold of God, somehow get a handle on God, and somehow figure God out and confine God.  
          But God is always much bigger, or another way to put this, more mysterious, than we can ever grasp.  God is always too big, too ineffable, too other in order to be grasped.  You just can’t do it.
          So where does that leave us?   Well, you could say, “Oh, God is a mystery.  Never going to get this one figured out, so why bother?”  And then basically ignore God.  I think a lot of people do that nowadays.  They just kind of write God out of their considerations, out of their plans, out of their decisions, out of their life, and act as if God does not exist. 
          It is not a very good approach.  Because ignoring God doesn’t make God go away.  God is still there.  God is annoying like that.  Still lurking in our hopes.  Still pushing those questions about life and death and meaning and love and morality, like an itch we just can’t quite get at.  The God problem is still there, and won’t go away.
          Or we could just declare God is Other, or another way to say the same thing, All Holy.  God is totally different from us.  We cannot picture God, cannot limit God, cannot in any way conceive of God.   That is what Moslems do.  In Islam, with its strict adherence to monotheism, God cannot be pictured in any way.  God is Other, Holy, and mysterious.  There is one God, God, and God is totally different from us.  God is all Holy and we are not.  This approach is definite, clear, but to me at least, not very satisfying.
          And then there is the Christian way.  God is all Holy and totally other.  Absolute Mystery.  But this Mystery also has a human face, which is the face of Jesus.  Christians make the outrageous claim that out of love for you and me this Absolute Other, who is God, entered into human history about 2016 years ago, in a squalid little village called Bethlehem, in a poor and defeated kingdom called Judah.  His name is Jesus.  Jesus grew up in a dirt-poor hick town in the sticks of Galilee, taught for a couple of years, ran afoul of the powerful and was executed.  But in His teaching and life Jesus showed us that the truest nature of God is not power, not might, not domination, but rather service and love.  Love is the truest nature of God.
          And to make this story even wilder and more spectacular, this loving God has come to dwell in our hearts, closer to us even then our own breath.  God’s own inner life, God’s Holy Spirit is poured out on us so that we can live the life of God’s own being, for all eternity.  You and me in intimate union with God!   Pretty wild.
          We call this spectacular drama the Holy Trinity:  The Father Creator, the Son Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Sanctifier.   Three, but essentially one.  Bad math, but great theology.
          That is what we celebrate today, the Most Holy Trinity.  It means that God is the cause for all that is, God revealed God’s self in the life and death and coming to life again of Jesus, and God dwells in us, closer to us than our own breath.  It is a wonderful love story, and if you think about it, really pretty wild. 
          That is the Most Holy Trinity.  Happy Trinity Sunday!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Today’s column is just a collection of odds and ends. First of all, Happy Memorial Day! This is the weekend we remember the great sacrifice made by the men and women of our Armed Forces in the defense of our liberties. The best way to honor and celebrate them is not with parades, bands and picnics, but a renewed resolve to protect and promote the liberties for which they fought and died. We still have much work to do to insure “liberty and justice for all.” Living up to the ideals on which our nation was founded is by far the best way to honor our fallen heroes. Happy Memorial Day!

This weekend traditionally marks the end of the school year. This past Thursday our 8th grade class from St Austin Catholic School graduated. The University of Texas at Austin held commencement last weekend. High schools in our area are celebrating graduations. Congratulations to all the graduates, to all the teachers, and especially to all the parents who shepherded and guided the students through their academic labyrinths.

And this weekend we host Mr. Sam Bass, a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin, who will be with us to tell us a little about the vocation program of the Diocese, and to thank us for our support. Please make Sam feel welcome.

This may be a good opportunity to explain a little about the relationship between the Paulist Fathers and the Diocese of Austin. Not everyone is familiar with how our relationship works. The Paulist Fathers are a religious community similar to the Jesuits, Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, Augustinians, Holy Cross Fathers, and about 1,000 other groups. Each group has its own particular works, style and “charism” (gifts). The Paulists were founded rather recently, just over 150 years ago, here in the United States, and so have a more American flavor. For example, we popularly elect our “president” (as opposed say to a “Superior General” for the Jesuits). The Paulists came to Austin in 1908 to serve the needs of the University of Texas community. Basically we are sub-contractors working at the pleasure of the Bishop. The Bishop of Austin is the chief liturgical officer of this Diocese, and he contracts with us to operate this parish and the University Catholic Center for him. The Paulists are free to leave if they should ever choose to do so, and the Bishop is free to send us packing if he should ever choose to do so. About 2 years ago we were disinvited from the Diocese of Minneapolis for reasons we still have not discovered. And this year we chose to withdraw from our parish in Portland, Oregon. So it does happen.

The Paulists train our own seminarians, and over the years you have seen novices, seminarians, pastoral years students, spend part of their training with us in the parish. Mr. Sam Bass is a seminarian for the Diocese. He will be ordained by the Bishop of Austin, and most probably spend his entire priestly career in this Diocese. That is the ordinary form of priesthood.

The Paulists and the Diocese of Austin have a long, mutually beneficial, and very positive relationship. We support the local diocesan priesthood, and they support us. For example, next week each of the Paulists here will be spending time at the Diocesan Priests Convocation to check in, fraternize with, and support the local clergy. We derive mutual support from each other. We try to cover for them when they can, and they for us. It is a positive relationship. 

God Bless,

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 22, 2016

Happy Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. I could write on the Mystery of the Trinity, but today am tackling an even more inscrutable mystery, MEDICAID EXPANSION. I know this is weighty stuff, but part of the WORK that we followers of Jesus are expected to do is to become informed and then to judge and most importantly to act. We need to put our faith into action.

The Texas Catholic Conference, which is the public policy voice of the Catholic Bishops of Texas, had a legislative agenda for the last session of the Texas Legislature. If you go on their website at this impossible address: http://www.txcatholic.org/#!84th-Texas-Legislature-Ends-Texas-Catholic-Bishops-Achieve-Numerous-Public-Policy-Goals/cjds/5570a7d90cf293eac7fb80b9, you will see their legislative scorecard. It is impressive. They were pretty successful. However, one area in red, meaning a loss, was MEDICAID EXPANSION. This work still needs to be done. Here is what the Bishops say on their website: Legislators budgeted $61.2 billion for Medicaid, but it almost certainly won't be enough, requiring more money before the biennial budget cycle is through. They also continued to oppose expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, continuing to forgo billions in federal aid.” The point is that this money is money that could really help people in need. Without it people will be hurting.

So I encourage you first of all to get informed. There is a simplified paper on all this information on our parish website at http://www.staustin.com/bulletin. It gives you good background on this, and also explains why now is such a critical juncture. It has to do with the Federal Government’s renewal of a band aid called a “1115 Waiver”, and the Feds insistence that they will no longer renew this from here on out. You can also read about it on the Texas Catholic Bishops’ website at http://www.txcatholic.org/#!health-and-human-services/c15lf.

Then, consistent with your faith and Jesus’ commandment to put our faith into action, judge what you think should be done.

Next, act!  We don’t need more armchair experts, but more people who live their faith.  If you are a citizen of Texas, let your State Representative and State Senator know you care about this issue. Send them an email or letter. It is easy to do. Go to http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/find-your-representative and type in your address. You will get your US and Texas State senators and representatives. Click on their websites and send them a message. Finally, go vote. That is the most effective way of registering your concern and opinion.

If Christians keep quiet then we abdicate the field to those who are only looking after themselves. Our Bishops give us direction and guidance, but they cannot do it on their own. Each of us as a citizen, and even more so as a Christian, has a responsibility to speak up for those who are hurting. Medicaid expansion is a concrete and practical way to do that. And now is the time to get involved.

God bless,

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, May 15, 2016

In my last update for the renovation of the exterior of our church project, which I wrote about in this column on March 20, I spoke of some of the creative ways that our parish Finance Council and Building Committee have been working to make sure that we stay within our budget. That has been very helpful. But on the downside, the effort to make sure that the numbers we are looking at our realistic and not overly optimistic has taken more time. To insure that we are dealing with realistic numbers has taken more checking, more work, and more time.
Therefore our time table has slipped some. Instead of starting in May, it now looks like construction will actually commence in August. The construction documents are scheduled to be completed at the end of May, and now the process for City of Austin permits has grown from 6 weeks to about 8 to 10 weeks. We do hope it will be faster than that.
Your patience is much appreciated. Soon enough our entries will become tunnels as sidewalk bridges are built over them, and we will have an unavoidable amount of dust.  There will be piles of stone on the sidewalk and the courtyard, scaffolding around the building, and construction equipment on the street and in the alley. It will all be here soon enough.
Our architects are working hard to complete the construction documents. Our Finance Council and Building Committee have done excellent work on keeping on top of the many issues involved in this project, and the Diocese of Austin is responding quickly in a timely manner. I am as anxious as anyone to see this project actually begin, but I know that in a complex project like this, it is much better to be patient and do it right the first time.
Please keep me, our Building and Finance Committees, and our entire parish in your prayers.