Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 25, 2016

MERRY CHRISTMAS! As we celebrate this wonderful feast of God becoming one of us in the Christ Child, I wish you all Blessings and Joys of this Holy Season!
I especially want to welcome all who join us in this holy and holiday time. 

WELCOME to all our regular and faithful parishioners. We are so blessed by your presence!

WELCOME to any college or university students home visiting family from other institutions of higher learning. We are so happy to see you again!

WELCOME to any relatives or friends visiting family or friends here in Austin. We rejoice that you are with us and we hope your stay in Austin is WONDERFUL (but not so wonderful that you want to move here – just kidding!)
WELCOME to any visitors who were last with us for Easter or last Christmas. We are happy to see you again! Know that you are always welcome, and we are blessed the more that we enjoy your presence. I hope and pray that we will see you more often!

WELCOME to any Christians of another denomination. You are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and we are happy and honored to have you with us during this festive and holy time of year, or at any time. Glad you are with us.

WELCOME to the members of other faiths or of no faith. You honor us by your presence and we are pleased that you have come to visit us. We all live on this one planet, our Mother Earth, and we are all called by our common humanity to honor and respect each other. Thank you for joining us.

WELCOME to any who have come in just to get out of the cold or out of the night. You are most welcome. We are happy to share with you the music, light, decorations and joy of this very special season. WELCOME.

And to all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 18, 2016

Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent! Christmas is almost here. Every year about this time I stop to take account of what we – as people of faith - are really observing and celebrating. With all the hectic activity, parties, social expectations, buying or making gifts, mailing cards, decorating the house, with all this activity and stuff the more important aspect of Christmas can easily be lost.

We Christians are celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation. Literally that means the Enfleshment. We affirm the wild and even crazy belief that God has become human. If you don’t think that is a huge proposition to swallow, then clearly you have not thought long and hard enough about just what it is we are observing and celebrating at Christmas.

What is important about the mystery of the Incarnation, of God becoming fully human, is not so much what you feel about it, but what you believe. Feelings help, but they are not faith. So if you are not feeling very jolly, and the Christmas spirit has not touched you, if you are upset about the relationships in your family, depressed over the political situation in our country, if you are ill and not feeling well, or you are just turned off and depressed about the gross consumerism of Christmas, that is OK. All those feelings are fine, and many of them are quite appropriate and proper.

But if you are not feeling particularly Christmassy, and generally are stressed and out-of-sorts, you still are fully able to celebrate the really important part of Christmas, or Christ Mass as it once was, and that is to re-affirm your faith in God made flesh. For us, Christmas is not about sentiment and emotion, but about commitment to the faith that God has become one of us, in order to be with us, save us, and enable us to be with God forever. That is something to celebrate! Happy Feast of the Incarnation! Merry Christmas!
 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 18, 2016

Today’s readings on this Fourth Sunday of Advent present us with a contrast between two men, each of whom is asked to do something risky and difficult, with very different results.
          First we have our first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah.  It involves a King of Judah known as Ahaz.  The events depicted in this reading took place around 735 BC.  It was not a good year.  The situation was one of international politics and conflict.  The superpower in the Middle East back then was the Kingdom of Assyria.  The Assyrians were a mighty military force, and utterly ruthless.  Historians call them the Nazi’s of the ancient Middle East.  And they were conquering all the countries around them. 
          One of the countries in their path of conquest is the little Kingdom of Judah, where Ahaz is King.  His idea is to play ball with the Assyrians and make an alliance with them.  If you can't beat them, then join them!
          Now the Prophet Isaiah goes to the King to urge the King NOT to make an alliance with Assyria.  Because when they allied with Assyria they would have to accept and worship Assyria’s gods.   Isaiah’s message to King Ahaz was rather than ally with Assyria, instead to trust in God for help.  Follow God, trust in God, and God will deliver you from this powerful and aggressive Kingdom of Assyria. 
          But Ahaz doesn’t want to do that.  He is a realist.  Ahaz can see how strong the Assyrians are, their thousands of warriors, their war horses and chariots, their latest technology in siege engines and so on. He is impressed by their might.   So the Prophet Isaiah, to bolster Ahaz, says ask for a sign.  Let God show you His power.  Our reading states: “Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” 
          The Prophet wants Ahaz to ask for a sign so he can trust in God alone and not get entangled with the Assyrians. 
          But Ahaz plays phony piety and false humility and states “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!”  Ahaz does not want to take the risk of trusting in God’s protection and care, and so he doesn’t want the sign.  He wants to follow his own plan of trusting in political and military power. 
Needless to say, it ends badly.  Ahaz brings in worship of false gods, institutes slavery, tramples justice, oppresses the poor to pay the Assyrians, and leaves the Kingdom vulnerable to attack.  Ahaz goes down in history as one of the worst Jewish kings.  Under his successor, Hezekiah, the Assyrians besiege Jerusalem, but that is another story. 
          In any case Ahaz will not put his trust in God, and things go badly wrong.
          Now let’s jump ahead 735 years, in the same part of the world, to a carpenter named Joseph.  And Joseph is betrothed.  He is so happy.  He is to marry Mary, his sweetheart.  But a terrible thing happens.  Before they actually get married, Mary gets pregnant.  What a shock!  What a disappointment!  Poor Joseph can hardly believe it!  Mary is the last person he would have suspected of fooling around.  But the evidence is there, and so Joseph decides to call off the wedding.  However, Joseph still has feelings for Mary, and he is a good man who doesn’t want to make trouble for anyone, even if they have disappointed him like Mary has.  So he decides to divorce her quietly, with no fanfare, very simply, to not expose Mary to shame.   An awful day.
          Then he goes to sleep.  In his sleep he has a dream; a crazy dream.  An angel tells him it is alright.  That Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that she will bear a son who will save his people from their sins.  And finally, that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
          The next morning Joseph awoke.  What did he think?  What did he feel?  What’s he going to do?    He could have gotten up and said to himself, “oh man, what a weird dream!  I have to go easy on the jalapeno matzohs.  They give me such crazy dreams.”  
Joseph, like Ahaz, could have ignored the call from God.  Like Ahaz, Joseph was being called to take a big risk, to do something that would look foolish from the outside.  Joseph was being called to make a great act of trust in God’s care and concern for him.  Joseph knew God would not leave him hanging, and so the Gospel succinctly says: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him in a dream.  Joseph, unlike Ahaz, was open to the crazy, if demanding, ways of God.  And good for us that he was. 
          So two men asked by God to trust and do something that in the judgement of the world was crazy, something wild, something foolish.  Two different responses with two very different outcomes.
          What about us?  Do we act more like the hard-bitten political realist Ahaz, or more like Joseph the crazy dreamer?  Are we so responsible that we don’t respond to God’s call?
          How willing are we to take a risk in trusting God’s call to us?  Perhaps a call to volunteer for some ministry at church?  But, it might mess up my weekend schedule.  I am too afraid to read in public, what if I drop the chalice, I’m not holy enough to do that.  //Today’s readings urge us: Take the risk!
          Or maybe the Holy Spirit wants you to take the risk to be the first side to reach out to heal a rift with a neighbor or family member.  To risk forgiving someone who hurt you.  But what if I get shot down, what if I am rejected, what if I get taken advantage of, what if I get hurt again?    // Take the risk!
          Or perhaps for our college and high-school students here maybe God calls you to investigate being a religious sister, a brother or a priest.  Maybe God calls you to serve His people in the Church.   But that is not my plan for me life?    // Take the risk!  It’s not so bad, believe me.
          Or maybe God calls you to be a teacher, or to marry that particular person, or to volunteer for a mission trip, or do something wildly generous, or to speak the truth when no one wants to listen, or in some other way to trust in God and take a risk. 
          We read these stories in the Scriptures from thousands of years ago because God is still the same, and still acting in the same way today, after all those years.  Still alluring and inviting and calling us to follow in God’s way even when it looks crazy and ridiculous.  God is still calling you and me.   Take the risk.
AMEN.  

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday December 11, 2016

Happy Third Sunday of Advent! How time flies! Anyway, as this is the New Year of the Church I think there is still time to make a New Year’s resolution or two. And I have one that I would like to make for this new year of grace. I want to stop hearing confessions. No more hearing confessions. Period.

That might sound a little radical and over-the-top, but let me tell you how I came to this. A few weeks ago a person who I did not recognize came to me and told me about an encounter he had had recently. In another parish he approached a priest who was vested and waiting to celebrate Mass. He asked the priest if he could hear a quick confession. The priest declined, pointing out that he was ready to start Mass, and then added, somewhat emphatically apparently, that he was busy immediately after Mass and would not be able to hear his confession then either. The disappointed penitent asked me what I thought about this encounter. I’m afraid I disappointed him still further by not agreeing with him that the priest in question was derelict in his duties. Having been there myself I perhaps had more empathy for the priest then the petitioner did. I recommended to the questioner that he say a prayer for this harried priest, but that did not seem to satisfy him. I think he wanted me to assure him that his disappointment and anger at the nameless priest was justified. But I did not do that.

Anyway, this brief encounter did make me think about the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, and how we have turned it into a situation of quicky confessions. And I really don’t like quicky confessions. However, I really love celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In “confession” we put the emphasis on our confessing. It is about what we do. However, in Reconciliation the emphasis is on God. It is God who is reconciling us to Himself in His Son Jesus. The sacrament is not about us, but about God. And that is not a situation for a hurried, brusque, quick confession.

God does not play games. If we are sorry, God is anxious to forgive us. St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that there are many ways that sins are forgiven: prayer, good works, fasting, almsgiving, and especially reception of the Eucharist to name a few. Reconciliation celebrates what God is always eager and anxious to do.

Next week we will have our Advent Reconciliation Service here on Monday evening, Dec 19. I hope that you will join us. If you cannot, I hope that you will celebrate the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent.


And I will always be happy to celebrate, in an appropriate way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle A Dec 11, 2016

In the Gospel today we hear again about John the Baptist.  Just like we did the last two Sundays.  John the Baptist IS the Advent figure par excellence!
          But today’s Gospel finds John in prison.  Not only that, John seems perplexed, confused, befuddled.   Is Jesus the one or not???
          Well, obviously John cannot go and ask Jesus himself, since John is locked up.  So instead John sends his followers, his disciples to ask Jesus this very important question: “Are YOU the one we are waiting for?”   “Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”    
          I find this very curious.  I mean John the Baptist is the precursor, the one who was to go before the Lord and prepare his way.  That is John’s whole job, his entire reason for being.  And yet he is not sure if Jesus is the one or not??  
          Well, it seems that John had pretty definite ideas about what the Messiah was supposed to look like and what he was supposed to do.  And basically, the Messiah was supposed to establish God’s reign in power and majesty, primarily by smiting all the sinners, evil doers, and those who ignored God’s Will for their own will.  As we heard John declare last week in the Gospel:  the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.   I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
 
          John is a pretty forceful, fiery preacher, and he is looking for a very strong, powerful, mighty Messiah who will smite the ungodly.  John is squarely in the tradition of Old Testament Prophets of Fire and Judgement!
          But that is not what Jesus does.  Jesus announces GOOD NEWS.   Jesus preaches about God’s love.  He forgives people.  He heals people.  He eats with sinners.  He does all the wrong things according to John, and doesn’t smite a single sinner. So John is confused, and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one or not.
The early Church Fathers found this kind of embarrassing.  Shouldn’t John have known???  So they explained it by saying that John asked the question only to guide his disciples to Jesus.  That is kind of lame.  No, I think John was genuinely perplexed.  Jesus is NOT what John was expecting.
          Jesus’ answer is very interesting.  He lists His healings. ““Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight,  the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
          Instead of smiting sinners, Jesus forgives and heals them.  He does something different and unexpected, but even better.  Jesus inaugurates God’s reign not by blasting sinners and eliminating them, but by forgiving and healing them.

Personally, I find John the Baptist’s problem very reassuring.   If John the Baptist, the precursor, the one assigned to prepare the way of the Lord; if he could have difficulty recognizing Jesus, then maybe it is not so surprising that often I have a hard time recognizing Jesus.  Perhaps I can get a little slack in my failure at times to truly recognize Jesus.   Anyone else here have difficulty recognizing Jesus in your daily life?
          I think this is true because Jesus often comes in ways we don’t expect. Like John the Baptist we have rather clear ideas about what Jesus is supposed to do and be.  But Jesus is not bound by that.  Maybe Jesus comes to us as a person in need, or a bothersome relative, or even in the guise of an enemy.  Perhaps Jesus approaches us someday as a homeless person, as Jesus appeared as a beggar to St Martin of Tours.  Mother Teresa of Kolkuta saw Jesus in the dying poor.  Maybe Jesus comes to us when the Holy Spirit urges us to hold our tongue, to be a little extra generous, to be patient with our crabby neighbor.  Maybe we even see Jesus in the honesty and generosity of an atheist, or in the commitment, tenderness and love between a same sex couple. Maybe Jesus shows Himself in ways that we totally don’t expect. 
          This Advent we are called to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.  We are called to open ourselves and our lives for Him to live more fully and completely in us.  But not only in the ways we expect, but also, and perhaps even more, in the ways we don’t expect.  Jesus comes, as He did that first time so many years ago in Galilee, bringing healing, forgiveness and life.  Be prepared to be surprised.

          AMEN.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 4, 2016

Well, at long last work has begun on the renovation of our church and rectory! The initial work began last week with gutting of the old church offices on the first floor of the rectory.  In a few weeks I hope that scaffolding will go up in front of the church, and that a covered sidewalk protection will be constructed in front of the church along Guadalupe Street. Once we know the stone is on the way the demolition of the current fa├žade can begin.  

The old stone will be removed and disposed of. Most of it is grey and dingy, full of “biological growth”, the architects' polite term for mold. Besides, we anticipate that much of the stone will come off in broken pieces, not in complete slabs. So it really won’t be usable, even if we did clean it.

The stone is the critical item for the timing. The stone is coming from Florence. I think it is incumbent on me to take some time off from the parish to travel to Florence and inspect the quarrying, cutting and manufacture of the stone. I am sure you want me to go to Florence and check this out. And since Florence is just a little more than an hour’s drive north of here, about three quarters of the way to Foot Hood, it should be an easy day trip. I am, of course, referring to Florence, Texas. But we can still boast, with all honesty, that the new stone on our church comes all the way from Florence!  None of the fancy suburban parishes have anything on us!

In any case I expect the new face of our church will be something distinctive, attractive, and something we can be proud of. I can hardly wait for construction to begin.

However, there is a downside. The construction will cause dust, disruption and inconvenience. Never having done this before we do not know exactly when, or how, this inconvenience will occur. We will just have to take it as it comes, put the best face on it and soldier through. When it is all over I think we will be glad we did.


God bless! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

HOMILY SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT CYCLE A DECEMBER 4, 2016

In the Gospel today we are told that the people came to John the Baptist and were baptized “as they acknowledged their sins.”  As they acknowledged their sins.  Wow!  They must have had a lot of really bad, awful, terrible sins, don’t you think??   Oh those wicked Judeans!!!  Those sinful Israelites!
          Well, no.   I am pretty sure that they were not all that different than you and me.  After all, these are the people that went out to hear John the Baptist in the desert.   The really wicked people were too busy at home being wicked. 
          But even if these people coming to John the Baptist were basically decent folk just like us, they still had a problem with sin.  They were not perfect.  They still screwed up.  They still acted selfishly.  They still had bigotry and greed in their hearts.   They still gave into laziness, and gossip, and lust, and hardness of heart.  They still yelled at their kids, ignored their spouse, said nasty things about the neighbors, went to websites they should not go to, cheated on reimbursement requests and sometimes goofed off at work.  In other words, they were just like us.
          John the Baptist doesn’t come telling them - or us - that they are really fine, that they are not so bad, that they are OK just as they are.  Because they aren’t.  And neither are we.   They needed to acknowledge their sins and repent.   So do we. 
          John is also calling out to us:  “Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”  The way we have to prepare is not on Mopac.  The Path we must make straight is not on I-35.  Rather the way of the Lord we must make straight and smooth and ready for the Lord is in our own hearts.  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”   Advent is a special time of preparation.  Open yourself to the coming of the Christ!

Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees showed up to John, it was a different matter.  They came, not out of true repentance, but rather to be seen.  They were there to be noticed.  So everyone could see how holy and righteous they were.   John the Baptist was the popular attraction of the day and they wanted to cash in on some of his limelight.  You know the type. 
But John was not so easily fooled.   “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. “
          Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.   Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.  Don’t come parading before everyone to get baptized unless you are really going to live it out, day after day, every hour of the day. 
          The conversion we are called to is not for show, nor just for a day, but is a long-term, permanent commitment. 
          St Paul addresses this in our second reading today.  It is not just for today that we are called to repentance, but for the long-haul.  And that requires hope.  Hope energizes us for the long haul.
          St Paul states:  “Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.”   That by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.
In our fast-paced world, where we can have so many things almost instantaneously, endurance is not popular.  Endurance requires stick-to-itiveness, commitment, fortitude, and most importantly, patience.  To truly be a Christian we need endurance.  In the Christian life we must not be sprinters but marathon runners.  There are no quick fixes to the bent, twisted and broken parts of our human nature.  Letting go of lies, of selfishness, of envy and jealously, of turning away from gossip and lust and laziness, takes time and work and patient endurance.  Learning to be honest, and compassionate and generous and chaste and brave and loving requires endurance and lots of work.  Lots of work.  And it is not at all easy. 
          But in addition to endurance, St. Paul also mentions “the encouragement of the Scriptures…”   God’s Word in the Scriptures touches our hearts, breaks through the tough shell of indifference and selfishness, and softens the dry, hard fibers of our deepest self, calling us to new life and to hope. 
“…that by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”
          That we might have hope.  Hope is precious.  Without hope the situation is, well, hopeless.  Hopelessness is a very bad place to be.  False hope does not help. 
          Fortunately, our hope is very real:  forged on the cross and revealed on Easter.  We can face the future with confidence – and even joy - when we have such hope.  We look to prepare the way of the Lord in this Advent, so that for us, individually and collectively, “by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”

AMEN.