Monday, October 23, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 22, 2017

YAY, today is the Chocolate Festival! I like chocolate, which is no secret. Hope you can join us in Hecker Hall today, Sunday, from 12:45 to 2 p.m. It will be FUN and DELICIOUS! And you may even learn something about the people who grow chocolate!
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with two gentlemen from CBRE, the firm we hired to be our broker, who are working for us on the potential development project of our church and school campus. Mr. Christopher Kennedy and Mr. Chris Bell were also at the meeting. And it seems that the developers, whom our brokers had informally approached about the possibility of a development project such as ours, met with positive enthusiasm and excited interest. So the St Austin Development Committee just met this week to review the results and most probably want to continue down the road towards a possible development project of our school and parish campus. We will be meeting again with the Diocese to inform them and to seek their blessing, and then in about a month begin formally requesting proposals. It is an exciting time, and we will keep you posted as things develop. 
Meanwhile, construction continues on our church renovation project. All of the stone has been removed from the front of the church and rectory, new stone put in place, and all stone on the other sides has been patched, cleaned, and sealed. New windows have been installed in much of the rectory (wherever new stone was placed) and work continues in the first floor of the rectory. Work should be starting very soon on the new lobby, with excavation of the small space between the rectory and the church. We are still on schedule for a completion in late March, 2018. What a great Easter present!
The on-again, off-again development of the Marriot hotel where the McDonald’s used to be seems to finally be getting some steam. We are being told that demolition of the old McDonald’s building will commence on November 1. Then excavation will follow. We will see. 
We have a committee searching for a new Director of Music. I am pleased with the way many people have stepped up to help in the meantime, and so far we and getting by pretty well. THANKS to all who are making this happen with a joyful noise unto the Lord!

Your patience and understanding, with all these projects, is very much appreciated. Obviously, we could not do all of this without your help, support and cooperation. THANKS!   

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Homily Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, CYCLE A Oct 22, 2017

          In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and the Herodians together come to Jesus.  The Gospel states, “Knowing their malice, Jesus said….”    How did Jesus know they were up to no good?   Well, it did not take any special divine insight on Jesus’ part, just shrewd politics.  You see the Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies and rivals.  So to see them working together immediately would alert you that something was afoot and that it wasn’t pretty.
          So the Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus their trick question:  “is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”   They thought that they had Jesus trapped on the horns of a dilemma. If Jesus said “yes” then He would appear to be a traitor to his people, in cahoots with the Roman occupiers.  But if he said “no” the Romans would not look upon that kindly.  He was trapped either way.
          But Jesus is not so easily boxed in.  “Show me the coin used to pay the tax,” Jesus says.  Then He asks: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  
          Image and inscription.  Today Jesus could ask “whose brand and whose logo?”   That really is what Jesus is asking.  The image and the inscription on the ancient coin serve the exact same purpose as brands and logos do today.  They show what the coin is all about.
          Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars developing brands and logos, and spend millions in promoting and protecting them.  Their brands and logos are incredibly powerful and valuable.  They quickly go to court to protect them. 
          Recently I went online to check some of the most famous brands.  According to one web site the 35th most iconic corporate logo worldwide is Dunkin Donuts. 
# 29 is Lego.  #22 = Starbucks        #11 = Walmart        # 7 = McDonald’s         
#4 = Apple       #3 = Ford   #2 = Coca-Cola     and the   #1 Corporate Logo worldwide:  Nike    Anyone here have the Nike logo on your person?

          What about US??  Whose image and whose inscription is on us?  Well, we are told in the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God.  In Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27 we read:  Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. ….     God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female* he created them.”
          So we bear the image and likeness of God our Creator.  But as Christians there is even more.  By our Baptism every one of us is reconfigured in the image of Jesus Christ.  The image that we are to show forth is not any corporate image, not our own self, but rather Jesus living in us.  Our image, our “brand” if you will, is the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ.  That is the best image of all.  And our inscription, our “logo”??  Why that is none other than the Holy Spirit that has been poured into our hearts in Baptism and in our Confirmation, that confirms, or guarantees, that we are God’s own beloved children.  We could say our brand is Jesus and our logo is the Holy Spirit.  And you cannot do better than that!
          So what are we to do with all that?   Jesus gives us a succinct and powerful answer in today’s Gospel.  “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
          Ceasar represents all that is of this world, all that is about love of power and riches, all that is self-serving and proud, all that is about self-aggrandizement and Me, Me, Me.

          That is NOT our brand nor our logo.  Rather we are to give to God what belongs to God, and that means our very selves.  We belong to God.  We are created in God’s image, we are redeemed in the image of Jesus, we are sanctified and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we are to give to God our very selves. 
          My friends, we have incredible dignity as the children of God.  We are created for and by God, redeemed by Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit.  All we are, and all that we have, are God’s.  And that makes every one of us supremely loved and very precious.

          Give to God what belongs to God; your very self.       AMEN

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 15, 2017

One of the prayers we learn early on is the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” We recite it so frequently, and usually so rapidly, that we sometimes don’t pay much attention to the words that we are actually saying. I know it is easy for me to get distracted and think about what I have to do next, or some other random thought, as I pray. Even when standing up at the altar, leading the “Our Father” at Mass and facing all the people, I can easily be distracted by the people I see in the congregation. I think about this one I want to ask to do something, or this person I need to call, or that person who I don’t like, etc. So if you are anything like me, it is good occasionally to stop and pay attention to the actual words we pray.
The “Our Father” is full of pronouns. However, the words “I,” “me,” and “mine” never appear in the prayer. That alone makes it different from much of our speech. 
The first emphasis in the prayer is GOD. “YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done.” The primary emphasis is not on us, but on God. And the second emphasis is on US as a collective group. We do not pray “give me this day my daily bread” but “give US OUR daily bread.” I think that is very different for asking for MY daily bread. When we pray for us to receive our daily bread, we are praying not only for what we need but also for what our brothers and sisters and neighbors and everyone needs. To truly pray this means we are committing ourselves to work that none of our brothers and sisters–that is all humanity–goes hungry. If we say these words in prayer, but then do nothing to feed the hungry people of the world, our prayer is meaningless and empty. Our words have “traction” and meaning only if we act on them, and to pray “give US this day OUR daily bread” means we are pledging ourselves to help all in need.
Likewise, we pray “and forgive US OUR trespasses as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” To pray this way, it seems to me, means that we are not concerned solely, nor even primarily, with our own personal transgressions. The personal failings we have need to be addressed and forgiven, but this prayer teaches us to recognize our collective hardness of heart and our sin as a community. We sin in perpetuating racism and homophobia, by permitting the conditions that promote the scandal of mass shootings, of the epidemic of opioid addiction, of huge disparities in the distribution of the world’s goods, of allowing the sick and elderly to be abandoned and forgotten. How well do WE forgive those who trespass against us, not only as an individual person, but as a parish, a race, a nation, a Church? That is something to ponder.
The prayer concludes: “And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from evil. AMEN.” We do not pray for individual deliverance and protection, but for communal protection. Again, to pray this way means we are committing ourselves to protect and deliver others, if they be the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the unfortunate. Only if we do this do our words have any credibility and meaning.

I find the “Our Father” a radical and challenging prayer. I think it is meant to be so. And I hope that you find it a challenge to pray too. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 8, 2017

This past weekend we experienced another tragedy with the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Again, we are left numb with grief.
How did this happen? Why would someone do such a horrible thing? What drove this man to such despicable acts of violence and hate? What was he trying to prove? 
Living in the shadow of the UT Tower, these are questions that are very real to us, and we know that this sort of horrible event will likely occur again someday.
This sort of terrible occurrence brings us face to face with our own contingency. In spite of all our schedules, plans, preparations, and intentions, there is NO guarantee that any of us will be here tomorrow. Some senseless act of violence, some random act of terrorism, some inattention by another driver, some freak accident, may instantly end our life. 
This realization reminds us that we are NOT in control. This realization reminds us that every day is a gift. This realization reminds us not to put off the really important things of reminding our loved ones of our love and of thanking God for the gift of life. This realization helps convince us to keep the small things small. This realization reminds us of the more important bigger issues of gratitude and appreciation. This realization is, ultimately, not a downer, but a gift.

We pray for all the victims: the victims of recent natural disasters, the victims of war, the victims of terrorism, and the victims of senseless tragedies like occurred this past week in Las Vegas. We know that we too so easily can be added to the list of victims. Let us also pray for ourselves, for the wisdom to take to heart the beautiful and precious gift of life. October is pro-life month. Let us pray for a greater appreciation of all life from conception to natural death. And let us enjoy the great gift that we have.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 1, 2017

This coming Saturday, Oct. 7, has a couple of interesting things going on. First of all, we will have the annual BLESSING OF ANIMALS in the morning. Wednesday, Oct 4. is the actual feast of St. Francis of Assisi, but we always do this blessing on the Saturday closest to his feast. We get dogs and cats, and occasionally a guinea pig or a mouse. We have had police dogs, and even in the distant past a horse - or so I am told. It is a wonderful celebration, and I encourage all those with pets to come, and even if you do not have a pet you are most welcome to pray with us. 
Having recently completed a book discussion group on a book by Sr. Joan Chittister, “Two Dogs and a Parrot” subtitled “What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life,” I think this year’s blessing of pets will be more meaningful for me. Our four weeks of discussion about pets, and what the participants have received from their pets, and what they have learned about themselves and about life from their pets, will make this year’s blessing of pets a richer and more significant experience for me. God uses His creation, and especially the animals in our lives, to instruct us and help us experience positive instances of loyalty, of trust, of being needed, and especially the joy of companionship. So, I invite you to join us next Saturday for the Blessing of Animals. There are details elsewhere in this bulletin and on our parish website, www.staustin.org.
Next Saturday is also the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is historically an interesting feast, established by Pope Pius V in 1571 to commemorate a great naval victory of the Christian forces under Don Juan of Austria over the Ottoman (Muslim) naval forces that were planning to invade Europe. The Ottomans greatly outnumbered the Christians in men and in ships, but the Venetians had a secret weapon, a new kind of ship that basically was a gun platform. Thus, the Christians out-gunned the Turks and shot them to pieces. It was a terrible slaughter and something like 50,000 people lost their lives that day, with the Christians losing 17 ships and the Ottomans 137. It was a great victory for the Christians. Anyway, in the lead-up to the battle, Pope I had urged people all over Europe to pray the rosary to save Europe from the Muslim invasion. The Pope then attributed the surprising and overwhelming victory to the intercession of Mary, and established this Feast on the anniversary of the battle. 

Today we are unlikely to ask Mary’s help in conquering and slaughtering our enemies, though as a child in Catholic grade school we all prayed to Mary for the conversion of Russia. At least we had moved far enough to not want to kill our enemies but to convert them. Now we need to move further to learn how to live together on this one planet we have in mutual respect and harmony. Having just spent two weeks in a Muslim country (Morocco), I was impressed and grateful for their kind hospitality and welcome. I was also impressed by the public way they live out their religion in daily prayer. Their commitment to religious observance puts me to shame. Perhaps we make our religion too private and individual in the West, to the point of making it totally hidden and secret. In any case, there is plenty to contemplate this coming Saturday. It is good to reflect on all these things.   

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 17, 2017

A long time ago, when I was in Our Lady of Sorrows Grade School in St. Louis, MO, I tried out for the choir that sang at funerals. This was a way to get out of class, and the choir also had an annual picnic that was reputed to be lots of fun. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the mourners listening to the choir, I did not make the cut. Since then, to get even I have been singing LOUD. I may not sing well, but you will not ignore me!
One of the pieces I particularly relish singing at Mass is the “Behold the Lamb of God…” Not only is this a solo, but it is a great honor and privilege to be able to proclaim this. After all, it is based on the statement of John the Baptist (John 1:29), and according to Jesus “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist;” (MT 11:11). So this is no small thing.
When I stand at the altar, holding up the Body and Blood of Christ, and look out at all the faithful intent on the Blessed Sacrament, the solemnity and the importance of that moment always strikes me. Sometimes more than others, and at times profoundly. To be privileged to proclaim a mystery which is so central to the faith that all of us there are struggling to profess and to interiorize in our own beings, is very powerful. 
I sing this with the microphone off. I like to put myself into it, almost like a cheer at a sporting event, and I sing it out with gusto. “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!”  
Indeed, how blest are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb! This is a wonderful privilege, not to be taken lightly. What we see in the outward physical appearance of this Sacrament is such a tiny, miniscule tip of the iceberg of the overwhelming reality in which we are invited to participate. The rather flimsy host, which is only bread by definition that you would never use for a sandwich or any actual meal, and the rather ordinary wine, reveal and hide such enormous and exquisite mysteries. But even if we bought the very best brioche from some fancy artisan bakery, and wine of the best premier cru, it would still be woefully inadequate to capture the dignity and worth of this Sacrament. It is surely part of the great condescension that the Almighty shows us in Jesus to be present to us in such mundane, ordinary and rather unimpressive elements. The danger then is to begin to take them for granted. Focusing on the mystery that these common things reveal helps us to appreciate them.

And also, perhaps, to sing out with gusto like we really mean it.

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 10, 2017

Due to deadlines, I write this column while it is still August, and more importantly while the terrible images of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey are still fresh in my mind. While the rain has finally ceased in Houston, rescues continue, refugees still huddle in makeshift shelters, and the sad work of tolling up the destruction and the cost in lives, trauma and dollars has yet even to begin.
How to react to such an exceptional, unprecedented disaster? First of all, our hearts and prayers go out to all along the Gulf Coast and in the City of Houston and the surrounding areas, who lost so much: loved ones, their homes and pets, their places of business and their schools, their churches, communities, and their livelihoods. We pray that they may not lose hope.
We know that the suffering will continue for some time and that rebuilding will be arduous and long. All of us must help to the extent that we can: by our donations, our expertise, sometimes our labor, and certainly our prayers. This disaster affects us all.
Beyond that, taking a longer view, this disaster confronts us with our own limitations as human beings. While we have phenomenal accomplishments, we are not masters of our environment and our own lives. It is all still gift.
Since I came here to Austin seven years ago, most of the time we have been facing unprecedented drought. For four long, dry years, we have watched the creeks dry up, then the rivers. We saw the fields turn brown and all the landscape wither and burn. We prayed for relief in the form of rain. And finally the rains came and the drought ended.
Now we have Hurricane Harvey and way too much rain. We have either too little or way too much, demonstrating conclusively and unavoidably how little control we actually have. We are totally dependent on, and at the mercy of, the weather.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more humility. We depend on the caprice of the weather for either too little water, or too much water, or just the right amount.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more respect for the environment. Global warming makes the storms we suffer worse. Paving over more and more ground makes the run off of storms more destructive. We must live in harmony with the environment, for we are not in control.
Out of this experience, I hope we will come to a greater sense of solidarity and of how much we really depend on each other. So many of the rescues during the storm were accomplished by strangers. People who put their effort, time and even their lives on the line for people they had never met and did not know. People who responded simply because other people needed them.
Water is one of the most wonderful of creations. We ourselves are largely water. We need water to live. Too little or too much threatens our very lives. And by the waters of Baptism, we are reborn to new life as the children of God.

Let us be grateful to God for the gift of water. Let us pray for the water we need. And let us learn to help those who suffer from too much or too little of this most precious gift.

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 27, 2017

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to our St. Austin Catholic School!!! This is the school community’s 100th Anniversary Year of Celebration. For a century, our school has been turning out not only good scholars, but more importantly, also good citizens and faithful Christians. That is an accomplishment we can all be proud of and that deserves to be celebrated.
The relationship of our parish community and our parish school, like all marriages, has had some difficult times, and also lots of wonderful times. Perhaps even some boring times, but honestly, in the seven years I have been here, boring has been few and far between. 
When the school is in session the campus here comes alive with energy: motion, laughter, lines of children going back and forth to lunch, older kids running between classes, traffic snarls at drop-off and pick-up, lots of activity, commotion. It is seldom dull when school is in session!
Having the next generation of Catholics and Texans almost literally beneath our feet is a wonderful reminder of our duty to pass on the faith to the next generation. Seeing their smiling faces keeps us hopeful about the future. It instills in us a sense of time beyond just the next meeting or deadline. With the children here we see the future all around us. 

So it is most appropriate that we celebrate this milestone of 100 years! We are grateful and give thanks for the many Dominican Sisters, lay teachers, parents and students who have built the proud history and the honored legacy of St. Austin Catholic School. We recommit ourselves to the task of carrying forth this proud tradition for at least another 100 years!

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 20, 2017

By the time you read this, the demolition of the former McDonald’s restaurant to the south of our St. Austin Catholic School will probably have begun. With the able leadership of the Chair of the St. Austin School Advisory Board, Mr. Ted Smith, and with the support of the Chancellor of the Diocese of Austin, Deacon Ron Walker, and the assistance of The Drenner Group law firm, we successfully concluded our negotiations with White Lodging, the developer of the old McDonald’s site. It will become a large Marriott Hotel.
Our settlement with them included a six-figure sum for a licensing agreement with them, basically giving permission to remove a tree that is half on our property and half on theirs, and permission for a retention system for a below-grade wall for their garage that will have rods extending below our property. They are building a 250 car garage three and a half stories below ground.
And we are in receipt of these funds!
There is an additional six-figure amount placed in escrow to be used to compensate us for costs we may occur (such as need for additional cleaning) due to their construction.
While it was not what we originally requested, it is a fair settlement. It is the opinion of the School Advisory Board, and mine, that when it is all said and done, the Marriott Hotel will be a positive addition to our neighborhood. It is getting there that is the grief.
Meanwhile, the renovation of our church and rectory continues. The stone is almost complete on the church, and work has shifted to the front of the rectory. The other three sides of the church/rectory have been cleaned (don’t they look great!), patched, and then sealed. They are basically complete.
Work continues in the front half of the first floor of the rectory, where the nursery is located. The rest of the space there has been opened up to provide another meeting space for our active ministries.
You may notice that the sides of our towers are white and blue. This is NOT their final form. Metal panels are going in there. However, we had our panels manufactured with another, larger, order in order to save money. But then that order got delayed. Our panels have now arrived and are in storage. Because of the delay, we moved the scaffolding (which is expensive to rent) on to the rectory to work there. Once the scaffolding is out of the way, we will be able to bring in a boom truck (not a truck with a loud boom box, but a truck with a long arm or “boom”) and install the panels that way. So just be patient, and we will see the metal panels in autumn. I think they will make a striking difference in the exterior appearance of the church.
And as stone comes off the rectory, there should be some more for parishioners to take. Watch the base of the pecan tree next to the gym.

Hope you will join us at the Holiday Fair next weekend!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

HOMILY Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time August 27, 2017


          In our Gospel today Jesus puts a very important, indeed critical, question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”   Addressed to the disciples, that includes all of us; you and me.  In the Gospel Jesus is asking us this question; “Who do you say that I am?” 
It is time to lay our cards on the table and put it on the line.   Who do you say that Jesus is?  And that is really to ask, “What role, and what importance, does this person, Jesus, have in your life?”
          This question is very important, because how you answer that question really determines how you are going to lead your life.  If you think Jesus is a nice guy, maybe helpful sometimes, but nothing special, you will lead your life one way.  But if you believe He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, verily God in the flesh, the Fullness of Life, then you obviously are going to want to follow Him much more closely in all the parts of your life.
          It is interesting, to me at least, where Jesus pops this question to the disciples.  Usually when someone asks a very critical question, like “Will you marry me?” some thought and planning goes into WHERE the question will be asked.  It may be a fine restaurant, a romantic location, some spot significant to the couple.  It is usually not broached in the aisle of a grocery store, or in a laundromat or on a parking lot. 
          In the same way, for an important, pivotal moment like this, a critical moment of decision, of declaring our allegiance, I would think that Jesus might go up on a mountain top.  Mountain tops seem to be very special, holy places for Jesus.  He likes to go there to pray.  He is transfigured on a mountain top.  Mountain tops are special to Jesus and for this special question I would expect Him to go there.  But He doesn’t.

          Or perhaps Jesus would go to the Holy City of Jerusalem, site of the Temple, God’s Holy City.   But Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for this important and solemn question.
          Anyone remember where Jesus goes to ask his disciples this question, “Who do you say that I am?”    //      According to our Gospel, “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi…”  That is where Jesus chose to put this question.           ¿Where the heck is Caesarea Philippi?    
          Well, interestingly, it is way up north, 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, out of Jewish territory, into pagan lands.   Caesarea Philippi was an entirely Gentile, that is non-Jewish, community.  It was built around a cave from which a stream flowed, one of the main sources of the River Jordan.  At the cave was a famous shrine dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and to Nymphs, and it was associated with fertility rites.  King Herod the Great had built a temple there, before Jesus was born, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, pretending the emperor was a god.  Hence the name Caesarea Philippi. 
          This is a strange place for Jesus to be asking such a critically important question.  It is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus goes there.  It would be like Jesus going to some totally secular location, like Wall Street or Times Square, or more locally like Jesus going down to some of the more active stretches of 6th Avenue in Austin, a place where there are pans and nymphs and sometimes fertility rites, or at least so I am told.   Why would Jesus pick such a non-religious, totally secular, even unholy place to address this critical question of just who do you say that I am? 
          I don’t think it is by accident.   I think Jesus chose this location, Caesarea Philippi, on purpose.   Because that is where our answer really counts. 
          You see it is one thing to come to Church on Sunday, sing the hymns, say the prayers, stand up, sit down, kneel, go through the actions and say, “Oh Jesus is the Lord of my life.  He is the ONE.”   That is nice, but it doesn’t cost much.
          But it is another thing altogether when you are at home, and the kids are on your nerves, and your spouse is in a foul mood, and the air conditioning breaks, to really say and really mean, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And therefore I am going to live like YOU are the center of my life.  That takes commitment.
          And in the market place, when we go shopping, and we make all sorts of ethical decisions by what we purchase and where we shop, it is a whole other thing to say You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Then we have to consider if we are supporting a store that pays its employees a living wage.  Are we buying goods produced by child labor or in sweat shops?  Are we spending money on frivolities and that money could be used to help others?   How much are we giving in to consumerism?  When you are shopping who do you say Jesus is?
          And at work, it is a whole other thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Because if you really mean that then you need to forgo the juicy office gossip around the water-cooler.  And you may not be able to pad expense accounts like if you did not say that.  And you would need to seek to enact company policies that are fair and legal and respectful of the environment.  And you would need to treat your employees and your fellow co-workers not just as economic units but as children of God.
           And in the public forum and in politics to really say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is a whole different thing, that means eschewing the politics of separation, of labeling others, of pandering to people’s fears and of the leaders that divide, and instead, to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, means seeking justice, and care for the victim and the oppressed, and working for respect and peace.

          You see it is one thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” here in church, but another thing altogether to say it and mean it in Caesarea Philippi, in all the rest of your life.  But that is where Jesus wants to meet you, where Jesus calls you to be a disciple: not here in church, not on the mountain top, not in the Jerusalem temple, but in all the Ceasarea Philippi’s in your life.  Everywhere out there.  That is where Jesus comes and asks you, “Who do you say that I am?”    

Monday, August 14, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 6, 2017

We have some important liturgical celebrations this week. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. This Feast goes back to the 5th century where it was celebrated in Syria, a country that is now in serious need of transfiguration. The Feast, however, was not added to the liturgical calendar of the universal church until 1457, when Pope Calistus III had the Transfiguration added to commemorate the victory of Christian forces against the Turks at the siege of Belgrade. Pope Calistus (or Calixtus) had worked diligently to organize a crusade to stop the invading Turks. He was also the Pope responsible for the re-trail and exoneration of St. Joan of Arc. She had originally been condemned as heretic in a trumped-up trial by the English after her capture. So today would be a good day to pray for improvement of Muslim-Christian relations. We worship the same God, and both claim Abraham as our father.
Tuesday, we get to honor the Dominicans as we celebrate the Feast of their founder, St. Dominic. 
Wednesday is the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known by her civilian name of Edith Stein. Born Jewish, she became inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, was baptized, and eventually entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites. Because of the Nazi persecution of Jews, she was moved to a convent in Holland, but during the Nazi occupation of Holland she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered on August 9, 1942. 
On Friday, we have a chance to honor the Franciscans as we celebrate the Feat of St. Clare, disciple and follower of St. Francis of Assisi, and founder of the Poor Clares.
But I want to focus on the Saint we celebrate on Thursday, St. Lawrence, and primarily he was a deacon. During the persecution of the Emperor Valerian in 258, Lawrence was arrested by the Romans. The Romans knew enough about Christianity to know that the deacons were the ones who handled all the finances of the church, because the deacons administered charity to the poor. So the Romans told Lawrence to go out and collect all the treasures of the church and bring them back in three days’ time. When the time elapsed, Lawrence showed up with a crowd of elderly, lame, sick, poor people. “Where are the treasures of the church?” the Roman authorities demanded, looking for silver and gold and rich vestments. Lawrence pointed to the crowd of the sick and poor people and said, “These are the treasures of the church.” That, of course, only angered the Romans, and so they executed Lawrence in a very dreadful way, by roasting him on a gridiron. 
Anyway, I would like to make two points about this. First of all, would that we could see the people we help through St. Vincent de Paul Society and through our Thursday Outreach program, through Casa Marianella and St. Louise House and Mary Catholic Worker House, and all the charitable organizations we support, not as burdens or drains on our charity, but truly as treasures of the church. And secondly, to note that St. Lawrence was not a priest or bishop, but a permanent deacon. In the early church, the diaconate was an important position in the church structure. Many historians believe that the diaconate fell out of favor because the deacons were so important and so powerful, controlling the money. In the Middle-Ages, the power struggle over who controlled the money between the priests and the deacons led to the suppression of the permanent diaconate. The priests won. 

But one of the many wonderful things Vatican Council II did was re-institute the permanent diaconate. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of the re-institution of the permanent diaconate in the church. And a great boon to the church this has been, especially in this country. So as you pray on Thursday, pray in thanksgiving for the return of the permanent diaconate to our church, and pray for more men to take up this service to the people of God.   

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A August 13, 2017

In our second reading today, from St Paul to the Romans, St Paul reveals that he has a problem.  He states: “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; … that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.”   A bit melodramatically St Paul even states: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ..”  WHY?   “… for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
          You see, many of St. Paul’s own people, that is, the Jews, or “Israelites” as St. Paul calls them, did not recognize, nor believe in, Jesus as the Messiah.  They did not have faith.  And this upset St. Paul.
          We may not be quite so melodramatic as was St. Paul, but still, plenty of believers do have sorrow and anguish in their hearts for the sake of their own people, their kindred according to the flesh, who do not practice any religion.  Many of us have siblings, or parents, or children, or a spouse, or good friends and neighbors, who have no interest in religion.  They often are not hostile to religion, but they have no felt need for the benefits of religion, and no interest in participating in any religious activity.
          Many parents have the regret, the heartache, of having striven to give a good example of living the faith to their children, of sending them to Catholic School or to religious education, of driving them to Confirmation classes, dragging them to church every Sunday, only to have the child cease any religious activity, except maybe for Christmas and Easter with the parents, once the child is on their own and able to make their own decisions. 
          Often, these loved ones are not mad or angry or hostile to the church and religion.  It is just that they have no felt need for what we offer.  And for those of us who do find joy and peace and a sense of purpose and meaning in our religion, it is a great sorrow that those we love apparently do not experience these graces. 
          And so we can identify with St. Paul in his “great sorrow and constant anguish in (his) heart.”  
          I believe however that we can take some consolation from our first reading today.  I find it a mysterious but attractive reading.  The Prophet Elijah has gone to the mountain of God, Horeb.  This is the exact same mountain where Moses received the tablets of the Law, Mt. Sinai.  Mt Sinai and Mt Horeb are two names for the same place, like “Town Lake” and “Lady Bird Lake” are two names for the same body of water, which is really the Colorado River.   
          What was Elijah doing way down there in the Sinai Peninsula?  // He was running for his life!  He had angered the wicked queen Jezebel, and she was out to have him killed.  So he ran.  And Mt. Horeb – Mt. Sinai is where he was hiding out.  By this time Elijah is tired, afraid, disgusted, dejected and ready to give up.  So God is going to strengthen Elijah by revealing God’s presence to Elijah. 

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind. 
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire. 
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. 
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak.

[Pause]    Perhaps some of our loved ones who seem to not have the gift of Faith are looking in all the wrong places:  in the heavy, rock-crushing wind; in earthquakes; in fire; and in other spectacular and dramatic signs and events.  But that is not where Elijah experienced God, and often that is true for us and our loved ones as well.
          We find God rather in the tiny whispering sound.  The sound of our own longings and desires, the subtle sound of our greatest hopes that we are afraid even to admit; of the impossible dream of a universe that is not only intelligent and purposeful but that loves us deeply and dearly, of an infinite destiny where Love is all. 
          That “tiny whispering sound” is often our lived example.  Not dramatic, flashy, attention-grabbing Bible waving and Hosanna-shouting, but our example of quiet, consistent, faithful living witness.
And when they are ready, they will hear.

          God bless!  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 23, 2017

This coming Wednesday, July 26, is the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. They are the reputed parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so are the grandparents of Jesus. Sts. Joachim and Anne are not mentioned in the Bible, but they are mentioned in an early Christian work with the infelicitous title of The Protoevangelium of James. This was a popular work, written around the year 150, in the form of a gospel.  (There were many gospels such as of Peter, of Jude, of Mary Magdalene, etc. that floated around for several centuries, but were not included in the Bible. Many of these had strains of a heresy called Gnosticism.) In any case, The Protoevangelium of James provided all sorts of details about the early life of Mary and of Jesus, many that still inform our Christmas traditions today. You can read this document for yourself (an English translation that is) at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm. But I digress.
Jesus also had grandparents on Joseph’s side as well. They never played much of a part in Christian imagination about the young Jesus, perhaps because traditionally Joseph was a widower and an old man when he married Mary, and so his parents were presumably already deceased. St. Matthew in his gospel gives us the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph, and tells us that Joseph’s father was named Jacob (Mt 1:16). Jacob may not have as much of a role in popular Christian imagination as that of Mary’s father, Joachim, but at least Jacob got mentioned in the Bible. 
On the other hand St. Luke gives us a genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, which is quite a feat of record-keeping! St. Luke lists Joseph’s father, Jesus’ grandpa, not as Jacob as St Matthew does, but as Heli (Lk 3:23). Are Jacob and Heli the same guy? If not, then they cannot both be the father of St. Joseph, and in that case, either Luke or Matthew was mistaken. Since there were no DNA paternity tests in those days, we will have to wait to find out. But the identity of St. Joseph’s father doesn’t really matter to our salvation, so I would not lose any sleep over it. 
Neither St. Matthew nor St. Luke bothers to mention St. Joseph’s mother. Another case of blatant patriarchy. 
In any case, I think it is a good idea to remember, pray for, and thank our grandparents when we celebrate the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday. There is an official Grandparents Day, which is the Sunday after Memorial Day, this year September 10, but I always wonder if this is not something thought up and promoted by greeting card companies. I think the religious feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne is a more fitting time to appreciate and thank our grandparents, and indeed all our forbearers. Some of them may have been less than stellar characters. Remember that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and he was an adulterer and murderer. Every family closet has at least a few skeletons hiding in the corners. Nonetheless, we would not be here if it were not for our ancestors, so as we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday, let us also remember, pray for, and give thanks for all our ancestors.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Homily 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A July 23, 2017

          Since Vatican Council II we have been observing a three year cycle of readings.  You all know that, right?   And this year we are now in year ????  Creatively named “Cycle A.”  And mostly we hear from the Gospel according to Matthew in this cycle.  Next year is Mark, then the following year is Luke, and the Gospel of John comes in during Easter season and sprinkled throughout the year.  But this year is MATTHEW.  And so that is why we hear today the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  Because ONLY Matthew tells us this parable.  Mark, Luke and John either didn’t know this parable, or they didn’t like it, or they simply skipped it.  Only Matthew tells it.
          Why?  What was going on with Matthew’s community that he thought this was a good parable to include?   Well I would like to hazard a guess.  Scripture scholars think, and are pretty well convinced, that Matthew was writing his Gospel for a mixed community of Jewish Christians and pagan gentile Christians.  We don’t need to go into all the reasons Scripture scholars are convinced of that, there are hundreds of books about it if you are interested, but let’s just accept that that was the pastoral reality Matthew was dealing with when he wrote his Gospel.  A diverse community of Christians of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. 
          Now Jews and gentiles, sorry to say, throughout the ancient world, often did not get along.  Even today, Jews and some other groups do not get along, conflict with each other, look down on each other, and persecute each other, usually the Jews being the weaker player in this.   Except in Palestine.  But I digress.
          So we know, that there were tensions in St. Matthew’s community.  Although everyone in St. Matthew’s community was baptized, and was Christian, and a follower of Jesus, there could still be tensions and
difference in ways of doing things between the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians.  We know from the letters of St. Paul this was often quite contentious, especially over the requirement of circumcision, and was it really necessary? 
          So given the possibility of, and indeed the probably of, the presence of division in his community, St. Matthew includes this parable in his Gospel. 
          Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field…..”   This is about the Kingdom of heaven.  The Son of Man (that is, Jesus) sows good seed, the Word of God.  And the field?   That is the church.  The field of God is the church.  And then comes the evil one and sows weeds.   The evil one sows them, not in the world; the weeds have been there already, but rather in the field of the kingdom of heaven, that is, in God’s field, the church.
          This parable is about the weeds in the church.  Look around.  See all those fine, stalwart Christians, everyone a saint!  But hiding in there, looking pious, are certainly some weeds.  Right in the heart of this holy and committed Christian community of St. Austin Catholic parish there could be some sinners.  Some people that don’t believe quite right.  Some weeds. 
          Where did they come from?  And most importantly, what should we do about it?
          Oh yes!  There are some weeds!  Some people who think and vote the wrong way.  In one pew there are probably some people thinking, “Yes, some of these people watch Fox news and voted for Trump!”  They are weeds in our beautiful field of progressive wheat.   And in another pew others are thinking, “Yes, some of these people watch MSNBC and voted for Hillary!”  They are liberal weeds in our beautiful field of orthodox wheat. 
          Parishioners here have different thoughts and ideas about politics, about same-sex relationships, about militarization and defense, about ecology and climate change, about gender roles, about women priests, about health care, even about Longhorns and Aggies.  Everybody’s got a list of weeds.  And we know they are right here in this room.
          What should we do?   Should we pull them up and expel them from our midst, and make our parish once again a shining beacon on a hill? 
          Nope.   Jesus in the parable tells us:  His slaves (that’s us) said to him,
'Do you want us to go and pull them up?
'   Should we throw them out of our church?  Should we have a parish of all like-minded people so we can easily be at peace?  Show the world an example of perfect harmony?
“He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”
          Jesus does not give us the easy way out.  We have to show the world that we are the field of God not because we are all alike, not because we all think and believe the same way, not because we value the same things, but because we all respect and honor each other.  And that is a lot tougher.
          The judgement is not ours. We are too prone to mistakes, to over-reacting, to misreading situations, to not considering all the consequences.   The judgement belongs not to us but to God.  “Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
"First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn."  
          In this society where people segregate themselves by the television they watch, the groups they join, the news they read and watch, the neighborhood they live in, and in so many other ways, our little parish here is called to be a witness to a different way of being.  Not separating into different interest groups, but called to be the field of God.  A field that has, and indeed welcomes, wheat and weeds, left and right, red and blue, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, Longhorns and yes, even Aggies. 

          The Gospel today teaches us not to judge.  That is God’s job.  Our job is to love.   AMEN.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 16, 2017

You may have noticed that at the beginning of the month the McDonald’s on MLK closed. What is coming in its place is a 15 story hotel. It will have two brands of the Marriott Hotel chain in one building. I believe it will be both a Marriott and an Autograph hotel. The developer of this project is a group out of Indiana called White Lodging. They own and operate a number of hotels in Austin, more than 25. 
The old McDonald’s lot is only 7 tenths of an acre. So they are squeezing this hotel in with a shoe horn. Their building will come up directly to our property line next to the school. The distance from their wall and the facing wall of the school is about four feet. One interesting possibility is the idea of paving that area and having a walkway from our garage back to the alley and so on to the front of our church. Obviously, during construction you will not be able to cut through the McDonald’s lot to the front of our church. The passage through the blacktop however still works. 
Not only are the developers building up, but they are also going down three and a half stories for underground parking. This hole will be immediately adjacent to our property. Therefore, we have some concerns.
They claim they can construct this project without our help, but it would be cheaper and more profitable if they can get our agreement to let them put tie-backs under our school during the construction of their garage wall along our property. There is also a “heritage tree” that is half on our property and half on theirs that requires our permission to remove. And of course we have many concerns about noise, dust, traffic, safety, crane swing, possible damage to our building, etc. 
Once the project is completed we believe it will be a positive addition to our neighborhood. But in the meantime we want to make sure their project does not negatively impact us, or if it does, that we will be appropriately compensated for our loss and hassle. Since the developer is a very large company with a not entirely stellar reputation in Austin, the School Advisory Board and the parish have engaged land use attorneys from the Drenner Group to represent us. With them and White Lodging we worked through a license agreement for the tiebacks, etc. We then presented them with a dollar figure of X which we thought would make us whole. They responded with a figure exactly one tenth of X. So some negotiation was required.
On Thurs., June 30 we had a meeting at the offices of their attorneys, Armbrust & Brown PLLC on Congress Avenue. Representing our side was Steve Beuerlein, chair of the St Austin Property Comm., Ted Smith, chair of the School Advisory Board, Tara Cevallos, the new St Austin School Principal, Steve Drenner, and a couple others from the Drenner Group. Also with us and very helpful was the Chancellor of the Diocese of Austin, Deacon Ron Walker. On their side was Patrick Carlson from their law firm, Dino Yiankes the President and CEO of development for White Lodging, Adam Estes their local project manager, and a few others. 
It was interesting to watch. I said nothing. I was simply there to “show the collar” as Deacon Ron Walker said. Ted Smith gave a very good explanation of our situation, our desire to see the project move forward, but our need to not incur any loss because of this project. After an hour or so of posturing and inflated statements, they withdrew and our side caucused among ourselves. They did the same. When we came back together, over lunch, there was a more amenable tone. Each side moved some, but still not to a point of agreement. Sufficient progress was made so that it was agreed the lawyers could work out the last hurdles. 

So for the next two years I expect that there will be construction on the old McDonald’s site. This means some disruption and inconvenience in the form of traffic, lane closures, dust, noise, and construction. Austin is changing, and changing dramatically. We will do everything we can at the parish and school to minimize disruption. We have been scouting out options and thinking of creative possibilities. But just as we are getting through our own renovation project with patience and understanding, we will need the same with our new neighbor to the school.  

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 9, 2017

Have you ever reflected on our Parish Mission Statement? Yes, we have one. It is not that long and is conveniently printed on the front of the bulletin each week. You should read it.
Looking at it recently, I was surprised that it says nothing about proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, or in other words, evangelizing. The Paulists have served this parish since its founding in 1908, and the Paulists like to talk a lot about evangelization, that is why I was surprised. The Parish Mission Statement does state that “… we strive…to manifest God’s transforming love in the world….”, which is pretty close to proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel. I guess. 
As a Catholic parish, and especially as a Paulist parish, I would argue that we have a special obligation and responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to our area. We should be preaching, by example as well as by word, the Good News for God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
So how are we doing? This is not easy to measure. We cannot read people’s hearts. But we do have some indications. People still come here to church. Every year we welcome in a few new members through the RCIA. Each year more children are Baptized, make their First Communion, and are Confirmed. Our St. Vincent de Paul and Thursday Outreach program reach out to many in need. And all of that is very good.
But there are a LOT of people we still don’t touch. Perhaps we don’t very convincingly proclaim Good News. A lot of people, due to the news media and the culture wars, associate religion with bad news, with a lot of rules and “thou shall not” statements. Although I think we generally present a fairly friendly, welcoming and accepting community, it takes a while to experience that.
I get the impression that some people don’t feel any need for what we are selling. They are fairly content with their life, with their understanding of themselves and their place in the world, and don’t see, or more importantly feel, the need for the Gospel. They don’t see any need for religion in their life and do fine without it. They are basically good people and their lives are so full of stuff already that there isn’t time and energy to add church to the list. Maybe our biggest obstacle to evangelization is busyness. 
I encourage you to use every opportunity you have to do what our parish mission statement says: “to manifest God’s transforming love in the world”.  

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 2, 2017

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! This coming Tuesday we celebrate the birth of our nation on the 4th of July. As I do most every year at this time, I want to reflect on the virtue of Patriotism and the corresponding vice of Nationalism. Given all the recent political brouhaha in our country, it seems a particularly good time to do so.
Patriotism is the virtue which embodies a healthy and realistic love of country. The true patriot yearns for the United States of America to be the best country it can be, to live up to the noble and inspiring sentiments that gave it birth, namely the freedom of all people to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The patriot is grieved when our country, either in its internal affairs or in its foreign policy, fails to live up to these ideals but rather plays games of power politics and shrewd self-interest. The patriot works to better America, not hesitating to criticize the government, but always out of concern, never out of scorn or derision. The patriot wants America to take its rightful place in the community of nations, contributing to the betterment of all humanity by the shining light of the example of a free and responsible people. 
Nationalism on the other hand, is the vice that seeks to make America first in wealth and power at the expense of others, who believes in the slogan “My Country, right or wrong”, who argues that if you are not with me you are against me. Nationalism is an unhealthy pride that derides others because it sees them as a threat. It tolerates no criticism of the United States because it has too weak a grasp of the transcendent principals that are the foundation of the country. All it can grasp are power and advantage. Nationalism separates and divides peoples, and is prone to violence. Not all who wave the flag and wear lapel flag pins are patriots. Some are unrepentant nationalists.
I firmly believe that the best defense against the vice of nationalism is not some kind of sophomoric, critical anti-Americanism, but rather a healthy sense of patriotism. The more we cherish and develop our patriotism, the less likely we are to slip into the quagmire of nationalism. A proper love of our country is by far the best defense against the hubris and pride of nationalism. 

So as we prepare to celebrate this Independence Day, I encourage you to exercise your Patriotism. Bring it out and wear it proudly. Give it a run around the block. Remember and reflect on the noble words of the Declaration of Independence that enshrine the principals on which this country is founded, and re-commit yourself to working for them. Happy 4th of July!