Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 24, 2017

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. We’re 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!!!   

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 17, 2017

Oh my God! It is almost Christmas! Where did the time go?  
Anyway, it is time for CHRISTMAS PRESENTS!!! And I am hoping for, and our construction crews are trying to make happen, some presents for our parish family.
With any luck, by Christmas Eve we will have the lighting of the rose window facing Guadalupe Street. Look for it to be lit after dark. It is a pretty window, and I think, when it is lit, it will give us more presence on the Drag and help our building to look more like a church. Merry Christmas!
The metal sconces on the front of the church will be in and lit. They are beautiful! One represents St. Paul the Apostle–patron of the Paulist Fathers–and the other represents St. Augustine of Canterbury–patron of our parish. These beautiful additions to our fa├žade were made by artist Lars Stanley of Stanley Studio here in Austin and are genuine works of art. 
Finally, we will have the new back door, and just in time as the current one is ready to fall apart! This beautiful and noble door proclaims that this is the entrance to a church, not the back door to a warehouse or factory. In fact, this door will now be so attractive that “back” door is no longer suitable name for this entrance. Therefore I ask you to please begin referring to this entrance as the “Deacon’s Door,” since this is where our deacons exit after Mass to greet people leaving Mass. 
Next Sun., Dec. 24, will be hectic. Nonetheless, I plan that after the 5 p.m. Mass on Sat., Dec. 23, and after the 7:30, 8:45, and 11:30 a.m. Masses on Sun., Dec. 24, we will have a formal Blessing of the new door. This is the official Order of Blessing of New Church Doors from the Book of Blessing. It should take about 4 or 5 minutes. So plan to stay for the blessing.

Thanks to all our generous donors and all who have worked so hard to make the renovation of our church building such a success. We look forward to a formal blessing and dedication of the entire renovation project on Sun., May 27, which is the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury.   

Monday, December 18, 2017

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 17, 2017

          For my homily today I would like to look at our second reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians.  What we have is part of the conclusion of that letter.  And so St Paul, as he ends the letter, gives a kind of quick summary and re-cap of his previous themes in the letter.
          Paul states:  Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
          So far, so good. Then St. Paul says:  Do not quench the Spirit.”   That is kind of an odd statement.  What does he mean?  “Do not quench the Spirit.”  
          I presume he means not to stifle the Holy Spirit, not to extinguish or suppress the Holy Spirit.   It is kind of an odd piece of advice.
          “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Why would you do that anyway?  Many times the Holy Spirit comes to us bringing a sense of peace, of consolation, of comfort, of assurance of God’s love and care for us.  Why would you quench something like that?   Would you not rather say, “bring it on!”  We all long and look for those kind of experiences of the Spirit, and certainly would not shun or quench them.
          But there is another way the Holy Spirit comes to us.  Not as a warm comforting fire in midst of the cold indifference of life, but rather as a scorching, burning fire of command.  Not as a cool gentle breeze of comfort and reassurance, but a howling gale, a tempest of great wind pushing us in a direction we do not at all want to go.  Not as a cool draught of clear, refreshing water to slake our thirst for God, but as a burning thirst for holiness, for righteousness, for truth, for intimacy with God.  
          Then the temptation is to turn away from the Holy Spirit, to stifle the impulses to greater generosity when during this season we are overwhelmed by appeals:  to get up off our rear ends and volunteer to tutor, or help build homes for others at Habitat for Humanity;  to participate in the St Vincent de Paul Christmas Basket Project;  to examine our conscience, skip our favorite TV program and attend and participate in the Advent Penance Service on Monday;  to write our elected officials about the church’s stances on welcoming the immigrant and the stranger, and protection of all human life from conception to natural death;  to accept and foster the urge to pray more and pray regularly;  to take time to read and pray over Scripture;  to reach out to the lonely neighbor;  to take the opportunity of Christmas to reach out in forgiveness and healing to estranged family members;  to bury the hatchet and move beyond past hurts;  to truly listen and open yourself to – not your will – but God’s Will for you.  “Do not quench the Spirit.”
          A long time ago when I was in college as an undergraduate, I had a plan for myself and that was to become an attorney, and possibly go into politics.  The Spirit had a different idea.  It took some time - a couple of years, and some struggle -  but eventually the Spirit won, and that is why I am standing here before you today.  And I certainly have had a great time.
          All of us have to struggle when the Holy Spirit wants to lead us some place we don’t want to go.  It happens practically every day.  We are lazy, and contented, and often afraid.  The Holy Spirit will have none of it.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be other-centered, generous, honest, brave, indeed holy.  That takes work.

          The temptation is to resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings:  To stifle, suppress, extinguish, quench the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But the Holy Spirit is the greatest of all gifts and possessions.
          Do not quench the Holy Spirit.  As the most interesting man in the world is fond of saying on TV, “Stay thirsty my friends.”  Thirsty for the Holy Spirit! 
God Bless! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 10, 2017

In keeping with the observation of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Austin, as well as the centennial of the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Bishop Joe Vasquez has decided, upon recommendation of the Priests’ Council, to mark the occasion with the dedication of the Diocese of Austin to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are doing so this Sunday, December 10.
What is this???? It is certainly not anything I would have thought of doing. It is a type of action more popular in the past, especially prior to Vatican Council II, but not so much in recent times. Indeed, in my nearly 40 years of priesthood have I never run across a dedication of a parish, organization, or diocese to Mary or any other saint. So it seems, at least to me, a bit odd and rather unusual. So what is it?
It is first of all a prayer. A rather long prayer, but still a prayer. This prayer, printed in our worship aid, will be prayed at each Mass this weekend. You are free, and indeed encouraged, to use the prayer for yourself and your family in your home.
It is also a pledge or commitment. By dedication of our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary we are pledging ourselves to strive to act more in accordance with the Will of God, as Mary did. She becomes our example in how to live. Especially in the section that states: “Assist us to defend the sanctity of marriage and the family. Teach us to preserve and nurture the dignity of every human being as children of God.” We are hereby committing ourselves to act in certain ways, fostering the dignity of every human being.
It is an expression of hope. As we pray “Awaken in each of us a desire to draw ever closer to your beloved Son” we are expressing our desire to live more and more as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, with Mary as our spiritual mother.
Finally, it is a reminder. This dedication is an opportunity to remind us our special relationship to Jesus and to His Mother Mary. It is therefore a reminder that we are called and empowered to be, and to live, as the children of God. 

In these ways, the dedication of our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary makes sense, but ONLY if we live it out.

Monday, December 11, 2017

HOMILY Second Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 10, 2017

Today in the Gospel we meet the strange and wild character of John the Baptist.  He is dressed funny: wearing a camel’s hair suit and a leather belt.  Some of you may have a camel hair jacket.  I have a leather belt.  John’s culinary tastes are even stranger: he dines on locusts and wild honey”.   
          But what is most intriguing is his location, where John is at.   Mark tells us John the Baptist appeared in the desert.”     The desert?  What desert?   The Negev?  The Sahara?  The Mohave or Sonoran desert?    Mark just tells us “the desert”. 
          John appears proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
That is the clue to the desert where John appears. 
          It is not a physical desert, not any desert you will find on a globe or on a map, a desert where life struggles because of a lack of water, like we have seen in droughts in Texas.  That kind of desert is bad enough.  But the desert where John appears is far, far worse, and much, much closer to us: in our own hearts.  Because, this is a spiritual desert: a dry, barren waste, where life struggles because of a lack of spirit, of justice, of forgiveness, of love. 
          Wherever there are dry, barren, hard places in our heart, places that are empty of life and love, that is the desert where John the Baptist appears.
It is a desert of hard, barren earth made sterile by bitterness, by envy, by prejudice and pride.  It is a land filled with the scorpions of lust, the prickly cacti of revenge and hate, and snakes full of the venom of greed and hard-heartedness.  It is a barren waste lacking in honesty and integrity,  chastity, and honor; where virtue is all dried up and listless, like dead, dried-up bones on the sand. 
          It is that desert where torture is acceptable as a means of national policy;  where services for the poor, the sick and the elderly are cut while the expenditures on armaments grow and fester;  where cheating is considered normal;  where lying is usual and common;  where other people become objects to be used;  where the stranger and the foreigner are seen as a threat.
          It is the wasteland where gossip is sought and prized; where greed and consumerism are extolled; where indifference and self-centeredness are the order of the day.    Indeed it is a barren, lifeless, onerous place.
          It is into this desert, the desert in our hearts, that John the Baptist appears, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
          In this Advent, right here and now, John the Baptist appears in your heart.  LISTEN!  Do you hear it?    “A voice of one crying out in the desert:  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." !!!      .John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   
          Repentance is like a life-giving spring in the middle of the desert, refreshing, soothing, healing, bringing life and joy.  Repentance cracks the hard soil of indifference and fear, and allows life to grow again in integrity, compassion, generosity, service and love.
          That is what we look for:  what our deepest, truest selves yearn for.   St. Peter in our 2nd reading today instructs us:  “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”    
          No longer a desert, no longer a barren wasteland, our hearts will be “ a new heavens and a new earth,”  blooming and fruitful with righteousness.   St Peter urges us:  
“Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”
          Repentance and conversion are how we prepare for the coming of the Lord.   Not at some time in distant ages or in some exotic land far away, but here, now, right inside us. 
His coming will be glorious, for the dry, barren places in our hearts will then blossom with righteousness and joy!  

Maranatha!   Come, Lord Jesus!  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirty Third Sunday in Ord Time Cycle A November 19, 2017

We just heard this long Gospel.   Do you like it?   What do you think? 
          I don’t much care for it.  It kind of frightens me.  The reason is more that I have to preach on this Gospel, and I think it can be very easily mistaken to sound like you need to earn your salvation;  you need to show a profit and that salvation is a reward for works righteousness. 
          You worked hard, invested yourself wisely, made a profit, SO….. welcome to the Kingdom of God.  OR You didn’t work hard and showed no profit, like the third servant, and so then you are thrown into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
          One could, rather easily I think, mistake this Gospel for an endorsement of salvation by works.  And that is a heresy called “Pelagianism”.    And especially  here in Texas, where we have a respect for people who earn their own way and pull themselves us by their bootstraps, that sense of self-sufficiency can subtly carry over into wanting to earn our own salvation. 
          But being a Paulist, I have a concern for St Paul’s insistence that salvation is a free gift, that ALL is grace, that we are saved not by our goodness but by God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, which makes us good.   And I fear I could end up preaching a homily exhorting you to strive to do good and invest your talents well, which I think is NOT the real point of this Gospel.
          I think the key to understanding the Gospel is FEAR.
The third servant fails to act out of fear.  Over and over again in the Scriptures, fear is the enemy.   The most repeated injunction in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.”  Fear is the enemy.
          The first two servants act with confidence, boldness, daring, risk-taking, and they make a profit.  They do not act out of fear.
          I really would like to re-write this Gospel and introduce a fourth servant.  And let’s say he gets three-and-a-half talents, so we can distinguish him from the others.  And this three-and-a-half talent servant went off and invested his talents just like the first two.  And he acted with the same boldness and the same intelligence as the first two, BUT his investments did not turn out.  Through no fault of his own, but due rather to something way beyond his control - a natural disaster, a foreign war, a blight on the crops - something he had nothing to do with and could not foresee, he lost the entire three-and-a-half talents.  He is broke.
          How would the master judge him?  Because as everyone who owns stocks knows, not every investment succeeds.  And sometimes it is due to circumstances beyond our control.  However, this three-and-a-half talent servant showed all the same gumption and ability to take a risk that the five and the two talent guys showed.  So how would the master judge him?
          I would argue that the Master, gruff and tough demanding curmudgeon that he is, would still praise this three-and-a-half talent servant for his industry and engagement.  He was involved in life.
          You see the real enemy is not loss, but fear.  Fear paralyzes us just as it paralyzed that one talent fellow. 

          Stinginess is a type of fear, that immobilizes and freezes us up.   Greed does the same thing.  Racial prejudice, homophobia and dislike of immigrants and refugees is a type of fear.  Self-centeredness is fear.  And all that stops us from investing the gifts, the talents, the compassion, the concern, the love we have is FEAR.  
          The one talent servant is not condemned because he failed to make a profit, but because he acted out of FEAR. 
          Over and over again the Scriptures tell us, DO NOT BE AFRAID.
          Today we have a very special second collection:  for the Campaign for Human Development.  There are those in the church and in society who are afraid of this collection, afraid of the effort to lift up dis-advantaged people and help them become self-sufficient, self-determining, and contributing members of society.  It is a shame.  I ask you to overcome fear and respond generously to our second collection today.
          We cannot be afraid.  We have been given great gifts in faith, in the promise of salvation in Jesus, and in the knowledge of God’s love for us.  {{At this Mass we welcomed Majida into the Catechumenate, and Zachary, Clayton, Payton, Michael and Ryan we welcomed into the process of becoming Roman Catholic.}} 
We need not to tell them, but rather to show them, how not to live in fear.

          We show our faith by acts of hope and charity.  Use the gifts you have been given.  Do not be afraid.   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 12, 2017

We look forward this week to celebrating THANKSGIVING. Hopefully, you have much for which to be thankful. Certainly, as a parish and school community we have much to be thankful for.  
I am so thankful that we have so many dedicated and talented parishioners and school parents. I go to lots of committee meetings here, and I am constantly amazed at the high level of talent, and even more of dedication and enthusiasm, that our parish and school community enjoys. For example, working with the Development Committee on the possible mixed-use development has impressed me with both the level of talent in this community, and even more the willingness to work hard for the good of our parish and school. It is inspiring. And the same is true for the School Advisory Board, the Parish Pastoral Council, the parish and school Finance Councils, the Investment Committee, the Property Committee, and many, many more. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
I am also grateful for the progress on our major renovation of the exterior of our rectory and church, with the additions of new bathrooms and meeting space. It is coming along right on schedule, and now we can begin to see some of the results. The church looks great! I am sure it has not looked this good in decades. When the crosses and the new light sconces are added, it will be beautiful. No longer will it look like an abandoned building. The only problem with beautifying our church and rectory along Guadalupe Street is that now Newman Hall, in contrast, looks even worse. Maybe we will be able to have it painted.
Also, I am very grateful for the great success we have had in our capital campaign, “Faithful to Our Mission.” We raised over $5 Million, and in our second phase we added a few more families participating, and succeeded in getting covered much of the additional items we want to add to the project. THANK YOU!
I am grateful for all those who serve us in our worship, as lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, greeters, and ushers, and for all the talented people who invest their time and effort in making beautiful and uplifting music for our worship. With the loss of Dr. Hoffman I have been especially grateful to those who have stepped forward into the breach to help us continue to make a “joyful noise unto the Lord!”

And I could go on about our parish staff, my fellow Paulists here, the support we have from the Diocese, and even that we FINALLY are enjoying cool weather, but you get the idea. We as a parish have a great deal for which to be thankful. So as we celebrate Thanksgiving, please remember to give thanks not only for all the blessings in your own life, but also for the blessings in our life as a parish/school community.   

Monday, November 6, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 5, 2017

Our renovation is now moving into a new phase. All of the old stone has been removed from the front of the church and the rectory, and replaced with new stone. That is why the scaffolding in front of the church is gone. Now the workers are building the new lobby and bathrooms that will occupy the space between the church and the rectory. It is really happening.
Another part of the construction is the remodeling of the front half of the first floor of the rectory, where the nursery is. The nursery will be back, with a new bathroom and a new emergency exit onto the courtyard. The rest of that floor, where the old offices of the parish were years ago, is being remodeled to be meeting room space. We can certainly use more meeting rooms! It could serve as a bride’s room for weddings, a place for the family to gather prior to a funeral, as a location for children’s Liturgy of the Word, for adult education gatherings, and as a meeting space for committees and small groups. We will have no problem finding many uses for it.
But how to designate this new space? It needs a name. Instead of saying let’s meet in the first floor of the rectory, we should give this space a name. We already have Paulist Hall, Hecker Hall, Our Lady of Guadalupe Room, St. Augustine Room, Sts. Joan and Raymond Room and so on. In this manner we should also name this room next to the nursery.
I have several suggestions, in keeping with the overall Paulist theme in names.  St. Barnabas Room. An early disciple, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check on the church in Antioch, which was the first to admit Gentiles into Christianity. Barnabas, from Cyprus, is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11: 28). It was Barnabas who got St. Paul involved in missionary work. He was a faithful companion of St. Paul on several of Paul’s missionary journeys. So he would be a good choice for naming the room.
Another option would be St. Phoebe Room. She too was a companion and helper to St. Paul. In Romans 16:1 St. Paul commends her to the Romans and refers to her as a deacon. Paul comments “she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well,” so she is a good patron for donors. 
Sts Priscilla and Aquila were sort of an advance team for St. Paul. He met this wife and husband in Corinth (Acts 18:2). They had been in Rome but the Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. They became very close to St. Paul and accompanied him on his missionary journey to Ephesus. Later they became an advance team preparing the way for St. Paul in Rome, where they were known. In Romans 16:3 St. Paul wrote: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” I think they should be better known, and it would be interesting to have a room in the rectory named after a married couple.
Another possibility, especially since this room will be adjacent to the nursery, is to name it after the Holy Family. You can’t go wrong with that. 

I invite all those who have participated in the renovation effort to express your preference to a member of the Parish Pastoral Council. You can find the PPC members at church wearing their blue PPC name tags. Or you can email your thoughts to the PPC at The Parish Council will consider your input and early next year choose a name for this renewed room.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 29, 2017

Happy Halloween! Or better, Happy ALL Saints’ Day!!! It will be here soon. In addition to these annual holidays, we also have a special occurrence this week with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. While I am not inclined to celebrate the Reformation, I am acutely aware of the need to recognize and observe this important historic milestone.
It was on October 31, 1517 that the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the University Church in Wittenberg. These were 95 points (or topics) for debate. This is the symbolic event for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that tore apart Christendom, though the forces that lead up to this moment and the subsequent division had been churning for decades. 
So how are we to react on this anniversary? First of all, we need to recognize that we have come a long, long way. The days of name calling, much less persecuting and killing each other, are long, long over. That is not what Our Lord Jesus wants, and never wanted. Any demeaning jokes or comments are completely out of place.
Since Vatican Council II we have moved forward together in many positive steps. The Joint Declaration on Justification was agreed to by the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans in 1999, after extensive dialogue. Subsequently, other religious bodies, such as the World Methodist Council (2006) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2017) have signed onto this agreement. This statement recognizes that all these churches now share "a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ." What was once a point of doctrinal disagreement has now been resolved, and no longer divides us. 
There are issues on which we do not all yet agree, such as the Papacy, the understanding of ordination, the persistence of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, ordination of women, and others, but these are all being worked on. More importantly, we have learned to work together on many issues of common concern. I am proud, for example, that St. Austin parish is one of the founding communities of Micah 6, our ecumenical endeavor to serve those in our area in need, primarily through the Micah 6 Foodbank, the street youth drop in on Sundays, and in other ways. Our parish continues to support the work of Micah 6 through volunteers and financial support. 
Jesus prayed that we all be one (Jn 17:20-23). Working to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ is not optional. We have to do this. Pope St. John XXIII called Vatican Council II in large part because he recognized that the scandal of the division of the followers of Christ is the single greatest obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel. Our division speaks louder than words. 

So as we observe this important historical milestone of the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, let us re-commit ourselves by prayer and good works to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ, so that the Gospel may be more effectively proclaimed.   

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,
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!