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!  

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle A St Austin’s July 16, 2017

          Last week, the car that I drive had some problems.  It is a 2013 Mazda 6 purchased back when Fr Jim Wiesner was pastor.  The alternator went bad, messing up the battery.  And while repairing it they found one of the motor mounts was broken, etc.   Well, you say, it worked for over 13 years, what do you expect?  Because we all know, from firsthand experience, that everything, including you and me, eventually falls apart.  Everything, sooner or later, breaks down.  Things wear out.  They don't work as well as they used to.   Even the pyramids look worse for wear.
          Taking some scientific liberties, we can, with apologies to the physicists here, express this more scientifically.  The second law of thermodynamics, as famously enunciated by Rudolf Clausius in 1865, states that: “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.”  The laws of thermodynamics dictate… that nature should inexorably degenerate toward a state of greater disorder, greater entropy. (a la Wikipedia)
          In short, everything falls apart.  It is just the way it is.
COSMOLOGY….   Black wholes…..  a cosmic soup of sub-atomic particles.  Pretty boring.  
          But that is NOT God’s plan.  St. Paul in our second reading today gives us a mind-blowing vision:  For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
(that is, us!)
for creation was made subject to futility, (that is, to falling apart)
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
  (that is, from falling apart)
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  
          For St. Paul, creation will be redeemed along with us.  There will be, according to St. Paul, a new heavens and a new earth where things will NOT fall apart.  Creation therefore has great spiritual value, and even eternal worth.  Creation is not pointless.  It is not ultimately futile, not “subject to futility” as St Paul puts it.   Creation will be redeemed along with us. 
          What will redeemed creation look like?  What proportion of matter and energy will redeemed creation contain?  Will the atoms that now make up my body, but 10,000 years ago were part of a fern, and 10 million years ago were part of a star, and 100,000 years from now may be part of some CD player, what will eventually happen to them when they share in the glorious freedom of the children of God? 
          We don’t know. 
          Here is what we do know.  We should respect creation.  It has a destiny and it has great worth.  It is not temporary and disposable.  It will share in our redemption, for we are part of creation and unable to truly be who we are without it.  To be fully human we need creation.  We are part of creation and creation is a part of us.  So our redemption in some way involves creation’s redemption, and visa versa. 
          Already creation in some mystical way begins to share in our redemption.  The bread and the wine that I will offer in a few minutes will become - through the action of the Holy Spirit - in a real but not physical way the presence of Christ.  It will be already changed to a different state of being, or in theological language, “transubstantiated.” 
          We take it into ourselves, it becomes part of us, and we in turn become part of it.  We are what we eat and drink.  We share in the Body and Blood of Christ, to live as the Body of Christ, to be the Body of Christ active in the world.  Here and now, in the creation which is us, in you and me, we are the Body of Christ.

          The theologian Michael Himes has a beautiful reflection on this, which he sums up as follows:  “If one little bit of the universe, the bread and wine we employ in the celebration, can be the fullness of Christ’s presence, then all the rest of the universe can be.  The eucharist is the tip of the iceberg.  It is the first step in the transubstantiation of all creation.”  (Doing the Truth in Love, p 129)
          All creation will share in the glorious freedom of the children of God “ when Christ is All and in All (Col 3:11) .   And that makes creation very special indeed. 

          So this Summer, as you vacation or recreate or go for a walk or a ride in the country, appreciate the beauty and diversity of creation.  Know that you are a part of that creation.  And respect that like you, and along with you, it has an eternal destiny and an eternal worth.  For all creation will “share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Homily Thirteenth Sunday in ordinary time Cycle A July 2, 217


Annie was a precocious and adventurous six year old.  In the back yard of her house was a big tree.  It was a great tree for climbing.  But Annie’s mother told her NOT to climb the tree.   But one bright Saturday Annie was feeling particularly adventurous, and the tree beckoned so beguilingly, that Annie just started climbing up the tree.  It was exciting, and the higher she climbed the more exciting it became.    On she went till she reached as far as she could go.  The view was breathtaking… until she looked down.  All of a sudden she realized she was way up in the tree, a full 12 feet above the ground!  She had never been so high up on her own before.  She wanted to climb down but was paralyzed by the fear of slipping and falling.  Without thinking she cried “Mommy!”  “Daddy!”
After a short while her father came out of the house and over to the tree, looked up and said, “What are doing up there?”  “I’m stuck” she sobbed.  “It’s all right” said her Father.  “Just let go and let me catch you.”  “Huh?” said Annie.  “Just let go and let me catch you” repeated her Father.   “Un-uhh” said Annie, afraid to stay where she was, afraid to try to climb down, and afraid to let go and fall into her Father’s arms.  “Don’t worry” said her Father, “I will catch you.”

          In a way, Annie’s dilemma is the dilemma of all of us.
          In our second reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are told Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”   What does St. Paul mean?   In our culture, we tend to think in practical, pragmatic, scientifically verifiable concrete facts.   When we hear “death” we concretely think of cessation of heart beat, of flat EKG, or lack of brain waves, and other physical, concrete signs of the end of life.  That is NOT at all what St. Paul is talking about.  When he states that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death St. Paul is not talking about a physical, bodily reality, but rather a more profound spiritual reality.
          To be baptized into Christ’s death is not about physical bodies, but rather about the manner and meaning, the spiritual import of Jesus’ death.  What was the manner and meaning, the spiritual import and significance of Jesus’ death???
          The Bible calls it “obedience.”  This is not any kind of blind obedience, like a dog in obedience school, or military orders.  This is rather a very conscious and free submission of will, made out of faith and love in the care and protection of another. 
          Basically, Jesus submitted His own will to the Will of the Father.  Jesus let’s go of His own desires, in essence His own life, placing Himself entirely and trustingly into the Hands of His Loving Father.  By accepting death on the Cross Jesus makes the ultimate leap of faith and abandons Himself totally and completely into the Father’s hands.  And the Father catches Him in a loving embrace. 
          It is this meaning of the death of Christ Jesus that we have all been baptized into; that is, of letting go our own will to fall into the loving hands of Our Father and live His life.  As St. Paul says: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” 
This has real consequences, St Paul points out, for how we are to live.  “Consequently,” he states, “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
          We come to life by dying to ourselves, our selfishness and self-centeredness, and rather, living for God.  In the great Christian paradox, we find life by losing it.  As Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

          At the end of our lives each of us will be like Annie stuck up in the tree.  ¿Will we go kicking and screaming, clutching with all our strength to the remaining threads and tatters of physical life?  Or will we have learned and trained our hearts and wills over years of dying to self to live like Christ for God, to gracefully and peacefully let go, and fall safely and sweetly into the loving hands of Our Father?  

Monday, June 26, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 25, 2017

First of all, Happy Birthday to St John the Baptist, which was Saturday, June 24. This also means that it is only six months to CHRISTMAS! This year Christmas falls on a Monday, which creates a mess with the Fourth Sunday of Advent on December 24, and then celebrating Christmas on December 24/25. We also will have continuing construction on our church which will also complicate things. But we will get through it. 
And while we are talking about dates, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are the same day next year, February 14, 2018. Ashes and chocolates? It will be interesting!
Changing topics to construction, our renovation is going pretty much according to plan. The schedule calls for the renovation project to be complete next February, which really means March-April. I am hoping we can have a re-dedication and blessing of all the new work next spring, maybe around the feast of our patron, St. Augustine.
As you have probably noticed the door to the back side of the church is in very bad shape. A new door is being made for that entrance that will look much more like a church door. So if you can be patient and put up with the old dilapidated door for a few more months, it will all be fine.
Meanwhile, the life of the parish moves on. Our garage has finally begun to make a profit, which is really good because, as with any business, it needs constant upkeep and maintenance. The bid on the repair of the elevators to keep them functioning properly is about $30,000. Also the money taking machine/gates are well past their life expectancy and need replacement. The bid on that is nearly $100,000, so we are trying to find alternate bids. 
The developer of the Marriott hotel on the current McDonald’s site is taking longer than what we were originally told. We had expected that they would begin excavation on the site in May and that much of the excavation would happen during the summer when school is closed. Obviously, that did not happen.  We are still negotiating with the licensing agreements about a tree that is half on our property and half on theirs, tieback rods that would extend into our property, cranes swinging over our property, insuring against any damage to our buildings, etc. As far as we can tell, the City of Austin has not yet issued them a full building permit. So that project is going to take a lot longer than originally envisioned. Meanwhile, you can still get your McDonald’s.
This past Monday, the committee heading up the exploration of the development of our properties had a very positive meeting with representatives of the Diocese of Austin. They were positive in their reaction and grateful for our update. Investigation will continue over the summer, and hopefully we will be able to make some decisions next Fall about going forward or not.

There is always much going on at St. Austin. We should never be bored!  

HOMILY Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time June 25, 2017

          In the 1986 horror movie, The Fly, there is the line, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”  This phrase has since entered the common parlance, since it captures a very real emotion.  “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”
          There is much to arouse fear in us.  There is a plethora a reasons to keep you awake at night.  Rogue nations with nuclear weapons.  Terrorists with biological weapons.  Hackers stealing your passwords and all your money.  Irrevocable degradation of the environment and natural disasters.  Cancer.  Politics.  And more.
          So the phrase “Be afraid.  Be very afraid” can ring all too true.
          Our Gospel today takes a totally different approach.   In the Gospel we just heard Jesus tells us: “Fear no one.”  A little later He says:  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”   And still later, “So do not be afraid.”
          Do not be afraid.  OK.  How do you do that??  By a shear act of will?   I can’t do that.  Can you?  I don’t think so.
          However, we read in the First Letter of St. John, chapter 4, verse 18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear ....
          Perfect love drives out fear.  If we could love perfectly, we could drive out all fear from our hearts.  But that is a pretty tall order.  Fortunately, the love with witch Jesus loves us is perfect.  It is total and complete.  And so it drives out fear.  This is why St. John in the very next verse states: “We love because he first loved us.”  
          Brothers and sisters, the more we can open ourselves to the love Jesus has for each of us, the more we can love in return, and then we will be so strong, so powerful, that we can let go of fear.  We are, each of us, God’s beloved children.  So do not be afraid. 

          AMEN.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 11, 2017

Even though we are now back in Ordinary Time, we are not yet wearing green on the weekends. Even after eight weeks of Easter celebration, it is almost like we don’t want to give it up. And so, the weekend after Pentecost (this weekend), we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, and then, to keep the celebration going, next weekend we celebrate the impressively titled Solemnity of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” Then, liturgically exhausted, we finally return to plain old, humdrum, Ordinary Time. 
But today we celebrate the Trinity. Our belief in the Trinity distinguishes Christians from Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, and just about everybody else. We believe in one God, like other monotheists, but we complicate it by claiming in this one God three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some call them Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. They have three different roles, but one unique God. It is a bit like saying that one equals three, which leads, of course, to a lot of head scratching.
Even though I had a good theological education and knew the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the various theological explanations of the Trinity, the impact of this doctrine never came home to me till I had the opportunity to discuss it with a group of Muslims. 
In 2008, through the San Francisco Interfaith Council, I was privileged to attend the World Parliament of Religions held in Melbourne, Australia. It was a wonderful experience. And while there I had the opportunity to meet followers of many of the world’s religions (including my only experience of a Zoroastrian), including a good discussion with several Muslims.
Muslims are monotheists. The belief that there is no God but Allah is fundamental to Muslim belief and worship. You could even say, as I have heard Muslims describe themselves, they are “radical monotheists.” Not radical in the sense of terrorism, but rather radical in the sense that monotheism is at the root of their religion. So Muslims are NOT trinitarians. That smacks to them too much of worshipping three gods. There is only ONE God, period.
The logical result of their radical monotheism is that God is always and completely “other.” God is holy, which we are not. God is inscrutable, we can’t figure God out. God’s will can never be questioned. And so God always appears distant, different, other.
Only in discussing with Muslims did I come to realize this, and so realize the very different feel or sense or understanding of Christianity where God is not only all holy and total mystery, wholly other than us, but God also truly became one of us in time and place and has a human face in Jesus, AND God is closer to us than our own breath in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Trinitarian spirituality is VERY different than strictly monotheistic spirituality. For us, the wholly other (God) is also fully involved in our human history and intimately involved in us in the Holy Spirit. And that makes a profound difference. 

So as we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, give thanks that, even though difficult to understand and put into words, this Mystery brings God close to us and involves us intimately in the Divine Life itself.   

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 4, 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Pentecost is traditionally seen as the Birthday of the Church, and since we all together are the Church, it is our Birthday. 
Birthdays mean GIFTS! So the gift we receive is of course the Holy Spirit. We received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, at our Confirmation, at our Marriage if we are married, at our Ordination if we are a deacon or priest, anytime we have received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and anytime we have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). 
But these are not the only times we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is, theologically speaking, kind of loosey-goosey. Jesus tells us “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
This means we cannot control the Spirit. We cannot even predict what the Spirit will do or where or who the Spirit will manifest itself next. I find this very refreshing, because our spiritual life must never be routine. We must always be open to being surprised by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may bring consolations and comforts we did not expect, or the Spirit may bring us challenges, changes of direction, whole new prospects we did not foresee, nor expect, nor probably want. One thing the Holy Spirit certainly is not is boring!
In my own case, as an example, I grew up wanting to be an attorney. But the Holy Spirit called and led me to priesthood. It was unexpected, and ever since it has been anything but routine or boring. 

So enjoy your Birthday as the Church. Pray for the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then hang on for the ride!  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Homily for Pentecost 2017 St Austin Church, TX

So, there seems to be some confusion in our readings today.
Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke, tells us the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.  Mighty wind, tongues of fire, everyone hearing their own language, and so on.
          But our Gospel, from St. John, has Jesus appearing to the Apostles on Easter Sunday night, shows them His hands and His side, says “Peace be with you.” And then breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  ¿Was Jesus kidding, or did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday night?  Then why again on Pentecost? 
          So, did the Apostles get the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday night as St John tells us, or did the Apostles wait till Pentecost 50 days later to get the Holy Spirit, or did the Apostles get the Holy Spirit twice?  Once to be able to forgive sins and then 50 days later to be able to speak foreign languages, which seems kind of inefficient and sloppy?  What are we to think?
          Well, let’s settle this the American way and put it to a vote.  Did the Holy Spirit come on Easter Sunday night, or on Pentecost, or both?   All those in favor of Easter Sunday night raise your hand.   OK.   All those in favor of Pentecost raise your hand.  And all those who favor a double dose of the Holy Spirit, Easter and Pentecost, raise your hand.

Thank you for playing along.  Obviously, this homily so far is ridiculous.  The question about when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles misses the whole point of these readings. 
         They really are NOT about something that happened nearly two thousand years ago, and thousands of miles away from here.  Rather these Scripture passages we read today illuminate what happens now, right here.  That is what is important.  That is what is of consequence.  That is what matters.
          We gather today to open our minds and our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us
          When we begin to reach out to those who are different, those who are estranged, those we label as “other”, and we reach out to connect with them, that is the Holy Spirit warming our cold hearts.  When barriers are broken down, when walls of misunderstanding are breached, when people begin to seek the way of peace together, that is the power of the Holy Spirit of God acting in us, and it is powerful like a strong driving wind and a raging fire. 
          A good example of this is the recent tragic event on a public transit car in Portland, OR.  A white supremacist began yelling obscenities and religious slurs against two young ladies, one dressed in traditional  Muslim attire.  Three other men came to their rescue; Ricky Best, an Army vet, father of four and a Catholic, Taliesin Namkai Meche, and Micah Fletcher.  Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, suffered fatal stab wounds in the process.  
        What motivated these men to intervene to help the girls?  Was it not the power of the Holy Spirit, urging and empowering them to go beyond fear and to help another person, someone they didn’t even know, even at the risk, and eventually the actual cost, of their own lives?  And their example in turn inspires us. 
          When inside our hearts we come to greater clarity about why am I here, about what is the meaning and purpose of my life, about Whose am I, about what is the value and purpose of all that we see and experience, about what I am called to do and to be, and that greater clarity leads to the gift of Peace Jesus breathed on His disciples Easter Sunday night, that is the presence and working of the Holy Spirit of God acting in us.
          The Holy Spirit brings Peace.   Not the absence of trouble or conflict, but rather the strength and wisdom to put all of our priorities in the correct order, especially to put Jesus first in our lives.  And then when all our priorities are aligned according to God’s plan for us, we are at peace – even when everything around us is crazy and nutzoid and off the wall.
          The readings today are about us, you and me.  They tell us about the Holy Spirit, that oh so important and yet so elusive presence of God in our hearts and lives.
          It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the inner light to know who we truly are, and Whose we truly are.  And without that we can never be fully satisfied, can never be at peace.
          St. Robert Bellermine said it well several hundred years ago: “If you are wise, then know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation.  This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart.  If you reach this goal, you will find happiness.  If you fail to reach it, you will find misery.” 
          The indwelling Holy Spirit, so important and central to Fr Isaac Hecker and the early Paulists, is the fire that puts love into practice, the calming breeze that brings the joy of Peace.

          That happens here and now.          Happy Pentecost.    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 21, 2017

First of all, I want to encourage all of you to attend one of the information sessions being given after each of the Masses this weekend. You can find out what is being done – and what is NOT being done – as we move forward to investigate the potential and possibility of developing our campus for a mixed-use development. Nothing has been decided so far except to explore this possibility. We have a broker to assist us, and we are gathering information (such as an accurate survey of our campus, a title search of our pieces of property, etc.). This will be a LONG process. It will help if you understand both what is being done, and have patience with the drawn-out nature of this process. So go to one of the presentations this weekend!
Just a couple of weeks ago we had a very successful First Communion celebration. About 50 of our young parishioners made their First Holy Communion. Not only did they look absolutely adorable, but more importantly, they were well prepared and without exception received Holy Communion reverently and correctly. Since our second graders did such a beautiful job of receiving Holy Communion, I think it would be well for all of us to examine our practice of receiving Holy Communion. They are a model for us. 
When you come forward, place your right hand under your left (the opposite if you are left handed) and receive the Host in the palm of your hand. St Cyril of Jerusalem, way back in the third century, told his new Christians to “make a throne of your hands for the Lord.” Respond “Amen”, pick up the host, and communicate yourself. As an older person with a bad back I ask you to hold your hands up level with your chest, so that I do not have to bend over so much. THANKS. 
You may, of course, also receive Holy Communion on the tongue. In this case please OPEN your mouth and STICK OUT your tongue. This makes it much easier for the Communion minister, and more importantly, reduces the chance of getting your salvia on the minister’s hand and then communicating that to the next person.
I also urge you to open your eyes and look at the person ministering to you the Host and the Chalice. I believe that this human interaction is an important part of the interpersonal communion upon which the Sacrament of Holy Communion is based. By receiving the Body of Christ we become a part of the Body of Christ, and recognizing that in each other is a significant part of the human reality on which this Sacrament is based. When someone comes up to me to receive Holy Communion and immediately shuts their eyes I always have the impression that they think Holy Communion, while good for them, is somehow going to taste awful and terrible, like some awful cough syrup. The Ministers of Holy Communion cannot be replaced by robots or machines distributing the Body and Blood of Jesus, because the human interaction is an integral part of the experience of communing. Grace, in good Thomistic teaching, builds on nature. So try looking, really looking, at the person who is giving you the Body or the Blood of Christ. That person is not a distraction, but part of the sacrament of the Body of Christ in which you are sharing.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers’ Day! Beyond the flowers, candy, cards and presents, it is important to tell your mother “thank you.” This extends not only to your birth mother, but also to all those who have nurtured and sustained you whether they be aunts or grandmothers or teachers or whoever. Happy Mothers Day to all who nurture, educate, and help us grow. Mothers who balance both a career and child-rearing are taking on quite a lot, often more than two full time jobs! It is amazing that so many do so well in fulfilling both roles. We all owe mothers a debt of gratitude. Happy Mothers Day!
Mothers (and Fathers) have always had a difficult task, but today the demands and expectations for what a parent should be are so high, and so all-encompassing, as to seem almost impossible to fulfill. Since they are human, no mother is perfect. Every mother has, somewhere along the line, in spite of all the love that is in her heart, been too tired, too distracted, too confused, too ill-equipped, too inexperienced, too uneducated, to be the perfect mother at all times. And some mothers have been downright controlling, vindictive or even abusive. Not every woman is fit to be a mother. And those in their charge have suffered.
On this Mothers Day, perhaps the best gift you can give your mother is really a gift to yourself: the gift of forgiveness. By letting go of bitterness, hurt, bruised and damaged feelings, resentment, and losses, you not only forgive your mother but also free yourself. This is a gift much greater than any amount of flowers, candy, or sentimental cards. It is a gift you can give not only to the living, but also to mothers and grandmothers who have died. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to give on Mothers Day, or any day of the year.
We have not only a physical and biological mother, but also a spiritual mother. That mother is the Church, or in the traditional phrase, “Holy Mother Church.” As anyone who has read a newspaper or listened to TV or radio in the last several years well knows, the Church has been far from a perfect mother. Sin is an aspect, an all too prominent part, of the Church on Earth. So it has been from the beginning (read the letters of St. Paul), and so it will be till the Lord comes again. The clergy sexual abuse, the financial malfeasance, and other scandals should not be unexpected, even though they are disheartening and discouraging. A wise old priest and former president of the Paulist Fathers once told me that when you see the church doing stupid and inhuman things it “is like seeing your mother drunk.” It is embarrassing.
What are we to do? No more than we can change the fact that we are our mothers children can we change the fact of our spiritual bond to the Church. Giving in to feelings of hurt, bitterness, resentment, anger, and desires for revenge will hurt ourselves as much as anyone else. Working through to forgiveness frees us to grow as spiritually mature people. The Church needs reform. The Church needs to listen. We need to work for the protection of children and all people. We need bishops who are shepherds, not careerists. Fortunately, Pope Francis gets it and is appointing men who are shepherds.

And we also have our part to play. We also need, like adult children of alcoholics, to not collude in lies, but to take responsibility for our own actions, and especially to open our hearts and souls to forgiveness. Being responsible, adult, loving children of the Church is the best gift we can give our “Holy Mother Church.