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.   

Friday, May 12, 2017

HOMILY Fourth Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 11, 2014 St Austin, Austin, TX

          In the Gospel today Jesus makes a rather odd or unusual claim:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”    “I am the gate.”   It just seems an odd thing to say.  Jesus says in the Gospel “I am the light of the world, I am living water, I am the bread of life, I am the way, the truth and the life,” and so on.  Jesus says He is many things.  But “gate” seems to me one of the odder choices. 
          Of course, gates are very important.  I grew up in St. Louis and while I was in high-school they built this huge stainless steel arch there.  Anyone ever see the Arch in St. Louis?  Do you know what it is called?   It is the “Gateway Arch”, because St. Louis was the gateway to the West.  It is where Lewis and Clark began and ended their journey of discovery, and for many years St. Louis was the jumping off point, the gateway, for Western exploration and expansion.  So gates are points of new beginnings and explorations.
          Before coming here to Austin I was pastor for 8 years in San Francisco, CA.  The iconic symbol of San Francisco, recognized all over the world, is this very long bright orange bridge.  Anybody know the name of that bridge?  It is the Golden Gate Bridge, because it spans the famous Golden Gate, a relatively narrow passage between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay and the interior of California.  The whole reason that San Francisco is there at all is because of the Golden Gate.  For over a hundred years sailors sailed right past it and never knew it was there, because of the fog.  Only later did the Spaniards discover it when they came upon it from the land side, from the East.  But only because of that all-important gate, allowing access to the Bay, did San Francisco come to be.
          Gates are important.  And Jesus tells us, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”   Well, who are the sheep?  Raise your hand because that is us.  Jesus is the gate for us.
          Where does this gate allow us to go?  Where does Jesus make it possible for you and me to go?  Well, Jesus enables us to go somewhere far better than the Wild West or San Francisco Bay.   Jesus tells us “Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
”  Jesus is telling us that through Him we can be saved and find what we need for the fullness of life.
           All of us want to be alive.  Not just breathing and continuing in existence, not bored, not barely existing; but to love what we do, to be full of enthusiasm, joy, excitement, energy, to really be alive.  That is what eternal life is about.  Not just a long duration – which would be pretty boring – but rather to be fully, completely and intensely  alive.  That is what Jesus promises us.  He says at the end of the Gospel today: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” 
          Abundant life is wonderful.  And rare.  So many people in our society are barely alive.  They don’t know why they are here.  They don’t know what they want.  They don’t know what will make them truly happy.  They are only partly alive, like zombies, going through the motions, with a huge hole in their hearts where the love of God should be. 
          Is it any wonder that there is so much alcohol and drug abuse in our society, that people try to deaden the pain of being only partly alive, with no idea what their life means or what any of all this drama is about?  Or whose they are and why they are here?
          Jesus says “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;”   Drugs and alcohol, greed and materialism, ceaseless activity and frenetic schedules, pornography and sex for the sake of escape; all of these are thieves.  They rob us of life.  These things come only to steal and slaughter and destroy.
          But Jesus is entirely different.  He tells us:  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”   
At this Mass two boys, Liam Christopher  & Robert William, will be Baptized, Confirmed and make their First Holy Communion.  They will receive that new life in Christ, and become God’s adopted children, sharing in the abundant life of Jesus.
          Jesus is the gate through which we can come to purpose and meaning and dignity in our lives.  Whoever enters through Him will be saved and find life-giving pasture; in service, in fidelity, in integrity, in honesty, in dignity, in love. 

          Jesus is the gate to salvation.  Jesus is the gate to the fullness of life.  As He assures us in the Gospel today:  “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”      

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 7, 2017

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my family in St. Louis. While there, I was able to preside at Mass and preach at the parish where I grew up, Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS) in south St. Louis. While it was great to celebrate Mass there again, I was saddened to know that OLS Grade School will be closing at the end of this school year. I attended nine years there, kindergarten through 8th grade, as did my dad, my two sisters, and all three of my brothers. So my family has a long history with this Catholic grade school. And it was a really good school!
But changing times and changing economics have now forced the unhappy outcome of the closing of the school. It struggled valiantly for a long time. The same forces that have forced the closure of many other parish Catholic Schools in St. Louis have finally caught up with OLS School. Catholic Schools in St. Louis are an endangered species.
Nothing manmade lasts forever. Not even churches, parishes, and schools. The Gospel and the Church will go on, but not necessarily as we remember them. Sometimes, holding on to certain forms of the past expressions of the Gospel can impede the future growth of the Gospel, but it is always hard to discern when this is so, and even harder to let go.
When auxiliary bishops are ordained, they are made bishop of some place that is no longer an Episcopal See. For example, Bishop Daniel Garcia, the Auxiliary bishop of Austin, is Titular Bishop of Capsus, somewhere in Africa. But there is now no Christian community there. There are many places that at one time had thriving Christian communities and bishops, and now have only titular bishops, and often are nothing but ruins and sand. At one time the Gospel was vibrant there. But now history has moved on and they are no longer local churches with a bishop.
Of the places where I have been assigned as a Paulist priest, the first was St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska, and is no longer served by the Paulists. It was a special place for me, where I learned so much more about being a priest than I ever did in the seminary, and I was saddened and disappointed when the Paulists pulled out of Alaska. But I also understood that a missionary order needs to be flexible and free to move. Similarly, my first assignment as a pastor, to St. Andrew’s Parish in Clemson, South Carolina, with the mission churches of Holy Cross in Pickens and St. Francis, in Walhalla, is no longer served by the Paulists. It was a wonderful place to begin as a pastor, with so many committed people willing to put up with my mistakes and teach me about what a pastor really does and how to do it. I was very much saddened when the Paulists decided to leave South Carolina, as with North Pole, as part of my heart was still there. But again, I know that we have no firm hold on anything here, but only in heaven.
And of course, all of us have lost loved ones, who we miss and hope to see again.

Life is about change, and that means letting go. It is necessary, but it is just sad to let go of a community such as a school or parish that has been an important part of your life. However, the Gospel continues. It grows and thrives. Our call is not to hold onto the past, but to continue to make it vibrant and alive, and to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, April 30, 2017

Last week I provided an update on our Church Renovation effort. You can all see the progress for yourselves. This week I wanted to provide an update on an entirely different project, namely our potential property development. 
We have all seen the growth of our neighborhood. Several years ago it was the University Baptist Church that leased property to a developer resulting in the Calloway House. Then we saw the Lutheran Center (catty-corner from our Parish Center/Gym) enter a similar land lease, and now we have University House. Who can miss the UT McCombs Business School expansion with Rowling Hall in our front yard? Speaking of our front yard, this fall you will be able to visit Target after Mass with their new store in Dobie Mall. And if the Golden Arches is where you stopped for a quick bite after church, you will soon need to find a new spot, as the new multi-story Marriott hotel is being built on the McDonalds site. We understand that demolition will begin this summer.
Before the Christmas holidays, I let you know that we received permission from the Diocese of Austin to explore development opportunities on our properties. We formed a Development Committee who has been busy over the last few months interviewing firms to represent St. Austin. We are happy to announce that we are now under contract with CBRE to represent us as broker as we explore potential opportunities over the next year. CBRE is a global company who in 2015 had over $310 billion in business worldwide. There was a great deal of interest in our potential project, and it was a very competitive process with seven firms being interviewed by the committee with names that many of you would recognize. CBRE edged out the other firms with their extensive global network, and the Diocese of Austin approved their contract in early April.        
As I communicated last fall, we have a guiding framework we are working under:
-         No land will be sold. We are only exploring long term land leases.
-         The Church and the new entrance portico will remain.
-         Any development deal must include ministry space on-site.
-         Any development deal must include space for our school on-site.
-         Any development deal must bring third-party revenues to help us upgrade our existing campus.
At this point the Development Committee sees four phases to this exploration:
-         Over the next month, we want to communicate what we are exploring and get your input.
-         Summer 2017:  Test our assumptions in the market.
-         Late Fall 2017:  CBRE takes our needs to the market and accepts development proposals.
-         Early 2018:  Review proposals and see if there is something we want to explore . . .  or not!
I want to be clear we are simply at the exploratory phase. This is truly an exploration, and if this is not the right time for us to do something, we won’t. We need to let the developer markets propose their best ideas, and we get to sit back and see if it is right for us. It just seems that now is a very hot real-estate market in our neighborhood, so as good stewards, we want to test this. 

We are going to provide a number of ways for parishioners to keep abreast of this important work. In next week’s bulletin we will have a full list of communication sessions to hear about this effort during the month of May. I ask you to please consider joining in one of these sessions. I think you will find this effort interesting. The more we all know on the front end, the better off we will be when we need to make a decision next year. Thank you for your consideration.