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. 


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.