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?