Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 17, 2017

A long time ago, when I was in Our Lady of Sorrows Grade School in St. Louis, MO, I tried out for the choir that sang at funerals. This was a way to get out of class, and the choir also had an annual picnic that was reputed to be lots of fun. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the mourners listening to the choir, I did not make the cut. Since then, to get even I have been singing LOUD. I may not sing well, but you will not ignore me!
One of the pieces I particularly relish singing at Mass is the “Behold the Lamb of God…” Not only is this a solo, but it is a great honor and privilege to be able to proclaim this. After all, it is based on the statement of John the Baptist (John 1:29), and according to Jesus “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist;” (MT 11:11). So this is no small thing.
When I stand at the altar, holding up the Body and Blood of Christ, and look out at all the faithful intent on the Blessed Sacrament, the solemnity and the importance of that moment always strikes me. Sometimes more than others, and at times profoundly. To be privileged to proclaim a mystery which is so central to the faith that all of us there are struggling to profess and to interiorize in our own beings, is very powerful. 
I sing this with the microphone off. I like to put myself into it, almost like a cheer at a sporting event, and I sing it out with gusto. “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!”  
Indeed, how blest are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb! This is a wonderful privilege, not to be taken lightly. What we see in the outward physical appearance of this Sacrament is such a tiny, miniscule tip of the iceberg of the overwhelming reality in which we are invited to participate. The rather flimsy host, which is only bread by definition that you would never use for a sandwich or any actual meal, and the rather ordinary wine, reveal and hide such enormous and exquisite mysteries. But even if we bought the very best brioche from some fancy artisan bakery, and wine of the best premier cru, it would still be woefully inadequate to capture the dignity and worth of this Sacrament. It is surely part of the great condescension that the Almighty shows us in Jesus to be present to us in such mundane, ordinary and rather unimpressive elements. The danger then is to begin to take them for granted. Focusing on the mystery that these common things reveal helps us to appreciate them.

And also, perhaps, to sing out with gusto like we really mean it.

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 10, 2017

Due to deadlines, I write this column while it is still August, and more importantly while the terrible images of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey are still fresh in my mind. While the rain has finally ceased in Houston, rescues continue, refugees still huddle in makeshift shelters, and the sad work of tolling up the destruction and the cost in lives, trauma and dollars has yet even to begin.
How to react to such an exceptional, unprecedented disaster? First of all, our hearts and prayers go out to all along the Gulf Coast and in the City of Houston and the surrounding areas, who lost so much: loved ones, their homes and pets, their places of business and their schools, their churches, communities, and their livelihoods. We pray that they may not lose hope.
We know that the suffering will continue for some time and that rebuilding will be arduous and long. All of us must help to the extent that we can: by our donations, our expertise, sometimes our labor, and certainly our prayers. This disaster affects us all.
Beyond that, taking a longer view, this disaster confronts us with our own limitations as human beings. While we have phenomenal accomplishments, we are not masters of our environment and our own lives. It is all still gift.
Since I came here to Austin seven years ago, most of the time we have been facing unprecedented drought. For four long, dry years, we have watched the creeks dry up, then the rivers. We saw the fields turn brown and all the landscape wither and burn. We prayed for relief in the form of rain. And finally the rains came and the drought ended.
Now we have Hurricane Harvey and way too much rain. We have either too little or way too much, demonstrating conclusively and unavoidably how little control we actually have. We are totally dependent on, and at the mercy of, the weather.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more humility. We depend on the caprice of the weather for either too little water, or too much water, or just the right amount.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more respect for the environment. Global warming makes the storms we suffer worse. Paving over more and more ground makes the run off of storms more destructive. We must live in harmony with the environment, for we are not in control.
Out of this experience, I hope we will come to a greater sense of solidarity and of how much we really depend on each other. So many of the rescues during the storm were accomplished by strangers. People who put their effort, time and even their lives on the line for people they had never met and did not know. People who responded simply because other people needed them.
Water is one of the most wonderful of creations. We ourselves are largely water. We need water to live. Too little or too much threatens our very lives. And by the waters of Baptism, we are reborn to new life as the children of God.

Let us be grateful to God for the gift of water. Let us pray for the water we need. And let us learn to help those who suffer from too much or too little of this most precious gift.

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 27, 2017

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to our St. Austin Catholic School!!! This is the school community’s 100th Anniversary Year of Celebration. For a century, our school has been turning out not only good scholars, but more importantly, also good citizens and faithful Christians. That is an accomplishment we can all be proud of and that deserves to be celebrated.
The relationship of our parish community and our parish school, like all marriages, has had some difficult times, and also lots of wonderful times. Perhaps even some boring times, but honestly, in the seven years I have been here, boring has been few and far between. 
When the school is in session the campus here comes alive with energy: motion, laughter, lines of children going back and forth to lunch, older kids running between classes, traffic snarls at drop-off and pick-up, lots of activity, commotion. It is seldom dull when school is in session!
Having the next generation of Catholics and Texans almost literally beneath our feet is a wonderful reminder of our duty to pass on the faith to the next generation. Seeing their smiling faces keeps us hopeful about the future. It instills in us a sense of time beyond just the next meeting or deadline. With the children here we see the future all around us. 

So it is most appropriate that we celebrate this milestone of 100 years! We are grateful and give thanks for the many Dominican Sisters, lay teachers, parents and students who have built the proud history and the honored legacy of St. Austin Catholic School. We recommit ourselves to the task of carrying forth this proud tradition for at least another 100 years!

Fr. Chuck's Column, August 20, 2017

By the time you read this, the demolition of the former McDonald’s restaurant to the south of our St. Austin Catholic School will probably have begun. With the able leadership of the Chair of the St. Austin School Advisory Board, Mr. Ted Smith, and with the support of the Chancellor of the Diocese of Austin, Deacon Ron Walker, and the assistance of The Drenner Group law firm, we successfully concluded our negotiations with White Lodging, the developer of the old McDonald’s site. It will become a large Marriott Hotel.
Our settlement with them included a six-figure sum for a licensing agreement with them, basically giving permission to remove a tree that is half on our property and half on theirs, and permission for a retention system for a below-grade wall for their garage that will have rods extending below our property. They are building a 250 car garage three and a half stories below ground.
And we are in receipt of these funds!
There is an additional six-figure amount placed in escrow to be used to compensate us for costs we may occur (such as need for additional cleaning) due to their construction.
While it was not what we originally requested, it is a fair settlement. It is the opinion of the School Advisory Board, and mine, that when it is all said and done, the Marriott Hotel will be a positive addition to our neighborhood. It is getting there that is the grief.
Meanwhile, the renovation of our church and rectory continues. The stone is almost complete on the church, and work has shifted to the front of the rectory. The other three sides of the church/rectory have been cleaned (don’t they look great!), patched, and then sealed. They are basically complete.
Work continues in the front half of the first floor of the rectory, where the nursery is located. The rest of the space there has been opened up to provide another meeting space for our active ministries.
You may notice that the sides of our towers are white and blue. This is NOT their final form. Metal panels are going in there. However, we had our panels manufactured with another, larger, order in order to save money. But then that order got delayed. Our panels have now arrived and are in storage. Because of the delay, we moved the scaffolding (which is expensive to rent) on to the rectory to work there. Once the scaffolding is out of the way, we will be able to bring in a boom truck (not a truck with a loud boom box, but a truck with a long arm or “boom”) and install the panels that way. So just be patient, and we will see the metal panels in autumn. I think they will make a striking difference in the exterior appearance of the church.
And as stone comes off the rectory, there should be some more for parishioners to take. Watch the base of the pecan tree next to the gym.

Hope you will join us at the Holiday Fair next weekend!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

HOMILY Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time August 27, 2017

          In our Gospel today Jesus puts a very important, indeed critical, question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”   Addressed to the disciples, that includes all of us; you and me.  In the Gospel Jesus is asking us this question; “Who do you say that I am?” 
It is time to lay our cards on the table and put it on the line.   Who do you say that Jesus is?  And that is really to ask, “What role, and what importance, does this person, Jesus, have in your life?”
          This question is very important, because how you answer that question really determines how you are going to lead your life.  If you think Jesus is a nice guy, maybe helpful sometimes, but nothing special, you will lead your life one way.  But if you believe He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, verily God in the flesh, the Fullness of Life, then you obviously are going to want to follow Him much more closely in all the parts of your life.
          It is interesting, to me at least, where Jesus pops this question to the disciples.  Usually when someone asks a very critical question, like “Will you marry me?” some thought and planning goes into WHERE the question will be asked.  It may be a fine restaurant, a romantic location, some spot significant to the couple.  It is usually not broached in the aisle of a grocery store, or in a laundromat or on a parking lot. 
          In the same way, for an important, pivotal moment like this, a critical moment of decision, of declaring our allegiance, I would think that Jesus might go up on a mountain top.  Mountain tops seem to be very special, holy places for Jesus.  He likes to go there to pray.  He is transfigured on a mountain top.  Mountain tops are special to Jesus and for this special question I would expect Him to go there.  But He doesn’t.

          Or perhaps Jesus would go to the Holy City of Jerusalem, site of the Temple, God’s Holy City.   But Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for this important and solemn question.
          Anyone remember where Jesus goes to ask his disciples this question, “Who do you say that I am?”    //      According to our Gospel, “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi…”  That is where Jesus chose to put this question.           ¿Where the heck is Caesarea Philippi?    
          Well, interestingly, it is way up north, 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, out of Jewish territory, into pagan lands.   Caesarea Philippi was an entirely Gentile, that is non-Jewish, community.  It was built around a cave from which a stream flowed, one of the main sources of the River Jordan.  At the cave was a famous shrine dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and to Nymphs, and it was associated with fertility rites.  King Herod the Great had built a temple there, before Jesus was born, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, pretending the emperor was a god.  Hence the name Caesarea Philippi. 
          This is a strange place for Jesus to be asking such a critically important question.  It is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus goes there.  It would be like Jesus going to some totally secular location, like Wall Street or Times Square, or more locally like Jesus going down to some of the more active stretches of 6th Avenue in Austin, a place where there are pans and nymphs and sometimes fertility rites, or at least so I am told.   Why would Jesus pick such a non-religious, totally secular, even unholy place to address this critical question of just who do you say that I am? 
          I don’t think it is by accident.   I think Jesus chose this location, Caesarea Philippi, on purpose.   Because that is where our answer really counts. 
          You see it is one thing to come to Church on Sunday, sing the hymns, say the prayers, stand up, sit down, kneel, go through the actions and say, “Oh Jesus is the Lord of my life.  He is the ONE.”   That is nice, but it doesn’t cost much.
          But it is another thing altogether when you are at home, and the kids are on your nerves, and your spouse is in a foul mood, and the air conditioning breaks, to really say and really mean, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And therefore I am going to live like YOU are the center of my life.  That takes commitment.
          And in the market place, when we go shopping, and we make all sorts of ethical decisions by what we purchase and where we shop, it is a whole other thing to say You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Then we have to consider if we are supporting a store that pays its employees a living wage.  Are we buying goods produced by child labor or in sweat shops?  Are we spending money on frivolities and that money could be used to help others?   How much are we giving in to consumerism?  When you are shopping who do you say Jesus is?
          And at work, it is a whole other thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Because if you really mean that then you need to forgo the juicy office gossip around the water-cooler.  And you may not be able to pad expense accounts like if you did not say that.  And you would need to seek to enact company policies that are fair and legal and respectful of the environment.  And you would need to treat your employees and your fellow co-workers not just as economic units but as children of God.
           And in the public forum and in politics to really say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is a whole different thing, that means eschewing the politics of separation, of labeling others, of pandering to people’s fears and of the leaders that divide, and instead, to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, means seeking justice, and care for the victim and the oppressed, and working for respect and peace.

          You see it is one thing to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” here in church, but another thing altogether to say it and mean it in Caesarea Philippi, in all the rest of your life.  But that is where Jesus wants to meet you, where Jesus calls you to be a disciple: not here in church, not on the mountain top, not in the Jerusalem temple, but in all the Ceasarea Philippi’s in your life.  Everywhere out there.  That is where Jesus comes and asks you, “Who do you say that I am?”