Monday, October 30, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 29, 2017

Happy Halloween! Or better, Happy ALL Saints’ Day!!! It will be here soon. In addition to these annual holidays, we also have a special occurrence this week with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. While I am not inclined to celebrate the Reformation, I am acutely aware of the need to recognize and observe this important historic milestone.
It was on October 31, 1517 that the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the University Church in Wittenberg. These were 95 points (or topics) for debate. This is the symbolic event for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that tore apart Christendom, though the forces that lead up to this moment and the subsequent division had been churning for decades. 
So how are we to react on this anniversary? First of all, we need to recognize that we have come a long, long way. The days of name calling, much less persecuting and killing each other, are long, long over. That is not what Our Lord Jesus wants, and never wanted. Any demeaning jokes or comments are completely out of place.
Since Vatican Council II we have moved forward together in many positive steps. The Joint Declaration on Justification was agreed to by the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans in 1999, after extensive dialogue. Subsequently, other religious bodies, such as the World Methodist Council (2006) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2017) have signed onto this agreement. This statement recognizes that all these churches now share "a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ." What was once a point of doctrinal disagreement has now been resolved, and no longer divides us. 
There are issues on which we do not all yet agree, such as the Papacy, the understanding of ordination, the persistence of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, ordination of women, and others, but these are all being worked on. More importantly, we have learned to work together on many issues of common concern. I am proud, for example, that St. Austin parish is one of the founding communities of Micah 6, our ecumenical endeavor to serve those in our area in need, primarily through the Micah 6 Foodbank, the street youth drop in on Sundays, and in other ways. Our parish continues to support the work of Micah 6 through volunteers and financial support. 
Jesus prayed that we all be one (Jn 17:20-23). Working to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ is not optional. We have to do this. Pope St. John XXIII called Vatican Council II in large part because he recognized that the scandal of the division of the followers of Christ is the single greatest obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel. Our division speaks louder than words. 

So as we observe this important historical milestone of the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, let us re-commit ourselves by prayer and good works to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ, so that the Gospel may be more effectively proclaimed.   

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 22, 2017

YAY, today is the Chocolate Festival! I like chocolate, which is no secret. Hope you can join us in Hecker Hall today, Sunday, from 12:45 to 2 p.m. It will be FUN and DELICIOUS! And you may even learn something about the people who grow chocolate!
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with two gentlemen from CBRE, the firm we hired to be our broker, who are working for us on the potential development project of our church and school campus. Mr. Christopher Kennedy and Mr. Chris Bell were also at the meeting. And it seems that the developers, whom our brokers had informally approached about the possibility of a development project such as ours, met with positive enthusiasm and excited interest. So the St Austin Development Committee just met this week to review the results and most probably want to continue down the road towards a possible development project of our school and parish campus. We will be meeting again with the Diocese to inform them and to seek their blessing, and then in about a month begin formally requesting proposals. It is an exciting time, and we will keep you posted as things develop. 
Meanwhile, construction continues on our church renovation project. All of the stone has been removed from the front of the church and rectory, new stone put in place, and all stone on the other sides has been patched, cleaned, and sealed. New windows have been installed in much of the rectory (wherever new stone was placed) and work continues in the first floor of the rectory. Work should be starting very soon on the new lobby, with excavation of the small space between the rectory and the church. We are still on schedule for a completion in late March, 2018. What a great Easter present!
The on-again, off-again development of the Marriot hotel where the McDonald’s used to be seems to finally be getting some steam. We are being told that demolition of the old McDonald’s building will commence on November 1. Then excavation will follow. We will see. 
We have a committee searching for a new Director of Music. I am pleased with the way many people have stepped up to help in the meantime, and so far we and getting by pretty well. THANKS to all who are making this happen with a joyful noise unto the Lord!

Your patience and understanding, with all these projects, is very much appreciated. Obviously, we could not do all of this without your help, support and cooperation. THANKS!   

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Homily Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, CYCLE A Oct 22, 2017

          In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and the Herodians together come to Jesus.  The Gospel states, “Knowing their malice, Jesus said….”    How did Jesus know they were up to no good?   Well, it did not take any special divine insight on Jesus’ part, just shrewd politics.  You see the Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies and rivals.  So to see them working together immediately would alert you that something was afoot and that it wasn’t pretty.
          So the Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus their trick question:  “is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”   They thought that they had Jesus trapped on the horns of a dilemma. If Jesus said “yes” then He would appear to be a traitor to his people, in cahoots with the Roman occupiers.  But if he said “no” the Romans would not look upon that kindly.  He was trapped either way.
          But Jesus is not so easily boxed in.  “Show me the coin used to pay the tax,” Jesus says.  Then He asks: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  
          Image and inscription.  Today Jesus could ask “whose brand and whose logo?”   That really is what Jesus is asking.  The image and the inscription on the ancient coin serve the exact same purpose as brands and logos do today.  They show what the coin is all about.
          Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars developing brands and logos, and spend millions in promoting and protecting them.  Their brands and logos are incredibly powerful and valuable.  They quickly go to court to protect them. 
          Recently I went online to check some of the most famous brands.  According to one web site the 35th most iconic corporate logo worldwide is Dunkin Donuts. 
# 29 is Lego.  #22 = Starbucks        #11 = Walmart        # 7 = McDonald’s         
#4 = Apple       #3 = Ford   #2 = Coca-Cola     and the   #1 Corporate Logo worldwide:  Nike    Anyone here have the Nike logo on your person?

          What about US??  Whose image and whose inscription is on us?  Well, we are told in the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God.  In Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27 we read:  Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. ….     God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female* he created them.”
          So we bear the image and likeness of God our Creator.  But as Christians there is even more.  By our Baptism every one of us is reconfigured in the image of Jesus Christ.  The image that we are to show forth is not any corporate image, not our own self, but rather Jesus living in us.  Our image, our “brand” if you will, is the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ.  That is the best image of all.  And our inscription, our “logo”??  Why that is none other than the Holy Spirit that has been poured into our hearts in Baptism and in our Confirmation, that confirms, or guarantees, that we are God’s own beloved children.  We could say our brand is Jesus and our logo is the Holy Spirit.  And you cannot do better than that!
          So what are we to do with all that?   Jesus gives us a succinct and powerful answer in today’s Gospel.  “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
          Ceasar represents all that is of this world, all that is about love of power and riches, all that is self-serving and proud, all that is about self-aggrandizement and Me, Me, Me.

          That is NOT our brand nor our logo.  Rather we are to give to God what belongs to God, and that means our very selves.  We belong to God.  We are created in God’s image, we are redeemed in the image of Jesus, we are sanctified and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we are to give to God our very selves. 
          My friends, we have incredible dignity as the children of God.  We are created for and by God, redeemed by Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit.  All we are, and all that we have, are God’s.  And that makes every one of us supremely loved and very precious.

          Give to God what belongs to God; your very self.       AMEN

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 15, 2017

One of the prayers we learn early on is the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” We recite it so frequently, and usually so rapidly, that we sometimes don’t pay much attention to the words that we are actually saying. I know it is easy for me to get distracted and think about what I have to do next, or some other random thought, as I pray. Even when standing up at the altar, leading the “Our Father” at Mass and facing all the people, I can easily be distracted by the people I see in the congregation. I think about this one I want to ask to do something, or this person I need to call, or that person who I don’t like, etc. So if you are anything like me, it is good occasionally to stop and pay attention to the actual words we pray.
The “Our Father” is full of pronouns. However, the words “I,” “me,” and “mine” never appear in the prayer. That alone makes it different from much of our speech. 
The first emphasis in the prayer is GOD. “YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done.” The primary emphasis is not on us, but on God. And the second emphasis is on US as a collective group. We do not pray “give me this day my daily bread” but “give US OUR daily bread.” I think that is very different for asking for MY daily bread. When we pray for us to receive our daily bread, we are praying not only for what we need but also for what our brothers and sisters and neighbors and everyone needs. To truly pray this means we are committing ourselves to work that none of our brothers and sisters–that is all humanity–goes hungry. If we say these words in prayer, but then do nothing to feed the hungry people of the world, our prayer is meaningless and empty. Our words have “traction” and meaning only if we act on them, and to pray “give US this day OUR daily bread” means we are pledging ourselves to help all in need.
Likewise, we pray “and forgive US OUR trespasses as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” To pray this way, it seems to me, means that we are not concerned solely, nor even primarily, with our own personal transgressions. The personal failings we have need to be addressed and forgiven, but this prayer teaches us to recognize our collective hardness of heart and our sin as a community. We sin in perpetuating racism and homophobia, by permitting the conditions that promote the scandal of mass shootings, of the epidemic of opioid addiction, of huge disparities in the distribution of the world’s goods, of allowing the sick and elderly to be abandoned and forgotten. How well do WE forgive those who trespass against us, not only as an individual person, but as a parish, a race, a nation, a Church? That is something to ponder.
The prayer concludes: “And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from evil. AMEN.” We do not pray for individual deliverance and protection, but for communal protection. Again, to pray this way means we are committing ourselves to protect and deliver others, if they be the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the unfortunate. Only if we do this do our words have any credibility and meaning.

I find the “Our Father” a radical and challenging prayer. I think it is meant to be so. And I hope that you find it a challenge to pray too. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 8, 2017

This past weekend we experienced another tragedy with the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Again, we are left numb with grief.
How did this happen? Why would someone do such a horrible thing? What drove this man to such despicable acts of violence and hate? What was he trying to prove? 
Living in the shadow of the UT Tower, these are questions that are very real to us, and we know that this sort of horrible event will likely occur again someday.
This sort of terrible occurrence brings us face to face with our own contingency. In spite of all our schedules, plans, preparations, and intentions, there is NO guarantee that any of us will be here tomorrow. Some senseless act of violence, some random act of terrorism, some inattention by another driver, some freak accident, may instantly end our life. 
This realization reminds us that we are NOT in control. This realization reminds us that every day is a gift. This realization reminds us not to put off the really important things of reminding our loved ones of our love and of thanking God for the gift of life. This realization helps convince us to keep the small things small. This realization reminds us of the more important bigger issues of gratitude and appreciation. This realization is, ultimately, not a downer, but a gift.

We pray for all the victims: the victims of recent natural disasters, the victims of war, the victims of terrorism, and the victims of senseless tragedies like occurred this past week in Las Vegas. We know that we too so easily can be added to the list of victims. Let us also pray for ourselves, for the wisdom to take to heart the beautiful and precious gift of life. October is pro-life month. Let us pray for a greater appreciation of all life from conception to natural death. And let us enjoy the great gift that we have.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 1, 2017

This coming Saturday, Oct. 7, has a couple of interesting things going on. First of all, we will have the annual BLESSING OF ANIMALS in the morning. Wednesday, Oct 4. is the actual feast of St. Francis of Assisi, but we always do this blessing on the Saturday closest to his feast. We get dogs and cats, and occasionally a guinea pig or a mouse. We have had police dogs, and even in the distant past a horse - or so I am told. It is a wonderful celebration, and I encourage all those with pets to come, and even if you do not have a pet you are most welcome to pray with us. 
Having recently completed a book discussion group on a book by Sr. Joan Chittister, “Two Dogs and a Parrot” subtitled “What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life,” I think this year’s blessing of pets will be more meaningful for me. Our four weeks of discussion about pets, and what the participants have received from their pets, and what they have learned about themselves and about life from their pets, will make this year’s blessing of pets a richer and more significant experience for me. God uses His creation, and especially the animals in our lives, to instruct us and help us experience positive instances of loyalty, of trust, of being needed, and especially the joy of companionship. So, I invite you to join us next Saturday for the Blessing of Animals. There are details elsewhere in this bulletin and on our parish website,
Next Saturday is also the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is historically an interesting feast, established by Pope Pius V in 1571 to commemorate a great naval victory of the Christian forces under Don Juan of Austria over the Ottoman (Muslim) naval forces that were planning to invade Europe. The Ottomans greatly outnumbered the Christians in men and in ships, but the Venetians had a secret weapon, a new kind of ship that basically was a gun platform. Thus, the Christians out-gunned the Turks and shot them to pieces. It was a terrible slaughter and something like 50,000 people lost their lives that day, with the Christians losing 17 ships and the Ottomans 137. It was a great victory for the Christians. Anyway, in the lead-up to the battle, Pope I had urged people all over Europe to pray the rosary to save Europe from the Muslim invasion. The Pope then attributed the surprising and overwhelming victory to the intercession of Mary, and established this Feast on the anniversary of the battle. 

Today we are unlikely to ask Mary’s help in conquering and slaughtering our enemies, though as a child in Catholic grade school we all prayed to Mary for the conversion of Russia. At least we had moved far enough to not want to kill our enemies but to convert them. Now we need to move further to learn how to live together on this one planet we have in mutual respect and harmony. Having just spent two weeks in a Muslim country (Morocco), I was impressed and grateful for their kind hospitality and welcome. I was also impressed by the public way they live out their religion in daily prayer. Their commitment to religious observance puts me to shame. Perhaps we make our religion too private and individual in the West, to the point of making it totally hidden and secret. In any case, there is plenty to contemplate this coming Saturday. It is good to reflect on all these things.