Monday, February 26, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, Februrary 25, 2018

During this Lenten season it is a good practice to go to confession. However, we now like to call this Sacrament “reconciliation.” Is this just a fad thing and so we have a new name? Not really. There is a theological reason behind changing the name for this Sacrament from “confession” to “reconciliation.” It has to do with who is the primary actor in the Sacrament. You see, we confess our sins. So calling it confession puts the emphasis on what we do. However, it is God who reconciles us to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. Calling the Sacrament “reconciliation” therefore puts the emphasis on what God does. And that is, frankly, the most important part of the Sacrament.
On Sunday, April 22, Bishop Joe Vasquez is scheduled to be here to celebrate Confirmation with our teenagers, most of whom are sophomores in high school. I interview each of them individually, and begin by asking them what Confirmation is all about. Invariably they tell me that they are confirming the faith that was chosen for them as infants at their Baptism. It is a common understanding, but that is wrong.
We do, of course, want them to confirm the faith in which they have been raised, but the Sacrament of Confirmation is something they get, something they receive, NOT something they do. God is confirming, or guaranteeing, God’s choice of them.  Bishop Joe will anoint the confirmation candidate with olive oil and say “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is something they receive, not something they do. They get the Holy Spirit, not give it. Again, the sacrament is more about what God does than what we do.
In each of the sacraments it is God who is the primary actor. It is not what we do that is most important. Of course, our cooperation with God’s grace is important, and we must strive to put into practice the grace we receive. But grace is always free and always a gift. That means we do not earn it. We do not have a just claim in it. We do not receive it by rights. It is always a gift.
The heresy that we can somehow earn grace or salvation is called Pelagianism. I think it is easy for us who value hard workers, self-starters, achievers, independent people who don’t rely on others, to slip unconsciously into a sort of semi-Pelagianism that mistakenly believes we can and should “earn” our way into heaven. But we can’t do that. Grace is always free. As St Paul tell us, all we have and all we become is gift.
So, as you celebrate the sacraments this Lent, and at any time, remember that the major player is God. We receive God’s gifts, not earned, free and undeserved. Our proper response therefore is gratitude. It is all gift. Blessed Lent!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

HOMILY Second Sunday of Lent Feb 25, 2018 St. Austin’s

(sing) “Sons of God, hear His holy word, gather round the table of the Lord,”

          Ages ago when I was a teenager we sang this song at Mass and at retreats.  It has fallen out of liturgical favor, though I still like it.  But I was reminded of this song because our readings today have the theme of fathers and sons.   We hear of Abraham and his only son Isaac in the dramatic first reading.  St. Paul in our second reading tells us that God did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.  And in the Gospel God declares in the voice from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”
          Fathers and sons are an age-old theme that touches on generativity, of living on in your progeny, of continuation of the family name, of a form of immortality in the flesh.
          In the Biblical view, which is much different than our contemporary understanding of generations and of gender, the concept of “SON” is much greater than just male.  At its essence it is NOT about gender, but rather is about continuation of the family name, about sharing in the inheritance of the family, about identity being drawn and fortified by belonging to the line of the family.  In this spiritual sense, girls too can be “sons”.   Odd but true.   Sonship is not about gender, but about relationship, about family inheritance and resemblance.
          After all, women too sang “Sons of God, hear His holy Word, gather round the table of the Lord, …” 
          Maybe we better get back to our readings.  In being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham is trusting enough to give up his future, his       
continuation in time through his descendants. 
And in being willing to do that, Abraham, ironically, becomes abundantly blessed: 
"I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did 
in not withholding from me your beloved son, 
I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless 
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; 
your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, 
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing—”

          In a parallel way, St Paul tells the Romans, and now us, that God the Father “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all…”  And the result?  An even greater explosion of blessing than what happened with Abraham.  We are looking at it right here.  We now can become sons of God!  ‘If God is for us,” Paul asks, “who can be against us?”     //
          In the Gospel God speaks from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” 
          By listening to Jesus, not only with our ears, not only with our minds, not only with our hearts, but with our whole being, all that we are and hope to be, we take on the likeness of Jesus.  We become like Him: compassionate, honest, brave, genuine, true.  By the Sacrament of Baptism, we have been conformed, shaped anew, into the image of Jesus.  We are now truly God’s beloved children, indeed regardless of our gender, each of us is God’s beloved son. 
          This gives each of us tremendous worth, incredible value.  We are deeply and dearly loved by God the Father.  We take on the image of the Beloved Son.  We are children of God.
          With that great and enduring dignity comes responsibility, comes a duty, comes a purpose and a mission.  We are to build up, both in our hearts and in our lives and in all our surroundings, the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of compassion, of truth, and of love.  That does not usually happen in big, dramatic, spectacular ways, but usually quietly, secretly, modestly.  The works of penance that we engage in during this Lenten season are methods to assist us in doing the work of building up the Kingdom of our beloved Father.
          We are truly God’s children.  Each of us shares in the inheritance of God’s son.  Each of us is beloved. 
(sing)   “Sons of God, hear his holy Word, gather round the table of the Lord, …”
          We now gather around this table, our family meal, to be fed so that we truly might live as the beloved Sons of God.    AMEN. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 18, 2018

It is time for another update on the various projects going on around here. As you have seen, there is a HUGE building boom in the West Campus (or as UT prefers to call it, “West of Guadalupe”) area. Many very big dorms are being built all around us. When these are all open it will bring many more university students into our immediate area. This will have an impact on traffic in our area, especially foot traffic during the school year. It will have impacts on our parish ministry, as we will be closer to many students than the University Catholic Center, and some of those, either out of liturgical preference or out of sheer laziness, will opt to join us for Mass rather than walk two blocks more to UCC. We will see.
Also, the demolition of the old McDonald’s and the excavation for the Marriott hotels is now, after multiple delays, moving forward rapidly. That is quite a big hole they are digging! I understand that there is to be underground parking for 250 cars, going down three and a half stories.
So far, the school has been doing very well and not much bothered by the construction at all. We hope it stays that way, and certainly by the end of summer the hotel excavation will be complete and they will be into interior construction, which will be much quieter and much cleaner. For now, we have moved several of the upper grades to classrooms we are renting from Hillel, across 21st Street from us, and then moved some of the other grades into the Middle School classrooms. This has worked out better than expected, as the teachers and the students like being in the newer facilities at Hillel. It has also been an opportunity to learn more about our Jewish neighbors.
As for the renovation of our campus, we are now about 80% complete. There is still work to be done in the new lobby area and installing the new bathrooms, as well as work on the tower. Metal panels will be put on the sides of the tower, new ladders inside the tower, and the cross and light fixture mounted on the top of the tower. We are pretty close to schedule and pretty close to budget. And I am very happy so far with the results. Already the church looks much better, and it will really look nice when all is done.
We are planning a special ceremony of blessing and thanksgiving on Sunday morning, May 27. That is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, but it is also the Feast Day of St Augustine of Canterbury, or as we know him, St. Austin. A more public event will take place after the 8:30 a.m. Mass, followed by a dedication Mass at 11:30 a.m.
We are also continuing our search for a new Director of Liturgy and Music. More candidates continue to apply, and we have learned a lot. In the meantime, parishioners have stepped up and made our worship continue to be a source of pride and beauty.
Finally, we are still waiting for permission from the Diocese of Austin to go public with our Request For Proposal (RFP) to developers for the development of our campus property. I hope to be able to report to you soon that we have been able to move forward. My next meeting with the Bishops and the Diocesan Consultors is set for Monday morning, February 19. Keep us in your prayers!
Thank you all for your patience and understanding, and your support during this busy time. As things develop I will continue to keep you updated.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, February 4, 2018

For the last several weeks, I have been ruminating on the nature of religious Truth. Now I want to look more specifically at the Mystery of the Virgin Birth. 
What is important is the truth about this religious mystery, not the facts. At this point, 2000 years later, it is impossible to ascertain the facts of this mystery. Since Mary had only X chromosomes, and Jesus as a male would have had to have both an X and a Y chromosome (since He is like us in all things but sin), where did the Y chromosome come from? Did God create one out of nothing, or make a miraculous copy of Joseph’s Y chromosome? We don’t know, we cannot know at this point, and frankly it is of no significance. God is Jesus’ Father, and that is what is significant. How that took place is probably beyond our understanding. That it took place is what matters.
What we do know is this: Jesus is totally and completely God’s free gift to us and all the human race. We owe to no man the phenomenal gift of God’s own self in Jesus Christ. Our salvation is not in any way a human achievement, but rather pure gift from God. We could never have achieved the Incarnation on our own. It is all GRACE.
The early Church Fathers and Mothers had a great time speculating on this Mystery. For many early church writers, it made sense that since Adam had no parents, and since Eve was born from a man alone, and since all the rest of us are born of both a man and a woman, therefore Jesus should be born with the only unique option left: namely born of a woman alone. Jesus’ miraculous birth therefor represents a new beginning for humanity in grace and union with God.
The Incarnation is a whole new event in human history. It is in truth a new beginning, a fresh start, a resetting of the relationship between God and humanity. It means that, henceforth and for all time, all flesh has the potential to be united to God. As Jesus became one with us in the Incarnation, so we now have the possibility of becoming one with God in the flesh. The Resurrection flows directly from the Incarnation, which is manifest in the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
The Virgin Birth is the Truth of a fresh beginning, a new start. We humans pretty badly mucked it up. We were trapped in the futility of sin. But the Virgin Birth broke through that endless repetition of sin with a whole new beginning. The Virgin Birth is the truth of God’s surprising and unique action to enter dramatically and conclusively into our history, to become one with us, and to save us – not from the outside – but from within. The Virgin Birth is the great sign of hope for all of us sinners to truly become children of God. And that is Good News. And it is TRUE!