Monday, May 28, 2018

Holy Trinity Homily May 27 2018 St Austin Austin TX

Holy Trinity Homily      May 27 2018    St Austin    Austin TX

First of all, a reflection, and then a homily.

Today I was hoping to celebrate the dedication and blessing of our new bathrooms and all the work we did to make safe and to beautify our church exterior.  I am sure you were too.   And like you, I am disappointed that it is not yet happening.   Bummer!
          But it WILL happen.  To do it properly, we are waiting till Sunday, September 2nd, on Labor Day weekend, to hold the dedication.   The light fixture on top of the tower is now lit, and the bathrooms and the nursery may be open before then.  But, God willing, we will have a wonderful celebration on Sunday, September 2, 2018.   So stay tuned.
          In a way, this false start is fitting and proper for our parish named after St Augustine of Canterbury, or as we know him, St. Austin.  You will recall that he was a sixth century monk in Rome.  He grew up in the area, was happy there, and thought he would spend the rest of his life in the monastery in Rome. 
          However, Pope Gregory, known as the Great, happened to see some English slaves being sold in the Roman slave market and was taken with a strong desire to evangelize and convert these pagan English.  Of course, as the Pope though, he personally was not able to go off to the wilds of Britain to do this.  So, Pope Gregory instructed - that is, ordered - the monk Augustin to go off and convert the English.  We don’t know what Augustin thought of the idea, but when the Pope orders it, especially a Pope as forceful as Gregory the Great, you have to do it.  
          Augustine and several monks dutifully set out.  As they crossed Gaul, present day France, they heard terrible, dispiriting, blood-curdling stories about the wild, barbaric, savage, English, and their horrible weather, so different than warm, sunny Italy.  Before they reached the English Channel, they got cold feet and turned around, returning to Rome.  
          But once there they had to report to Pope Gregory.  He wasn’t amused, and he sent Augustine back with more monks.  This time St. Austin made it to England, re-founded the Church there along Roman lines, and is now considered the Apostle of the English. 
          I also like to consider him the patron saint of Second Chances, since his first effort to evangelize the English was a bust.  But he more than made up for it on his second attempt.
          Likewise, our first attempt to dedicate our renovations and additions has failed.  But like St Austin we will give it a second try, and be even more successful than we first hoped.  So, plan to join us for a big celebration on Sept. 2.

Now for a homily on this Holy Trinity Sunday. 
          I really like this Gospel that we have today, and would like to unpack it a bit.   The Gospel opens: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee,”   These are the 12 Apostles, minus Judas, who betrayed Jesus and then hung himself.
          And they went “to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.”   Which mountain?   Presumably the Apostles remembered to what mountain Jesus had ordered them.  And so St. Matthew should have known.  But St. Matthew does not tell us because I think he doesn’t want this to be about a particular instance, and a one-time event, but rather his story is a kind of template for an experience that has been and is repeated throughout Christian history. 
          Many times Christians have been summoned to a mountain by Jesus, there to have a special, peak experience.   That could be an experience in prayer, or while reading the Scriptures, or being overwhelmed by beauty of nature or of art, or at the marriage to the person you love, or the birth of a child, or even in church. 
          St. Matthew tells us:  "When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”   The Apostles doubted?   Yes, because their experience is not all that different than our experience.  We believe.  We may even believe fervently.  But if we are honest, there is also, at the same time, doubt lurking in there.  Certitude is hard to come by.  St Matthew is also talking about our experience.
          Then Jesus approached and said to them,
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
            This is the “Great Commission”.  It is given not only to the Apostles, but to all Christians, including you and me.  These are our marching orders:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,…” 
          We must evangelize.  That is really the ultimate purpose we have spent so much money and sat through so many meetings and gone through so much trouble with our renovation project. 
          True we were concerned about safety, and true we really need more bathrooms, and true we wanted a building that we could be proud of.  But the reason we wanted to do this - not in a minimal way or as inexpensively as possible - but to truly make our exterior attractive, something that would grab attention, is ultimately because of this command of Jesus to evangelize.  
          If we do not use the renovation project as a tool to make our presence known, and to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and make disciples of all nations, then our renovation efforts really will have failed. 
          So the renovation project is really just a first step.  As St. Augustine of Canterbury had to keep working at it to spread the Gospel, so do we.           Jesus has given us our mission.  Let us do it.     AMEN

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 20, 2018

First of all, on behalf of Fr. Dick Sparks and myself, THANK YOU to all who stopped by after Mass last weekend and congratulated us on our 40th Ordination Anniversary. We both are most grateful for your well wishes. THANKS!
Secondly, I hope you have noticed the new light fixture and black metal cross on the top of our tower. It is very impressive, and we hope to have it lit soon.
By the time you read this, the Paulists should have two more newly ordained priests: Fr. Michael Hennessey, CSP and Fr. Ryan Casey, CSP. You may remember Fr. Casey, who spent the summer of 2014 with us. Congratulations to them both, and please continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, especially to the Paulists.
We were hoping to celebrate the blessing and dedication of all the work on the renovation of our exterior, the new Holy Family Room and Nursery, and the new accessible entrance lobby and bathrooms. However, like a lot of construction projects around this town, we have had DELAYS. So on May 27 we will not yet have wall panels and flooring in the entrance lobby. Therefore, the blessing and dedication is POSTPONED. It is now set for Sunday, July 8. Please pray we bring this construction project to a happy and beautiful conclusion.
Moving right along, on Wednesday and Thursday of the following week, May 30 and 31, our Development Committee has two full days scheduled to interview the respondents to our request for proposal (RFP) for the mixed-use development of our campus. We expect at least four solid proposals. After that, at the end of the month, we should have a much clearer and better sense if such a project is at all feasible, and if so, what it may actually look like. So please keep the Development Committee in your prayers!
And mark your calendars for a Parish Mission to be given by Fr. Steven Bell, CSP, beginning at all Masses on the weekend of Oct. 20-21 and continuing the evenings of Oct. 22-24. I am sure this will be a stirring (and well attended) event!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 13, 2018

First of all, I want to say a special THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS to all Mothers and Grand-Mothers and God-Mothers on this Mothers’ Day. You deserve a “thank you” every day. So for all our Mothers, both living and deceased, we pray for abundant blessings on you. THANKS!
Today, May 13, also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Dick Sparks and myself. The other remaining member of our class is Fr. Pat, Hensy, CSP, whom some of you old-timers may remember served on the staff of St. Austin Parish from 1991 to 1992, then at the University Catholic Center from 1992 till 2000. He is now in residence at a nursing home in Los Angeles, CA.
Reflecting back on 40 years of priesthood, I must say that is was never dull and hardly ever boring. My first assignment as a deacon and then as a priest was at St. Nicholas Parish in North Pole, AK. It was quite a change from the years I had spent in high-school and then university and then seminary. But it was also quite educational. I learned a lot about being a priest from the good people of St. Nicholas Parish. And it was there I participated in my first building project, helping to plan and construct the church that is still in use there.
I next went to a very different setting, Old Saint Mary’s parish in the south end of the Loop in the heart of Chicago. Whereas in North Pole I could call up a parishioner family and invite myself over for dinner, in Chicago everyone lived in apartments, and so the dynamics were much different. If I got invited out to dinner it was to a restaurant. In Alaska, at a church gathering the men would all congregate to one side and discuss hunting and trucks and weather while the women met on the other side of the room discussing children, shopping and weather, but in Chicago groups were much more gender mixed, and tended to be discussions about business, politics (for which the City of Chicago provided ample material), and the weather. Everybody talks about the weather.
Following Chicago I had my only “foreign” assignment. I went to Toronto for six months to fill in for a priest who had left abruptly. I was expecting to go to Los Angeles, but after I had shipped my stuff to L.A., I got reassigned to Toronto. Anyway, I very much enjoyed my time at the Catholic Information Centre in Toronto, working with another classmate, who subsequently left the priesthood. I don’t think it was because of me.
I then had seven great years in my first pastorate at Clemson, SC. We covered two whole counties, with three small churches, and where Catholics were less than 3% of the local population. It was beautiful country and parishioners had a strong sense of ownership of their faith. Pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City was my next stop. I arrived at an unhappy time in the parish, when the previous pastor, who wanted to stay, was removed by the Paulists. They were also in the middle of a major interior renovation. It was never dull!
Eight years in San Francisco followed, which I very much enjoyed. We finally brought to a close a long-standing requirement that the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral be seismically upgraded. After eight years and $11 million dollars, we got a 5”x8” plastic plaque stating we were upgraded.
Then I came here to St. Austin’s eight years ago. It has been a wonderful experience. Next week, at the Paulist General Council meeting, I fully expect to be renewed as pastor here for another FOUR years. So you aren’t free of me yet. In any case, being a priest and a Paulist is NOT boring! 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Homily May 13, 2018 Ascension of the Lord Cycle B

Homily   May 13, 2018    Ascension of the Lord  Cycle B   

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and godmothers!

          In our Gospel today we just heard this declaration from Jesus about us:  These signs will accompany those who believe:  [I am assuming we do believe,]  in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
          All of these are wonderful and fascinating signs, though I am not much into picking up serpents or driving out demons, but I am attracted to the promise that “they will speak new languages.”
          What languages?  French?  Urdu?   Navaho?  Some of you may be gifted with learning languages, but I am certainly not.  I think of my Dad, who for years tried to learn German, then tried for years to learn Spanish, then tried to learn Italian, then went back to trying to learn German, and then again he is now studying Spanish.  He never got anywhere with any of them.  I don’t think he had a facility for languages, (a lack I inherited,).  Added to that he has trouble hearing.  He was in a self-propelled 105 howitzer battery in Patton’s Third Army in the Battle of the Bulge, and the firing of the guns damaged his hearing.  Which makes learning a language really, really difficult. 
          Would it not be GREAT if we who believe really could, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, speak new languages?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
          Well, I think we need to look closer at what Jesus is promising us, because He may NOT be saying that we will all be polyglots and speak many different languages. 
Different translations of the Bible render this statement of Jesus differently.   The NRSV has: “the will speak in new tongues..”  And the Greek Orthodox Study Bible is very similar, stating “they will speak with new tongues.”   
          What does it mean to speak in or with “new tongues.”?    Perhaps this is a reference to the phenomenon of glossolalia.  If in the dim past you were in the habit of attending charismatic Christian prayer gatherings, you probably experienced the phenomena called “speaking in tongues.”  This is the gift of praying in a rapturous, unconscious, rather musical form of speaking in syllables and sounds that are not recognizable language.  This form of unintelligible praying is traditionally considered a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It was more prevalent and popular back in the 60’s and 70’s than it is today, and periodically through the history of the church glossolalia has erupted, if I may put it that way, at different times, especially times of big change.  Anyone here ever heard, or even prayed in, the gift of tongues???   I have heard it a few times but never experienced praying it personally.   But maybe this is what Jesus meant.
          However, I think there is another, even richer, way to understand Jesus’ declaration that “they will speak new languages.”
          The Jerusalem Bible translates this as “they will have the gift of tongues.”
          The gift I would like to have is to speak a new language of inclusion, instead of words of exclusion.  Would that not be a new language for our culture?   And would it not be beneficial?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that by the gift of the Holy Spirit we will speak words of hope rather than words of despair.  To have the gift to speak words of comfort instead of words that cut and hurt.  
To speak words of welcome instead of dismissal.  To speak with a new tongue of care instead of words of indifference and disdain.    To speak the language of healing rather than the language of causing harm.  Would not that be a wonderful new language to speak?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that with the gift of the Holy Spirit we will have the power to speak the new language of Truth to those in power who run roughshod over the rights and needs of the poor.  To speak boldly and full-throatedly for JUSTICE, for EQUALITY, for RIGHT, for the way God wants the world to be.  Would that not be an exciting new language?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that we speak words of healing, of tenderness, of forgiveness, of unity, of peace, rather than the same old language we hear over and over again on cable news of accusation and recrimination.  Would that not be refreshing and life-giving?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that we will speaks words of praise, glorifying God for God’s wonderful love for us, words of profound gratitude and thankfulness, rather than words of constant complaining, carping, of disappointment and whining for more and more stuff.  Now that would be a new language.
          I believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit truly can help us speak in these new ways.  If we open ourselves to this precious gift, allowing the Holy Spirit to reshape and remold us more and more into the image of Jesus. While it won’t be easy, we will be able to speak new languages:  languages of gratitude and thanksgiving, languages of healing and comfort, language of justice and right, languages of praise, a new language of love.    Now that is a language worth learning.
Happy Ascension! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, May 6, 2018

The Easter Season is moving right along. First Communion is this weekend. In several Dioceses on the East Coast the Feast of the Ascension will be celebrated this Thursday, but here in Texas, as in most of the country, Jesus will ascend on Sunday.
This parish is strong in inter-personal relationships. A few weeks ago, we had a wonderful Volunteer Appreciation Sunday. At each Mass the priest read a long list of various groups and activities that go on here. Many parishioners stood to indicate their participation in one or more of the activities. None of these ministries is done alone. They all involve active participation with others, whether that is lecturing, taking Holy Communion to patients in a hospital or nursing home, working on the Finance Council, the Prayer Blanket Ministry, or Small Christian Communities. And in addition to the wonderful service these ministries provide, the participants also get to know many other parishioners. There is a bonus to all these volunteer groups because they not only provide a needed service, but they do so much to strengthen the bonds of friendship and personal knowledge that make this a parish community.
This is so very important. Over and over again studies show how social capital, the informal bonds and connections that make society work, are declining in this country. People do not have as many friends, do not belong to as many clubs and organizations, and do not know as many people as they used to. Some people blame our reliance on electronic devices, and there is much to be said for this. I have several times seen three or four college age people seated together at a table and instead of interacting with each other, they are all focused on their own phone or electronic device. This has gotten to be such a common sight that we no longer comment on it.

But this phenomenon of growing social isolation was well underway even before the common usage of cell phones. Our society puts a very strong emphasis on independence and individuality. These are good things, but easily get carried away and emphasized out of proportion. Texans are justly proud of the “Lone Star” state, but too much emphasis on the lone star can end up as a lonely star. Since the days of Alexis de Tocqueville, perceptive commentators of American society have identified the danger of so much emphasis on independence and individuality that it leads to social isolation.

This was very much a part of the analysis of the founder of the Paulists, Fr Isaac Hecker. He saw the need for some countervailing force to balance an extreme individualism. For him, that counter force was the Catholic Faith, with our strong emphasis on the communal, the Communion of Saints. We are very much connected, by the Holy Spirit, a connection that not only is real but perdures for all eternity. Hecker liked to say that he could be all the better American by being Catholic, and all the better Catholic by being an American. Of course, I agree with him.
So while the many interpersonal bonds that form the St. Austin Parish and School community are certainly a blessing and strength for our community, they also are a blessing to all those individuals involved in these activities, and even a blessing to the wider Austin community by building up the social capital of our community.