Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 24, 2018

Next weekend will be the last weekend that Fr. Dick Sparks will be with us on the parish staff. He will preach at all the Masses next weekend, and there will be refreshments served in Hecker Hall following each Mass. Please take this opportunity to thank him for his three years of hard work and service here at St. Austin’s. I know that many of you will miss his insightful homilies, contagious energy, and great sense of humor.
On another note, I have been thinking about the recent vote, a month ago, in the Republic of Ireland on the constitutional provision prohibiting abortion. It was an unexpected landslide in favor of repealing the constitutional provision. The great majority of commentators saw this not just as an embrace of a more liberal position, but a rebuke of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Ever since the terrible clergy sexual abuse scandal broke in Ireland, the people have been turning away from the Church, no longer going to Mass, voting to accept same-sex marriage, and now rejecting the strong anti-abortion provision of the constitution. This phenomenal change in Irish culture is a reaction to the overly strong, at times oppressive, role of the Church in Irish culture.
I am reminded of what happened in Quebec, Canada. There the Church also played a very dominant and controlling presence in Quebec culture. In reaction, people rejected the Church once they had other options, and Quebec is now among the most secular societies in the world. We see that process of reaction occurring in Ireland. It is beginning in Poland, and it will eventually come to the Philippines. Wherever the Church had a dominant and controlling, indeed stifling, position there is now rejection. It will take a long time and tremendous work to evangelize these places anew. 
Fortunately for us, our American experience is different. While the Church as an institution has had social power in this country, it was never to the extent or force that it had in predominantly Catholic countries. Hence the Church here has had to learn to use more of its effort to persuade rather than to coerce. While in the short run this is harder and less effective, the results are much more long-lasting. And this method is much closer to the approach of Jesus. It is a great blessing that in this country we never had the power of the secular state to enforce our religion.
Father Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists, greatly valued the freedom of religion in our country, because then only by genuine faith and commitment would people become Catholics. While we have suffered from terrible scandals and cover-ups in the country, we are still beneficiaries of the blessing of religious freedom. It is a genuine good that we do not accept grudgingly, but value as a positive benefit. It is another reason to celebrate our national independence next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, June 17, 2018

First of all, HAPPY FATHERS DAY to all dads, godfathers, and father figures. You have a tough job in today’s world. God bless you!!!
As I mentioned last week, on May 15, we received six responses to our potential property development request for proposal, which we have been discussing over the last year. The ad hoc Development Committee of our parish spent two days interviewing all six proposing firms at the offices of our brokers, CBRE. All six developers followed our request to maintain our church and new lobby entrance, build us new facilities, and use some of the land for their own commercial projects.
People flew in from around the country to present to us. They each had about an hour and a half. They made their presentations, and then we asked lots of questions. It was interesting, informative, and somewhat overwhelming.
We heard proposals ranging from over 1,000 student housing beds on our property to mixed-use of office, retail, active senior housing, and student housing. One even mentioned introducing a grocery store to the neighborhood on our site. Everybody recognizes that our location is uniquely located and all had some component of student housing.
After spending two days listening to all these ideas, figures, challenges, possibilities, etc., my mind was swimming. Fortunately, we have very sharp people on the Development Committee and participation from our partners at the Diocese. The level of talent representing our needs is very impressive and is excelled by the deep dedication to the parish. It was heartening to me to be with such sharp and dedicated parishioners.
After this round of interviews, we ruled out three of the firms and sent the other three with more questions for clarification. We will be continuing to discuss options with these three over the next few months.
Where this will all end is not at all clear. We continue to let the process lead us to the right timing and options to explore. Everyone recognizes that our location is super-prime. I hope that we can use that to improve our school and further the mission of our parish.  That is what this is all about.

Monday, June 18, 2018


When someone applies to enter religious life you undergo a battery of psychological tests.  They want to know if you are crazy before they accept you.  And so a long time ago when I applied to the Paulists I had to do all these psychological tests.
          Probably owing to the fact that this field of psychological testing was still kind of new 40 years ago - and so not very accurate - I came out mostly as normal.  There were only two scores that were anomalous.  One was a proportional score of how you relate to people as basically good as opposed to basically evil.  The average male candidate at that time scored in the 90’s.  I scored a 07.  I remember the psychiatrist commenting on this result, “This is very Lutheran.”  Whatever.
The other anomalous score was for physical courage.  Again I tested way low.  Rather than lacking courage, I preferred to think of it as having a highly developed sense of self-preservation.
          Now I bring up this odd personal fact because of our second reading today.  I was struck, even startled, by St. Paul’s assertion that “We are always courageous,…”.  And just a few lines later he reiterates this:  “Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” 
          These statements struck me because, well, courage is not my thing.
          So who are the “we” in these statements?  Does St Paul mean all Christians?  Undoubtedly some of you are courageous, and even a few of you are anxious to quit this veil of tears, and this physical body with all its ailments and limitations, and truly “would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord” right this very instant.   But I suspect that I am not the only one who is in no great hurry to leave.  At least not quite yet.
          Or is St. Paul speaking in an imperial way, with a kind of royal “we”, meaning primarily himself?  Certainly St. Paul was an exceptionally brave and courageous man, sometimes to the point of almost being foolhardy.  In the 19th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read about an incident that occurred in Ephesus.  Paul’s preaching there was successful, so much so that it was cutting into the business of the silver smiths who made images of the pagan goddess Artemis, whose shrine was in Ephesus.  One of the silver smiths, named Demetrius, got all the other silver smiths, and then the general populace of the town, riled up and angry over this threat to their liviehoods and the insult to their goddess. 
          A mob gathered in the theater in Ephesus, shouting “Great is Artemis!” and started to beat up on two of Paul’s companions.  Paul, who was a short distance away, immediately wanted to rush there to address the crowd, thinking he could change the mind of this mob.  But the other disciples, more prudent in their approach, sat on Paul and would not let him go to the theater.  They very probably saved his life. 
          So was Paul speaking about himself?  Well, St Paul was not used to saying “we” when he meant “I”.  That was not his style.  And Paul was not idly bragging when he said “We are always courageous.”  So what does he mean? 
          I did some research.  In the New Revised Standard Version translation of this passage, as well as the Greek Orthodox Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and even the pre-1986 “unrevised” New American Bible, this word is translated not as “courageous” but as “confident”.  “We are always confident…” 
          Confidence – at least to me – speaks more about FAITH than does courage.  Of course, it does take courage to live out faith, and given that the Greek word St. Paul uses in this passage can also be translated as “confident”, I think this is the kind of courage St. Paul is referring to.  Not physical prowess or machismo, but rather the confidence to put our faith into action.  More the courage of a Mother Teresa than the courage of a mountain climber or an extreme snow-boarder.
It takes courage to live out our faith:  the courage to not participate in office gossip and petty politics.  The courage to see all people as brothers and sisters, and not value them according to how much they make or what they own, or what they can do for me.  The courage to resist the allure and blandishments of consumerism, to think that things can make me happy, or even worse, to value myself according to what I wear, or drive, or what kind of electronic gadget I have in my purse or pocket.  The courage to tell the hard truth, to reach out to help the unpleasant person, to do what is right when everybody else is taking the easy way.  The courage to resist a culture of death that says sex is just for entertainment and that unborn persons can be disposed of. 
          It takes courage based on confident faith to live this way.  So, where do we get that confident faith that makes us “always courageous”? 
          It is a gift that God gives us.  It is not a big, spectacular, shiny, powerful, impressive gift, especially at first.  In fact, the gift is tiny, rather ordinary, kind of unimpressive, like a mustard seed.   (Penelope Cecile)
          God plants that very small, seemingly insignificant gift in our hearts.  But once planted it can grow.  If we give that tiny seed of faith the sunshine of worship and good living, and water it with the tears of repentance for our sins, and fertilize it with the sacrifices of letting go evil and of doing what is right, that seed, according to Jesus, “springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”  The Kingdom of God grows in our hearts through faith.
          Then truly we will be always confident, always courageous.  As St. Paul says, “We are always courageous”. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B June 10, 2018

Our Gospel today opens with the line, “Jesus came home with his disciples.”   Aww, ain’t that nice?   Jesus came home….
          In our culture we think of homecoming as a good thing.  Home is supposed to be a place of rest, of security, of acceptance, of safety.  It is where you can be yourself.  Maybe we have some college students with us today, home from your exhausting labors at university.  Hopefully your time at home is relaxing, refreshing and rejuvenating.  That is what it is supposed to be.
          But we know that that is not always the case.  And it certainly was not the case for Jesus.  “Jesus came home with his disciples.”  But instead of being a place of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation, it is a mad house.  We are told, “Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat.”   Not even able to eat?!?   Awful!
          And seeing this madness, Jesus’ family, instead of supporting Him, think that Jesus has lost it and want to intervene to protect Him.  Our Gospel states: “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.   Jesus’ family see this commotion and craziness and think Jesus has lost it, and so want to intervene.
          If that is not bad enough, who shows up but Jesus’ old enemies, the scribes from Jerusalem.  They claim Jesus is possessed, and that is why Jesus can work miracles.  Jesus is a tool of the Devil!  “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” they claim, and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” they announce. 
          REJECTION!  Jesus is facing rejection big time.  Jesus is rejected by His family, by those who are close to Him, and Jesus is rejected by the
religious leadership, the ones who should be on His side, promoting the Will of God.  This is rejection up close and personal. 
          But Jesus is not phased.  Jesus knew that following God’s Will means breaking with the ways of the world, and that break will cause opposition.  Jesus expected it, and He dealt with it.      //
          How about us?  How about you?   If our lives are not causing anyone to look at us a little askance, as if we are ‘a little nuts,’; if our actions and decisions do not cause some people to shake their heads in wonderment, or cause some sort of opposition and disagreement with us, then we better check to see if we really are living a Christian life.  Because to truly follow Christ means living in a way different from the world.  And the world does not at all like that difference.  It accurately sees that as a criticism and a condemnation.  And you cannot go around condemning the way of this world and not expect a negative reaction. 
          Brothers and sisters we are entering some dark times.  The vile forces of greed and sexism and racism and hatred have been unleashed around the world.  Civility has declined and the Pandora’s box of nationalism and hatred has been propped open.  We will face, increasingly I am afraid, a lack of civility and a growth of hatred.  It cannot end well.
          However, the Gospel is Good News.  For out of this experience of rejection by those who are supposed to be close to Him, Jesus forms a new community, a new family.  When Jesus’ family, His mother and brothers and sisters arrive and summon Him to come out to them, Jesus uses the opportunity to create a new family, a new community, a community not based on blood, or nationality, or race, or economic status, or political alignment, not even on religious affiliation. 
Rather Jesus’ new community is based on doing the Will of God.  Jesus declares, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the Will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” 
          Real relationship with Jesus does not depend on heredity, nor on religion, nor on nationality, nor on political party, nor sexual orientation, nor on race.   Rather it depends on living as a child of God.  “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
          We are called to be Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and as such, brothers and sisters to each other. A new family in a new way.  We are the new community of Jesus’ family, and with Him we truly find security, and comfort, and peace.   AMEN.