Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 29, 2018

Recently the New York Times had a front-page article about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He has been removed from active ministry because of credible allegations against him of sexual abuse of a minor decades ago. This makes Cardinal McCarrick the highest-ranking Bishop to be removed from ministry over the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Which is a terrible and shameful thing.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in sports, academics, Boy Scouts, the military, entertainment, and business, in just about every profession and walk of life, there have been scandals over inappropriate sexual behavior. So it is an ugly fact of life. We must learn how to protect ourselves, those we love, and all innocent victims. One very practical, concrete action we can take is to learn about the signs of sexual abuse and to know how to react. We can make it stop. 
Fortunately, we have a good program for that, called Ethics and Integrity in Ministry (EIM). It is sponsored by the Diocese of Austin. All those who volunteer in ministry, such as lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, teachers and helpers with Religious Education and Sacramental Preparation, and even people who volunteer on boards, councils and work groups at the parish are required, or strongly urged, to complete the EIM process. 
The process consists of signing up, of a having a background check conducted on you, and attending a workshop of two hours, which must be repeated every three years. The session consists of a movie that is really very good and (at least to me) interesting. I urge EVERYONE in the parish who is 18 or older to go through this program. It is very worthwhile. Knowing the signs of sexual abuse, or that there is something wrong going on, and knowing then how to appropriately react and report such observations, is critically important. You could save someone a great deal of heartache and pain. 
To find out more about EIM and to sign up, the easiest way is to go to our parish website, www.staustin.org/eim and it will lead you through the steps in signing up. Or you can go to the Diocese of Austin website, www.austindiocese.org/eim.
We have scheduled EIM workshops here at St Austin for our school and our parish on August 18 and September 8. You are welcome to register and to join us. There are other workshops at other parishes around on different dates, and it does not make any difference which one you attend.
So I urge you to investigate EIM and get EIM certified. It will enable you to be a more active and responsible member of our great parish family.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B St Austin July 29, 2018

          I know a number of people who temporarily or more permanently have stopped watching the news and reading the paper, because so much of it is ugly and depressing.  There is division, conflict, name-calling, anger, hatred, groups beating up on other groups, and on and on.  People who are angry at other races, other genders, other classes, other groups, other religions, other sexual orientations, other pollical parties, other nationalities:  you name it and someone is angry over it.  And they want to divide, separate, and keep others at a distance.
          Our second reading today stands in stark contrast.  St. Paul states:  “I, …, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, …. Bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:  One bond and one spirit, ….one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  
          St Paul is calling the Ephesians, and us, to be witnesses to unity, and more, to be effective change agents for unity, or in religious language to be a sacrament of unity, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another though love,”   
          This is also what Vatican Council II taught us.  In the vision of the Council the church is to be in the world as an effective witness and change agent, or to use a more religious term, a sacrament, of the salvation of the whole world.
          This is why St Paul is so concerned about the unity of the church, why St Paul is so insistent on the Ephesians, and us, living in unity. 
  “as you were called to the one hope of your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
          That is an immense task, to be the sign and the effective agent of the unity of all the world.  But that is what a sacrament is: an effective sign that makes real and present the reality it symbolizes.  And we are to be the sacrament of the salvation of the whole world.
          What, us?  We are to represent, and so make effective, the unity of all the whole world under God?  But we are so small, so un-important, so not very powerful!!!
          Time to turn to the Gospel.  Jesus is preaching to a huge crowd.  They are hungry.  Jesus asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”   How can we satisfy their hunger, their basic needs?  The need is so great. 
          But the disciples – that is us – don’t have very much.  In face of the great needs of the world, the divisions and hatreds and angers and bitter memories of grudges and hurts, the little we are seems not only insignificant, but useless.  We don’t have even enough for us.  All we have is five barley loves and two fish.  It is puny.
          As Andrew so obviously states, “but what good are these for so many?   Indeed, what good are these, the church gathered here as the body of Christ, for so many?  So many hurting people.  So much hunger.  So much thirst.  So much despair. 
          Look out over this congregation.  What good are these for so many?  We seem so insignificant, like those five barley loaves and two fish in the face of so much hurt and pain and anger and hatred in the world. 
          But Jesus shows us the way.  Just as Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, blessed them, broke them and distributed them, and they were more than enough.  And just as the bread and wine soon to be brought up here to the altar – really a small thing - will be blessed, broken, and shared with us will be so very much more than simple bread and wine but the true body and blood of Christ, so also we, taken up and blessed by Jesus, broken open out of selfishness, and shared with others in care, compassion and love, will be more than enough to satisfy all the many hungers of the world, hungers for respect, for acceptance, for love. 
          We come broken and divided:  we are men and women; we are old, middle aged and young; we are Republican, Democrat and Independent; we are white and black and brown; we are born Americans, Immigrants, and Citizens of other countries; we are straight and gay and confused; we are rich, middle class and poor; we are happy, sad and bored; we are saints, sinners and so-so Christians; we are all over the lot.
          But in Christ Jesus we become ONE.  We become what we receive at this Mass, bread for the world.  We are the sacrament of God’s love for the whole world.  God’s love is bounteous.  More than enough.  We must share it with the whole world. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 22, 2018

Well, here we are in July, still waiting for our renovation project to finish. I am trying to learn patience.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, the sidewalk in front of our new lobby and the entrance to the church will be all repaired. The delay was caused by differences with the City of Austin (COA) building department over interpretations of the building code. We want to repair existing conditions, they want the entire sidewalk re-conformed to meet building codes enacted long after the sidewalk was built. Since almost all of the sidewalk is COA property (our property line ends about a foot in front of our center steps) we believe that is on them to change the sidewalk. We just want to repair existing conditions. I am trying to learn patience.
Meanwhile the last parts of the renovation project are coming together, and slowly it is being finished. In any case we WILL give thanks to God and celebrate our renovation on Sun., Sept. 2. Following the 8:45 a.m. Mass, at about 9:30 a.m., we will have a little program with a few speakers, cut the ribbon, and officially open the new entrance lobby.
That will continue until we have the 11:30 a.m. Mass, which will be a more religious celebration of the dedication, with full choir, a brass quartet, and ending with a Blessing of the whole project. There will also be refreshments, perhaps food trucks on the blacktop, exhibits, and it should be a fun time of community building. We have much to celebrate! Please plan to spend some time with us that Sun. morning, Sept. 2.
Beyond that we are looking at the possibility of doing some renovation work in the interior of the church. Now that the outside is so lovely, the inside requires a little TLC. You may have noticed some small monitors on the altar and pillars a few weeks ago. They were placed by the HVAC consultant to measure temperature and humidity. We are investigating the possibility of revamping our A/C system. Often the people in the choir loft are broiling, the ministers on the altar in their robes are sweating, and the people in the pews are freezing. We hope to find some low-cost solutions that will even out the temperature in the church when we use air-conditioning, to make everyone more comfortable.
Our sound system is antiquated and becoming ever more “wonky.” It is long past the time that it should be replaced. We are getting a proposal to see what could be done and how much it would cost to replace and upgrade the system. It is not cheap, but it is becoming necessary.
I am meeting with a lighting consultant on the 24th of this month to look at what it would take to re-lamp the church. It could be a lot brighter. Sometimes I have difficulty reading the prayers when at the altar. And we may save money in the long run by changing to LED lighting.
I also have a concern about the condition of the wiring in the church. What we discovered during the exterior renovation about the wiring causes me want to have our wiring checked out. We above all want it to be safe.
And there is also some desire to have more women represented in the artwork of the church. 
All of these projects would enhance our worship experience, and help maintain our worship space for the next generation. Regardless of anything we do with the mixed use development of our campus, these improvements to the interior of our church would be of lasting benefit. I hope you will be hearing more about this soon.  God bless!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 8, 2018

I have been leading a book discussion group on Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation titled “Rejoice and be Glad.” It is a helpful instruction on how to live a holy life. It is not overly theological or pious, and well worth a read. It is available on the Vatican’s website, www.vatican.va.
One of the points the Pope makes is about refugees and immigrants. This is a subject very close to his heart. He states: “We often hear it said that …the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)?” Para # 102
We now have a very difficult and terrible situation playing out on our southern border. In Texas we are right in the middle of the action. This is a terrible situation that will be going on for some time, and that we cannot, in good conscience, ignore.
How are we to respond to this tragic and complicated situation, when partisans on both sides make outrageous statements and substitute emotion and ranting for clear thought and civil discourse? I suggest the following actions:
1) Pray. Pray for enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. Pray for a spirit of wisdom, understanding and courage. Pray that your motivations not be based on fear or prejudice either way, but on the truth and compassion that come from God. Pray for our Bishops, to be forthright and honest, especially for our Bishop, Joe Vasquez, who is the chair of the US Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migrants and Refugees.
2) Get informed as a Catholic. Many news outlets want to tell you their version of the truth. But as Catholics we need to know our stance in all this. Go to the US Catholic Bishop’s website, www.USCCCB.org, and their website on immigration, www.justiceforimmigrants.org. There is lots of information there.
3) Get involved. Let your elected officials know that you stand with the US Catholic Bishops on these issues. Urge the politicians and law makers to do the right thing. Vote. Voting is not only a privilege but an obligation.
4) Donate. People are in real need. In spite of all the money our government is spending in the detention camps – and it is a lot – there are many unmet needs. A list of Catholic organizations (who are doing great work) to which you can donate are listed on the Social Justice page of this bulletin.
5) Keep a positive attitude. We rely not just on political forces, but the Holy Spirit. We do not have the luxury of hopelessness and despair. We have heard Good News, and we are convinced that ultimately, despite whatever setbacks we now experience, that Truth and Goodness have already conquered evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time    Cycle B     St Paul the Apostle, Horseshoe Bay

Our readings this weekend are not happy readings.
          In our first reading the Prophet Ezekiel is told rather bluntly by The Lord, I am sending you to the Israelites,
rebels who have rebelled against me; 
they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. “
          Hmmm, doesn’t that sound like fun?
          Then in our second reading, from St. Paul to the Corinthians we hear: I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. 
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
          More fun!
          And then we have today’s Gospel.  Jesus goes to his native place.  But instead of being welcomed home, and treated like a hero, like a local lad who did well, Jesus is met with suspicion, envy, resistance and rejection.  They took offense at him.   So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
          This is Good News? 
          Brothers and sisters, the readings today remind us that following and doing the Will of God is not easy.  There will be disappointments, hardships, rejection and opposition. 
          You do your best to raise your children Catholic.  Send them to Catholic grade and even high school. Take (sometimes drag) them to church every Sunday.  You pray at home, you try to provide good example, you encourage them in every way you can in the Faith, but once on their own they have nothing to do with church.  They aren’t hostile, it just doesn’t do anything for them.  You are disappointed.  Something very valuable to you, your faith, you have striven to share with them, and they have no interest in it at all. 
          Hardships, like keeping to yourself that juicy bit of gossip you found out about .  You would be the center of attention in your social set if you blabbed what you had learned.  But another person’s reputation would be damaged.  So you struggle to squelch the temptation to blurt it out.  You experience hardship.
          Rejection.  If you are not willing to go along with the rest of the crowd making racist, sexist, homophobic jokes, you will start to stand out.  You may be seen as kind of dull and uninteresting. You may loose friends.  You experience rejection.
          Opposition.  If you stand up for respecting the rights of immigrants and refugees, for respect for human life from the moment of conception till natural death, against bellicose policies that threaten war and violence instead of mutual agreements and peace, in these and many other ways you will experience opposition. 
          Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not for sissies.  The readings today, and our own experience, tells us it can be difficult.  It can be tough.
          So why do it?  Why follow the way of Jesus Christ?  Because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Only in His way do we truly find the Love of God, and the ultimate happiness of our souls.
          St. Paul dramatically cries:  I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. “
          Can you, like St Paul, boast of your weaknesses?  Can you accept that following Jesus is not easy, that you cannot do it on your own, and open yourself to the power of Christ dwelling in you? 
          For myself, I can do this, maybe some times, for a short while.
This is a life’s work:  Something we need to keep working at, struggling with, striving to do more and better. 
          The readings today tell us: Hang in there.  Don’t give up.  Open yourself so that the power of Christ, which in the eyes of the world looks like weakness, may dwell with you.  God bless!