Monday, September 17, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 16, 2018

Several years ago, while helping at another’s parish Penance Service, I noticed a long line of cubbyholes filled with black shoes. These shoes were for altar-servers at the parish, so that when serving on the altar they would all look alike. The servers at this parish also wore white gloves. And instead of simple albs like the servers here wear, they all wore black cassocks with while surplices, just like I wore as an altar boy in pre-historic times. I must admit the result of this uniformity in appearance was quite striking. I believe that many people in that parish believe the uniform appearance adds to the dignity and solemnity of the liturgy. And they are surely correct.
But any discerning observer of the liturgical style at St. Austin parish will quickly note that not only do our servers wear a simple alb, but that we also have a great diversity of footwear present on the altar as well. You are likely to see loafers, sandals, sneakers, dress shoes, cowboy boots, ballet slippers, and even flip-flops. Everything but high heels. 
While this diverse assortment of footwear could be ascribed to a certain liturgical nonchalance or even lazy sloppiness about the liturgy, I prefer to see it as a wonderful, pragmatic sign of catholic diversity. 
St. Paul, for whom the Paulists have a well-founded fondness, spoke quite movingly about unity. For St. Paul, unity among the members of the Body of Christ was of the utmost importance. Unity was the gift of the Spirit and essential to being the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, St. Paul also greatly valued diversity. Indeed, in St. Paul’s understanding, unity could not exist without diversity. In his famous passage to the Corinthians about unity in diversity, St Paul states “Now the body is not a single part, but many.”  And this multiplicity is necessary for the body to be a whole. St Paul asks “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” And he concludes: “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” A diversity is necessary for true unity.
And so, all the feet of the servers are engaged in the one project of assisting at the liturgy. The differences in their footwear, their heights, their hair or skin color, their gender, the ZIP codes they live in, the schools they attend, all these differences and more - to my mind - add to the beauty of their unity in diversity. And that is how we do it at St. Austin.  



          At the beginning of today’s Gospel, we heard: “Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.”   The Gospel writers don’t give us a lot of specific geographic information and place names.  Often it is “on a mountain”, or “the place where he was reared” or something generic statement without mentioning the name.
          But here we are told about Caesarea Philippi.  So maybe we should pay attention to that.  After all, this is the location that Jesus seems to have chosen for a very important revelation about who He is and what His mission is. 
          Now Caesarea Philippi is way in the northernmost part of Galillee, in what is the Gollan Heights today.  It was NOT a Jewish town.  It is the sight of a spring, and for centuries before Jesus it was a pagan shrine dedicated to the Greek God Pan, the flute playing half-man, half-goat god of promiscuity and fertility; a bad parody of the worst image of a frat-boy. 
          Herod the Great, who we hear about in the stories of Jesus’ birth, built a marvelous white temple there dedicated to the Roman Emperor, Augustus.  Herod was succeeded by Philip the Tetrarch, who made this town his administrative center, and renamed it after his boss, the Emperor or Caesar, and called it Philip’s Caesar, or in Latin, Caesarea Philippi.  That is what it is called in today’s Gospel. 
          So this was a pagan place, associated with fertility rites, and an administrative center of the occupying Romans, named after a foreign emperor who pretended to be a god.  Not the kind of place a good Jew would think of for an important religious revelation.  It would be as if Pope Francis, to make some important, history shaking religious revelation, would choose to go to Las Vegas to make the announcement.  It is just off.
          Indeed, the remarkable and startling truth that Jesus reveals is very wild and unexpected.  Because Jesus reveals that the Messiah, far from being a conquering king who will smash the Jew’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic Kingdom of Israel, will instead be rejected, tortured and killed, and then rise after three days.  And even worse, Jesus announces that it will not be the pagans and the Romans and the awful gentiles that will persecute and murder him, but this will be done by “the elders, the chief priests and the scribes,” the very ones who are supposed to be on God’s side.   [Any analogies you want to draw to today’s religious leaders I leave to your own devises.]
          The whole thing is crazy and out-of-whack.   No wonder poor Peter has a hard time getting his head wrapped around this.  Jesus is talking crazy, going against all the norms and expectations of their religion.   No wonder Peter tries to correct Jesus and get him back on good path.  But of course, Jesus will have none of it.
          What are we to make of this?   Well, we can fully expect that God’s ways are NOT our ways.  Jesus does NOT come preaching a prosperity Gospel.  He does NOT say “fall in line, obey the commandments, do good and God will reward you.”  In fact, Jesus says the opposite.  He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it."
          This is very radical stuff.  Jesus is subverting all our human calculations based on power, on prestige, on our own accomplishments.
          In Jesus’ scheme of things, human efforts count for nothing.  Nothing!  Salvation, which is the only thing that ultimately matters, is completely and fully accomplished by God.  Just like the Resurrection.  It is not anything that any human intellect, or ingenuity, or effort, or science, or military force or any other human endeavor could achieve.  
          It is purely, totally, entirely God’s doing.  Only God could pull of the Resurrection.   And God did. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, September 9, 2018

MANY THANKS to all who helped put together, and to those who participated in, our Blessing and Dedication of the exterior renovation of our church last Sunday, September 2. Many people worked to make this happen – too many to list here. But I do want to say a special thanks to Kelley Bodu Tarrant for organizing a wonderful event, and to Jennifer Anderson for helping to make it an actuality. Many others also participated and made this happen, and to all, THANK YOU!
Now that we have the new lobby, bathrooms, meeting room (the Holy Family Room) and refreshed nursery, how shall we use it? Specifically, how does it change the way we enter and exit the church?
Well, you can still enter and exit the church as you always have: through the Deacon’s Door in the back (check out the new awning, made of the same material on the sides of the tower). That has not changed. You can also still enter and exit the church through the three doors on the front, on the Guadalupe Street side. And I expect most people will continue to use these entrances, if for no other reason than sheer habit.
Now you have an additional option, by entering through the new lobby and then into the church on the north side, near the old confessionals. The new lobby entrance is handicapped accessible. If you use a wheelchair, have a large perambulator, or have difficulty with steps, you can enter through the lobby and come up the ramps to the church level. Or, if you want to stop and use the restroom prior to going to church, it would make sense to enter through the lobby and proceed directly to the bathrooms. From there you can enter the church. Some people may choose to do this.
As of now, the lobby entrance will only be open for WEEKEND MASSES, not daily Masses. This may change based on our experience, we will need to see how it goes.
In any case, I encourage you to try to be on time. We try to start Mass on time, so please make the effort to join us from the beginning. We are always happy to have you here, regardless of which way you choose to enter and exit the building. Remember to take a copy of the bulletin with you!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

HOMILY Twenty-Second Sunday, Cycle B September 2, 2018

HOMILY    Twenty-Second Sunday, Cycle B           September 2, 2018

          Jesus and the Pharisees are at it again.   This time over eating with unclean, that is unwashed, hands.  The Pharisees are bent out of shape over things that are external, showy kind of things.
          Jesus is concerned instead about what comes out of the person from within.  Purity is not a matter of ritual, but of what is in our heart. 
          The Pharisees emphasize the outside: the rituals, the rules, the things that are obvious and can be seen. 
Jesus emphasizes the inside;  "From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”
            Today we are dedicating and blessing the wonderful renovation of the exterior of our church and rectory, and the addition of a new lobby, with handicapped accessible entrance, bathrooms, a new meeting room and renewed nursery.  Externally, on the outside, it is really an improvement.   Our exterior has gone from being dingy and grody looking, and dangerous, even mistaken for abandoned buildings, to now being noble and beautiful and note-worthy. 
          Many have contributed and worked on this transformation and they all are to be thanked and commended.  All those who contributed and worked on this project can be justly proud of the results.   It is WONDERFUL!!!
          But we are reminded by today’s Gospel that the exterior is not what saves.  What really matters is the interior. 
        In our case as a parish, what matters is what goes on here inside this church building, and even more importantly than that, is what goes on within this church community, the people, the parish of St Austin Catholic Church.
          The exterior is beautiful.  And we are justly proud.  But that is NOT enough.  How we are as a parish community, what we do as a parish community, is the real proof and the critical issue.   It is great that we look good.  And we do look good.  It is so great that after so long we look really good.
          But as wonderful as that is, it is even more important that we, the parishioners, as a community, be constantly renewed.  It is what comes from inside our community that is important and saving.  In this difficult time of increasing racism, nativism, xenophobia, of exclusion of others, of wanting to separate into our gated communities of people who are just like us, we need to be more catholic. 
          Catholic means universal.  Catholic is inclusive.  Catholic does not build boundaries and save only those on the inside.  Catholic means reaching out to all types of people, becoming a sacrament of salvation of the whole world.  Catholic includes everyone that Jesus cares about.  Everyone that Jesus wants to save.  Everyone for whom Jesus gave His life.   And that is everyone.
          THAT is pretty inclusive.
          We are happy to celebrate the blessing and dedication of these improvements of our parish plant.  But they are exterior things.  The real task starts now, with how we use these improvements to increase, improve, renovate our outreach to more and more people. 
          We have to do the hard work of renovating, not our buildings, but our community: to be more welcoming, more inviting, more reaching out, more inclusive, more catholic. 
          In our second reading today St James, who tends to go directly to the point and not be flowery and theoretical, but rather direct and practical, states: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  
          We should be justly proud of our accomplishment in this renovation project.  But we must even more be motivated to be a Catholic community worthy of this beautiful church building, a community that practices religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father, which is to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  That is our challenge.  With God’s grace, we are up to it.