Monday, November 26, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 25, 2018

First of all, a VERY BIG THANK YOU to all who helped last week to make our remembrance of Kristallnact such a MOVING and IMPORTANT event. The participation of the St. Austin School students, the parishioners, the visitors, was all so impressive. A very special thank you goes to Lynn Hayden and to her wonderful team who did such a great job. You are truly a blessing to this parish. Thank You!
This is the last week of the Liturgical Year. Next Sunday, Dec 2, is the First Sunday of Advent, and that marks the beginning of a new year of grace, a new liturgical year.
Advent has an aspect of yearning and longing, not just for Christmas to come, but more importantly for God’s Kingdom to come on earth. It begins in our hearts, and every one of us is able to make greater room for the Lord in our hearts during the holy season of Advent.
Advent has some of the best liturgical music. It is almost a shame Advent is less than a month long, since we hardly have an opportunity to use all the wonderful Advent music that exists. Advent is a great time to sing. If God has blessed you with musical talent and a good voice, then you can sing along with Fr. Rich. If not, then you can join me singing with enthusiasm and volume! Either way, God will be praised!
I wish you all a joyful and holy Advent. Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 18, 2018

This weekend we have our display and observance of Kristallnacht, and this Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is an interesting juxtaposition of these two events: one a sobering reminder of humanity’s inhumanity (and also the power to persevere and survive) and the other a reminder and call to gratitude and thankfulness. All in one week!
There is again, unfortunately, rising strife and dissention in our world today. We see it all over the globe, and we see it in our own homes. How many of us, as we gather at the table to celebrate Thanksgiving, will scrupulously avoid any mention of politics and pray silently that our relatives do likewise? We don’t want to spoil our family gathering with a political argument!
However, it is important that we embrace the truth. That is why we dredge up memories, terrible memories, of events like Kristallnacht, racial lynchings, gulags, the rape of Nanking, numerous genocides, and many other terrible blights on human history. We remember in order to strengthen our resolve to work so that these horrors will not be visited again on the human family.
This task is enormous and endless. We will fight this battle all of our lives. Where do we get strength to do this? Well, that is why we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Gratitude is a strength that helps us to not turn away from the unpleasantness of life but to keep working to heal it.
For Christians, Thanksgiving has special meaning. Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning to give thanks. Our central ceremony, the mystery which binds us together as the Body of Christ and gives us hope, is at its root an act of giving thanks. Jesus at the Last Supper faced some pretty stark and ugly realities. He knew what would happen to Him, that His followers and friends would both desert and deny Him, that He would be unjustly condemned, tortured, and killed. And what He chose to do in that situation was an act of thanksgiving, of eucharist. That was certainly bold.
We draw our strength for the struggle, and it is no sham fight, from the Eucharist. It can empower us to forgive, to strive to understand those who differ with us, to proclaim the truth we see fearlessly but without shaming or putting down others. Eucharist is our strength.
I invite you to join us this Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. when we as St. Austin Catholic Parish celebrate Thanksgiving. All are welcome.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle B November 18 2018

The fog comes 
on little cat feet. 

It sits looking 
over harbor and city 
on silent haunches 
and then moves on.

Anyone remember this poem from your high school English class?

          I mention this poem because, while we know that in fact the fog does not come on little cat feet, we also understand the point, and the truth, of what Carl Sandburg is communicating.
          Having lived in the San Francisco Bay area for eight years prior to coming to Austin, I know that Sandurg is absolutely correct.  The fog does come on little cat feet.
          The fog creeps, it stalks, it comes on little cat feet. 
          Just as we do not take the poem literally, but understand it to be true, so with today’s Gospel.  Do not read this Gospel passage like a text book.  Read it like you are reading a poem.  These are images and metaphors that convey an idea, a truth, that are not literal.
          Jesus said to his disciples, that is, to you and me, “In those days ….”   In those days.  What days?   Well, you can read this as a future prediction.  But that is not particularly relevant.  It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus originally said this, and it could easily be another 2,000 years before it happens.  So, it very well may not be particularly relevant to us.  I can barely keep up with what is going to happen this afternoon or tomorrow, much less next year, and certainly not a couple of millenia from now.
            But the other way to read this is very applicable to us here and now.  And that is to read this Gospel not as a future prediction, but rather as a poetic description of our current situation.
          Jesus tells us that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken.”   In other words, this is upset and upheaval at the most basic and fundamental level.   If you watch the news headlines this passage can seem like a pretty accurate description of what we are living through.  Cosmic upheaval! 
          There is upset like we have seldom seen in politics.  It is crazy what is going on.  On the international scene there are wars, famines in several places, strife and upset in many different countries.  In society the whole basis of gender is in question.  People, especially young people, are becoming more isolated by electronic gadgets.  Certainly for the people of California who are in the terrible fires it must seem like the end of the world! 
          In our Church there are continuing, ongoing, revelations about sexual abuse, about cover ups, about scandals of various kinds, of bishops calling for Pope Francis to resign, of commentators speculating on the threat of a schism in the Church.
          It has gotten to the point that some people are dreading Thanksgiving dinner with their families because the conversation may veer into hot and contentious topics of politics or religion or social developments.   Am I right?
          It can seem that everything is falling apart and going to hell in a handbasket.  AMEN?
          That is what Jesus is talking about.

          What can we rely on?  Where is there a sure and firm anchor for us to invest our hopes and dreams?  Who can be counted on in this terrible time
of flux, of upset, of things falling apart, of the sun darkened, the moon no longer giving light, of the stars falling from the sky and the powers of heaven shaken??? //
          Jesus tells us what is secure.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 
          That, and only that, is what you can ultimately rely on. 
          In the fog of this time in our society, our country, our world, our church, even often in our own families and lives, the secure base, the grounded rock on which we can rely, is Jesus and His word.  WHY?
Because Jesus has beaten the most disruptive force of all, which is death. 
          Everything dies, even the universe, but NOT the words of Jesus.  Jesus has conquered death, and His word endures.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
          That you can rely on.   AMEN. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 11, 2018

A Happy and Blessed Veteran’s Day to all veterans and those now serving in our armed forces. We appreciate all you do to protect and to defend our selves and our way of life.
On this holiday weekend I would like to reflect on the seldom discussed topic of philately, or in common parlance, stamp collecting. I began, as many did, collecting stamps when I was in grade school. One of the first stamps I remember, probably because it was the first I actually purchased as a collector, was an Austrian stamp featuring St. Michael the Archangel. As many Austrian stamps of the time, it was beautifully engraved. Indeed, it won the prize for the most beautiful stamp of the year from some organization of philatelists (stamp collectors). I have always been drawn to stamps that are engraved. They are so pretty, and look much richer and more noble than a lot of US stamps. For a while, I collected stamps from Austria, Vatican City, Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic. Due to cost and time constraints, I now only collect Czech stamps.
I am proud of the fact that I got the Boy Scout merit badge for stamp collecting. I was never a very good Scout, as I was never good at following orders. However, I was one of the few in the St. Louis Council who earned the stamp collecting merit badge. It was kind of quirky and distinctive being one of only two Scouts to earn that badge that year in my council, and I kind of liked that.
Later, as a new priest serving at St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska, I joined the local stamp collectors club. Being newly ordained, I was still adjusting to the role of priest and all the expectations people put on you with that. Quite by accident, I discovered that at the Philately Club I was not there as “FATHER” Chuck, but as a collector of Vatican City and Austrian stamps. I was not pegged in the role of “priest.” I have always thought that was very healthy for me to have another way of relating to others than just as a PRIEST. It takes a while to get comfortable with those expectations and people’s hang-ups and sometimes screwy ideas about priests. Having an outlet to be me in a different way was helpful for me, and I owe that to stamps.
Being a philatelist gives one a certain different outlook. I despise mail meter machines. While St. Austin School has one, I won’t allow one in the parish. You will know I am gone when you start receiving metered mail from St. Austin parish!
I like receiving mail, especially when it has actual, honest stamps on it. Stamps can be very pretty, can commemorate important events, can teach us history, geography, and many other lessons. While not so fashionable, it can be fun. And stamp collecting is one of the blessings I am grateful for in my life. God bless!

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 4, 2018

It is ALREADY November! Yipes! Time is flying by. Things have been very active at St. Austin Parish and School. A week ago we hosted a wonderful - indeed spectacular - Mission on Hope and Healing conducted by Fr. Steven Bell, CSP. The turnout was great, the preaching and message both timely and engaging, the refreshments and social time following was wonderful. A special thanks to the ladies of Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), especially Josie Barrett and Ann Richburg, and all who helped for the wonderful job of organizing and promoting the Mission, putting together the refreshments and Q&A, and getting everything clean-up each night. It was a great event.
This past week our parish school had a wonderful Halloween Hoot on the blacktop. I would judge it to be the best one that I have seen yet. Thanks to the Knights of Columbus for again helping. And of course, we celebrated the Feasts of All Saints and then of All Souls, along with baptisms, weddings, confessions and Masses. It was all good.
This coming weekend, Nov. 10 and 11, we remember our veterans who struggled and sacrificed to protect our freedoms and our national culture of inclusion. While it is a holiday, it has great meaning that we should not overlook, but rather take time to reflect on and to honor.
Also next weekend there will be a new presentation from the Development Committee. This will simply be an update on progress in the decision about the development of our property. There have been many meetings and some progress, decisions, and accomplishments (e.g., hiring a lawyer). Mr. Christopher Kennedy, who miraculously is able to stay on top of all the details of this process, will give a presentation on where we are now and our next steps. This presentation will be given following every Mass next weekend. Please plan to take 15 minutes following Mass next weekend to get updated on the progress of a game-changing possibility for our parish and school.
Then the following week, Nov. 17 and 18, we will again have our interactive commemoration of Kristallnacht. That was the “night of the broken glass” when the Nazis in Germany began their systematic persecution of the Jews. UNFORTUNATELY, with the shooting of the 18 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, just last week, this commemoration is very timely. It is good that we host this program of remembrance and education, lest we forget. We still have a long way to go to ensure that the horror of genocide never happens again. Please join us in learning, remembering and honoring.
And watch the bulletin for news of other events and happenings here. God bless!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B Nov 11, 2018

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   Cycle B    Nov 11, 2018

          In the Gospel we just heard Jesus said to the crowds (and that includes you and me), “Beware of the scribes, …”    Beware of the scribes!   Just last Sunday in the Gospel Jesus praised the scribe who had asked Him about the most important commandment and then showed understanding when the scribe stated:  Well said, teacher.  You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding,
with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."  
Good answer!
          So, we can see that some scribes were really good.  But Jesus warns us against a certain type of scribe, those scribes who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.”
          Why does Jesus warn us against them?  Because,They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.“     Watch out for those lengthy prayers!
          Well, you may think, this is of some historical interest, but when is the last time you saw an actual scribe?  Especially one in a long robe mouthing lengthy prayers?  Could you even find a scribe today?  Probably not.  So are we then exempt from this solemn warning of The Lord?  Do we not have to pay any attention to this warning?  Do we not have to spend any energy and effort in truly being beware???
          I am afraid not.  Because the same sort of evil dynamic that operated in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, happens also in our own.  In fact, many scripture scholars believe that Mark includes this in his Gospel because it was also a problem in the early church.  And it is still a problem today.  Only instead of calling it the problem of the scribes, we call it clericalism.  Anybody here ever hear of clericalism?
          Beware of those priests and bishops and nuns and deacons who like to go around in long robes, in distinctive clerical or religious dress, or lots of lace and watered silk.  The kind of priest whose identity is invested in his roman collar.  Who like being called “Father”, “your Grace”, “Sister”, “Reverend”, “and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in the churches, and places of honor at banquets.”    Beware!
          Clericalism is a real problem and a great danger in the church.  It is not I who say it, but Pope Francis, who stated this clearly in a letter to the faithful, that is, to all of us, on this past August 20. 
          In that letter to us, Pope Francis wrote: “It is impossible to think of … our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God (that is you) to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives. This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.  Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.” 
 You can find the full letter on the Vatican web site.
          Some have tried to blame the horrible scourge of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the church on the seminaries and poor education and preparation of the clergy.  Some, with a different agenda, have tried to put the blame on homosexuals in the church, which all the studies and experts have debunked.
          The Pope, and I believe he is following the Lord in today’s Gospel, places the root cause of this terrible tragedy on clericalism. 
          Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a professor of theology at Manhattan College. stated: “There is no doubt that clericalism is at the root of the abuse crisis. Clericalism is isolating and insular - it cuts off the ‘oxygen’ of genuine solidarity and sharing-of-life with laypeople by creating a separate class, even a separate caste, within the Church.”
“There are ways in which clericalism hurts everyone,” she said: “The laity is victimized and infantilized; the clergy are isolated and expected to be superhuman.”
          So the warning that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel is very real and still very timely.  Beware of the scribes, those who promote a culture of clericalism, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.”
          Having been warned by The Lord and by the Pope, what should we do? 
We all need first of all to recognize that our primary identity, who we most truly are, is children of God.  Not laity.  Not clergy.  Not even Catholics, but children of God.  We are loved by God.  That is what ultimately, and permanently, gives us our worth. 
          Each of us, correspondingly, is responsible to God.  We cannot delegate nor transfer to another our responsibility to be God’s holy people.  We must each interiorize that identity and make it our own.
          We must not put the professional religious types, like bishops and priests and deacons and nuns, on some sort of psychological pedestal in order to escape the obligation everyone of us has to seek true holiness.  We cannot delegate holiness to the priest, make him some kind of different kind of being so that we do not have to figure out the messy business of being holy.  In the Gospel today it is not the professional religious person, the scribe, but rather the poor widow, who is praised by Jesus for genuine holiness. 
          Looking at people this way, through the eyes of the Lord, is revolutionary.  It is different than the way of the world.  We are not to be fooled by long robes and fancy titles and unusual clothing, and most certainly not by the recitation of lengthy prayers.   AMEN? 
          Rather we are to seek genuine faith and generosity and love, as the Lord does.  And it is these things that really matter in the Kingdom of God.