Monday, January 21, 2019


Did you ever run out of wine?  Fortunately, I have never had that disaster  occur.  In the Gospel today Mary says to Jesus: “They have no wine.”   Let’s look at that a bit.
          True, the wine ran short.  Oh well, big deal.  But usually St. John in his Gospel is talking on at least two levels.  I think St John wants us to hear something more than a catering faux pas.  There is something more going on with the comment.  “They have no wine.”   What does it mean to have no wine?               
          Today running short of wine would be a misfortune but not a life shattering event.   But for people in Jesus’ day wine was very important.  It was often safer to drink than the water.  More importantly, in the grinding monotony of peasant life wine was one of the few sources of stimulation and exhilaration.  To have no wine was not just a mistake in catering, it was a profound emptiness in life.  Mary, in speaking to Jesus, is not just talking about beverages, but about the quality of life.  “They have no wine.”   I think she is saying that these people are bereft of joy, of happiness, of any zest in life.
          Every day we meet people who have no wine:  no joy, no enthusiasm, no zest in their life.  People who plod through life, going through the motions, but no real joy, no happiness, no excitement, no commitment, even little interest.  In a deeper, spiritual and philosophical way, they have no wine.  And it sucks.  We see this in our country.  Americans are now more likely to die from an overdose of opiods than from a car crash.  Suicide rates are increasing.  People have no wine in their life: no joy, no purpose, no happiness.
          Sometimes we are like that.  We have no wine in our life.  And unfortunately we know many people at work, or school or in our own neighborhoods, and even our own families, that have no wine. 
This is not just a case of running out of something:  more profoundly Mary is telling her Son about the existential condition of the people.  They are without hope, or direction, or purpose, without joy.  They have no wine. 
          It is like the opposite of the little ditty by Hilaire Belloc, from early last century: 
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!   

          Laughter and good red wine go together in a sunny and optimistic approach to life.  And these people, lamentably, “have no wine.” 
          Mary is not content with that.  She is not willing to continue this unhappy condition.   She tells her Son, Jesus, “they have no wine” and then leaves it up to Him.  His public mission begins with her intercession.  Well, Mom always has special privileges. 
          Then Mary says to the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”  These are the very last words of Mary recorded in the Bible or anywhere else.  We never hear from her again after this first miracle of Jesus.  But it is a great way to sum up and end.
          “Do whatever he tells you.”  Think about that.  It is WONDERFUL advice, in any situation.  “Do whatever he tells you.”  That is wonderful advice for you and you and me and everyone of us.  “Do whatever he tells you.” 
The source of Joy, the source of Peace, the source of full Life, the source of all we yearn and long for is Jesus.  He transforms six stone jars of water, each holding 20 to 30 gallons, into choice, fine wine!  That’s 120 to 180 gals!
          Let’s split the difference and call it 150 gallons.  Now that comes out to 758 bottles of wine.  More than 60 cases.  
          In other words, an abundance, on overflowing, of choice, delicious wine.  Jesus responds not in some small, adequate way, but with great, overflowing abundance.  And that is how Jesus responds to us with the gift of Life.  Not a small, adequate, OK portion, but an overwhelming abundance of LIFE!
          Truly He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. 
Mary intercedes for us just as she did at the wedding in Cana.  She knows as a Mother knows what are our deepest needs and desires.  She cares deeply for each of us.  And she intercedes for us.
          In turn she gives us really good advice today.  “Do whatever He tells you.”  That is the way to the fullness of Life.     God bless!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Baptism of the Lord Jan 13, 2019

Baptism of the Lord   Jan 13, 2019

          In the Gospel we just heard John the Baptist tells us that “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” 
          I was a bit surprised on reading this.  I was fully aware that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, and that gift is truly wonderful.  But I was a bit surprised that John the Baptist also mentions “fire”.  “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
          Let us reflect on this a bit.  Were we baptized with both the Holy Spirit and fire?  If so, are you all fired up?  Is your faith burning?  Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart we are told.  Are you on fire for your faith? 
          The Holy Spirit and fire John the Baptist says.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes down on the Apostles in the form of flames, or tongues of fire.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells us we will be salted with fire.  (Mk 9:49)
          Clearly, we are called not to passive faith, to lukewarm, mediocre, insipid faith, but to be fired up:  To have a faith that is alive, energized, on fire.  Jalapeno faith, wasabi faith, not bland mushy faith. 
          We are to have a faith that gives light and warmth not only to ourselves but to those around us. Let your light shine.
          But fire also burns.  Fire purifies precious metals by burning out the impurities.  In that sense fire is both destructive and purifying.  Jeremiah the prophet experienced this.  His was a difficult job, telling God’s people truths that were unpleasant, inconvenient, very challenging.  They did not want to hear this and Jeremiah did not want to tell them.  So, he tried to stifle and stuff down the Word of God.  Jeremiah said: “I say I will not mention God, I will no longer speak in His name. 
But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones:  I grow weary holding back, I cannot!”                      
Does God’s Word burn in you?  Does the Word of God cause you heartburn?  Do you want it to?
          What does it mean today for you and me to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire?  I believe this is a challenge to us.  St Paul told his friend and follower St. Timothy, and also us, “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.   For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:6-7)
          Brothers and sisters, like so many times in the past, there is much in our world today attempting to scare and frighten us into silence and submission.  But we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire: with both wisdom and strength and energy.   We do not need to act out of fear.  We can act with the strength of the Holy Spirit.  For we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire!   God bless. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, January 6, 2019

Happy Epiphany! On this day Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles, meaning to all humanity. It is a special day of revelation. So it seems appropriate to reveal to the parish, after a very competitive process, that we are entering into an exclusive negotiation agreement with Greystar for a potential development on our parish property. Greystar is a global leader in student housing with assets close to $30 billion. They stood out with their global experience and specific experience in West Campus, and it has the balance sheet needed to support a potential project of this size.
We can also reveal that in spite of initial interests, the University of Texas at Austin has decided not to participate in any development on our parish property. We had excellent meetings with their team, but their business model does not include student housing off their own property.
This decision not to be a part of our development project has both upsides and downsides. The more players in this project the more complicated it becomes, but what I like about this effort is that we are exploring all options. This is a generational project, and we want to run down each lead. We believe that a project is still do-able without the participation of UT, and now are free to move forward knowing that door is closed.
Currently we are negotiating an exclusive agreement with Greystar, where we will spend the next couple months developing the financial model that tells us if we could make a project work for all of us. We are still at the financial analysis phase, not at a design phase. You may hear that we are exploring transitional space for the rectory, offices, school, etc. Yes, we are exploring because we need to get cost estimates to build into the financial model if we are to move forward. No decision to move forward will be made until everyone is comfortable with the financial model and it is approved by the Diocese.
I will keep you informed as we proceed. I expect it would be sometime in late February before we get through this next step. This New Year could be quite an exciting and interesting one for our parish and our school as we try to position ourselves to best carry out the mission we have received.
God bless!

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 23, 2018

Birthdays. We have a few of them in December. This week on Tuesday we celebrate the Birth of Jesus. We don’t know the exact date of His birth, but Dec. 25 is as good a date as any.
This past Tuesday, on Dec. 18, we celebrated another birthday, the 199th birthday of Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker, CSP. He was the inspiration for, and founder of, the Paulist Fathers. The Paulist have served here at St. Austin’s parish since its founding in 1910.
Isaac Hecker was a great seeker. He was always looking, seeking, searching to discern God’s Will for him, his companions, and his country the United States of America. He was optimistic and open. He had a mystical bent wrapped up in can-do Yankee pragmatism. He believed in the United States, and he believed in the Catholic Church, and unlike so much of the rest of his generation and society, he did not see a contradiction between them. Indeed, he saw that they really needed each other. The Church needed the enthusiasm and energy and enterprise of the American character, and the United States needed the communal responsibility and sense of purpose of the Catholic Church. Both were better together in his understanding. And I think he is correct.
If you have some time this holiday season, I invite you to check out Hecker’s and the Paulists’ story at You can find out a little more about the Paulists who have served here for over a hundred and ten years.
God Bless!

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 16, 2018

It is already the THIRD Sunday of Advent. The season is swiftly flying by! Tempus fugit! We are all now focused on getting ready for Christmas and having a wonderful celebration. I hope that you will be able to join us at St. Austin for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and then throughout the entire Christmas season, up to and including the celebration of Epiphany, which we will observe on Sun., Jan. 6.
Let’s try not to stress too much during these coming weeks but rather focus on the very special celebration in which we are involved. Regardless of how much or how little family you have to celebrate with, you have the family of Jesus to celebrate with, and the family that includes Him extends all over the world, with millions of believers.
Regardless of how many or how few presents you receive, you still have the greatest present of all for which to give thanks at Christmas, which is the gift of God’s own Son.
And regardless of how full or empty your social calendar is, and how many Christmas parties, tamaladas, fiestas, open houses and gatherings you have to attend, or if your calendar is mostly blank, you still have the wonderful celebration of Christmas here at St. Austin Parish, which is way more meaningful than any of the others.
So try to realize that all the heavy lifting for the true meaning of Christmas was done nearly 2,000 years ago; that we have already received the greatest Christmas gift of all, and even if the cards do not all get sent, the presents do not get wrapped, the cookies do not get baked, the tree does not get decorated and the lights do not get strung, Christmas in its full meaning and import will still occur none-the-less.
So relax. Blessed Advent! God Bless!

Fr. Chuck's Column, December 9, 2018

Back on the Feast of Christ the King, I attended Mass in my childhood parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in St. Louis, with my 97-year-old dad and his wife, Joy. The priest who preached was an elderly, very distinguished-looking man. He began his homily by stating that during some recent shopping, he was angered (his word) by all the Christmas decorations, and yet there was NO reference to Jesus. Subsequently I also saw a rather heated rant on social media about the disregard for the real reason for the season.
I cannot help but think that these reactions, while sincere, are somewhat misguided. Because in fact, there are TWO separate and distinct holidays. Confusingly, they are both named “Christmas.” There is a corporate-sponsored holiday that emphasizes shopping (with Black Friday as a high holy day!), sugar-coated warm feelings of brotherhood, being nice, and family. It begins as soon as Halloween is over, kicks into high gear at Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and ends by midnight on Dec. 24. Immediately afterward, all the decorations come down, radio stations stop the incessant blare of Christmas music, and attention focuses on New Year’s parties and sales. This thoroughly secular holiday is not bad; it just does not have a lot of significance. It exists in part to encourage philanthropy and commercialism. Denying this commercialized holiday is impossible; getting angry over it seems pointless.
But there is also another, much older, if less prominent, celebration, which is a holy day. It is also called Christmas. It has TREMENDOUS meaning and importance, but little cultural support. This Christmas doesn’t need it. It is the nearly two millennia old celebration of the Mystery of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. While the stores are celebrating Christmas, we are celebrating Advent. While they have all the cute snowmen, elves, and Santas out for display, we are cherishing the Advent wreath, beautiful music of longing and anticipation, and prophecies from Isaiah and other ancient prophets. We start our Christmas celebration when the secular Christmas closes, and we go long afterwards, until Epiphany in January, when the other Christmas is a memory.
They are really two different and distinct events, even though called by the same name. And all of us Christians live in BOTH worlds. I think that is a large part of the tension that makes people upset over the “Happy Holidays” approach to Christmas. Living in both worlds can be disjointed and somewhat uncomfortable. I encourage you to suck it up and deal with it. We cannot flee from the world and become hermits in an insular and isolated Christian community. Nor can we sell out our birthright of Faith and ignore the real significance of Christmas. We must live in both.
I urge you to do your best to observe and promote the real Christmas. That will NOT be accomplished by wringing your hands and chiding the promoters of the secular Christmas. Getting angry won’t help. But being true to what you believe, recognizing the real depth and importance of this Feast, and living it out in the counter-cultural observance of Advent, and then the REAL Christmas starting on Dec. 24, will not be easy. But that will be witness to a stance of FAITH and just may lead some of those around you to stop and reflect on the true meaning of the season. And that would be a very good Christmas gift!  Merry Christmas! God Bless!