Sunday, November 24, 2019


          Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.  This has never been my favorite feast.  As a dedicated believer in self-government, a republican with a small “r”, the whole idea of “King” is rather distasteful to me.
          But beyond that, we have the new, correct title of this Feast.  In the liturgical books when I was ordained back in the “good old days”, this Feast was known as “Christ the King.”  Pretty simple.  But about 10 years ago, when the revised Roman Missal came out, the name was changed to the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”   While a bit clunkier, it is that last bit, “King of the Universe” that impresses me.
          The Universe is a very, very BIG, OLD, and STRANGE place.  Our best estimate now is that the universe is 13.772 billion years old, and it is at least 93 billion light years in breadth.  That is OLD.  That is BIG.  It is mentally strenuous to get our heads wrapped around such a humongous concept. 
          And yet we claim, as part of our faith, that the man Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago in Palestine, is King and Lord, not just of Israel, not just of earth, not just of our solar system, but of the whole bloomin Universe.  That is, self-evidently, outrageous. 
          And yet, that is clearly what St. Paul proclaims to us in the second reading today.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”  That is quite a sweeping vision!

          But what does all that have to do with us?  What practical difference does it make to the price of a cell phone, or a gallon of gas, or a Whataburger?  How does that sweeping vision impact us?
          I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first I want to digress.  Four years ago I took a trip to Peru.  While there I visited an archeological site outside of Lima.  It was a pre-Inca site, I think it was the ancient Wari culture that was gone before the Inca even showed up.  Definitely pre-Columbian, long before any idea of Christianity reached that part of the world. 
          And these ancient people did a lot of their construction using mud bricks, which were cheap and pretty well survived the frequent earthquakes of the region.  We saw an area where they made the mud bricks, and in the pit where they worked the mud by stomping on it was a very clearly preserved footprint of one of the brick-makers.  Here was a clearly identified, unique, individual from centuries and centuries ago, who had lived in that city and who made mud bricks.  We don’t know the individual’s name, but we do know their unique footprint.  Here was a connection across centuries with a unique, specific, person.
          How is Jesus Christ the King of that specific brick maker from long ago Peru?  Or the millions of other people in the Americas and Asia and Australia and other places who never even heard of Jesus?  Or, to really get fantastic, to any intelligent, self-reflective creatures who live on some planet in a galaxy millions of light years from here?  
          How is all of this connected, and what part do we play in it?
[I am weird enough to wonder about stuff like this.]

        We, through God’s doing and not our own, know that Jesus is Lord, both of our lives and of the entire universe.  AND we have a special role to play in the drama of salvation.  It is the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that the church – us – is the universal sacrament of salvation. 
          The UNIVERSAL sacrament of salvation.  We are a sacrament, that is, a sign that effects what it signifies, of universal salvation; of salvation of the universe! That’s a big deal. 
          How we lead our lives, how we treat others, how we pray, how we worship, how we struggle to follow Jesus and live like He did, not only affects ourselves, nor only our neighbors, but somehow, spiritually, affects the salvation of the whole universe!                   //
          How can that be?  Well, it is time to turn to our Gospel.  As we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we don’t see Him depicted on a royal throne, nor on the clouds of heaven, nor seated in glory at the right hand of God, nor in any other way of power and prestige.   Instead we see Him bruised, battered, broken, dying miserably on the Cross.  His throne is an instrument of torture and execution.  His lone subject is a condemned criminal. 
          And yet this abject lowliness is the salvation of the universe.  It is the destruction of the power of death.  It is faithfulness to the end that is the ultimate triumph of God over evil.  It is the entrance to the Resurrection. 
          Truly, God’s ways are not our ways.  How you and I ever ended up being a part of the universal sacrament of salvation is certainly way beyond me to be able to figure out.  But by God’s grace that is in fact what we are.  The universal sacrament of salvation.
           That is both a great honor and a great responsibility.  It gives our lives worth and meaning far beyond what we know, what we can imagine or dream.   All we can do is join in St Paul’s joyous hymn in our second reading today:
          He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
          He is the head of the body, the church.
          He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
          that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
          For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
          and through him to reconcile all things for him,
          making peace by the blood of his cross through him,
          whether those on earth or those in heaven.”

Long live the King! 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 17, 2019

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away! In only ten days, we will have our Thanksgiving Mass here at St Austin Parish on Wed., Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. Hope to see you there!
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, a great time to gather with friends and family, to share food, company, stories. There is also a less welcome side to the holiday gathering. Does anyone have a little bit of dread about discussing current affairs with relatives, extended family and in-laws? Do you try to steer the conversation away from certain topics with some of your relatives and in-laws? Given the bitterly divided politics of our country, and the emotionally fraught issues that can arise at gatherings, perhaps you have a slight bit of trepidation or outright dread about being mixed with family and friends and neighbors who have different opinions on politics, hot-button social issues, matters of religion, certain sports teams, etc. I recommend you go to this website promoted jointly by the U S Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Communities of Salt and Light: It is called “CIVILIZE IT”. As the website succinctly states; “When personal attacks replace honest debate, no one wins.” The CIVILIZE IT website invites you to pledge to do three things:
1. Civility: To recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.
2. Clarity: To root my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening. I will stand up for my convictions and speak out when I witness language that disparages others' dignity, while also listening and seeking to understand others’ experiences. 
3. Compassion: To encounter others with a tone and posture which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood. 
You can share this pledge with your family and friends. Pray for a spirit of civility and understanding in your family and community. Open your heart to the working and courage of the Holy Spirit. I have taken this pledge, and will strive to “civilize it” in my discussions and interactions with others. I urge you to do the same. If by example and courage we can help turn down the vitriol and anger in our civic discourse, and listen better to each other, then we really will have something for which to give thanks this Thanksgiving.

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 10, 2019

Tomorrow is VETERANS DAY! Banks will be closed and mail will not be delivered. The Parish offices will be closed, but St. Austin Catholic School will be open and so will AISD schools. So it is a holiday but not totally a holiday.
Who we honor on this day is very important: all the men and women who have served and are serving our country in the armed forces of the United States. My 98-year-old dad served in Patton’s army in the Battle of the Bulge. Several of my high-school buddies served in Vietnam. My younger brother served in the Air Force with some pretty hilarious adventures in Alaska. The closest I ever came to military service was as a contract chaplain saying Mass at Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska.
It is important that we honor our veterans. They have served us all. We do that not just by taking the day off every year but also by making sure our service men and women and our veterans are treated fairly and well. This means voting for legislators who will untangle the red tape of the Veterans’ Administration, funding it appropriately, and making sure our veterans receive the medical care and the assistance they deserve.
It also means voting for legislators who will make sure that our current service members receive decent lodging and meals and not be shortchanged by granting contracts to private providers who collect large sums from the government but provide sub-standard housing, food, and other services. There has been a large push recently to have more and more services provided to our service women and men by private contractors rather than by the government directly. Sometimes this leads to better efficiency and cost savings, but all too often it leads to grift, corruption and subsequent denigration of the housing, meals, and support for our troops. You can read more about this at:
Veteran’s Day is more than just a day off. It is a day for us to honor and thank those who serve in our military. Pray for our veterans and service men and women. Say “thank you” to someone who serves in the military. Remember the veterans and current service members when you vote.

Fr. Chuck's Column, November 3, 2019

Here it is November already We are now changing our clocks for daylight savings time; an extra hour of sleep! And to celebrate we have a Knights of Columbus Breakfast Taco sale after the 7:30 and 8:45 a.m. Masses today.
Lots of other exciting things coming up. This Friday St Austin School holds its annual gala, an important fund-raiser for the school. It will be something new and different this year as the event is being held at the Pecan Grove Pavilion at Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, TX. This should be a lot of fun and definitely delicious. If you are interested see the school’s website at See you there!
On Mon., Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. we will observe the tenth anniversary of the passing of Fr. James Wiesner, CSP with a special Mass. I believe a few Paulists are coming into town for this, and there will be a reception following. It should be a very moving and meaningful event.
Thanksgiving will be celebrated here on Wed. evening, Nov. 27, with a Mass at 7 p.m. Before that we will hand out bags for you to fill with groceries for the annual Christmas Basket Project. It is always impressive to see the front steps of our sanctuary filled with bags and boxes of groceries. Plan to join us on the evening before Thanksgiving!
Advent, and with it a new Liturgical Year, begins on the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
On the second Saturday of Advent, Dec. 7, at the beginning of Mass, we will celebrate the blessing of two new statues of saints that will reside in our church. St. Mary of Magdala and St. Phoebe, who was mentioned and praised by St. Paul, will be hung in our sanctuary and blessed at the beginning of that Mass.
And that weekend of Dec. 7 – 8 is our annual Holiday Fair!!!
Before you know it, it will be Christmas! Where did the year go? Well, there is lots coming up, so hang on and enjoy the ride.

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 20, 2019

As you may have seen in the bulletin, next Sunday at 10 a.m. we have a special presentation here at St. Austin by two scripture scholars from St. Edward’s University. 
They are both contributors to the new (and highly acclaimed!) Paulist Biblical Commentary. They are also a married couple: Dr. Richard J. Bautch and Dr. Kelley Coblenz Bautch.
There was a conscious effort in compiling the Paulist Biblical Commentary to include more than just priests, but also lay people and especially women.
Dr. Richard contributed the two articles on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. These two books together run only about 20 pages in a Bible. They are not very well known. It would be worth while to read these two books, which take place at the end of the Babylonian Exhile and the return of the people to Jerusalem in keeping with God’s promise, before coming to the lecture.
Dr. Kelley contributed the article in the Paulist Biblical Commentary on the Book of Esther. Esther was a strong-willed woman who became queen and used her influence to prevent the destruction of the Jews. It is also a short book and worth a read. 
We are blessed to have such wonderful resources as St. Edward’s University and the University of Texas so close to our parish.  Please plan on joining us next Sun., Oct. 27, at 10 a.m. in Our Lady of Guadalupe Room.  See you there!  

Fr. Chuck's Column, October 6, 2019

Thank you to every family who has made a commitment to the Encountering Christ campaign here at St. Austin. Because of your generosity, we have received in donations or pledges $1,350,590 from 234 gifts, which is 67% of our $2,030,000 parish goal. This is incredible! 30% of these gifts will come back to St. Austin to assist us with our interior church upgrades, specifically the sound system and lighting renovations we so desperately need, and the commissioning of new statues of Saints Mary Magadalene and Phoebe which you will see soon.
Encountering Christ is not just a campaign; it is a greater mission to invite people to know the love of Christ and be one in community with us. This campaign’s success requires everyone in the parish spending time in prayer to reflect on the gifts they have received and consider how their support of Encountering Christ will impact both mission and ministry.
If you have not yet made a gift, I respectfully ask you to pray and discern what the Lord is calling you to do. You can visit the campaign website at and watch videos that show the impact Encountering Christ will have on local ministry. The Diocese of Austin is growing quickly and adjusting its mission and ministry accordingly. The videos are compelling and poignant.
Over this past spring and summer, the St. Austin community worked diligently to maximize our participation in the Encountering Christ campaign. At the urgent request of Bishop Joe Vásquez, we will conduct an additional Commitment Weekend on October 12 and 13. This final weekend will ensure that every family has the opportunity to make a pledge to the campaign.
Encountering Christ has my full support, and I pray that you consider joining with me, Bishop Joe Vásquez and 12,000 families across the diocese by making a pledged commitment. If you are not able to contribute financially at this time, we ask for your prayers of support through the campaign.
If I can be of any assistance to you in your discernment process, please reach out to me. I am honored to be your pastor, and humbly grateful for the outpouring of support I have seen through this Encountering Christ campaign effort.

HOMILY Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time November 17, 2019

HOMILY     Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time            November 17, 2019

          Anyone here ever give testimony in court?  Anyone ever served as an expert witness?   Or given a deposition under oath?  Was it fun?  Probably not. 
          In the Gospel today we are told that we will have to testify.  Jesus tells us that there will be all sorts of upset and natural disasters and wars and civil unrest.   “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”  And persecutions to boot!  
          And all this, Jesus tells us “will lead to your giving testimony.” 
          So all of us, according to Jesus, will give testimony.   Not in a court of law.  But rather in our daily life. 
          Each of us is testifying every day to the truth of our life.  And what does our testimony say?  Do our lives testify to the fact that we are Christian?  That we are disciples of Jesus?  Or is it like the old question, “¿if being a Christian was a crime, could any court find sufficient evidence to convict you?
          Christianity grew because early Christians gave witness.  They testified to their faith by how they lived.   In 251 A.D. a great plague struck the Greco-Roman world. Memories were revived of a plague a century earlier in which more than a third of the population had died. Fear was everywhere. Those who could afford it fled to the countryside. Those who could not remained in the cities. When they went to the pagan temples they found them empty, because the pagan priests had fled. The streets were filled with those who had become infected, because their families were left with no option but to push them out the door.

          Christian communities however took an entirely different approach. They saw it as their responsibility to love the sick and dying, so they took them into their homes and nursed them. This action meant that many people recovered who otherwise would have died. Historians suggest that elementary nursing could have reduced the mortality rate by as much as two thirds, but it also cost a number of Christians who cared for the victims their own lives.
          In his book, The Early Church, historian Henry Chadwick comments:
“The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”
That was the effect of Christians giving testimony to their faith in Jesus. 
          I contend that the same is true today.  Probably you have seen the news that many young people have no religious affiliation. And survey data suggests that the percentage of Americans who don’t affiliate with any specific religious tradition is now roughly the same as those who identify as evangelical or as Catholic. 
          I do not believe we can get people back to church by condemning modern life.  I think we have to do it the way the early Christians did, by the testimony of our lives. 

Like Fr Bruce Lewandowski, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baltimore, who was featured on National Public Radio recently for his work with immigrant communities.  Or like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development that we will take up next weekend.  Or our annual Christmas Basket program we do here each year.
          This calls for perseverance.  It calls for stepping out of our comfort zones.  It means putting into action what we preach.  It means following Jesus more concretely and deliberately.  It means giving testimony, not by words, but by actions, and acceptance, and charity, and forgiveness. 
          All of us are called, challenged, to be expert witnesses to Christianity.  We have to live it is such a way that a life of following Jesus proves its own worth.  Not because we will be materially rewarded.  Not because we will feel all warm and fuzzy.  Not because we will be self-actuated.  But because we will be living examples of the love of Jesus.  For everyone.  Because Jesus’ love is universal.
          We are called to testify.  AMEN. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

HOMILY 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time November 10, 2019

HOMILY   32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time         November 10, 2019

          Perhaps you have seen the 1954 movie musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.  Great dance scenes.   Well in our Gospel we hear a story of ONE bride for seven brothers.  Seven brothers, following the injunction in Deuteronomy chapter 25, each marry this woman and then he dies childless.  Finally, this lady with the strong constitution ups and dies. 
          This creates an opportunity for the Sadducees to put Jesus on the spot.  The Sadducees – unlike the Pharisees - did not believe in the resurrection of the body.  You died and pzzzt, that’s it.  No more.  That’s why they were ‘sad, you see……’
          Anyway they bring this strange case of one woman with seven husbands to confuse and confound Jesus.   Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?  For all seven had been married to her."    //
          Are these guys serious?  Are they so convinced that they know how eternity and resurrection work that they think this is a serious problem for God?  Don’t they understand that eternity is going to be different than how things are now?  What is wrong with these guys?
          Well, what is wrong with them is that they have no imagination.  They think eternity will be just like life is here and now, and so they are stumped by this odd – and rather silly – question: “whose wife will that woman be?” 
          Imagination is a very important, and often undervalued, faculty.  Sometimes we dismiss it: “Oh, is only a figment of your imagination.”   “you’re just imagining things.”  And so on.  And we consider imagination only important for daydreaming, artists, wishful thinking, and in general other non-productive pursuits. 
          But I hold that a good imagination is essential to being a religious person, and in particular a Christian.  It is not only those Sadducees that lacked a religious imagination.  Often enough I think that we do too.
          Too often we think we know what God wants, how God reacts to every situation, and especially what God ought to do about it.  We know exactly what God should be doing about every aspect of our lives.
          But God is mystery.  God has options that we cannot even imagine.  God is not bound in any way by our “ought’s”.   And then when things do not go the way we expect God to handle them, we either are disappointed in God, or we begin to question if God really exists. 
          We need great imagination to expand our concept of how God acts.  That we do not see the results we expect does not so much mean that God has failed us, as that we have failed to imagine a great enough freedom for God to act in surprising and unforeseen ways. 
          Even in the natural world we need imagination to understand what is.  Cosmologists tell us that all the billions of galaxies we see, each with billions of stars and even more planets, all that makes up less than 5% of what is actually out there.  The rest, more than 95% of the total, is dark matter and dark energy.  They call it dark because they have no idea what the heck it is.  They just know that something’s there.  Without imagination you cannot even begin to get a correct idea of what the universe is like.  This is why Albert Einstein stated that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
          Many of you university students will spend most of your career in jobs that don’t yet exist today.  Without imagination you will never succeed. 
          The amount of technical information is doubling every two years.  This means that for students in a technical four year degree program, half of what they learn in their first year will be out of date by their third year.

 In such a fluid situation imagination is essential.
          With all these possibilities and rapid changes, you need imagination to approach and prepare for the future, just in the everyday, practical world. 
          In the life of the spirit imagination is even more essential.  Imagination opens us up to new and larger possibilities.  Because what God the Father wants for you is much greater than you can reason; even much greater than what you can imagine.  God did not send you God’s most precious Beloved, God’s own Son, just so you can be “reasonably happy and moderately comfortable.”  The love beyond all telling compels our imaginations to work overtime to grasp even the feeblest hint of the glory that awaits us, and all the love God wants to pour out on us.  
          In the words of the French essayist, Joseph Jouber, “Imagination is the eye of the soul.”  Or more concretely in the words of Lauren Bacall, “Imagination is the highest kite that one can fly.”
          Let your imagination soar!  Your imagination is a precious gift, given to you by God to reach for things beyond the grasp of our knowledge and experience.  The God of mystery is both here in the concrete AND in the beyond, where imagination helps us comprehend God’s greatness and goodness. 
          Imagine that!