33rd S. 2020: Principles of Stewardship

Today’s reflection is for the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

St. Ambrose of Milan wisely said, “We are born into this world naked, we leave it without a cent, we are buried without our inheritance.” 

I heard about a man who was rich and he wanted to take it all with him when he died. He wanted all his wealth made into gold bricks, put into a suitcase, and then into his casket upon his death. As he approached the gates of heaven, St. Peter met him there and asked about the suitcase’s contents. With pride the man opened up the suitcase and the gold bars shined beautifully! St. Peter looked at the man and asked, “Why in the world would you bring a suitcase full of asphalt.” Of course, the streets of heaven are paved with Gold. 

What is wealth in God’s eyes? Who is truly rich? And what is the proper use of earthly wealth?

The Book of Proverbs says that the man who finds a worthy wife has an unfailing prize whose value is far greater than pearls. I am a very wealthy man, even if I have nothing more in this life than my wife, Jill. Those things that I treasure most in this life is our God, our Church, my wife, and my children. Proverbs lets us know that doing good, showing kindness, being generous, and having a fear of the Lord are worthy of praise–more valuable than any treasure. True treasure are the relationships that we have with others, and more valuable than any earthly treasure is to do good, show kindness, be generous, and have respect for God. And that is the appropriate use of wealth. All throughout Scripture, we find that earthly treasure is a never ending pursuit…it’s fool’s gold. It promises peace, happiness, and freedom but often brings only headaches and poisons the soul. 

In the parable today Jesus speaks of people with nothing–slaves–who were given great wealth. The wealth did not belong to them at all, but rather to their wealthy master, who gave them his wealth while he went on a journey. As we heard, the two who used that wealth to earn more wealth were praised, but the one who buried it was reprimanded. 

Of course, we are those stewards, only God is not on the journey, we are. We come into this life with nothing, and as we journey through it, we are given a certain amount of talent–a certain amount of earthly treasure. Treasure that we have been given to be used for God’s purposes; to be used at the service of ourselves and others. To be holy is to be separate, set aside, for God’s purposes–like holy water or holy oil. It has been set aside to be used entirely for God’s purpose. We are called to be holy, and we are also called to be good stewards by making portion of our income holy too. 

When the church speaks of Stewardship we are referring to 4 basic principles that guide our use of earthly treasure in support of the Church and its ministers, as well as the world and its needs. When we follow these principles we make a portion of our earthly wealth holy.

The 1st Principle is that we give the Lord a portion of our income. That is what we call a tithe. A title literally means a tenth. This is what scripture calls our “first fruits.” When we look at our monthly income, the first thing we do, before anything else, is set aside 10% for God and God’s purposes. And that 10% rolls right into our 2nd Principle, that our gift should be a sacrifice. 

We want to be like the woman who Jesus praised for giving her 2 coins–she gave sacrificially, as it was all that she had. If we are doing stewardship right, we should pray over our budget, give God first dibs, and only then see what is left for our purposes. That’s what it means to believe that all we have is from God, and that we are but stewards. 

The 3rd principle is that we make our contribution known to our parish by using our envelopes or online giving. The parish has a budget to balance. It hires, pays salaries, keeps the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We call OLA our home and are called to announce our intentions for the coming year and then do the hard work each month of giving sacrificially and joyfully. 

Finally, the 4th principle is that we give 5% to our parish, and then 5% to charities that we find meaningful and important. Our family supports the parish and it is our joy to support the Wheelchair foundation, Food for the Poor, CFCA/Outbound, N.E.T. ministries, the local men’s shelter, and a variety of others that come up throughout the year.

I think when we spend our wealth only on things of the earth, then we are basically like that unfaithful steward who buried his master’s wealth. God does not want our earthly wealth to remain in the earth. Our parish and the world needs Christian generosity and love. Christians make the world a better place. We create beautiful churches and we take care of the poor. We always have. We always will. But it requires courageous faith to commit to what God is doing in our community and in the world. Our parish is asking you to put your money where your faith is. Join us.

32nd S. 2020: Don’t Wait

Today’s reflection is for the Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 8, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury once said, “Nothing is more certain than death, nothing more uncertain than its hour.” Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ own warning. “Stay awake,” he warns us, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” I have a funeral to attend and to serve at tomorrow for a good man who died at a very old age. He lived a good life and he brought life and joy to those around him. And he was blessed with a long and healthy life. He was one of the wise virgins that Jesus speaks about today in the Gospel.

These bridesmaids had the role of preparing for the groom so that upon his arrival all would be ready. Not knowing at what hour he might arrive, half of them were thoughtful enough to prepare for whatever hour he might arrive, and the other half were not. Of course, Jesus is the bridegroom and the bride his church. The bridesmaids representing all who eagerly await the return of the King. The moral of the story is crystal clear, Jesus will return, not everyone will be ready, and many will be left outside unable to get into heaven. That last bit is probably worth repeating. According to Jesus, no more than half of those who await his coming will be ready when they are called. 

This parable was written at a time when the disciples thought that they would not see death before Christ’s return. As St. Paul says, “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Clearly, Paul counted himself among those who would still be alive when Jesus returned. Jesus did not return within his lifetime, and not for 2,000 years. So far from obsolete, Jesus’ warning is as important now as ever: the bridegroom is long delayed, what should we do to prepare? Time is running out. 

The truth is that I don’t know when Jesus will return, but I do know that he will. We profess it in our Creed each Sunday. We say, “He is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” We say it…but do we believe it? I had a good friend who was 7th Day Adventist. All he ever talked about was being ready! “Jesus will return at any moment,” he would say.

He believed it, and he lived it, and I have no doubt he’ll be ready. What do you think it looks like to really believe that Jesus will return at any moment? What does it mean for us to be ready to give an account of our life? If Jesus were to return, what would it look like for children? For adults? For the elderly? I think for kids: honoring their father and mother, respecting their elders and their teachers, appreciating everything people do for them, saying please and thank you, playing joyfully, helping out a lot and complaining very little.

I think for adults it means doing a hard day’s work in the community or in the home. It means making family and friends a priority, spending quality time with your children and your aging parents. It means going for a walk or for a drive to visit a friend. It means paying your taxes, volunteering in your community and at church, using your wealth to help those in need, and courageously speaking up for needed change in our world. It means praying as a family, going to church, removing bitterness and anger from our heart, making peace with others.

For the elderly, it means spending time with your children and grand- children. Sharing wisdom and stories, infusing virtue and valor. It means staying active and healthy, positive, and uplifting, sharing life and love, goodness and truth about the way things ought to be, and helping others to know the love of God through your calm, merciful, and caring attitude.

So, which do you think you are? Are you among the wise or the foolish? I don’t know when Jesus will return. He could be back this very evening to judge the living and the dead…but maybe not for a thousand years. I don’t know. But what I do know, as we reach the end of our liturgical year, is that time is running out. For the world…and for each of us individually.

Truthfully, whether or not Christ returns today or not–today might be the last day I have to get things right. Children pass tragically and suddenly, adults, and the elderly–every moment of everyday time runs out, and as St. Anselm said, “Nothing is more certain than death. And nothing more uncertain than its hour.”

It’s not too late though. Did anyone else here think, “If the groom was long delayed, why didn’t the foolish teenagers go get more oil while they had the chance?” When they saw that the five wise ones brought extra (good planning), why didn’t they go get more too? Why didn’t they take advantage of the delay? Let’s not be foolish. If you’re like me, you’re probably low on oil. You’re probably not prepared. But we have a choice today. End bitterness and anger. Put an end to rivalry and trash talking. Stop bickering and gossiping, slandering, and being pessimistic–always bringing the dark cloud wherever we go. Start smiling. Start being thankful. Start being generous. Start getting our priorities right. Stop getting drunk using profanity, and start spending time in prayer and in service to others. 

The bridegroom is delayed. Don’t be foolish. Get some oil. Don’t be left out in the cold. Young or old, we’ve not a moment to spare.