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.

All Saints 2020: Happy Halloween!

Today’s reflection is for the Solemnity of All Saints, October 31, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

With this being a COVID year, I’m not quite sure how many kids will be dressed up like ghouls and goblins, witches and warlocks, superheroes, and the like, but I do know that this a beautiful and holy evening that has been hijacked by our culture, and Catholics would do well to take it back and practice the real meaning behind Halloween. 

The first reading comes from the last book of the Bible, where John is given a privileged glimpse “behind the veil,” and gets to see what’s going on in Heaven, even though he is still among those striving on earth. He sees more people than anyone could count! We hear the angel say, “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” John sees the Saints in Heaven worshipping God. They made it. And we can too!

In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for All Martyrs, which would later be called “All Saints,” from May 13 to November 1. And that’s what we celebrate tomorrow! For nearly 2,000 years we see in the lives of the Saints examples of who God calls us to be, but also that God keeps his promise and grants eternal life to those who live good, generous, and holy lives. We see in these statues that surround this altar an earthly vision, of what John saw in Heaven that day. 

  And how do we become Saints? Well, like them, we die proclaiming Jesus to the world. We live holy and selfless lives. We tend to the sick and the needy, and we give up earthly wealth for a heavenly reward and eternal glory. The Saints of the Church are those who have been officially recognized to be in Heaven, and are among those who can both hear and take our prayers to Jesus who grants them.

But what about those who are in John’s vision of heaven who the Church has not officially recognized as Saints! What about our family members that are in heaven with God who hear our prayers and are among the heavenly multitude? On November 2, in 1048, a collective memorial called All Souls Day was added to our church calendar, and that beautiful and holy day is when we remember our family and friends who have died and gone to their eternal reward in heaven. 

Isn’t that beautiful? Our Church remembers. In the Scriptures the Apostles are identified by name. In our Eucharist prayer we call upon the Saints by name and we celebrate that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses at this holy Mass, this holy altar, this holy meal. At this altar heaven and earth come together with a kiss–which is why Fr. Manuel and I kiss the altar as Mass begins. Our Church remembers and makes Christ present; the Saints present, and those we love present. Our loved ones are never forgotten by God nor by us, his Church. 

We celebrate the holy Saints of the Church on November 1, and we celebrate the holy souls of the just on November 2, and that makes the evening before these two Holy Days a very Holy Evening. Did you know there’s an older term that is used for the word Holy and we say it when we say the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” Hallow is an Old English word that means Holy. So we could say that October 31st is a very Hallow Evening. And an abbreviation of the word evening is, e’en, like when someone says, “Good e’en.” And finally, when you put Hallow and e’en together, you end up with a very Halloween. A Holy Evening. Not the devil’s day, not mischief night, not even candy night–it’s the night when for a thousand years and more, we celebrate those Holy Saints of the church and the souls of the just who enjoy the presence of God that we look forward to. Far from the devil’s night, it is among the most holy nights of our year, or it can be–if we are intentional about it.

As a family we should be praying for our loved ones who have died and who undergo final purification in Purgatory, the cleansing before entrance into heavenly glory. We should be praying for those who have no one else to pray for them. We should be reading about the lives of the Saints and telling their story alongside stories of our own family who have passed from this life to eternal life with God. We go to the cemetery, visit and clean up the gravesites of those we love. The C.C.C. says that through the communion of saints “a link of love exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory, and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them all there is an abundant exchange of all good things” (#1475).

More than anything, we should think about how to get to where they are. We should reflect about the brevity of life and the importance of living right. Jesus tells us exactly how to do it, really. He said, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Strive for a pure heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are children of God.” Be the one who ends the cycle of violence. And “Blessed are you when they insult you because of me.” Live for Jesus. He promises that our “reward will be great in heaven.” The Beatitudes are Jesus’ roadmap for becoming holy and a Saint of the Church. There is no reason that anyone here should not one day be up here among these statues. Pretty cool thought, right?

Far from being the day of the dead, Halloween is the day of the living! A celebration of the Church triumphant, those holy souls who have received their reward, and who pray for us as we, the Church militant, continue to strive mightily to grow in holiness, cling to Jesus, and join them someday.

FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE

The folktale of “Jack o’ the Lantern” arrived with early Irish Catholic colonists in Maryland. It quickly grew in popularity because of the independent spirit admired in this country. Jack has the cleverness to outwit the devil himself, but it isn’t enough to get him into heaven (see box below). 

As you carve your pumpkin (or roast the oiled seeds at 325 degrees for 25 minutes), tell others the tale behind jack-o’-lanterns. Talk about what it means to be a saint and why Jack didn’t make the grade. Don’t be afraid to point out the “moral of the story” (which is why it was told in the first place). Jack was so self-centered he never helped another human being. He was given a good set of brains, but he used this gift only for himself. He knew about faith and the power of the cross, but he used it like a piece of magic instead of as the way of Jesus (see Luke 9:23). The cross is indeed strong enough to vanquish the devil. But embracing the cross is what brings eternal life.

The Tale of Jack O’Lantern

A Read-aloud Story from Catholic Update

Jack, the Irish say, grew up in a simple village where he earned a reputation for cleverness as well as laziness. He applied his fine intelligence to wiggling out of any work that was asked of him, preferring to lie under a solitary oak endlessly whittling. In order to earn money to spend at the local pub, he looked for an “easy shilling” from gambling, a pastime at which he excelled. In his whole life he never made a single enemy, never made a single friend and never performed a selfless act for anyone. 

One Halloween, as it happened, the time came for him to die. When the devil arrived to take his soul, Jack was lazily drinking at the pub and asked permission to finish his ale. The devil agreed, and Jack thought fast. “If you really have any power,” he said slyly, “you could transform yourself into a shilling.” 

The devil snorted at such child’s play and instantly changed himself into a shilling. Jack grabbed the coin. He held it tight in his hand, which bore a cross-shaped scar. The power of the cross kept the devil imprisoned there, for everyone knows the devil is powerless when faced with the cross. Jack would not let the devil free until he granted him another year of life. Jack figured that would be plenty of time to repent. The devil left Jack at the pub. 

The year rolled around to the next Halloween, but Jack never got around to repenting. Again the devil appeared to claim his soul, and again Jack bargained, this time challenging him to a game of dice, an offer Satan could never resist, but a game that Jack excelled at. The devil threw snake eyes—two ones—and was about to haul him off, but Jack used a pair of dice he himself had whittled. When they landed as two threes, forming the T-shape of a cross, once again the devil was powerless. Jack bargained for more time to repent. 

He kept thinking he’d get around to repentance later, at the last possible minute. But the agreed-upon day arrived and death took him by surprise. The devil hadn’t showed up and Jack soon found out why not. Before he knew it Jack was in front of the pearly gates. St. Peter shook his head sadly and could not admit him, because in his whole life Jack had never performed a single selfless act. Then Jack presented himself before the gates of hell, but the devil was still seething. Satan refused to have anything to do with him. 

“Where can I go?” cried Jack. “How can I see in the darkness?” 

The devil tossed a burning coal into a hollow pumpkin and ordered him to wander forever with only the pumpkin to light his path. From that day to this he has been called “Jack o’ the Lantern.” Sometimes he appears on Halloween!