Our readings today pick up the sermon that Jesus was giving in last week’s gospel. Last week, he used the formula: “You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…” to raise the bar on living the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments. Merely refraining from actual murder no longer means that we have not murdered in our heart. Never having had an extra-marital affair doesn’t any longer mean that we haven’t committed sexual sin. And never having lied under oath doesn’t mean we haven’t stretched the truth in ways that are sinful. Disciples, people who believe in Christ, are expected to live differently: our faith looks like something, and that something is radical lives of integrity that set out to witness to God’s love in the world.
This week we have a bit more of the same, but this time expressed in terms of positive behavior. Christian disciples, he tells us, are not just to refrain from anything that would tear down another’s life, they are not just to refrain from seeing people as objects, nor are they just to refrain from lying. They are to go beyond all that and give of themselves, even when it doesn’t seem like they would strictly be required to do so. Disciples are to give of themselves even when they themselves have been wronged. They are to do more than the law requires and offer no resistance to evil. Disciples are even to love their enemies, for heaven’s sake!
So what we are seeing over these two weekends’ Scriptures are a completely new message for the people of Israel. Hopefully the message is not a new one for us, but it is, we have to admit, one of which we need to be reminded from time to time. Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own entitlement, and looking out for number one, and doing what seems best for us. But disciples are called to a different kind of life, one that leads ultimately to the kingdom of heaven. If we’re ever going to attain that eternal reward, we have to bring everyone with us that we can. And to do that, sometimes we’re going to have to let someone else win the argument, or see the good in someone who isn’t presenting a real good side right now. We might even have to go so far as to love and pray for those who are working against us, and trust God to work it all out.
And the thing is, God is that trustworthy, but sometimes we don’t have faith enough to do that. That’s something we have to work on every day. Because if the only one we ever trust in is ourselves, we are destined for a pretty bad end. Even the brightest and best of us have limited ability, and none of us can ever make up to God for the offenses of our sins. So our ability to be okay in bad times goes only as far as we can manage, unless we trust in the Father’s care.
Today I am speaking at all the Masses about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal. As you are aware, the appeal funds the various ministries of the Diocese of Joliet and is integral to providing funding for so many activities that support our work at the parish level, and also reach out to those in need. You probably already received a mailing from the diocese asking for your contribution; I know I did. If, like me, you have already made your pledge, I want to thank you for your participation. Your generosity makes a huge difference to those who depend on these funds.
In today’s bulletin, you’ll find this tabloid about the appeal. My favorite part is on the inside where it talks about how our money is being used. I wanted to briefly point out a few of those. One of the best, I think, is the education of seminarians, of which our own Chris Lankford is a beneficiary. We also have another young man who has been accepted from our parish, and he will benefit for that too. I know that during my time in seminary, I estimated that my education cost the diocese over $100,000, and the costs have certainly gone up in the years since. We need priests, and so we need to have the funds to educate them.
The diocese serves over 660,000 Catholics in our seven-county area. Some of the other ways the appeal helps us is by funding Young Adult and Youth Ministry programs that serve over 25,000 young people. More than 155,000 nights of shelter and housing were provided to the homeless. The Catholic Schools Office assists and gives direction to our own school and others, serving over 20,000 elementary and high school students, and the Religious Education Office helps train and direct catechists who reach almost 50,000 students a year.
Our parish has always been very generous in so many ways, including to the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal. Last year we exceeded our goal and received a rebate from the diocese that helps us to balance our own budget and provide for unforeseen needs, like the greater need for snow removal and salting this year. I am grateful for all that you have done to accomplish this, and as your pastor, I am proud of the way that we come together to help those who need us.
Our Psalmist today reminds us that “The Lord is kind and merciful.” God is never outdone in generosity, and so when we extend ourselves to those in need, when we give above and beyond what is strictly required, when we love those who maybe don’t love us, and even pray for our enemies, we can trust that God will give us all that we need and bless us in ways that we may never have expected. Trust in the Father’s care: that’s what our Scriptures and this year’s appeal ask us to do. It’s sound advice, and I pray that we would all take note of it!