The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Time/Talent/Treasure

Today’s readings

One of our parishioners showed me some pictures yesterday of the new chapel at my alma mater, Mundelein Seminary. The chapel has stained glass windows that depict various saints of the New Evangelization, and the one that stood out for me was that of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Maximilian is a modern saint, a Franciscan priest who was captured during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and eventually brought to Auschwitz. One day there, a prisoner escaped, and so in retribution, the commandant intended to execute ten men. He walked among them as they were lined up in the compound and randomly selected ten of them. One of them was a man who had a wife and children, so Maximilian volunteered to take his place. The commandant asked “what about you?” to which Maximilian replied, “I am a priest.” Because the regime at the time was striving to eliminate all the leaders of the people, Maximilian’s request was granted, and he died in the starvation chamber some three months later.

I thought about Saint Maximilian when I was reflecting on today’s Gospel reading, because it strikes me that Maximilian, like all the other saints really, knew how to live the commandments of Jesus in that reading. The Pharisees are testing Jesus again, asking him perhaps the most argued question in all of Jewish scholarship: which commandment of the Law is the greatest? Jesus’ response was hard to argue with: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Indeed that was a line, from the book of Deuteronomy, that every good Jew memorized and honored. But Jesus goes them one better: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This command, from the book of Leviticus, is a reminder that genuine love of God is demonstrated by a genuine love of others. This is a love that Saint Maximilian had for God and the people he served, including his fellow prisoners at Auschwitz.

I think if we wanted to boil down the mandate of the Gospel, and really all of the Scriptures, we would be pretty safe to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor. We love because God has loved us first; his love shows us how to love him and love others, and even how to love ourselves. When we have been loved so greatly, the only appropriate response is love in return. That’s the whole attitude of stewardship, and stewardship of our time, talent and treasure is what I’m here to discuss today.

This year, as we renew our stewardship of time, talent and treasure, I have two asks of you. The first is that of time and talent. Giving of our time and talent is an important way to show our love of God and neighbor. This is where we walk the talk of the Gospel. And giving of our time and talent is a true sacrifice. We are all busy people, and our families are busy. But setting aside just a little time to give to others helps us not only to show God’s love but also to receive God’s love. And you probably know what I mean: whenever we take time to be with others, we are often rewarded far beyond what we feel like we’ve given.

This year, we have a couple of opportunities to give of our time and talent. The first is on our weekend of service, which is the 15th and 16th of November this year. We have little acts of service around the parish campus, but also some great new projects this year. We have some outreach opportunities to help the Little Sisters of the Poor at their home for the elderly poor in Palatine, and also to help feed the families at the Ronald McDonald house at Loyola. We are scheduling activities through the weekend, in the hope that everyone can find something that fits their schedule. Sign up sheets are in the narthex today, and will be there for the next couple of weeks.

Another opportunity is for some ongoing needs here at the parish. In the letter you received from me this past week, there was a little flier with a few of the most needed volunteer positions here. They include sacristans, who take time to clean the church and the linens and liturgical vessels, staffing the information desk, helping with PADs and some others. Most of these opportunities require only occasional service – the more hands, the easier the overall effort. As Scott Marshall said a couple of weeks ago here, we’re not looking for one person to put in 80 hours, but more like 80 people to put in an hour or so to build up our community and reach out to others. Please reflect on how you can set aside a few hours of your time now and then to build up the body of Christ.

The second ask I have is for support of the Sunday collection. The letter you received this past week asked for your increased financial support. The Sunday collection is the sole source of funding for all the daily operations of our parish: everything from keeping the lights on, to having staff here to serve our parishioners and the community, to educating the next generation of Catholics in our School and Religious Education programs. A couple of weeks ago Scott Marshall or Tim French – depending on which Mass you attended – spoke about our financial situation. That report was made available in our bulletin and can be found in the archived bulletins on our website. This year we are focusing on doing everything possible to use our parish funds wisely to support the daily operations of the parish and school, and also to keep the parish and school facilities in good order to serve our community’s needs in the future.

Once again, I’m not asking one or a few people to give a lot more money, but more that I am asking everyone, especially those who have not given regularly, to give a little something more. Every family’s situation is different – I know that. And I respect where you are and appreciate what you can do. I’ve received a few notes just this past week from faithful parishioners who are doing what they can and can’t do more for various reasons. I want you to know that I read every one of those letters, and that I appreciate them. I keep all of you in my prayers every day and if there’s something I can pray for to help you or your family, I appreciate knowing about it.

Saint Maximilian’s love for God and neighbor, very much like Jesus’ love for his Father and for all of us, was radical. They literally gave their lives for us. We are called to that same kind of holy love, we are called to give of ourselves and lay down our lives for love of God and neighbor. Stewardship of our time, talent and treasure is an important way to live that kind of love. God bless you all for all that you do for our parish and our community!

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Saint Paul asks a very important question in his letter to the Romans: “What will separate us from the love of Christ?”  Then he lists a number of rhetorical examples of what one might think would do that: anguish, distress, persecution, famine, the sword and many others.  Lest we let that little list run right past us, I want to emphasize that all of these things, when the original Roman church heard them, were equivalent to the end of the world.  Saint Paul was asking – rhetorically of course – if Armageddon could separate us from the love of Christ, and the answer is quite emphatically, “NO!”

And the end of days was on the minds of the early Christians.  They were often persecuted, cast out of the community, and even put to death.  So it’s easy to see why Saint Paul would seek to give them comfort.  But what about us?  Does the message ring truth in our ears?  I think it does.  Turn on the news: war in Gaza and Israel, conflict in Russia and the Ukraine, including a plane being shot down that killed almost 300 men, women and children.  Then there’s the border crisis with Mexico, the expulsion of the last Christians from Iraq, rampant crime in the city of Chicago, and so much more.  There’s plenty for us to worry about and that is to say nothing of our own personal crises.  Illness, death of a loved one, relationship issues, job stress or employment uncertainty.  All of these things take a toll on us, and at times, we have to wonder if these are signs of the end times, or if we have actually been separated from God’s love.

The answer is as it was in Saint Paul’s day, absolutely not.  If we want to see the answer underlined, all we have to do is look at today’s Gospel.  Matthew takes note that when Jesus saw the vast crowds who had been following his every word and hanging on every miracle, he was moved with pity for them.  And the word pity here translates a Greek word that means much more than it means for us.  It’s used also in John’s Gospel when Jesus arrives in the town of his friend Lazarus, who has just died, and sees the people’s grief.  In that Gospel, the pity that he has causes him to cry out in anguish, giving voice to an emotion that is something like pity, but also encompassing grief, sadness, pain, and exasperation.  Here, Jesus is moved with pity because of the people’s hunger: not just their physical hunger, but also the spiritual hunger that has been unmet for so very long.

And so he takes five loaves and two fish – practically nothing – and feeds thousands of people, people he created out of practically nothing, but who had become something to him, who always were something to him, and he goes about feeding every kind of hunger they have.

We’re going to go through rough stuff in our lives.  The world may seem like it’s crumbling around us.  And while God may allow the bad things that happen to us as a consequence of the fallenness of our human nature, I think it’s important to note that he never intends us to be unhappy, never wants us to despair of his love.  He might not wave a wand to make all our troubles go away, but he is always going to be with us in good times and bad, giving us grace to get through whatever we have to suffer, growing in his love, and becoming more in the process.

If God had meant anything to separate us from his love, he would have written us off in the Garden of Eden.  But instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son to walk with us, to feed us beyond anything we could hope for, to pay the price for our many sins, and to give us the invitation to everlasting life.  That’s our God.  And nothing can ever separate us from his love.  Nothing.