The Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The very most important piece of the Gospel today comes right at the end, when Jesus says to the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That’s actually a pretty remarkable thing for him to say, because he was always berating the scribes and Pharisees for not getting it, for being so concerned about dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” of the law, that they totally missed the spirit of the law.  Jesus always maintained that they were going to completely miss out on the kingdom of God because of this blindness.  So here is a scribe who actually gets it, who knows what the first of all of the commandments is.  But somehow, in the tone of his congratulatory statement, I think Jesus is throwing in a bit of a challenge to the scribe: now that you know it, it’s time to live it.

That challenge is there for us, too, of course.  This Gospel reading is foundational to our call as disciples.  In order to be on course for the kingdom of God, we have to love God and love our neighbor.  Living these commandments from our hearts is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  So love of God and love of neighbor, the heart of the Christian life, needs to be the center of everything we think or say or do.  Love of God and love of neighbor needs to be the lens through which we see everything.

With that lens in mind, I want to say a few words about Tuesday’s election.  You’ve heard a lot about the candidates, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it frustrating.  If you’re like me, you’ll be glad for Wednesday when you don’t have to hear any more rancorous political ads on television, or receive robo-calls from the candidates.  Enough already.  And I’m not going to stand here and tell you who to vote for or who not to vote for; we’re not permitted to do that, and I think that is disrespectful of you as a Catholic and as a citizen.  My job is to make sure that you know what the Church teaches about our responsibility as citizens, and help you form your conscience so that you can exercise your right to vote in a responsible manner.

Toward that end, I want to leave you with a few basic principles that the Church gives us for voting responsibly.

The first principle is that if you can vote, you have to.  We don’t get to choose whether or not to be a good citizen.  Discipleship requires that we do everything we can to make the place where we are living a good place to live.  We are required to make our voice heard so that God’s will can be done.  Voting is one of the most important ways that we Catholics witness to our faith; we strongly believe that our faith has much to say to our world, and that our faith should help to shape the world in which we live.  We accomplish that, in part, by voting.

The second principle is that we vote according to our conscience.  Doing anything contrary to what our conscience tells us is always seriously sinful.  But voting according to our conscience is not the same thing as voting according to what we like or what we think sounds good for us.  Voting according to our conscience demands that we form our conscience; that we actively seek to understand our faith so that we vote in accord with it.  This is what the sticking point can be for many of us; because our faith, which informs our conscience, often requires that we vote in a way that is not popular, or not convenient for us, or in a way that requires that we take a position or give witness to a precept that is unpopular.  That’s hard to do, but it’s sinful not to.

The third principle is that, of the many important issues that confront us in any election, there are some that are most important, and that bind our consciences.  Abortion and respect for life is the paramount issue for us as Catholics.  And today’s scriptures tell us why: we can’t begin to love our neighbor if we support a policy that could kill them, and we can’t love our God if we don’t reverence life, the most fundamental and important of his many wonderful gifts.  Voting for a candidate who is not pro-life violates our conscience, manifests something far less than love of God and neighbor – the greatest of all the commandments, and therefore is sinful.

The fourth principle is that we don’t live in a perfect, black and white world.  Would that we did.  Would that our decisions were easy.  But they’re not.  I don’t know of a candidate who is perfectly pro-life; certainly neither of the major gubernatorial candidates can claim to be.  Man times, none of the candidates in a given race is perfect for the job whatever the office.  That makes our job so much harder: voting according to our conscience is a real conundrum, and generally very frustrating.  The principle though is that we sometimes have to vote for the lesser of the evils with which we are presented.  We vote for the candidate who supports life and rejects abortion in more circumstances, we vote for the candidate who allows religious organizations to function according to their moral teachings.  This takes study and discernment.

The Liturgy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, calls on us to work with God to establish, here on earth, a kingdom of love and peace, a kingdom of justice and truth.  Voting in a way that follows our conscience is a way to do that.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all as we go to the polls this Tuesday.  May the results of this mid-term election help us all to manifest a deep and enduring love of God and love of neighbor.

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!