The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship Sunday

Today’s readings

This is indeed our home.  It can be easy to come to think of this place as a school, or an auditorium, or even as a worship space and fills a function and other than that, doesn’t mean anything different.  But as I said in the video this is our home: this is where we come to find peace when we’re struggling; this is where we go to make a difference as we did (earlier today/yesterday) and witness to our faith; this is where we gather to celebrate our faith in God and receive the grace he pours out on us through the sacraments of the church.  This isn’t just any old building, it’s a community, it’s a family, and it is us.

And because this is our home, we have to attend to it.  We have to fix what’s broken, we have to strengthen what’s weak, we have to invest in a community so it will be here for our children and grandchildren.  And so this is one of the very few times that I will come to you and give the “money” talk.  Because I get it: I know that everyone has demands on their finances, sometimes very significant ones.  But if this is our home, then we are called to make an investment in its present and future, just as previous generations have done for us.

Our Gospel reading today calls us to give to God what belongs to God.  This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

We’ve accomplished a lot as a parish in the last year.  I hope you saw that wonderful list in the bulletin a few weeks ago when we presented the parish financial report.  It was a full and engaging year, and we should take pride that we as a parish could do so much together.  I am grateful for the way the parish came together to provide a beautiful sign out on Route 59, that we found a way to repair many of the sidewalks and other concrete around the facility, and to revamp our parish gym.  What a blessing that we could get those things done!  But, just like any home, there’s a lot to be done.  We need to repair the parking lot, the floor in Cana Hall, and the windows in the Commons, to name but a few.  We need to take care of those things and provide space in our budget for when stuff happens, like the air conditioning going out in the school office, or a leaking pipe in the narthex.

One of the very first things I did when I found out I was coming here was to sign up for online giving.  I wanted to make sure that I was giving expression to my gratitude for all that God does in my life.  And so it is in that spirit that I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.

In the past week or so, you probably received a letter from me asking for your support.  After you have prayed about your response, I would ask that you fill out the enclosed letter of support and send it back to us.  You can mail it to the parish office, to my attention, or you can drop it in the collection basket this week or next.  Please know how very much I appreciate the support you give to our parish.  It helps me accomplish the mission we have as a parish to worship, teach the faith to people of all ages and to reach out to others in acts of service and charity.  Please know of my prayers for you every single day, and how much I love being your pastor.  May God bless us all as we continue to Make Christ Known together!

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship

Today’s readings

At the heart of today’s Gospel reading is the question of whether or not we as disciples of Jesus are willing to go where he’s leading us. Much could be said about the posturing of James and John to get the good seats in the kingdom. But honestly, they didn’t even know what they was asking. They had no idea what the kingdom would look like. They even missed the fact that it was in some ways already there. But their ambition is not the point here.

The point, as Jesus illustrates, is that his kingdom is not one of honor and glory, at least not in the way that James and John were thinking. His kingdom is about suffering and redemption, and then honor and glory. To get to the good stuff, you have to go through the cross. And the most honored one is the one who serves everyone else. Let me illustrate with an admittedly somewhat unflattering story about yours truly.

When I was in seminary, there were a number of nice, fancy dinners that would follow important events in the school year. So we would have them after a class received ministries like Lector or Acolyte, or after Mass for a reunion of 25-year or 50-year jubilarians. At each of these dinners, the table would be set up very fancy, and there would be an apron draped over the back of one of the chairs at the table. The idea was, the person sitting in that seat would be expected to put on the apron and serve the others at the table.

When I first got to seminary, I still had a lot of changing to do. I brought with me a lot of the selfishness of my former life. So when it came time for these dinners, I would rush to get to the refectory so that I didn’t have to sit in that spot and serve the others. I know, not very pastor-like, was it? But one day, I reflected on those last two lines of today’s Gospel: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. And in that moment, I realized that it was indeed service that I was called to do, so if I was going to be successful in priesthood, maybe I could show it by embracing something menial like serving the others at my table.

From that day forward, things changed for me. I would still rush to get over to the refectory as soon as I could, but that was so that I could sit in that seat and serve the others. Not only did I take on the server role, but I actually found joy in it. When you let go of thinking only about yourself, you find that you can actually receive many blessings. The blessings I found were that those dinners were a lot more fun; I had some wonderful conversations not only with the people at my table, but also with the kitchen staff.

Jesus in our Gospel reading today is calling us all to sit in that seat at the table, to put on our aprons, and help serve everyone else. That flies in the face of our entitlement, it tears down the notion of looking out for number one, it means that inconvenience for the sake of others has to become a real option in our daily lives. But let’s be honest, not all of us, probably none of us, are ready to get up there on the cross and die for the sake of the ungodly. Instead, we have to find little ways of love that build up others and take them on despite the millions of other things clamoring for our attention.

This is Stewardship Sunday. On this day, we always call on each other to take stock of the many blessings God has given us and move to respond to that blessing. Today’s Gospel ups the ante and calls us to be the servant of all. I am asking you to prayerfully consider how you can respond to that call. Two weeks ago, you heard our Finance Committee talk about the state of our parish finances and our parish buildings. We have accomplished a lot together, but there is still more to be done. This coming week, you’ll receive a letter from me in the mail, asking you to respond to God’s blessings in your life. I realize that you have many demands on your family’s finances, just as we do here at church. But whatever you can give helps us to accomplish the mission of our parish: worshipping God, educating children and adults in the faith, and reaching out to assist those in need. We cannot do that without your support. There is a form included in the letter that you can fill out to indicate your support. Please return it next week so that we can recognize and thank you for your participation.

I am also asking that you help us with your time and talent. Included in the letter you will receive this week is a volunteer form that talks about a few of our most needed volunteers here at Notre Dame. There are many more ways that you can help, and we would be glad to match you up to a service opportunity that works for you.

Our parish Day of Service is coming up on Saturday, November 21. Please mark you calendars and plan to be a part of this incredible day. We will begin with Mass at 8am, then after a light breakfast, will go out and serve the community and the parish in many ways. It’s a lot of fun, and there are service opportunities for everyone in the family. Sign-up sheets will go up in the Narthex in a couple of weeks.

Jesus told us that whoever wishes to be great among us must be the servant of all. He himself did not think he was above washing the feet of his disciples on his last night on this earth. We are called to follow his ways if we want to follow him to the kingdom. Let’s none of us be afraid of taking that seat at the table and putting on the apron.

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 Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today’s feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is an incredible privilege for us to celebrate.  That our God, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than anything we could ever possibly imagine, would give himself to us, his creatures, so completely that we would have him as our food and drink, sustenance for body and soul, into eternity, is a mystery almost too wonderful to comprehend!  Yet that is what we gather to call to mind this weekend.

In the Gospel reading today, we see just exactly how wonderful a miracle the Eucharist is.  A large crowd has gathered to hang on the words of Jesus, and to see what he might do next.  The disciples, however, become fearful because it is late in the day, and they know they have only a mere five loaves and two fish, and that’s never going to be enough to feed all those people.  They fear, I think, that the crowd may get ugly when they realize there is nothing to eat and it’s too late to go buy anything in the surrounding area.

So they come to Jesus and tell him to cut the homily short and dismiss the crowds so they can run off and get some food.  But Jesus turns it all around on them.  “Give them some food yourselves,” he says.  And I can just imagine the disciples freaking out!  But Jesus knows where this is going and is fully aware of what he intends to do.  So ignoring their lack of faith, he has them bring the meager five loaves and two fish that they do have, and he makes of it a feast that is enough, and actually more than enough, to feed the hungry crowd.

This is a great story and we’re very familiar with it, I’m sure.  But you know how this goes.  The commands of Jesus are never just for those who heard them the first time.  Instead he says the very same thing to us: “Give them some food yourselves.”  His intent is that we who have been fed superabundantly on his own Body and Blood, would go then and be Christ for others, feeding them in ways too wonderful to imagine.  But how would something like that even be possible?

And that’s the reaction I think that some of us have when we are faced with the rather daunting prospect of sharing of our time, talent and treasure.  But that’s exactly what Jesus intends for us to do.  “Give them some food yourselves,” he says, and we are called upon to respond.

Now some of us perhaps don’t share out of selfishness.  I hope that’s not true, but it does happen.  And we know very well what Scripture teaches about that: we have to get over ourselves and remember who gave us what we have in the first place, and be as generous to others as God has been to us.  We are taught that selfishness leads only to unhappiness in this life and eternal unrest in the life to come.  We know this.

But I really think that of those who don’t really give of their time, talent and treasure, it’s because of a belief very similar to what the disciples had in the Gospel today.  I think some of us don’t give of ourselves because we feel like we only have very little to give, kind of like the five loaves and two fish, and how on earth is that even going to be at all helpful in the face of such great need?  Better that we send everyone on their way to fend for themselves as best they can.  But Jesus didn’t accept that from the disciples and he isn’t having any of that from us either.  “Give them some food yourselves.”

Because not offering something – be in an hour or two of time a week or even a month, or a very small percentage of what we earn – because we don’t think it’s enough to do anything very much is tantamount to a lack of faith.  That’s what exasperated Jesus when he saw it in his disciples.  And he wants us to be better than that.  He wants us to see that whatever little bit we can give can become enough, and more than enough, to feed every need we can see, if we entrust it to his hands.

Jesus isn’t asking us to put an end to hunger; he’s asking us to feed one hungry person.  He isn’t asking us to solve the problem of homelessness; he’s asking us to help the youth group build a house in the poverty stricken parts of Jamaica and Kentucky this summer.  He isn’t asking us to single-handedly balance the parish’s budget; he’s asking us to give whatever we can and trust that others will too so that the parish can accomplish its mission.  Everyone can give something: time, talent and/or treasure.  I tell the folks in the nursing home that they can give of themselves just by being patient with their neighbors and being present to their friends and family.  Everyone can give someone some food themselves.

Today’s Gospel miracle isn’t just a nice story that we are meant to admire from the distance of a couple of thousand years.  We are meant to live it and experience it in the here and now by receiving the generous gift of God poured out most perfectly in his Body and Blood, by giving what we can give, and by trusting that God can make something truly great happen with what we have offered.  Give them some food yourselves.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time [B]: Time, Talent & Treasure

Today’s readings

I’m speaking at all the Masses this weekend, and I know what you’re thinking: here comes the money talk.  All he ever does is talk about money.  I hope you don’t really feel that way, because we do try to keep all the money talk to a minimum.  We do, however, want to keep you in the loop and so on occasion you’ve had updates from Tim French, the chairman of our Finance, Facilities and Administration Commission, and most recently from Scott Marshall, the President of our Parish Council.  I am grateful to both of them for the work they and their peers have done in keeping us on point financially, and helping to steer our parish in the right direction.  As for me, this is the only time I will be coming to you to talk about money, except for the Diocesan Appeal in the winter.

But I’m not even just talking to you about money today, because quite honestly, I am asking for something a whole lot more valuable.  And that’s in the spirit of today’s Gospel.  Jesus wasn’t as interested in the rich young man’s money as he was in his heart and soul.  And he asked for that in exchange for something much more valuable than anything we or the rich young man possess: eternal life.  That, after all, was what the rich young man wanted, right?  I mean, he asks Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel reading what he has to do to inherit it.  And it’s actually a good question.  I don’t know if it’s because we take salvation for granted or if we can’t really see past the next big thing happening in our crazy lives, but I sometimes think we’re not as zealous about inheriting eternal life as we should be.  So we could all – myself included, by the way – learn a little something from the rich young man’s question.

So today I’m asking you to give up whatever it is that may be holding you back – riches, status, anything – and go all in for the prize of eternal life.  Just like Jesus, I am asking for your hearts and souls, so that you might have the great gift of eternal happiness in the life to come.

So what does that even mean?  What does it look like?  To get there, I want to focus on the three traditional areas of time, talent and treasure.  Treasure we’ve been talking about for a little while now.  Scott gave you an overview of the parish’s position a couple of weeks ago, and the financial report was in the bulletin.  If you missed that, it is also published on our parish website.  The budget this year calls for a 3% increase in operating expenses.  That amount covers anticipated energy and environmental costs, keeping our buildings in good repair, salaries and benefits for all of our parish and school employees, and the expenses of our parish ministries.   Your generosity helps us to reach out to those in need, touch the lives of those who are hurting, and teach the faith to people of all ages.

I am appointing a buildings and grounds committee to work with our Finance, Facilities and Administration Commission.  Their task will be to assess the needs of our parish facilities.  They will help us to plan for repair and replacement of various resources of our campus.  Our goal would be to have a surplus in the budget each year so that we can put money aside for those expenses, something we have not been able to do in recent years.  Another goal would be to finish the basement project in order to provide space for our teens, a good facility for our food pantry, rehearsal space for our choirs, and meeting space for all our ministries.  That is something that was part of the original vision of our new facility, something we have not as yet been able to accomplish, although we have been saving money toward it.

Over the past year, we have replaced air conditioning compressors in the parish offices and in the school gym, have completed a large upgrade on our parish’s computer network and the school’s computer lab; we have repaired and maintained the parking lot with the goal of keeping it intact for at least another decade, and many other smaller projects.  Your generosity and the hard work of staff and parishioners alike have made all this possible.

But there is so much more to do, and I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.  Details are in our bulletin and in the letter from me which you should have already received, or will receive in the next few days.  You can always give online at givetond.org.

So now I want to ask for something more, and that is your time and talent.  One of the greatest strengths of Notre Dame Parish is the outreach to those in need.  We are blessed with volunteers and staff who minister tirelessly to the hungry, the homeless and those who are struggling with life challenges.  We also have strong programs in our school and religious education programs, youth ministry and Confirmation preparation, and adult education and RCIA programs.  In addition we are always trying to build on our strong worship, improving how we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, and to make our time worshipping our God a top priority.  We also make time to come together at wonderful events like the Oktoberfest, the Dinner Dance, the Italian Dinner and Saint Patrick’s Day Party – just to name a few.

But as many wonderful volunteers as we have to make all of that happen, we could always, always use way more.  Every one of our volunteers who head up our ministries would tell you that they could use more help.  And some of our volunteers are getting up there in age and cannot do what they used to do.  We’ve recently buried good people like Marty Rock and Eileen Thome who served our parish so faithfully for many, many years.  Who is going to take their place?  And so many of our volunteers are pulled in all sorts of directions, some of them taking on what is quite honestly too much.

This is our community; it’s not an auditorium where we come to see a show or a shop where we go to receive a service.  This is a family where everyone needs to take part to make the community vibrant and active.  If you’re not already active in ministry around here, I am asking you to prayerfully discern how God is calling you to serve.  What are your special talents?  What are the activities here that energize you or stir up your passion?  Those are ways that you can serve, and be part of the mission of our parish.

In all honesty, we have not been good about soliciting volunteers in past years.  We are looking for new ways to do that and will roll some things out in the next year.  But in the mean time, there are three ways you can help.  First, you can respond prayerfully to the questions I just asked, and if you discern a talent or passion that you’d like to share, let us know.  If you don’t know who to contact, tell me or Father Steve and we will put you in touch with the right person.  Second, watch the bulletin and our electronic newsletter for volunteer opportunities.  And third, be part of our Second Annual Parish Service Day next Saturday.  I promise that you will find being an active part of the parish rewarding, and even more, I proclaim the promise of eternal life that Jesus wants to offer to the rich young man – and to us – today.

The Church teaches that, in living the Gospel, we are to strive for reasonable happiness in this life, and eternal happiness in the life to come.  That’s what today’s readings teach us.  We pray for wisdom, which puts us on the path to eternal life.  We zealously seek eternal happiness.  We put our lives and our resources at the service of the Gospel.  We contribute our time, talent and treasure to the mission of the Church.   We beg God, with the Psalmist today, to prosper the work of our hands for us!  Prosper the work of our hands!

Committing ourselves to this great endeavor of grace, let us take the Stewardship Prayer Cards from the pew racks, stand, and pray together:

Generous God,

We give you thanks for all you have given us:
our families, our homes, our community,
our parish.

You have walked with us as we grow together in faith;
You speak through us when we teach and witness to the Gospel;
You work in us when we reach out to those in need.

Help us to grow in faith:
May we never be in distress when we are in need;
May we never be indifferent when we have surplus.

Teach us how to be a generous people,
freely pouring out the love you daily give us;
confident that the store of that love has no end
because its source is always You, God.

Renew Your Spirit in us;
help us to be One Body, One Spirit in Christ,
and help us to create the world anew in You.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Time, Talent and Treasure

Today’s readings

Mike was one of my favorite people in the world.  He owned the service station where my family had, and still has, our cars repaired and maintained ever since we first moved out to the suburbs, almost forty years ago now.  Dad used to joke that with all the cars we brought in there over the years, we probably had ownership in at least the driveway by now.  Mike was the kind of guy who, if you brought your car in for a tune-up, would call you and say, “your car doesn’t really need a tune-up yet, so I’ll just change the oil and a couple of the spark plugs and you’ll be fine.”  He was honest and did great work, and it seemed like everyone knew him.  He taught that to a kid who came to work for him when he was just sixteen.  When Mike retired five years or so ago, Ted took over for him and runs the business just the way Mike taught him.

Mike was a regular at the 7am Mass on Sunday, and after his retirement was a pretty regular daily Mass-goer.  The church would sometimes ask him to help a person in need with car repairs.  This he did gladly; he was always ready to serve.  A couple of years ago, when Mike died, I took Mom to his wake.  It took us an hour and a half to get in to see him and his family, and it was like that all night long.  His funeral packed the parish church, and eight of us priests concelebrated the Mass.  Mike left his mark on our community in incredible ways, and nobody ever forgot it.

Today’s gospel reading speaks to us about what may be the hallmark of Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor.  This two-pronged approach to loving is what life is all about for us, it is, in fact, the way we are all called to live the Gospel.  The scholar of the law is testing Jesus to see if he can come up with a way to discredit him.  But Jesus’ answer is one that the scholar can’t take issue with.  There were over six hundred major and minor precepts in the Jewish law, but any scholar worth his salt knew that they all boiled down to love.  In fact, the first of the laws that Jesus quoted, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind and soul…” was once that so many students of the law had memorized, so this was not new ground for them.  What was new was putting the love of neighbor parallel to that law.

Today we begin our parish’s annual time, talent and treasure campaign for the strength of our parish.  This is the time when we parishioners of Notre Dame renew in our minds and in our hearts that love of God and love of neighbor are the first priority in our lives.  God is the One who gives us everything that we have and makes us everything that we are.  It is our special task in this life to use what we have been given and who we are and have become to give honor and glory to God.  Worship and prayer is the way that we come to love God.  Service and generosity are the ways that we show it.  That is the way of stewardship; that is the way of the Christian life.

In a couple of weeks, our Finance Council will give you details about our parish’s financial condition; you can also read about that in this week’s parish bulletin.  So today, I would just like to give some highlights.  We all understand that it takes money to run an organization.  Gifts received through the Sunday collection not only help with the utilities and day-to-day operations of the parish, but they also provide resources to continue to build and strengthen our many parish ministries and programs.

The budget for the fiscal year that will end on June 30, 2012 is $1.46 million.  This is a four percent decrease from the prior fiscal year.  What I hope you take away from this news is the following:  First, we are working hard to be financially sound and making decisions that make the best use of the dollars entrusted to the parish.  Second, we are forced to make cuts in our budget because we had a shortfall last year of about $91,000.  The only way we can fulfill our parish financial needs is with a commitment from everyone.  If we all do our part, we will be successful.

Some ask how much they should give.  The truth is that only you and your family can decide that; it looks different for every household.  I just ask that you prayerfully reflect on the blessings you have received and consider a meaningful increase.  If you have not participated in offertory giving, I ask you to prayerfully consider an investment of the salary you earn during the first hour of your work week.  Some people find that first hour on Monday morning to be challenging and difficult; wouldn’t it be great to have the motivation of offering that time to the Lord in gratitude for your many blessings?  Whatever you decide, I will not be asking you to return a commitment form this year.  We want to make things easier and trust that you will respond with great love.  So I just ask that you simply increase your offering as soon as you are able.

I also ask that all of you: adults, seniors, children, youth and young adults, all of you consider a meaningful contribution of your time and talent.  There are many wonderful ministries in our parish, and all of them would welcome some fresh blood and new energy.  We are in need of people to greet other people as they come in to Mass.  We can always use help with our religious education and youth ministry programs.  We are trying to revitalize our parish council and worship commission, and we could use people who love the Church to be part of those groups.  Our music ministry could always use more voices and instruments to glorify God in song.  If you are a couple who loves your marriage, we could use your passion to mentor engaged couples.  I’d like to start a health care ministry to help people monitor their blood pressure and learn how to take care of themselves, and occasionally look in on a sick parishioner to make sure their needs are being met.  And that’s just to name a few.

Our parish day of service is next Saturday.  This is a wonderful way to try some service with a limited time commitment, especially if you are not sure how God is calling you to serve.  Please stop in the narthex after Mass to sign up for one or more activities, and don’t forget to sign up to come to the dinner after the 5:00 Mass.  Tomorrow/today we’ll also hear from the Invisible Children and learn how we can reach out to those hurting across the globe.  Our love for God and neighbor can make a difference right here in Clarendon Hills and half way around the world.  Love has no limits!

I think that my friend Mike understood quite well why Jesus put love of God and love of neighbor at the top of those six hundred or so Jewish laws.  He knew the joy that came from being connected to a loving God, and made it his top priority to share that love with others any way he could.  Small acts, great faith, awesome generosity.  This is what it takes for the Church to continue to show God’s love to others.  My prayer is that we will all take time to reflect this week on how we can love God and our neighbor by generously returning a portion of our time, talent and treasure that God might be glorified in all things.  Thank you all for all that you do to make our parish as great as it is.  God bless you.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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The Lord takes care of those who are on fire for love of him, he takes care of those who season their lives and the lives of others with the gifts God has given them.  Today, in a very familiar way, we are being called to be salt and light. 

Salt is one of those wonderful things that is great in moderation.  Too much, and you’ve ruined the dish.  Not enough and it’s just bland.  But in just the right proportion, the food is perfectly seasoned.  Similarly, a fervent witness is a great thing.  Too much, and people might turn off your witness.  Too little and nobody will even notice what we’re saying.  But in the right proportion, a fervent witness draws other people to Christ and to the Church, builds up the body of Christ, and sends us all on the way to salvation.

But when the salt loses its flavor, what good is it?  Or when you put a lamp under a bushel basket, what’s the point?  The gifts we have been given, we are to give in return.  The widow at Zarephath learned that in today’s first reading.  She didn’t think she had much, just enough flour and oil to bake a meager cake to provide a last supper for her and her son.  But when she gave even what little she had, she was able to eat for a year, her and her son and her guest too.

The Lord takes care of those who are on fire for love of him, he takes care of those who season their lives and the lives of others with the gifts God has given them.  Whether we think our gifts are a little or a lot is ultimately meaningless.  The only thing that means anything is how willing we are to share them out of love for God and for others.  When we do that, the little we have is increased many times over and all for the glory of God.

Today, we are being called to be salt and light.  God promises to take care of us when we give. 

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today's readings

We gather together today to celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas.  Today is the traditional day for the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, a time when we can see who Christ really is, when our eyes are enlightened, and our hearts are opened.  Because there is a gift to be had here today; more precisely, I think there are three gifts to be had here today.  The magi famously offered their three gifts: gold, frankincense anhttps://i2.wp.com/img.villagephotos.com/p/2004-2/653261/3Kings.jpg?w=660d myrrh.  I don’t think we can expect to receive those gifts today, although we’ll use a bit of frankincense later in this celebration.  But the Scriptures today speak of three gifts that come with this Christ Child … the one who continues to lay sleeping in the manger on this holy day.

The first fist gift he brings us is justice.  Justice is what people long for in every age.  When everyone has what belongs to them, when no one is poor or needy, when the marginalized are brought into the community, when the wrongly imprisoned are free, when everything is right and we are all in right relationship with one another and with God, that is justice.  People have striven for justice in every age and place.  While we are all called upon to do what we can to make justice happen in our world, we know that we do not ultimately have the power to bring the real justice that this world longs for all by ourselves.  That can only be done by God, and in God’s time.  Our psalmist today says, “Justice shall flower in his days…” The gift the Christ Child brings is the possibility of that great day of justice.  We know that because Christ has died and risen, we can count on the salvation that will be ours on that day when everything is made right.

The second gift Jesus brings is peace.  Peace, too, can be an elusive thing for us, and peace, too, has been sought after for ages upon ages.  We often think of peace as the absence of conflict.  And that alone is daunting.  We have conflict in many places today.  We think of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many places in the middle east, to say nothing of Africa, Korea, and many other places.  I’m not even sure, honestly, how to count the number of wars being fought today.  And this says nothing about the lack of peace that is violence in our communities, discord in our families, and unrest in our hearts.  If we are to define peace as just the absence of conflict, it is clear that even that is beyond us. 

But that’s not how God defines peace.  Peace is more than a feeling, it is a way of living, or more exactly, a way of being.  It stems from the right relationship that is justice.  In fact, we are told that if we are to desire peace, we must work for justice because peace can’t happen in an unjust world.  If the mere absence of conflict is a peace that we can’t seem to achieve, how much less will we ever be able to come to a peace that is a completeness of right relationships with God and every other person?  And yet, this child in the manger is the one who has come to bring “peace till the moon be no more.”

The third gift Jesus brings is light: the revelation of the mystery.  And that’s what we celebrate today.  “Epiphany” means “manifestation,” it means coming to know what’s right in front of us.  Coming to see the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures, in the Church, in the Sacraments, and in every person and place.  It is a celebration of light, light that is the glory of God, appearing and overcoming the darkness of a world that does not know God.  Jesus came to a world that was darkened by the absence of justice and peace, into a world which in some ways didn’t want to be brightened by his life.  So basically, he was coming into a world not much different than the one we experience today.  Our time’s need for justice and peace is obvious, and the world’s refusal to come to the light is well-known.  But we have the light.  Jesus came to bring us that light.  Maybe it’s not the light of the star on that night, but it’s the light of Scripture, of his presence in the Eucharist, and his activity in the Church and in our hearts. 

We who have received the wonderful gifts of his justice and peace and light, are called to bring those gifts to the world, because the gifts we receive are never just for us.  St. Paul tells the Ephesians – and us – today that we are called to be stewards of these gifts, given to us in grace. And so, just like the magi, we are the ones who need to bring our gifts and open our coffers.

Epiphany is the feast of those called by God's grace to leave behind the familiar and accustomed and to go searching for Christ in, what seems to be, the most unlikely places.  Where will we find him and what gifts shall we bring when we discover Christ in our world?  In place of frankincense, we could advocate for poor families, especially for single parents and the newborn.  There are 25 million poor children in our otherwise-wealthy country, and untold numbers throughout the world. In place of gold, we could contribute to help those at shelters for homeless families, or international programs for children and the aged. In place of myrrh, we could visit the sick and dying.

The gospel story tells of a light in the sky that guides the foreigners to Christ.  We don't have the star; but grace is continually given to help us find Christ. God's grace does what the star did for the Magi, it guides us to the out-of-the way places where Christ can be found.  The Magi came bearing the types of gifts one would bring to royalty in a palace.  But today Christ isn't found in a palace; he isn't rich, he is poor.  The Epiphany reminds us that each day Christ manifests himself to us in the world's lesser places and in surprising people.  Those are the places to go looking and bearing gifts—starting with the most important gift, ourselves.

We will come forward in a few moments to pay homage to our king, just as did those Magi so long ago.  When we offer our gifts on this holy day, perhaps we can also offer the gift of ourselves, this gift that we ourselves have received from God himself.  As we begin this year, perhaps we can resolve to make our giving an act of gratitude for all that we have received.  Nourished by our Savior today, we can go forth in peace to bring gifts of justice, peace, and light to all the world.