Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cultivating Goodness

So, I'm back from my week at Camp Guggenheim--still a little sleepy, but otherwise none the worse for wear. If my calculations are right, it's been five years since I spent a week as camp chaplain. I was admittedly a little leery about getting back into the swing of things, but a great staff and a tremendous group of campers (one of the very best I've ever worked with) made it a cinch. (Not to mention that we had absolutely stellar weather!) So now it's back to the real world...and maybe another nap...

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Lunch was just finished at summer camp,
and little Johnny wanted to jump into the lake.
“You know, it’s dangerous to swim on a full stomach,”
his camp counselor warned.
“Don’t worry,” Johnny answered,
“I’ll do the backstroke.”

To answer everyone’s question at once:
Yes, I had a great week as chaplain at Camp Guggenheim--
and I have plenty of evidence to prove it:
signs of a little sun on my forehead;
a bit of sand still between my toes;
and a wide array of very itchy bug bites!

In one of the few quiet moments during the week,
I read the following in my book of daily meditations:
          "The gardener who spent all his time digging up weeds
          and never thought very much of strengthening his plants
          would produce a very tidy but depressing garden.…
          Weeding must be done;
          but the first thing is the flowers.” (Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP)
What a wonderful summary--I thought--
of the first parable Jesus proposes in this Sunday’s gospel.

It’s a fitting reflection, too,
on the important work of Camp Guggenheim.
So often when we’re talking about teenagers,
the discussion turns to “what’s wrong with kids today.”
For nearly 40 years now,
our diocesan summer camp has been a place
where young people can thrive
without the many temptations and distractions
which could otherwise drag them down.
At Guggenheim, it’s easy to see
that there’s a whole lot that’s right with kids today…
…it just needs to be nurtured and carefully cultivated.

I also find the words from that meditation
to be an apt reflection on life in our parishes.
I was so pleased to see three local teens
among the many campers at Guggenheim last week--
and I know of several others going during this camp season;
that’s a testament to the good things happening
in our youth group, at Holy Family School,
and through other ministries to our youngest parishioners.
During the year I’ve been here in Malone,
I’ve met a number of faith-filled young adults;
I look forward to soon working with a few of them--
and the diocese’s new director of Young Adult Ministry--
on outreach to this crucial (but often missing) age-group
within our parish community.
As you’ve heard, the diocesan Formation for Ministry program
is moving to Malone this September;
I realistically anticipate that we will have
10-12 candidates beginning the course in the fall.
And the coming implementation of the new Roman Missal
will certainly provide our parishes with a rich opportunity
to deepen our understanding of the Eucharist
and renew our participation in the Mass.

Yes--there are many flowers budding in the garden;
there’s a good crop now ripening in our fields.

That’s not to say, however, I don’t have a few concerns
about this particular plot in the farm of God’s kingdom.
No--I’m not too worried about runaway weeds.
Unlike a flowerbed or vegetable patch,
with God’s patience and grace every weed in the field of the spirit
has the real potential to be converted into wheat before harvest time.

What generally concerns me more than weeds are the bare spots:
the areas where things aren’t growing.
This Sunday, I want to address an absolutely practical one:
our parish finances.

June 30 marked the end of our fiscal year,
and the annual financial reports are now being prepared.
If you add the ordinary income of our four parishes together,
it appears we took in about $50,000 less than the previous year--
which had also been down across the board from the year before that.
(You’ve surely noticed this trend
from the weekly figures in the bulletin.)
At the same time, and rather unsurprisingly,
our regular expenses keep going up—in particular, utilities.
This all means that to pay our bills last year
a combined $35,000 was withdrawn from our savings
and one of our parishes borrowed $30,000 from the diocese.
Looking ahead, the budgets for this new fiscal year
project a combined deficit for our parishes approaching $20,000.
That’s just for ordinary expenses--
with our belt already tightened--
and does not account for any unexpected purchases or repairs.

All those good things we see happening in our parishes
necessarily come with a price tag.

Now, you don’t have to tell me that times are tight.
I feel it, too:
I feel it personally every time I put gas in my car;
I felt it as your pastor every time I signed another check
to pay for fuel oil this past winter.
And every day on the news, it seems,
I hear the gloomy reports about the U.S. economy.
(I also can’t help but wonder if all this negative talk
isn’t actually making matters worse:
continually convincing ourselves that things are bad,
and thus making them so.

All that being said,
I’m a firm believer that a little goes a long way.

This month, we priests are getting a very modest raise--
the first in four years.
Which tells me:
it’s time to increase what I put in my weekly offering envelope.
It’s been three years since I raised my gift to the church
from $25 each week to $30.
So, starting today, I’m increasing it to $32 every Sunday.
Now, $2 doesn’t seem like a whole lot…
…but $2 a week for 52 weeks a year
adds up to more than a hundred bucks…
…and if just ten households do the same thing--
well, that’s over a thousand dollars a year.
Like the incredible growth of the tiny mustard seed
or the hidden working of yeast in a batch of dough,
a seemingly small contribution can go a long way…
…as long as we’re all willing to do our part.

I know that many folks--just out of habit--
keep giving the same amount to their church
which they started giving decades ago…
…without taking into account that nothing in this world
still costs what it did decades ago.
Maybe it’s been a while
since you’ve reconsidered your weekly offering
and an increase of $5, $7, or even $10 is possible for you.
Or maybe you’re on a fixed income
and even a $2 increase--like mine--would break the bank.
All I ask is that everyone give their own giving some thought and prayer.
Truly, no gift is too small to make a difference!

I also want to encourage all of our parishioners
to use offering envelopes.
Currently, 868 households in our parishes
have requested and receive envelopes in the mail;
unfortunately, only 418 of those households
actually used their envelopes last Sunday--less than half!
It’s not that we want to keep tabs on who’s giving how much
(although using envelopes does allow us
to prepare an annual statement for you at tax time).
Much more importantly,
offering envelopes encourage regular, consistent, planned giving--
rather than a spur-of-the-moment decision
based on what happens to be in your pocket or your purse.
If you already get envelopes the, please, use them!
And if you don’t, why not think about asking for them?
Just drop us a note, send us an email, or give the parish office a call;
we’d be happy to put you on the list.

Not what I give, but how I give, is an indicator of my true priorities.
Am I giving to my full potential,
so that my parish can live up to its full potential?
Does my gift match my hopes and dreams for my parish--
now and into the future?
Just imagine what our parishes could do
if we only had to worry about making a difference…
…instead of how to pay the bills!

Spending this past week at Camp Guggenheim
reaffirmed for me what great things can happen
when we nurture and cultivate the goodness in our young people.
It’s the mission of our parishes to do the same thing
for both our members--young and old--
and the surrounding community.
Yes, there are some weeds,
but strengthening the wheat and encouraging its growth comes first.
So lets get to work in the fields of the kingdom
and contribute to their upkeep.
If we all pitch in,
if we all generously share the blessings
which God has so generously given us,
what an abundant harvest there will be!

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