Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dig It

Since it was 91 degrees when I pulled into St. Joseph's parking lot before Mass yesterday afternoon, I took both the 'shorter option' of the gospel reading and the 'shorts option' with what I wore underneath my vestments. (I did apologize just in case I was showing too much leg for anyone's comfort.)

If this homily sounds familiar, it's not a case of déjà vu, but that I've retouched last week's homily...since it takes me two weekends to preach at all six of our Sunday Masses. And--so sorry--but I don't have any pictures of me in that pirate hat...

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Two weeks ago, when I arrived at Camp Guggenheim
to begin my week as chaplain there,
the staff informed me that it would be “Pirate Week”…
…which explained why so many of the counselors
were speaking with funny accents,
wearing bandanas on their heads, and saying, “Arrrg!” a lot.
I was kind of bummed: not about the whole pirate theme,
but that I didn’t know about it ahead of time…
…so I hadn’t come prepared with any costume or props of my own.
But have no fear:
by evening I was sporting a big, black pirate’s hat
and swashbuckling right along with all the rest,
doing what pirates do: searching for buried treasure.

This Sunday, Jesus uses buried treasure as an image
in one of his many parables about the kingdom.
It’s a pretty safe guess that a man out digging in a field
is a poor peasant, hired by the day
to do back-breaking, manual labor.
Little wonder he is so joyful to discover
such unexpected, unearned riches!
For someone who doesn’t have very much to start with,
it’s a rather risky move for him
to put everything on the line and buy that field.

Digging about for buried treasure is a fitting image, too,
for the important work of Camp Guggenheim.
So often when we’re talking about teenagers,
the discussion turns to “what’s wrong with kids these days.”
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 these days…
…as long as we’re willing to help our youth dig around a little
and bring their hidden riches to the surface.

Discovering buried treasure
is also an apt image for life in our parishes.
I was so pleased to see three local teens
among the many campers at Guggenheim that 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
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’m happy to share
that we should have 10-12 candidates of our own
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—we have quite a treasure here.
You don’t have to search too hard
to realize it’s a pearl of great price.

But do we share the life-changing joy
of the workman in the field
and the merchant at the market?
Do we recognize--like them--
that anything we may be called upon to surrender
can’t even begin to compare with all we stand to gain?

It’s with those questions in mind
that I wish to speak to you this Sunday
about 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 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:
convincing ourselves that things are bad,
and thus we’re 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 again to increase
what I put in my weekly offering envelope.
It’s been three years since I raised my personal gift to the church
from $25 each week to $30.
So, starting last week, I’ve increased 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 already over a thousand dollars a year.
Like the day laborer’s modest savings
used to buy the treasure-rich field,
a seemingly small contribution can go quite far…
…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 decided on 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 402 of those households
actually used their envelopes last Sunday--far 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 then, 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.

It’s not what I give, but how I give, that reveals 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 be doing
if we only had to worry about making a difference…
…instead of how to pay the bills!

Spending a week at Camp Guggenheim
reaffirmed for me what great things can happen
when we make an investment in the goodness of 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.
Are we all willing to dig deep
and contribute to uncovering this rich but buried treasure?

The kingdom of heaven cannot be bought or sold,
but is a free gift of God waiting to be discovered…
…and yet--as the parables of Jesus make clear--
the kingdom costs everything.
So let’s not hold back!
What joy there is to be found
when we generously share the many blessings
which God has so generously given to us!

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