Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dig In

This one felt long in the delivery of I suspect it felt long in the hearing, as well...but sometimes it just takes a little while to say what you've got to say.

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   B 

I thought about becoming a priest from a very early age.
In fact, my mother enjoys telling the story
of how I once promised the priest
who had baptized me a few years before
that I’d take his place when he got “too old.”
But becoming a priest wasn’t the only thing I thought about.
For a time, I thought I might like to become an archeologist.
This may have simply been based
on a little boy’s desire to keep digging in the dirt,
but I’m still rather fascinated
by the way archeologists unearth our human history.

By and large, 
archeologists pick through garbage—
really old garbage:
the bits and pieces human beings 
have unwittingly left behind.
The do so in order to figure these people out:
what truly mattered to them; 
what they thought most important;
what their priorities were; what made them tick.
I wonder if archeologists 
studying our time some day
will struggle because of the rise of recycling:
we’re not—and rightly so—
leaving quite as much garbage behind.

But one thing we do produce a lot of is data.
We’re great record keepers in the modern age—
in particular, financial records.
Once on paper, but now mostly digital,
we keep very careful track of how money flows.
All those records—whether we realize it or not—
paint a picture of what matters to us.
If—for example—archeologists five-hundred years from now
were to look at pay stubs from our era,
they would probably conclude
that movies stars and professional athletes
were the most important people in our society,
based on the enormous salaries we were willing to give them.
Accurate?  Yes and no…
…but it is, no doubt, what the evidence would suggest.

Now, what if you were to die today
and the only artifacts left behind to help archeologists figure you out
were your check book, or your credit card statements,
or however else you manage your finances?
What conclusions would they reach about you?
Based upon the available evidence,
what values of yours would they suppose?
What would they determine your priorities to be?
And even more to my point:
Would your religion make the top ten?  Or even the top twenty?
And why?  Or why not?
As Jesus once very perceptively noted,
Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  (Matt 6:21)

I come before you this morning
needing to address two very pressing financial issues in our parishes.

The first is the downward trend in regular Sunday giving.
You, no doubt, can see it each week in the bulletin:
our collections are quite consistently down
when compared to the last couple of years,
even though headcounts during the same timeframe
show Mass attendance to be holding fairly steady.
I wish I could say that our expenses
were, likewise, consistently going down…
…but you and I both know that the opposite is the case.
The result is that all four of our parishes
are in deficit spending right now,
for a combined deficit of more than $40,000 already—
an amount that will only go up as we approach the end of the fiscal year.
For St. Helen’s, St. John Bosco, and St. Joseph’s,
this means that we’ve been withdrawing from savings—
a very bad habit to fall into, and one which cannot go on forever.
For Notre Dame, this has meant borrowing money from the diocese
for the second year in a row,
leaving us nearly $30,000 in debt.
Given the situation, I have worked very hard
with our staff, trustees, and Finance Councils to keep costs down…
…but I’m running out of things to cut.

And so I’m now asking all of you
to increase your regular giving to our parishes.
What’s needed—just to keep up, not even to get ahead—
is about a 10% increase across the board.
If you’re giving $10 a week, that would mean $11; 
if $20, then $22.
I myself have been giving $32 a week for the past year;
as of today, I’ve increased my offering to $35.
On a priest’s salary, even that modest increase pinches a bit…
…but what is called for here is sacrifice.
And, bit-by-bit, these sacrifices add up.
About 400 households out of the 2,200
that make up the Malone Catholic Parishes
regularly use offering envelopes;
if every current envelope user 
increased their weekly gift by $5,
that would be more than $100,000 in only a year’s time.

(And—of course—I highly encourage all of you who currently don’t
to consider requesting and to begin using envelopes.)
No gift is too small…and every gift is absolutely essential.

While the general situation of regular giving
is the first financial need I must address today,
the second is specific to Notre Dame Parish.
(And since our four parishes
have become more and more intertwined over these last nine years,
I share this with everyone.)
It is a day of great rejoicing
as we reopen Notre Dame Church
after the boiler failed more than a month-and-a-half ago.
I hope you agree: the place looks great,
especially considering all it’s been through—
and it sure feels good to be back “home!”
But—as the slight chill in the air makes apparent—
we still do not have a functioning boiler.
And since we’re already $30,000 in debt,
buying a new one just isn’t in the budget.

And so we are beginning a Capital Fund for Notre Dame Parish.
Over the course of the next year,
we hope—we need—to raise at least $100,000
for the threefold purpose of
(1) purchasing a new boiler, (2) paying off our debt,
and (3) providing the parish a modest financial cushion
so we’re better prepared to weather the next storm,
whenever it may come.
Several parishioners have already stepped forward
to get this fund off the ground;
their generosity is most encouraging.
But we still have a long way to go.
In addition to my increase in weekly giving,
I am pledging $1,000 to the Capital Fund.
I ask all Notre Dame parishioners
to consider what you might be able to give
over the next twelve months
to help get our parish back on solid ground.
And to those of you who are not parishioners of Notre Dame:
while this request is in no way directed toward you,
I’m sure your brothers and sisters at Our Lady’s church
would be most grateful should you decide to lend them a hand.

I can’t, of course, from the pulpit
lay out everything I wish to share with you on these two matters.
All of our registered parishioners
will be receiving a letter from me in the mail
over the next few days.
(If you’re not yet on our mailing list, but would like a copy of the letter,
please just call or stop by our offices.)
So watch for this, read it carefully,
and then think and pray about the support you provide to your parish.

In the gospel this Sunday
we have the unique privilege
to overhear Jesus praying to his Father
in the course of the Last Supper—
a passage known as his High Priestly Prayer.
And as he seeks their continued protection,
Jesus asks the Father to “consecrate” both his followers and himself.
To “consecrate” something
is to permanently set something or someone aside
for God and God’s purposes.
It’s a sacrifice: a gift that cannot be taken back.
We’re accustomed to hearing this word
used to speak about the Holy Eucharist…
…yet even though he’s still at table with his apostles,
Jesus isn’t speaking here of consecrating bread and wine.

He’s praying that you and I be set apart for God and God’s purposes.
The Christian way of life is different—
it’s distinct—from the world’s way on many fronts.
Christians consecrate their time—
setting aside Sunday (for example)
as a day for worship, rest, and reflection…
…while the rest of the world tells us
just to sleep in or play sports, to go shopping or go to work.
Christians also consecrate their sexuality—
setting aside physical intimacy
as part of God’s design for committed married love
and bringing new life into being…
…while the rest of the world says, “If it feels good, do it!”
And Christians are even called to consecrate their material resources—
to exercise wise stewardship of this world’s goods
as a sign that they don’t even belong to this world…
while the rest of the world urges us to simply keep accumulating more.
In these—and countless other ways—
we are to be consecrated: called to sacrifice,
called to love one another because God has so loved us.
And—as Pope St. Leo the Great once put it—
“If God is love, charity should know no limit,
for God cannot be confined.”

To be perfectly honest with you:
I don’t like having to talk about money.
But I will not apologize for doing so.
For one thing, a quick look at the gospels reveals
that it was one of the most common subjects of Jesus’ own preaching.
Money is such a big and important part of our lives
that we cannot expect to keep its use
somehow segregated from the practice of our faith.
I’d really prefer, however, to spend my time
visiting our sick, teaching our young people,
and encouraging new ways to help us all grow in holiness—
the sort of ministry, I’d guess, that you expect
from your parish and from your priests.
But lately I’ve had to spend much too much of my time
figuring out how we’re going to pay our bills…
…and worrying about what to do if we can’t.
You can change that!

Although the Church is, indeed, ancient,
her life is not a matter of archeology.
She remains—like her risen Lord—very much alive!
While we build on strong foundations
so generously laid by generations past,
let us keep looking forward and pushing ahead.
We mustn’t let the current challenges hold us back!
Make sure your treasure follows the values of your heart.
Then we will leave enough evidence
that others, one day, might be able to see
what truly mattered most to us.

1 comment:

muffin24 said...

I am glad you told us it is better for us to know than letting it go untold and then telling us we are losing our church then we would have been upset. I have increased my hours at Walmart today i went to the church today on my lunch break and prayed because this will pinch a little. I decided to pay bi weekly payments to the church when i get my paycheck. Everyone who reads these comments understand that yah i make decent money i dont make heaps of it i am doing it because i want to help my brothers and sisters. many of us have so many memories of Notre Dame and the others and yes Fr Joe is right we can have mass in any church but for me Notre Dame is more than that as well as St.John Bosco its fond memories of the people who helped lead me to Christ and that is why i am doing this as well as to help my brothers and sisters present and future.