Sunday, September 18, 2016


In a letter, the author J. R. R. Tolkien once pointedly asked, "What punishments of God are not gifts?"

 Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

It’s hard to believe today is already our eighth annual Holy Harvest Festival, and that I’ve been privileged to be your pastor for seven of them.  Each year I think it gets to be more fun, and one of the most enjoyable parts for me is working with the great team of folks who pull the event together, mostly behind the scenes.  They are so generous in sharing many their talents and abilities.  Everybody knows his or her job, and does it well, making the whole thing come off very smoothly.

Any time you’re working on a project and assembling a team, there’s a certain character you hope will be on board: the Troubleshooter, the Problem-Solver, Mr. or Mrs. Fix-It.  You know the type of person I mean: who can repair whatever is broken, make due with whatever is missing, achieve success not matter what happens to go wrong.  In fact, such a person often doesn’t only get things back to normal; they actually make things better than before.  Where most people can only see crisis, they see possibilities and opportunity.

What separates these people from the rest?  Are they smarter than others?  Do they work harder?  From my observations, what distinguishes them most is that they aren’t afraid of failure.  They’re willing to take risks, to try something they haven’t done before—or which nobody’s done before.  They can rise to the occasion because they aren’t crippled by fear.

This is a big election year.  (Did you know that?!?)  In our first reading, St. Paul encourages us to pray for our leaders and those in positions of authority over us.  It’s a very well timed reminder as we come up on Election Day.   I’d like you to consider for a minute just how much time, energy, and money goes into trying to get a single person elected.  Now I want you to consider what things would be like if the same level of effort when into getting somebody, not into office for a few years, but into heaven for eternity.  What a different world we’d live in!

This is also the time of year when we bring in the harvest from fields and gardens.   Here in this part of the North Country, with the influx of so many Amish families in recent years, it’s easy for us to compare modern farming techniques with the old fashioned way.  How much more efficient our work, and bountiful it’s rewards, when we use the advances of technology and innovation.  Now imagine if we took the same approach to harvesting not only food for our tables but to harvesting souls for God!

This Sunday, Jesus tells us the unusual parable of the dishonest steward.  Having stolen from his boss, he then encourages others to do likewise in order to secure his own future.  It can sound strange when Jesus advises us to be like him.  But the Lord isn’t encouraging us to imitate his dishonesty; he’s encouraging us to imitate his enterprise, his gumption, his good sense about getting things done.  If only we all put that much thought and effort into doing and being good!

I can be pretty sure that most of you have heard of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus or the “Little Flower”—a French nun who lived at the end of the nineteenth century.  About twenty years ago, she was declared a Doctor of the Church—which means we really out to take the things she said and wrote pretty seriously.  St Thérèse once said, “Everything is grace.”  In other words, everything life dishes out to us—good things or bad, sickness or health, riches or poverty, success of failure—can rightly be seen as a blessing coming from God, if we know how to see things correctly. 

Now, it could be rather easy to write her off, assuming that her life in the convent must have been quite a comfortable one.  Of course she’d say, “Everything is grace!”  But that ignores the actual facts of her life.  You see, her mother died when she was only four years old.  Later on, her father spiraled into mental illness.  The convent she entered wasn’t exactly a healthy one, and living, working, praying, and recreating with the same difficult women, day in and day out, was a heavy cross.  She suffered from tuberculosis the last year-and-a-half of her life, while also undergoing some serious doubts in her faith, before dying a painful death at the tender age of twenty-four.  St. Thérèse did not have it easy it all, and yet she honestly said, “Everything is grace.”  That’s because she was one of those Troubleshooters, those Problem-Solvers, a Mrs. Fix-It (or, better yet, a Sr. Fix-It).  Faced with any crisis, she saw a God-given opportunity: a blessed chance to grow in holiness.

Like her, we are called to have faith like that.

Jesus makes it clear this Sunday that we are stewards, entrusted with the true wealth of God’s kingdom.  With an eye on this world, we are to make use of our many blessings for the good of others, especially the poor.  But with an eye on the world to come, we are to exploit every grace that comes our way to bring people closer to God, both now and forever.  Let us dedicate all that we have and all that we are to gathering in such a holy harvest of souls!

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