October 13, 2013
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 2 Kgs 5:14-17
Responsorial Psalm Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
R. (cf. 2b) The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Reading 2 2 Tm 2:8-13
Gospel Lk 17:11-19
There was a man who had worked all of his life and had saved all of his money and was a real miser when it came to his wealth. He loved money more than just about anything, and just before he died, he said to his wife, “Now listen. When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me. Because I want to take my money to the afterlife with me.” And so he got his wife to promise him with all of her heart that when he died, she would put all of the money in the casket with him. Well, one day he died. He was stretched out in the casket, the wife was sitting there in black, and her friend was sitting next to her. When they finished the ceremony, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait just a minute!” She had a box with her, she came over with the box and put it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket down, and they rolled it away. So her friend said, “Girl, I know you wasn’t fool enough to put all that money in there with that man.” She said, “Listen, I can’t lie. I promised him that I was going to put that money in that casket with him.” “You mean to tell me you put that money in the casket with the man?” “I sure did,” said the wife. “‘I wrote him a check.”
The story makes clear our Christian understanding of stewardship—that material goods in our life are entrusted to us for only a time—and will eventually be surrendered. We cannot hold on to them forever—there are no banks in heaven! The question is—what are we to do with them while they have been entrusted to us? Today’s gospel speaks of gratitude, which Jesus teaches is essential to our Christian life. In the gospel, Jesus has given the long-suffering lepers the gift of healing—but then is dismayed when they cannot react with thanksgiving and gratitude. One healed leper returns to Jesus to give thanks; the other nine do not. I wonder where the other nine went? I imagine they left to “spend” the gift of health that Jesus had given them—with celebrations, or doing things they could not do when they were sick. Jesus naturally gave them health so that they could live fully—but they still need to give back thanksgiving—a small portion of their new life by coming to Jesus and thanking him. Though they might, now healed, be tempted to spend their time elsewhere, Jesus reminds them that the FIRST spending of their new life must be a return to God. In this gospel then, we find the very essence of how we are to use the blessings of our lives—by FIRST giving back a portion to God in thanksgiving.
At first, we might be tempted to think: let’s not talk about our material goods here at Church—let’s not focus on money, on the support of our parish family, but rather, let’s stick to spiritual matters. As I want to make clear, because Jesus makes it clear, how we deal with material goods is a deeply spiritual matter. Our use of things, though we may in some sense have earned them, is the occasion, says Jesus, when we must FIRST give thanks to the God who gave us the health, the talents, the abilities, the opportunities to earn the material goods we have. So, I’m happy to speak to you today, as I am each week, of a very important spiritual truth—that we have a need to give a portion back to God of the material goods with which he has blessed us.
Each week, our parish begins it prayers of the faithful, the general intercessions after the homily, by praying: “For our Church of the Nativity family, that we might be a more vibrant Catholic parish through acts of fidelity, hospitality, compassion, and unity.” In this prayer, we are asking God to help us be who were are meant to be: a faithful, hospitable, compassionate, and unified family where we work together to serve God and neighbor. For me, the financial state of parish is most certainly related to be a unified parish. We are not meant to serve God alone; rather, we are to work together, supporting one another in our life’s vocation as followers of Jesus. Part of this support is one of material support to your parish family—in summary, your brothers and sisters are counting on you to support our parish.
In this 90th year of our parish family, I was looking back at the founding documents of the parish, which, among other things, showed that we have some very faithful and generous ancestors who made great sacrifices to provide for us the parish that we have inherited. Shortly after the founding of the parish, on April 28, 1923, the founders of the parish, including our first pastor, Henry Rohlman, agreed to take out a loan to build the first part of our parish buildings, the so called “old school,” for $118, 000. Using the calculator at measuringworth.com, the same value of this expenditure for building today would be roughly $6,000,000. In 1927, the addition to the buildings, what is called “the old church” or Kerper Hall, was built through another loan, $100,000, in today’s dollars about $4,500,000. So, within the first four years of our parish’s history, our ancestors took on the equivalent of $10,000,000 debt, to provide for them and, in faith, for us, the facilities where our parish community resides. What extraordinary faith—what extraordinary generosity! Why did they do it? In the materials sent to the parishioners for the 1927 addition appeal, the committee said, “Let [our campaign] be over by Christmas, so that we may offer the result of our endeavor as a Christmas gift to the Infant Savior in Whose Honor our church was dedicated. What will you do for Him?
Above all then, the question of our financial support of parish is a deeply spiritual one—what return will you make for God’s blessings to you—what will you do for Him—his Body here at the Church of the Nativity. Our anniversary year gives us an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable generosity of our ancestors, who made great sacrifices for us. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren, for generations to come?
In early November, I will be sending to each registered family a full accounting of the financial situation of our parish. As I mentioned earlier this year, it is not a strong financial situation. The work of our fine finance council has provided us a prudent annual budget to guide our mission—our work of education, pastoral care, and outreach to the needy. Last year, we came close to meeting our budget, about 3.7% over budget in spending. However, this deficit could have been almost twice as large, had it not been for generous bequests received, which cannot be a reliable source of our parish’s support. Even more alarming is the long-term debt of our parish, which, if not addressed, will produce catastrophic effects on the future viability of our parish.
With confidence in the members of our parish family, I requested that the finance council include in this year’s annual budget a 5% increase in adult giving. In doing so, I am asking you to make this increase in your generosity to your parish family. If you have not taken the opportunity recently to consider an increase in your support of the parish, I ask you to do this now. I am also aware that there are a good number of folks who join us for Eucharist each week who do not give anything to the support of the parish or who consider themselves visitors. We need your support! I hope you will consider the blessings that come from your presence in our parish community and return an act of giving to our God who you meet in the midst of the Nativity Parish family.
It is obvious that, as is often said, “you can’t take it with you.” More important, as Jesus teaches in today’s gospel, it the NEED we all have to make a return to our God for the gifts God has given to us. More important than any need of your parish family, is the need we each have to respond in gratitude to God’s gifts to us. Let’s continue now with the Eucharist, our great prayerful act of thanksgiving to the Father. Fill us, Lord, with a great gratitude for your blessings in our parish family over the 90 years of our history—and inspire in us the confidence in your continued blessings that will permit us to give freely as a return of gratitude.