Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Bottom Line: Love

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
When it comes to making moral decisions, Jesus gives us a pretty simple standard to go by. It doesn’t matter whether the decision we have to make is a personal choice, like how to treat your parents or your children; or a social choice, like how to address issues of poverty and homelessness. When we are confronted with a moral choice, simply remember the two great commandments: love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s that simple. Make decisions out of love.

With a national election now only days away, this simple standard is a good reminder. As a Church, we do not tell anyone how to vote; we do not endorse individual candidates or platforms. But, as a Church, we do have the responsibility to remind ourselves who we are called to be as Christians. St. Paul reminds us that we are to be “imitators … of the Lord.” Just as he loved us, so we are to love in return. When it comes to making decisions, the standard of love must go before us. When it comes to making decisions, we have to think first about how we would want to be loved, and then love others in the same way. If we are thankful for the gift of life that has been given to us, then out of love we are called to do everything we can to ensure that the same gift of life is given to others, especially those who cannot speak for themselves. If we are thankful for the quality of our lives, the food and shelter and material goods that we have been blessed with, then, out of love for others, we are called to make decisions that ensure a just distribution of the world’s resources for all people. If we are thankful for the peace and security that we find in our country, then, out of love, we are called to help spread that peace throughout the world as best we can. This standard of love doesn’t tell us who to vote for, but it does help us form our consciences as we make any crucial decision.

In their document, Faithful Citizenship, the bishops of the United States call for a renewed public sphere that is “focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls; Focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong; Focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests” (Faithful Citizenship 62). At the heart of all of these transformations is love. Love must guide everything we do; it is the most important virtue to take with us not only into the election booth, but everywhere we go. Love is not a partisan choice but a gospel truth.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Litany of Ministries

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
What does it mean to be a church? When he wrote to the Thessalonians, St. Paul specifically referred to them as being part of a church. He describes this church as a community of people chosen by God who devote themselves to the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance in hope that comes through Christ Jesus. That is what a church is: a people called by God, formed in the love of Christ, and trying to project the faith, hope, and love of the gospel into their wider community. So it was for the church of the Thessalonians, and so it is for us here, today, at the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As part of our annual stewardship season, today we especially celebrate the ministries and organizations that help us to be church in our community.

Continuing a tradition we began last year, today I will read out a litany of the ministries and organization of our parish. As I do so, I invite anyone involved in that ministry either as a leader or as a participant to stand and to remain standing until I ask you to be seated.

We begin with the leadership groups of our parish:
Parish Staff
Pastoral Council
Finance Council
ENVISION Priority Team Leaders

Christian Service Commission
Soup Kitchen
Ministry to the Sick
Catholics in Action
St. Vincent de Paul
Bereavement Team
Funeral Lunches
Resurrection Choir
Health Ministry

Faith Formation Commission
RCIA for Children
Faith First/Faith Formation for Children
Adult Faith Formation
Parish Mission
Children’s Liturgy of the Word
Vacation Bible School
Baptism Preparation
Parish Retreat

Parish Life Commission
Welcoming Committee
Parish Feast Day/Summer Picnic
Divorce Recovery
Marriage Preparation Sponsor Couples
Prime Timers
Parish Newsletter
Young Adult Ministry
Child Care

School Commission
Commission of Education
School Faculty and Staff
Technology Committee
Marketing and Development Committee

Spiritual Life Commission
Prayer Line
Pro-Life Ministry
Eucharistic Adoration
Catholics Returning Home
Liturgy Committee
Altar Servers
Eucharistic Ministers
Art and Environment

Stewardship Commission
Called to Serve Stewardship Committee
Main Event
Capital Campaign
Buildings and Grounds

Youth Commission
Youth Ministry Commission
Our Lady’s Activity Team
High School Youth Group
Confirmation Preparation
Youth Ministry Volunteers
Youth Ministry Athletic Committee
Youth Ministry Athletic Volunteers

Our faith is clearly alive here at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but by no means is it exhausted. St. Paul concludes his introduction to the Thessalonians by reminding them that the gospel is not just a set of words to be spoken by a conviction to be lived. It is through this living out of our faith that we truly become members of a church, gathered together in Christ.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pauline Stewardship in an Economic Crisis

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Annual Stewardship Appeal
Several months ago, our parish staff set aside this weekend for the annual pastor’s stewardship homily. We chose this particular weekend simply because of timing – October is the traditional month for our annual stewardship appeal, both here in the parish and throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and this weekend was the best time to begin this appeal. We hadn’t looked closely at the Scripture readings for this Sunday, and, of course, we had no idea what would be going on in the financial world. If we had known about this particular combination of Scripture readings and world-wide financial turmoil, I wonder if we would have chosen today to talk about stewardship. But it really is a perfect time.

Now, when most of us hear the word stewardship, the first thing we think is money. So, you might think, the annual pastor’s stewardship homily is probably going to be a reminder about the importance of giving from our financial resources to support the needs of the Church. But, hopefully, many of us will remember that stewardship is not just about money – it is about generously sharing our time, talent, and treasure with our parish and our wider community. But, still, how can we talk about anything involving money in the Church when the anxieties of the world financial markets are consuming us? As is often the case, St. Paul can help us. He tells us today that he “know[s] how to live in humble circumstances ... [and] also how to live with abundance; [he has] learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry” (Philippians 4.12-13). In other words, St. Paul knows what it is like to go from being secure in his financial circumstances one day, and then to lose it all the next day. Most of us can definitely identify with that. The roller coaster of the economy makes life challenging, to say the least. So what does Paul do? On the ups and downs of an economic roller coaster, Paul remembers that “God will fully supply whatever you need” (Philippians 4.19). He has faith, instead of anxiety; trust, instead of fear. It is said that worry and anxiety are the emotions of atheists. If we truly believe in God, then we know that he will take care of us. Faith can carry us through any turmoil; but we have to really believe.

But still, even if we can find that faith and trust that can be so elusive, what prevents us from keeping everything to ourselves, cautiously guarding what little financial resources we have left? Why on earth should we share with others, when we have so little to begin with? This past week, Pope Benedict spoke on the economic crisis as he opened a World Synod of Bishops that is studying Scripture. He reminded the world of a simple reality that most of us seem to have forgotten: that, in the end, money disappears; it vanishes. “All these things [like success, career, and money, that] we thought were real and were counting on are in fact realities of a second order” (quoted in a Catholic News Service article at Only one thing lasts, Pope Benedict reminds us – and that is the word of God, a word that appears weak, but is really “the foundation of everything.” Stewardship recognizes that God is the only thing that endures, and then we make decisions based on that fundamental belief, decisions that ultimately help bring the word of God to others. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure with our parish community means that we are able to offer bereavement programs for those who have lost a loved one, helping them to learn how God will carry them through grief. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure means that we can sponsor our high school youth on a mission trip to help rebuild cities like New Orleans that are recovering from natural disasters, giving them a message of hope; and we can also help people in our own community who are struggling with rent, utilities, or food. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure means that we can have professional staff and lay volunteers who visit the sick and the homebound on a regular basis, bringing the Eucharist and the love of our community. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure means that the faith is passed on to our children, and our parish can provide regular opportunities for people of all ages to grow in understanding the word of God. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure as parishioners means that the tuition in our Catholic school is 25% less than it would be without parish support. Sharing our time, talent, and treasure means that we can have a variety of ministries that help us pray and worship God in gratitude for His many gifts.

If we can get to the point where we rely first of all on God’s grace, and not on our bank accounts or stock portfolios, then we will realize that nothing we have really belongs to us, everything is a gift from God. And in gratitude, we are compelled to use those gifts wisely and well, to return the first fruits of those gifts to the one who has blessed us, and to help others find the same faith that guides our lives. That is what stewardship is all about – recognizing that everything we have comes from God, being grateful for those gifts, and then generously returning those gifts to God, even with increase. It doesn’t matter whether we find ourselves in abundance or in humble circumstances; God will supply whatever we need. And you can put all of your stock in that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pauline Anxieties

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
One of the main goals of the Year of St. Paul that we are now in is that we will be able to understand more clearly how St. Paul’s writings apply to us, today, even 2000 years after they were written. But with readings like the one we heard from St. Paul this evening/morning, and with what’s going on in the real world these days, it’s not so easy to make the connection. The first words out of St. Paul’s mouth today: “Brothers and sisters, have no anxiety at all” (Philippians 4.6a). St. Paul clearly never invested in the Stock Market or tried to get a loan from a bank. He never had to figure out how to pay for gas with prices like they are today. He never had to worry where he was going to get the money to pay his health insurance or medical bills, or how he was going pay tuition for his children to attend a good college or a Catholic school. He never had to worry about whether his job would still exist six or twelve months from now. How can he dare to tell us not to be anxious about anything? This whole idea that St. Paul – or any of the Scriptures – can be relevant for our lives just can’t be true. They had no idea what it would be like to live and try to survive in the year 2008.

But let’s take a step back. As it turns out, Paul did have much to be anxious about. When he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was in prison, facing a charge that could condemn him to death if he were found guilty. Paul had faced strong opposition and direct rejection in his work, the work of spreading the gospel, even from people who had initially welcomed and supported him. He sometimes thought that he was failing in the mission that God had given him; there were quarrels and disputes in the Christian communities he had founded, and because he was so far away from these communities, there was very little he could do to make things better. As it turns out, Paul had much to be anxious about – maybe not the financial concerns of an economic crisis, but anxieties that were just as real and just as significant.

And in the midst of all that anxiety, Paul has one very specific piece of advice, advice that he gives both to the Philippians and to us: pray. When you find yourself anxious – whatever that may be – sit down, figure out what you need help with, and “make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4.6b). Turn everything over to God in prayer and petition. And if you do this, Paul says, then you will find a peace that is so deep and mysterious that it can only come from God. Now, he doesn’t say that God will give you everything you ask for exactly the way you want it – but what God is guaranteed to give you is the peace and comfort that will see you through any trial, any anxiety, no matter what happens. God will always take care of you, and if you take your requests to him in prayer, then he will give you the sense of peace that all will be well.

Maybe St. Paul does have something to say to us today. Even if he didn’t have to worry about the state of his retirement savings, of the stability of his checking account, St. Paul lived each day not knowing what the next day would bring. And his advice really is a good idea – present your needs to God, and remember: God will provide for all that you need. So don’t worry about what you are to eat, or what you are to wear (see Matthew 6.25-34), have no anxiety at all, because the one thing in this world that never changes is God’s love and care for each of his children.