Sunday, August 23, 2009

Listening for the Voice of Christ in the Health Care Debate

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Joshua 24.1-2a, 15-17, 18b Psalm 34 Ephesians 5.21-32 John 6.60-69

If you’re anything like me, then your head is starting to hurt and your heart is getting heavy. Not perhaps because of any physical or medical problems, but because of a debate, a debate that has a very real impact on each one of us – the reform of health care in this country. Throughout the summer, but especially over the past few weeks, the health care debate has been heated, argumentative, and passionate – and for good reason, because any change affecting something as basic as health care impacts us all. The challenge – and what has made my head ache and my heart get heavy – has been sorting out fact from fiction, truth from lies, and determining not only what is best for any individual, but what is necessary for the common good. Now, I’m not here today to analyze the bills before Congress or to put before you a church-sponsored health care plan. But what we can do, together, is look at Scripture, look at our tradition, and look at basic human rights to set out some basic ethical principles for health care reform. And it all starts with today’s gospel.

For several weeks, we have been hearing about the Bread of Life in the Sunday gospels – the food and drink that Christ gives us, his very Body and Blood given in the Eucharist. These are hard sayings, the disciples say today. But Jesus points out that everything he has spoken to them is Spirit and life. If we want to live in the Spirit, then we need to listen to the words of Jesus. If we want to have life, and have it to the full, then we need to listen to the words of Jesus. If we want to know the truth, then we need to listen to the words of Jesus. He is the source of everything we have – he is the first and most important advisor we should go to whenever we have questions. And then, as we receive the Eucharist, as Christ’s words become flesh for us, we are given the responsibility of making Christ present in the world – not just here at church, but in our homes, in our schools and businesses, in our hospitals and nursing homes, and even to the halls of Congress. To live as a Eucharistic people, we must first listen to the words of Jesus, words that are Spirit and life, and then we must work to make Christ present through our words and actions.

And so we listen. First and foremost in a discussion on health care reform is the inherent value and dignity of all human life. The words of Christ are clear – all life is precious, it is a gift, and all human life is created in the image and likeness of God, from the moment of conception to a natural death. An ethical health care plan will respect the dignity of human life. Practically, this means that health care reform must not include mandated coverage for abortion, euthanasia, or other medical procedures that fail to uphold the sanctity of human life. Likewise, no health care reform plan should require anyone to pay for or fund the destruction of human life. Taxpayers’ money must not be used to fund abortion.

But a respect for life also calls for a plan that provides health care coverage for all people – health care is not a privilege for the few but a basic human right for all. To uphold the dignity of human life, made in the image of God, we are compelled as a society to provide health care that is comprehensive and affordable and that does not discriminate based on people’s state of health, place of employment, or where they live. Within that plan, there must be a special concern for the poor. Jesus spent more time in his ministry among the poor and the sick than any other group of people. Providing for the health care needs of the poor must be a priority – in fact, the poor should be our first priority. But there’s more. Our basic Christian values also call us to stand up for conscience protection, to maintain a variety of options in the choice and delivery of health care, and to do all this while restraining costs and distributing the cost equitably, while not denying health care to those who cannot afford it. And all of this is grounded in a basic respect for human life – all human life – a life given its very existence by God himself.

Health care is not just another political or public policy issue – it is a matter of basic human rights – and these same principles apply not just to health care, but to our entire common life as human beings. As the debates continue to swirl around us, we are called as followers of Christ to listen to Christ’s voice, first of all – a voice that fills us with Spirit and life. Then, strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist, we can become Christ’s voice in the debate – we can become a voice that speaks up for those who cannot speak for themselves, a voice that puts human life and dignity at the forefront of the discussion, a voice that longs for peace and hope and love, a voice that points to the common good and not just what benefits an individual or a certain interest group, a voice of reason, a voice of conviction. In the cacophony of voices that overwhelm the media, there is only one voice that speaks the truth – we must never forget that. And to whom else could we go? Our Lord Jesus Christ alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to him.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

State of the Parish, Part II: Parish Life and Ministries

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Kings 19.4-8 Psalm 34 Ephesians 4.30-5.2 John 6.41-51

For several weeks here in August, the gospel is taken from what is called the “Bread of Life Discourse” of John’s Gospel. During each of these weeks, Jesus reminds us that he is the bread of life and that whoever eats this living bread will live forever. The Eucharist, the living bread and saving cup of Christ, is the most important thing we do as Christians; it is the most important part of our life as a parish. When we gather in this church as a community to celebrate the Eucharist, we become the Body of Christ for the world. And when we go forth from this church each week, we take Christ wherever we will go. But, of course, there is much more that we do as a parish – there are many more ways we live as the Body of Christ in the world. Last week, I shared an update on the facilities and capital construction projects that are coming up here in our parish. This week, in the second and final part of this year’s State of the Parish report, I’d like to give an update on the life and ministries of our parish that help us live out the Eucharist we celebrate.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish is currently made up of 1,162 families comprising approximately 3,364 individuals – that’s an increase of about 20 families over the past year. Over the past fiscal year, from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009, we celebrated 45 infant baptisms and 6 adults were either baptized or received into the full communion of the church. Forty-six young people celebrated their First Communion; 33 high schoolers received the sacrament of Confirmation. Nine couples got married here, and 17 people were buried from our parish. In looking at trends, our number of baptisms, first communions, and confirmations have remained steady. 2008 was an average year for weddings, but the current calendar year of 2009 has 19 weddings scheduled, the most since 1995. The only major change in statistics this past year was in funerals – we typically average between 25 and 30 funerals each year, so the 17 of this past year was a low number.

Of course, our parish community is much more than statistics. During this past year, we welcomed our first full-time Director of Liturgical Music Ministries who has helped to coordinate and expand our music ministries in the parish. We held the first annual Tent Event last fall, which was an astounding success, bringing over 900 people to an evening of fun and fellowship. In the spring, we launched the new Kingdom Builder’s Tuition Assistance program, which so far has brought new contributions of over $17,500 exclusively for tuition assistance for our school. We observed the Year of St. Paul in a variety of ways, including an ecumenical prayer service and monthly Soup and Soul Food gatherings. Our parish Youth Ministry hosted a 24-hour Food Fast for the entire deanery as well as many other programs. During last fall’s windstorm, our parish staff hosted a Light in the Dark dinner for parishioners and neighbors who were without power for several days. Our Faith Formation and Youth Ministry offices collaborated to host a Sports Life Camp at the beginning of the summer. In the area of Vocations, each week since last September, a family or individual has prayed with our Parish Vocations Cross; 17 young men were identified as possible candidates for the priesthood during a Called by Name program, and we hosted Archbishop Daniel at our parish for a vocations discernment evening. This past year was also the final implementation year for the Envision parish planning process. This three-year process for expanding and improving our parish ministries has especially focused on the areas of Adult Faith Formation, Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, Child Care, and Family Connections. In the coming weeks, we will celebrate the many accomplishments of the Envision process and have a chance to read about the many parish ministries that have seen growth over the past three years. And there certainly has been much growth.

But now is also the time to look forward to the future of our parish life and ministries. This coming year, there is one exciting new ministry program that we will be starting in the area of faith formation. We currently have a variety of faith formation programs available in our parish, for people from preschool through adulthood. Most of these programs have been operating independently, and they have done so well. But beginning this fall, all of our parish faith formation programs will be part of one unified structure called One Church, One Faith. This total parish faith formation program includes Sacramental Preparation for Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation; our high school youth group; RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults; a variety of adult faith formation programs, including the popular Soup and Soul Food series; and Faith First, our parish faith formation program for preschool through eighth grade. All One Church, One Faith programs will be held on Wednesday evenings – and no other parish activities, meetings, or athletic games or practices are scheduled for Wednesday evenings, so everyone can participate in the faith formation programs. And One Church, One Faith is for everyone – families whose children attend Catholic schools or public schools, young adults, married couples, single people, widows, divorced, young and old, and everywhere in between. Some of these programs will be held every Wednesday night – like Faith First, youth group, and RCIA. Other, large-group programs, will be held once a month. On the second Wednesday of every month, all of our Sacramental Preparation programs will meet – for parents of infants to be baptized, for second-graders and their parents for First Reconciliation and First Communion, and for high school students for Confirmation.

But the highlight of One Church, One Faith takes place on the first Wednesday of each month in what we are calling Week One. Each Week One will begin with a simple supper prepared by group within the parish. We will then divide into groups by age for a discussion or presentation on a common topic – so that elementary students might be in the school cafeteria doing a project, high school youth might be in the youth room with a panel discussion, and adults in Wagner Hall with a guest speaker – all on the same topic, one of the basic beliefs of our faith. At the end of the evening, everyone will gather together in the church for a closing prayer service. Child care will be available for young children, and each Week One program stands alone – you can come one month or every month throughout the school year.

What I find exciting about entire One Church, One Faith program – and especially Week One – is that it really shows what parish life and community is all about. We gather together as members of the Body of Christ – as a whole community – to share fellowship, to pray, and to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Because of the one faith we share, we are part of one Church – and this program helps us to live as members of that one Church. Booklets will be available in the coming weeks that explain the One Church, One Faith program and to give the schedule for the entire year – and I encourage you to make some aspect of our Wednesday night faith formation program a priority in your own lives in the coming year. Because it really is true: our parish is all about community, a community centered on Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, who calls us to follow him. The more we pray together, the more we learn about our faith, the more we grow in grace through the sacraments – the more and more we will become vessels of the Body of Christ in the world.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

State of the Parish, Part I: Facilities and Capital Campaign Update

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15 Psalm 78 Ephesians 4.17, 20-24 John 6.24-35

Each year, I like to give an update on the life and ministries of the parish – something of a State of the Parish report. Most of the time, the report falls around the time of our patronal feast day, the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on June 27. But because of our parish-sponsored pilgrimage this past summer, the State of the Parish report has been left until now. And because there are so many exciting things and major projects going on in our parish, I am going to divide the report into two parts. This week, I’d like to give you an update on the Legacy for our Mission Capital Campaign and our capital projects, and next week I plan to give an update on our parish ministries and organizations. It is important for all of us to know the plan and vision of our parish, how we live as members of the Body of Christ in this particular local community. The community is the heart of our spiritual lives, and it always has been – from the community of Israelites who grumbled and complained to Moses about their lack of food to the crowd gathered around Jesus who wanted to know what they could do to accomplish the works of God. More on how we can build a loving, faithful, and prayerful community will come in next week’s update on our parish ministries. But first, the more practical, tangible update on our parish facilities.

Two-and-a-half years ago, our launched our parish portion of the Legacy for Our Mission Capital Campaign. This campaign has been conducted in all 150 parishes of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. After deducting campaign expenses and one year’s worth of the United Catholic Appeal, all contributions to the campaign are split 50/50 between the parish and the Archdiocese. As of June 30, 2009, our parishioners have pledged $1,178,384 for the campaign and we had received $796,767 in cash toward those pledges, or 67% of the total pledged amount. Most pledges were scheduled to be paid over a three-year period, and we have one year left – so we are right on track. Here in our parish, we have had several smaller projects that have been funded by the Capital Campaign. Over the past two years, we have upgraded Wagner Hall, the church basement, and its kitchen; we have purchased new computers for the school and parish office; we have installed a new sound system here in church; the bells in our bell tower have been repaired; and, most recently, the skylights here in church that had been leaking for many years have been replaced. These projects have all been important and needed upgrades to our facilities. Now, however, we are ready to proceed with what has probably been the most anticipated construction project funded by the capital campaign.

In just a few weeks, construction will begin on the installation of a handicapped-accessible restroom on the main level of the church, upgrades to the church narthex or gathering area, and replacement of the interior and exterior doors at the three entrances to the church. Since our church was built in 1966, one of its main downfalls has been the lack of a restroom on this level or easy access to the restrooms in the basement. Right now, the only way to get to the restrooms is to go down the stairs off of the narthex or to use the outside ramp on the west side of the building. Having a restroom on this level is a convenience, certainly, but it is also a matter of hospitality and welcome. The new restroom will be completely handicapped-accessible and will be constructed in the area that is now the cry room. At the same time, we will be adding ventilation ducts to the narthex so that it can be air conditioned, which it is not now, and the doors between the narthex and the main part of the church will be replaced with glass doors. This will allow the entire narthex to be used by parents of young children if they need a place to walk with their child or take them when they are crying. But with these upgrades, people in the narthex will be able to participate more directly in the Mass. We will also be replacing all of the exterior doors at the three main entrances of the church. These doors are original to the building and have been in need of replacement for some time. The doors are not weather tight, so air and rain can come through them easily, and the locking mechanisms on many of the doors are difficult to use. They will be replaced with a similar style of door but ones which will help us save on heating and air-conditioning costs and will be more secure. But there's more.

While the construction in the narthex and at the entrances is being done, we will also be installing our new Baptismal Font here in the sanctuary. You may recall that almost a year ago we received an anonymous donation for the specific purpose on a new baptismal font. Our parishioner Ray Day designed the font, and our architect from Luckett and Farley took Ray’s design and made it build-able. The font will be located here in the sanctuary, in the same place as the current font, and will be in the shape of a cross made out of marble, some of which will come from pieces of the former communion rail. There will be an upper font for the baptism of infants and a lower font that can be used for the baptism of adults. There is also a designated area in the font to hold the Holy Oils that are used in various sacraments. Because of the size and shape of the font, we were going to need to rework some of the steps into the sanctuary and some of the flooring as well. So we decided to take this opportunity to redo the entire sanctuary floor. Some of the steps will be reconfigured, especially here by the ambo, to make walking around the ambo and font safer – you can already see the lines of the new steps marked on the floor. We will also be replacing the carpeting with a hardwood floor that will bring added durability and ease of care to the sanctuary as well as a more polished look to the area. The sanctuary upgrades and new flooring are being paid for by a portion of an estate that the parish received last year. Half of this estate was placed into our school endowment, and the rest was made available for future needs of the parish. Even after this project is completed, we will still have money left from this estate for future needs.

It is important to know that all of these projects are being funded by what we call designated gifts – the restroom, narthex, and doors are being paid for by the capital campaign, which asked for donations for these specific purposes. The baptismal font and sanctuary area are being paid for by a private donation and an estate. We are not using any of our regular operating funds or money from regular weekly collections for these projects – the money we receive on a weekly basis is used for our parish ministries and the regular, ongoing needs of our parish. Also, at a time when our economy is still trying to recover from a recession, we are blessed to be able to put money back into the economy, giving work to many people, including parishioners, whose businesses have been struggling in the recession. At the same time, through your generosity, we are able to award more need-based financial aid to school families this year than we ever have in the past, mainly through the success of the Kingdom Builders Tuition Assistance Program. Our St. Vincent de Paul Society, Soup Kitchens, and other Christian Service ministries continue to be active in reaching out to our community. And our ministries continue to flourish and to bring disciples to Christ. There is much good news to share about our parish ministries – but more on that next week.

In the church narthex and by the music area here at the front of the church, you can see drawings of both the baptismal font and the new restroom. Construction for both of these projects is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks. During the time of construction, we will continue to have our Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses here in the church, but all Masses during the week and other events scheduled for the church or Wagner Hall during the week will be moved to other locations – a full list of locations will be in the bulletin and on the parish website.

Finally, one announcement that is not related to any of our facilities or capital projects. A few months ago, I announced that Fr. Matthew Joy Choorapanthiyil would be living here at our parish priests’ residence three days a week while he served as part-time chaplain at Providence High School. The rest of the week, Fr. Matthew would be the administrator of three parishes in Perry County, Indiana. Since that announcement was made, we have been blessed to have a new priest move into our Archdiocese from New Hampshire in order to be closer to family. Archbishop Daniel has assigned this new priest to the three parishes in Perry County. So that means that Fr. Matthew has been freed up to be full-time chaplain at Providence High School with residence here at OLPH full time as well. He will be at Providence Monday through Friday each week. On the weekends, he will be helping out with Masses in parts of our deanery where priests have multiple parishes and also with the Indian Catholic community in Louisville. He will also occasionally be available to fill in for Masses here when I am away. Fr. Matthew will be moving in next week, and we look forward to welcoming him to our parish community.