Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Sunday of Lent-C
Introduction to the Stewardship Way of Life

March 10, 2019

Readings for Sunday

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13

Jesus is “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings.” Maybe you have never thought of Jesus as “a steward.” But look at today’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing for His public ministry with 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert.
Jesus regularly uses His time for prayer with His Father. With fasting, He is preparing to use His talent as our Savior. And He is getting ready to share His treasure of salvation and eternal life with us by His passion, death and resurrection.
As we follow Jesus, “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings,” during this season Lent with our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we do so as His disciples: as grateful stewards of God’s bountiful blessings to us.

We hear the word “stewardship” so often at Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes. And it can conjure up several meanings. For some, stewardship might mean “increasing the Sunday collection.” For others, stewardship might mean “getting more volunteers.” But stewardship at its heart is much larger than these limited definitions. It is not a program that we use to achieve a desired goal, and then we are done with it. No, the meaning that we use here is that stewardship is “a way of life,” that once you have begun you never finish until God calls you home.
Since our two parishes have had different experiences of stewardship over the years, and since new parishioners have joined us along the way, I thought that examining the stewardship way of life would be a valuable thing for us to do together over the six weeks of Lent. For the goal of Lent is to become even better disciples of Jesus, and “stewardship is a disciple’s response” to Him.

Two Lents ago, in 2017, we looked at the Sunday Gospel each weekend in light of Matthew Kelly’s book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. Do you remember what these four signs are? Prayer, Study, Generosity and Evangelization. Now we have a working knowledge and experience of each of those terms. And they are no longer scary!
This Lent I would like to use a similar approach to examine “stewardship as a way of life.” In this weekend’s bulletin and on our parish websites you will find a list of reading assignments and some questions for reflection and discussion. This will happen for each of the six Sundays of Lent. May I now introduce you to the two publications that we will be reading together each week.

The first is a pastoral letter from the Bishops of the United States that was published in 1992. It is entitled: Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. [You can access it on the homepages of our parish websites. If you do not have computer access, you may pick up a copy in our parish offices.] Although it was written 27 years ago, it is still fresh and full of meaning for us.
In the Preface and Introduction – which are the pages listed today for reading for the First Sunday of Lent – we read that “stewardship always starts with the personal experience of the Risen Christ in our midst and in our hearts. It is a vocation to discipleship. The following of Christ as a disciple entails a personal response, and this call can result in a positive impact on our faith communities. The life of the Christian steward models the life of Jesus” [Diocese of Wichita, Summary of Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response].
This pastoral letter contains three primary convictions:
The Challenge: Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ, no matter the cost to themselves.
The Choice: Beginning in conversion, a change of mind and heart, this commitment is expressed not in a single action, nor even in a number of actions over a period of time, but in an entire way of life. It means committing one’s very self to the Lord.
The Vision: Stewardship is an expression of Christian discipleship with the power to change how we understand our lives. Disciples who practice stewardship recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, the source of all they have and are and will be. They are grateful for what they have received and eager to cultivate their gifts out of love of God and one another.

Although the Bishops of the United States were the ones who approved this pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, its principal author was Msgr. Thomas McGread. That is why this pastoral letter and the second publication for our reading this Lent, Grateful and Giving, go hand-in-hand. [Copies of Grateful and Giving are available in church this weekend, free of charge, with one copy per household, please.]

Grateful and Giving is the real-life story of how Msgr. Thomas McGread’s stewardship message has impacted Catholic parishes throughout the United States – including our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes. This book was written by Deacon Don McArdle, who is a friend of mine, and who spent countless hours interviewing Msgr. McGread so that his lessons would continue after the Lord called him home – which happened on 1 April 2013.
I invite you to get to know Msgr. McGread by reading the introduction and first chapter this week of Grateful and Giving. He puts flesh on the bones of stewardship theology.
So how many pages am I asking you to read this week? 11 pages from the Bishop’s pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response and 21 pages from Deacon Don McArdle’s book, Grateful and Giving. That is 32 pages for the week or 4½ pages a day. Can we do this? Yes or yes?

May I tell you a little about my own experience with Msgr. McGread? I first met him in August 2009 at a stewardship conference in Wichita where I was invited to speak. He was born in Ireland and ordained a priest in Dublin at a time when priests were very plentiful there. So he came to the United States as a young priest and ministered for the rest of his life in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. He said that all he knew about Kansas when he came here from Ireland was that it was famous for its tornadoes!
I have been privileged to speak several times at the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita which is hosted twice each year by Catholic Stewardship Consultants – who are assisting our two parishes in our stewardship life. At these conferences I had a number of opportunities to be with Msgr. McGread and ask him questions and learn from his experience. And I will forever be grateful for these experiences.
In this book you will read about Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita where Msgr. McGread was the pastor for 31 years [1968-1999] and how it came to be the outstanding parish that it still is today. [I have visited there!] And what happened there can also happen here in our parishes.

You will also see in the bulletin and on our parish websites that you are all invited to our “Stewardship Plunge” Retreat on Saturday, 30 March, from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM at Nativity Parish. I will be the retreat leader and, through videos and reflections, I will bring a portion of the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita here to our two parishes. Please save the date and plan to attend.

As fellow disciples, as followers of Jesus, “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings,” I wish you happy reading, happy reflecting, and a happy Lent, everyone!

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, March 3, 2019

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time-C

March 3, 2019

Readings for Sunday

Sirach 27: 4-7
1 Corinthians 15: 54-58
Luke 6: 39-45

We are so accustomed to seeing Jesus on the cross, especially as Lent approaches this week, and knowing that He fulfilled a prophecy that the Messiah would be a Suffering Servant, that it may never occur to us to ask: did Jesus have a sense of humor?
Did Jesus ever laugh and smile and tell jokes? Well, since He is fully human as well as fully divine, wouldn’t that be part of His makeup?
Not necessarily. We all know someone who is downright serious. As one person said about another: “He must have at least one smile buried somewhere deep down inside of him that still hasn’t made it to his face.”
There is another problem: we may have been taught that laughter has no place in church which, after all, is only for “serious business.”
So the question remains: did Jesus have a sense of humor?

Well, the Gospel for this Sunday before Ash Wednesday shows Jesus telling some parables, using some illustrations, that might not have been told with a straight face.
Imagine Jesus saying with a grin, “Hey, did you hear the one about the blind guy who tried to lead another blind guy around? And they both fell into a hole. What do you think about that?”
Or, “How about the man with a huge wooden beam in his eye?” And then Jesus pokes fun at that man for making such a big deal over a mere splinter in his brother’s eye. A humorous image, yes?
Then Jesus talks about farming, cleverly reminding his farmer-audience that “figs don’t come from thorn bushes, and grapes don’t come from bramble, now do they, guys?”
People must have smiled. Only later, of course, would they realize that a point had been made.

Jesus, like so many of the ancients, told stories – some funny, some serious, and all with a point behind them – because such stories were bearers of truth in a way that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, could understand and could learn from.

Try these variations on Jesus’ humor:
When Fr. Stan first came to Saint Denis Parish and began to impress people with his vision and energy, a man said to his friend, “You know, I have nothing but praise for our new pastor.” To which his friend replied dryly, “So I noticed when the collection basket passed you by. You had nothing but praise to offer our new pastor.” [You can almost hear a little drum roll here.]
Then there is the one about the couple leaving church one Sunday after Mass. The wife asked her husband, “Did you see that awful hat that Mrs. O’Brien was wearing?” “No,” he said. “And did you notice those cutely dressed girls in the pew ahead of us?” “No, I didn’t,” he said. “Well, I thought that Bill Smith really needed a haircut, didn’t you?” “Sorry, but I didn’t notice,” he said. “Honestly, John,” said his wife impatiently, “sometimes I wonder if you get anything out of going to church.” [And there is a point here somewhere too, isn’t there?]
They are light-hearted stories, but with a serious point, like some of Jesus’s sayings in today’s Gospel.

And here is a final story to think about, the kind that Jesus might have told:
A ship was wrecked and only two of its sailors were able to swim to a small deserted island. They agreed that all they could do was pray to God. However, to find out whose prayers were more powerful, they agreed to divide the island in half and to stay on opposite sides.
The first man prayed for food. And the next morning he saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the island and he was able to eat. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.
After some days, the first man grew lonely so he prayed for a wife. The next day another ship was wrecked and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the island. On the other side of the island, the second man had no one to be with.
Then the first man prayed for lodging that was full of food and clothes. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.
Finally, the first man prayed for a rescue ship so that he and his wife could leave the island. The next morning he found a ship docked at his side of the island. So he and his wife boarded the ship and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered this man unworthy of God’s blessings since none of his prayers had been answered.
But as the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a booming voice from heaven, “Why are you leaving your companion all alone on this island?”
“The blessings that I received are all mine because I was the one who prayed for them,” he replied to God. “His prayers were all unanswered so he doesn’t deserve anything.”
“You are mistaken,” God said. “He had only one prayer, which I answered.”
“Tell me, Lord, what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”
“He prayed,” God said, “that all your prayers would be answered.”

I think that Jesus might have told a story like this, smiled, and then walked away, and let his audience think about it. A good idea…

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, February 24, 2019

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time-C

February 24, 2019

Readings for Sunday

1 Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
1 Corinthians 15: 45-49
Luke 6: 27-38

If I were to ask you about your philosophy of life, what would you tell me? Our philosophy of life is the set of beliefs that drives how we live. It comes through in profound ways and it also comes through in subtle ways: the attitude we wake up with in the morning, how we treat other people, how we approach a new situation, how we spend our time, our energy and our money.

Our philosophy of life is like GPS for our living. You program your destination into your GPS and it gives you the directions you need to get where you want to go. GPS is a great gift to many of us, especially to those who are “directionally challenged.”

Someone once quipped, “Somebody stole my GPS. My life now lacks direction.” Many people’s lives lack direction. That is why we need a dependable philosophy, a GPS for our life that will guide us to our destination. The best source for that philosophy is, of course, Jesus. He is God’s revelation of how we should live our lives now so that one day we will arrive in heaven, our final destination.

As Bishop Roger Gries says, “GPS stands not only for ‘Global Positioning System,’ but for us Christians it also stands for ‘God’s Positioning System.’”

Jesus’ entire philosophy of life is rooted in love. Author John Mason writes: “When you base your life on principle, 99% of your decisions are already made.”

He is right. But let’s change that quote just a little bit in light of Jesus’ teachings: “When you base your life on love, 99% of your decisions are already made.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus’ entire philosophy of life is rooted in love.

Notice how Jesus begins His teaching: “To you who hear, I say: love your enemies . . .” That is interesting. “To you who hear, I say . . .” Not everybody is listening, are they?
We can sit in the pew and turn off our minds. We are tired, or distracted, or angry, or not even sure why we are here. Whatever the reason, we are not ready to hear the Gospel.
But to those who do listen, Jesus offers a philosophy of life that provides us with direction for our daily living that leads to our final destination, the kingdom of heaven.

A man who was working a crossword puzzle asked his friends, “What is a four-letter word for a strong emotional reaction to difficulty?”
One man responded, “Fear.”
The other friend answered, “Love.”
Those two words define how people often respond to life’s challenges. We respond either with fear or with love. And Jesus’ philosophy is rooted in love.
In this passage Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of what a life rooted in love looks like.
Now I know many of us may be thinking: Who can love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, pray for those who mistreat them? I mean, besides Jesus. Can we love like Jesus loved?
I believe we can. Maybe not perfectly. After all, we are not Jesus. But, with God’s grace, we can do a little better today than perhaps we did yesterday, and a little better tomorrow than we did today.

Joseph Aldrich tells of meeting a Christian man in India who had a ministry of bringing non-Christian students to Christ. How did he reach members of different cultural and religious traditions?
          Each Sunday, he and his wife would invite students to their home for dinner.
         “So you talk about Jesus Christ at these dinners?” Aldrich asked.
           “No,” he said. “It is impossible to talk openly of Jesus Christ.”
           “So how are you able to bring so many of them to Christ?” Aldrich asked.
         “We love them,” he replied, “until they ask us why.”
Jesus knew that not everyone was going to listen to His teaching. And yet a powerful way for us to show others that we belong to Christ is to love them until they ask us why.

So, I hope you will leave church today with your GPS programmed. Not the Global Positioning System in your car or your phone, but God’s Positioning System in your heart and your soul.
I pray that you leave programmed with the love of Jesus Christ. That way you will faithfully live the Christian life today until you safely arrive one day at your final destination, the kingdom of heaven. And, God willing, you will have helped some others along the way too.