33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 16, 2014
(Offertory Appeal) Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today I need to speak to you about something that’s very important,
but also very hard for me to talk about—so hard I’ve avoided it for 4 years:
that is, the importance of contributing
to the parish weekly offertory collection.
Now, sometimes I feel like I’m always asking for money.
But really, that’s mostly for special collections for outside groups
—not for the parish itself, especially not for the regular collection.
Because, every time I ask for money at Mass
I remember the story we read in last week’s Gospel,
the story of the Jesus driving the moneychangers from the Temple.
You see, the “moneychangers” were running a for-profit business in the temple,
and it’s very easy for pastors to sort of fall into a “for-profit” mind-set:
to measure “success” by their parish’s financial bottom line:
if the collection goes up, or if the “net profit” goes up,
they think they’re a good pastor.
And the same can happen to parishioners:
you can be tempted to think that all you have to do to be a good Catholic
is write lots of checks to the Church.
But I never want to be like that, and I don’t want the parish to be like that,
because we’re not a business,
we’re a family, or part of the family of God.
And money never draws the family close, or makes it a “success.”
Even so, the reality is that money comes in awfully handy
to help your family survive and flourish,
and the same is true for our parish family.
So it’s time I preach about the collection, for the good of our parish family.
Today’s Gospel tells the parable of the talents.
Now, the word “talent” here is actually a measure of money,
which, in Jesus’ day, was equal to about 20 years of wages:
in Fairfax County today that would be about $2 million.
So the master is entrusting his servants with a heck of a lot of his money.
But he expects them to put his money to good use,
so to the 2 servants who doubled his money, he says:
“’Well done, my good and faithful servant.” but the servant who buries his money, he calls a “useless servant.”
The point of the story is that God gives us many gifts
but He gives them to be put a good use He has in mind.
So that depending on how we choose to use those gifts
we’re either more or less like either
the “good and faithful servants,” or “useless servant.”
In God’s mercy, He’s given me many gifts.
But I haven’t always used these “talents” for the good purposes He wanted.
Most of you know I entered the seminary about 23 years ago,
when I was 31 years old.
About a year or so before that I was a CPA working in San Antonio
with a huge accounting firm.
I enjoyed my work, and I was well paid,
but I was working all sorts of crazy hours—I had no free time.
So, one day, after 9 years with the big firm,
I quit and started my own small CPA practice.
Of course, I was hoping my practice would eventually do well,
but in that first year I just hoped to earn enough
to pay for food and the mortgage.
because I was determined not to spend all my time working,
and to make plenty of time for other important things I’d been neglecting:
in particular my relationships with my family and friends
and, especially, with Jesus and His Church.
But what actually happened was amazing:
almost without me lifting a finger my practice took off,
and I made more money than I made at the big firm,
even though I was working about a 1/3rd less hours.
And I was spending lots of time with my family and friends,
and working in my parish, and go to daily Mass, and adoration.
It was really a great year—the best of my life up to that point.
But I knew that it was too great.
There was no way I could have made all those good things happen
so quickly on my own—it was all clearly a gift from God.
And at the same time something else became clear.
I kept having the sense that God was telling me,
“I’ve given you all these good things.
And you can keep them.
But would you be willing to give them back to me?”
I struggled with this for over a year.
I had the clear sense that keeping what he’d given me wouldn’t be a bad thing,
–it wouldn’t make me really a “useless servant,”
But I couldn’t help but think there was something ungrateful about it,
so I decided, I’d try to be the “good and faithful servant” He wanted me to be.
So, I left my friends, family and business in Texas,
and moved up here to go to seminary.
Now, I’m not tell you this so that you’ll think how wonderful I am.
After all, it took me until I was 31 years old to face up to this.
And I’m really not telling you this so you think how talented I am, or was.
There are many priests who are much more talented that I am,
and who gave up much more than I ever did.
And I’m not here to sing the praises of priests:
all of you have many special gifts,
and many of you have given up a lot to serve your country,
or to serve your families.
My point is: like the servants in today’s parable,
God has given us all so many gifts.
But we don’t even recognize that He gave them to us.
And even worse, we’re not grateful.
And we don’t bother to ask,
“why did God give me all these gifts,
and what does He want me to do with them?”
We don’t take time to think,
am I being the “good and faithful servant” with His gifts?
Now, after I went to the seminary,
you’d have thought I’d learned my lesson about all this.
But I hadn’t.
When I became a priest and started working in a parish,
my salary was pretty small.
I didn’t care, but the mistake I made was
again forgetting that even that small salary was a gift from God,
and again not really asking Him what He wanted me to do with it.
Honestly, I figured with my small salary I was saving the parish a lot of money,
so I didn’t need to give much to the weekly collection.
Besides, I was giving money to other good charities.
Until one day when I was having dinner with a young family.
The mom stayed home taking care of 5 kids under the age of 10,
and the dad had at decent-paying job.
But with the cost of living around here, they were barely getting by.
And then they told me that they were tithing to our parish
—giving 10% of their income every week.
And I remembered, what God had asked me:
“I have given you all these good things
… would you be willing to give them back to me…?”
After all that I’d given up, now I was clinging to my little salary.
They strove to be “good and faithful servants”
using every gift God gave them in the way He wanted,
beginning by taking good care of their family.
But not just their family at home: their parish family as well.
And as I said before, that is what a parish should be to all of us—a family.
We are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters, in Christ.
Of course, the Church throughout the world is our whole family,
but we experience the life of that family week in and week out,
in the personal, face-to-face, experience of the parish.
The word “parish” itself comes from a Greek word that means “household.”
And so now I also tithe to this parish.
How could I not?
After all, as the first reading today told us:
“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.” In imitation of the celibate Christ, a priest’s wife is the Church,
and the parish is his day-to-day encounter with his bride,
and with all their children—their family.
And his bride’s value is far beyond pearls, much less 10% of my salary.
Last January, you may remember
that I spoke at all the Masses and I distributed a handout
about “Some…Resolutions to Help Make 2014…a Year of the Lord Jesus.”
I proposed various simple and concrete ways we could all work
on our life with Christ, in our morality, spirituality, charity, etc.
And I emphasized the importance of doing this in context of the parish family,
especially as I called on you to become “committed volunteers” in the parish.
I repeat that call today, to volunteer to serve your parish family,
so we can continue to strive
to make it a place where we find real opportunities to love, live and learn
as Christian brothers and sisters–and fathers.
But, the reality of family life also means we have to pay the household bills.
We have to pay for the lights, heating and air-conditioning,
and we have pay people like maintenance workers and plumbers,
to keep it clean and well-maintained.
And we have to buy hymnals, missalettes, flowers, candles
and even bread and wine.
And, like most families, we have a huge mortgage to pay.
And we have to teach our children, and give them opportunities to know Jesus.
We have to provide the sacraments and opportunities for prayer,
and promote the dignity of human life, marriage and religious liberty.
And we should worship with beautiful music and vestments and vessels
that remind us we are in the presence of our heavenly family.
And while volunteers are a big part of making all this happen,
we have to pay employees to coordinate all this.
All this costs a lot of money, and someone has to pay for this.
In a certain sense, as the father of this family, that burden rests with me.
But, surprise! I can’t do it alone.
So I do what fathers of large families have done since time immemorial:
I ask all the adult children to contribute to the support of the household.
And that means you.
And so I ask you to consider today’s parable,
and the many gifts God has given you.
and encourage you to be grateful for those gifts.
And I ask you what He once asked me:
“Would you be willing to give these gifts back to Him?”
to be His good and faithful servant,
by using those gifts for the good purposes He has in mind.
Of course, you should use them first for the well-being of your family.
And, there are many worthwhile charities out there that you can give to.
But there is also the parish.
How does God want you to use His gifts for the good of your parish family?
This week you’ll receive a mailing from the parish office
that will try to help you as you reconsider
how much you should give to the parish every week.
I know many of you have been generous for years, even to the point of sacrifice.
I can’t thank you enough.
Others have not been able to give much, if anything—I understand.
Please let me know if we can help you.
Still others are able to give, but have simply chosen not to give much,
even nothing at all.
I pray that you reconsider your choice.
When it comes to using our gifts,
there are many very good choices we can make.
23 years ago the Lord gave me a choice between 2 good alternatives:
“I’ve given you all these good things. And you can keep them.
But would you be willing to give them back to me?”
I can’t tell any of you what you should give.
But I can ask all of you, over the next few days
to prayerfully consider your choices,
and ask the Lord to tell you what you should give.
And then come back here next weekend prepared to make a commitment
to give what He has asked you to give to your parish family,
that you might be the “good and