33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 13, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This weekend I am preaching at all the Masses about a subject
that I don’t like to preach about: money,
specifically, the money you give to St. Raymond’s.
The last time I did this was 2 years ago
and that was the only other time I’ve done this.
My job is to get you to heaven,
by teaching you, giving you grace, and being a good spiritual father.
That’s why I became a priest—not to be a fundraiser.
But I’ve discovered, especially as a pastor,
spending money wisely helps me to do a better job
of fulfilling my priestly responsibilities.
Now, some of you may have been expecting me to preach
about the elections last Tuesday
—some may be disappointed and some may be relieved that I’m not.
But in a way, I am preaching about the election.
Because the election, and the campaign that proceeded it,
were a graphic display of the challenges that face the Church today
in the midst of an increasingly hostile
secularized and paganized nation.
My friends, the good Lord has given us so much,
as individuals, as families, as Americans (citizens and non-citizens),
as Catholics, and as a parish.
But it can all be so easily taken away from us.
At any time a good part of your money can be taken away,
through higher taxes or economic downturns.
But we also see how in a more subtle way the culture and even the government
is, in a certain real way, already trying to take your family from you
—inculcating your children, whether in school or as adults,
with values in direct opposition to the ones you taught them.
And we see our rights being slowly eroded:
especially our rights to speak and even think freely,
the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit,
and the right to freely practice our religion.
This loss of God’s gifts to us is nothing new, especially for Christians
—it’s happened throughout history.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is preaching in the temple when he stops and says,
“All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
That prophecy was fulfilled about 40 years later in the year 70 AD
when the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem with it.
The same thing has happened to Christians throughout the ages.
In the Gospel today Jesus speaks of a time of terrible catastrophes for the Church:
“Nation will rise against nation,
…. they will seize and persecute you…because of my name.”
But he adds:
“See that you not be deceived, …it will not immediately be the end.”
And so we see how, from time to time throughout history,
Christians have been persecuted, and the Church has survived.
Think of all the Churches that were destroyed or stolen
when the Muslims invaded
first Catholic northern Africa in the 7th century,
then Catholic Spain, and then Constantinople.
Or how the French atheists confiscated the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral
during the French revolution and turned it into the “Temple of Reason.”
Or the churches in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea or Viet Nam
confiscated by the Communists.
And think of how the Islamist armies are doing the same thing
in Iraq and Syria today.
We hate to think of it, but the same thing could happen us.
How far are we American Catholics from becoming so politically incorrect,
so ostracized as “bigots,”
that someone won’t try to close us down
as being centers of “hate-speech”?
But the destruction and confiscation of the great Church buildings
throughout history are only symptoms of a greater threat:
the Muslims, atheists, and communists
didn’t care about the buildings so much,
but used them to destroy and coerce
the Church of Jesus Christ itself, our faith.
And a similar effort is surely well underway already in our nation today.
But we must not give in to these attacks.
We must fight them.
Never with hatred and bitterness, but always with love and truth.
Our weapons are not guns and bombs,
but every single peaceful means we have at our disposal.
So we use argument, reason, compassion, mercy, good example,
Everything we have—including our money.
So we come to money.
There is an old joke told about the pastor who stood in the pulpit
and told his people:
“I have good news and bad news;
the good news is that the parish is flush with cash.
the bad news is, it’s still in your pockets.”
We do have lots of money.
But God gave it to you, not to me or the parish
—either by giving you so called “good luck,”
or giving you the talents or opportunities that enabled you to earn it.
But He didn’t give you that money just to sit in your pockets,
but to be used wisely in his plan for our salvation.
First he wants you to use it to take good care of your family,
but that includes includes, first and foremost,
bringing them closer to Christ and His Church,
and equipping them to be able to fight the good fight
against what St. Paul calls “this present darkness.”
And second, Jesus also calls you to “love your neighbor as yourself,”
and so, in some real way to use the wealth he’s given you
for the true good of those around you.
Our parish exists for both of those purposes:
to help you and your family, and to help all the families in the parish.
But we cannot do that without your help.
In these very troubled times I have spent a lot of time praying and thinking about
my role in the parish, and in your lives.
And what I keep coming back to is that God has sent me, like all parish priests,
to prepare, strengthen and lead you all in the spiritual battle.
And so my parish, your parish,
works hard to make sure you are prepared for this fight
by teaching you the truth of our faith and the love of Christ.
First from this pulpit and altar, but also through CCD, the Youth Apostolate,
scouting programs, RCIA, Bible Study, lecture series, conferences
and guest speakers.
And also in our bulletin, website, the library and giftshop,
and through things like the booklet on the life of St. Raymond.
All to prepare you for the times we live in,
to flourish in and defend the Catholic faith.
And the parish strengthens you.
First, by dispensing the grace of God through the sacraments,
but also providing a prayerful and reverent atmosphere
through beautiful music, vestments, vessels, flowers,
well-trained ministers, and a comfortable and clean environment,
so that you can be most open to all those graces.
Graces you absolutely need to fight the good fight.
And the parish leads.
A pastor’s leadership isn’t meant to be like a dictator, or a business manager,
but as a loving father in service of his family.
And so we strive to lead in such a way that we
provide an organized structure for our family
within which we can truly serve each other in peace,
with opportunities to learn and receive God’s grace,
as well as meet in fellowship to support each other as a parish family.
But we can’t do any of this without your support.
That support must first come in prayer and then in volunteerism.
—which many of you provide very generously.
But after that, we need your financial support.
We can’t do any of the preparing, strengthening or leading without money.
We can’t use this church or the classrooms or parish hall
if we can’t turn on the lights, microphones, Air Conditioner or heating
—and we can’t do that if we don’t pay the power company.
We can’t organize parish events or teach your children
or take them to Workcamp or retreats and conferences
if we don’t pay someone a living wage to organize that,
and then spend money on providing books and other resources.
We can’t provide good sacred music, or even keep the church clean and safe,
if we don’t have money.
And we can’t pay off the debt without money.
There’s almost nothing we do that doesn’t cost money.
Now, I’m exaggerating a bit: we can do a lot without money.
I can fire staff, turn down the heat, and even default on our loan,
and we’d get by.
But why would I do that?
Why, when all the things we’re doing are bearing such good fruit?
And why, when between all of us we have lots of money in our pockets?
Don’t get me wrong—so many of you do contribute very generously.
Look at this church—you built it with your money.
Look at all the things the parish does—you pay for it all.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
But sometimes we do a need a reminder of all our parish needs,
and why we have those needs.
And a reminder of God’s call to each of us to support those needs
–and to prayerfully consider if we should or could give a little more.
My dear sons and daughters,
the good Lord has been very generous with his gifts to us.
But the greatest gift he gives us is our faith.
But just like Christians of days gone by
there are many today who would try to take that faith away from us.
It has always been this way, and always will be.
But in the end, Jesus promises us:
“not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Let us, then, persevere in our Catholic faith in Jesus Christ.
And let us fight the good fight with love and truth,
and with every gift the Lord has given us.
And let us be generous in sharing those gifts with our parish family
to help each other be prepared, strengthened and led forward
in this great fight that is the Christian life.