Sunday, June 1, 2014

Feast of the Ascension (United Catholic Appeal) (Replaces 7th Sunday of Easter)

            “One of the most common complaints about the Church is that we talk too much about money,” writes Matthew Kelly in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (the book we passed out seven weeks ago.  Have you started it?  Finished it?  Please do!)  He continues: “However, I am absolutely convinced now that we don’t talk enough about money.”  (Music to a priest’s ears!)  “Money is so important to spiritual development that we need to talk about it much more than we do.  The main issue here is that we tend only to talk about money when we are asking people to give.  It is our partial treatment of the topic that rubs people the wrong way.  We need to start talking about the whole money picture: giving, earning, saving, and spending.”
            Did you know that Jesus talked about money more than any other topic?  Here are a few well-known examples: the widow’s mite (the poor woman who gave two small coins and gave more than the rest), the question about taxes in which Jesus taught, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” and the parable about the talents (two used them well and one buried them, for which he was condemned). 
            Why did Jesus talk so much about money?  Kelly suggests that Jesus addressed money so often because it is so integrated into our lives.  Just think of anything you own, consume, eat, drink or maintain.  These cost money.  Plus, money can lead us closer to God or be a huge distraction that leads us further from Him.  St. Paul even goes on to claim, “…the love of money is the root of all evils.”
            We celebrate this morning a great mystery of our faith—the ascension of Jesus Christ, body and soul, back to heaven.  Having suffered, experiencing death and rising again, Jesus’ last words before returning to heaven: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” 
            This is the mission of our Catholic Church and this mission would not be possible without your generosity (which is one of the four signs of a dynamic Catholic).  Yet the average Catholic in our country gives less than one percent of their money to charity.  At first glance, this is a sad number.  Yet Kelly maintains this is good news for the Church!  Imagine if the average Catholic gave two percent to charity.  Pastors wouldn’t be so nervous about balancing the budget (which I’ll get to start doing in six weeks).  Teachers and employees of our schools and churches could be paid a just wage comparable to secular venues.  We could assist even more families who struggle to make ends meet in supporting Catholic schools.  Our support of the hungry, homeless, thirsty and naked could only be increased.
            I love one line in particular in Kelly’s book: you can’t improve what you don’t measure.  Do you know how much you give in a year to charity?  To St. John’s/St. Joe’s?  I am not referring here to dollar amounts (I have met some very selfish poor people and very generous wealthy people), but a percentage.  Figure this out in budgeting your finances and pray about how much God is calling you to be a good steward of the gifts of your life.
            For twenty-eight years of my life I didn’t have a salary, so I still get excited for the 15th and 30th of each month—payday!  Throughout my time in seminary so many people were generous in supporting me and now it is cool to give back.  One way I do this is to give 2.5% of my monthly salary to St. John’s parish through an automatic withdrawal (see the bulletin for how to do this).  I love this opportunity because I don’t need to think about it and I really don’t notice the 2.5% ($60) each month.  But when this is added up in a year that’s $720!
            I am speaking today about money in light of our annual United Catholic Appeal.  You will be getting a letter in the mail asking for support and I pray you will do this generously.  Without this annual campaign we would not be able to have thirty-plus Bible studies going on at UMD or the support one of the best Newman Centers in the country (at UMD).  We would not have been able to ordain eleven men to the priesthood over a period of three years and I am one of them.  That, by the way, cost the diocese well over one million dollars.  I’ll let you be the judge if that money was well spent or not!  In short, following Jesus’ commission to teach and baptize would simply not be possible without each of us chipping in what we can to support our Church.
            Please read The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic to see how our generosity is intimately linked with our prayer, study and evangelization—the traits of a dynamic Catholic.  Invite God into your financial decisions: “Lord, how much should I budget for you?  Should I purchase this lawn mower?  What non-profits would you like me to support?” 
            My prayer for you this day: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones…”

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