Saturday, October 18, 2014

Give to God what is God's! (Thoughts on the book Rebuilt): 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here.)

           This week I have been reading a book called Rebuilt by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran.  I highly recommend it as I can hardly put it down and I have ordered copies for our staff to read.
            This book tells a success story of the Church of the Nativity in Maryland.  Facing a declining population and economic struggles, this parish has flourished in numbers, finances and excitement.  And they say we can do the same!
The authors first share mistakes they made as they attempted to bring excitement and life to their parish.  While they put on many great programs—free dinners coupled with Mass, activities to draw in young people, music ministry—they admitted they saw no results.  They attributed this to forgetting that it was God Who needed to be in charge, not them.
            I want to share a few thoughts on which I have been reflecting for us at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban.  A consistent emphasis in Rebuilt is to focus always on the mission at hand.  This desire came after hearing a diocesan official actually claim, “Jesus never left us with a mission.”  Fr. White’s response: “What?!”
            Jesus did give us a mission.  In the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus states: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And in his last words to his disciples he commands them: “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…
            Our mission is simple: love God, love your neighbor and make disciples.  No matter what your place is in our parish family—as a daily or weekend Mass attendee, leader or member of a parish organization, staff or faculty—examine how well you are doing in this mission. 
            Part of this mission includes seeking the lost because this is what Jesus did.  This isn’t just my job as a priest—it is yours!  Did you know that one in three people who were born Catholic have left our Church?  Here in International Falls, I have heard many people tell me we have former Catholics in several other churches in town.  Do you reach out to reinvite these men and women?  Are you open to sharing your faith with those who are experiencing brokenness or addiction?
            In Rebuilt the authors explain that we must work both with insiders or churchpeople but welcome outsiders and the unchurched.  God calls us to be fruitful and He needs us to welcome many more disciples who are currently on the fringes of society. 
            Another point made in this book is something similar to what my cross country coach always told us: “When you’re through improving, you’re through.”  As time moves on, every individual, family and parish changes.  It either changes for the better or for the worse.  God is our boss and wants us to continually change for the better to bear more fruit.  Please be open to changes I make whether small or big, because this is my motivation.
            All of the above begins with what Jesus teaches in the Gospel today: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  If we want to grow into a dynamic parish it is essential that we each give to God what is God’s.  And here I am speaking about something deeper than money—I’m referring to our attachments.
When I look in the mirror I know there are times when I give Caesar what should be God’s in how I spend free time, satisfy desires or seek pleasure.  I bet you would admit some of the same.  It is crucial that we each decide to give God what is His.
I promise you that if you make this choice, our parish will be better.  This decision will not be public—it will be in those private moments at home when facing temptation or laziness or addiction.  Will you give what is God’s to Caesar or God?
Give God what is God’s and watch how He will work here!

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