After 40 days of Lent and 50 days of Easter culminating in Pentecost; after celebrating the solemnities of Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Jesus, we find ourselves back in what the Church wisely calls Ordinary Time.
When we left Ordinary Time and the Gospel of Matthew in the cold, rainy month of February, Jesus was just beginning his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5, 6 and 7. Chapters 8 and 9 are filled with the power of Jesus’ teaching manifested in his ministry of physical and spiritual healing.
In these chapters we also begin to experience the beginning of opposition from the Scribes, the Pharisees and the religious leaders. In chapter 10, Jesus chooses the 12 apostles and commissions them to go out two by two giving them a thorough set of instructions. That is the context of today’s Gospel.
The Church in her wisdom links this Gospel with the prophet Jeremiah. Like the other Old Testament prophets, as well as Jesus and his disciples, Jeremiah faced much ridicule, rejection and fierce opposition to his teaching. He is so human in his writing. We experience his anguish, hurt, pain, anger and frustration at being faithful to God.
“I hear the whisperings of many: Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him. All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.”
Not a job description that many of us would apply for. Yet, what is Jeremiah’s response?
“But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.”
In the midst of his struggle, anxiety, ridicule and rejection he finds a power and a strength that sustains him and centers him. God’s presence is his peace, his surety, his rock of refuge and strength.
Jeremiah, the apostles and St. Paul all faced opposition because of following the Lord.
So Jesus wisely teaches his disciples, “Fear no one. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
We too need not fear, because when we are connected to Jesus, when we seek to follow him, when we are united to His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity at Holy Eucharist each Sunday at Mass, we are connected to God’s own divine life.
If we are centered in Jesus and he lives in us, then when all the anxieties, struggles, misfortunes and craziness of our world that swirl around us, Jesus will be our refuge and strength and we will be able to place our fears in right order and in a divine perspective.
We look to the saints as models. Pope St. John Paul II’s first words to the world after his election as pope, “Do not be afraid,” as he faced down one of the cruelist totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.
St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta could walk into the middle of a fear-ridden slum and bring peace, healing and wholeness.
What did the saints fear though? Losing God and not following Jesus, not doing God’s will. They didn’t fear the loss of acceptance or the ridicule of the press, public opinion, tweets or Facebook dislikes. They knew who they were and whose they were.
(In a few minutes April, Michelle and Katie will profess their faith in all that the Catholic Church teaches as true. They will receive the sacrament of Confirmation and the power of the Holy Spirit and then join us for the first time in receiving the Eucharist, sacred food for the journey of discipleship.
(At the beginning of Mass we witnessed Brendan, James, Jamie, Susan, Robert, Noah, Sydney, Liam and Joan asking for baptism and to be disciples of Jesus Christ. They were signed with his cross, the sign of faith and the sign of suffering.
They [will] witness to us what our readings are calling us to today: do not be afraid; have faith and follow Jesus.)
These past weeks we have been blessed with witness after witness calling us to trust in God’s plan and gracious providence in our parish Faithraising Campaign.
They have challenged us to sacrifice and to deepen our faith and trust. They have touched our hearts with their struggles and joys and have invited us to equal sacrifice, not equal gifts.
Because of their faith and the efforts of so many others, we have reached and surpassed our Seed Goal of $2,750,000. We are on our way to our Vine Goal of $3,250,00 that will enable us to complete most of the project without going into debt and having to borrow. We are still a long way from our Fruit Goal of $4,250,000 that includes replacing the original 1951 windows in the school. We need to nurture that seed so that it grows to its full fruit.
Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, not on their own. Our goal is to have everyone participate in our Faithraising Campaign. Together, we can accomplish our goals. Everyone can contribute something. No gift if too small. All our gifts together, this is what the Lord asks.
Last week Fr. Cody spoke of equal sacrifice, not equal gifts. Fr. Cody is a new priest and I am so grateful he gets to stay with us another year. Today he celebrates his first anniversary of priesthood. Let us remember him in prayer.
His salary is less than mine. Even though both of us receive the same housing and food allowance, have excellent medical benefits and a retirement plan, his gift will be different than mine.
Yet both of us, like each of you, are asked to sacrifice and not to give into the fear of making a financial commitment.
There is reason for concern if you are an employee of the state or if you are out of work. With no budget, there could be a shutdown of state government. There would be other ramifications for the economy. Yet do we allow fear to overwhelm us or do we trust in God’s providence?
Most of you heard my personal witness in May. In short, about a year and a half ago, on a sunny morning here in the church, standing all alone in prayer as the sunlight washed the corpus of Jesus, I heard Jesus speak these words to me, “Make my house beautiful, Jim.” Ever since I have quietly sought to honor that request. I somehow knew it would bring me to this point of sacrifice and response.
Equal sacrifice, not equal gifts. Like Fr. Cody, I too am called to sacrifice. Unlike Fr. Cody, I am able to give much more monetarily than he. Yet both of us, along with our witness speakers Jamie and Jessie Oakland, Sonia and Christophe Allen, Terezia Marlow, Chris and Erika Peterson, Celina and Patrick Mendel and all of you are called to sacrifice, to share in this challenge together. No one of us can do alone what we can accomplish together.
Would the folks at the ends of the pews please take and then pass to those sitting next to you a commitment card as well as the tub of pencils.
For those of you who have already made a financial commitment for the next three years over and above your regular stewardship, thank you. For those who have yet to do so, please take the time right now to fill in your name and address.
Before you make a monetary pledge, remember, no gift is insignificant. $1 a day over three years is over $1,000. $10 a week for 156 weeks becomes a significant gift. For some, this will be a true sacrifice, for other not. We ought to give accordingly.
What we ask is equal sacrifice, not equal gift, that our commitment would in some way impact our lifestyle and enable us to grow in faith and trust in God’s providence in our lives. Our hope is that every parishioner, every household will participate in some way.
Please take a moment now and fill in an amount and how you would like to fulfill it – weekly, monthly, other and if you would like to use online giving.
If you have any questions whatsoever, please see me after Mass. May God bless you for your generosity. Fear not.