Sunday, March 17, 2019

Let's make a deal...

          This weekend we made our "in-pew" commitments to our stewardship of treasure at St. Mary's Cathedral.  This homily led up to the collecting of the commitment pledge cards and presenting them at the altar.

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent – Cycle C
          Many of you, I’m sure, will remember the game show “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall.  It was a show that defined the genre, in many ways, and whose popularity extends into its reincarnation today, hosted now by Wayne Brady.  You’ll recall that the premise of the show was pretty simple: regular folk were gathered into the studio audience where Monte Hall passed through and chose persons randomly to offer them prizes and then the chance to trade those prizes for the possibility of winning prizes that were more valuable.
          For example: Monty would ask if anyone had a pair of eyelash tweezers and would give the first person he saw who had a pair $100.  Then he would proceed to deal with them, offering them something bigger of unknown value (something, perhaps, behind one of the big doors).  The big doors could hide prizes as valuable as cars or as worthless as a ride on a donkey around the parking lot after the show.  Thus, the crux of the show: will the person—who had nothing but a pair of eyelash tweezers to start with—give up the $100 for a chance to win something much more valuable, knowing that it could actually be something worthless; thus leaving them to go home having lost even the eyelash tweezers?
          Of course, there was never any way to know for sure what would be beyond those big doors.  Thus, the contestants would have to take a blind leap of faith that there was something valuable behind the door if they wanted the chance to take home a more valuable prize.  The fact that, more often than not, people did end up taking home more valuable prizes meant that the show remained wildly popular for a long time.
          The contestants on the show had to use blind faith if they wanted to win a big prize.  On the surface, that doesn’t seem too different from the deal that God was offering Abram in today’s first reading.
          The beginning of our reading lands us right in the middle of the conversation, it seems, where God invites Abram outside of his tent and says: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.  Just so … shall your descendents be.”  Perhaps our natural reaction is to think, “Abram would have seen thousands of stars… that would be a pretty impressive promise.”  When we keep reading, however, we realize that it wasn’t at night that God proposed this promise, but it was the middle of the day, because later in the reading it describes the day approaching sunset, indicating that the earlier part of the conversation must have been in the daytime.  Abram, therefore, couldn’t see the stars that God was asking him to count: rather, they were “hidden” behind the “big door” of the sky.
          So, when the reading says that “Abram put his faith in the Lord”, was it blind faith?  I don’t think so.  You see, on “Let’s Make a Deal” the contestants couldn’t know what was behind the door and, thus, were “blind” to whether or not it hid a valuable prize.  Abram, on the other hand, knew the vast quantity of stars that were out there: he had seen them.  And so, when God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, even though at that moment he couldn’t begin to count them (because he couldn’t see them), he knew that they were there and so his faith was not blind.  It’s as if God had said to him: “Just as you know that there is a vast quantity of stars out there, even though now you cannot see them, so, too, there is a vast quantity of descendants that will follow you, even though now you cannot see them.  And just as sure as you are that the stars will appear after the sun sets, so will these numerous descendants of yours appear after the sun has set on your life.”
          This, my brothers and sisters, is the essence of what faith is.  In the Letter to the Hebrews it says that “faith is the realization of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is “evidence”, it says.  Therefore, when “Abram put his faith in the Lord” it wasn’t just a good feeling that he had, but rather a conviction that supplied to him the evidence that his eyes could not give him.  “I cannot see my descendants,” he might have thought to himself, “but Faith convicts me that what the Lord says is true; thus, I will place my trust in him.”
          Faith, like Abram’s faith, has built and sustained this parish for 152-plus years.  Our ancestors… I use that term loosely here, meaning “those who have come before us”, since not all of us are direct descendants of those who founded this parish… our ancestors couldn’t see what would become of the parish they founded in 1866, but they put their faith in God that his promise to “multiply their descendants” would be fulfilled.  As their “spiritual offspring”, we maintain that legacy by continuing to put our faith in God: that what we have today can continue to grow and expand into future generations.
          Last weekend, we heard testimonials of how the presence of this parish and the dedication of its members have made a powerful and positive impact on the lives of others.  We heard from the Starr family, who moved away from their roots but found acceptance here; and, thus, fertile ground to plant themselves and establish their own roots.  We heard from Dianna Ping, who discovered in this community the saving grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ: a grace she just couldn’t find on her own.  And we heard from Rachel Witt, whose faith has been shaped and deepened as she engaged her work as a catechist: one of the many opportunities to exercise one’s discipleship here at Saint Mary’s.
          Friends, there are literally hundreds more stories like these among the members of this parish: perhaps you even have your own.  Every story is evidence of some instance in which members of Saint Mary’s put their faith in God and trusted in his promise to bring forth “descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky” from the trust that they have put in him.
          Every day, our school and religious education programs for young people impact families: inviting them to consider their faith more deeply and challenging them to live it out more fully.  Financial support to the school and tuition assistance to families is crucial to maintaining these ministries.  Our RCIA program and adult faith formation programs are invaluable for helping individuals to come into the Church and to solidify their place here.  Our subscription to and flocknote helps to add flexibility in faith formation and communication: meeting people according to their schedule, not ours.  Our support of outreach ministries like the Matrix Pregnancy Center, Lafayette Urban Ministries, and, of course, our sister parish in Haiti are just a few of the ways that our resources reach beyond our parish to impact those most in need.  Amidst all of this, we still maintain our sacred spaces and supply our liturgical ministries so that we, too, can continue to be fed by God in Word and Sacrament.
          To top it all off, 75 years ago our ancestors agreed that Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception would become the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception when the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana was newly formed: receiving in that the honor of housing the Bishop’s Chair (or cathedra), as well as the responsibility to be a beacon of Catholic Faith to everyone in north-central Indiana.  Your pride in having received this honor, as well as your commitment to fulfill this responsibility, is evident in the way that you support this church’s maintenance and regular renewal, as well as making it available to others.
          None of this would be possible on our expression of faith alone.  Rather, it is all made possible when we put our faith into action to support these and many other ministries with our time, talent, and treasure.  For this, I—who am, in many ways, still one of the newest members of Saint Mary’s and its legacy—am deeply grateful. ///
          In a few weeks Holy Week will be upon us.  One of the many highlights of Holy Week is the Chrism Mass that we host here.  Although the blessing of the Sacred Oils is often highlighted as the purpose of the Mass, one other equally important thing occurs: the priests of the diocese re-new their commitment to the priesthood and to serving the people of this diocese.  Yes, that means that every year I stand in this sanctuary with my brother priests and before our bishop to renew my commitment to the priesthood and, thus, to you, the people of the diocese.  It is a re-commitment that I take very seriously—I see it as the renewal of a sacred covenant between myself and God/His Church—and it is done out of my love for Christ and my love for all of you.  In that same spirit, I am asking you to join me this weekend in this yearly renewal of our covenant with God and his Church by renewing our commitments to support our parish.
          This past week you received your commitment cards in the mail.  I hope that you took the opportunity to prayerfully consider your commitment and that you remembered to bring your completed commitment card with you today.  If not, I will give you a few moments to fill out one of the blank cards in the pew.  Then, the ushers will come forward to collect the cards.  After they have been collected, we will bring them forward to be placed at the foot of the altar, signifying that we are uniting these sacrifices with the one, perfect sacrifice that Christ made for us when he died for us on the Cross: the sacrifice that is our proof that God has fulfilled every promise that he made to us.  I realize that some of you may not be able to increase your commitment this year—and that some of you may even need to decrease your commitment.  Please do not worry.  Placing my faith in God I trust that, through our prayerful consideration and commitment to sacrifice, God will, nonetheless, provide for all that we need.
          Once again, thank you for your faith: the faith that has made Christ’s presence among us real and tangible here at Saint Mary’s parish—now Saint Mary’s Cathedral—for more than 152 years.
          May Abraham, our father in faith, pray for us that God will make abundantly fruitful the faith that we put into action through our commitments today.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 16th & 17th, 2019

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