In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we begin our Annual Catholic Appeal today. It’s the major fund-raising activity for the many ministries the Church conducts throughout the year. This is my homily for the beginning of the appeal.
On Monday, we were shocked to hear the news of the bombings at the finish of the Boston marathon. I’ve never run a marathon in my life but I have two sons who have. In fact one of my sons, Tim, the one who just got married will be running in the Nashville marathon next weekend. I’m more than a little concerned for his safety.
Even though I’ve never run a marathon, I’ve been at the finish line many times waiting for Tim, or his brother Patrick, or both of them to finish. Under normal circumstances it’s very chaotic at the finish line of a big race. You know where your runner is supposed to be, but in the confusion sometimes you just can’t find the person you’re looking for. All the runners are wrapped in aluminum foil blankets and they all look pretty much alike.
In spite of the chaos, the scene at the end of one of these long races is one of victory and excitement. The race may only take a few hours, but the runners have been training for months. Getting ready for a spring race means running hours and hours in the cold, in the rain, even in the snow. To finish the 26 plus miles of a marathon is quite an accomplishment no matter how long it takes. It’s a happy scene even amidst all the confusion.
I can only imagine what it must have been like in Boston on Monday. The excitement of accomplishing such a major goal was suddenly shattered by two bomb blasts. If you saw it on television you saw the sidewalks were red with the blood of the victims. There was mass confusion as runners looked for their loved ones and first responders rushed to help the victims. All over America people worried about whether their loved ones who were at the race were OK. Cell phone service was undependable as thousands of people tried to contact one another.
The news media, more interested in being first than in being right, floated all kinds of rumors. There were more bombs that didn’t explode. There were explosions in other parts of Boston. They had someone in custody. Or not!
If any good could come from such a tragedy it was the pictures of people who should have been running for their lives turning around and running TOWARD the explosions hoping to help others. Police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and just ordinary people were willing to risk their lives to help others. There’s a spirit of Christian charity in this country that no amount of terrorism is ever going to snuff out. They may crush our bodies, but they’ll never crush our spirit.
As if the Boston bombings weren’t enough bad news for one week, Wednesday evening a massive explosion in a Texas fertilizer plant killed dozens of people and injured dozens more. Again, if you can find a silver lining in the story it’s the number of people who rushed to help. In fact, on Thursday, officials were urging people not to come and help because they had all the help they needed.
We DO rally around when our brothers and sisters are in trouble. Whether it’s a hurricane, a tornado, or some man-made disaster, there are always people willing to pitch in, sometimes at great danger to themselves, to help those in need.
In the Gospel today Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” If we’ve learned anything this week it’s that our time on planet Earth is short and it could end at any time. I imagine those working and living in the fertilizer plant knew they were dealing with hazardous chemicals. They knew there is a certain amount of danger working in a place like that. But still, I doubt that any of them thought Wednesday morning that they would be called home before the day ended.
Other than dehydration and aches and pains, running is a fairly safe activity. Once in a while you’ll hear about a runner having a heart attack, but not very often. Sometimes you have to dodge cars when you run on the street, but most runners don’t expect to lose their lives enjoying their hobby. In fact, running is supposed to be good for you. Watching other people run should be even safer. I’ve stood at many a finish line and I never thought that what I was doing was particularly hazardous.
These are times when we really have to believe what Jesus tells us. He promises us eternal life; not just the few years we have in this life, but ETERNAL life. Frankly I don’t know how people who don’t believe that can get out of bed in the morning. If this is all there is, then we should be very, very afraid. There are terrorists who want to kill us. There are accidents around every corner. Storms, accidents, heart attacks, and cancer can strike at any time.
Jesus tells us not to worry. He tells us we’ll never perish. John writes in the second reading from Revelation that he saw people from every nation, race, people, and tongue, standing before the throne of the Lamb. He says, “They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.” That’s you and me! If we have faith in Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead, we can have eternal life.
I have to share this with you. After watching the news from Boston all afternoon Monday I got the news that a good friend of mine has cancer….again. The prognosis isn’t good. We just buried my neighbor a couple of weeks ago and now another friend is in serious jeopardy. Tuesday morning I was sitting here in church talking to Jesus. I spent my usual time telling Him how to do His job. You know, “Do this. Do that. Give me such and such.” But then I asked Him how we’re supposed to cope with all the bad things that are going on around us. I sat here in silence for a while then He answered me. Nothing complicated. Just two words, “TRUST ME!”
Not the answer I was hoping for. I was looking for something easy. I didn’t get it. TRUST HIM. That may be the hardest thing for most of us to do. I know I should do it but it’s just so darned hard. I want to be in control. I want to have all the answers. Me, me, me. That’s where I want to put my trust. But I should know by now, after all these years, that I’m the last one I should trust. I’ve proven over and over again that I’m not to be trusted. I constantly make mistakes.
But to trust Jesus means I have to turn my life over to Him. I have to take my hands off the wheel and let Him steer. That’s just not my nature. But nobody ever said that this life was going to be easy. The older I get the more frustrated I’m going to get if I don’t just put my life in His hands.
So, I got the message. If I (and you) trust in Him, everything will be all right. Planet Earth is NOT paradise. That comes later. This can be a wonderful place or it can be torture. We may live ninety great years then die in our sleep, or we might get a terrible disease and die young. Jesus will be with us either way. He has a plan and you and I aren’t going to find out what it is in this life.
Earlier I mentioned that we’re programmed to help one another in times of need. One way we do that is through the Annual Catholic Appeal. Besides the people in Boston and in West, TX, there are people right here in Saint Louis that need our help. When Jesus says to love one another, the ACA is one way to do it. I have a whole list of things that the money is used for, but I think you know most of that. If not, I’ll be glad to show you the list. I’d just like to say that there’s not a single person in this church who hasn’t benefited either directly or indirectly from the ministries funded by the ACA.
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary gets money from the ACA. The permanent diaconate office gets money from the ACA. Catholic Charities receives more than a million dollars each year from the ACA. Almost 40% of the money collected by the Annual appeal go to support Catholic education, both day schools and PSR. Right now Catholic Charities is working with families who were affected by the April 10 tornadoes. I hope none of us is ever in need of that kind of service, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if we need it.
A lot of the things that Jesus asks us to do go against our nature. He asks us to run TOWARD the explosion. He asks us to get our hands dirty. He asks us to get involved in things that we’d rather ignore, like poverty, or sickness, or crime. He asks us to give up some of our money when we’d rather spend it on ourselves.
But if we drive, we have to have car insurance. If we own a home we have homeowner’s insurance. We should all have health insurance and life insurance. We hate to pay the bills when they come, but when we need the coverage, we’re glad it’s there.
The ACA is the same thing. God willing, we’ll never need the vital services that the ACA pays for. But, if we do, it’s nice to know they’re there. Besides, Jesus calls us to help one another.
We’re a small community. Our ACA goal is very small and frankly, no one from the Archdiocese has ever said we weren’t doing enough. But our giving isn’t between us and the Archbishop. It’s between us and God. Before you fill in your pledge card I’d like you to consider one thing. This is an ANNUAL appeal. That means that your pledge covers an entire year. Think about your pledge. Divide it by 52. Is that all you can give per week? You don’t have to write one check. You can spread the payments out over the entire year. Jan and I write a quarterly check.
Please give this your prayerful consideration. I hate asking for money but this cause is too important to just let it slide. Father and I are here because of the generosity of others who have contributed to the appeal. If you, your kids, or your grandkids attended Catholic schools, they were helped by generous contributors to the ACA. If you or they played CYC sports, part of that money comes from the ACA.
Remember that God can’t be outdone in generosity. He’s given us everything we have. How much of it we give back to Him is up to us. When we go to meet Him face to face, will He thank us for doing all we could or will He ask us why we didn’t do more?