32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 7, 2018
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146:7-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
Giving Freely: “Helping” Dad
Saturday mornings are probably my favorite part of the week. And they’re my favorite because when I was growing up, they were the time when my siblings and I would get to work with my dad around the house. We would get up early and go to 8:00a.m. Mass, come home and have breakfast, and then spend the rest of the morning working around the house or the yard. One of the projects we did on those mornings was to plant several hundred trees on our property. I grew-up on ten acres, and so there was plenty of space to plant. If you go visit my parents’ house, the first thing you notice are the very large pine trees—most of which I helped plant. Another favorite was when we would fix the roof, because at six years old, getting to climb onto the roof is pretty awesome.
When I got older, though, I found out what was really going on: turns out that my dad didn’t really need my help for those projects after all; didn’t need my help. And that may sound mean—why would a father force his kids to work if they didn’t need to do it in the first place?—but really, my “help” was about something much deeper. My dad could easily have done those project by himself, and now that I think about it, he probably could have done them much better and much more quickly by himself. But by letting me work with him, by letting me “help” even though my help was very small and practically useless, he allowed me to be with him, to give freely of my (let’s face it) very-not-helpful help. I was six! I wasn’t helping. If anything I was gumming up the process! But in those moments, I was walking around like a big shot! I was tough stuff! Roofer extraordinaire! Being allowed to share in his life and work—and this is the point—being able to share in that brought me more fully alive. As I gave freely of my nothingness, he gave me a share in his life, bringing me more fully to life.
This is what our Gospel passage is getting at today. Jesus is at the Temple treasury watching people put in their coins, their tithe. And some people are putting in large amounts of money, and some others not so much. But there is one person who catches his eye: this poor widow who puts in two small coins. Here is a woman, a widow—a nobody in society—with no money. And yet she is the one Jesus points out. Why? Because she gets it. She realizes that it is not about what she gives or how much she gives—but about offering whatever she has to the Him, recklessly sharing her entire life and livelihood with the Lord, just like a child. Does God need her help, her literal two cents? No. Super unhelpful. But, in sharing her life, in freely giving, she is able to share in the life and work of God.
Clutching Fearfully: Apprehension About “Helping”
As I got older, as a teenager—and I’m sure you parents will be shocked by this—I didn’t like helping my dad with the work anymore. Sure, I would help every once in a while, or when he forced me to, or when I wanted to ask to go out later that evening. But I no longer saw it as an honor or a privilege to be able to help my dad. I wasn’t freely giving anything anymore—always looking for a repayment. I saw it as a burden, something I had to do. I had other things to do with my time and energy. I was too important to help my dad. But, by doing this, I missed the very reason that my dad wanted me to help in the first place: to share our lives, to work together. And instead of feeling more alive, I just felt constrained and boxed-in. But little did I know, that was my own fault.
This is the the other attitude Jesus is criticizing in our Gospel. The widow is giving everything she has, even though, practically speaking, it is useless. But the others, those who are wealthy, they give because they have to give, or because it makes them look good, or because they want to ask a favor. They give only from their surplus; they give because they don’t notice that the money is gone anyway. And because of it, they have missed the point altogether. They have forgotten that it is not about what they give or how much they give, but about giving it all to the Lord, recklessly sharing their entire life with the Lord, just like children.
It seems counter-intuitive! As we grow up, we have this idea that we will be happier and more satisfied the more that we hold onto the things we like, the more money we have, the more control we have over every part of our life. When really, just like when I was a child, the greatest joy came from simply sharing in life with my dad. It wasn’t about the work or my “help”; those were just the opportunity to share in my life. But again, as we get older, we start to cling to things, to clutch fearfully to our time and our money and our lives—worried that if we don’t we’re going to feel constrained and boxed in.
GIVEN: The Stewardship Way of Life
This Gospel really sets up the theme we’re going to be discussing the next three weeks, which is our renewal and recommitment to the Stewardship Way of Life. Show of hands: who did not grow up in the Diocese of Wichita? I grew up in this Diocese my whole life, and I had no clue just how blessed we were. It wasn’t until I went to seminary and started interacting with people from other dioceses across the United States and the world that I realized just how blessed we are. And people know it, people have heard of the Diocese of Wichita. “Oh, you’re from Wichita? That’s the Stewardship diocese, right?” And yes, it is. But what does that mean? “The Stewardship Diocese”?
Stewardship is pretty straightforward: Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor. A disciple who recognizes and receives, and shares. And because of disciples sharing generously, sacrificially and proportionally, there are countless blessings we can point to. Not to toot my own horn, but you’re looking at one! I would not be here today is not for the Stewardship Way of Life. The reason you’ve had a couple young priests is because there are so many of us running around! I was ordained in a class of ten, the class before me was a class of ten. There are twenty-nine priests in the Diocese of Wichita that have been ordained less than five years! And why? Because in living out the Stewardship Way of Life, a culture of sharing what we have received from the Lord—which means sharing not just our money, or our time, or our skills, but sharing our very lives—men have even offered their lives to God and to their neighbor.
One priest of the diocese who exemplifies this was born about an hour east of here in Pilsen, KS: Emil Kapaun. That’s who’s depicted in this beautiful Stewardship poster this year. As you look at the poster, three big things stand out to me: (of course) the Eucharist, front and center; the hands, the hands of the priest holding the Eucharist; and then the person wearing both his army uniform and his chasuble—Fr. Kapaun. As you know, Fr. Kapaun was a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, and served as a chaplain in the Army during the Korean War, and died there in a prisoner of war camp. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor. And almost miraculously was found and returned home to the Diocese just a few months ago, and is entombed at the Cathedral.
But what does Fr. Kapaun exemplify for us? Fr. Kapaun was a priest, yes—but first and foremost he was a disciple, a true Christian disciple! And he recognized the gifts that God had given to him, and he shared those gifts in love of God and neighbor, his fellow soldiers. In the harsh conditions of the war and the prison camp of Korea, Fr. Kapaun continued to give and to give and to give. And when you looked at him, when you saw this man in the camp, it didn’t look like much: he didn’t help them escape, or stage a revolt. He just made simple sacrifices each day, and was faithful in offering himself each and every day. But in doing that, in giving of himself, freely giving of himself each and every day—the Lord was able to do incredible things through him, and continues to do so even to this day! In the end, Fr. Kapaun literally gave his life, his own body. This wasn’t a man sharing from his surplus—he was sharing from his poverty, from his nothingness. And as the POW’s would say, he was more alive than anyone!
He Doesn’t Need Our Help, but He Delights In Our Free Gift
The Lord doesn’t need anything from us. But He desperately wants to give us everything, He desperately wants to share His life with us, the fullness of life! Just like my dad, just like he didn’t need my help, he still asked for it because it was then that he could share his life with me and I could share my life with him. This is what it is about, this is what our Lord is highlighting in our Gospel today! The Lord wants to give us the fullness of life, he wants us to become fully alive, but he can only do this if we allow him, if we are first willing to share our life with him, if we first entrust our entire life into his hands.
The question is: are you willing (in small ways) to recognize that everything is a gift, and to share those gifts in love of God and neighbor?
The Mass: Placing Everything In His Hands
At this Mass, and at every Mass, this is what we have the opportunity to do! We have the opportunity to place our lives in his hands, to renew our covenant with Him as he renews His covenant with us. On this altar is His sacrifice, His death on the cross, “This is my body, given up for you.”
We come here not to pray, not to get a nice message. We come to share in Jesus’ work, to share in this action of Jesus sharing himself, his life in love to God and neighbor; Jesus giving his body, his entire self to the Father and to us. We are here to share in that! And just like my dad, Jesus doesn’t need us in order to do his work, but when we share in that giving, when we give our lives to the Father through Him, with Him and in Him—we are brought more fully alive!
Here today, once again, we have the opportunity to give of our lives, to give ourselves over to the Lord. Here today, we once again place everything in His hands.