Homily for January 27

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Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

Some folks criticize homilies for being too spiritual, too pious,
and not practical enough, not nitty-gritty and down-to-earth.
Well, the homily I’m about to preach
is about as practical as a homily can be.
In fact, when I’m through preaching it,
some folks may criticize me for being altogether too practical!

In today’s first scripture we met a Jewish priest named Ezra.
Ezra was a good priest, a wise priest, and as we heard,
he preached right from the book of the Lord’s law
and explained it all to his people.
Ezra preached from the Word, with his heart and with his mind.
I’d like to say I’m a priest in Ezra’s mold but I know of at least one time
when I wasn’t.

It was 15 years ago,
just when the people of Our Lady’s and St. Bernard’s
became Holy Family Parish.
I established a Buildings and Grounds Committee and charged them
with the work of surveying our parish properties
and reporting back to me on work that needed to be done.
Well, in addition to advising me about deferred maintenance,
they made a strong  recommendation that we sell
our new parish center rat 55 Church Street in West Concord
and relocate the parish offices to the rectory in Monument Square.

I responded to their report from my heart - but not from my mind.
I listened to my heart which told me this wasn’t the right thing to do.

There was a lot of hurt and anger in the community
over the closing of Our Lady’s Parish
and my heart wouldn’t allow me to let go space
we’d only recently moved in to.
The Buildings and Grounds people disagreed
but they understood why I was opposed to their recommendation.

Still, every couple of years,
they would come back to me with their plan,
a plan which eventually the Parish Council  and Finance Council
also began to endorse.

All this while I was living in the rectory across the street,
watching a long neglected structure  fall into even greater disrepair
and since I was living alone in two rooms on the second floor
of a three-story structure, I knew there was little sense
in renovating such an under-used space.

Finally, my mind caught up with my heart
and I faced the law of hard truth:
responsible stewardship of our parish properties required a change
- a major change.

And so began several years of discussion with the Town of Concord
which had expressed a keen interest in buying 55 Church Street.
In those negotiations I found that there is an institution
that moves as slowly as the Roman Catholic Church
- it’s called town government.

After many delays, we sold 55 Church to the town a year ago August
for a million 60 thousand dollars.
All of that money, every penny, is in our parish account.
(I told you this homily would be practical!)
That amount, however, is not sufficient to renovate the rectory
into the parish ministry center our parish needs.
Since selling the West Concord property, our parish offices
have been eating up valuable meeting and social space
on the lower level of the church.
It’s not a good use of that space
and it’s not a good space for the staff and the work we do there.
Our hope and our plan is to provide a space that warmly welcomes all
into the life and business of Holy Family Parish
in a setting that’s accessible, energy efficient, pleasant and functional.

The delays between finally adopting this plan and activating it
have, as you might guess, increased the price of the project.
While trying to plan how to fund this project
the archdiocese announced a fund raising campaign
called “Inspiring Hope.”
At first, I declined to participate, given what we were planning here,
but after further discussion with the Parish Council
and the Parish Finance Council, we decided to go with it.

Why did we do this at a time when so many still carry
so much anger and mistrust concerning the Archdiocese?
For five reasons.

This archdiocesan campaign is different than any other before it.
1) First of all, participating in this campaign is optional.
In fact I first declined participation but then decided otherwise.

2) In previous campaigns with the archdiocese
the split has been 80/20:
the archdiocese gets 80% of the proceeds, the parish gets about 20%
In this campaign that ratio is reversed:
the parish keeps 80% of the proceeds, the archdiocese 20%.

3) In this campaign, participating parishes get to decide
how the archdiocese will use its 20% share of what we raise.
We have decided that our 20% will be used in three ways:
- for social service works through Catholic Charities
- for the archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Care
which for 17 years has been serving the needs
of victims of clergy sexual abuse
- and for support of the Clergy Fund which cares for the support
of sick and retired priests.

4) The fourth reason I’ve chosen to participate is related to the third.
We live in Concord,  a community of great resources.
If we are going to raise substantial funds to serve our own community,
I believe we need, simultaneously, to be generous to those
with other needs, especially those with more compelling needs.
Like Jesus in the gospel, the Spirit is upon us, too,
anointing us to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind,
and to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

The 20% share of our fund raising going to support worthy causes    
will help us fulfill that mandate.

And reason number 5.
I understand, very well, the feelings of anger and hurt
that many harbor towards the Church.
Many people have left the Church and many of those who remain
refuse to give even a dollar to the church.
We have regular parishioners at Holy Family
who refuse to contribute even to the parish
because of our relationship with the larger church.

I understand these feelings.
But as a minister of the gospel, as “Ezra” in our community,
I’m called to call us to mending and healing
breaches in our relationships.

We are not some kind of “independent” Catholic parish.
Just as the Commonwealth cannot secede from the United States
without forfeiting its national identity and federal support and aid,
neither can a parish, nor its individual members secede,
even ideologically, from the larger Church.
We depend on the larger Church for our existence
and the larger Church depends on us, as a parish, for its existence.
We are, as the song says, “One Body.”
Or as St. Paul wrote to us in today’s second scripture:
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, "
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
"Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, "
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body, as he intended…
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it.

I hope that our participation in the archdiocesan campaign
can benefit us not only financially but also spiritually,
as a way to begin to heal the wounds that are ours
as members of the Body of Christ.

The goal for our campaign is 2 million dollars.
I have been meeting individually with some families in the parish
            and have already received their support for this project.
From about 20 households, we have over a million dollars committed.
That’s 20 households out of 1400 registered households in our parish.

Reaching our goal will enable us to
- re-purpose the rectory to a parish ministry center;
- to cover potential contingencies in construction;
- to  account for the 20% share to Catholic Charities,
the Office of Pastoral Care and the Clergy Fund;
- to cover what we would have taken in if we had run our usual
Grand Annual Collection this year;
- and to provide some seed money for the future restoration
of Monument Hall.

With both my heart and my mind
I believe in this project and the need for it
and with both my mind and my heart I hope and trust
that you will prayerfully consider participating in this effort.

As the Catholic community in Concord we are indeed fortunate
to have three prominent places in the heart of town:
our church, the rectory (soon to be the parish ministry center)
and Monument Hall.

Given this town’s religious history,
it’s almost miraculous that Concord’s Catholic community
holds the properties it does.
I hope for these properties to become more and more
a beacon and a magnet for people in Concord:
and a central place from which we minister, worship and grow.
Do you know that our parish St. Vincent de Paul Society
is, among all the other agencies in town,
the greatest provider of care to needy Concord families?

Do you know that well over 100 youth from our parish
were at the Christmas Tree Lighting,
circulating among the crowd of nearly 2000 people,
with trays of hot chocolate and cookies and passing out cards
with our Mass schedule for Christmas Eve and Day?

I dream of a new place as home for just such ministries
-and many more-
to flourish as we grow as the Catholic community in Concord.

I’m asking you to consider, pray over, discern making a sacrificial gift
which you can spread over a 5-year period.
I ask you that, knowing that in 5 months I’ll be leaving this parish.
So I want you to know that right now I am discerning
what my 5-year pledge will be.
I’ll be gone in 5 months but I’ll be financially supporting this effort
-with you- for the next 5 years.
I’m asking myself to make a truly sacrificial offering,
one which will make me feel its pinch.
And I’m asking you to do the same.
I tell you this simply as a sign of how much I believe in this effort.

A few families have told me they’re making their pledge
in gratitude for my ministry in Concord for the past 25 years.
I very much appreciate that
but whatever might move you to pledge and to give
- that’s fine with me!
If we all will take our own share of responsibility for this effort,
I have no doubt that we will succeed.

Let me conclude with those words we heard from St. Paul today:
God placed the parts of the body, each one of them, as he intended…
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it.

I pray we’ll share in this campaign, this project, this effort
as the many members of Christ’s one body,
in Holy Family Parish,
in the Roman Catholic Church.


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