Feast of St. Matthew

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Friends, this is a reprint from a blog post that I made on September 21, 2017. I only mention that because, a few paragraphs down, I wrote back then: ” Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew? “

Since that time, we walked away from everything we knew, leaving Wyoming, our children and their families, friends and neighbors because the Lord called us to do so.

Stewardship requires sacrifice, but mostly it requires faith. When we step into faith and do what the Lord asks, the rewards are great.

Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. Luke 6:38

Happy Feast of St. Matthew!

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This is a photo of the statue of Matthew the Evangelist, which has its home in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.  There are enormous statues of all 12 Apostles inside the Archbasilica.  On September 21, the feast of St. Matthew, it is entirely appropriate that we show only this one.

We all know Matthew was a tax collector.  In ancient Capernaum, tax collecting was not an honorable trade.  The collectors were a cross between loan sharks, thieves, bill collectors, and generally despised citizens.  They were also some of the richest people in town, and Matthew was likely no exception.

One day, while he was sitting at the customs house, Jesus came up to him.  He said “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him. (Mt. 9-9)

There was no argument from Matthew.  He never told Jesus that he had go clean up his house first, or that he could follow next Tuesday at 10.  He never talked about why he just couldn’t go right now because he had a vacation planned, or that he had to go get some groceries and feed his dog. He never said he had to take his kids to a soccer game on Sunday, and couldn’t possibly follow Jesus until later that week.

That’s it. No questions, no delays.  Jesus gave a command, and Matthew followed it.

And he got up and followed him.

I don’t know many – any – people who would do the same.  Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew?

Matthew understood what was going on.  Jesus said “Follow me” and Matthew did.  There were no subordinate clauses, or excuses, or conditions. Just “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him.

Stewardship is like that.  Jesus calls, we answer with a yes.  We don’t ask how many meetings we have to attend, or how long is our term, or if we will be compensated for any costs we bear.  Jesus wants us all, and he wants all of us.  So when the Jesus says to get up and follow him, we need to be like Matthew.

And he got up and followed him.

Beans

I’m new to Indiana.

After spending 35 years deeply embedded in the ways of Wyoming, its people, and its culture, I have undertaken a change that is awakening me to things I had never considered before.

Beans, for example.

There is a place just on the edge of Evansville, our new home, that offers some outstanding cycling opportunities.  (I love cycling. It has been an integral part of my life for … ever.)  The downside to this place is that I have to drive to it, as getting there on my bicycle would be a risky adventure due to lots of traffic between home and there.

Instead, I put my bike in the back of the car and drive to a dead-end road where I park and begin my ride.

This is not about cycling, though. It’s about beans.

And stewardship.

The field across from my parking spot is, like much of Indiana, covered in beans.  Oceans of beans.

Throughout the summer, I have been watching these beans grow.  In the early summer, they were just little green stems shooting up from the rich, black soil.  This time of year, they are starting to show their signs of readiness for harvesting, as their leaves change from bright green to yellow, eventually getting that fall brown color.  Here’s a short video on bean harvesting

Beans get planted with the anticipation they will grow to yield an abundant crop, providing a return for the farmer’s labors.

Stewardship works the same way.  God gives us everything we have, His gifts to us, the seeds to eternal life.  We have to plant them, care for them, and grow them so that we might reap an abundant harvest to return to Him.

Imagine a farmer who purchases seeds to grow his beans, but is so consumed with fear of the vagaries of farming – too much rain, too little rain, too cold, too hot, insects, problems with machinery – that he never plants the seeds.  Instead, he hides them in his barn where no harm will come to them.

Now, I am no farmer, but even I know if we don’t plant the seeds we have, nothing will grow and there will be no return on our investment.

The same with the gifts God has given us.  He commands us to take those gifts, use them in His glory, and return them with increase.  If we hide those gifts, storing them in the dark out of fear or laziness rather than growing them, the outlook for our eternity does not look so good. 

Jesus explains this pretty clearly when he shares the Parable of the Talents with His disciples.  In this familiar story, the master goes away and gives three of his servants some money, telling them to take care of it.  Upon his return, the master receives back from two of the servants the original investment with return, while the third one gave back only the original amount:

“It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more. His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

[Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’  Mt25: 24-30

When I reach the gates of heaven, the last thing I want to hear is “You wicked, lazy servant!” 

Let’s be like the bean farmer across from my parking spot.  Plant, care for, grow, harvest. 

Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”

St. Robert Bellarmine

The ceiling of St. Ignatius of Loyola church in Rome

Today is the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ, Doctor of the Church.

Brilliant man, defender of the Church. 

His most famous work is his three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. Bellarmine incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. “

Seems to me anytime one is incurring the anger of monarchists, one is doing the right thing. Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.

St. Robert Bellarmine’s remains are entombed in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The photo here is of a portion of the ceiling of that magnificent structure. What makes it look three dimensional are the painted shadows on the walls.

St. Robert Bellarmine, pray for us.

Why fundraising is not stewardship

Reprinted from The Message, Southwestern Indiana’s Catholic Community Newspaper

Last we left, dear reader, we were engaged in a discussion regarding a pastoral letter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992: “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” Part of this discussion focused on the idea that when we equate fundraising to stewardship, there is not much honesty in the discussion of either.

That concept is borne from a misunderstanding of the meanings of “stewardship” and “fundraising.” Even though those two terms are often used interchangeably, that is a mistake. Let’s clear the decks of our preconceived notions of fundraising and stewardship right now, and let’s start with fresh descriptions of each as they are presented in this groundbreaking letter from the bishops.

Fundraising

“Unlike stewardship, which is a way of life involving all aspects of an individual Christian’s daily life, fundraising is a very specific set of activities designed to support the mission and goals of a diocese, parish, or other church-related organization. Fundraising is a discipline. It is a planned and organized effort to find potential volunteers and donors, to build strong relationships, and to ask for gifts of time, talent, and treasure to support the fundraising organization’s specific mission and goals” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response).

Let’s say a parish wants to add a building for classrooms due to growth in parish membership. It’s a pretty straightforward process.

• A fundraising goal, based on need and capacity, is determined. In other words, how much will the building cost, and what is the reasonable expectation of how much money can be raised?
• Committees are created to handle the various duties of a fundraising campaign — marketing, mailing, calling, asking and organizing all the moving parts.
• Key members of the parish are recruited to serve on these committees.
• All the pieces are then put together, and the asks are made.
• Pledges are collected, money counted and classrooms built.

That’s it. It has a beginning and an end. It can be done internally or outsourced. While we need volunteers to act in a “spirit of stewardship,” once the campaign is over, they are free to go onto other things in life. All it requires is an interest in that one project.

Secular organizations do this kind of fundraising all the time. I regularly receive requests for money from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, asking
me to upgrade my membership or just to make an additional contribution. But that’s not stewardship because the RMEF is asking me to support its particular cause, not to commit my life to the foundation.

Stewardship

Stewardship is a different animal altogether. The bishops’ letter says a steward is “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”

This is the point where we recognize the difference between stewardship and fundraising.

Fundraising is an activity. Stewardship is a way of life.

Wow. That is radical thinking. Notice that nowhere in the definition of a steward does it say anything about money. That would be easy, to just get out our checkbooks and tick off that box. “Here’s my contribution, so I have fulfilled my stewardship requirement.”

What it says is far more comprehensive and demanding.

Stewardship requires us to embrace the truth that all gifts come from God. All. Total. Everything. Good and bad. No exceptions.

As stewards, God requires us to take care of those gifts, share them and return them with increase.

Fundraising allows degrees of ambivalence.

Stewardship is all in.

Stewardship transcends fundraising. Stewardship is to fundraising like the universe is to a single star or an ocean to a drop of water.

We are all called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, not His fundraising team. To be His disciples, we are to act as stewards of the gifts He has given. Lest we forget, even when we return those gifts with increase, God will never be outdone in generosity.

That’s honest. That’s radical.

St. Gregory the Great

There is a lot we know about St. Gregory the Great, a broad overview of which is seen in the passage below from a wonderful website called Evangelizo.org.

One thing it does not tell us is that virtually all we know about the life and history of St. Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism and Patron Saint of Europe, was told to us by St. Gregory the Great in a work called “The Second Dialogue (Life of St. Benedict).”

Born just a few years before the death of St. Benedict, St. Gregory the Great, while a monk, was no hermit. There is a fascinating story about him in Crisis magazine the I would encourage you to read.

Monk, nuncio, politician, teacher, peace-maker, biographer, pope, saint, doctor of the Church. St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

 SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT
Pope and Doctor of the Church
(540-604)

        Gregory was a Roman of noble birth, and while still young was governor of Rome. On his father’s death he gave his great wealth to the poor, turned his house on the Cœlian Hill into a monastery, which now bears his name, and for some years lived as a perfect monk.

        The Pope drew him from his seclusion to make him one of the seven deacons of Rome; and he did great service to the Church for many years as what we now call Nuncio to the Imperial court at Constantinople. While still a monk the saint was struck with some boys who were exposed for sale in Rome, and heard with sorrow that they were pagans. “And of what race are they?” he asked. “They are Angles.” “Worthy indeed to be Angels of God,” said he. “And of what province?” “Of Deira,” was the reply. “Truly must we rescue them from the wrath of God. And what is the name of their king?” “He is called Ella.” “It is well,” said Gregory; “Alleluia must be sung in their land to God.” He at once got leave from the Pope, and had set out to convert the English when the murmurs of the people led the Pope to recall him. Still the Angles were not forgotten, and one of the Saint’s first cares as Pope was to send from his own monastery St. Augustine and other monks to England.

        On the death of Pope Pelagius II., Gregory was compelled to take the government of the Church, and for fourteen years his pontificate was a perfect model of ecclesiastical rule. He healed schisms; revived discipline; saved Italy by converting the wild Arian Lombards who were laying it waste; aided in the conversion of the Spanish and French Goths, who were also Arians; and kindled anew in Britain the light of the Faith, which the English had put out in blood.

        He set in order the Church’s prayers and chant, guided and consoled her pastors with innumerable letters, and preached incessantly, most effectually by his own example.

        He died A. D. 604, worn out by austerities and toils; and the Church reckons him one of her four great doctors, and reveres him as St. Gregory the Great.

St. Gregory the Great

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

(John the Baptist’s) persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. (From a homily by St. Bede the Venerable)

It’s kind of funny how when I see something really, really striking for the first time, I think that it is a rare gem just discovered by me that nobody else knows about, only to learn that I was the ignorant one, not the rest of the world.

So it was with the sentence above, written by St. Bede the Venerable, an English Benedictine monk from the 8th century.  I was praying the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours on the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, deep into a commentary by our friend St. Bede when these words stopped me cold.

If you’ll recall, John the Baptist spoke out about Herod marrying the wife of Herod’s brother Phillip, telling him that it was “not lawful.”  For Herod and his illicit wife Herodias, that was terribly inconvenient and a real problem. To solve it, Herod had John beheaded, thus quieting the critic.

This is a hard truth for us as steward Disciples of Christ.  We are given the earthly task of caring for the gifts given to us by God, which is stewardship in a nutshell.  A great gift given us is the Truth – the Truth of God’s love and mercy for us, exemplified by the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  In our times of weakness, we can actively deny the Truth through our words, or, perhaps even worse, by our silence.

If we are witness to an affront of the Truth, unless we speak up, we are complicit with the crime – qui tacet consentire videtur, “he who is silent is taken to agree.” 

Solomon Burke, singer extraordinaire, recorded a song called “None of Us are Free” in which he soulfully sings “If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it’s right.” 

Between St. Bede and Solomon Burke, there are thousands of examples of this theme throughout history.  In addition to John the Baptist refusing to be silent, another saint comes to mind as well. 

St. Thomas More refused to be silent about Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and, like John the Baptist, had his head removed by an angry king.

As steward Disciples, we are tasked with defending the great gift of the Truth.  I often think about the martyrs and ask myself if I would have the faith and courage to defend the Truth with my life.  I pray that that would be so.

St. Bede was onto something big.  I Googled his sentence and discovered it was not some obscure uttering from an ancient monk, as I had originally thought.  Instead, it was a statement of truth about the Truth.   A statement that would be good for us to think about each and every day.

John the Baptist, pray for us.  St. Bede the Venerable, pray for us.

Our Lady of Knock

I can’t let August go into the history books without recognizing the memorial to Our Lady of Knock on August 21.  This is a great day of celebration to the people of the small town of Knock, Ireland, and to yours truly.

On August 21, 1879, an apparition of our Blessed Mother, along with St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and a lamb standing on an altar before a cross appeared on the side of the Knock Parish Church in a rainstorm  to 15 locals for about two hours.  The apparition was examined by two commissions of enquiry that deemed it to be true. Today Knock is one of the most important Marian sites in the world.

Fast forward to 2013, Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Yours truly was a sick man, suffering from an unknown malady that was causing extraordinary fatigue due to low oxygen levels in my blood. 

For many years, I had been a long-distance cyclist, taking part in 100-mile rides with thousands of feet of climbing, at high altitudes, and reveling in it all.  The mysterious illness ended those, however, as now I had a hard time walking up a flight of stairs.  When I did go up the stairs, I had to catch my breath at the top.

For a year, we – my wife Sherry and me – traveled to doctors in the region and across the country, seeking answers.  I had over 100 medical tests and procedures done in multiple medical facilities, and there were no answers forthcoming.  We knew no more after the hundredth procedure than we knew before the first one.

For all the advancements in medicine, there is still so much that is unknown about the human body, and I was living proof.  The docs kept telling me there was nothing wrong, but they couldn’t tell me why I could not walk up a dozen steps without having to rest at the top.

Nothing made sense, and the mystery was the source of great stress.  Sherry and I both witnessed the manifestations of this mysterious illness and were unsure whether or not something was killing me.  The best minds in medicine had no answers, and were unable to point us in a direction to find answers.

We needed a break. 

Sherry asked if we should visit our dear friend Ginny in County Clare, Ireland.  We had been there years earlier and carried wonderful memories from that trip with us.  I thought that was a great idea, and she set about searching for travel arrangements.

The first place she looked was into United Airlines frequent flyer miles.  We had acquired lots of miles over the years, but finding them for travel to Ireland, and on short notice, was next to impossible.  We both knew that, but it was worth examining nonetheless. 

Yet there they were.  Two tickets to Shannon in about a month.  We bought the tickets and got ready for the trip.

In the meantime, no improvement on my health.  Oxygen levels were still low, and I still had to rest when I went up the stairs.

Finally the day came for us to head across the ocean.  On the way to Denver International Airport from Cheyenne, I received a phone call from my good friend Tom asking if we were going to see the Marian shrine in Ireland.  Asking where it was, he offered that he didn’t know.  I told him we would look into it.

Our trip was unremarkable, and we arrived at Ginny’s doorstep in no worse shape than when we left.  She had errands to run in Limerick, so a little later that day we piled into her car for the short trip to town.

We went into a religious goods store looking for some St. Patrick medals to take home with us.  When we went to pay for the medals, there was a book at the checkout stand about Our Lady of Knock.  I mentioned to Sherry that this must be what Tom was talking about. 

We went to another religious goods store where the same process was repeated, this time with a different book about Our Lady of Knock.

The next day I was listening to Wyoming Public Radio via the internet when I heard a story about Knock, Ireland.  That was too much.  I went to Sherry and Ginny and said we need to go to Knock.

It turned out that Knock was just a couple hours away from us, so we made plans to drive there the next day.

The campus at Knock is huge.  We went to Mass in a chapel adjoining the church where the apparition was seen.  We went to confession in one of the 20+ confessionals in a building designed specifically for that purpose.  We prayed the Stations of the Cross outdoors with large crowds moving from station to station.  Then we prayed a rosary with another large crowd.

The rosary was led by a priest inside the church, broadcast over loudspeakers for those outside.  While he prayed, we did too, marching around the church counter-clockwise (a tradition in Knock) offering our prayers to God through Mary. 

Then it happened.

On one lap around the church, I felt something leave my chest.  Not an emotion, but a physical action.  Not painful or frightening, but more of an expansion followed by what I would describe as “space” in my chest cavity.  Something that used to be there was no longer.

I held onto this occurrence until we were back in the car on the way home.  I asked Ginny and Sherry about their experience at Knock. “Peaceful.” “Holy.”  “Very nice.” 

Then I told them what happened to me.  They both looked at me in disbelief.

My symptoms disappeared that day and have never returned.  That was six years ago.

A miracle?  Judge for yourself.  I believe it was. 

I also believe that these things happen every day, coming to light in a thousand different ways.  I’m not special, but I was primed to see this take place.  Most of us chalk it up to coincidence.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us. 

Our Hearts are Restless Until they Rest in You

August 28 is the memorial to St. Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Catholic Church.

St. Augustine is famous for his tremendous intellect and his gift as a great rhetorician.  His books such as Confessions and The City of God are wonderful testaments to the faith, and even though they were written many centuries in the past, are as relevant today as the day they were published.

St. Augustine is also famous for the fact that he was a bit of a rapscallion as a young man, chasing earthly pleasures and forgoing the Lord.  Living a life of excess, he was the object the fervent prayer of his mother, St. Monica.   Her hopes were in the conversion of her wayward son, that he would soon discover the love and joy of Jesus Christ.

Her prayers were like many of ours in that we ask for something to happen.  In her case it was for Augustine’s salvation.  Our prayer might be for the health of family and friends, a new job, or to sell a house. 

St. Augustine wrote about this kind of prayer in his letter to Proba, “a widow, rich and noble, and the mother of an illustrious family …” who had asked him for a discourse on prayer.  His response to her request is quite thorough, as one might expect. 

What he wrote in chapter nine of his letter, however, changed my view of prayer in a way I never thought possible.

“Therefore, when the Apostle says: Let your petitions become known before God, this should not be taken in the sense that they are in fact becoming known to God who certainly knew them before they were made, but that they are becoming known to us before God through submission and not before men through boasting.’”

God already knows our prayers before we pray them.  He knows both the background and the answer to our request.  Our prayers won’t change his mind, pleading as we might our case in the courts of heaven.  Rather, our prayers make us able to receive their answers.

In his book Confessions, St. Augustine tells us “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” In a great act of stewardship, we give the whole of our lives to God.  When we do that, then rest ourselves in the Lord, we find contentment. 

Finding peace and contentment in the Lord is available to us today, just as it was St. Augustine was preaching about it 1,600 years ago.

Kentucky

I know this is a blog about the Diocese of Evansville, yet here I am calling this entry “Kentucky.” Let me tell you why.

When I was attending St. Johns Catholic School in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we were given an assignment to find out about state other than Wisconsin. I chose Kentucky, as I was fascinated with Daniel Boone and wilderness of all sorts. For me, in my sheltered world, Kentucky was wilderness.

Those were the days before Google was a word. Our search engine was a book that had “Encylopedia Britannica” written on the cover. I discovered Frankfort was the capitol of Kentucky and sent a self addressed stamped envelope to some bureaucrat there and asked for help in preparing my paper.

They sent back some tourist information, a map, and other interesting things. I read every word of the printed material and vowed to visit Kentucky some day.

Here we are in 2019, some 50+ years later, and I have been to Kentucky three times in the last three months!

Two of those times were to attend retreats at the Mt. St. Joseph retreat center near Owensboro, run by a group of Ursuline sisters. This is a lovely place with a long and fascinating history. On the grounds is a cemetery, the final resting spot for sisters and priests from many years past who called the place their home.

The Ursuline sisters are models of stewardship. They care for the grounds and buildings of the center as though they were gifts from God Himself, which of course they are. More so, the sisters have given their very lives in service to the Lord and the People of God. They are true disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s what stewardship is.

If you get a chance to visit Mt. St. Joseph, you should do so. You can see for yourself the benefits of living a stewardship life.

Cemetery at Mt. St. Joseph

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