1st Reading — Jeremiah 17: 5-8
Jeremiah has prophesied doom for those who trust in human ways rather than in divine will. Some scholars suggest that this message was delivered during the 1st Babylonian invasion of Judah about 597 BC. Jeremiah might have been confronting King Zedekiah. This weak, puppet leader had ignored the prophet’s advice and made an alliance with Egypt against the Babylonians. Jeremiah tried to convince Zedekiah to forego all other alliances except their alliance with God. When his advice was ignored, Jeremiah used the image of the barren bush in the desert to portray the folly and futility of trusting in human allies. In the end, Jerusalem was destroyed and the king was put to death. Jeremiah lived among the ruins until forced into exile. It was only after his death that Jeremiah’s work bore fruit. His messages were scattered about like the captives in exile. Shortly after their return to rebuild Jerusalem, these messages began to be put together. (Celebration, Feb. 1998)
What do you think of Jeremiah’s caution that “cursed is anyone who trusts in human beings”? Is this just an outrageous statement that we can ignore or decide is outdated? Or – could it be that our sane, human ways of thinking may not always be God’s way? We often try to enlist God in the respectable ranks of human nature, the best, highest, and brightest of us. But God is not us. God is utterly beyond our words and concepts. Jeremiah certainly knew this in his own life and sufferings. As we’ll see in the gospel, even Jesus, who is God with us, has a view of human affairs thoroughly at odds with our own. Perhaps there is a higher wisdom that confounds all our categories. Paul in the next reading tries to give us hope and strength beyond our own flesh and wisdom. For Paul the new life of resurrection is the one indication of the unsearchable and incomprehensible ways of God. Here is the mystery of God’s creative love that saves us and can bring life out of death. God-in-Christ transforms all nature and earth. His message is that there is more than our humanity – otherwise the gospel we hear makes no sense. As we conform our lives to Christ, the mighty work of God becomes present in and with us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu/6OrdC021410/theword_engaged.html )
2nd Reading — I Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20
Paul vehemently claims that Jesus is more than just a ‘wisdom teacher’. Jesus rescues us from death, “the last enemy to be overcome”. The resurrection is not a fable; Paul insisted that it is a real historical event. It is not an illusion; it assures us that we are not living lives headed into nothingness or despair. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – not hardships, persecutions or even death itself. (Celebration, Feb. 11, 2007)
Reginald Fuller says this: Our hope in resurrection is not a philosophical opinion but an inference from present Christian experience. We are forgiven sinners. We have been brought into a new relationship with God through Christ, a relationship that, if it is real, must issue in an ultimate consummation beyond this present existence. Because God has shown us – revealed – given us his forgiving love in Christ nothing, not even death itself, can deprive us of that new life. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./6OrdC021410/theword_indepth.html )
The Gospel – Luke 6: 17, 20-26
“The Sermon on the Plain” — Compare with Matthew 5, “The Sermon on the Mount”
Just before this in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a paralyzed hand on the Sabbath and chooses the Twelve. Jesus LIVES what he teaches.
Mary in the beginning of Luke’s gospel (1:51-53) sing of God’s wisdom and goodness by claiming that “the hungry he has filled with good things, while the rich he has sent away empty.” Here in this gospel section, Jesus is furthering this major theme of Luke’s gospel: God’s ways are filled with surprise and reversals. God’s wisdom reverses, even subverts, human wisdom and expectations. Hardship, mourning, even persecution are no longer signs of God’s absence, but a way for God to break into our very lives. (Celebration, 2/98)
Remember when we read ‘rich’ in Luke, it really means ‘greedy’. In antiquity, a person became rich because that individual had power to take wealth from those who were weaker and unable to defend themselves. In this ancient world power was the means for acquiring wealth. To be poor was to be powerless. Culturally, a more appropriate translation of “rich” and “poor” in the Bible, therefore, would be “greedy” and “socially unfortunate.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus promises a reward from God for those who suffer these shameful experiences. The vast majority of people in the ancient world were poor — a condition brought about by greedy folk not by economic problems or laziness or bad luck. Jesus reminds us that God is the ultimate arbiter of what is true honor. God-given honor is the only honor that counts . . . (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
From John Foley, S.J.: We need to be open and empty in order to let God and others come in. If we want to love and be loved we need to have a space at the center of who we are. Jesus’ principle seems to run like this: you are blessed if you don’t cram yourself full . . . blessed are you if you stay empty, if you become a spacious home for God, for other human beings, for the long-suffering earth. We are built to be quiet receivers, people who know they are empty and yet patient. There is only one Being who can satisfy our deep capacity for love – only One who can feed us with the bread of life . . . blessed are you if you let go into his arms . . . (http://liturgy.slu.edu./6OrdC021410/reflections_foley.html )
Good afternoon – as Fr Bob said, my name is Dan O’Connell and I have been a member of St Kateri parish since my wife Jenny and I and our 3 kids moved to the area about 15 years ago. I have had the privilege to be a part of a number of ministries thru St Kateri in my time as a parishioner, the most notable I suppose is the role I had as head of the OLF pastoral council during the time of the merger between St Helen’s and OLF – it was a time of great change for both parishes but the experience allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for just how special both parishes – and now our merged parish is – both as a community of faith and as a community of service.
This past summer, Fr Bob asked me to take on a new role, that of heading our Admin and Finance Council. The Council has the responsibility to advise Fr Bob on all matters related to the sustainable functioning and long term financial health of the parish. If you have ever sat around your kitchen table w family and talked about how to pay bills or how to set your household budget, you have a pretty good sense of what the role of the Council is, but on a grander scale and with more complexity. Fortunately for me, the parish is blessed to have very talented, devoted and experienced people serving w me on the Council, who have the task of balancing the cold, hard realities of finance with sensitivity and purpose to fulfilling the parish’s mission as we deliberate on matters central to serving you and the surrounding community in all the parish’s works of faith. Likewise, St Kateri is so fortunate to have bright, talented and dedicated staff who have elected to shun a better payday to make their faith and their commitment to others their daily vocation. With all these people to lean on it was easy for me to accept Fr Bob’s request to serve on the council, and it is my role on the Council which brings me before you today.
The merger of our 2 parishes is now more than 6 years in the making. And though there was some anxiety and uncertainty about what the merger would bring I think you would agree with me that the merger has been a success by many measures. From my perspective, I see a vibrant faith community that has benefited from the combining of our resources as well as the melding of our talents, interests and perspectives. The parish truly accomplishes so much in serving so many. For many of us, St Kateri is what you experience every Sunday at weekly mass. I know I leave mass enriched by Fr Bob’s message, by the greetings of friends and acquaintances I see, by the smiling faces of parishioners I see engaged in welcoming conversation with others. In my new role I have come to better appreciate the parish as being so much more, to so many, and today, as Fr Bob did last week in enlightening us about fulfilling our faith commitment thru our wonderful school, I want to spend a few minutes sharing with you just how much the parish means to others beyond Sunday mass – and how we are able to sustain all of these works of faith.
As the finance guy, you might expect me to share a bunch of numbers with you, and I’m well armed to do just that. But before you head to the exits, let me assure you that it is not my intention to to read thru a budget statement or a balance sheet. The numbers I’d like to share with you focus more on what and how much we do as a parish – which is the reason why we do indeed create budgets and maintain income statements.
- The first number is 2,400 – that is the number of registered families in the parish, representing around 7,000 individuals – that’s larger than the town I grew up in
- Out of this population about 1,000 people attend mass weekly
- The number 9 represents the number of paid staff who run most of the programs we rely upon as members of the parish, not including the 40 staff and faculty who devote their careers to serving the students and parents of our school
- The school is not our only ministry – today we support approx 82 distinct ministries, which serve the needs of literally thousands of parishioners and the surrounding community, among these ministries are SICM, Bethesda House, Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, Bereavement Grp, Music, Eucharistic ministers, etc
- Serving the youth of our parish is a significant part of our ministerial work – beyond the 225 students enrolled in our school, we have nearly 500 young people from K-10th grade enrolled in either our FF or YM programs (over 700)
- The number 8 is significant as that represents the number of distinct building structures between both worship sites we use and maintain year round. It is privilege to have these space resources, especially when performing all of the parishes varied ministries
You see, numbers are just as important in telling the story of our mission as they are our financial health. So how are we doing financially as a parish? It may astound you to learn that St Kateri has a bigger annual budget than most small businesses in the area. Between the running of the school and the parish, it takes an annual budget of nearly $2.6M to maintain all of the daily activities and needs of the parish. It is even more astounding to think that we are able to meet this annual budget with nearly 100% support from you all sitting in front of me.
Although most observers would conclude that St Kateri is in good financial shape, over the past few years we have been witnessing a few concerning trends in our financial picture which we would like to address before they become more serious.
Regarding registered parishioners – yes, we are growing modestly, but with that comes a larger need for services, more wear and tear on facilities – more wear and tear on Fr Bob. And despite the modest increase in registered parishioners, our mass attendance is trending flat to slightly decreasing. This is important to us for several reasons, but from a finance perspective, it means that fewer people will be here to add to our offertory. Nearly 90% of our weekly giving comes from collected offertory during mass
Our ECEC has a waiting list of kids to enroll, and our enrollment at the school has stabilized after a few years of decline, but needs based tuition for our K-5 students is also increasing. Our financial support for the school in the form of tuition assistance makes it possible for the parish to provide many of these kids with a unique learning experience rooted in the catholic faith that would otherwise be unreachable for them or their parents. Student tuition assistance is largely subsidized by the parish, not the diocese as some may think. This places an obvious strain on our finances.
Cost increases are not unique to the school – over time, as we have grown as a parish, we’ve also needed to increase our spending to maintain all of the operational and capital needs of the 2 worship sites so that our parish can continue its mission-critical services to our congregation. I mentioned earlier that we have a bounty of physical resources in the form of building space spread across both worship sites. Not to overstate the obvious, but in order to keep these buildings safe and operating efficiently, they need to be heated, cooled, cleaned and require more significant capital expenditures when pipes or roofs leak, boilers fail, carpets wear out, sound systems falter, etc. Over time, our space needs may change, but for now we seem to need the space we have to meet usage demand.
As I have already alluded, one important way we sustain ourselves financially is through offertory, and while many parishes would be envious of the generosity of our congregants, we have seen a slight drop off in collections over the past year, despite an increase in registered parishioners. In fact our offertory collections – which represent the overwhelming source of revenue for the parish, is down 7% from last year. This has required us to spend down a significant portion of our savings to meet planned and unplanned expenses, some of which I noted earlier.
So after hearing all of this you may be wondering – what is my overall message to you?
- We are a vibrant community doing great things to fulfill the mission of our faith to our growing congregation and beyond
- While we are meeting our current financial obligations to support the parish and its many programs, we need to address the decline in offertory and replenish the savings we have expended to meet budget gaps over the past year or two
- We are working to better discern how we continue to thrive as a faith community with ever-increasing expenses as a fully member-supported parish
- We will be putting a good deal of energy and effort into coming up with ways to ensure the parish is financially sustainable and look to you as members of this community to continue your support of the vital mission we serve in our broader community
- And I ask those of you who are looking to help in special ways to support the great works of the parish to seek out Fr Bob, Larry Grimmer our Parish Manager, Tosha Grimmer or school principal, other staff and leaders of programs and talk to them about how you can lend support
When I was a kid growing up in St Peters parish in Utica, NY, we relied on Fr O’Brien, Sr Honora and a convent full of nuns to run the parish and the school I attended. Today, as we all know, we are living in a new era, and as the saying goes, it really does take a village to serve the disparate needs of so many, and I am personally grateful to Fr Bob and the parish for all it has done to fulfill the spiritual and other needs of my family over the past 15 years. I’m sure you are as well.
Finally, you will be hearing more about the state of the parish over the course of the year. In 2019 it is my goal to help Fr Bob and the staff make good financial decisions on behalf of the parish and its mission and I invite others to join me in this important cause.
Thank you for your time and may God’s blessings be upon you.
The first reading captures a common expectation that God appears to religious people (priest and prophet) in holy places (a temple). But the call of God also comes to sinful people (Peter) and in unexpected places (boats and crowds). Even to those who are actively and blindly persecuting the good (Paul). The call depends not on the individual or the place, but on the graciousness of God. This is very good news! (“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Henry Nouwen reminds us that in this fragmented world, our admitted woundedness and our willingness to make that woundedness available to others as a source of their healing, can be a powerful way for God to work in our lives and the lives of others. Isaiah, Peter, and Paul – all in many ways were wounded healers. Ask God to help you see your ‘woundedness’ and weaknesses as a source for his healing and love. (Celebrations, 2/04)
1st Reading — Isaiah 6: 1-2, 3-8
King Uzziah, also knows as Azariah, ruled Judah from 783 – 732BC). The account of his reign can be found in 2 Kings 15:1-7 (Ancient Israel, p. 166). It seems he died of leprosy, but ruled in a way that pleased the Lord.
This is a call story. Isaiah is being called to be a prophet for God. Whenever there is the presence of smoke, one knows that there is an observable manifestation of God. His “woe is me” reflected his fear and trembling at having seen the Lord. Isaiah saw the Lord, repented, and was commissioned by the heavenly court to go and proclaim Yahweh’s word. He went in peace and assurance (W&W, Birmingham, p. 359).
The three R’s happen here: Realization, Repentance and Readiness. There is an awareness that God is all holy, all good, all loving and all giving. Then there is an awareness of self as a person undeserving and yet totally in need of all that God is. With this full realization and repentance, the believer can now stand in readiness to be and to do all that his/her vocation will require (Celebrations, Feb 1998). How does this speak to you and your call?
2nd Reading -1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
How is Paul like Isaiah? Do you see the three R’s again?
This is probably the earliest written account of the resurrection.
From Living Liturgy, p. 54: A theophany or appearance of God always reveals our own sinfulness, but God’s focus is elsewhere – on call and mission. God sees humans as people, created good, who can respond to God’s invitation. Once Isaiah is cleansed, he responds eagerly. Once Peter overcomes his fear, he and many others leave everything and follow Jesus. Paul also overcomes his prejudices and ‘blindness’ once he comes to know the Risen Christ. God can transform us! The astonishing thing about the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are all made worthy simply because God calls. All we need to do is respond with our lives. Even the ordinary can hold the power and presence of God’s love. “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
From Introducing the New Testament, p. 301: We don’t know what Paul may have been referring to in saying “one born abnormally”. There are other times when he says he has a weak bodily presence (2 Corinthians 10:10) and having a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Some say he may have been short (the name Paul comes from Paulus, meaning small). A 2nd century writing says Paul was congenitally bowlegged. Tertullian (2nd-3rd century) said he had frequent headaches. Maybe it was his guilt over persecuting the church, or a speech impediment (2 Corinthians 10:10) or poor eyesight (Galatians 4:15; 6:11) or epilepsy (Acts 9: 3-4). It may just been simply out of humility, which is certainly the direction he continues to go in the rest of the pericope. Look this Lent for more on Paul!
The Gospel — Luke 5: 1-11
Notice the 3 R’s again. Peter was aware of Jesus’ presence, but he didn’t believe Him at first that they would catch fish in the deeper water. Once he repented for his doubt, Peter was ready to follow and respond to God’s will for him. How often do we not follow God’s will in our lives because we don’t think it is possible? How do we figure this out? The GOOD NEWS is that God believes in us anyway, despite our failings!
Peter was a fisherman who worked hard to provide food for others. Think about when you have fed or shared food with another person. How was God working in this ordinary situation?
Joseph Fitzmyer, a N. T. scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary! He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.” The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
There is also meaning in Jesus’ words “put out into the deep water” to lower their nets for a catch (v.4). Those who wish to bring people to God must be willing to venture into the deep, to unfamiliar and unchartered territories. It is important to go where the people are and draw them to God . . . Celebrations, Feb., 2004
All of our readings this week help us to think about our own inadequacies. Isaiah, Paul and Peter are not really reacting with shame as much as realism. In the midst of God’s presence and call they are profoundly aware of their own humanness and their real place in reality. This is what humility is – seeing ourselves clearly – we humans cannot save ourselves –no matter what. Their experience of God let them understand that they are far, far, far less than God. This is not bad for them or us; it is good. For now we can be called out of ourselves – and beyond our limitations! God can make us holy when we are open to God’s gracious love (grace). Our humanness is full of holes –like a sponge. We just need to soak up God-juice: grace – and cry out: “Here I am” Lord: catch me, fill me, send me! (J. Foley, SJ http://liturgy.alu.edu/5OrdC020710/reflections_foley.html + J. Kavanaugh, SJ, http://liturgy.alu.edu/5OrdC020710/theword_engaged.html)