Why should I give?

We are in the opening scenes of John 6, and just like where we left off in Mark, the crowds have followed Jesus and gathered around him. Jesus wants to take care of the crowds and give them life. And Jesus responds to their need for food by feeding them through the loaves and the fish.  Over these next five weeks, we will hear the entire chapter of John 6, more commonly known as the Bread of Life discourse where he will teach and proclaim that He is the Bread of Life. 

Friends, the Church is zoning in on this one chapter to remind us that Jesus continues to feed the crowds today through the context of the Mass.  As the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself spiritually feeds us in the Eucharist!  John says that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining… When we hear this our minds immediately think of the Eucharist since we hear at every Mass, “he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them saying”. If we need any further proof that John is talking about the Eucharist consider these words in light of the other Gospels at the Last Supper:

    1. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’ (Matthew 26:26).
    2. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body’ (Mark 14:22).
    3. Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me (Luke 22:19).

Every early Christian would have made the connection between these last supper narratives and the words John used in the story of Christ feeding the five thousand.  It is undeniable, we are talking about the Eucharist.

If John is talking about the Eucharist and that is our focus in general for these next five weeks, then what is our particular focus for this weekend?  I believe the answer to that is the offertory.  Have you ever wondered why we both collect money at this point and have a family/or people of the community bring up the bread and wine?  This is not a stage production. This is not just something done to pass the time. 

Listen to these words from the instructions on the celebration of the Mass: At the time of the offertory, “the offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance.”

Carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance…(brief pause).  The purpose of the offertory is our time to intentionally give God thanks for the gifts he has given us. Its where we offer back the fruit of our labor to God. Further, it is where we, in faith, place our trust in God that He can take the little we have to offer and do something extraordinary! 

Okay, so by now you all must be thinking… “why is there a fridge next to Fr. Stephen?”  Well, I thought it might be fun to playfully consider what the priests could offer God this weekend… So let’s look inside. (have Danny go to the fridge and pull out each item one by one). 

Fr. Stephen: “Danny what’s the first thing you got.” 

Danny: “Skittles padre…”

Fr. Stephen:  “Oh no, we can’t give the skittles, those are my favorite… look for something else man.”

Danny:  “Alright.. well we have my espresso…you’re not going to make me give this away, are you???”

Fr. Stephen:  “Dude man, I don’t want to see what you become without your coffee. I’ll save you, we won’t give that away either. What else is in there?”

Danny: “we got Fr. Ton’s Fritos?”

Fr. Stephen: “Haha, lets not upset the pastor.  He likes those man.  Let’s save that for him.”

Danny: “We go some of Deacon Jim’s favorite potato chips!”

Fr. Stephen: No, let’s be good to the Deacon man, anything else in there?

Danny: “Aha!  I found a winner man!  Look at this we got ‘Leftovers’”!

Fr. Stephen: “Absolutely man! Boom! Winner! We’ll give the leftovers to God this weekend…Well done!” (Danny goes back to his seat).

All kidding aside, I believe God is inviting us to consider “What holds you and I back from giving to God and His Church?” Our readings name different destructive mentalities we can hold on to that can discourage us in our giving.

The first is this leftover mentality.  It is something we can all struggle with; including me.  When we are confronted with giving, most times we only do it at the end.  We look for what is left over. But this is contrary to what happens in our first reading.  We heard about a man who came to the Prophet Elisha offering twenty loaves of bread; which were from the firstfruits! One of the greatest roadblocks to our own personal giving is waiting to give that which is leftover.  If we do this, then we run the risk of running out and not having anything left to give God. 

But our Gospel also illustrates ways we can become discouraged in our giving.   The first comes from Philip.  Jesus asks where can we get enough food for the crowds and Philip responds despairingly, Lord, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little!” Friends, we know this way of thinking all too well.  All we have to do is think about our pending capital campaign. In all honesty,  I know that there have been times Fr. Tony, or myself, or anyone among you has thought, “6.2 million!  Really?  Even if we raised 2 million we only have enough to accomplish a little.” We see the need, but then we see the costs and we can become discouraged.  Just as Philip saw the need.  He saw the crowds.  He saw and agreed with Jesus; that they needed food, but Philip allowed himself to be discouraged, “Lord even if we had two hundred days wages, we still couldn’t provide for them.”  Because we are overwhelmed with how much we need, we tend to hold back because we think the amount, like Philip, is unattainable.

But the discouragement doesn’t end there.  Then we hear from Andrew. Andrew points to the boy and says, here is a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew also is discouraged but instead, because the gift is so small.  Lord, how can we provide for five thousand with only five loaves and two fish!?!  What does this mentality look like in our parish?  It looks something like this: “You know, I don’t make that much money… and what I have to give is not very much at all.  So, how could my gift do anything? What could my small gift really do for the parish?”

And finally, the last destructive mentality…. Thanks be to God, the boy offered the five loaves of bread and two fish, but imagine… What if the boy said to Jesus, “Hey man, this bread and these fish are for my family.   It’s not for those people.  If you take our food my family will suffer.” This is what I think would have been a normal response for somebody in the boy’s position.  “We were prepared, we shouldn’t suffer because they didn’t bring anything.  Because they didn’t give.  Or what if Christ said this to the Father?  What if our Lord would have said, “Heavenly Father, why should I give up my life for them? This doesn’t benefit me?  It’s too great of a cost!” Praise the Lord, Jesus didn’t say this…

I think all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have experienced each of these discouragements when we are asked to give to the Church.

Friends, these are mentalities that are easy for us all to slip into.  But here’s the thing, these mentalities are not consistent with the Christian way of life.  These mentalities are not Jesus’ mentality.  Saint Peter reminds us in his letter that the mentality of a Christian is one who recognizes that all that we have is a gift, and the gifts we have are meant to be shared for the good of all as good stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Praise God that Jesus had a different way of thinking!  Praise God that Jesus knew how to turn a small gift into a large one! And really, should we be surprised?  Think about it, our Lord Jesus already performed the greatest miracle ever: He is God and He became one of us.  Then he called the apostles, who were simple men and in the eyes of the world lacked talent.  And yet, they became the catalyst for the early Church to grow.  Then there is the gift of the Eucharist, where Jesus sends down his Holy Spirit and transforms simple bread and simple wine into his real presence so that he could spiritually feed us today.  Should we really doubt that he can transform our gifts into something amazing at this parish?

Brothers and Sister, imagine for a moment, just imagine… What good Jesus could accomplish through our parish if all of us gave in a way that was appropriate to our family.  I encourage any family’s here who have not been able to give ask yourself, “what could my family right now afford to give this parish?” Or if you are already an active giver, is God maybe inviting you to increase your giving by 1%? Here’s the point: Fr. Tony, myself, and the staff wants to offer so much more for this parish.  Imagine what God could do through the ministries of this parish if all of us confronted our own discouragements and had the courage and trust of the boy from the Gospel.  We, through God’s grace, could accomplish even more amazing things here at Our Lady of Consolation.


In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Am I Coachable?

So, my favorite sport is basketball. I love to watch basketball as much as. I like to play it. One of the funniest evenings over the past year was during March Madness. Fr. Tony came back in the evening, and saw another college basketball game on the TV. He said jokingly with a tone of seriousness, “Seriously man, again? Basketball again? Do you watch anything else?!?”

But anyway, I love basketball and one of my favorite players is Stephen Curry. Early on in Stephen Curry’s career, he was no where near the player he is today. And he asked his coaches this question: What do I need to do to become a better player? His coaches gave him two things specifically. They said, become a better defender, and a better ball handler. If you do that, you will be great. Today, he is maybe one of the most crafty ball handlers in the league, and he has become an above-average defender. His improvement in his dribbling skills enabled him to become the MVP caliber player he is today.

Ok, why I am talking about all of this? I think coaching is so important in sports. In professional sports, having the right coach can make the difference between having an average team and a contending team. So, what is that one quality that all excellent coaches share? They know how to give challenging and constructive feedback. They do not tell their players that everything is fine. Sure, they affirm the good, absolutely! But they also, challenge and demand that their players change bad habits, strengthen their weaknesses, so that they can reach their potential.

This is what Jeremiah is talking about today. Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. In other words, woe to those shepherds, who are like bad coaches. Who do not tell their flock what they need to hear. Worse yet, they cause confusion and cause their flock to scatter. A good example of this is a friend of mine from high school. He was good basketball player and had the talent to play on the high school team. Time and time again, his coach would say, “Great job!” And yet, my friend’s frustration would grow because he never really got a chance to play. Why? Well, really, because his coach did not tell him what he needed to improve. He was only told you’re doing well. You can see why he was frustrated… He needed his coach to help him see his weaknesses so he could improve. Shepherds are called to be good coaches. And that means good shepherds both affirm well and challenge well.

One question for us to consider this weekend is, “What do I expect of my parish priests?” And, more specifically, “what do I expect in my pastor’s homilies?” “Do I expect him to both challenge and affirm?” Before I go any further, I am not saying that priests should never preach on God’s love, or preach in uplifting ways, but if a priest is always giving homilies that are uplifting and proclaim God’s love, but never challenges his people, something is out of balance… He is called to both affirm and challenge. At times, homilies should point out bad behaviors that all of us can fall into. And homilies should challenge societal errors. Just like Stephen Curry, who needed his bad habits and weaknesses pointed out, we to need our spiritual leaders to do the same. If we as your priests don’t do this, then we are the people Jeremiah is talking to today. And then Jesus, does look down at all of you with pity, for the good people of God are [like] sheep without a shepherd.

With this in mind, I think we can consider two important things in our spiritual lives. First, I encourage all of us here, if we have ever heard a homily that was challenging, or that bothered you a bit, and it maybe left you a little angry with the priest, I invite you to reconsider that homily. What was it about that homily that bothered you? Is the Holy Spirit possibly convicting your conscience through that homily? And maybe, after considering this we will have a new admiration and respect for our shepherds, “Thank you Father, that you love us enough to challenge us even if its uncomfortable.” This is not easy for priests to do. Its much easier to avoid difficult topics, or topics that call people on to holiness. But here’s the thing, none of us should every feel like my friend from high school who couldn’t get playing time. None of us should never have to say, “I didn’t know that was a sin, or that this was wrong… Why didn’t someone ever tell me?”

The second thing for us to consider is this: Am I coachable? Am I, like Stephen Curry, willing to hear that I am not perfect, that I have flaws, and that these are being pointed out in my life so that I can do be better? Am I willing to hear that I have things I need to change, and that my pastor is called to point those things out for me.

This analogy works so well. All of us need good shepherds in our lives. All of us need people who are willing to say, “you know what, I love you, and I love you enough to tell you that you need to change this behavior, or bad habit.” If you do this, you will grow tremendously in your spiritual life. For this reason all priests are required to have a spiritual director, someone who challenges us to grow in virtue and to be more accountable. We can’t hold you to this standard if we don’t do it ourselves. Much like a player cannot become better unless he listens to the constructive feedback of his coach, we too cannot grow if we do not listen to out “spiritual coaches”; our good Shepherds.

So, friends, are you coachable?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

You are a Prophet!

I feel a particular closeness to Christ today… I’m happy to be home, here at Holy Family Parish where I grew up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people here are thinking like our people in the Gospel, where did he get all this… Isn’t he just Mary’s son?   And so, no prophet is welcome in his native place!  I certainly do not feel that way when I come home.  All kidding aside it is great to be here.  But something important for us to notice is that just because the people were unable to hear the Good News from Jesus didn’t stop Jesus from teaching.  Nor did it stop Ezekiel.  Though the generation he preached to was rebellious, he was still called to be a prophet, to speak God’s word, so that regardless, they will know a prophet was among them…

Who is a prophet? Biblical prophets are those who literally speak God’s words to his people.  Biblical prophets from the Old Testament usually addressed the bad behavior and infidelity of the Israelites.  Often they predicted that if they continued this behavior, these bad things will happen.  Often, they did not listen and the bad things did happen to the Israelites; hence, the reason people think of fortune-telling as the function of a prophet. But, the real function of a prophet is to speak God’s words to His people—often words that incited conversion.

Most of us here are baptized Christians.  This means that all of us have received three fundamental characteristics at our baptism; priests (one who prays to God), king (loving service to others), and prophet (one who speaks God’s words).  This weekend, we are invited to consider our identity as prophets. So, I invite all of us to reflect on this question: Are we responding to our call to be a prophet in our world today?

Two reasons that we avoid our prophetic task. The first reason we avoid our prophetic task is illustrated in our second reading from Saint Paul.  He confesses to us, I, Paul, might not become too elated, because…, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.  Paul is experiencing some battle with sin and the evil one.  He knows his weakness. All of us are like Paul, we are very familiar without weakness and capacity to sin.  This can be a deterrent for us when we feel called to prophesy.  We think, “how could I say something to that person when I myself have struggled with something similar?!?”  We feel like hypocrites Saint Paul tells us that is precisely in our experience of weakness, and our recognition of our need for God, that makes us qualified to prophesy.  This is what prevents us from pride.  Instead, we say to another out of love, and because of our own similar experiences, that he/she needs to change.

The other reason we avoid our prophetic task is that it puts us in the middle of conflict.  It’s easier to avoid the difficult conversations than to have them at all.  But here’s the thing, God might be using our voice to poke at the consciences of others.  As a priest, this is the most challenging aspect of preaching: “When should I challenge bad behaviors, sins, or societal sins (societal acceptance of abortion, deterioration of marriage, immigration policies etc.) in my homilies?”  There is a tension that exists here.  Some people in the pews want every homily to be about these issues.  Some people in the pews would rather that the homily never discusses these issues.  So the challenge for me is to discern, when does it make sense, in light of the Scriptures for that Sunday, for me to talk about these issues? The short answer is, there will be times when God will convict my heart and ask me to do this, and it will take courage to do so. 

Another example of how our prophetic task puts us in the middle of conflict is when we feel the need to challenge someone close to us.  For example, when someone in our family is struggling, maybe with substance abuse, they need someone close to them to say, “hey, we want to help you, because if we don’t address this, your life will continue to unravel.”  How sad it is when we don’t do this, and someone does spiral out of control. Or, another example that some parents experience.  A parent is disappointed that their child has decided to cohabitate with his/her significant other.  I have had many parents say to me, they are too afraid to say anything because they fear they will push away their child. This is the time to say something.  Too often we let the threat of conflict discourage us from prophesying to those in our lives.  

Friends, all of us, because of our baptism, are called to be prophets. We always have to do this with love, of course… But maybe God plans to use us and our own experience and relationship with a person, to help that person get back on the road to salvation.

And finally, not only are we called to be prophets for others in our lives, but we are also called to listen to the prophets sent into our lives.  Ezekiel shares with us in our first reading, Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist, for they are a rebellious house, they shall know that a prophet has been among them. These are some haunting words for us to consider from the prophet Ezekiel.  But the point is clear. We have been sent prophets, it is our duty to listen, no matter how challenging it may be.

So I close with this question for us to consider, How are we prophets for others, and are we listening to the prophets in our own lives?


In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen