Sunday, August 23, 2015

We reach the Garden, and eat from the Tree of Life (Sunday homily)

Triumph of the Cross, Tree of Life Mosaic; 12th Century; San Clemente, Rome.

We have three things to talk about today. 
This is the last of five homilies on the Mass. 
And we are remembering the dedication of our beautiful church. 
But we also have some business to wrap up 
with the Archdiocese’s “One Faith” campaign.

Let’s start with the Archdiocese “One Faith” campaign. 
You’ve heard things, seen things in the Telegraph or in our bulletin, 
or you’ve talked with someone about it. 

At this point, the ushers are passing out cards and pencils, 
which you’ll need in a moment. 

The Archbishop launched this drive last year 
to raise a very significant sum of money, 
in order to strengthen four major missions of the Archdiocese. 
His efforts are focused on education, vocations, 
retired priests, and assistance to those in need. 

The goal is $130 million, involving every parish, every Catholic, 
in the Archdiocese. 
Our parish goal toward that was $350,000.

It’s a lot of money. Where’s it going? 

Half will go to Catholic schools, 
as well as to support parish religious education efforts. 
Obviously, without a Catholic school here, 
this will not mean as much to us. 
But Catholic schools do play an important role in our archdiocese.

Sixteen million will go to support vocations to the priesthood. 
We have a growing number of seminarians – 
including three just from our parish! 
These funds will help lower the costs to our seminarians.

Thirteen million will fill a gap in the retirement fund for our priests. 
Ten million will strengthen the good work of Catholic Charities, 
and Catholic Social Services, 
in serving the poorest in our Archdiocese.

And then, 20% of the fund will come back to parishes for their needs. 
We will get a significant amount back ourselves. 

After discussing it with the Pastoral Council, 
those funds will be used, here, 
for a variety of repairs and maintenance issues – none critical – 
that we expect to come down the pike the next few years. 
For example, the parking lots are going to need some attention 
in the next few years, and that could be very costly.

The Archdiocese is about 2/3rds of the way to the goal, 
and our parish has actually exceeded the goal, 
with over $500,000 donated or pledged to date.
So, you might be wondering, OK, if we’ve reached our goal, 
why should anyone here give more?

Two reasons. First, because this is a project of the whole Archdiocese, 
the Archbishop is hoping everyone will take part, even if in a small way. 
Second, for every dollar beyond our goal, 
60 cents will come back to our parish. 

So at this point, you should have a card and a pencil. 
I’d like to explain what to do with it, briefly.
1. Please fill out the left side.
2. If you have already made a commitment to the campaign, 
simply check “Amen.” That’s all you need to do.
3. If you are ready to make a pledge, please check “yes.” 
Then please take a look at your options on the back side. 
You can make a pledge over several years, payable monthly, quarterly or annually, 
and mark it accordingly.
4. If you are still thinking about it, simply check “praying.”

When you’ve finished filling in the card, fold it in half, 
and put it in the collection when the time comes. 
And if you would return blank cards to the ends of the pews 
for the next Mass.

Now, let me pick up the thread from last Sunday. 
We were talking about the Eucharistic Prayer. 
And at the end of that prayer, the priest says this: 
“admit us, we beseech you, into their company”—
meaning the saints in heaven. 

And then, the priest lifts up the Body and Blood of the Lord 
toward God the Father, and prays, 
“through him, and with him, and in him”—that is, through Jesus—
“all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” 
At that moment, the priest is pleading – 
for you, and us, through the Sacrifice of Jesus – 
to enter heaven!

What happens next? We stand up and we are bold to pray, "Our Father.” 
We aren’t approaching God as slaves, but as children, at home!
The next prayers ask for protection and peace; 
and then we offer peace to each other. 
You may recall, in my prior homilies in this series, 
I described Mass as an ascent up God’s mountain. 
We heard that in the second reading, too: 
we’re on Mount Zion, approaching the “city of the living God.” 
And as we come to the last part of the Mass, 
we are right there, in the center of the “heavenly Jerusalem.” 

Do you think I mean, “in heaven,” as a metaphor? Symbolically?
No, I mean it quite literally. Yes, we’re also here on earth. 
We still have our trials to overcome.

This brings us to the importance of our celebration today, 
in which we remember the consecration of this church 
for sacred worship. 
This is what a church is supposed to be: an embassy of heaven, 
here on earth. 
And that makes you and me ambassadors of heaven. 

When Solomon built the temple, 
you will read in Scripture 
that the interior was decorated with trees and animals. 
In the first book of Kings, we learn that 
“The walls of the house on all sides 
of both the inner and the outer rooms 
had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers”; 
and later, we learn that some of the fixtures 
bore images of “lions (and) oxen,” and “pomegranates” and “lilies.”

Think about those details. 
What place does it sound like they were depicting? 
With trees, flowers, fruit, animals, angels…and God? 
That sounds like the Garden of Eden to me.

And recall that when humanity left the garden, 
they had eaten from the tree that brought death, 
but they had been prevented from eating from the tree of life.

So, when we come to the last part of the Mass, what do we do? 
What do we eat? Jesus told us: “I am the Bread of Life”!

Yes, when we are in Mass, we are in heaven. 
This place, this church, is truly a bit of heaven on earth! 
Jesus is here; the angels are here, the saints are here. 
Isn’t that heaven?

The one problem? You and I: we’re not fully heavenly. 
We’re not saints yet. 

So that’s why we have Mass here, every day. 
That’s why the doors are open, every day. 
Anyone who wants to be here all night? 
Let me know, we’ll do it. No problem. 
This is why we have a Sunday Mass obligation. 
It’s why we have confessions through the week. 

We come here to soak up as much of heaven as we can, and then? 
To take it with us. 
And the more heavenly we are, when we are at work, or at school, 
or with our families, neighbors and friends, 
the more people will ask: what exactly goes on at Saint Remy Church? What do they have?

We have heaven! And when the Mass is ended, 
we go to take heaven to the world.

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