Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends (28th Sunday, Year B)

I got a little bit emotional listening to a Canadian politician the other day. It’s been a long time since that happened!

During my political youth, I listened spellbound from the gallery of the House of Commons to legendary figures like John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau. But on Friday, I listened with equal admiration to Stephen Harper—singing a Beatles’ song!*

And, believe it or not, I was moved by the song and by the singer. (I can’t say his piano-playing did that much for me!)

When it was written, “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” was probably about drugs. But it is also a modern anthem to the fact that we can do nothing alone. In this light, it can be seen as a hymn to community—to our basic human need for others.

And when a Prime Minister who is considered by many to be a bit of a loner, who rarely hears a flattering word from the media, can take to the stage in front of the Ottawa elite, you have to figure he might just mean what he’s singing.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I thank the Prime Minister for his moment of vulnerability, and for accidentally reminding us of one of the central truths of Christian faith: we can’t live it on our own. We get by, with a little help from our friends.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord are one of the greatest gifts God gives to us. Jesus promises Peter he will not lack brothers and sisters just because he has left home to follow Him. The Church is a family—a big and sometimes dysfunctional family—but a family nonetheless. Experts say that the first sign of a healthy parish is the sense of belonging.

Each brick of this building and the school next door tells a story of belonging. The generosity and sacrifice of individuals made it possible, while the recent renovations remind us that the story of stewardship continues.

The parish spiritual committee suggested that Thanksgiving weekend would be a good time to pray and give thanks for the benefactors, living and dead, who built and sustain our community.

I wonder whether the committee had read today’s Gospel before they got this idea. Because whether you call them benefactors, donors or stewards, those who made and make this church possible are first and foremost our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are men and women who felt part of a parish family. It is rarely philanthropy or community service that prompts people to support a parish; it’s usually the sense of belonging that gives birth to stewardship.

Do you know, for instance, that one of the largest donors to our parish is someone who has been unable to attend Mass here for years?

Our Gospel gives another reason why we should be thankful to those whose sacrifices built and sustain our parish. Many of them display the spirit of detachment from this world’s goods to which Jesus invited the rich young man. Whether in a family or in a parish, sacrificial giving means letting go.

Sometimes it means letting go of money. Benefactors of our parish have asked themselves the tough question “What do you own and what owns you?” And their answer was stewardship and sharing their resources.

But let’s never forget that a parish needs much more than money: the stewardship formula of time, talent and treasure puts the financial in third place. One of the best parts of being a pastor is watching our small army of volunteers help people make the jump from being “members” of the parish to being brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wish there were time to tell some stories, but I can only say that those who organize and perform the many ministries of the parish, those who serve coffee, those who calm down the parking lot, those who calm down the pastor—all of these and more are helping Christ fulfill his promise to Peter. They’re helping Christ provide brothers and sisters for each one of us. There are no only children in the Body of Christ.

On this Thanksgiving Day, our first priority is to thank God for His many blessings, and to renew our commitment to share them with others. But let’s make it our special prayer to thank God for those who have shared with us.

We do much more than “get by,” and we receive much more than "a little help" from our friends. They are a sign of God’s love for us, and part of the promised reward for those who follow Christ.

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