Sunday, November 16, 2014

Covenant of One: Week Three

The internet is full of pictures of headstones with funny epitaphs; my favorite was “Gone, but not forgiven.” Clearly not a happy marriage.

Other epitaphs never actually got chiseled in stone, which is probably just as well. The comedian W.C. Fields wanted his grave marker to say “I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” while the witty writer Dorothy Parker wanted “Excuse My Dust” on hers.

And Winston Churchill suggested “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

What would you like engraved on your headstone?

Whether you’re old or young, that’s an important question. So important that year after year the Church asks us to think about it, together with the other great questions of life and death.

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, our Sunday readings make us ponder what might be said about us after we’re gone. What will be chiseled on our headstones; what will we be remembered for?

Today’s readings offer some good ideas of what we should want as our legacy. The first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, tells of the ideal woman, gifted not just with physical attributes, but with gifts of ingenuity, hard work, generosity and love of others.

She’s a model of what is possible when someone uses their gifts and skills well. She shows what a difference good stewardship makes.

The Gospel takes up this theme in the parable of the three servants entrusted with their master’s talents. In this case, a talent was a coin of enormous value. To be entrusted with five, or two, or even one talent meant that you were entrusted with a small fortune.

As we listened to the Gospel, we might have sided with the man who just buried the talent and handed it back. After all, he did show some prudence and care in dealing with someone else’s property. As we know from the current economic climate, the cautious, and even timid, approach can often be the better path.

Yet Jesus turns the story upside down. In a surprising twist of events, the one who buried the talent ends up losing everything, including what was entrusted to him. It’s all taken away and given to the others—because only those who take risks in faith can be given greater responsibilities and ultimately be invited to share the Master’s joy.

So what is the moral of the parable to us? 

First of all, we need to take a look at the company this parable keeps in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s right in the middle of a series of passages where Jesus talks about the last judgment, that final return of the Master that will happen when we least expect it. So let’s not miss that message. Now is the time to invest in the Kingdom of God.

The second message is also obvious: God doesn’t merely ask for some kind of return on all that he has given to us: he expects it. Stewardship of his gifts is an obligation of each and every Christian, not an optional extra.

This Sunday we’re talking about the third and final part of the Covenant of One—the offering of one hour of income each week to the Church. An hour’s wages or, in other words, about one-fortieth of your income if you are retired.

It doesn’t sound like much—but if every parishioner made that covenant with the Lord we would be able to much more than we can at present. 

Our records show that the average weekly gift is significantly lower than what you’d estimate as an hourly wage in our region. We also know that many folks donate the same amount they did a decade ago, without adjusting for inflation or possible increased income.

And, of course, there are a number of people on whose remarkable generosity the parish relies more than we should need to.

The parish needs to be on a sounder financial footing. But I’m not going to talk about that, because that is not the reason why “treasure” is part of the “time, talent and treasure” formula. We do not give mainly because of the need, but because we need to give.
In my so-called ‘spare’ time, I chair the Canadian board of a Catholic charity called Renewal Ministries, devoted to evangelization and missionary work.

My predecessor as chairman of the Renewal Ministries board was the late Bishop Faber MacDonald. He was known and loved for many things, but particularly for his gifts as a fiddler. He presided at the wedding of the famous Cape Breton musician Natalie McMaster, and she in turn played at his funeral.

I'm not sure who told me the story – it was probably Bishop MacDonald himself – but many years ago he organized a fundraising event at which he fiddled in support of mother Theresa. He raised a whopping $35,000 for her work.

Sometime after he mailed the check, he had a very nice letter back from Mother Teresa in which she explained that she did not fundraise – and returned the money.

Blessed Teresa was not ungrateful; but she understood that within the household of faith offerings and gifts have a deep spiritual significance that is not to be compared with the world's way of raising money.

The first two aspects of our Covenant of One invited all of us to grow in faith through an hour of prayer and an hour of service. Today, strengthened by the message of the Gospel, we’re invited to grow in faith by the sacrifice of an hour of income.

The title of our Covenant of One hymn, “What Can I Give?” is not a rhetorical question. It’s a question that God, the giver of all good gifts, asks each and every one of us.

Next Sunday is the end of a liturgical year, and our parish feast day. Let’s prepare with prayer this week so we can make a fresh commitment of time, talent and treasure to Christ, our Master and our King.

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