Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't Just Stand There! (Project Advance 2015)

Not long after my ordination to the priesthood, I visited a beautiful new church. The congregation had waited many years to build it, but at last got the funds they needed by selling some land beside the parish. They got a really good price which solved their money problems.
A week later I was chatting with Archbishop James Carney—who, among his other distinctions, was probably the only Archbishop of Vancouver who had been pastor of a parish. Indeed, he had built Corpus Christi church in South Vancouver.
“Boy,” I exclaimed. “That parish was sure lucky. One land deal and they got their church.”
The archbishop gave me one of his trademarked withering looks.
“Father,” he said, “they weren’t lucky at all. They lost years of sacrifice and community-building by getting their church the easy way.”
It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Parishes don’t raise money just to do things: it’s one of the things we do.
Supporting your parish doesn’t just help our congregation, it helps your spiritual life. 
Protestants seem to understand this better than we do.  Luther famously said that there are three conversions every person must experience: a conversion of the head, of the heart and of the purse. 
Billy Graham put it a little differently when he said “there is no clearer indication of a person’s ethical priorities than their cheque book.” 
And the wisest of us all said in the Sermon on the Mount: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We’re delighted on this great feast of the Ascension to have with us Bishop Mark Hagemoen from the missionary diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. It’s a shame he’s not preaching, though, since I know he would have his own way of looking at our first reading, where the angels ask the disciples “why do you stand looking upward to heaven?”
Bishop Mark would almost certainly interpret this as “Don’t just stand there, do something!”
Christianity is an active faith, not a passive one. We’re called to act, and we’re given power to act.
But not all of us are called to the same thing. The second reading tells us that there are many different jobs to be done in the Body of Christ, and we all recall where St. Paul reminds us elsewhere that there are many gifts given to us for these purposes.
The key thing is that no-one is called to be a spectator in the Church. Well, I take that back. There are a few. Their parents are keeping them busy in the crying room.
I’m not going to belabor this point. You know it, the Bible proves it, and I’ve spoken about it many times. We all must contribute to the accomplishment of the mission Christ gave the Church as he ascended to the Father: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
In our parish, there is a young man obeying this command by studying for the priesthood. Another’s on the altar today. There are three young people doing so as Catholic Christian Outreach missionaries. We have catechists, baptismal preparation instructors, Alpha volunteers, teachers and all kinds of generous parishioners working hard to spread the Gospel.
But there are folks whose responsibilities make it hard to be on the front line.  Catholic parents can be too busy creating the future Church to become fully involved in evangelization work; some parishioners face challenges from age or mobility. And others face major demands at school or work.
So how do we all participate in the mission? From the very beginning of the Church, one way has been by offering material support. The Holy Spirit enriches the Church with gifts, but not with riches. Part of our baptismal call is supporting financially the work of the Church,
Unlike the call to teach or to preach, this call is for each one of us, according to our means. Like every other parishioner, I’m expected to use Sunday envelopes, and I do. And every year, I donate to Project Advance.
The Sunday collection pays the bills for Christ the Redeemer Parish.  But that’s all it does. Our regular income has little or no surplus, as you’ll see when we provide the financial report next month. We depend on special collections like the one today for Nepal to help those most in need. And we depend on Project Advance for everything else.
Project Advance helped to build our church twenty five years ago and to rebuild our school in 2004.  Project Advance made it possible for us to commit well over half a million dollars to the first phase of reconstruction at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Project Advance helped our young adults attend World Youth Day in Spain in 2011, and it will do the same next year’s World Youth Day in Poland. We’ve supported our brothers and sisters in Sudan and in the northern Diocese of Whitehorse thanks to your generous support in past years.
More recently, the campaign has helped closer to home. Our washrooms have been renovated, and leaking roofs repaired. The back outside wall of the church has been redone, just in time to avoid significant water damage.
This work was necessary stewardship of our beautiful buildings, not cosmetic upgrades. And it’s not finished, which is why we’ve continued last year’s theme of “Rebuild my church,” taken from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Practical projects may not pull at your heartstrings. But they are an important part of the mission of the Church. Jesus told us to baptize. Where do we do that? In the parking lot?
And to baptize we must first instruct, whether it’s parents or adult converts. We do that indoors as well, and if this year’s Project Advance is the success we hope for, there will soon be efficient projection equipment in all the meeting rooms to support the work of adult faith formation.
Brother and sisters, Jesus has ordered us to go into the whole world and proclaim the good news. But where do we start? This morning/afternoon I suggest we start here, right here where you are sitting. Our “going out” must begin somewhere if it’s to mean anything at all.
One way to begin is by making a gift or pledge today to Project Advance. As the bulletin explains, no gift is too small, because no person here is not called to the mission Christ has given to each and every one of the baptized.  

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