We are firmly into the holy season of Lent. As the minister imposed the ashes on our foreheads, he/she said: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel!” The mark of the ashes on our foreheads reminds us that we want to put on an attitude of humble submission and sincere sorrow. The word used in the Scriptures for conversion is “metanoia” which means “change of heart.” The project of Lent is all about change – change of heart, change of attitude and change of behavior. During this time of grace we seek to move away from our sinful ways and align ourselves with the standards of the Gospel.
This past weekend more than two hundred of our young men and women opened their hearts to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They were confirmed in the faith. Having lived their Catholic faith for the past fourteen or so years, they declared publicly that they want to follow Jesus with all their hearts. Let us pray for each one of them that they will continue to shelter and make flourish the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
As many of you know, I just got back from India after making my annual visit to my family. Even though I was away for two weeks, the time was short because two days went in travel. Returning from India I was in airplanes and airports for over 27 hours before I reached my home here. While I was in line to board the plane at Frankfurt airport, I ran into one of our parishioners. What are the odds that someone would recognize me on another continent! I learned my lesson that I cannot get into trouble even across the ocean.
During my stay at home, I noticed how India has changed over the last fifteen years or so. Because of the IT industry and out-sourcing, millions of Indians have migrated into the middle class. In my own city, four huge shopping malls have sprung up and those are the favorite places my nieces frequent. These malls are stacked with upscale stores that we find anywhere here in the US or in Europe. I was surprised by the ease with which people spend money. At the same time a huge section of the population – between 50 and 60 percent – remains abjectly poor. Almost 600 million Indians live on less than a dollar a day. This dire statistic left me speechless.
Just as in India, these kinds of disparities exist within the Church. Even within our archdiocese while we are blessed to be financially strong, many schools and parishes struggle to keep their doors open. Many parishes cannot afford to repair buildings or to fix their heating and cooling systems for want of funds. Many ministries cannot survive without the help of stronger parishes. This is where the diocesan appeal comes in.
Every year when the Annual Catholic Appeal comes around we are reminded that we are part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. It is that time of the year again. The Cardinal, our shepherd, approaches us on behalf of many parishes, schools and communities that lack the resources that we here at St Paul’s can take for granted. The archdiocesan leadership has taken steps to trim the bureaucracy and reduce spending. Whether it is the department of canonical services or the legal department or the office for Catholic schools, we could not function without their help. The central offices have been particularly helpful over the last couple of years as we finished one capital project after the other.
We will be taking pledges to the Annual Catholic Appeal the weekend of February 18/19 and I encourage you to be as generous as possible. I am sure you give to many causes and organizations. As we say, however, charity begins at home. We try to help our own family and everyone in our diocese is family to us. The theme of this year’s appeal is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Following these words of the Master, let us give of our resources to help those who have so little.
In the past we have been a very generous parish in this regard. We have always exceeded our goal. I am encouraging you to continue to do what you have done in the past. I would invite those of you who have not given in the past to consider giving this year. The needs are many but worthy of our support.
I do have a selfish motive in encouraging your generosity. As you know, whenever a parish exceeds its set goal, the surplus money comes back to the parish. Thanks to your bounty, using the surplus we have been able to take care of certain needs and complete certain projects in the last few years.
Believe me, when I was in the seminary I hoped that I would not have to ask my parishioners for money. And yet, once I became pastor I realized that we do need money. St Theresa of Avila who was a wise woman said: “I alone can do nothing. Jesus and I can do many things. Jesus, I and money can do everything.” She is a doctor of the Church. She should know what she is talking about.
I leave you with the words of our shepherd, Blase Cardinal Cupich:
All of us in the Church need to be grateful for the ways that God is renewing the Church in our time. The leadership of Pope Francis and our own local efforts promise to reinvigorate our life together as God’s people and our mission in the world. Ultimately, the energy for this renewal stems from love, the same love echoed in the theme of this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. With love, the Annual Catholic Appeal enables us to connect with each other and take responsibility for each other. The Annual Catholic Appeal makes our love of neighbor real and close. The Appeal helps to sustain Catholic schools and parishes, support programs of religious education, ministerial formation and the many initiatives for the protection of life and the promotion of peace and justice. Through Catholic Relief Services, the Appeal also funds loving help to neighbors who are far away but who are our neighbors in need. Join me and many others across the Archdiocese to express our love, our connection and our responsibility for one another.
May the God who knows the heart reward you abundantly for your gift to the Appeal! The prayers of the cardinal and of our parish will sustain you.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...