7th Sunday of Easter C
This week we hear some wonderful and indeed startling things from Jesus in the Gospel as we “listen in” on his prayer to the Father. To begin with, Jesus is praying for us with all his soul. We are absolutely central in his life. No parent could pray with more fervency for their children than Jesus does for us. And what he says is remarkable. Jesus prays, “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.” Jesus promises to be as close to us as he is with his heavenly Father! “And I have given them the glory you gave me.” Ours is not a diminished grace of Christ for God does not know how to give in half measures. Jesus has given us everything he has received from God. And finally, Jesus says, “Father, they are your gift to me.” Jesus delights in this unruly people of God. He literally glories in his relationship with us.
If we know and understand the depth of God’s love for us, we will not doubt God or ourselves. We are stronger, braver and more joyful than we could ever imagine. This is the best of the good news. But I have a frightening question. What is no one knew about how God loves us? What if the story of God’s grace went silent? For if the story is not shared, how will it transform lives?
That is the point of “Reigniting our Faith,” a $43 million dollar campaign to spark evangelization in the diocese of Albany about which you will be receive mail this week. Our goal is $1.127 million. (If any of you would like to give $1million, we can cover the rest.) When Bishop Scharfenberger proposed this campaign, he wanted something different. He wanted every aspect of it to touch the lives of people and the mission of the Church. Every penny spent must be related to welcoming people and inviting them to a closer relationship with God. Thirty percent of the money raised will go to the diocese for priorities that are important to all of us. We have a great influx of seminarians like our own Nathaniel who will hopefully sustain the Church for years to come, but they are expensive. At the other end of the spectrum, our “retired priests” are doing so much of the work. They deserve a decent pension to honor their service. And there is money set aside for Catholic Schools and faith formation, which is very dear to my heart. We need these funds to develop new ways of growing the faith so that our young people and adults are formed into the best of disciples.
This campaign is different from the Bishop’s Appeal as it funds new priorities. The Bishop’s Appeal supports the ongoing day to day work of the diocese, the people I work with a Vicar for Catholic Faith Formation and Education, who pour out their lives to bring our people closer to Christ. Your contribution to the Bishop’s Appeal allows this critical work to continue.
But I am most excited by the 70% coming to our parish. It will be a game changer. We will update our worship space with our first priority being our struggling sound system. The precious words we heard today do little good if they are not heard. We have enlisted the help of the man who does the sound systems when the Pope comes to the United States. And you can always hear the Pope! A new system will also enable us to have devices to enable the hard of hearing to participate fully in mass. We will also add screens to our church. I do not want everything word uttered written on those screens. We pray enough to screens in our daily lives. But how great would it have been to add an image of The Ascension last Thursday? It would be like adding a new stained glass window every week. We could also place new music up there and have announcement and birthday greetings before and after mass. We do not intend to make our worship space a rock venue. Our goal is to retain the feel of our church while have a look a newer generation might expect.
Another great priority is our school. When I die and am met by St. Peter at the gates of heaven, he will ask me why I should be allowed in. I will say. “Well, I was a priest.” And he will tell me that is not enough. Then I will share the story of our little miracle of our school. We take it seriously when Jesus said “Let the children come to me,” and he never asked if they were rich or poor. You can feel the difference when you walk in the door for our mission is not just to educate, but to love. Our school has a poverty rate of nearly 80%. Your generosity now and in the future ensures these kids will have a safe, loving and faith filled community. And if you can give a $1000 a year over the five year commitment period, you will have the opportunity to adopt a student, who will write you and let you know what is going on in school and their life. You can even meet them for they just don’t need your financial support, they need you.
Also, we want the things that make us feel like family. Wouldn’t it be great to have comfortable spaces to gather, talk about your week, and complain about the homily? Wouldn’t it be great if teens went to our lounge after school rather than Starbucks because it is cheaper and this is where they know they belong? A pavilion could be a great place for our families to meet and maybe even have outdoor weddings. And a van would be great for field trips, service excursions and best of all to provide a ride to church for those who want to be here but can no longer drive. Don’t they deserve that for all they have done for us?
Finally, we can make this word come alive. I have been blessed to hear some of the greatest speakers on our faith and it always moves me and opens a new window on God’s love. If we can bring those people here, it will touch and transform lives. And we have the best staff in the diocese. They should have the training and the professional opportunities to serve you better.
Imagine this gift of faith echoing for generations and new people hearing these words of grace anew. Imagine this light not fading away but dispelling the darkness. Imagine the peace of Christ enveloping his world and the forces of hate and violence forever banished. We can renew the mission. We can reignite our faith.