“Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things!” Pope Francis
I have always disliked and have been uncomfortable speaking in public, at public events, and to groups of people. This includes preaching. Even more than preaching and speaking I really dislike the preparation. When I was studying for the priesthood the general rule that teachers of homiletics gave was for a ten-minute Sunday homily there had to be at least 2-3 hours of preparation. This was to include reading over the Sunday Scriptures several times, studying Biblical commentaries for background and insight, and possibly reading some contemporary preaching guides. You were to read the readings the Sunday before, pray, reflect, study and then compose. This sort of advice was lapped up by the eager but not by me. Who has time for all that stuff? Not me!
However, in my youth and naivete, I did actually try to prepare at least for big solemnities. In preparation for Pentecost Sunday about 27 years ago I did all the recommended “stuff.” I came up with ideas, but I ended up with so many I couldn’t manage to focus on just one central theme. How many gifts of the Holy Spirit are there? Do we receive them all or just some of them? How do we know if we have them?
Pentecost Sunday arrived, and I had no homily. In the sacristy I was still trying to come up with something to say – nothing! The procession began – nothing! We arrived at the sanctuary – nothing! Opening prayer, first reading, psalm, second reading, Deacon read the Gospel – nothing! I walked to the ambo and as I raised my empty head, and blank mind, and looked at the congregation I saw a man and his wife sitting in the second row of the Church.
The Christmas before this man came to see me at the rectory. He told me that his wife had told him not to buy her a Christmas gift that particular year. She said that she really had everything that she needed and that adding more stuff was just too much. She said to him that she wanted him to take the money to Fr. Ben and ask him to give it to another person in the parish. Now this other person was a single Mom. Not only did she have two children of her own, she had adopted three children who were her sisters, because, her sister was unable to cope with life.
This lady hadn’t been to Church for a long time but thought that it was important for the children to have a faith life and a religious formation. So, she started to go to a local church. However, she felt that the people at that particular church were embarrassed by her with so many children. She thought to herself, what Church could I go to where I would feel at home with so many children? So, she came to our Church and entered herself and the children into RCIA.
This lady was as poor as a church mouse, but she was a great Mom to these kids. They lived from “hand to mouth” as we say back home. The parishioner’s wife told her husband that she admired this lady and wanted him to give whatever he was going to spend on her Christmas gift to this lady so she could provide for the kids at Christmas. He was impressed and told her that he would forgo a gift also and combine the monies and pass that along. He arrived at the rectory and gave me a large sum of money to “pass along.” When I gave it to the lady she was moved to tears. She told me that no one had ever given her anything before and she thought she was invisible, that nobody saw her, nobody cared about her or her family. She couldn’t believe that someone recognized her and even admired her.
This man and his wife were sitting there in front of me. Then I noticed behind them another lady who had organized the parish to begin a food kitchen, and behind her a lady who had volunteered to be our new RCIA coordinator, there were people who taught in the CCD program, ran our youth club, served at Mass, ran the festival, there were teachers, church cleaners, all sorts of volunteers, as well as outstanding parents, husbands and wives, upright and generous people. In fact, the church was full of people who made a great difference in the church, the parish, and the community. All of these people were gifts of the Holy Spirit holding within themselves the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, every gift we needed as a parish, and as a community, God had given us and all those gifts were present at that Mass, in that church, on that day. And it is the same here for us at each of our churches in our community and family of faith. Every gift we need – we have. Let’s put them to good use and set our parish, our churches, our homes, and our community ablaze with the presence and life of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is offering us an opportunity to create something new. I have confidence that, in time, the Holy Spirit will reveal what God wants us to do. I know that everything we need God has already give us. I have conviction that you, who are a courageous people of faith, will respond so that we truly make a difference now and for the future. “With God all things are possible.” You, and your people, the generations before you, have built so much, achieved so much, created so much. If we could do that in the past when we had so little – what can we do now when we have so much?
I have been fortunate as a priest and pastor to have been surrounded by so many gifted, talented, and gorgeous people who have helped me in my priestly ministry. They have achieved great things for God in their own lives, marriages, families, homes, parishes and for the Kingdom of God. But I have to tell you I’m almost sixty years old. I have been a priest for almost thirty years. I have been a pastor here on the westside for five years. Looking back, I realize I have done so little, achieved so little, almost nothing. Now I have only a few years to put that right before I am called to meet God face to face. I don’t know about you, but I intend to make the few years I have left count for something, count for the Kingdom. I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m going to God empty handed, failing to give the full measure, failing to sacrifice all for Him and for you. I’m counting on you to help me do it, I’m counting on you to make all the difference.
Imagine what we can do if we are willing to imagine, to dream, to believe. Things don’t just happen, people make them happen, and now, that people is you.