Message: Mission begins with gratitude.
This week I enter my fifth year as pastor of St. Mary of the Valley. It is a good time to ask: Why am I here? What does St. Mary of the Valley mean to me? And - What do I expect from you?
I would like to devote three homilies to those questions. I call it "Focus on Mission." Parts one, two and three. The theme of this first homily on mission is "gratitude." Mission begins with gratitude. Before addressing the meaning of gratitude, I would like to mention some things I am grateful for as your pastor. It might seem strange to mention this first, but I love our grounds and facilities. I am grateful for the faith and sacrifice of those who entrusted these facilities to us. I am grateful for our parish staff. When I came in 2009, I inherited a small, but enthusiastic staff. Since then I have added one new staff member and I grateful for all of them. And I am grateful for you, my parish family. I have been impressed by your Stewardship. I have no police force and I cannot levy a tax. Everything you give of your time, your abilities and your financial resources is a free gift. I know that you love me and you love St. Mary of the Valley and I am grateful for that love. I can honestly say, "I love you."
Gratitude is the basic Christian virtue. In some ways belief in God comes down to gratitude. The English poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti,said "the worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank." Of course, a person can avoid gratitude by always finding something wrong. You know the guy: no matter how good things are, he can find plenty to complain about. The Baby Boom Generation is a bit that way: No generation has had more things showered on us and perhaps no generation has been so unhappy. We lack gratitude.
Where does gratitude come from? Young have taught me a lot. A few months back we had an Eagle Scout Court of Honor that brought home to me the source of gratitude. At the ceremony the boys expressed their thanks to the adult leaders. The experiences they described involved being taken from relatively comfortable homes to sleep on the ground, get drenched with rain, walk on foot for miles and search for food such as wild berries and trout. The boys - with no offense to their moms - said those were the most wonderful meals they ever had.
And speaking of youth, a few years ago I took a group of young people to Europe for World Youth Day. At the end of our pilgrimage I asked them what they most gained from the experience. Many said it made them realize how much they had and all the things they would be thankful for when they returned. And what they most mentioned: yes, their mom's food!
We see something similar in today's Gospel. Jesus' disciples lived out in the open. They had no roof over them, no closets, no beds, no stoves, no storehouse of food. They relied on God and the hospitality of others. When Jesus sent them out, he insisted they go without money, extra clothes or food. He wanted them to live the most basic Christian virtue: gratitude.
A grateful person has joy. A man can have everything a be miserable - if he lacks gratitude. On the other hand, a person can face hardship and be joyful if he has a thankful heart.
We need gratitude to understand the Kingdom of god. Pope Benedict said that the Kingdom of God means that God is "the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting." By proclaiming the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells us three things: 1)God exists, 2) God really is God, and 3) "he holds in his hands the threads of the world." (I wish I had one of those projector the Evangelicals use.)
To accept the Kingdom of God requires gratitude. It is not something we create. It is God's work. He exists and he really is God and he holds in his hands the threads of the world.
The Kingdom is our goal. It means to accept God's rule in our lives. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
If we are going to follow Christ, if we are going allow God to rule in our lives, it will involve hardship - and even humiliation. Hardship - doing without certain things - is part of following Jesus. Like the experience of the Scouts, shared hardship can lead to gratitude and joy.
That was certainly the case with the apostles. Jesus sent them with nothing for the journey. Some welcomed them, but others threw stones and rejected them. The disciples didn't fall into self-pity or anger or despair. They simply brushed the dust from their feet. They knew that if some people didn't welcome them, others down the road needed them. I will say more on that next week when I talk about "Focus on the Mission - Part Two."
This Sunday I have spoken about the gratitude involved in getting started. The Kingdom of God is at hand. God exists, he really is God and he is at work. Our job is to receive that Kingdom and invite others. Even though we suffer some hardships and disappointments, we do not abandon the mission.
The harvest is abundant, Jesus tells us. The Kingdom of God is at at hand. We welcome it with thankful hearts. Mission begins with gratitude. Amen.
A Homilist's Prayer
From Archives (14th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)