Several years ago, a little girl asked if she could sit in my chair. I took her hand and we walked up the steps. As she sat, she slowly surveyed the empty church from her perch, and very seriously made the profound observation, “So this is what God sees.”
Every weekend, I get the privilege to see what God sees from this chair. It is a truly humbling experience. I remember pictures of John Paul II in his chair at mass. In time, he sat more and more hunched over, partly because of his age, partly his illness. He carried a tremendous burden for sitting in that chair, yet his smile never dimmed. You are probably not impressed by what you see from where you sit. I can say I have grown accustomed to what I see as well. But what does God see from where God sits?
Teachers, coaches, scout leaders, parents and grandparents, when you see your students, your young people, your children and grandchildren, are you not proud of how wonderful and awesome they are? Do you not marvel at how they take after you? Are you not grateful they are yours? (Too much? Okay, I’ll tone it down.) And conversely, when they fail to care for each other, when they are unhappy or ungrateful or clueless, do you not hurt for them? Do you not ask sometimes what more could you have done?
Here at St. John, I love that we proclaim ourselves a community of faith united in worship, in tradition, and in love. Together we call on God for forgiveness. Together we recall the saints, whose words and example strengthen us on our own journey. Together we profess one Christian faith. Together we offer prayers for our own and the needs of the world. Together we offer bread and wine, symbols of our very selves, to be changed by Jesus’ words and given back to us as food. We give of our resources for the ministry and our mission to care for the poor. And together we are sent into the world to be witnesses of God’s compassion, to bring them hope, to be salt for the earth and light for the world. It all sounds so sublime, so otherworldly. Yet because we experience it often, it isn’t always so exciting. It is not unusual that we have grown accustomed to mass, that we give in to distractions because we know how it ends, that we are tempted to choose other priorities sometimes. But when we really reflect on the divine mystery that we proclaim, our own lack of interest and enthusiasm might shock us. Why are we not more attracted, more compelled by this great mystery? Has God gone stale? Has our faith lost its flavor? Have our minds grown dull? A tremendous gift is within reach. The incomprehensible mystery, the eternal truth, the fulfillment of our every longing is within our grasp. Why don’t we arrive early filled with eager longing, take up the front seats to be nearer to this great mystery, savor every moment as it unfolds, then linger after in thankful praise? Instead we are unimpressed. What’s for lunch/dinner? What fun things are we doing next? When will he stop talking? (I know you think it.)
The mystery we celebrate today seems little to do with us. The Holy Trinity: One God in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each distinct and separate yet equal in dignity—Everlasting Love which is the Father, reflected in the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, who together radiate an equal love which is the Holy Spirit, who sustains in love and sanctifies all that God creates and redeems. It all sounds like blah-blah-blah. How can something that our minds fail to grasp attract or compel us?
Other faiths tell us profound truths about God. Yet our Christian faith alone tells us that our God is both and at the same time love and a community bound by love. So when Jesus told his apostles to make disciples and to baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he is saying God wants to share his very life with us. And when we build each other up in love we reflect God more faithfully, God who is both and at the same time love and a community bound by love.
Lately, it’s been quite a challenging task. Many of you have heard that we are cutting staff hours. If you haven’t, let me catch you up. The new fiscal year begins 1 July. I regret to say we will end this year well below budget. In the past, we relied on our savings to cover the difference. No longer. When the recession hit 8 years ago, every church in town cut their outreach to the poor. Not us, we spent more. We saw great suffering around us, and we did our best to help. I always trusted our people would approve, and we would recover. We even raised staff salaries to meet diocesan standards and mandated cost-of-living increases. And each time we dipped into our savings, we always believed things would get better. But when the economy began to recover, our Sunday collection did not. Now I am always grateful for your generosity, so I am reluctant to ask that you give more, hoping whatever you give comes from the goodness of your heart. So if you believe we are who we say we are, and support our church’s mission, please help. But when we get a few more dollars in our pockets, it often goes more easily toward food or clothing or entertainment. Many families only give sometimes, some not at all. Many have not adjusted their giving in years. And our costs continue to rise. Now we are planning a capital campaign to build a new church. Since we will not meet our budget this year, we have to project even less for next year. We are cutting spending across the board, staff compensation, programming, outreach. What is left of our savings is now earmarked for the purchase of land and to hire an architect. And if we don’t build, our most optimistic forecast is the same or less than we have now, which is also still less than we need.
Now I am still and will always be grateful for your financial generosity. We still welcome everyone even if they don’t give. And if you give $10 or $1000, we will thank you, and we will keep proclaiming the gospel and helping the poor. But contributions are down. And I am disheartened when people say we are being unjust or greedy or incompetent, or when they threaten to stop giving to register their disapproval, which makes the problem even worse, or that we are not building up community but harming it. Case in point—we ended the bilingual mass because it didn’t meet the needs of our Hispanic parishioners. If they ask for a mass in Spanish and we couldn’t do it, do we tell them to just be grateful and take it because it’s the best we can do? We will tell you what you need, and you will like what we give, never mind what you think?
As a Christian community we reflect the God we believe in. We can strive to be more like God, who is both and at the same time love and a community bound by love. We sign ourselves with the cross knowing God wants to give us his very life. We have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we not give in to annoyance and suspicion and mistrust. May we see God and his care in each other more, knowing God would love to see more of Himself in us as well.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015