September 22, 2019 – Radical Dependency

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings / Lecturas

Recording

Preached at Assumption Parish, Bellingham, WA

[Failed first attempt can be found at the end.]

N.B. Information about the Called to Serve as Christ Campaign can be found at https://www.calledtoserveaschrist.org/.

English

The parable of Jesus given to us by St. Luke today is one of the most confusing in all of the Gospels. What is Jesus recommending here? What is he trying to say about wealth, about honesty, about stewardship? To be honest with you, I read more about this Gospel than I ever normally do preparing for my homilies, and I still have no idea how to interpret it, and neither do the commentators.

The most straightforward answer I can give you in a short amount of time is that Jesus is telling us to make provision for the next life. The steward in the parable realized that his current situation was untenable and could not last, so he began to prepare for whatever came next. That he did so dishonestly, and that his master commends him for it, are what make this parable confusing, but the underlying message is clear enough: use whatever resources are available to you now to get ready for the things to come. In our case, what comes next is heaven, and what we do with our resources on earth is going to determine how we are received in heaven. If we love God more than we love our mammon (mammon just means “material possessions,” by the way); if we love God more than we love our mammon, then we will realize that our mammon is not something to be clung to, but is merely a tool to be used and given away in preparation for the life to come.


Now, that being said, I want to focus in on one of the phrases near the end. Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

My friends, I think you should know that in my life, the two masters that I am constantly stuck between are serving you and serving myself. People do not always believe me when I say it, but I am an incredibly selfish person. I have never really resisted giving money away or using my talents or skills in service of others, but I say that I am a selfish person because whenever someone asks me for something, whenever someone wants to rely on my for something, I shut down and want to run away. The thought of being relied upon fills me with dread.

Now, as one priest responsible for 1600 families, I obviously cannot be available to every person at every moment, but there is a difference between healthy barriers and the internal movement of my heart that I am describing. As I have reflected on this internal movement over the years, I have come to realize that it originates from a very deep desire of mine to be completely independent. I never want to have to ask anyone for anything, nor do I want them to need anything from me. Any kind of attachment that cannot be broken, or set aside for a time, threatens my ability to be free and to set out on my own. This is the master of serving myself.

And this is why, I believe, God called me to the priesthood: because every vocation is designed to lead us to holiness, and the greatest holiness for me will come from learning how to live in a completely dependent relationship with other people. This is exactly the lesson that diocesan priesthood teaches.


How people rely on me should be obvious. Every sick call, every request for spiritual counseling, every petition for services or my presence or my time is a deep spiritual struggle for me. It is a struggle I undertake every day, for the sake of God and his people, and it is a struggle that every day drags me kicking and screaming closer to holiness.

But it may be less obvious how I rely on you, the People of God that I have been sent to serve.

The most obvious way comes from celibacy. Every human person is created for relationship, and every human heart desires friendship and intimacy. Certainly the most potent fulfillment of this desire for friendship and intimacy comes from the Lord, but that is true for priests and laity alike. In the everyday fulfillment of this desire, though, the Lord will often use the people around us, and for married people friendship and intimacy comes first and most often from one’s spouse. But a celibate has to rely on his or her community for daily friendship and intimacy, be that a religious community or a parish community. By committing myself to lifelong celibacy, I have made my need for relationship permanently dependent on you, the People of God I have been sent to serve. I have ensured that, if I want to be happy in this life, I have to rely on you and cannot rely only on myself.

(This, by the way, is why it was and is so important to me that I live on the parish property: because it serves as a constant reminder that I depend on the people of the parish and that I belong to them.)

The other primary way that I rely on the People of God is financially. I am not a mendicant, so I do not take a vow of poverty. I do receive a modest income, and I am free to use that income as I see fit. But, and this is what is so horrifying to me, I am not here selling a product. Priests do not make money because of the quality of their homilies or their success as a parish administrator, as anyone who has languished under a poor homilist or a negligent manager can attest. Selling a product would allow me to be independent, because my income would rely only on myself and my ability to succeed in an open market. But instead, I make an income exclusively because the people of the parish have decided that the Catholic religion and the Catholic priesthood are worthy of support, independent of what they get out of it. I am forbidden from making money in any other way. If people stopped taking their religion seriously, or stopped giving to the Church, I would be out on the street.

Again, my greatest temptation is a desire to be free of dependent relationships. The sinful, broken part of my heart hates the idea that I am reliant on anyone, especially for something as profoundly important as my happiness or financial well-being. Which is why God has given me you as my second master, and asked me to choose. Between my selfish needs and the needs of my people, which will I love, and which will I hate? To which will I be devoted and which will I despise? I constantly pray that I should wake up every morning choosing my vocation and my people.


This, of course, brings us to the Called to Serve as Christ Campaign. When it was first introduced to the priests, many of us found the idea of asking for our own retirement needs unseemly and self-serving. But I have come to realize how truly healthy it is that I should have to stand before you and declare, once again, that I am completely dependent on you, the people I have been sent to serve. I need this constant reminder that I am not independent, that nothing I do is done on my own, that my life ought to be one of service and humility. And I hope that every priest who has to make this ask realizes the same thing, and that it will lead all of us to greater holiness.


The details of the campaign are straightforward enough, so I will be brief. A portion of the money goes to retired priests’ pension and medical needs, a portion to the retirement needs of religious sisters, a portion to campaign expenses, and a portion comes back to the parish. You will receive a mailing from the Archdiocese with all of the details and a suggested pledge. Please keep in mind that this pledge is expected to be paid over three-years, not right away. If you have any questions, we will have links on our website, and many of you will be contacted personally by a volunteer.


My brothers and sisters in Christ, Christianity is a collaborative exercise. But, even more so, it is an exercise of radical dependence on the Lord and on each other. I hope my life, flawed as it is, can serve as an example of the dependence that God calls each of us to. Thank you for your generosity over the years, a generosity that has allowed me, and every priest, to answer the call to serve as Christ.

Español

La parábola de Jesús que nos da San Lucas hoy es una de las más confusas de todos los Evangelios. ¿Qué está recomendando Jesús aquí? ¿Qué está tratando de decir sobre la riqueza, la honestidad, la administración? Para ser honesto con usted, leí más sobre este Evangelio de lo que normalmente preparo para mis homilías, y todavía no tengo idea de cómo interpretarlo, y tampoco lo hacen los comentaristas.

La respuesta más directa que puedo darle en un corto período de tiempo es que Jesús nos está diciendo que hagamos provisión para la próxima vida. El administrador de la parábola se dio cuenta de que su situación actual era insostenible y no podía durar, por lo que comenzó a prepararse para lo que venía después. Lo que hizo que esta parábola sea confusa es que lo hizo de manera deshonesta y que su amo lo elogia por ello, pero el mensaje subyacente es lo suficientemente claro: use todos los recursos disponibles para prepararse para las cosas por venir. En nuestro caso, lo que viene después es el cielo, y lo que hagamos con nuestros recursos en la tierra determinará cómo somos recibidos en el cielo. Si amamos a Dios más de lo que amamos a nuestro dinero, nos daremos cuenta de que nuestro dinero no es algo a lo que nos debemos aferrar, sino que es simplemente una herramienta para usar y regalar en preparación para la vida venidera.


Ahora, dicho esto, quiero centrarme en una de las frases cerca del final. Jesús dice: “No hay criado que pueda servir a dos amos, pues odiará a uno y amará al otro, o se apegará al primero y despreciará al segundo.”

Amigos míos, creo que deberían saber que en mi vida, los dos amos en los que estoy constantemente atrapado los están sirviendo ustedes y sirviéndome a mí mismo. La gente no siempre me cree cuando lo digo, pero soy una persona increíblemente egoísta. Nunca me he resistido a regalar dinero o usar mis talentos o habilidades al servicio de los demás, pero digo que soy una persona egoísta porque cada vez que alguien me pide algo, cada vez que alguien quiere depender en mí para algo, me apago y quiero huir. Estoy lleno de miedo al pensar en que me confían en.

Ahora, como un sacerdote responsable de mil seiscientos familias, obviamente no puedo estar disponible para cada persona en todo momento, pero hay una diferencia entre las barreras saludables y el movimiento interno de mi corazón que estoy describiendo. Como he reflexionado sobre este movimiento interno a lo largo de los años, me he dado cuenta de que se origina en un deseo mío muy profundo de ser completamente independiente. Nunca quiero tener que pedirle nada a nadie, ni quiero que ellos necesiten nada de mí. Cualquier tipo de apego que no pueda romperse, o dejarse de lado por un tiempo, amenaza mi capacidad de ser libre y salir por mi cuenta. Este es el amo de servirme a mí mismo.

Y por eso, creo, Dios me llamó al sacerdocio: porque cada vocación está diseñada para llevarnos a la santidad, y la mayor santidad para mí vendrá de aprender a vivir en una relación completamente dependiente con otras personas. Esta es exactamente la lección que enseña el sacerdocio diocesano.


Cómo la gente depende en mí debería ser obvio. Cada llamada enferma, cada solicitud de asesoramiento espiritual, cada petición de servicios o mi presencia o mi tiempo es una profunda lucha espiritual para mí. Es una lucha que emprendo todos los días, por el bien de Dios y su pueblo, y es una lucha que cada día me arrastra pateando y gritando más cerca de la santidad.

Pero puede ser menos obvio cómo dependo en usted, el Pueblo de Dios, al que he sido enviado a servir.

La forma más obvia proviene del celibato. Cada persona humana está creada para una relación, y cada corazón humano desea amistad e intimidad. Ciertamente, el cumplimiento más potente de este deseo de amistad e intimidad proviene del Señor, pero eso es cierto tanto para los sacerdotes como para los laicos. Sin embargo, en el cumplimiento diario de este deseo, el Señor a menudo utilizará a las personas que nos rodean, y para las personas casadas, la amistad y la intimidad son lo primero y más frecuente del cónyuge. Pero un célibe tiene que confiar en su comunidad para la amistad e intimidad diaria, ya sea una comunidad religiosa o una comunidad parroquial. Al comprometerme con el celibato de por vida, he hecho que mi necesidad de relación dependa permanentemente de ti, el Pueblo de Dios al que he sido enviado a servir. Me he asegurado de que, si quiero ser feliz en esta vida, tengo que depender en ti y no puedo depender solo en mí.

(Por cierto, esto es por qué fue y es tan importante para mí que vivo en la propiedad de la parroquia: porque sirve como un recordatorio constante de que dependo de las personas de la parroquia y de que les pertenezco).

La otra forma principal en la que dependo en el Pueblo de Dios es financieramente. No soy un mendigo, así que no hago voto de pobreza. Recibo un ingreso modesto, y soy libre de usar ese ingreso como mejor me parezca. Pero, y esto es lo que es tan horrible para mí, no estoy aquí vendiendo un producto. Los sacerdotes no ganan dinero debido a la calidad de sus homilías o su éxito como administrador de la parroquia, como puede atestiguar cualquiera que haya languidecido bajo un homilista pobre o un administrador negligente. Vender un producto me permitiría ser independiente, porque mis ingresos dependerían solo de mí y de mi capacidad para tener éxito en un mercado abierto. Pero en cambio, yo obtengo un ingreso exclusivamente porque la gente de la parroquia ha decidido que la religión católica y el sacerdocio católico son dignos de apoyo, independientemente de lo que obtengan de ellos. Tengo prohibido ganar dinero de otra manera. Si la gente dejara de tomarse en serio su religión, o dejara de dar a la Iglesia, estaría en la calle.

Nuevamente, mi mayor tentación es el deseo de estar libre de relaciones dependientes. La parte pecaminosa y rota de mi corazón odia la idea de que dependo de alguien, especialmente para algo tan profundamente importante como mi felicidad o mi bienestar financiero. Es por eso que Dios los ha dado a mí ustedes como mi segundo amo y me ha pedido que elija. Entre mis necesidades egoístas y las necesidades de mi gente, ¿cuál amaré y qué odiaré? ¿A cuál apegaré al primero y despreciaré al segundo? Rezo constantemente para que me levante cada mañana eligiendo mi vocación y mi gente.


Esto, por supuesto, nos lleva a la campaña Llamados a Servir como Cristo. Cuando se presentó por primera vez a los sacerdotes, a muchos de nosotros nos pareció que la idea de pedir nuestras propias necesidades de jubilación era indecorosa y egoísta. Pero me he dado cuenta de lo verdaderamente saludable que es tener que estar delante de ustedes y declarar, una vez más, que soy completamente dependiente de ustedes, la gente a la que he sido enviado a servir. Necesito este recordatorio constante de que no soy independiente, que nada de lo que hago se hace solo, que mi vida debe ser de servicio y humildad. Y espero que cada sacerdote que tenga que hacer esta pregunta se dé cuenta de lo mismo, y que nos lleve a todos a una mayor santidad.


Los detalles de la campaña son lo suficientemente directos, por lo que seré breve. Una parte del dinero se destina a las pensiones y necesidades médicas de los sacerdotes jubilados, una parte a las necesidades de jubilación de las hermanas religiosas, una parte a los gastos de campaña y una parte vuelve a la parroquia. Recibirá un correo de la Arquidiócesis con todos los detalles y una promesa sugerida. Tenga en cuenta que se espera que esta promesa se pague durante tres años, no de inmediato. Si tiene alguna pregunta, tendremos enlaces en nuestro sitio web, y muchos de ustedes serán contactados personalmente por un voluntario.


Mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, el cristianismo es un ejercicio de colaboración. Pero, aún más, es un ejercicio de dependencia radical del Señor y de los demás. Espero que mi vida, tan defectuosa como sea, pueda servir como un ejemplo de la dependencia a la que Dios nos llama a cada uno de nosotros. Gracias por su generosidad a lo largo de los años, una generosidad que me ha permitido a mí y a todos los sacerdotes responder al llamado de servir como Cristo.

Failed First Attempt

One of the things I hated most about becoming a priest was the idea that I would have to live off of charity.

This is not to say that I had not lived off of charity my entire life. My parents obviously supported me from infancy, and they continued to be generous to me through high school, college, and beyond. I graduated from engineering school without any debt, partially because of the generosity of my parents and partially from the generosity of those who had endowed my full tuition scholarship to Olin College.

Still, even despite this, I was raised to be fiercely independent, including and especially financially independent. When I was young, helping around the house was seen as a way to contribute to the family that was housing and feeding me. Once I became a senior in high school, I was expected to get a part-time job, and to continue working throughout my undergraduate studies. It was made clear to me that if I wanted to go to a top-tier, private college, I needed to earn scholarships to pay for that. The family agreement was that after four years of college, I should be completely independent, financially and otherwise.

And I liked this agreement! I liked the idea that I could fend for myself, that I did not need to rely on anyone else, that I could earn my way in the world. I liked the idea that, as an engineer, I could make products that had a value and that could be sold for an income. I was the kind of guy who read Atlas Shrugged and thought, yea, there might be something to this.

And then God called me to the priesthood, and I had to rethink my entire economic outlook. Because, you see, a priest cannot earn his way in the world. A priest cannot be independent, financially or otherwise. A priest does not sell a product. Yes, it is tempting to think that a priest earns his income by delivering good homilies, creating good programs, or being a good parish manager, but this is not the Catholic view of the priesthood. Protestant ministers may be hired or fired, but any Catholic who has languished under a poor homilist or a negligent business manager can tell you that priests do not earn an income proportional to their merits or skills. Instead, Catholics support priests because Catholics support the very idea of priesthood. Like the Levites in the Old Testament, whom God commanded to live off of the offerings of the other tribes of Israel, the priests of the Church are forbidden from owning their own portion and must rely on the people, and the people in turn are asked to support the priests.

Again, I hated this system, and I still rub against it from time to time. I hate having to rely on other people. I hate knowing that I can only live because someone else makes a gift from the goodness of their heart. This attacks every lone ranger, western frontier, American bone in my body.

But, the more I live in to it, the more I realize that this system is right and just. God calls his priests into a deep relationship with his people. I would like to think that I would be a good priest with a deep investment in his parishioners regardless of the financial relationship, but I can also see how tempting it would be to think of myself as selling you a product, as having only a transactional relationship with you, and then shutting you out of my heart. But that is a horrible way to live priesthood, and, like with celibacy, forcing priests to be financially dependent on their people is a powerful reminder that a priest cannot and should not exist apart from his relationship with his people. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that it was so important to me that I live on campus, because it serves as a constant reminder to me that I am not independent and that I do belong to the people of this parish. Such a strong temptation like independence requires a potent, tangible antidote.

Featured Image

Featured image by xcmkyx, found at https://www.deviantart.com/xcmkyx/art/Prisoner-of-my-own-277960739

One thought on “September 22, 2019 – Radical Dependency

  1. I appreciate your candor and honesty. Your ministry is very much needed at Assumption. Change is very welcome by many of us at Assumption. Capital Drive transparency is also very important to parishioners!

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