We begin Lent. Together. Lent is not an individual journey, but a communal journey. We don’t resurrect to eternal life alone, but together. If you don’t get there, perhaps there is no hope for me, either.
There have been a lot of people in my life, even in my own family who claim, “I don’t need organized religion. I can find God on a mountain top or in a sunrise.” That is selfish, lazy spirituality. Of course we can experience God in nature. But there is much more than that involved. Salvation takes a lot more effort than that. We can’t save ourselves, but, if we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in faith, our salvation becomes more difficult. God always intended us to seek salvation as a community formed by him. It’s rather like a lifeboat after a shipwreck. We need to stick together, not separate.
The nation of Israel was formed by God to come to Him, and to be an example and source of faith for all nations. Moses reminds his people in the first reading,
… the God of our fathers, … heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt …
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
This was a collective salvation for all, not a few individuals.
Moses is reminding the people to be truly thankful for all the blessings they have received from God. Moses instructs them to begin their weekly Sabbath worship, by giving thanks to God for all they have received from God, because everything they received came from God. Therefore they are to share their gifts. They don’t even begin their worship each week without giving “Thanks” to God. Moses instructs the people,
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Moses taught them to say before worship,
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”
We are to worship together. We are called to share our gifts. We are to strengthen one another.
The Devil doesn’t want us to join together. That is the reason he spreads lies and division among us, like the popular lie,
“I don’t need organized religion. I can find God on a mountain top or in a sunrise.”
Yes, you can experience God in nature. But that alone won’t save you. St. Paul tells us,
… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
We need a relationship with the Lord, Jesus. And we are called to share that relationship with one another.
The Devil will tempt us, just like he tempted Jesus, with promises of food, riches, worldly power and temptations to worship him and not God. Jesus responds to the Devil by saying,
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Sacred Scripture guides us to be faithful, humble members of the community formed by God. Since the earliest times of our faith, from the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures, we are called to worship God together. And we are called to offer thanks to God for all the gifts he has given us. Once we recognize God’s generosity, we are called to be generous with our community, even before we worship.
We are called to be faithful in sharing our gifts. Our catechists share their faith with our children, 1600 of them. Thanks be to God we have over 100 catechists. What would our community be like if we did not have these faithful volunteers who promise that we can count on them? How lost would we be if they chose not to share themselves in this important work of faith formation?
The St. Vincent de Paul ministers share our gifts with the poorest of our community. Today, our second collection will be to help them in their work with the poor. Can you imagine how spiritually bankrupt we would all be if parishioners did not step forward to serve with St. Vincent de Paul? What would our poorest neighbors do if we failed to support St. Vincent de Paul? Thank God some of our parishioners tell the poor, “You can count on me!”
Our youth group ministers share their faith and talents with our youth. Our youth are growing stronger in faith, knowledge and responsibility because of youth ministry, Religious Education, Catholic schools and our scouting programs. Where would we be if no one stepped forward to help our youth? Thank God there are leaders in our community who step forward and say, “You can count on me.”
Our prayer ministries share their faith with those seeking to grow in faith and prayer. How many people would be lost forever, if these volunteers did not freely share their spiritual gifts?
I could go on. What kind of parish would we be if we did not have our wonderful, welcoming ushers? We can count on them.
Where would our Church be if priests and deacons and religious did not step forward, unselfishly, to serve the community by saying, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will; you can count on me?”
Each of us is called not only to worship, but to accept the responsibility to be fruitful members of the community, and declare, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will. You can count on me.”
Our community would be terribly dysfunctional and chaotic if everyone just came to be served and entertained, and tried to avoid giving and serving.
This Lent, I invite all parishioners to pray about their commitment to our parish community.
We are calling all members of the parish to be registered with the parish if you are not already. By registering with the parish, you are declaring that you are here and that we can count on you. We invite all to mature in your faith and spirituality, declaring to God and his Church,
“Here I am. You can count on me.”