Gospel simplicity and poverty have been on my mind lately. A few significant expenses in September reduced our operating account to a level that… well, let’s just say it doesn’t inspire much confidence. Over and over, in conversations with the parish accountant, both of us utter the refrain, “There’s really not much more we can cut.” Meanwhile, a parish employee has indicated a need to step back from work for a time, throwing the delicate balance of our rectory’s functioning into a degree of uncertainty. It’ll sound strange, but the thing that worries me the most about this employee’s absence is, “who will be here to receive UPS packages. It may seem odd, but sometimes these are essential items, documents etc. that require signatures lest they go back to their senders. On how little can a modern parish function? There are some good things beginning to happen here: the growth of our outreach to the poor, students in our school are doing well, as it enrollment… so much potential that, with just a little more help might come to great fruition.
Lord, is this a test? Not just of me your poor servant, but of our community… of the very concept of trusting in you, rather than in our own plans?? …and yet Lord, you have made us cooperators in your own plans. Surely our thoughts and input must figure in to the mix somewhere?!?!
Preparing for Sunday’s masses (28th week, Ordinary Time) I read from Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20. I wondered what the missing verses said. Here is the whole quotation, with verses 15-18 included in italics:
I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in an account of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once. It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account. I have received full payment and I abound. I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus, “a fragrant aroma,” an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
For me, this morning, the missing verses do a few things. First, they intensify the sense of Paul’s total reliance on and confidence in God. Second, these verses educate us all about what generosity is all about… It’s about taking part in making an “acceptable sacrifice to God,” that, “accrues,” as Paul says, to our benefit in heaven.
Whether it’s my own people giving, or a new revenue stream/donor being found, today’s missing verses remind me that ultimately, keeping our parish up and running (in the traditional sense) is only a means to a larger end: getting to heaven. And if those revenues don’t materialize, and I need to do with less staff, less AC/Heat in the Rectory, or whatever the case may be be, then that too will become a gift, a “fragrant aroma,” acceptable to God for the salvation of parishioners’ souls… and maybe even my own.
So Lord, it’s all in your hands. And we forsake all other possible destinations and stops along the way, preferring a direct road to heaven itself. “Preferisco paradiso.”