Pastor Column: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 11, 2018

Pastor Column: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 11, 2018

Msgr Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish


Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

If your mailbox is anything like mine, they have begun to arrive. They come every year before taxes have to be filed, almost like clock-work. “They” are the annual report issue of your college or university’s alumni magazine, with the list of donors to the institution’s annual fund. Social service agencies, relief societies, art groups and charitable foundations also publish such lists under various headings in the Table of Contents: “annual donor report,” “honor roll of donors,” or simply “our supporters.”

The donations are broken down by class year and level of giving. You look. Fundraisers and development officers know you look. That is why they compile the lists in the first place, then send them to everyone. You look to see how your gift measures up to those of your classmates. You look to see who is doing well – and who is not – judging from the size of the donation.  Maybe you place yourself among the apparently well-off, looking with pride, self-satisfaction, as well as with a bit of curiosity. When I was little, there used to be a small magazine-type publication that came from my home parish and listed member contributions to the Church. I can remember turning pages to see how much Mr. Logan gave this time, as he was always the number one giver in the parish. Poor Mrs. Donnelly was a reliable $4 a month contributor, but hardly that noteworthy at $1 a week. Thank God I have matured in my assessments with the passage of time.

These kind of donor lists are about numbers. They tell us nothing about important things: qualities like dedication, faithfulness, commitment, and values. The alumnus/a who writes the $10,000 check may not give his/her gift a second thought until tax time rolls around and other lists have to be drawn up for deductions. But the alum struggling with tuition payments for his own two or three children manages to give $100 because he/she feels a sense of gratitude for a great education that was received.  His family somehow puts together a small to modest gift because they believe in the mission of the institution and want to help them continue it.

Sometimes the donors to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Kimmel Center, or cultural groups like them,  are the movers and shakers of the area’s community. Support of the arts is a plain old good business practice. People remember their generosity when deciding to buy their product or service versus another one. But we cannot overlook the retired lunch lady’s gift of $25 to her former place of employment or the school teacher’s donation of $50 because it is their way of being part of something good, something important in the community.

In short, the real honor in giving is not the amount, but what compels the donor to give in the first place.

This weekend in the Gospel Jesus exalts the gift of the poor widow. He wants us to realize that, in the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving. What we give from our want – not from our extra – speaks of what one truly values, what kind of good we want to accomplish, and what we want our world to be. Not many of us, I suspect, give from our want. I know I do not; but trying to express my generosity in other ways makes it easier to give when the checkbook balance gets low. I have found it always comes back to you! Thank God the Gospel scheme is not my own. For Jesus, it is not the measure of the gift, but the measure of the love with which it is given. The selflessness and commitment to doing good that directs your gift or mine are what makes it great in the eyes of God. We should watch ourselves that we are not giving to seek to impress anyone else, but out of great love where we wish to enrich someone else’s life and world.

Pastor Column: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 4, 2018

Pastor Column: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 4, 2018

Msgr Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish


Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

Not everyone would agree, but sometimes having rules is a good thing. Rules provide order, structure, and promote harmony at home, in school, and in the workplace. Imagine what playing Monopoly as a child would have been like without all those rules: when to pass go, how to buy those red properties by the jail or begin construction. How could a cake be baked or a dinner cooked without a recipe?  What a fiasco a pickup game of basketball would be if it were not for the prohibitions against elbowing or a lack of dribbling. As we were growing up, we hated them, and could not wait until the first time down the Jersey shore without parents, when we could make our own rules and not abide by the dictates of others. Perhaps some of us went overboard, when living by our own personal rules was to our detriment and might have even result in a police visit or an injury we would regret. Life lessons were learned during those fun times. Now as adults we appreciate the way rules protect our sanity when it is serious peril with rambunctious youngsters.  We have a “love-hate” relationship with rules of order, but in the end recognize that we need them in order to have peace in the home, in the community and in society in general

Today in the Gospel we have the story of an unusual friendly encounter of Jesus with a scribe. The scribe is on a search for rules. Whether or not the man started out as a sincere questioner, he and Jesus seem to “hit it off” as they exchanged theological opinions. The man’s question concerning the greatest commandment was one of the favorite debate topics of the day. After all, the rabbis could count 613 commandments (!) of the Torah. Of these, 248 were positive in form and 365 negative. The religious teachers argued over which were “heavy” commandments and which were “light.” So, in religious circles a point of discussion would be: which of these commandments was “first,” or most important. Hence the setting for the question the scribe asks Jesus. In his response Jesus quotes two commands from the Hebrew Scriptures and, in doing that, suggests that no one commandment can adequately answer the scribe’s question. By putting the two together Jesus also suggests that they constitute one great commandment. Jesus would not have been perceived by devout Jews as abrogating the rest of the Torah. What they would have heard was Jesus’ way of simplifying the Law to help in its observance.

Related to, but deeper than last week’s gospel question of the wealthy man about how to inherit eternal life, the scribe wanted a rule of thumb, a guiding principle that could be used to discern how to act according to God’s will without recourse to the hundreds of regulations that had been attached to the commandments. One has to commend his yearning for streamlined simplicity.

Jesus added that second citation from Leviticus to explain how people could show their love of God. He explained that the second commandment fleshes out and completes the first: love your neighbor as yourself. Later on Jesus would broaden the concept of neighbor to include everyone — not just the immigrants whom the law told Israelites to protect, but even their own personal enemies.

Finally, when the scribe approved of His answer, Jesus replied that he was “not far” from the Kingdom of God. All that remained (sounds easy, but it is harder than you think!) was for the scribe to put his ideas into practice. The first commandment teaches that it is not enough to know about God, as if philosophy and theology could substitute for a personal relationship with the God who loves us. The second commandment reminds us that love of God is not just a beautiful, mystical feeling. If it is true, it has consequences that make a real difference in the lives of others. If we really love God and pray, we will be lured into active, generous love for anyone who needs us.