They say laughter is good for the soul, so let’s start with a joke: A minister went to a race track. When the horses came out he noticed that a priest went up to one of the horses, put his hands on it, blessed it, and that horse won the race! In the second race, the priest blessed another horse and it, too, won! So, the minister ran to the ATM machine, got some money, came back, and watched which horse the priest would bless. This time, the priest not only blessed one particular horse but also touched its eyes, nozzle, and all four hooves. The minister was so excited that he wagered all his money on that horse. But, once the race started, that horse died on the track!
The minister went to the priest and asked, ‘What happened? Why did the horse you just blessed die instead of win?’ The priest answered, ‘That’s the trouble with you Protestants. You don’t know the difference between a blessing and the last rites’.
I wrote this homily two weeks ago, and started with this joke because it was going to be about dealing with disappointment. For many of us, the Parish Centre project has been on our minds for the last two months. In August, we announced that the cost increased to $16M, and we’ve been struggling because we haven’t been able to get the project below $13M, which is what we can afford, even after we removed the rooftop playground from the design. How do we respond to losing and disappointment? Let’s do the spiritual first, and then I’ll give the practical at the end.
Today, we heard part of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which he wrote while in prison: “Brothers and sisters: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). Given our situation, can we do what St. Paul is telling us to do? Let’s break down the Reading into three parts:
1) He says to overcome worry with prayer: ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’ Prayer should never be used as an excuse, as in, ‘Let’s pray for a parish centre and do nothing.’ Actually, we need to improve the way we’re approaching the project. However, to overcome our worry, we need to pray more. God wants us to come to Him as His children, to turn to Him with trust and faith. He is our Father, and this is His project, it’s for His glory and for the evangelization of people, and it’s beyond our strength, so let’s admit the obvious.
Yet, Paul adds ‘with thanksgiving.’ Can we give thanks today knowing that we’re in a tough situation?
Today is Thanksgiving weekend, a Christian holiday, and we planned a while back to give out our first parish magazine to highlight what God’s doing in our community. When we look at it, we’re reminded that He’s doing amazing things! For Christians, gratitude is about thanking persons, in particular, thanking God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and then thanking our mother Mary, the saints and angels, and I want to thank you for hanging in there for all these years, for your hard work, and sacrificial giving!
2) St. Paul says to think about eight realities: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). He’s telling us to look at the good.
Ven. Fulton Sheen said there are two ways to respond to pain, and used an image: There were two men looking out of prison bars: one saw mud, the other stars. One reaction is rebellion: We see no purpose, so we obsess about it, resent it, and complain. The other reaction is resignation: We see suffering as opening up to something better, so we accept it.
Nonetheless, there’s a third option: Embrace the trial. This is helpful when we’re suffering. We can pray: ‘I want what You want, Jesus. You’ve allowed me to have this, so I want it as much as You want it. This is what You allow right now, Jesus, so I embrace it. Make good come out of it.’ If we feel like we’re in a prison right now, do we see mud, stars, or Jesus?
3) St. Paul tells us to imitate him: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9). Some people have asked if we should or should have talked more about the Parish Center fundraising—it’s a good question, and, by the way, our best fundraising year happened in 2018 when, thanks to the Fundraising Committee, they pushed us to go hard that year! But we can’t ask people to make a major donation every year; I gave half of my life savings in 2018, but I can’t do that every year. We thought we could close the gap completely in those years, but COVID came, there were economic problems, and building costs went up.
However, there’s another more fundamental reason we don’t talk about fundraising more often: Because it doesn’t work. There are parishes where the priest talks about it almost every week. Those parishes now have great buildings, but their Mass attendance continues to fall every year. In the whole archdiocese, the overall Mass attendance has fallen every year since 2013, from 85,000 to 61,000 in 2022, and all parishes have had decreased attendance except for five, including us. The praise goes to God!
St. Paul tells us to imitate him. His parishioners had no churches, school, or gym, but some became saints. We have to stay the course at St. Anthony’s. Let’s be clear: We’re here to become saints and help others become saints, and that’s where we spend our money first.
St. Paul was very practical: He talked about money in his letters. Next week, we’ll ask, if you can, for an increase in your Sunday donations, because the spiritual ministries are doing really well. But we won’t focus on the increase.
Now here’s the practical news: Last week, I met with Archdiocesan leaders and they suggested we hire a project manager to take over the Parish Centre project because, by leveraging their contacts, they say we can move faster, and get it approved by the diocese and the City of Vancouver in about eight months. So, I’ve made the decision to do this. We’ve come so far, and we need help to finish the homestretch. We want to strike now and not burden the future generation of our parish family. I’m actually more hopeful now about this project than I’ve been in the past year.
In Acts 16, there was a time when St. Paul was in prison. Instead of worrying and complaining, he was praying and singing hymns to God. He praised God for Who He is, not what He gives. He even praised God before he received what he asked for (Craig Groeschel, Winning the War in Your Mind, 183).
God is our Father, and will honour our need for the Parish Centre. In the meantime, can we do what St. Paul is telling us to do? Thank God, look at Christ, the good, and focus on holiness first.