Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Practical advice for young adults on tithing

The following is an email exchange I’ve had with a recent GW graduate who asked about tithing as a young professional in DC.  We have a few recent grads who give very generously to the Newman Center for which we are grateful.   Even in an expensive area like Washington, paying off huge student loans, and saving for the future, they still give as much as they can to the Lord through the Church. As this alumna is finding, it is tough to tithe as a young adult!.  Those who do or are trying to do amaze us!

Grad: “I wanted to ask a question to you personally (or for the blog).  A month or so ago when I was reflecting on a guide to making a good confession I was thinking about whether or not I do enough to care for the poor.  Now that I've had a job and an apartment in DC for 6 months, my finances have stabilized and I'm trying to figure out what an appropriate amount would be to give to the Church and charities.  I wanted to ask for some practical advice for young adults on tithing- I know a lot of people throw around the number 10% of your earnings but in a place like DC where housing, food, transportation, etc. costs more, is that still the number to go with?  Or is there a better way of making a realistic commitment?

FG: My advice would be to start your budget out with 10% going to God / the Church/ the poor.  It makes the point that He comes first, and He has given the model in Scripture of giving 10% (Abraham gave 10% to the priest, Melchisedek).  So, first and foremost, 10% to God...non-negotiable.
Of course, the biggest expense you have is housing.  If you're already in a place and rent is set, then that's set.  But, if not, that's the biggest area for what I'll talk about now which is sacrifice.  In order to tithe (give 10% of your income), you will have to make a sacrifice or two.  Mother Teresa's rule of thumb was "give until it hurts".  Sounds like that would happen for you to give 10%.  It would hurt to find modest housing that's a bit further from town or from where all the excitement is.  It would hurt to purchase a car you need instead of a car you want.  It would hurt to take the subway or bus rather than a cab.  It would hurt to sacrifice some shopping days or nights out in order to save money. 

But, you will be honoring and glorifying God throughout. And, of course, you would be a woman of love because love means sacrifice.  In addition, you would be building habits that will come in very handy when you are married and raising children, God willing.  But, you would be living a HUGE example to your kids that some things are more important (e.g., their education) than others (e.g., fancy house or cars).  You would be providing the best form of teaching: example.

…If you give as much as you can, He will give you far more in return.  Pay attention to this Sunday's readings...God takes our five loaves and two fish (your 10%) and will provide an abundance in return.  "God will provide" is the mantra for those of us who give to God until it hurts.

Finally, you probably know the breakdown for the 10%: 5% to your parish and 5% to charities.  Hopefully, Newman can be in there somewhere...we would be grateful! :)

Grad: “I have a few follow-up questions if you don't mind me asking. I'm assuming that the 10% comes from your post-tax earnings since that's how people budget?  Also, how do you factor in paying off loans and saving for major life events like a wedding and a future family or grad school?  Would you suggest prioritizing all of your expenses and then going from there?  I'm trying to set some good habits now before they're difficult to change later”.

FG: Very wise.  I know it's very hard with major expenses like loans and such, but whatever the % of income, God knows if you're giving til it hurts.  He knows if you're doing your best to give all that you can to Him and are sacrificing some comforts in the process.  Btw, I put a relevant video on the blog today (Friday) about giving.  It's a lecture from a GW prof you might have had, Prof Sides.  It's really good...check it out.
I have always done 10% of gross income because I've never been fully sure and want to err on the side of caution, but also because at least some of the money taken out for taxes comes back in April.  But, you're right, most people give 10% of their net income.  Go with that. 

Yes, prioritize your budget. I would suggest writing all of your fixed monthly expenses down first - rent, utilities, loans, car/insurance (if applicable).  These are the non-negotiables. You might even have the money you're saving for the future in there if you're really disciplined.  Ideally, tithing is in there, but for now, leave it out.  If you see that you're paying way too much in rent because you chose to live beyond your means, then that's a lesson for your next place.  Just ride out the lease.  If your loans are too high, can you refinance?  Otherwise, these are all fixed monthly expenses for the foreseeable future.

Then, look at all other monthly expenses - food, transportation, clothes, entertainment, etc.  Be as frugal as you can while still being practical.  Do your best to eliminate waste when you can - if only our government would do this, right!  Every little bit here and there helps.  But, the idea is to save any dollars you can on yourself and give to God/ the poor.  You will feel it, and God will know that you feel it.  Still go out with your friends and be generous as you can with family,et al, but just try to sacrifice your own comforts in order to give to others.

So, if it's only a few dollars every month, that will be enough for God.  Remember the woman with the two copper coins?  She gave all that she had and was commended by Christ.  If you do this, it might not be 10%, but it will be tithing in God's eyes.  And, my guess is that if you make a habit of prioritizing for the next several years, you will be able to give a larger % in time.  It's not about a number, and God probably won't have a calculator for us at Judgment.   It's about an attitude, as Professor Sides, of "giving uncomfortably".

Monday, July 30, 2012

17th Sunday - homily

The multiplication of the loaves and fish.  At my first parish assignment, I addressed a big problem we were having when preaching on this Gospel story.  Like many parishes, we had the problem of being coming late to Mass.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that when I processed in to start Mass, the Church was about a third full; when I faced the congregation for the Gospel or homily, the Church was full! The multiplication of the Catholics! Poof! They were all of a sudden there.

A couple of things about that, folks: first, it's a venial sin to come to Mass late without a good reason.  Second, if we are not here in time for the Gospel, then we need to find another Mass to fulfill the Sunday obligation. In order for us to have attended Mass, we need to be present for the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  If we miss the Gospel, we have missed Sunday Mass.

Both the first reading and the Gospel have the theme of taking a small amount of food and feeding a big group of people, although the Gospel's crowd dwarfs the first reading's. The human reaction to the coming miracle in each appears the same: how is this going to happen? How in the world are we going to feed thousands of people with only five loaves and two fish? The answer, of course, is the power of God.  And, it happens when people put their small amounts of five loaves and two fish into God's hands.

We've seen this miraculous scenario play out throughout the history of the Church in different ways.  Look at the Church herself: her five loaves and two fish were the twelve Apostles. How in the world did the Church grow from 12 Catholics to now over a billion? The power of God.  He took what the Church put in His hands and has multiplied it. In general terms, Mary tells us in her Magnificat that this is the way it has been with God.  He “has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things”.

St. Peter is another example.  Knowledge of the mysteries of God was his five loaves and two fish.  In the Gospel, he appears to have very little knowledge of God. He was a simple fisherman. But, he put his knowledge into God's hands and God multiplied Peter’s  knowledge. In his letter in the New Testament, we see how much knowledge that St. Peter has… it's incredible!

Along the lines of knowledge, another example is St. John Vianney, a priest in France a couple hundred years ago.  He did not have a lot of intelligence when he first entered seminary.  Because he struggled so much with Latin and moral theology, he was asked to leave the seminary twice.  His formators didn’t think he would ever be able to hear confessions or teach because of his lack of intelligence.  But, he stayed with it, put his five loaves and two fish (his intelligence) into God’s hands, and God multiplied his intelligence.  He was ordained a priest and was sent to a parish smaller than St. Stephen’s.  He became an excellent teacher and confessor.  Towards the end of his priesthood, over one hundred thousand people a year came to him for Confession!

A town in France, Lourdes, has seen the power of God in ways similar to the multiplication of the loaves and fish.  With St. Bernadette leading the charge in 1858, Lourdes put its faith in God through Mary in the Lord’s hands.  The Lord has multiplied the faith of this small town and worked many miracles through the healing water of Lourdes.  Thousands of people visit Lourdes every day and participate in a nightly procession to Our Lady.  If you’ve never been to Lourdes, please go!  A group of GW students and I went to Europe last year; Lourdes was their favorite place by far!

St. Augustine’s five loaves and two fish was his virtue, particularly chastity.  When he first met the Lord, he was a pagan and a playboy.  His famous line reveals how little chastity he had: “Lord, give me chastity, but not right now”.  The Lord grew his chastity and his virtue and he became one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. 

One final example in an area I’m sure would interest all of you: money.  Friends of mine have been married fifty years.  When they were first married, they were poor, but still gave 20% to God / the Church / the poor.  They knew they were called to only give 10%, but they wanted to give all they had.  The 20% was their loaves and fish.  Once they put it into God’s hands, as they put it, “the money started pouring in”.  They are very capable professionals, but God multiplied their money.  Fifty years later, they are very, very wealthy (and still give 20%).

Whatever your five loaves and two fish are, put them into God’s hands.  Believe in His power.  Believe that He will multiply it – no matter how small it is.  Whether it’s knowledge, faith, trust, virtue, or even money, God will take it and give back to you in abundance.  When God gives, He gives abundantly!

Finally, we will experience something similar to (and even greater than) this Gospel story  in a few minutes.  We will give God a small gift of bread and wine and literally put it in His hands on the altar.  He will multiply our gift and feed us with His Body and Blood…with Himself!  He fills us with his grace and life.  May the grace of the Eucharist help each of us to give our five loaves and two fish to the Lord.  May it help us to trust that He will multiply them and provide abundantly for us as He always has.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Living Uncomfortably"

One of our student leaders sent the following video to our student leader board.  He describes: "The beginning is mostly about learning, but second half is all about love, relationships, and forgiveness. He talks about a lot of Catholic themes, although he doesn't mention Christianity or Catholicism outright."  Excellent Christian critique! 

The last part of the lecture on "loving uncomfortably" is really good, especially when Professor Sides makes the distinction between love as a feeling and love as an act of the will.  Spot-on!  Also, his treatment of "giving uncomfortably" is timely because a GW grad just emailed me about how much to give to the Church and poor right after college with the high cost of living in DC, student loans, etc. I might post our exchange here soon, but my answer was from Mother Teresa: "give until it hurts".  This is what the professor is talking about...give uncomfortably. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Must-read list for GW Catholics

To supplement the reading list I posted earlier in the summer, here is a list of great books from a GW Catholic junior.  He not only suggests solid literary works, he also provides a helpful, concise synopsis of each.  The following books are for reading for the end of the summer, during the school year (a little each day), or for the rest of your life!
As Catholics experience a secular campus at GWU, many of them face a culture that conflicts with our values and curriculums that challenges the very heart of our faith. As a result, GW Catholics are often interested in deepening their personal faith and learning more about God and Catholicism. Whether you are looking to intellectualize your faith, feel closer to God through your reading, or are simply looking for some wholesome books to read, this is the must-read list for GW Catholics!

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Years ago, an Evangelical Minister’s small child almost died of appendicitis. Months after his recovery, the child began sharing stories about what happened during his surgery. These stories included encounters with Jesus and 100% Biblically accurate accounts of Heaven. Written in a light-hearted tone that captures the innocence of a child’s view of his faith, this is a powerful testimony for those wondering what lays beyond this life.  

Life After Death: The Evidence by Dinesh D’Souza

Deceased atheist intellectual Christopher Hitchens once said that D’Souza is one of the most effective spokespeople for Christianity, and readers around the world seem to agree. D’Souza has written multiple #1 New York Times Bestsellers on American politics and religion. While Heaven is for Real takes a fairly simplistic view toward heaven, D’Souza relies completely on science, philosophy, and other academic realms to explain the existence of Heaven.

What’s So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza

This #1 NY Times Bestselling book is the most powerful weapon for Catholics as they engage in debates about Catholicism. D’Souza debunks common myths about the history of Christianity, goes through all of Christianity’s contributions to humanity, and outlines philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God. Every Catholic who wants to grow deeper in the intellectual side of their faith should read this book.

Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn

This book is the story of the conversion of Scott and Kimberly Hahn, two former Presbyterians, who chose to switch to Catholicism. This book makes the spiritual argument for Catholicism and is written by a brilliant scriptural scholar and his wife. This book is perfect for Catholics who want to know why their faith is special, and what the differences are between Catholics and other faiths.

Mere Christianity by CS Lewis

CS Lewis is one of Catholicism’s greatest contemporary minds. Once an Atheist, he discovered through personal experience that our universe and our personal lives are dependent on a supernatural – our Catholic God. Before his death, Lewis wrote multiple masterpieces about Christianity, Catholicism, and the human spirit. This book is full of philosophical explanations for God and is a guide to knowing what all Christians believe.

How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul by Jason and Crystalina Evert

This book is referred to as,“The Book” by many GW Catholic women. It is a must-read book about how to live out your faith and find a partner who can help you to become the person you truly are. Rather than settle, you can find a soulmate, and this book tells you how.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

This devotional book is the most widely-read devotional book apart from the Bible. It is focused on taking an inner look at oneself and developing an outlook that mimics Christ and can bring you closer to Him.

Unplanned by Abby Johnson

This is a favorite of Pro-Lifers. Abby Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who quit from America’s largest abortion provider after her heart and mind realized the atrocity that is abortion. She talks about the deception that goes on at Planned Parenthood and how destructive the abortion business is for women. Her firsthand analysis is a valuable tool for the pro-life movement.

Come, Be My Light by Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was one of the most powerful voices for Christ during the 20th Century. Come, Be My Light is a collection of her personal spiritual writings. As we all strive to imitate her faith, this book is a treasure that can teach us how to imitate her miraculous life and share her thirst for Christ.

John Paul II and the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson

Catholic writers comment on Pope John Paul’s message to spread the Gospel throughout the world. This book is a compelling guide to spreading Christ’s message on campus and throughout our community.

Monday, July 23, 2012

16th Sunday - homily

One of our GW Catholics lives in Colorado about 10 minutes from where the tragic shootings took place the other night.  She and her Mom and a friend were actually supposed to go to that movie theater to see "Batman". One of them got sick, so they decided not to go.  We're just grateful that they are all okay and still with us.  It's unspeakable what happened...and the evil involved.  Pray for the people of Colorado.  It's become a cliche to say, "they are in our thoughts and prayers".  So, let's not just say it, let's pray...for the victims, their families, for justice, and for the shooter - for his conversion of heart before he goes in front of the God of Justice.

I would like to address another issue that is serious and sad based on the first reading: the sins of shepherds… the sins of priests.  And, I do it imploring God's mercy and your forgiveness.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord condemns shepherds who "mislead" or "drive away" the sheep or cause them to "fear or tremble".  How can a shepherd mislead his sheep? How can he drive them away? This runs completely counter to the purpose and nature of being a shepherd.  It's the complete opposite of the purpose and office of the priesthood.

Many people have told me in different ways they have been misled: "I have never heard that teaching of the Church" or "I didn't know this was a sin" or "I heard from the pulpit there was nothing wrong with that".  Many others have been driven away from the Church because of the anger, judgment, or selfishness of a priest.  And, let's be clear: sin is selfishness. What happened in Colorado the other night was selfishness.  Whatever the final determination is of the shooter, these were selfish acts.  It was all about him and what he wanted, at the expense of many people. The same is true of the sins of priests in ministry: we care more about themselves than the ones for whom we are to be caring.  Again, I ask for God to have mercy on us and for you to forgive us...or at least be open to forgiveness. Pray for us priests.  Pray that we will be faithful shepherds.

The discouraging image of the priesthood of the first reading is contrasted by the hopeful image in the Gospel.  Where the shepherds of the Old Testament are driving the sheep away, the Apostles are bringing people back.  What is the difference? The Apostles, the first priests of Jesus Christ, are true shepherds. They are caring for the people and not for themselves.  They are authentic representations of Christ. They re-present Christ to people; they are presenting His love, peace, joy, truth, and mercy.

When we find authentic and holy priests who present Christ to us, we find something special. That's what the people found with the Apostles and they wouldn't give them a moment's rest.  They didn't even have a chance to eat! Many faithful priests today - and the overwhelming majority of priests of the past 2000 years have been faithful - have their appointment books full day and night.  People come to them in droves for spiritual direction, guidance, advice, instruction, prayer, healing, and Confession.  They come to them as they come to Christ. Every priest is alter Christus (another Christ). Authentic, holy, and faithful priests of Jesus Christ give people a true encounter with Christ.

Finally, to be Catholic means to believe in the priesthood.  Just as we believe that a change takes place during Mass in the bread and wine (they become the Body and Blood of Christ), so too do we believe that a change takes place in the priest (he becomes the person of Christ…in persona Christi).  This is why we hear the words, “this is my body”, and not ‘this is his body’.  It is really Christ saying the Mass; it is really Christ saying “I absolve you of your sins” in Confession.  This is radical! This is the true nature of the priesthood.  It is awesome!  This is what I and every faithful priest wants to offer you: a real experience and true encounter with Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

15th Sunday - homily

I have been doing some traveling this past month: to the Midwest for a conference, to Georgia for a wedding, and to Florida for vacation with friends.  This week, I'll go to the beach with my family.  So, it's good to be a university chaplain during the summer! I have flown the past three trips and have had good experiences; they have been uneventful which,when flying, is good. I know that some people don't like going through all of the security measures, but they don't bother me. But, I haven't experienced a full pat-down yet.  Although, on the trip home from Florida , the security agent asked to pat down my front side.  I guess he thought I had extra padding or something.  I told him that I had eaten very well and had put on a few extra pounds.  He didn't laugh.  Tough crowd, that TSA!

I thought I had packed pretty well for the three trips.  On one of them, I actually didn't have to check any bags! It was so nice to just have a carry-on bag.  Of course, that means using the small, ziplock bag and getting small containers of shampoo and shaving cream.  But, once I was through the security check-point, it was a breeze! I am amazed at people who travel with carry-ons only; they put me to shame.

I was really put to shame when I read today's Gospel in which the Lord says, "take nothing for the journey".  The Apostles took only a walking stick and a pair of sandals.  I took a whole bag of sticks - my golf clubs! And, extra pairs of shoes, a bunch of clothes, books, etc.  But, they literally took nothing with them for the journey...except the power of God. A modern-day example of this was years ago when I was in Calcutta with the Missionaries of Charity.  One day, two sisters were sent out to foreign countries on mission.  They took only a small box! One little box of their belongings for the rest of their lives.  They literally took nothing for the journey...except the power of God.

The Lord's admonition of taking nothing for the journey applies to the journey of life.  We are called to live simply and not get caught up in materialism and consumerism.  We are to only take what we need and be filled with the things and power of God. But, I would like us to focus on taking nothing for the journey to Heaven.  We won't be able to take a suitcase with us.  We won't take our possessions, our toys, all our stuff.  I think you know this.  So, it's not about what's in our suitcase; it's about what's in our soul-case.  What's in our souls will be what matters to God when we arrive at the Judgment Seat...our final "check-point", if you will.

What should our soul-cases be filled with in order for us to be admitted to Heaven? Not the riches of the world, but as St. Paul writes in our second reading, "the riches of (Christ's) grace".  We first received the riches of Christ's grace at Baptism.  What a rich gift our parents gave us at Baptism! We add to that grace whenever we receive the Eucharist.  Eucharistic grace should be the biggest compartment in our soul-case...receiving the Eucharist every Sunday and weekdays, too, if possible.  It's the best way to get rich with Christ!

If you know your soul-case has some stuff in it that shouldn't be there or need to empty it out all together, come dump it out after Mass with me in Confession.  Confession helps us to remove from our soul-cases what won't pass security at the final check-point.  Better to do it now than when it's too late at the Gates! Also, our soul-cases should be filled with the grace of Confession...probably the second biggest compartment after the grace if the Eucharist. The grace of the sacraments is the best way for us to be lavished by God with the riches of the grace of Christ, with the final one, the Anointing of the Sick, literally sending us on the journey to Heaven.

Other ways to build up grace in our soul-cases is prayer and Adoration, meditating on Scripture, getting to know the saints, especially the Blessed  Mother.  The saints are the richest people on earth! Mary's soul-case was "full of grace".  When we pray the rosary, we reflect on and learn from her example.  Doing charitable works for others, serving the poor, performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are all ways to grow in grace.  Living the virtues, especially chastity - living holiness through our bodies- builds up actual graces within us.

If you're hearing all of this and thinking, 'I'm hardly doing any of this', my advice would be to look at one of these and focus on doing it for the next month.  It's like when people come to me and say they have no prayer life.  I tell them to start small - 5 minutes a day or whatever they will be committed to-  and go from there.

The summary of all of this again comes from St. Paul's exquisite letter to the Ephesians in our second reading: "be holy".  God doesn't say, "be rich" or "be successful".  Those things are good unless they become our gods.  But, He says, "be holy".  All of us are called to be holy. We are all called to be saints.  This doesn't mean we will be canonized one day, but it means we are called to be in Heaven. May you be holy.  May you become rich with the grace of Christ.  May your soul-case be filled with the riches of Christ's grace so that you live out God's plan for your life: admittance into the splendor and majesty of His kingdom forever.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

14th Sunday - homily

I get a kick out of the description of St. Mark in today's Gospel about Jesus' ministry in his native place, presumably Nazareth.  He makes it seem that the Lord had an off-day, writing that "he was not able to perform any mighty deed there"...oh, well, that is "apart from curing a few sick people"...! Sound like mighty deeds to me! On the few days that the Lord has cured sick people through my hands as a priest, I called home! Big news! What happened on an off-day for the Lord would be one of the biggest days for me and most priests!

It's not that Jesus was off that day at Nazareth; he never has an off-day.  It's that the people of his hometown were off.  They didn't believe in him.  They saw him as human only. They didn't "know that a prophet has been among them" as God prophesied through Ezekiel in the first reading.  They saw him as one of them, "a carpenter, the son of Mary". Anyone who has ever tried to preach or teach the Gospel to their own family understands this reaction; they see us as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and cousins, not as prophets who carry a divine message.

We believe that Jesus of Nazareth is a prophet.  He is the ultimate prophet.  All of the Old Testament prophets lead to him with John the Baptist being the greatest, pointing to Jesus as the Christ. Like the Nazarenes, we are astonished at his teachings.  But, unlike them, we believe that his teaching authority is divine.  He speaks for God.  He is God! We believe that he is fully human and fully divine.

The challenge for us is to believe that Christ continues to teach through the Church.  The challenge for Catholics is to believe that prophets are among us in the persons of the bishops.  They have the same teaching authority as Christ! In fact, he gave it to them.  He receives his authority from the Father and he hands it over to them, specifically in Matthew 16, Matthew 18, and John 20.  In Luke 10, the Lord says to the first bishops (Apostles), "whenever they hear you, they hear me".

Do we believe that when we hear the Pope and the bishops teach on faith and morals that we are hearing Jesus? To be Catholic means to believe that.  To be Catholic means to believe that the bishops have a divine authority to teach doctrine...they teach for Heaven (Mt 18:18)! And yet, many Catholics hear them as the people of Nazareth heard Jesus: on a human level only.

Specifically regarding the HHS mandate, many Catholics view the bishops' authority on a human level only, saying that the bishops are being partisan and have ginned up the "religious liberty" charge. If these were true, then why be Catholic? If our bishops just present their own opinions on faith and morals or are just political figures at heart, then we shouldn't follow their teachings as following the teachings of Christ. But, if their teaching authority is from Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit - which it is- then we follow them on matters of faith and morals as we would follow Christ.  We believe that when we hear them on doctrine, we hear Him.

Finally, brothers and sisters, Christ will be in our midst in a few moments as he was to the people of Nazareth. He looks a little different to us in the Eucharist as he did to them, but it's the same Christ.  Let us receive Him with faith so that He can perform mighty deeds within us.  This can happen tonight! May the Lord be amazed at our faith -not our lack of faith - and may He perform mighty deeds for us at this Mass.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

"Our First, Most Cherished Liberty"

Happy 4th of July!!  As we celebrate the freedom on which our country was founded, we also pray that the foundation of our land will remain strong and intact. 

Click here to see a video from catholictv.com which reminds us that religious freedom for Catholics is our most cherished liberty.