Third Sunday of Lent



Among the saints of the church, one of the luminaries who really, really did so much to build up the Church was an extraordinary man called Francis of Assisi- very humble, very ordinary in many ways. Francis had a vision from the Lord. The Lord visited him in the form of an angel, and he asked Francis to build up the Church of God. Francis, in response, went out into the fields, and he began at great cost to carry massive stones to build up the church, for he felt that at San Damiano, almighty God was calling him to build a magnificent edifice – maybe something like this: walls, a roof.

Finally, a second time the angel of the Lord visited him, and explained to him that He wasn’t looking for a building: he was asking to build up the Church – that is, His people. The church is the building, but there is no Church without all of the people who are here, present.

How does one go about, and how did Francis of Assisi go about building up the Church? He did exactly what was said in the first reading from Exodus. The people of Israel were longing to find the way to do the right thing: to build their strong relationship with almighty God. They commissioned Moses and he went up onto the mountain to talk to the Lord, and say, “Lord, tell us what you want us to do.”  Moses came down from the mountain with the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments – and it is through those Commandments that we build up the Church of God.

Now, the Commandments – there are a cluster of them of our relationship with our loving God. We are to honor Him; we are to worship Him in a regular fashion; we are to reverence and respect his Holy Name. And we are not to put other gods – the god of money, the god of greed, the god of power, before Him. That’s one cluster of the Commandments: reverencing, loving, and honoring God.

Then there is another group of Commandments that talk about reverence, respect and love for the people around us. Honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shall not lie. Thou shall not steal. In other words, those Commandments establish a wonderful, respectful, and loving relationship, so that we become men and women of integrity, that we become men and women that deeply respect our fellow human beings, and we treat them with the dignity that befalls them, because they are children of God.

A third cluster is the cluster that relates to intimate loving and caring relationships with our spouses, that the essence of our relationship – of a husband to his wife, and a wife to a husband —  is fidelity, and that any variation from that fidelity, to have intimate relations with another, is not only inappropriate, but gravely sinful.

And finally, and lastly, in order to build up the Church, he tells up something that is extremely important, that almighty God gives onto each and every one of us certain gifts and certain talents, certain abilities and certain skills, and when we use them, we are praising and honoring and worshiping God in the way that he calls us.

I think of the many gifted, talented people, we have a group of wonderful people right up here – they raise their voices in praise of God. I love to sing, but I don’t know one note from the other. They not only know one not from another, they can sing the right notes. I can’t do that, but if I listen, I can follow them. That’s a gift! I think of the beautiful gift of dance, and the many times that we see and our spirits are lifted by the gift of dance. I think of the gift of the human mind, and the wonderful men and women that cultivate and develop their talents for the good of everything. That is building up the Church.

And when we say, as Francis of Assisi did, to build up the community of God, the Church, the Commandments represent the very basic and very essential steps.

Now as a Church — both the building called St. Charles, and the people – all of us gathered together – we continue to ask in the year 2009, “how do we build up the Church in Brooklyn?” And each and every year, our bishop reaches out to us and invites us to help him build up the Church. Let me give you an example. This year, 2009, the bishop wrote me a note, and asked me to inaugurate and begin the annual Catholic Appeal. Translating: Would we consider one percent – one penny out of every dollar for the needs of, for example, the Migration Office.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother and my grandfather were Irish-Americans. They came from a country called Ireland. Some of your ancestors maybe came from Ireland, maybe came from one the Asian countries, one of the Hispanic countries, one of the European countries, but most of us share in common that our ancestors came from somewhere else. And in Brooklyn — the only completely urban diocese in the world – we celebrate Mass in 62 different languages. Any language you want – I’ll look it up and I’ll send you to a Mass celebrated in Creole, ..Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Afghani language – anything you want, you will find it. And that is all because the Migration Office reaches out and helps people looking to foster a good life here.

In addition to Migration, we also have a magnificent Catholic Charities, reaching out for the needs of those of us who are disabled, for the needs of those who are poor, for the needs of those who are sick: many, many different people who have found very difficult times. The beautiful thing about our Catholic Charities is, that about 98 cents of every dollar spend by Charities goes out to provide help. 2 cents stays to administer the going out of that help.

The Catholic Education office: another endeavor to form and shape our young people in the knowledge and love of God., and it is the men and women of the Education office who assist us educating our young children in knowing the faith, that assist our Catholic schools.

There is the ministry of the Vocation Office, seeking out wonderful men and women to follow Jesus as Sisters, as Deacons, as Priests, as Brothers, to continue to server our wonderful Church. The Vocation Office receives help through your generous contributions and your generous reaching out.

All of this is under the umbrella of the building up of the Church — certainly the building here, but the people of God: you and I. And we are asked if out of our spirit of the Lenten season, a spirit of prayer, of fasting, and of almsgiving: today we are being offered the opportunity for almsgiving, that is sharing what we have and praising God by helping migration, by helping charities and the poor, by helping the education and formation of young people, by helping the vocational efforts of our church, by helping the administration, so that we can continue to grow, to praise God and to bless God and to give Him thanks for all that He does.

What I am going to be doing now is to ask of the ushers – I’m going to give each of you an envelope…. The envelope is an opportunity to playfully consider and reflect in what way, can you respond to the call of Jesus today.

Now some have already have made their contribution, but we would like to reach out to all of you to give you the opportunity to take and share the wonderful gifts God has given onto you with those in need, which those that do not have the opportunity, or the blessedness, to be able to have everything that they would wish. Again, all that I ask is that you think about it and pray about it. And in the sense of dialogue with the significant people around you, ask what you can do. In my own case, I have decided, I will try to give something that hurts a little bit, because this is a time of almsgiving. This is a wonderful opportunity to touch the lives of others. This is an invitation to build up our Church, so that we may grow, we may prosper, we may bless God and we may praise God, always giving Him thanks for all that He has done; always thanking Him for His blessing onto us, and giving praise and glory by offering back our own blessing. So please take this home and prayfully consider what you might be able to do in the remaining weeks of the Lenten season, what almsgiving would befit your family, a tremendous source of blessing.

I might also mention as you look it over, you are invited to make a pledge – rather than one time — each month maybe you can offer something to help. So I would simply ask that you give that prayful consideration as we stand together and recite our Creed.