25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

WITH WHAT HAVE WE BEEN ENTRUSTED?

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

In today’s Gospel, we hear of a steward who betrayed the trust of his Master, but acted quickly and prudently to regain his trust.  Undoubtedly, the listener is surprised that the steward’s cleaver action earned the praise of the Master, despite the dishonesty that should have brought punishment.

Among other lessons, the parable is meant to leave us questioning our own lives:  how we can be (at least at times) lazy or apathetic concerning spiritual affairs, and yet assertive and ambitious concerning the affairs of work and the world?

Such a question is not just an individual one, but also pertains to the institutions, such as the Catholic Church, and more specifically, St. Basil’s Parish.

This weekend, I have asked the Parish to begin a discussion around stewardship –  that is how we use the gifts we have been given.  Such a discussion begins with the recognition that we have a great many treasures at St. Basil’s.  We are blessed with a beautiful church in the heart of a bustling part of the city.  We are doubly blessed because of our location on a University campus, which provides a well-spring of new life and talents as well as a tradition of Catholic education and that of the Basilian Fathers.

 

However, it is you, the parishioners, who make St. Basil’s the witness of hope, joy and mercy that it is.  Many of you carefully consider your talents, time and monies and have chosen St. Basil’s as a recipient of those.  For this I am very grateful.

But times are also changing.  I am now the only full-time priest assigned to St. Basil’s (Fr. Ken is moving to part-time) and I need help with the administration of the parish if I am to be attentive to the spiritual needs of the parish.  These needs include the particular needs of the next generation of Catholics who attend the University, as well as the many needs of the different generations who call St. Basil’s their parish.

Many people worry because they feel there are not enough priests to meet the many needs of the people, but that is not my concern.  God has given us all we need – we only need to learn how to use what we have differently.  The real threat to any church is a lack of weekly contributions, which form the basis of an operating budget.  If the contributions are good, then we will have the means to adapt to the changing circumstances of our time.  We can create facilities and staffs that allow the priests and ministers to focus on what they are trained for – meeting the spiritual needs of you and your family.

This Sunday, I ask hope you will begin discussions about the blessings you have received and how you will pass those blessings on to others.  As you consider what is important to you in your own life, I hope that you will hold up your own budget to the priorities you value as a family.  Know that I am doing the same with the parish budget – asking that we put money into the areas that are really important to us.

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR SIN & FORGIVENESS

By Maria di Paolo, Pastoral Associate

This weekends’ readings are about sin and repentance: the community of Israel in exile commits idolatry; St. Paul writes to Timothy about his past life as a persecutor and man of violence; and finally, Jesus tells the Pharisees three parables about sinners who repent.  The sins of the community, Israel, and those of the person, Paul, are extremely serious: idolatry is breaking the first and second commandments, and blasphemy, violence and murder, the third and fifth.

God is so angry when the people of Israel make a golden calf and to worship that he threatens to destroy the entire nation, but Moses pleads, “remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”  God is profligate, or prodigal, in his love for his children, Israel, just like the father in the parable is in his love for his younger son.

Paul was a real person who did truly horrible things when he was a young man: he relentlessly persecuted the early Christians, he stood by and watched while Stephen was stoned to death and approved of it, he ravaged Christian communities and threw many people into prison.  He was heading to Damascus to do more of the same when he experienced a profound conversion.  He explains to Timothy, “I received mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”   He says that he received mercy so that he might be held as an example to others.  Jesus’ love for Paul was overflowing, it was prodigal, as is Jesus’ love for us.

The three parables show us a God who rejoices when a lost soul is found, when a sinner repents.  We need to know this for ourselves when we ask for forgiveness for our sins.  We need to know that God will forgive us and rejoice in doing so.  But I think we should also think hard about what we ask of God when we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Is our forgiveness love-filled or begrudging?  Can we let go of past wrongs done to us?  Can we also love the person who has sinned against us?

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

WE ARE OUR OWN DEEPEST MYSTERY

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

We are challenged this week by the notion of discipleship. At first glance it appears that discipleship requires us to turn against our family and even ourselves, but such an interpretation is not consistent with Jesus’ message of love for God and neighbor.

Rather discipleship begins with the naming of priorities. Who or what do we follow and to what extent? If you are reading this, I am sure you would profess the answer to this question is God, but do your actions support your claim?

Disciples must also understand the reason for their priorities. The Gospel uses a number of examples to explain the need for understanding the larger picture. If asked, I think most of us would say that we follow Jesus so that we may have eternal life and to avoid the pain of death and the eternal fire. And while this is not all together a bad reason, it will never allow us to understand the depth of our own potential.

The goal is enter into full relationship with God. It is not about reward, but relationship. It is not about fear, but about love.

Think for a moment about marital relationships. If you get married because you are afraid of pain or being alone, will it last? If you get married because the other offers some sort of reward for the relationship, will it last? In both cases, probably not.

My hope is that people get married because one person helps the other to realize that their potential is far greater than they would know otherwise, which leads to an inexhaustible joy that the other seems to call out of us. This is why marriage is a witness of the love of God for the Church, because this is exactly what a relationship with God does for each of us.

Jesus asks us to come after him – not his teachings, not the miracles – him. Nothing else matters except him. May we all live and love with such conviction to be so great a disciple.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

DINING IN THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE

By Fr. Ken Decker, CSB

Today and tomorrow many families will be gathering for the celebration of Labour Day weekend.  Food and drink are always at the centre of these family gatherings.   Try calling the family together without food and drink.  Few are interested.  Offer food and you have a full house.

The Gospel this Sunday has a meal for the setting.  The particular meal is a Sabbath Day meal.  Sabbath is a very, very important day for families and friends and is centered around a meal.  Jesus has been invited to the Sabbath Day meal at the home of a leader of the Pharisees.  Jesus does not like what is going on with the seating arrangements at the meal.  The guests are not simply sitting around a table waiting for the food and drinks to be served.  Some are complaining: “We should be placed in special seating because we are important.  Let those other people sit in the cheap seats.”  As he often does, Jesus uses a parable to instruct these people.

What we may not realize is this meal story and the other meal stories in Luke’s Gospel are teaching the early Christian community how to behave at the Eucharistic meal, the Christian weekly holiday celebration.

What is to be learned from today’s story? Everyone is welcome to the St. Basil’s Eucharistic meal.  No matter how rich or how poor, how well dressed or how casual, the elderly and the very young are equally welcome.  There are no first class seats for this meal.  Come to the banquet as equals and dine with us.  Leave well fed with the Word of God, the Body of Christ and the love and respect of the congregation.  Then spread the Good News to others.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

AN INVITATION TO ENCOUNTER

by Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

For the past couple of Sundays, we have been learning about the purpose of things:  prayer, activity and even faith itself.  This week, our attention shifts to the immediate consequences of getting the purpose right.

Jesus uses some rather harsh words this weekend:  “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”  Not exactly what you would expect from the “Prince of Peace”. . . .

However, we have all heard dozens of quotes that speak to the necessity of difficulty before goodness.  No Pain, No Gain; There is no rainbow without the rain; you don’t get diamonds without time and pressure; and so on and so forth.

Anyone who lives their life according to the Gospel is bound to cause discomfort and division with some people in their lives (though we must be careful not to use this as an excuse to cause trouble!)

Thus, we aim for peace and unity, but we should not be surprised if there is division and combat along the way.  Our challenge is not to lose sight of the goal, which brings me to our lives as they are connected to St. Basil’s.

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a common theme in my conversations about the Parish:  St. Basil’s as a place of encounter.  In these spaces, we encounter God, and other people we would rarely encounter otherwise.  This is a place wHere people can come together – if we want it to be.

Over the past two weeks, I have started hosting a few potluck dinners for couples soon to be married, new parishioners and eventually all of the ministry groups in the parish.  These dinners started because I was thinking about Jesus – a man who was very good at bringing very different people together.  As we know, he often did this over a meal.

But here’s the thing:  he had no real home for entertaining others and no money with which he could purchase food.  So I asked myself how he did all this table ministry?  Then it occurred to me:  he lived in a potluck culture!

So consider this an invitation to extend an invitation to someone else.  If you want to bring people together, let me know and we can use the parish hall.  If you want to host a few friends for dinner, let me know and I will gladly attend.  After all, this is how the Church was built – around a meal with people who desired to know God more.  Such meals are ministry, because they will help us to come together more deeply around the Eucharistic meal each and every Sunday.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

BECOMING GOOD STEWARDS OF OUR GIFTS

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

One of the questions I frequently ask myself is, “I am being a good steward of that which I have been given?”  Lately, this question has also framed many of my discussions with various ministry and administrative leaders at St. Basil’s and St. Michael’s.

This week, our Gospel asks a similar question:  What are we storing?  Are our treasures things that are important to God or for ourselves?

Like most of us, I find I try to fill voids or needs in my own life with something new.  Whether it be something found at a store, or some sort of new idea, or a new aspect of my life – new fills the void much easier than used.  Of course, the problem is that new becomes used and then the cycle begins. . .

But do we really need more new things, or do we just need to reimagine what we already have?  Our Gospel would suggest that God prefers this approach rather going after something new, because this re-imagination is more like restoration – remembering a history and connecting it to a present.  Quite frankly, I think we like new because it is easy, but it often fails to connect to our soul.

You might imagine I am now longer writing about our own person, but who we are as a parish.  Many people have spoken to me about the people who aren’t coming to church in hopes that I might have some sort of new solution.  While I love the question, I believe it is secondary to a more important question:  what about the people who are already here?  Do they find what they are looking for?  What about the things we already have?  Can these things be reimagined to address the needs of today?

I have been amazed at how many people walk into to St. Basil’s – literally thousands – every week.  As I try to meet everyone, I am frequently asking if they find what they are looking for in this place.  Many are looking for silence, others connection with God or other people; still others instruction.

However, I have also found that many do not, but they keep coming in hopes that one day they will find what they are looking for.

So where does this leave us as a community?  Where does it leave you, the reader?  In short, the question of others coming (or not coming) to church is answered in ourselves.  If others find us fulfilled with what we have, using well the gifts we have been given – they will come and stay.  So we start there.

May the Lord bless us with eyes and minds to see what we have been looking at for years, with new a new vision and new creativity.  And may the Lord give us the courage to use the treasures we already have in a manner that brings us, and others, closer to God.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

BELONGING TO A PARISH RATHER THAN A CHURCH

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “Words create worlds”.  Indeed, words matter and they shape how we act and what we believe.

Over the past few weeks, I have been handing out a number of business cards, and some people have noticed that I used the word Parish rather than Church to identify St. Basil’s.  The distinction is an important reminder for me to be more focused on the needs of the parish (the people that occupy the building) rather than the church (the building itself) – though admittedly there are building issues to address.

(It is also important to understand the distinction between a church and the Church – local building vs. mystical body of Christ)

A similar analogy can be made between house and home.  This is not to say that I want to get caught up in semantics; rather to emphasize a particular focus, responsibility, and sense of belonging

Pope John XXIII once remarked that, “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

The question is how we cultivate such a garden of life at St. Basil’s?  For me, it begins with learning people’s names (which I am trying very hard to do) and then learning their stories, because once we begin to share our stories with each other, we start to feel we belong.

And isn’t this the point?  Belonging?  Though some would say the point is about what we believe, my experience has taught me that most of the time belonging leads to believing.  While there are exceptions, but most of us are Catholic because our families were Catholic.  Only later, did we claim for ourselves a belief that we inherited early in life.

Granted, if you are reading this, then you already understand the importance of belonging and probably contribute to St. Basil’s Parish.  Over the next few weeks, I hope to provide you with some new tools to better introduce others to our community, such as welcome packets for new parishioners and business cards that advertise websites, location and Mass/Confession times.

Of course, there are some that want to be anonymous here, which is a particular strength of St. Basil’s, but for those that call this place a home and parish, then let our words create a new world.

If Heschel is correct, then my hope is that we start to identify ourselves as belonging to St. Basil’s Catholic Parish, as a place where stories are shared, names are known, and belonging leads to belief.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A NEW PASTOR BEGINS. . . 

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

When I was ordained, only a little over four years ago, I was told I should make a prayer card to mark the occasion.  Though I am not one to stress over details, I was very aware that such a card was as much of a statement as a tool for prayer.  What image and message to do you chose for such a momentous event?  How do you convey the sense of mission, gratitude and joy that you feel as you begin a new journey?

It is not hard to imagine why I bring up that experience as I write my first bulletin message here at St. Basil’s. . . after all, this is my first time to serve as a Pastor.  I am grateful for the confidence that is shown in my own person by this appointment.  I am deeply humbled by the tradition of this particular parish.  I am overwhelmed by the amount of activity that exists here.  And I am filled with joy because of the many possibilities that lie before us.  In fact, my own heart echoes the Psalm this week:  “Let us cry out to God with joy!”

My prayer is that you feel the same sense of joy as we begin a new journey together.  I pray that you feel comfortable enough to share your stories, wisdom, and dreams with me; as I hope to share mine with you.  You may consider this an open invitation to do just that at any time; after all, there is always room in a day for another cup of coffee and good conversation.

But before that conversation occurs, you might be wondering what I chose for the prayer card to mark my ordination?  The image was of the Apostles putting out into the deep, painted by a monk at Benedictine Monastery in Mission, BC.  And the prayer was the daily prayer of Eleanor Roosevelt when she was chairing the committee that wrote the Declaration of Human Rights.  It read,

Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.  Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far-off goals.  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying; make us sure of the good we cannot see and of the hidden good in the world.  Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us and our hearts to the loveliness men and women hide from us because we do not try to understand them.  Save us from ourselves ­­and show us a vision of a world made new.

Amen.