Dedication of Pastoral Center, Saint Gregory Parish, Clarks Green
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time C – September 7, 2019 

What a glorious day that we are privileged to experience in praise of God and with gratitude for all that God has done in our lives and in this wonderful parish community of Saint Gregory. This beautiful worship space that has been “home” to some of you for over 40 years along with your new ministry center are tributes to all of you who, in so many and different ways, have served to grow not merely this church building – but the Church – the People of God in Clarks Green and beyond.

While I could never begin to thank the countless numbers of parishioners, building professionals, neighbors and friends who have helped to bring this day to pass, on behalf of you, I’d like to recognize one person who has worked tirelessly to make this moment a reality: your pastor, Father John Lapera.

Now, with great appreciation for so much of what lies at the heart of our gathering today, let’s do what we do every Sunday:  reflect for a bit on the Word of God and how it speaks to our lives today and especially to this day of celebration.

Today’s gospel passage on this 23rd Sunday of the Church year features two short parables. The first parable seems tailor made for this celebration.  “Which of you, wishing to build a tower – a ministry center – does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?  Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”  …  I think that translates into, “You have do have a plan to pay off the loan for your new center, don’t you?”  …  For the record, I didn’t pick the readings.  They’re given to us in God’s providence – not mine!

This parable and the other about a king marching into battle, when taken together, actually focus on something quite profound and significant in our lives as Christians.  Simply put, they make clear the demands of discipleship.  Jesus’ words are meant to make us fully aware of the cost of discipleship before we embrace something for which we are not prepared.

Jesus begins his reflection on this reality by using the image of the cross that he would carry to teach us about life and our true calling within this wonderful yet broken world.  He then challenges us – through the same cross – to seek reconciliation rather than dominance – to love and forgive without limit or condition – to give totally and completely regardless of the cost or sacrifice.  …  Such is the path of the authentic disciple – the faithful follower of Jesus.

In short, the words of Jesus make it quite clear that the choice for discipleship demands that we let go of all those empty things that we often grasp so desperately and instead humbly open our hands in service and prayer.

But Jesus’ reflections on the cost of discipleship prompt a question, at least in my mind.  How do we measure authentic discipleship?

Jesus reminds us time and again to take care not to judge harshly as we seek to assess the presence of authentic discipleship in our lives and in others.  Yet, he also reminds us that we will be judged less on the externals of religion – what we profess and how reverently we pray – and far more on how generously and selflessly we’ve loved.  …  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Can you see the difference between discipleship that quite righteously talks a good line but never demands that we practice what we preach – vs. – discipleship that preaches love through the lived experience of justice, mercy and forgiveness.

So how do we measure the presence of authentic discipleship in our lives?  …  We surely ought to begin by honestly looking into our own hearts.  …  But we also ought to look at our place within this parish community and the ways in which we – together – have sought to give life to the Gospel message.

Here are some things of which I am aware.  I hope you can recognize them as well.  …  In this wonderful parish, you celebrate life and call one another to a profound respect for this sublime gift of God.  …  You work to instill appreciation for the teachings of our faith in young and old alike.  …  You worship and pray with great energy and devotion.  …  You feed families and clothe the poor.  …  You reach out in welcome to immigrants as they seek a way forward in hope for themselves and their families.  …  You work to heal bodies and spirits, you console those who grieve and seek to open hearts to the Lord.

More than you might ever imagine or admit, you have been and continue to be the voice, the hands and the heart of Jesus – faithful disciples – in so many ways.  Not perfect disciples – for none of us are – but authentic enough to create the rock solid foundation upon which this house of God now rests.

You understand well these words of our late Holy Father, Saint John Paul II.  “The parish is not principally a structure, a territory or a building, but rather ‘the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit,’ ‘a familial and welcoming home,’ the ‘community of the faithful,’ … the place where the very ‘mystery’ of the Church is present and at work.”

My prayer is that we also embrace these words of Pope Francis. He reminds us that our lives as Christians can never lose touch with our responsibility to engage the mission and example of Jesus and to serve generously and selflessly.  “If Catholics do not proclaim Jesus with their lives,” the Holy Father notes, “then the Church is less than what it should be. … But when believers share their faith … embrace the power of their baptism … and serve with love … there is life.”

What a joyful day this is as we celebrate all that God has accomplished in and through this blessed community of believers.  Yet, this day should also remind us that the journey of faith continues for us all!

So, my brothers and sisters – give thanks – go forth in love as true disciples of Jesus – and continue to build CHURCH – the People God has called us to be!