29 Oct 2012
Homily for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – October 28, 2012
October 28, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
Friends, I would like to begin my message by sharing something I learned about gifts and blessings from Father Emmanuel Ribiera, a diocesan priest from Zimbabwe. Fr. Mani was a student in musicology at Indiana University during my time as pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center, the Newman Center.
One of the first things I noticed when I concelebrated Mass with Father Mani was that, when the bread and wine and the Sunday offering were presented to him at the offertory, he would softly pat his hands together three times before extending his hands to receive the gifts. One day I asked him what this gesture meant.
He told me that among his people there is a great sense of gratitude for even the smallest gift. When one accepts a gift he accepts it as a blessing not only for himself, but also as a gift for one’s family, one’s village, and, indeed, as a gift for whoever might need it. The three “pats” remind a person that the gift is not a blessing for oneself alone. It is a gift for all. With the gift comes the responsibility to use the blessing wisely, lovingly, and honorably for all. For me this was a simple but beautiful gesture that expresses the heart of Christian stewardship. I have never forgotten Mani’s explanation and I try to remember to honor the spirit of the “three claps” in my heart and at every Mass.
Today we heard in the first reading from Deuteronomy a description of how a Jewish person living at the time of Our Lord should show his gratefulness. Every year a representative of a family would bring a basket of grain or fruit or some produce from the land. He would present this offering of first fruits to the Lord, reminding himself that it was God who gave him his heritage, his land, and the gifts of the land. The offering of first fruits was a ritual way of saying thanks to God, just a Father Mani would say “thanks’ for the gifts of bread and wine by clapping his hands.
It is difficult for me some days to remember that nothing is owed to me; that people are not in my debt; that I am not entitled to something just because I am alive. I need to remember and want to remember that I am a guest of God. Like each of you I am here because he has invited me into the great feast of life. He has given me a little time and a few talents and said, “Here you go, Dan. Make me something beautiful!” Anything that anybody might give me after God’s gift of life is icing on the cake.
I clap my hands for the gift of life and the tools that God has given me to help him build his home among us.
The best way that I can show God I’m grateful is by being a good guest – respectful, welcoming, generous to his other guests. The best way I can say thanks to God is by sharing the table of life with others. Jesus showed me how to do this in the way he conducted himself as both a guest and host. Jesus would eat with anybody, even and especially people who did not agree with him or like him. Jesus tells me, “What you have received without cost, give without cost.”
I clap my hands to remind me to share with others.
If I can keep in mind that I am a guest of God and that the best way I can be a good guest is by being generous and welcoming to others, then I also have to keep in mind that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the field I am currently plowing. My challenge is to share my treasure with those for whom I will remain anonymous or who may simply forget to say thank you.
The third clap wakes me up to the wider world. The gift is not just for me or for my family or my parish or my country; it is a gift for the world, which is to say that whatever I have received from God is his to spend, where he knows it is most needed. Part of stewardship is about the wider view, about leaving our gifts at the feet of the apostles – and their successors. At Holy Family the feeling is that we are moving away from unhealthy and unnecessary boundaries. The mobility of people has made parish boundaries more permeable; the sharing of priests in multiple parish settings has made us more aware that sooner or later we shall be more closely connected and dependent. While there is still a long way to go in overcoming the “them and us” mentality which hurts the trust which is foundational to stewardship, we are taking every opportunity to educate ourselves about the benefits we receive from belonging to the wider Church.
Well, there you have it. Three gentle claps to remind us that we are blessed, that we are responsible and that we are part of something bigger. Please pray for me that I will remember these things and make them – not just a nice speech – but a way of life.