2nd Sunday of Lent
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004

First Reading - Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
Second Reading - Philippians 3:17 - 4:1 or 3:20 - 4:1
Gospel - Luke 9:28b-36

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It's April 28, 1997 and armed Hutu militiamen have just attacked the major seminary in Burundi in Central Africa, forcing all 34 resident seminarians into the courtyard in front of their chapel.  The leader of the invaders demands that the seminarians divide themselves into Hutu and Tutsi groups.  The seminarians refuse, huddling together instead of declaring themselves members of any one tribe.  The commandant insists again, ordering his cutthroats to aim their rifles at the united group of students, threatening to open fire if the men do not obey his command to divide into the two ethnic groups.  The seminarians remain united, defying the threat.  Then, the commandant does the unthinkable - he orders his men to open fire, mercilessly cutting down in cold blood those 34 seminarians who wanted nothing more than to be priests of Jesus Christ.  I begin with this episode of modern day martyrdom because these 34 men are exemplary models of what I will preach on tonight - the notion of sacrifice.  These men paid the ultimate price - they sacrificed their very lives.

The sacrifice I want to talk about tonight is much less dramatic but entails sacrifice nonetheless.  I must admit that in my brief experience of preaching, I have to say that I have never had more trepidation about broaching the topic that I must speak on this evening.  No - it's not about the evils of abortion or contraception or other moral issues; it's not about a scandal in the Church; plain and simple - I am preaching tonight regarding sacrificial giving for the Bishop's Lenten Appeal.  The reason I have difficulty with what amounts to asking for money is because I've always figured that if we as clergy fulfill our vocations to be good pastors and spiritual leaders of the portion of God's flock entrusted to us, the money will come.  Sadly, it's not that simple - hence, the subject of tonight's homily.

The Bishops Lenten Appeal is aimed at financing the operational needs of the entire diocese since the diocese offers many more services than are found at the typical parish.  Each parish is expected to contribute its portion to the big pot, as it were.  Some of the programs that the Bishops Lenten Appeal  finances include:
    The acquisition of land for the building of parishes
    Catholic Charities and all of its subsidiaries
    Catholic schools and youth ministry
    Outreach to the Hispanic community
    College campus ministry in the diocese
    Family Life office, which includes our marriage prep program
    Finally, priestly formation - that is, seminary education and insurance benefits for retired priests

It's an exciting time to be in our diocese.  When many dioceses are consolidating parishes and closing facilities, we are in a building and development mode.  However, in order for us to maintain the level of excellence that we've come to expect and enjoy here, we need your help.  Believe it or not, but when I applied to the seminary, I wrote to then Bishop Keating and told him that I was a direct beneficiary of the Bishops Lenten Appeal.  I went to Catholic grade school and high school in Annandale and Alexandria, respectively and I participated in many youth activities at the diocesan level in high school.  Most recently, I was able to attend seminary at Mount St. Mary's up in Emmitsburg, Maryland - again, all courtesy of the Bishops Lenten Appeal. 

It's quite appropriate that today's Gospel reading narrates the account of the Transfiguration.  Jesus reveals his glory in the Transfiguration as a means of encouraging his disciples in the face of earthly difficulties.  Having seen the Transfigured Christ, that promise of future glory would remain in the minds of the disciples and give them hope to remain faithful even in the aftermath of Calvary.  In these economically uncertain times, we are tempted to at times lose hope and get distracted from what really matters in life - our relationship and commitment to Jesus.  The Transfiguration should give us encouragement and fill us with hope. 

When we generously share our resources, we express trust in God's providence and we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ as a means of demonstrating that we have hope for the future, even in the face of present challenges.  At the same time, we offer back to God resources which the Church can then use to spread the Gospel.  Similarly, when we gather for the Eucharist, the supreme act of thanksgiving, we offer our very lives in the bread and wine which becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus at the consecration.  This transformation which occurs on the altar is a parallel to the transfigured Christ in today's Gospel.

This even extends into thoughts about what to give each week.  As I mentioned this summer, we are faced with two options.  The Old Testament standard given to us in Genesis is to give 10 percent, just as Abraham gave to the priest, Melchizedek.  The new Testament standard given to us by our Lord is to go and sell everything you have and come and follow me.  I say, give 10% and call it even.

Practically none of us here spends our day doing any of the real charitable work that the Bishop's Lenten Appeal calls for.  How many of us are going to the missions in the Dominican Republic?  How many of us work at the homeless shelter down in Old Town?  How many of us provide the nuts and bolts type of services that make Catholic charities operate?  Not many of us here will be directly involved in building the high schools we need or the parishes that are waiting to be established or the priest's retirement home that we simply don't have.  But we can help in a significant way - we can give.  Lent is typically marked by increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  For most of us here, giving to the Bishops Lenten Appeal is the most direct way we can give alms this Lent.

The Bishop requests your prayers for a successful campaign.  At this critical juncture in the diocese's history, we can use every prayer we can get.  We ask that you pray this prayer and take some time to discern the Lent what God is calling you to give this year - to give sacrificially.

Your are known to be a generous parish and in these less than desirable economic times, it will be an even greater act of charity and faith to contribute generously and sacrificially this year.  Probably none of us here will be required to give up our lives for the sake of the kingdom as those heroic 34 African seminarians did in Burundi just seven years ago this April.  Yet, each of us is called to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.  May we always have the confidence that God is never outdone in generosity and the bounty he promises for each of us who give sacrificially is more than we could ever give to His Church.

Praised be Jesus Christ.  Now and forever!

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