Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Sunday, 9 November 2008
A few years ago, my wife and I got to visit Rome and see the Lateran. You’ll find some remarkable objects – above the altar there are relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is also wood that is said to come from the table of the Last Supper.
But one of the most striking spots is actually outside the church. If you go to the square across the street, you’ll see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, with his arms outstretched. It commemorates an important moment in church history: the Lateran is where Francis went to ask the pope for permission to start a religious order. And if you remember the story, his inspiration was a voice that he heard in prayer, a voice that told Francis “Rebuild my church.”
Well, if you step back from the statue of Francis and stand behind it, and look at it from a particular angle, between St. Francis’s outstretched arms you see the Lateran Basilica. He appears to be holding it up with his hands.
It’s a great image – and a great lesson.
A church building is brick and mortar, wood and glass. But – ultimately – it is supported by the arms and the labor of those who love it.
Ultimately, it is people.
It is you. It is me.
“You are God’s building,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. “You are the temple of God and the Spirit dwells in you.”
And it is up to us to keep the spirit – and to spread it – and to help it to dwell in others.
This Sunday, we’re marking “Stewardship Sunday” or “Commitment Sunday.” You’ll be seeing a short movie about that at the end of mass. I think it shows in a beautiful way how our arms support this church – how we all, together, lift it up to God. And how we then become God’s building, His dwelling place. Indeed, when we receive the Eucharist, as we will in a few moments, we become living tabernacles.
And it all begins here, in this tabernacle, this temple of God.
Many of you may remember Gene Flood, a longtime parishioner here. Gene was an important part of this parish’s history: he was the first baby baptized in this church. And nearly eight decades later, at his funeral here, his casket was sprinkled with holy water from the same font in which he was baptized. It was a beautiful reminder of how we mark so much of our sacramental lives within these walls. From baptisms to funerals and a thousand moments in between.
We are church. But this church, in ways large and small, is us. It is where we measure and mark our lives. And it becomes a part of us.
But there is one part that cannot be emphasized enough.
In his autobiography, Thomas Merton wrote, “I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns…and yet now I tell you, it is the Sacrament…Christ living in our midst…it is He alone who holds our world together.”
That is what this is really all about. That’s why we are here. That’s why we have the youth programs and the choir and RCIA and pastoral care and all the things that stewardship supports. It is to ensure that this sacrament, Christ living in our midst, continues to hold our world together through all that the parish does, all our ministers do, all that we do, together.
We do it because of this: the One who draws us to this sacred place. The One who nourishes our hopes, and who calms our fears, and who makes of each of us – with all our flaws and imperfections – his tabernacle.
It is all because of Christ in the Eucharist.
Remember that. Cherish that. And celebrate it.
Because when all is said and done, that is really what we are supporting.
Our prayer should be that we do that with joy, and with zeal and -- like that statue of St. Francis shows -- with open arms and open hearts.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
A study of religious affiliations finds some denominations are richer.
Christian fundamentalists may be at a disadvantage when it comes to cash. A study found a strong link between religious affiliation and wealth in the U.S., with Jews earning the most, and conservative Protestants the least.
Lisa Keister, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, analyzed longitudinal surveys of nearly 5,000 Americans. She found the median net worth of Jewish participants to be $150,890. Conservative Protestants—including Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists—were worth an average of $26,200. Catholics and mainstream Protestants—including Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Unitarians and others—fell in between at about $60,000.
Keister explained the connection between faith and pocketbook by pointing to the role that religion plays in the family. "Families have a big impact on future wealth accumulation, and religion is a big part of family life," says Keister. The study took into account age, education, race and other factors that influence wealth, such as inheritance.
Why were Jews worth so much more, on average? For one, Jewish participants were much more likely to invest in financial versus real assets, meaning stocks and bonds instead of houses. They also began investing much earlier than non-Jews. A strong emphasis on education and good financial habits in Jewish homes contributes, as well as more and better opportunities to increase "social capital."
Keister speculates that conservative Protestants, in contrast, are more interested in the afterlife than in achieving success in this world. Higher fertility rates and hostility toward formal education could also work against their bank accounts. A literalist interpretation of the Bible may also discourage the accumulation of wealth.
Keister does not think the study promotes anti-Semitic stereotypes; rather, she believes that the research provides lessons that could lessen differences between groups. And they don't involve religious conversion. "If we can teach people the basics of saving and saving early, we could improve their well-being," she says.
The study was published in Social Forces.
Last Reviewed 14 Oct 2008
Article ID: 3014
All Souls' Day --1910 Oil on canvas, 51,5 x 72,5 cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest