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The Voice Crying out in the Wilderness

On June 24th, every year, the Church observes a solemn feast in honor of the birth (or Nativity) of John the Baptist. No
other Saint’s birthday is celebrated with such solemnity. And one reason is, that in the history of salvation, John filled the unique
role of the Forerunner of the Savior, the Voice crying out in the Wilderness. But in addition the Church wants to draw our attention
to the witness of John’s character, which teaches us a great deal about our own path to holiness… and to the Kingdom of God. A
true disciple, John, as we know, was totally devoted to his role as a steward. He made do with the bare minimum, and spent his life
displaying total concern for others, forgoing the niceties of life. As Jesus said of John, in Luke 7:28: “I tell you, among those born
of women, no one is greater than John.”

Can you think of receiving a greater complement than that? Our Lord did, however, continue that sentence to remind us of
our true destination, still speaking of John, He said: “… yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” So, even while
speaking of the great sanctity of John, Jesus reminds us that the attainment of Heaven trumps everything. No matter what we achieve
here on earth… fame, fortune, even a reputation for sanctity, will all be for naught, unless we remember we are but stewards, and
that it is all, truly a gift from God, “on loan”, to judiciously use our gifts to assist all those others with less; to tangibly show that we
do indeed, love our neighbor as our self.

There are so many things I would like to write about today. We are already three days into summer and we have multiple
initiatives in various stages of creation. Four weeks ago, we posed the question about whether or not we should initiate a capital
campaign for the purpose of building a much-needed, 8 Classroom Learning Center. 82% of respondents encouraged us to proceed,
which would entail a campaign period of approximately 24 months to acquire the funds to begin. Almost concurrently, a new
parishioner advised us of the availability of four Modular Classrooms (currently in use at Plantation Oaks Elementary School).
These would allow us to eliminate the two dilapidated trailers that we have been using for over 20 years and cover our needs
preparatory to building the new Learning Center. So we met with the School Official and were given the rights to, and selected, four
units…free of charge. “Free” from the School Board, but, moving company costs will approximate $5,000 each (4 units) plus
acquiring permits, site-preparation, and myriad other compliance obligations. A lot of details to be resolved.

We are also in the midst of a long-delayed project to replace the old shed and install a significantly larger, permanent Storage
Shed; completion of the turnaround/drop off circle at the end of the Staples Mill side parking lot, and installation of a sidewalk to the
Chapel entrance from the Argyle Forest parking lot. Outreach-wise, several parishioners have been planning and are about to provide
a long-awaited Mary, Queen of Heaven Vacation Bible School, here at Haryasz Hall (see details in bulletin and sign-up after each
Mass this weekend). We are about to launch a pre-paid membership for all parishioners to “FORMED”. This is a our gift to you
from the parish, enabling any parishioner to access (on any web-enabled device) a vast library of life-changing, trustworthy Catholic
films, talks, e-books, and studies from dozens of providers. We are in the process of planning the launch of a new “Theology of the
Body for Teens.” This much-needed and highly effective program does involve a meeting with parents as well. More on this later.
We are preparing to provide “Christ Renews His Parish” weekends, one for women and one for men. We are preparing for a
Bible-based adult education series, as well as a return to having a monthly “Night at the Movies”.

There are many more programs in the offing, which we will hear more about later but what has caught my attention over
the past several months was the tremendous growth of our parish in numbers of families. That is absolutely great news. The core of
our long time parishioners have persevered, raised the funds, and built our long-awaited new church. Completed 2 ½ years ago, and
now with much larger crowds at every Mass, what has caught my attention is disconcerting. As you’re probably aware, I do not harp
on parishioner-giving, but we do annually, in the Fall, try to provide a timely reminder with our Stewardship of Treasure renewal
weekend.

We adopted during our first campaign a parish stewardship motto… “Not Equal Giving…but Equal Sacrifice.” I think
everybody agrees that makes perfect sense, and falls right in line with Jesus’s commentary regarding the small gift of the poor
widow. A quick assessment of the last three years shows that we grew by 291 families…now counting 811, almost double the 408
families back in 2013. We have grown by 100 families in the last 12 months, yet a quick glimpse, at the “Funding Our Future”
weekly recaps in the Bulletins, shows we are receiving about $1000 less per week in the Offertory collection (and that includes the
“On-Line Giving”), and we are year-to-date some $5,400 behind last year through June 10th. The current Bishop’s Annual
Stewardship Appeal, indicates the same pattern for our parish. We used to be one of the highest-rated parishes, as regards “Percent
of Participation”, that is the percent of parishioners contributing to the BASA was among the highest in the diocese. No not highest
in the amount contributed, but the highest as regards the percent of givers. The number of our families participating this year is
24.6% versus 30.47% last year.

So, as I mentioned above, that is quite disconcerting…I might even add… puzzling. And it has nothing to do with the
amount that is being pledged or donated. I go back to our motto “Not Equal Giving… But Equal Sacrifice”.
In his play, “Hamlet”, Shakespeare struggled with a mighty question: “To Be or Not to Be?” It seems we are struggling lately
with our own mighty question: “To Give or Not to Give?” Harking briefly back to the example of John the Baptist… totally a
Steward…with his focus clearly on attaining the reward of eternity in the Kingdom of God, I pray that we all keep that need to be
“Good and Faithful Stewards” as a faith-based priority. Jesus did not poo-poo it…rather…He emphasized it over and over. Please
assess your situation, and begin (if not already doing so) to use your envelope weekly. I stress again…the amount you give is not a
concern…that is between you and Jesus. All I ask is that you prayerfully determine what amount you can give weekly, and then
make use of your envelope…using it even, if and when, you are unable to contribute.

St. John the Baptist dedicated his entire life to preparing the Way of the Lord…a prototypical disciple. And let us remember
the way of Jesus is not ultimately one of receiving, but it is one of giving, the very giving of ourselves to the
Will of God. Discipleship is most prominently expressed in a Life of Stewardship… joyfully returning to the
Lord a proportion of all that the Lord has given to us. I pray that every family will take a moment to make that
decision… and I thank you for answering that mighty question: “To Give or Not to Give?”

Yours, remembering that “He must increase and I must decrease”,