16th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2022

The parish Finance Committee held its monthly meeting on Monday. After we reviewed the past month’s balance sheet and discussed the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, conversation led to the planned church renovation project. One member asked if there had been any feedback from participants who attended last month’s parish meetings, where we displayed the renovation plan and discussed its costs. Memebers shared that they had heard positive feedback and many people said they were excited about the project. Someone mentioned that a participant had said, "All we need is the elevator and the restroom at the back of the church and not all the other stuff."


I want to address the comment on practical and theological bases. On the practical level, as the architect Deacon Tom Palanza pointed out at the meeting, some renovations, such as those to the Parish Center, are necessary to comply with new building codes enacted since our last church renovation over forty years ago. At the meeting, Tom explained that when the price of a building’s renovations exceeds a percentage of the building’s value, those renovations must include updates for better handicapped accessibility and fire codes. So, some of what that parishioner sees as unnecessary is what the law mandates. I’m not whining, just explaining. 


The second reason for the renovations is theological, which goes to the heart of the purpose of a church building. Our parish church isn’t a clubhouse for Catholics, and its purpose isn’t to be a place to accommodate only its members. It must be welcoming to everyone. A church is a tool for evangelization, and for centuries Catholics have recognized church buildings as an instrument to welcome strangers. Our Catholic tradition is to make our churches a little bit of heaven in our midst. We see the church building as a tool for sharing the faith. Traditionally, they have even been decorated lavishly with artworks to lift our spirits to feel the glory of God. They have been a vital tool to help share and support the Christian faith. 


This church’s origins date back to the early 20th Century. In those days, a small group of local Catholics, employees of Chatham’s resort hotels, and some seasonal residents began celebrating Mass here in Chatham during the summer. At first, they used private homes, and the present rectory was one of them. Later a non-Catholic woman offered a cottage to be a consistent worship space for the small community. 


That Catholic community wasn’t satisfied with those arrangements. Although they probably were sufficient for their immediate needs, they envisioned an actual church building as a sign of their presence in the local community and an invitation to seekers to come, see and learn about the Catholic faith. Plans for this church began in 1914, and in 1916, the community dedicated it. Over the years, the parish expanded, redecorated, and updated this building several times to ensure it continued to be a welcoming place for parishioners, our many summer visitors, and those searching for a relationship with God. Now is the time to renovate again to make this space as welcoming as possible. 


A building is only as welcoming as the parishioners who worship in it. It needs people who recognize when they come to church, they will be entertaining God in their midst. Recently, a parishioner did that. The parishioner had an encounter with a visitor who asked her the way to the restroom. Rather than give her directions, the route to the restroom downstairs can be a little intricate. The parishioner offered to walk with her. She waited outside and then escorted her back upstairs to church. The visitor was grateful and after Mass, approached me to say how welcome she felt at Holy Redeemer. I was most appreciative. A small gesture of hospitality had a great reward. 


Hospitality is the key to sharing the faith and is the theme of today’s readings. Abraham had his hospitality tested in our first reading. When Abraham and Sarah first left the security of their home to follow God obediently, God had promised Abraham would be the father of a great nation. Despite Abraham’s faithfulness to God, Sarah and Abraham were childless and very old, and it appeared God had let them down. 


Today, God, along with angels, comes to affirm Abraham’s faithful devotion. Unbeknown to Abraham, they approach out of the desert as strangers. Abraham follows the ancient practices of hospitality but goes far beyond its expectations. He doesn’t just give them water and a meal but directs Sarah to prepare a massive amount of flour for rolls and his servant to slaughter a choice calf to offer his visitors a sumptuous feast. God and the angels are impressed by Abraham and Sarah’s welcome and, as implausible as it seems, promises by that time next year, Sarah, long beyond the childbearing years, will have given birth to a child. 


Jesus didn’t visit Martha and Mary to use their home as a place to crash on his trip up to Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t there to test their hospitality. He wasn’t only in town to get a good hot meal and some rest. Jesus came to enlighten Mary and Martha and invite them to discipleship. He had come to call them to convert and develop a relationship with Him.


Mary was responsive to Jesus. She put aside her culture’s norms of hospitality and accepted Jesus’ offer of welcome to a relationship with Him. Martha’s anxiety and worry about her community’s expectations for hospitality caused her to block her openness to a relationship with Jesus. Martha’s reaction makes us stop to ask if we are too busy trying to comply with the world’s expectations to allow Jesus to establish a relationship that opens us to conversion. 


If we are parents, are we overwhelmed trying to provide what our culture contends is a good home for our family? Do the demands of our occupation consume our time, so we don’t even think of our relationship with Jesus? Do we let our children’s extracurricular activities take persistence over helping them learn to develop a relationship with Jesus? Many of you welcome family and friends on vacation to your homes this time of year. Do you allow the demands of hospitality to cause you to push to second place your weekend Mass attendance? Showing your visitors coming to Mass is crucial for you regardless of the other demands on your time is an excellent form of Christian witness. Even better is inviting them to join you. 


Today, Jesus comes to us as He came to Martha and Mary, not seeking only our hospitality but asking us to open our hearts to a personal relationship with him. Prayer and scripture are the keys to developing a close relationship with Jesus. Is prayer a significant part of our day? Do we set aside time each day for prayer? It can start small. Maybe begin by setting aside even as little as ten minutes each day. Make a time that is convenient for you. It can be the first thing each morning, while you are on your lunch break, or at the quiet of the day’s end. Make it a time to listen and not talk at God. It might feel awkward initially, and don’t be distressed if your mind wanders; refocus or turn your distraction over to God. Build on your prayer time little bit by little bit.


Reading sacred scripture is also crucial for building a relationship with Jesus. Remember, the Bible is a library and not just a book. I encourage first-time scripture readers to start by reading the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. That part of the Bible relates how the early Christians tried to live out Jesus’ good news. It’s written in a narrative style and is easy to read.


A few weeks ago, a parishioner called asking if I had a Bible. He wanted to give it as a gift to someone who had requested one. Even though the Bible is the world’s best-selling book each year, and there are at least three bookstores in town, none stocked the Bible. I happened to have several copies for just such times, so I gave him one for the gift and one for him. The following weekend I saw him coming into church for Mass, and I asked how his Bible reading was going. He said, “I’ve read through Acts.” So, someone's listening. 


Our union with God through prayer will overflow into all of our activism in life. Anyone, even an atheist, can do good works, and many do them. But a relationship with Jesus overflows into all of our activities. It gives our good works a particular purpose as we do them out of our desire to imitate Jesus and be instruments of God’s love for all our neighbors. 


A church is so much more than a building. It is a community of faith developing their relationship with Jesus and reaching out to share God’s love with the lost and those who seek a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a sign of hospitality to the many seeking refuge in a world of pain and loss. 


My prayer is that our church renovation project won’t be one that only updates our physical building but also our spiritual community. I pray it will deepen our commitment to a relationship of love for God and replenish our energy levels to reach out to those looking to grow in faith. 


The Eucharist we will shortly celebrate is God’s gift of grace for us. Again today, Jesus will offer His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to strengthen us in holiness for a relationship of love with him. Accept Jesus’ Real Presence into our hearts today, share his love, and be renovated into a sign of God’s new creation.