There is a long-neglected garden border between the Rectory driveway and our neighbor's lot. It has several yucca plants and scores of lilies of the valley. Mixed in are daffodils, tulips, and other spring bulbs that are the remnants of Easters flowers planted there over the years. It has goldenrod, maple vine, and other invasive plants too. For several years I've wanted to thin out the yucca, dig out the spring bulbs, begin to eradicate the invasives and make the garden more attractive.
Earlier this summer, I began the project on one of my days off. I cut back the goldenrod and maple vine, and I was working near a blossoming yucca plant when a bumble bee began buzzing around my head. Bumble bees aren't particularly aggressive. Unlike hornets or yellow jackets, you can brush them away, and they usually give you a warning before they sting. I thought the bee was working on the nearby yucca blossom, and if I moved away for a while, it would calm down, and I could come back to work just keeping aware that it was present.
I moved along to another part of the garden and then returned about half an hour later to try to finish the work I had begun near the bee. I thought I saw it busy on a flower, and I went back to work quietly, trying not to disturb it. I stuck my shovel into the ground to dig out one of the yucca plants when I struck a whole nest of bees. Instantaneously, more than a dozen enraged bees swarmed around my head. A particularly perturbed one fastened itself on the back of my neck to sting me as I hightailed it down the driveway. I've decided to wait until a cool fall day when the bees become more sluggish to take up the work again.
Jesus tells His disciples today that He has come to stir up a bee's nest. At his birth at Bethlehem, the angel declared Jesus was the Prince of Peace, which can sometimes cause us to imagine him as wimpy and passive. Sometimes, artists depict him as almost effeminate. He appears sweet and gentle, unlike a carpenter with a muscular body and callused hands. He seems so serene and anything but confrontational.
Today Jesus destroys that image and shows that He is anything but wishy-washy, soft, and bland. He is demanding, and He burns with zeal. He tells His listeners: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." Jesus brings peace but not at the cost of faith.
Jesus proclaims something very radical to the disciples today. He tells them following the gospel has to be their top priority. Jesus tells His followers that being faithful to Him is challenging, and His teachings are radical and demanding. You can't say you're a disciple of Jesus and have a tepid faith. As disciples of Jesus, they must be ready to make a judgment. They have to accept Jesus and reject everything that would hinder their faithfulness to him. Family ties cannot stand between Jesus and His faithful disciples. Not even the love of their family can come between them and their relationship with God.
That is a challenging proposition for us in our current age. Committing to loving God more than our spouses, children, and other family members is a tall order. Making our relationship with God the most significant in our lives and resisting the temptation to put family first is a substantial call. It was even more challenging in Jesus' day. At the time of Jesus, ties to your family and extended family were essential because they were your safety net and were expected to be your source of support when you were in need. Separating from them was to take a tremendous risk.
So, Jesus' call to follow Him, regardless of the challenges and divisions it might cause, was very consequential. Cutting ties with your blood relations to become part of an unrelated group of disciples was risky and stirred up a bee's nest.
Today the Church is called to stir up a bees' nest that makes it no less confrontational and revolutionary as the disciples were in Jesus' time. A Christian today faces similar wrenching consequences as the faithful ones of God at the time of Jesus. Being a devoted Catholic today means embracing suffering if we are to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. Being loyal to Jesus Christ takes persistence and sacrifice. Being willing to stand for the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb, justice for the oppressed, forgiveness for sinners, and speaking truth to power will be costly, and it will isolate us from the mainstream of our culture. Being a true disciple of Jesus even means confronting the uncomfortable truths we tend to shy away from in our lives and those of Church leadership.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, which we read as our second reading today, was trying to stir up a bees' nest too. He wants to stir up a community that has grown slack. It wasn't a community suffering from persecution but one grown indifferent and apathetic. They were reluctant to embrace the hardships and sufferings that come with faithfulness, and they were trying to resist the conflicts and challenges involved in the commitment to the gospel of Jesus.
Today the Church needs to overcome the indifference and apathy we are experiencing. While sex scandals, financial improprieties, and hurts inflicted by insensitive clergy or lay people might make people feel alienated, surveys reveal the most significant cause of a decline in church participation is indifference and apathy. We must stir up the bees' nest by doing all we can to confront the apathy of fallen-away Catholics and reach out to the unchurched and de-churched among family, friends, and community.
The point has been made that the Church is the only organization that exists for its non-members. Think about it. The Church exists for its non-members. Jesus didn't tell His disciples to form a club for like-minded people. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Church is to spread the Good News and help more people to encounter Jesus and establish a relationship of love with Him.
While we are reminded the Church is a community of faith and not a building, a building is necessary for the faithful to gather to have their faith strengthened in word and sacrament. It is a gathering place for them to establish and maintain bonds with their faith family. Only with assistance from other disciples can we have the stamina to pay the price for discipleship. A church building is a physical sign of faith and a monument to remind others of the church's presence in the community.
Holy Redeemer parish is planning to renovate our building to make it more accessible to all people. Construction of an addition on the parking lot side of the church to house an elevator is our focus. The expansion will include additional seating, a more attractive side entrance to the church and parish center, and a new sacristy. The focal point of the new structure will be a large stained glass window visible from Old Harbor Road to draw attention to the church. The window will be one we repurpose from a closed church in our diocese.
In the church, we will enlarge the sanctuary, install an upstairs restroom at the back of the building, put in newly reconfigured pews with cushions, widen the aisles and remove several back pews to establish a family and hospitality area. Since it has been forty years since our last renovations, we must update the fire alarms and other safety systems and construct enlarged restrooms in the parish hall to comply with new building standards. Provided we have the funds. We hope to reconstruct the parking lot to add an entrance from Old Harbor Road.
The current price for the construction is $3M. Bishop DaCunha will allow us to use $1.5 M from our parish savings; $525K will come from the recent sale of land in S. Chatham to the town for affordable housing, and we expect to raise $1M from a capital campaign beginning this month.
We have already received two six-figure gifts for the campaign. Over the coming few days, parishioners should receive a mailing from the parish with a detailed brochure describing the renovation plan and asking for your gift to the capital campaign. Please prayerfully consider your donation to the campaign. When you decide on your giving level, push the envelope and move to the next higher level. If you are contemplating a four-figure gift, could you consider a five? If you feel comfortable with a five-figure gift, could you consider the challenge of a six-figure one?
When making your donation remember the parish will forgo our usual Annual Collection this year because of the Capital Campaign. However, $80,000 from the campaign will need to be used to replace those funds in our parish budget.
We need the support of both year-round and seasonal parishioners for the campaign's success. I request your support if Holy Redeemer Church is your faith community for any part of the year. If you are not on our parish rolls and would like to contribute, the ushers will pass out extra campaign packets next weekend.
Last Sunday, after one of the Masses, a man approached me. He said he and his family come to Chatham for two weeks every summer. He told me his parish in Virginia was in the process of a much larger capital drive. He promised to send a check to help our campaign too. I'll be on the lookout for his gift.
Many parishioners have told me they are excited about the renovations and contributing to the Capital Campaign. I feel our renovation plans will stir up a bees' nest of spiritual energy in our parish that will last for years.