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The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 3, 2019


    I have always found it easy to identify with Zacchaeus.  I’ve spent half my life standing on tip-toe to see above the crowds. I did it a couple of weeks ago in St. Peter’s Square at the Canonization of Cardinal Newman, trying to get a glimpse of Pope Francis. So it’s not at all difficult for me to feel a certain kinship with Zacchaeus the tax collector who had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus.

     But it’s really not Zacchaeus’ stature that’s important, of course.  It’s his story.  And that’s something each one of us should be able to identify with.  The Zacchaeus story is the story of one person’s journey of faith but it’s probably not all that different from yours or mine.

     You can identify, can’t you, with Zacchaeus’ very cautious and tentative approach to Jesus?  All he wants is to get a look at Jesus, nothing more.  Climbing a sycamore tree gives him a vantage point but it also allows him to keep a safe distance.  He can hide among the leaves.  Or so he thinks.  It’s a little like Dorothy Day whom I talked about last week: remember how her curiosity brought her to old St. Joseph’s Church in New York?  But only to the back pew?  The back pew was Dorothy Day’s sycamore tree.  But what happened in the back pew, and what happened in the sycamore tree is what counts: Jesus comes along.  Jesus found Dorothy Day in her back pew just as he found Zacchaeus peering carefully through the leaves and branches of his tree.

     For both of them, the journey of faith began with curiosity, a desire just to catch a glimpse, but Jesus didn’t leave it at that.  He found a way to get through.  He gently forced a meeting, a moment of truth.  “Zaccheus, hurry up and come down.  I mean to stay at your house today!”  And the meeting – the meeting brought great joy and, even more importantly, it brought about conversion, a profound change of life.  “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.”  Zacchaeus, the miserly little tax collector, must have been amazed to hear himself saying those words.  He could not have expected he’d be saying them when he climbed that tree!

     My friends, as with all the gospel stories, we are invited to see our own story in the story of Zacchaeus.  Are you someone who has been hiding in the security of a tree, content to look at Jesus from afar, and just as content not to get very involved with him?  If so, perhaps Jesus is looking up at you now, inviting you down, letting you know that he wants to stay at your house. What is your response going to be? Could this be a conversion moment for you as it was for Zacchaeus?

     This weekend, there’s a particular kind of conversion I want to ask you to consider. I want to ask you – and I’m asking myself, as well - to take a fresh look at one aspect of your life of faith: the way you contribute to the support of the Church. I can here you saying to yourself, he’s going to give us the money pitch.  And I guess I am, but this is really more about faith than about money. So there’s a question I’d like you to ask yourselves: what does my giving say about my faith? What does my giving say about where my faith fits among my priorities? What does my giving say about what I really regard as important?

     Now, I need to tell you that I feel awkward talking about giving - partly because many of you are so very generous, partly because I just don’t like to talk about money. But I also feel confident about my task and let me tell you why.

     I feel confident about asking you to take a prayerful look at your giving to the Church because I know you are people of faith and that you care about what’s really important in life.

     I feel confident because I know that you are aware of where your blessings in life come from – that they are always, always gifts from God – entrusted to you by a loving and provident God not to be hoarded or hidden away, but to be used wisely and to be shared generously.

     I feel confident because I have the advantage of having known you for many years. I know that you really believe that it is “more blessed to give than to receive,” and I know that you love this cathedral, this parish and that you want it to continue to be second to none in this community: a beacon on this hill, a place where God is praised in beautiful liturgies and where God’s poor are served each day through an amazing array of outreach ministries.

     I feel confident to ask you to renew your annual sacrificial giving pledge – or to make a pledge for the first time – because I know that if God has blessed you with considerable financial resources you will want to share them, and if God has not so blessed you, you will still find joy and meaning by giving modestly like the poor widow of the gospel.

     Years ago I received a letter from a retired university professor. In it he enclosed a sizeable check to assist with our cathedral outreach ministries.  His letter was brief.  “I used to think this was my money,” he wrote, “but no longer.  It’s God’s.  And God’s dough is to be used for God’s work.”  He concluded with a P.S.: “No acknowledgment, please. I try not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”  Pretty amazing. I thought to myself: here is someone who has allowed himself to be converted as Zacchaeus was. And he is not alone. There are many of you in the pews this morning/evening who would say the same. So, yes, I do feel confident!

     My friends, sacrificial giving means giving in faith.  For some it means a few dollars; for others, it means thousands of dollars.  The amount is less important than the sacrifice.  If it costs you to give – really costs you – then your gift will be worthy of you and, more importantly, it will be worthy to be offered to God.  That’s what your gift is, and that’s why we carry it to the altar along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist. It’s a sacred thing and a serious thing. So I guess the question for us to ask ourselves is: when I place my gift in the basket, can I honestly say, ‘this is the very best I can give you, Lord?’

     Of course, if you’re on a fixed income, that’s one thing. I totally get that. But if you’re one of the many – and I do mean many – who have gone on autopilot with respect to your giving, who are still giving at the same level you’ve given at for years when everything else has changed, including your salary and your cost of living, and maybe your investments, then you may need a conversion with regard to your giving.  The same is true for those of you who are barely giving at all – except, perhaps, for a token dollar or two when the collection basket comes around.

     I’m going to conclude where I began: with Zacchaeus, the patron saint of all of us who might be hesitating, holding back, looking at Jesus from a safe distance. Could that be you?  If so, Jesus could be looking up at you, inviting you to come down, inviting you to conversion, letting you know that he wants to stay at your house today!

Father Michael G. Ryan




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