Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why A Priest Is Called ‘Father’


(Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 30, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 23: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-First Sunday 2005]

“Why do you Catholics call your priests ‘Father’? Don’t you know that Jesus said, ‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven’?”

On Our Sunday Visitor’s list of the top ten questions Catholics are asked, that one is number 8—which means that, if it hasn’t happened already, the chances are good that at some point in the future, a non-Catholic (probably a fundamentalist or evangelical) will ask it of you.

How will you respond? Will you simply shrug your shoulders and scratch your forehead? Will you say—as so many Catholics do—“I don’t know,” and then walk away with doubts in your mind about what the Church teaches? (That, incidentally, is probably what the person asking the question will want you to do!)

Or will you have a well thought-out, logical, biblical response to give him?

Since I don’t like to have my parishioners deceived and led astray by those who would undermine their Catholic faith, I’ll share with you today one possible answer to this question—mine!

If you can remember it, you’ll be able to pass it on to a fundamentalist or evangelical friend, when the opportunity presents itself.

But fear not, even if your memory is a little porous at this hour of the morning and you forget most of what I say, you can always go onto my blog site (fatherrays.blogspot.com) for a quick review.

Then you can go into the discussion well-prepared!

Obviously the passage of Scripture at issue here is the one we heard a few moments ago: this text from Matthew 23. And you must admit, at first glance, Jesus seems to be saying that what we do as Catholics is wrong!

“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”

If I were in a discussion on this issue with an anti-Catholic fundamentalist or evangelical, the first thing I would do is to concede this point. And why shouldn’t I? It’s true, isn’t it? I would say, “You know, it sounds like you’re right. After all, I’m on earth right now—I’m not in heaven. But people do call me ‘Father’. In fact, the Church explicitly teaches Catholics to refer to their priests by that title, although Jesus tells us in this text not to call anyone on earth by that name.”

That’s where I would begin. But, of course, that’s not where I would leave it!

I would then add the following (from now on, incidentally, I’ll pretend that I’m speaking to the person who asked me the question):

“But you know, it’s very important never to take a Scripture passage out of context. If you do, you’ll almost certainly misinterpret it. As you’re well aware, people over the centuries have tried to justify all kinds of evils, by taking one single line of the Bible and treating it like it was written in a vacuum—with nothing either before it or after it.

“To avoid this error and interpret a verse properly, you always need to do two things. First you need to consider the verse’s immediate context, and then you need to consider its wider context (which is the entire Bible).

“The immediate context of this verse from Matthew 23 is Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples concerning the scribes and the Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of the Jews at the time. Many of them, unfortunately, were filled with pride; hence they greatly enjoyed being called by fancy titles like ‘rabbi’ and ‘teacher’ and ‘father’ and ‘master’.

“Jesus knew this—which is precisely why he criticized them in this scene and encouraged his own disciples to be humble.

“But the real question is: In doing this, did Jesus intend for his words in verse 9 to be understood literally? Or was he speaking in a figurative way? If he did mean them literally, of course, then you’re absolutely correct in your assertion, and we Catholics should stop calling priests ‘Father’ immediately!

“However, it seems to me that if Jesus did intend a literal interpretation, then he certainly would have followed his own rule. That sounds reasonable, does it not? He wouldn’t have given his disciples (and all of us) a commandment—not to call anyone on earth ‘father’—that he didn’t intend to keep himself.

“But you see, when we examine the wider context of this verse (i.e., the rest of the New Testament), what we find is that Jesus did not observe this rule himself! For example, in this very same chapter of Matthew (in verses 30 and 32 to be exact), Jesus uses the word “father” to refer to men here on earth! Speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in verse 30, our Lord says, ‘And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Then, in verse 32, he says, ‘Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.’

[By the way, a little aside here: those two passages are from the King James Version of the Bible—the only one many fundamentalists and evangelicals will read. Consequently, in order to make an impression on them, you must use the King James. If you don’t, they won’t listen to you. You might as well be quoting from the Koran! Back now to my explanation:]

“Jesus did the same thing at other times in his ministry: he referred to people on this earth as ‘fathers’. Just read your King James Version and see!

“And so did the writers of the New Testament! St. John, for example, addresses ‘fathers’ more than once in the second chapter of his first letter.

St. Paul calls Abraham ‘the father of us all’ in chapter 4 of his letter to the Romans. And then, in 1 Corinthians 4, he goes so far as to speak of himself as a father—a spiritual father—to the Corinthian people. Can you imagine? Of course, that makes perfect sense to every Catholic, because St. Paul was a priest! As a priest, he was a spiritual father to all the people in the various churches he founded.

“The bottom line is this: If Jesus intended a literal interpretation to his words, ‘Call no one on earth your father’, and if violating the words of Jesus is a sin, then you’re forced into a position where you have to say that Jesus himself sinned! You also have to say that St. John and St. Paul sinned when they wrote the words of Sacred Scripture.

“Speaking for myself, I’d rather not say either of those things, because they’re not true. Jesus was—and is—God! He never sinned. St. John and St. Paul did sin in their lives—but certainly not when they were writing the inspired word of God!

“So what’s the answer? If Jesus didn’t intend that his words be taken literally in Matthew 23: 9, exactly what was he getting at when he said not to call anyone on earth your father? For that matter, what did he mean when he said to avoid the titles ‘Rabbi’ (or ‘teacher’) and ‘master’.

“Very simply, he was saying that no one is God but God! Thus no human person can legitimately take the place of God the Father or usurp his role in our lives. Not a scribe, or a Pharisee—or anyone else.

“First of all, God is the source of all truth. Because of that, he’s our ultimate teacher—although human beings can share in this role, functioning as God’s instruments. (We all know that because we’ve gone to school!)

“God is the ultimate authority in our lives—our true master (although others can share in his authority and legitimately exercise it in certain situations).

“And he’s our true Father, in the sense that he is the ultimate source of our existence.

“Here Jesus is reminding us that we are God’s children, created in the Lord’s image and likeness. That is our primary identity! It is God who has given us life. And yet, when the Lord communicates his gift of natural life to us, as well as when he communicates his gift of supernatural life to us, he doesn’t act alone! That’s key! In his great wisdom and love he allows men—ordinary human beings—to participate in these events as physical and/or spiritual fathers.

“God ‘fathers’ us naturally through human beings (our earthly dads), and he does the same thing supernaturally through human beings (our priests).

“And so it’s fitting and proper that we should call our dads 'fathers'; as it’s fitting and proper that we should call our priests by the same title.

"In the natural order, our dads (and moms!) cooperated with God the Father to give us natural life. And they nurtured that life for many years by feeding us and supplying our basic human needs.

“In a similar way, through the grace of ordination, a priest is given power by God the Father to give us supernatural life (and to nurture that life) through the sacraments.

“For example, God the Father gives his children a supernatural rebirth through the priest in the sacrament of Baptism; he spiritually feeds his children through the priest in the sacrament of the Eucharist—and by the priest’s preaching and teaching; he binds up the spiritual wounds of his children through the priest in the sacrament of Confession; he even cares for his children in sickness and in death through the priest in the sacrament of Anointing.

“These are not just pious, religious rituals: these are some of the ‘fatherly’ duties of a priest.”

So there you have it: a relatively simple answer for a curious fundamentalist or evangelical as to why Catholics call their priests ‘Father’.

The answer, hopefully, will satisfy him. On the other hand, it might not.

If it does satisfy him, thank God! If it doesn’t, then pray for him every day: that his eyes will someday be opened to the truth on this issue.

And while you’re at it, pray for me and for all priests. Pray that we will be what we’re called by God to be: good—and holy—spiritual fathers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

How To Avoid Hypocrisy On Life Issues

Senator Bill Frist: Pray for him, that he will forsake his hypocricy and become a saint!

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 16, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2005]

A couple of months ago, Bill Frist from Tennessee—the majority leader in the United States’ Senate—caused quite a stir when he came out publicly in support of embryonic stem cell research.

This was disturbing to many of us because Senator Frist—who also happens to be a medical doctor—has always claimed to be pro-life.

I decided to write to him about this issue, and about the inconsistency of his position. He sent back a form letter, via email, in which he made the following statement: “Because embryonic stem cell research requires that embryos be destroyed and because I believe that all human life deserves respect and dignity, stem cell research should be conducted only within a highly regulated, transparent system of ethical and moral oversight. Within this system, a limited number of stem cells should be derived only from embryos that would otherwise be discarded or destroyed.”

Now if those two sentences make any sense to you, I would ask you to please explain them to me after Mass. Senator Frist makes 3 assertions there: first, he admits that doing embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of human embryos; secondly, he says that all human life deserves respect and dignity; finally, he says that it’s okay to kill human embryos for research, if they were going to be killed anyway by somebody else.

First, he acknowledges that embryonic stem cell research involves the killing of the innocent; then he asserts that he’s pro-life; and finally he says that, under certain conditions, it’s okay to directly kill the innocent.

That makes no sense, my brothers and sisters! It’s completely illogical.

I wrote the following brief letter back to Dr. Frist:

“So let me get this straight, Senator . . . if a human embryo is earmarked for death by some immoral means, you say that it’s acceptable to destroy this human being in another manner which is just as immoral.

“I’m glad we clarified that point.

“Just for the record, if you decide to run for president someday, don’t expect my vote.”

By the way, those of you who think I only criticize Democrats from the pulpit, please take note: Senator Bill Frist is a Republican!

Quite frankly, I don’t care which side of the aisle a politician is on. If he happens to be on the wrong side of these moral issues, he’s wrong—and he’ll hear about it from me (as he should hear about it from every committed Catholic)!

I mention this today because Senator Bill Frist is being a hypocrite on this matter—in the classical sense of that term.

Hypocrisy comes from a Greek word meaning “to play a part” or “to pretend.”

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to believe certain things, but really doesn’t!

We’re sometimes told that a hypocrite is somebody who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Strictly speaking, however, that’s wrong; that’s not hypocrisy!

It’s true that a person might fail to practice what he preaches because he really doesn’t believe it—that certainly is possible. But it’s also true that he might fail to practice what he preaches for reasons which have nothing to do with hypocrisy.

For example, you may fail in a given instance to practice what you preach because of simple human weakness!—because you let temptation get the better of you. In fact, that happens to all of us every day, does it not? We commit little sins, not because we think the sins are okay (we know they aren’t), but rather because of our weak, wounded human nature.

We believe the right things; we just don’t always live accordingly.

The senator’s situation is different. He says he believes that all human life is sacred, but then he indicates by his new position on embryonic stem cell research that he really doesn’t believe that at all!

In reality, he believes that some human lives are sacred and deserve the protection of the law, but this does not include the lives of embryos (which, of course, are human beings at a very early stage of development). Remember, you and I were once embryos!

In today’s Gospel story from Matthew 22, the disciples of the Pharisees demonstrate this same type of hypocrisy as they converse with Jesus.

They and the Herodians say to our Lord, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”


Since when did they believe that?

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons! That’s what they really thought: that Jesus was in league with Satan!

For almost 3 years they had been arguing with our Lord about the Old Testament Law.

They accused him time and time again of violating the truth that God had revealed through Moses and the prophets.

And all of a sudden they’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus is the great “guru of truth”?

I don’t think so!—which is precisely why our Lord called them “hypocrites” in this scene!

The only thing these men said to Jesus—and actually believed—was this line: “You are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.”

They knew that was true, of course, by their own experience! They were leaders in the community—they had social and religious status—people looked up to them—but Jesus not impressed by any of it! And he let them know that on many occasions—including this one!

Today I believe the Lord offers us a simple challenge on issues related to the sanctity of life. You could call it, the “If, then challenge.”

He says to us, “If you really believe that human life is sacred (which you should!)—and if you believe that life begins at the moment of conception (which is a scientific fact), then . . .”

  • You will oppose abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and anything else that attacks innocent human life at its beginning.

  • You’ll oppose physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and anything else that attacks innocent human life at its end.

  • You will speak about your convictions with others in a respectful but clear manner.

  • You will pray every day that respect for human life increases in our world.

  • You will pray for the conversion of those who promote the culture of death, and for the re-conversion of hypocritical compromisers like Senator Frist.

  • You will offer encouragement and whatever other assistance you can to women in difficult pregnancies.

  • You will offer words of consolation and hope to hurting, repentant women who have had abortions and now deeply regret it. If they’re Catholic, you’ll encourage them to go to Confession, and to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat (if they need inner healing).

  • You’ll make “the right to life” your primary issue when you vote, refusing to support politicians who uphold laws that allow the killing of innocent human life at its beginning or its end—regardless of what party they belong to.

  • And you’ll do all these things consistently.

That’s the “If, then challenge”. It’s the challenge to be true to what we say we believe as disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s the challenge to avoid hypocrisy and to embrace sanctity.

Because that’s really what a saint is, my brothers and sisters. A saint is not only a person who is extremely virtuous; a saint is also someone who is an “anti-hypocrite”. Hypocrites don’t believe what they say. Saints, on the other hand, say it—and believe it—and most importantly, they live it.

May the Lord give us the grace we need, today and every day, to be saints.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Needs And Wants

My new 60 degree wedge.

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 9, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Philippians 4: 12-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2005]

A few days ago I came across this little reflection, written by a Protestant minister, Max Lucado, not long after Hurricane Katrina hit:

“As you’ve listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words? No one laments a lost plasma television or submerged SUV. No one runs through the streets yelling, ‘My cordless drill is missing’ or ‘My golf clubs have washed away.’ If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found.

“Could Jesus be reminding us that people matter more than possessions? In a land where we have more malls than high schools, more debt than credit, more clothes to wear than we can wear, could Christ be saying: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ (Luke 12:15)?

“We see an entire riverboat casino washed up three blocks and placed on top of a house in a neighborhood. You see demolished $40,000 cars that will never be driven again, hidden in debris. And in the background of our minds we hear the quiet echoes of Jesus saying, ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26).

“Raging hurricanes and broken levees have a way of prying our fingers off the stuff we love. What was once most precious now means little; what we once ignored is now of eternal significance.”

This minister, I would say, is absolutely correct in his observations, although I would add one insight to his: Disasters like Hurricane Katrina—and Hurricane Rita—help us to distinguish our needs from our wants.

And that’s good, because under ordinary circumstances it can be rather difficult for us to differentiate between the two.

In fact, I would say that all too often people use the expression, “I need” when they really should be saying, “I want”.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I went into Golfers Warehouse in Cranston and I said to the salesperson, “I need a new 60 degree wedge.”

I did not NEED a new 60 degree wedge!—I wanted one. It was a desire, not a need. I could have survived without it. I wouldn’t have died if I didn’t get it. My golf game might have been a little worse, but that’s another story.

How often have you said, “I need another pair of shoes”—or another shirt, or another pair of pants—when you already had plenty of shoes and shirts and pants in your closet?

How often have you said “I need” with respect to another human person, when it really was not the case?

On that note, what do the Pointer Sisters, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Marc Anthony, Elton John, Rod Stewart and the Beatles have in common (besides the fact that they’re all singers)?

Answer: All of them have either written or sung songs which have the words “I need you” in the titles, referring to other human beings.

But it’s not true, is it? Other people are not like air and water.

Believe it or not, you can survive without a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a spouse for an extended period of time. Some people, in fact, do quite well without them. But don’t try to go without air or water for very long—or you will need an undertaker.

I mention this today because of the beautiful promise St. Paul makes to us in our second reading, taken from Philippians, chapter 4. This promise, obviously, is true—but unfortunately it’s often misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Paul says, “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

The problem here should be obvious: If you mistakenly believe that your wants are actually your needs, you’ll be expecting God to give you things in your life that he really hasn’t promised to give.

As I reflected on it earlier this week, I came to realize that when it comes to needs and wants, there are really 3 categories that items and people can fall into:

The first category is what might be called our “absolute needs”. An absolute need is something we literally can’t do without; we must have it.

Now when you sit down and really give it some serious thought, what you come to realize is that your absolute needs are relatively few in number. Some of the more obvious ones are: air, water, food and shelter.

Other people can sometimes fall into this category, but only for brief periods of time. For example, if you’re having a heart attack, an emergency room doctor can be an absolute need—and so can a priest (for the sacrament of Anointing).

Speaking of priests, I think it’s important to mention that a number of our absolute needs are spiritual and not physical (that’s something we may not think of too often). For example, sufficient grace is an absolute need! We need sufficient grace from God to fulfill our duties in life, to make the right choices, and to resist temptation.

We also have an absolute need of forgiveness, when it comes to mortal sin. Without forgiveness for a mortal sin, you go to hell when you die! That means it’s not optional!

This first category, incidentally, is the only one to which the promise of Philippians 4 applies. But even this point needs to be qualified a little bit. Some of these absolute needs, for example, will only be supplied by God if we ask. I mentioned mortal sin a few moments ago. If you want to be forgiven for such a sin, you have to ask (under normal circumstances, of course, that asking happens in the confessional).

Other absolute needs will be supplied only under certain conditions. For example, if it’s your time to go home to the Lord, the emergency room doctor will not be successful in reviving you from cardiac arrest. However, if it’s not your time to die, God will supply the need and the doctor will be successful).

That’s the first category.

The second category is what I would call our “partial needs”. These are not a part of the Philippians 4 promise, although we can sometimes be tempted to think that they are.

I’ll give you an example of a partial need of mine: my computer. I use my computer a lot; it helps me tremendously in my ministry. In a certain sense I can legitimately say, “I need my computer.”

But it is not an absolute need; it’s only a partial need! I know that because there was a time when I didn’t have one, and in spite of that I somehow managed to get all my work done.

So, if I had to, I could live without a computer again—although I’d rather not be put in that situation.

The same is true of my car. Do I absolutely need it? No. I could take a cab, or I could ask to borrow someone else’s vehicle to get around. Or I could do a lot more walking. But, quite frankly, I’d rather not have to resort to any of those options! My car does help me to fulfill my duties as a priest much more quickly and efficiently. Consequently, it does qualify as a partial need—but it’s definitely not an absolute one.

And finally, there are the many “wants” of our lives—wants that sometimes get mislabeled as “needs”. Here the list is really long, so I won’t mention too many particulars. However, I will say that my personal list includes my new 60 degree wedge; in fact, it includes all my golf clubs!

Your personal list includes your ipod (if you own one); your television set; the latest video games you’ve purchased; and even your cell phone (if you use it for recreational purposes only!).

Children, I would ask you to remember this when you ask your parents for gifts this Christmas—or at any other time of the year, for that matter.

Don’t say, “Mom, I need this great new video game that all my friends have”; “Dad, I need another snowboard; mine’s two years old.”

Say, “Mom, dad, I would like these things. May I have them—please?” Please don’t forget the “please”. And please don’t complain if they say No to your request—because you really don’t need any of these items (even though you might think you do!). Trust me, you won’t die without them. You may suffer a little emotional distress for a short period of time, but that’s about it.

I’ll conclude today with a homework assignment for everyone:

Sometime this week, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Draw three columns on the paper: label the first “absolute needs”; label the second “partial needs”; and the third “wants”.

Then fill in the columns with respect to your own life. If you do it correctly, column 3 will definitely be the longest; column 1 the shortest. And if you’re really honest, you may put some things in column 2 initially, and then realize that you really should have put them in column 3.

When you’re done, call to mind the promise of Philippians 4: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

And end the assignment by thanking God from the bottom of your heart for being faithful to that promise in your life.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

What God Deserves

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 2, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 21: 33-43.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2005]


3 letters that stand for something we’d rather not have in our relationships with other people. After all, no one enjoys being in debt.

But even if we have no balance on any of our credit cards at the present time (a nice thought, isn’t it?), and no mortgage on our house, and no remaining car payments left on our current vehicle—even if we have no human debts whatsoever—we do still have one very big IOU that we need to recognize and deal with: the one we owe to God!

This is a truth that comes through in the parable we just heard from Matthew 21.

First, a little background on the story:

When Jesus told this parable during his earthly ministry, he was directing his message toward the chief priests and the Pharisees of his time—although the story actually involved the entire history of Israel in the Old Testament.

Over the centuries God (symbolized here by the vineyard owner) had entrusted the care of his people (his vineyard) to certain religious leaders—like the chief priests and the Pharisees. (These leaders are represented by the “tenants” in the parable.) It was their responsibility to instruct the people in the truth, and to lead them by example, so that they would bring forth good fruit: holiness, righteousness, charity, etc. And periodically God would send special servants to them (namely, the prophets) in order to, in a certain sense, “collect the fruit”—fruit that these religious leaders OWED to the Lord!

But very often these authorities (who weren’t teaching the truth) attacked the prophets: some, as it says here, they beat, others they stoned, and still others they had killed.

Finally the owner decided to send his own son to them, thinking “they will certainly respect him.” Obviously, the son—who is killed in the story out of jealousy and greed—represents Jesus, who would soon be killed in reality.

The end of the parable prophesies the beginning of the Church, the new Israel—which will be composed, Jesus indicates, of men and women who will take seriously the call to give God good fruit—the good fruit that he deserves!

Now that’s the point that stood out to me as I prayed over this story in preparation for this homily. Notice, the good fruit the religious leaders of Israel were supposed to help people produce in their lives—this good fruit is not presented in the story as some kind of “free will offering.”

It’s presented as an obligation! It was, in a very real sense, their IOU to the owner!

Note the wording in the parable: “When vintage time drew near, he [i.e., the vineyard owner] sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.” The produce was clearly something they owed! And again, later on in the story: “He [once again, the vineyard owner] will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times [in other words, who will give him what he deserves].”

God certainly wants us to love him and serve him freely and willingly (and hopefully we do!): but, from another perspective—equally as valid—it is proper to say that we, his creatures, owe him!

We owe him our love and our obedience and our service!

And this IOU we have toward the Lord has very practical implications for our daily lives.

Let me share a few of them with you this morning.

One of the things we owe God on the practical level is our best effort. Have you ever thought of that before? We owe the Lord our very best effort—which, incidentally, includes when we come to Mass! In fact, I would say that in some sense it starts here!

I’ve had people say to me, “Does it really matter that I come to Mass late every week (or almost every week)? Isn’t it good enough that I’m here?”

No, it’s not.


Because God deserves your best effort—and mine! Barring some unforeseen delay that could not be avoided, he deserves our best effort to be here on time! And he’s deserving of our attendance here until the end!

Others say, “Why can’t I wear sloppy or revealing clothes when I come to church? Does God really care what I wear?”

That, my brothers and sisters, is the wrong question! The right question is, “Should I care about what I’m wearing when I’m on my way to see the King of kings and the Lord of lords? Does he deserve clean, modest clothes and a well-groomed appearance?”

I think he does.

Here’s something else God deserves: He deserves some quality time from us every day in prayer. Now if we really consider the Lord to be our best friend, it shouldn’t be any burden at all to give him what he deserves in this regard!

I notice my 15-year-old nephew Nicholas can’t wait to talk to his girlfriend on the phone at some point during the day. No one has to prod him to do it, because he cares about her.

In a similar way, if we really love God, it shouldn’t be a problem to give him—in addition to attendance at Sunday Mass—15 minutes or more of personal prayer time during the course of any given day, and perhaps also a Holy Hour once a week.

That should be easy.

God also deserves the proper development of our gifts. This is one reason why you young people should be studying hard and applying yourselves in school! God has given us all the talents and abilities we possess. We owe it to him to use and develop these gifts for the good of our families and for the good of society at large. There’s an old saying, “What you have is God’s gift to you; what you do with it all is your gift to God.”

But it’s a gift that he deserves!

And finally, here’s one that many of our Protestant brothers and sisters understand a lot better than some of us Catholics do: Under normal circumstances, God deserves at least 10% of our gross income!

This practice is known as “tithing,” and it was a “given” in Old Testament times. For example, in the Book of Sirach it says, “In generous spirit pay homage to the Lord, be not sparing of freewill gifts. With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.” (Sirach 35: 7-9)

The idea was that God, who is the ultimate source of all we have and are, deserves the first 10% of the fruits of our labor. This teaching, incidentally, was never officially abolished either by Jesus or by his Church—consequently I and many others would say that it should still be a guideline for us today in our charitable giving. In fact, the New Testament encourages even greater generosity on the part of Christians (of course, according to one’s means). Consider, for example, the generosity of the earliest followers of Christ. In the Book of Acts it says, “Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need.”

Those early Christians lived in a different culture and under a different economic system than we do right now. Hence, it isn’t necessary for us to imitate them exactly by selling everything we have. However, the New Testament does challenge us to embrace their attitude of selfless, charitable giving.

Besides, God deserves it!

And one little footnote concerning this practice: A parishioner told me once about a priest who gave a homily on tithing a couple of years ago. This priest happened to live near a gambling establishment, and in his homily he told his parishioners that they had an obligation to tithe on whatever amount they gambled! So, if they gambled $1,000, they were obliged (at least in his mind) to give $100 to some charitable cause.

Personally, I like that idea! I throw it out today for your prayerful consideration.

And remember, you can’t out-give God, as my friend John Ahern would say. Those who tithe will typically tell you that they have never been in want, and that their needs have always been met.

Such is one of the temporal blessings of tithing. But there are others also, which are not of this world. I mentioned my friend John Ahern a moment ago. John is a successful businessman from Maryland, who probably gives away about 20% of his gross income. I knew he did this, and so in the early 1990s I asked him to remember me and my work with youth when he was doing his tithing, and at Christmas that year he sent me a check for $10,000! We used that money to start bringing teens to Steubenville, and for other activities aimed at converting young people.

On Judgment Day, I believe that John and his wife Peggy will be greatly rewarded for helping bring many teenagers here in Westerly to Christ—and even a few into the priesthood and religious life: people they didn’t even know during their lives on this earth.

Which brings me to the thought I’ll leave you with: When we give God what he deserves in terms of our treasure, our time, our prayer, our talent, and our best effort, he doesn’t give us what we deserve—which is actually good news!

You see, when we give the Lord what he deserves, he turns around and he gives us what we don’t deserve! He gives us his strength; he gives us his peace; he gives us his joy; he gives us his mercy; and, in the end, he gives us his life—forever!