FROM ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” (Mat 25:34ff) What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.
Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.
Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?
Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.
From a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509)
DIOCESAN PASTORAL PLAN
On January 12, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Diocese of Richmond released a new pastoral plan. The paragraphs below are from the introductory section of the plan; more details will follow.:
Encounter the Joy of the Gospel and Set the World Ablaze is the Diocese of Richmond’s pastoral plan for announcing Jesus’ joyful Good News far and wide. It is a five-year plan that is more about becoming vibrant witnesses to His amazing love story than it is about time or programs. The plan calls for individuals and parishes alive in the Spirit, sharing the Gospel in both word and deed. Both are necessary in this skeptical age. The plan is about unleashing the Spirit promised by Jesus, about unbinding rigid ways as Jesus unbound His beloved friend Lazarus, and about unlocking the doors so that this joyful message can flow freely into hearts and homes, counties and countries. This pastoral plan is our way of encountering the Risen Christ anew. This is a pastoral plan which enfleshes Christ’s vision of a people set apart, different from others because they have met Him, been healed, and then sent forth to tell their stories. The plan hopes to inspire a rethinking of “business as usual” in favor of individuals and whole parishes finding new ways to unleash the stories of justice, mercy, compassion, and of a kingdom coming now, even as we wait for it to come in fullness. Let us dare to suffer through the kind of self-examination that precedes transformation, just as Jesus showed us. Let us trust the Spirit’s white-hot fire to burn away that which is not fruitful, and thus leave our parishes ready for this new life in Christ to flower.
This five year plan is both unique and challenging. What is unique about this pastoral plan is that to implement it is to first stop, to pray and reflect on our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Then it calls for a time of honest individual and communal discernment with regard to the degree to which our relationship with Jesus is transforming how we relate to others. Jesus told us the measure of our love for God is how well we love our neighbors, and Pope Francis is making it abundantly clear that we must have particularly tender hearts for the most vulnerable and the poor. Once we have honestly assessed our personal and communal practices using the Great Commandment, we then begin to listen to the Spirit’s call to change. This is a conversion journey, not a program to be implemented.
What is challenging about this pastoral plan is tha t the Lord is calling everyone affiliated with a parish to this work. Pastors, lay ecclesial ministers, parish leaders, and all those who call our parishes “their” parishes have a role, a call, a vocation to share the joy of the Gospel and set the world ablaze. This is not the work of a few, nor can it be carried out with the implementation of a program. It is a way of life; it is Jesus’ Way. Its transformative power will rest in the degree to which each baptized believer’s heart is touched by the Lord Jesus, and they are then given methods, opportunities, and encouragement through the work of the parish so that they share the joy of the Gospel in word and work.