Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Call To Faith Stewardship

I was asked by our parish Priest to give this weekend's witness talk as our church (Immaculate Conception - Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Parishes in Everett, Washington) begins its annual stewardship or giving appeal.  A witness talk is supposed to be about one's faith journey and why we commit ourselves to our faith and church community.   It's supposed to be about how God is calling each of us to give of ourselves.

I share it with you... 

 Witness Talk

My name is Dennis Kelly.  And I am humbled to be invited by Father Hersey to stand before you to talk about our faith.  And about how we can best support our faith.

All my life, I have felt God’s blessing.  And in thanksgiving do what I can to give back. 

I can still remember my first conscious conversation with God as a small child.  After being shunned by classmates in an elementary school P.E. class, I felt the warmth of God’s presence as I played by myself on a balance beam.

My childhood ended early as a result of two tragic events.  Both tested my faith in God.  When I was 7, my three-year-old baby sister Erin died of a congenital heart defect.  I was the oldest child in the family and she was the youngest.  Her death forced me to question God with, “Why?”  When I was 14, my father died suddenly.   Again, I asked God, “Why?”

I struggled with faith through most of my teen years and early adult life.  In fact, I went on quite a prodigal journey.  But I still continued to experience blessings.  Only now I foolishly thought it was luck or personal talent that opened doors to incredible life and career experiences.

I met the love of my life Mary in May of 1984.  We worked together at KING radio in Seattle.  She was an intern.  I was a newly hired news anchor and reporter.  In 1986, we were married.  The day after Christmas 1990, we had our first child, Sean while living in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In late May of 1994, our second son Connor entered our lives while we were in Portland, Oregon.  As I experienced marriage, childbirths, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, I heard God’s voice.

My professional career in Seattle began at the tender age of 23.  At 24, I was anchoring the news daily and served as a reporter for KING radio.  At 26, I found myself traveling to South Africa as part of a journalistic delegation invited to observe the start of the dismantling of Apartheid. 

Our group met with most of the major players in the country, except one.  Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu cancelled our scheduled gathering at the last minute after learning of our meeting with South African President P.W. Botha. 

But Tutu was far too important a figure to not hear from.  So, on Ash Wednesday, 1987, I took a cab to Tutu’s home church in Cape Town to hear his noontime homily and hopefully get an interview afterwards.  Tutu graciously accepted the interview opportunity even after I explained my connection to the American journalist delegation.  

During the entire interview, I felt God’s presence.  I felt God’s love in the man.  And as we ended the interview, he surprised me with an embrace and we shared a moment of God’s love.  I knew in my heart that God was the reason for my good fortune…  all of the good fortune in my life.  That moment sparked a conscious transformation in my thinking about God’s presence in my life.  It also started a lifelong process of asking God what He wanted in return for the many blessings bestowed on this life.

As I have increased my involvement in the church, I’ve found a deep sense of belonging and interconnectedness with our faith community.  As a lector, reading Sacred Scripture and the “Prayers Of The Faithful,” I feel a limitless passion of faith that words cannot describe; I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.  

We each hear the Lord’s voice differently.  Some listen closely to the voice of God in Sacred Scripture and find comfort, guidance and a call to action.  Others listen to fellow parishioners or friends and through these interactions experience God speaking.  Some listen to the voices of intuition in the quiet of prayer.  There is no right way or wrong way when it comes to hearing God’s voice.  There is just our own way.

I am so aware of God’s presence in the many gifts received throughout my life.  But I count even the simple gifts  like that breath we all just took… as a gift from God.  Life is a gift.  And when we live life to the fullest we want to share these gifts, these blessings with others.

As we heard in the Gospel, sometimes a little is a lot.  And sometimes a lot is a little (Mark 12:38-44).

I’m here to tell you today’s Gospel reading is alive and well.  Several years ago, I was helping at a holiday food drive.  As I stood out in the cold, I saw a man about my age approach us.  Most people were donating cans of food.  This man handed over several crisp hundred-dollar bills.  I thanked him for his generous donation.  He then told me his story.  He said he’d been unemployed for quite some time.  But he had faith.  And faith told him to give what he could.  The man told me he’d always operated from the understanding that what he gives he gets back ten fold in the many blessings in his life. 

The Gospel lives!

When we give, when is it enough?   We each answer that question differently.    Most of us start by counting our blessings and the many gifts we’ve been given by God.  That’s a good place to start.

So, I stand before you.  With this card in my hand.  And I encourage you the pledge your support to our parish.  Your annual contribution helps pay for simple things like the light and heating bills for this room here.  But your contribution does much, much more.  It helps fund scholarships for families in need who want their children to experience a Catholic education.  It pays for religious education and the other ministerial materials.   It pays for a variety of social justice work.  It pays for so many important things.

This is not a bloated budget mind you.  It’s a simple humble budget.  But it needs your support.

Will you join me?  Spend some time thinking about your contribution for the coming year.  Pray on it.  Talk to your family.  Then give what you can.  God will let you know when it’s enough. 

God Bless.  And thank you for listening.

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