It’s Easter! For 50 days we shall be celebrating the wonderfully good news of God’s great love for all of us, made so manifest by the paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  Yes, He is risen.  His job on earth is done.  His mission is now in our hands.  Together we teach.  We sanctify.  We care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us.

One of the major vehicles in the archdiocese for caring for the most needy is Catholic Charities. Every spring CC comes to us with its annual appeal campaign.  They describe it as “bread and butter” time.  Our annual efforts provide the funds needed to serve the nearly 40,000 clients who come to Catholic Charities for assistance every year.  Through Catholic Charities we Catholics are able to offer an array of programs, reaching out to all areas of the archdiocese and serving a wide range of individual needs.  Together we provide afterschool programs for children and their families, help women in crisis pregnancy and strengthen youth to resist gang life.  Catholic Charities exists to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior.  Through the wonderful people who staff Catholic Charities, we are church in service to the poor.

As we reminded ourselves during the Lenten days, now completed, one of the three basic practices essential for good discipleship, in addition to prayer and fasting, is almsgiving.  Almsgiving challenges us to look at our philanthropy a bit differently from the attitude of a purely secular culture.  Many folks, including some of us, tend to contribute to organizations from which we feel we “get” something back.  Getting is a rather selfish enterprise.  Giving is the disposition of a person of faith, especially disciples of Jesus Christ.  The more we mature in our faith, the more satisfied we will be in giving than in getting.  In fact, such growth in altruism is typical of a fully mature human being, let alone a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

On Holy Thursday evening we celebrated the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.  In most of our churches during that Eucharistic celebration the presider washed the feet of 12 parishioners, imitating the unselfish gesture of Jesus Christ with his disciples at his Last Supper.  By this humble gesture of washing the feet of his friends, which expressed the entire ministry of Christ’s life and death, Jesus stands before us and people of all times as the servant of God.  He is the one who for our sake became one who serves, who carries our burdens and thereby, as Pope Benedict has said, grants us true purity, the capacity to draw close to God.

Sincere Catholics always have a great devotion to the Eucharist.  People of faith sincerely want to honor the Body of Christ present in this most Blessed Sacrament of the altar.  Back in the early days of the church, St. John Chrysostom, a church Father, spoke about this sincere desire.  These were his words: “Do you wish to honor Christ’s body?  Well then, do not tolerate his being unclothed; after having adorned him here in the church with silk fabrics, do not allow him to die of cold outside because of his nakedness.  The Body of Christ on the altar needs no garments, but pure souls; but the Body of Christ outside has need of great care.  Let us therefore learn to think and act appropriately in accordance with such profound mysteries, and to honor Christ as he wishes to be honored.  The most pleasing worship we can give to him is what he himself wants and not what we think.  Even Peter thought he was honoring Christ by preventing him from washing his feet, but that was not honor; rather, it was dishonor.  Thus you too must honor him in the way that he himself has commanded, in other words, using your wealth to help the poor.  God does not need gilded vases, but golden souls.”

A popular song during the World Youth Day celebration in Denver back in 1993 was entitled “We are the Body of Christ.”  The hymn poetically expressed our Catholic belief in the church as the mystical Body of Christ.  Who is the church?  We are the church.  We are the Body of Christ.  Some members of that Body have far greater needs than others.  In them and through them we honor Christ in a way he himself honor the poor.  We use our resources of time, treasure and talent to help the needy.  One of the best ways I know in this archdiocese to honor that Body of Christ is through Catholic Charities. 

This year’s Catholic Charities Campaign is taking place during a time when most of our parishes are fully engaged in our archdiocesan Sharing our Faith Shaping our Future capital campaign.  I have been deeply touched by the genuine interest and generosity of so many people who understand how important it is to give, even though they don’t feel they are getting back as much as they might like.  There are others who proclaim their disinterest because they are not interested in the goals of the campaign.  They are the ones who tend to support only what serves their “wants” and not the “needs” of others.  It is just another reminder that conversion to a life of true discipleship is a lifelong process and simply does not happen overnight, not even after Baptism, Confirmation or even ordination to the priesthood.

My friends, the needs being served by Catholic Charities are real.  They may not correspond to our “wants” in terms of how you or I might like to see our dollars used, but our generosity will reflect our true understanding of what Catholic stewardship is all about, a genuine public commitment to serve the evangelizing mission of the church.

Catholic Charities needs the help of every parish and every parishioner.  Our 2011 Catholic Charities annual campaign is scheduled to commence the weekend of April 30-May 1 with a pulpit presentation.  It results in a second collection that weekend or the following weekend of May 7-8.  I have asked our pastors to speak about the work of Catholic Charities and to encourage support for this campaign.  In some parishes a parishioner or a representative of Catholic Charities will offer a few remarks during the announcement time.

Every Sunday of the year we gather to celebrate the Eucharist and thereby commemorate God’s great love for each and every one of us.  During that precious hour we are all bound together as members of Christ’s Body here on earth.  There we find Jesus Christ among us, but we can also find him out there in the world in which we live.  Through this annual Catholic Charities appeal and the other stewardship initiatives of our local church we give a visible sign of our sincere resolve to keep honoring the Body of Christ everywhere!  God bless.  Happy Easter!