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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Feast of the Holy Family (December 31, 2023)

Holy Family/End of the Year

A chance trip to Target the Friday before Christmas reminded me of when I was a boy. On several occasions, while accompanying my mother while she was shopping, I saw something I liked and asked “Mom can we buy this too?” My mom, with great prudence in her words, responded consistently, “No, we don’t have money for that right now.”

Whether we had money for other things was beside the point. In any case, after receiving that response a few times, I got the impression that we were poor. So I soon stopped asking my mom for things I didn’t really need, to avoid causing her grief (as I imagined). And for the rest of my boyhood, I lived under the impression that we Hottingers were always just a paycheck away from total ruin, or at least having to move to Groveland Elementary.

Now to be fair, a family putting six kids through Catholic schools while financing the ambitions of the City of St. Paul (through taxes) will always be tight on cash. Nevertheless, looking back, and the house we lived in, the neighborhood in which we were raised, the schools we attended… well, we were probably never poor poor, like the Holy Family was. If Mary and Joseph could have afforded to ransom their firstborn with a calf or a sheep, they would have! Alas, all they could manage was a pair of pigeons for the sacrifice, bought for a few coins.

Though it may have been more imagined than real, I am grateful that I grew up in a “poor” family. I learned to do without superfluities. To begin to work at a young age. To be frugal and waste not. And to be grateful for what we had. Later in life I learned too that there are moments in which to be liberal, occasions on which and people for whom we ought to slaughter the fattened calf, as it were. But when the calf is just a pair of pigeons, or the purse only contains two small coins… well, one gives what he can. The goal here is to be able to say with St. Paul, “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil 4:12-13).

St. Mark’s, as far as I can tell, has never been a “rich” parish. It may have had members from wealth: those doctors who lived on “Pill Hill” east of Cretin by the golf course, or the famous Mr. O’Shaunassey who (according to legend) used to write a check to balance the parish budget each year. But whether her members lived in abundance or humble circumstances, the reality at the parish has usually been one of “not having money for that right now,” whatever “that” want or need was in the moment.

How grateful I am as pastor that after having expressed a need–the wherewithal to restore the west interior wall in the church–the parish has responded with such generosity. The window for giving has yet to close, and we don’t have a final count yet, but we are well on our way to not just meeting or exceeding but smashing our $30,000 goal. Of course, all gifts will be put to a good use, and the project itself may well end up costing much more than $30K. But your response is encouraging because, well, this is just the beginning. There are, after all, other walls in need of attention, as well as floors, bathrooms, basements, and more! We can now face those projects with confidence that, with God’s blessing, we will be able to tackle them too, thanks to the dedicated parishioner base He has provided, and those who will join us in the future.

But may God always keep us a poor parish. Not in the sense that things are dilapidated or unkept, or that we can’t have nice things for the Lord’s service. Nor in the sense that there are no Nicodemuses or O’Shaunasseys on hand to fund the Lord’s work. But in the sense that the Holy Family was poor: totally dependant on God, more eager to be generous in loving God and neighbor today than to provide for ourselves tomorrow, and prizing above all the treasure that is Jesus Christ–present in the Eucharist and in our needy neighbor–for whom we are willing to be lavish but also prepared to go without, knowing that what is going to make this parish flourish in our lifetimes is not so much money but the power of the Holy Spirit working through those who believe.

May you keep having a merry Christmas, and now a very happy New Year!

Last Week's Column: Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas

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