Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 9, 2014

Many years ago some friends of mine were confronted with an unusual question. Their seven year old daughter came home from school, and asked, “Is Johnny Appleseed a Saint?” The question was typical of those that occupy the minds of seven year olds, but my friends had no immediate response for their daughter. It required them to do a little research to figure out what she was asking, and why she was curious.

Johnny Appleseed was the nickname given to John Chapman, who was born in 1774 in a small town in Massachusetts. He belonged to a reform movement of the Anglican church, and was a man of deep faith. As a young man he was made an apprentice to an apple farmer, and learned horticulture. As he grew older, his faith inspired him to take the knowledge he’d been given, and put it to work in service to those in need.

The cultural myths that earned him the name Johnny Appleseed are based on some interesting facts. After his apprenticeship he purchased land, and planted apple tree nurseries in several locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He left the nurseries in care of local residents, and returned occasionally to tend the trees. The nurseries existed in order to provide trees to settlers who were moving into the midwestern territories of the United States. The midwestern settlers were required by law to plant orchards in order to secure their claim to the land. Johnny Appleseed’s nurseries provided the trees that allowed families to build new homes and open the midwest to expansion.

Chapman became an itinerant preacher, evangelizing both the midwestern settlers and Native Americans. He is remembered for his religious zeal, devotion to God’s creation and compassion toward others. He was the sort of person who embodied the words of today’s first reading, “if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

This passage of Isaiah is typical of what the Scriptures say about love of God. It is not possible to love God unless we can say honestly that we love our neighbor. (cf 1 John 4:20) Love of neighbor is necessarily expressed in loving actions, but these actions are done neither for one’s own gain or that of one’s neighbor; rather, we do good works in order to give glory to God. (Matthew 5:16)

John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, left behind a legacy of religious fervor and generosity to strangers. Some of the orchards planted with trees from his nurseries still stand, and still produce fruit. It’s easy to understand how my friends’ seven year old daughter arrived at her question. She was enrolled in First Communion classes at church, and had probably been told about the lives of the Saints in those classes. When she read about Johnny Appleseed in Social Studies class at school, she made the obvious connection in her mind. She had been taught in Sacramental Preparation classes that devotion to God must be expressed in compassion toward neighbor. She saw in Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman a real connection between faith and action. I’d like to invite you to make a similar, obvious connection today.

This Sunday marks the beginning of the 2014 Annual Pastoral Appeal campaign. (watch this year’s video) The Annual Pastoral Appeal raises money to fund the many activities and ministries of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Some of those activities are well-known and much-loved, such as the Family Life and Respect Life offices, the Inner City and Migrant apostolates, and training for our seminarians, permanent deacon candidates and lay ministers. APA funds much less glamorous activities, as well: activities such as maintaining the Bishop’s office, planning for future parishes and providing property insurance for parish buildings. These activities don’t necessarily engage the imagination, but they are necessary aspects of maintaining the Diocese, and a Catholic presence, in west central Florida.

A previous generation of believers built this diocese and much of its infrastructure. The land on which All Saints Catholic Church sits was part of a much larger parcel purchased in 1954 when this area was in the Diocese of St. Augustine. We are the beneficiaries of the vision and generosity of the Catholics of the Diocese of St. Augustine who paid for this property. We are also responsible to maintain what we’ve received, and to continue to build on those past contributions. The annual APA campaign provides us with the means to continue the mission that Jesus has entrusted to us: to serve, to educate, to care for the poor and to be a beacon of hope to all.

Our parish goal last year was $83,417. You, the parishioners of All Saints, made pledges equaling 95% of our goal, and we were able to meet that goal without using any money from the Sunday Offertory collection. Our goal this year is $91,759, which is approximately a 10% increase over last year. I don’t consider the increase to be a problem. All Saints parish has always been strongly committed to the APA campaign. The average pledge from parishioners of All Saints was $388, more than $100 above the diocesan average of $285. You folks are super-stars!

Our contributions to the Annual Pastoral Appeal make a huge difference in parish life and in the lives of those in need. Pinellas Hope, a local shelter for the homeless, is funded by APA. Our diocesan radio station, Spirit FM, is also funded by APA. The Scouting office, Youth Ministry office and the Foundations of Life Pregnancy Centers are funded by APA. The obvious connection here is that all of these are necessary expressions of the Catholic Faith. Not all of these offices and activities have a direct impact on our daily lives, but that isn’t the point of the Church’s ministry activities. The goal of the Church’s activities is to be a witness of Faith to all the world so that all people might give glory to God. (Matthew 5:16)

Next weekend I will ask each of you to make a pledge to the 2014 campaign. Many of you have already received a pledge envelope in the mail. Envelopes will be available to those who did not receive one. Next weekend I will ask you to put your completed envelope in the Offertory Collection; the parish office staff will forward those to the APA campaign office.

I am very grateful to those of you who supported last year’s Annual Pastoral Appeal. You helped us reach our parish goal, and you participated directly in the Diocese’s ministerial activities. I am hopeful that those of you who did not make a pledge or contribution last year will make one this year. I’m making a pledge this year of a little more than the parish’s average pledge; if you’re planning to participate this year, but aren’t certain how to begin, follow me! Some of you will give much more than this, and some of you might give less; everyone’s contribution makes a positive difference in the ministerial activity of our diocese.

Our APA goal of $91,759 is an opportunity to fulfill the Lord’s command, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16) There is an obvious connection here, the connection between our words of faith and our deeds of love; the Annual Pastoral Appeal is an opportunity to make that connection in our parish and in our lives.