4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 31, 2021

St. Paul’s injunction in today’s second reading is one of the “context rich” passages of the Scriptures.  Context rich quotations are those that require a lot of background information in order to be understood properly. 

Paul opined that unmarried people were freer of preoccupations than married people; his opinion was based on a common-sense assumption that a healthy marriage requires habitual attention by the marriage partners.  His suggestion that the demands of marriage could become “distractions” (1 Cor. 7:35), was based on the commonly held expectation of the time that Jesus’ Second Coming was imminent.  As time wore on, the ancient Church realized that Jesus’ return would be delayed.  Undoubtedly, if Paul was writing today, he would revise his opinion about abstaining from marriage. 

If we prescind from Paul’s mistaken assumptions about the date of the Lord’s return, his observation remains valid: one should avoid anything that can distract from the primary obligation of the baptized to be prepared for the Last Day. 

Distractions occur in every aspect of life.  Some distractions have minor consequences but others, like inattentiveness while driving a car, can have devastating consequences.  Regardless of the circumstance, it’s worth the effort to avoid distractions.  The Sunday celebration of Eucharist, for example, is made much easier by the fact that we can buy bread, wine, and candles.  If we had to make our own bread, or wine, or candles for each Mass, it would add months or years of preparatory labor to each Liturgy.   

There are a great many conveniences we enjoy; they are the results of someone else’s effort to remove unnecessary distractions from our parish life.  For example, I don’t have to create my own screening process for employees and volunteers; the diocese provides this to all parishes.  I don’t have to get bids every year for property and liability insurance; the diocese buys an insurance policy that covers all diocesan institutions.  Our parish doesn’t have to create its own standards for worship, religious education of children, preparation of couples for marriage, preparation of adult candidates for baptism, and other necessary ministry activities.  The diocesan chancery staff provides a wide range of services to parishes and schools; most of these remain unnoticed but essential. 

Each year, at this time, I dedicate a Sunday to education about the diocesan ministries and services funded by the Annual Pastoral Appeal.  Usually, I ask someone involved in one of those diocesan ministries to speak at Masses.  This year, due to the pandemic, I decided not to invite a guest speaker.  Instead, I’ll direct your attention to a series very good videos produced by the diocesan chancery.  I’ll post a new video on the parish website each week for the next few weeks.  Each one highlights a particular area of parish and diocesan ministry supported by your contribution to the Annual Pastoral Appeal. 

Our goal this year is $91,607.  We reached last year’s goal, which meant that we didn’t have to use monies from the Offertory Collection.  If you would be so kind as to repeat the pledge or gift you made last year, we will be able to reach our goal this year. 

You can make a one-time gift or a pledge payable over the next ten months.  If you didn’t receive information in the mail about APA, there are pledge envelopes in the narthex and the parish office.  There are also links on the parish website and the diocesan website that will provide you with information and the ability to pledge online. 

We live in highly unusual times, and we look forward to a happier future.  Our experience of the pandemic might give us some sympathy for St. Paul and his overly zealous desire to see the Last Day.  Paul hoped that the Lord would return in a very short time; in a somewhat similar manner, we hope that normality will return in a short period of time.  While we wait for a return to a normal life, there are some advantages we enjoy and there are some things we can do to make the best of a difficult situation.  The ministries and other activities of the diocese allow us to maintain as much of a normal parish life as is possible during these difficult times.  Additionally, our continued support of diocesan ministries through the APA campaign provides a measure of normality throughout the diocese.  I’m very grateful for your past and continued support for the Annual Pastoral Appeal, and I know that you join your prayers with mine for a return to a normal parish life.