There could not be a more appropriate Gospel reading today for the DMF appeal. Today we hear of Peter’s second encounter with Jesus (according to St. Luke), the first being the healing of his mother-in-law. If the healing of his mother-in-law set the stage for this event, then the rowing out to deeper waters was a great metaphor for these new disciples to reach out and find a deeper understanding of who was in their midst. This is Luke’s version of Simon Peter’s growing trust in a living GOD as well as his increasing awareness of his own sinfulness and weakness. I put myself in his place and all I can imagine is the Swedish resistance I would put up with someone I barely knew telling me what to do with my own boat and profession. The word for this is pride. The word for Peter’s reaction is humility. “Lord depart from me for I am a sinful man”. Learning to trust, not always calling the shots (which I’m sure Peter did in his business and on board his boat) are lessons we all struggle with in our relationship with GOD…most likely our whole lives. It’s our desire, like Adam’s, to self-determination. But not doing this means we never fully encounter the reality of serving GOD the way we were each created to. I wonder how this story would have played out if Peter had declined Jesus’ request. Most likely he would have become a follower, at some level, but not the Apostle who formed HIS Church.
So… as I prepared for this address on the DMF, I could hear the commercial for Geiko Insurance where a camel walks through an office begging someone to declare that it was HUMP day, or Wednesday, and he does it with a lot of enthusiasm. Two musicians at the end ask “What’s happier than a camel on Wednesday?” So… I’m thinking, with a lot less excitement, guess what time of year it is…guess what time it is? DMF -Diocesan Ministry Fund is the answer. Not quite the punchline of the commercial, but, I felt some of the dread the office workers showed as the camel begs them to respond, as if this happened every Wednesday and it was getting old. What most of us laugh at heartily, the workers were not so excited about. I’m thinking with the DMF, why do some of us struggle so much seeing the value in this contribution while others give freely without hesitation, and please know that I am not referring to those who pledge large sums. I am referring more to just the willingness expressed as opposed to the amount that is given. Year after year approximately 20 percent commit to this request (40-45 households) out of almost 200 households. Of this 20 %, about ten pay more than half the assessment. Yet if each household payed $150-200, we would meet our goal in one weekend and would not mention DMF again (except to say thank you) that year. The reality, though, is the church having to ask for help all the way to December (when a generous donor offered the balance we owed). I don’t mention all this to make anyone uncomfortable, mostly I want to solicit some understanding of what some people are feeling about this. [If the majority of our parish, who regularly come to Mass, were to participate, we would each owe about $ 200 total or $15.50/month]. That’s about one skinny latte a week or one Firebrand sandwich a month. The issue here is what keeps us from giving to this fund? It’s been this way for ten or fifteen years. I will explain the uses for this fund in a minute, but I feel by now that the basic purposes for the DMF are known, so to be honest we have to ask, what is our reason for not participating in this program… or the weekly Parish collection ,for that matter, and find ways to address those issues.
First, I would like to clarify the DMF and it’s mission by explaining what it is not. It is not a fund to pay for Church misconduct (such as abuse claims), in our diocese or any other. Each diocese in the world is its own corporation so no funds are shared between dioceses, for any purpose. Even the special collections for Peter’s Pence, churches in Latin America, Africa, native American and SE Asia), are for charity work alone. Our Catholic “world” is, in terms of who we interact with and how we express our faith, is primarily a diocesan world…the diocese of Pueblo. In our Diocese, the DMF does not pay for any pay-offs for any legal disputes. Our insurance would pay these, if we had them. As we speak our diocese has been researching (beginning with the present and working backwards) all the records of every parish and the priests who have served here to make sure no accusations were ignored or buried in paperwork. To date, twenty-five years worth of records, or all the way back to 1993 have been cleared. The DMF does pay for this work, whether it be chancery employees or outside counsel, just as it pays for the training and safeguards necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen. Everyone of us goes through background checks and Safe Environment training every three years. I just had to renew mine last month. Everyone who works in the church, or volunteers with youth must do this. Your DMF does pay for this, and Thank GOD it does.
Next, the DMF pays for the active screening and procurement of priests to serve in our communities. It funds the formation and education of seminarians, it solicits and pays the expenses for priests from foreign countries to come here and help fill our need for pastors. Some of these priests are here temporarily for 5 year commitments, some become permanent. The DMF helps to sustain the communities of nuns and religious who work in schools, hospitals, and social welfare programs in our Diocese. To be clear, the Diocese does operate a few schools, but no hospitals. The support here is for the religious communities who staff these programs. All of this lies at the very core of our existence as Catholic communities. Without priests we have no Eucharist, without Eucharist we have no Church, no communion as GOD’s people. The DMF pays for our diaconate program and the formation and education of our deacons, which, in our valley has been a fruitful endeavor and a real presence for the communities of Gunnison and Crested Butte. There isn’t a valley or community in our entire diocese that has four active deacons who serve at Mass and communion services, visit hospital patients and prisoners, and visit and give communion to elderly and homebound. While Deacons are not paid for what they do, our formation and on-going education is paid for by the DMF, including the annual clergy retreat and the on-line classes aimed at making us better servants for you.
Finally, our diocese works very hard to bring the Gospel and Missionary message to all of us, for that is the Apostolic purpose and ministry of our Bishop. We all need to be educated, we all need to be fed with the Gospel message, and we all need to be formed as a community that exists to be Christ in our world. This education, the Diocesan commitment of the “Little Way of St. Therese”, is through the guidance of our Bishop and his staff, and the DMF does pay for this. The diocese has other forms of income, but the DMF is designated to pay for our spiritual growth and the ongoing efforts to bring LOVE to this world. The diocesan programs of “Forming Intentional Discipleship”, the “Four Levels of Happiness”, and the focus on the “Little Way of St. Therese, The Little Flower” are these efforts, and understandably there is a cost to train and produce personnel to present it to us, including travel, insurance, materials and expenses, etc. From my personal observations, it is inspiring to see the talented, highly educated folks working for relatively low wages just because this work gives their lives meaning as servants of GOD. Everyone is college and certification educated, with several doctorate and master’s degree folks working very hard and faithfully for us and our journey on a path of holiness.
This Lent we are beginning an adult education program focusing on the Mass series by Bishop Robert Barron. Other adult classes will be offered to explore and understand, on a deeper level, this Faith we are to live out. We have four Catechumen preparing to enter the Church through our RCIA program and two Crested Butte Youth receiving the sacrament of Confirmation this Spring. All of these are directly or indirectly possible because of the DMF.
The DMF seems to have become a focus of protest for some. I get this. It is frustrating to have questions and feel there is no clear path to answers. Denying support to Diocesan programs or parish needs, however, can be a mis-guided effort to find these answers, and in the process our communities suffer. Year after year, we beg for twelve months to meet the needs that are on-going and locally beneficial. You all get weary of hearing these appeals, and we get equally weary asking for it. And then we ask, why are our communities shrinking? Are we not meeting the needs we have, to build strong youth programs, to bring retreat opportunities here, or to contribute to the needs of our greater communities? I challenge everyone here today to promote participation in the DMF appeal. We should get this done and move on to focus on the challenges our parishes have, to build effective youth and adult faith formation programs, evangelization, and outreach. There is no expectation of how much we should pledge. What we are really seeking is participation by everyone, because it is integral to a life of prayer (with fasting, almsgiving). Refusing to participate is like refusing to turn the heat on in our homes because we don’t want to give money to the gas company (except here we get to say how much we’ll pay). Who suffers? If you feel this way let’s discuss it.
For everyone who faithfully supports the DMF, thank you. Thank you for being generous with your money, and thank you for being part of sustaining the work our diocese is trying to do. Your efforts are not lost on us and not taken for granted. God Bless you All for listening and for possibly re-considering your participation. In the end, monetary gifts are a gift of your time, your life, and we know this and honor it. For this reason alone it will never be taken for granted. The ministry of our diocese, and our parishes, and each one of us is to bring Christ’s message to every corner of the world. Let’s make part of our effort to fulfill our Christian promise the funding of our Diocesan Ministry Fund.