The following is the homily given by Springfield Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell at the Chalice of Salvation Mass held at the Big E on Sept. 18.
While there are 50 States in the Union, there are far more than 50 State Fairs for some States have more than one. The most unusual, however, has to be right here at the Eastern States Exposition, the Big E, for it is not simply one State but six that call this
fair their own. All the States of New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) are part of this one hundred year old exhibition and extravaganza. And we come together this Sunday morning here under the tent, and through the wonder of television, to thank God for the blessings of the past 100 years, and to pause in gratitude for all that the Big E is and has been. For it has been a respite from the pressures of everyday life, a chance to get away from the underbelly of shoddiness about which the prophet Amos warns in the first reading or the craftiness of the self-seeker Jesus describes in the Gospel.
The Big E has been a chance for families and individuals to take to heart the call to “come apart and rest awhile.” And while its acreage may be tough on the feet, the Big E has proven to be balm for the spirit over the years.
In 1916 it started, like so many State Fairs, as an agricultural event, a National Dairy Show, and to this day it has stayed true to its roots as a visit to the various farm exhibits will show. But so much more has been added over the years from the regional highlights of the individual State buildings to the Big Name entertainment to the circus, the Mardi Gras, and all the vendors especially those providing those Big E food specialties that can be found nowhere else. I urge you to visit the Young building here on the Exposition grounds for an exhibit on the past one hundred years of the Big E. It’s titled “A Century of Greatness” and, like just about everything here at the Big E, it exceeds expectations.
Think of all that the Big E stands for. It is and always has been an opportunity to rest and relax, to enjoy a family-friendly atmosphere as we try to sample a worthy variety of the hundreds of attractions. We know especially of the food for the stomach, there’s also been food for the soul. For almost half its existence the Big E has arranged for the celebration of Mass every Sunday of its operation. Twice each Sunday, an opportunity is provided so that Catholic exhibitors, volunteers, employees and guests can put God at the heart of their day. And the tradition has arisen that on the first Sunday of the Fair, the Bishop of Springfield celebrates the Mass. Today we’re expanding that tradition and substituting another bishop, yours truly, only because Bishop Rozanski cannot be in three places at once. Don’t tell him, but I’m delighted I got to celebrate this Mass once again.
For, like you, I come to the Big E each year with certain expectations. I expect that there will be great exhibits, delicious food and outstanding attractions. I come with a certain mindset, ready like you to enjoy myself– and each year I find expectations fully met and, more often than not, exceeded.
Today’s gospel is about expectations as well. And it’s about expectations turned upside down. It’s not what we expect of God.
Our picture of God is influenced to some extent by our ordinary way of looking at things and that is why, as we listen to this gospel, we are tempted to react and wonder why Jesus seems to commend the dishonest steward. For the dishonest steward, in order to gain an in with his master’s debtors, changed the IOU’s owed to his master, cheating the master of what he was rightfully due. Jesus tells us to be as astute in the things of God as the steward was in looking out for himself. In other words, the Gospel today really challenges us to ask what it means to call ourselves Christian. God entrusts each of us as stewards of his generosity, with unique gifts, unique opportunities, unique situations. The only request he makes is that we should each do our utmost to share his Good News with others before his return.
Today’s gospel is also a reminder of how we can forget that we have no claim to this world’s goods over and above our brothers and sisters at home or elsewhere. Creation and life itself are God’s gifts, given for all equally. We are entrusted with true wealth. Talents and work opportunities are not entitlements for selfish ends but rather make one responsible for building a better world for all. No matter how small is the contribution we make to our neighbor’s welfare, our neighbor’s welfare is our responsibility as followers of Christ.
Look at the outpouring of support for the victims of the recent flooding in Louisiana, and the killer earthquakes in Italy and Myramar. There was a need; people responded to it. There was no question of who did or didn’t deserve help; there was a heartfelt realization that people were in need. And, so, everything that individuals and communities could do was undertaken. People reached out to help other people.
The point Jesus makes with the parable is that God’s generosity to us is meant to be shown to others if we are truly to serve God. And it is to be shown without stinting, without cutting back, without short-changing the gifts that God has given us that we might use them for love of God and neighbor. Now that gives us pause since realistically we know our generosity is often tempered and not ongoing like that of God. We don’t intend to forget those in need, but our attention span is limited. Being human, we can forget the necessity for ongoing response. Paradoxically, then, I’m going to ask you to remember that we shouldn’t forget. Our generosity, like that of God, needs to be ongoing.
The Gospel is a challenge to be as generous as God is. Before the Almighty we all stand like beggars; we haven’t earned our salvation; Christ died for it. Everything we have is a free gift of God’s love and mercy. We cannot explain his generosity, but one thing is certain – God’s ways are not our ways. Our challenge is to make our ways more like his.
In a real sense, learn from your experience here at the Big E. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the mood, note the way strangers are more at ease with one another, note the friendliness, note the pace of life where people saunter rather than scramble, and carry that lesson with you back to the everyday. For it is a lesson that is truly in keeping with our challenge as Christians: to accept God’s generosity to ourselves and share it with our neighbor.