Sunday, September 4, 2011

Loving Neighbors: Even the One Who Stole Our Gospel Book

Over the years, I've gotten used to seeing the Gospel book on the altar before Mass. That's the one with the gold-leaf cover, with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:

Our Lady of Angels church in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: Before Mass on March 7, 2010.

Same place, same time: a closer look at what's on the altar.

I doubt I'll see it again. Someone stole it this week.

Stealing The Gospel Book, and Candle Money

We celebrated Mass, anyway. The parish has backup copies of the Bible. They don't look as nice, but they get the job done.

Still, it's disappointing. Putting it mildly.

I'm assuming that it was the same thief or thieves who stole money from two votive candle collection boxes. The money's gone, at any rate.

The parish priest let us know what happened during announcements at Mass this morning: as an explanation for why Our Lady of Angels church will now be locked after Mass.

No more going into the sanctuary for meditation and prayer during the day. That's a big disappointment. Still, we don't have much of a choice. We don't want a parishioner walking in on a burglary. That could end badly.

Church Robbed: Good News, Bad News

The good news is that nobody got hurt.

The bad news is that we can no longer leave the church open for folks who just want to stop in. Also, we lost a little money from the collection boxes - and replacing the Gospel Book will be another expense.

Despite the impression some may have, your typical Catholic parish in central Minnesota isn't rolling in money. We get by, and can pitch in when the diocese passes the hat for a special collection. But we don't have a gazillion megabucks coming in each Sunday.

Still, like I said, we get by:

Churches and Convenience Stores

What about 'all that money' we put in the collection plate? That's handled about the same way a business would: it's counted, recorded, and promptly deposited with an institution that specializes in keeping cash safe.

It's like those signs near the door of a convenience store. The ones that tell how little cash is kept in the till.

As for the gold on the Gospel Book's cover? It's anodized gold - a micron or so thick. I'll get back to that in another post.

Stealing the Candle Money

Money did accumulate in the votive candle collection boxes: mostly quarters and one dollar bills. I've gone in from time to time, during the week, to light a candle and pray. The candles cost money, which is why the box is there.

Collection box for votive candles near church entrance, Our Lady of Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota. More good news: the boxes weren't seriously damaged. (September 4, 2011)

St. Joseph votive candles, Our Lady of Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota. (September 4, 2011)

Thanks to whoever broke in - again - I won't be able to do that. Except right before and after Mass.

Too bad.

Church Teachings May Sound Harsh

Some of what the Church teaches may sound a bit harsh. We're taught, for instance, that theft isn't right. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2408) Even if the theft is done 'legally:' unjustly taking someone's property, but observing civil law. (Catechism, 2409) We're even told that a thief should make restitution for what was stolen. (Catechism, 2412)

Do I think it's okay to tell God that the [expletive] who stole the candle money should burn in everlasting fire, but first pay for what was stolen?

No. Not at all. Definitely not. I do not need that kind of trouble.

We're expected to use judgment - but not to judge others:
" 1 2 'Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me remove that splinter from your eye," while the wooden beam is in your eye?You hypocrite, 3 remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.' "
(Matthew 7:1-5)
After that, I'm going to ask the Almighty to smite 'that sinner over there?' Not likely.

'Love Thy Neighbor' - No Matter What

Not only am I not allowed to hope that someone else 'gets it,' I've got to forgive and love whoever stole the Gospel Book.

Like I've said before, Jesus told us that the Commandments boiled down to 'Love God, love your neighbor.' (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31) And that everybody is our neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-30; Catechism, 1825)

Over the last two millennia, the Catholic Church has thought about that the "love your neighbor" thing applies to dealing with each other. Like this bit of instruction:
"Christ died out of love for us, while we were still 'enemies.'100 The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.101
"The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: 'charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.'102"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)
We're supposed to love - everybody. (Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 10:25-37)

I can't say that I feel all warm and fuzzy about whoever stole my parish's Gospel Book. But it doesn't say "like your neighbor." It's 'love your neighbor.'

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