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A sermon on Matthew 20:1-16

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Fr. Mike Paraniuk

By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church (Hillsboro),
St. Benignus Catholic Church (Greenfield),
Saint Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Peebles)
Holy Trinity Catholic Church (West Union)

I was cleaning out my desk drawers when I ran across an old October count of how many people were attending Mass in 2006, my first full year as pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church.

St. Mary averaged about 480 worshippers every weekend. That number held steady all the way up to when COVID-19 hit. Today that number is down to around 350. This decline in church attendance is happening all across America. Forty million people have stopped going to church since 2000. When people were asked how many times do you attend a church service, the number one answer is "never." 

Why is this happening? 

Some say it's due to the COVID pandemic. But I think the problem is deeper. There is a book called "The Great Dechurching," which says the values we cherish in America are directly opposite of the values Jesus taught. 

Let's look at what Jesus valued the most. Jesus valued respect and love for every person. He never denied anyone access to God's grace. All are included in God's providential care because all of us are sinners in need of His Mercy. Jesus showed us that faith in God is the key to overcoming every problem life throws at you. Once you have faith, God makes all things possible for you. What a great gift.

When you accept Jesus into your life by faith, you become right with God. We call that "righteousness." God always call a righteous person to a life of service. There is no better way to show your thanks for God's love than by humbly and unselfishly caring for others. 

The story of the laborers in the vineyard really should be called the story of God's generosity. God lavishly gave His grace (God's love in action) equally to all, even to people we think should not have it. When Jesus died on the cross, He only saw a soul needing saved. He did not see the color of their skin, what they looked like, how much money they had, their political beliefs or whom they chose to love. Those laborers who worked all day thought the landowner was unfair because they should have gotten more than those who worked one hour. I'm glad God is unfair like that because if God were fair, I wouldn't get anything from Him. I go to church to thank God for giving so much to a person like me who deserves nothing.

Sadly, the values we hold dear in America are opposite to what God considers important.  What does our society value today? Here are some that stand out: 

• Radical individualism. The good is only what is right for me. I achieve success on my own. I fix my own problems. I need help from no one. 

• Consumerism. The sign of my success is my material possessions and I'm not sharing. 

• Devaluing others. If you don't contribute to my financial or professional success, then you are not important to me. 

If a person believes he has acquired everything by his own giftedness, then there is no reason to thank God by going to church. I remember talking with a wealthy man who told me why he doesn't go to church. "I work very hard during the week. I deserve a Sunday morning to golf." He gave God no credit for any of his blessings. I think we should start building churches on golf courses. 

I believe all the problems in our country are spiritual. I define spirituality as loving God, loving neighbors and loving self. Once you eliminate the love for God, the other two loves will cease. I have met many people who are lonely and anxious. But once they let God into their life, I am amazed how their life changed for the better. The loneliness and fear gave way to an inner peace and joy. We call this "conversion."

God's love heals those who turn to Him.

Our society considers homeless poor people to be the last. Society judges them as lazy or mentally ill. That is farthest from the truth. I was invited to preach at a church in Cincinnati. It was a hot summer day. The church was too poor to have air conditioning. Worshippers were sweating like crazy. That didn't stop them from praising the Lord. 

I actually preached for an hour. If I did that in a Catholic church, letters of complaint would be flying off the shelf to the archbishop. After the service, I mentioned to a parishioner my amazement that despite the heat the church was packed. 

I never forgot what he said, "It's easy to praise God when you know you have nothing, but believe God gives you everything." In God's eyes, those people were first. 

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