Fr Anthony Coniaris
Someone said one Sunday during the offering, "Here we go again! There's always a plate."
The person was right in one way and wrong in another. There is not one plate-but two! One plate is man's; the offering plate that is passed to us every Sunday. The other plate is God's. And that is the paten, the "diskos", the plate that carries the Precious Body of our Lord during the liturgy. Two plates --- not one!
God gives first. He gives us our body, mind, life, health, talents. On the paten – the plate of God's mercy, He gives us Himself as the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven. He gives forgiveness, strength, courage. He gives victory over sin and death. He gives eternal life. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which he lavished upon us" (Eph.1:7-8). God gives. He lavishes upon us the riches of His grace. That is the meaning of the first plate-the paten.
The second plate which is passed every Sunday - the offering plate - represents our response to the first plate. We are invited to give in gratitude for God's generosity, for His limitless forgiveness and mercy. The emptiness of the offering plate represents the aching needs of the world which we are called upon to assist.
It represents also the great spiritual hunger that exists in the world -- the God-shaped vacuum in every heart that only Christ can fill.
We give, but He gave first. Two plates – not one! However much we give, it will never be more than just a minute fraction of what we receive from Him.
There's always a plate! Indeed there is! Not one but two. First God's, then man's.
The God who came to us at Bethlehem continues to come to us today. He comes to us through that first plate, the paten which symbolizes His total giving to us. He comes through the Sacrament of Baptism to bestow upon us the holy kiss of His love, to call us His very own. He comes through the Sacrament of Chrismation to fill us with His presence, to make our bodies temples of His Holy Spirit. He comes through repentance and the Sacrament of Confession to cleanse us of sin, to restore in our souls "the peace of God that passes all understanding.” IN every liturgy He comes to us as the Word of God, bringing words of eternal life through the Scripture readings and the sermon. Through the Sacrament of Communion He comes to be born again and again in the shabby stables of our hearts. He comes constantly through prayer. He blesses our marriages as He did that in Cana of Galilee. He stands by our sick bed, laying His healing hand upon us through the prayers of the priest. He comes again and again in so many, many ways through the many ministries of His Church. He comes with healing and forgiveness; He comes with strength and guidance. He comes and when He comes, as the Bible says, “the blind see, the lame walk, and the prisoners are set free."
Every year at this time as we are invited to renew our weekly stewardship pledge, we are challenged to re-consider prayerfully our weekly gift to Him Who is God's Great Gift to us. It is through our gift that God will be able to continue His forgiving, healing, liberating, empowering, transfiguring, loving ministry through the Church. For God, Infinite though He be, has chosen to work through us, through our gifts, to continue His saving work in the world today.
Many of us are careful to set aside funds for our retirement IRAs, 401(k)s, etc. Yet how long will these last? – Ten, maybe twenty years? The question is:
What are we setting aside for our eternal future?
What are we investing in God, in eternity?
How many of us who are quite well-to-do on earth (and most of us Americans are) may end up paupers in heaven?
St. John Chrysostom said once, "A rich man is not one who has much, but one who gives much. For, what he gives away remains his forever!"
A little girl noticed that after the collection was taken in a certain church, the ushers brought it up to the altar. She whispered to her mother, "Mommy, how do they get the money up to heaven?" The mother replied, "The church doesn't send the money to heaven, but it uses it to bring heaven down to us." That mother could not have given a better answer. For, the purpose of the Church is to get God's heaven into each one of us. "The kingdom of God is within you," said Jesus.
The thought comes to me quite often that there will come a time for each one of us when we shall no longer be able to give. When death comes, our giving will be over. For all eternity God will be doing the giving to us. So, the time for us to give is now. The time for us to love is now. The time for us to share what God has given us is now.
Give as you would if an angel
Awaited your gift at the door.
Give as you would if tomorrow
Found you where giving was over.
Give as you would to the Master
If you met His loving look.
Give as you would of your substance
If His hand your offering took.
For, it is indeed His hand! The tray in which we place our offering every Sunday is not a tray but His hand -- the nail-pierced hand of my Savior "Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”