Stewardship: A Baptismal Opportunity

A pastor was visited by a priest from another diocese. The visitor asked how many volunteers the pastor had at his parish. The pastor replied surprisingly, “We have no volunteers.” The out of town priest inquired further, “Then how do you run a big parish like this without any help.” “Oh, we have plenty of help,” the local pastor replied, “that’s because instead of volunteers, we have stewards. The parishioners here view their services to the parish not as random good deeds but as their grateful & dedicated contribution to parish life. Most everyone here renders some special service so we don’t need any volunteers.”

Church work is not just a question of volunteering. Church work is a privilege and an obligation that flows from our baptism. When I received Holy Orders at the hands of my bishop, I knew that I would have the obligation to offer Mass, hear confessions, comfort the sick and bury the dead. If I saw ordination simply as a single ceremony with no consequences, I would be quite mistaken.

The same is true of the sacrament of matrimony. A couple who looks upon marriage simply as a nice wedding celebration with no further consequences would be sadly mistaken. Marriage demands companionship, support, exchange of ideas, and signs of affection. Priestly activities flow out of the ordination celebration. Marriage responsibilities flow out of the marriage celebration. Likewise, parish activities flow out of our baptismal commitment. Treating parish activities casually is actually treating baptism casually. Instead, each one of us has seriously and joyously to live out our baptismal vows in community by praying for one another, by teaching one another, by comforting one another, by supporting one another.

As Roman Catholics we belong to a worldwide Church, to a diocesan Church, to a parish Church and to a domestic Church. As Catholics it is our baptismal duty to build up these various Church communities by what ever time, treasure and talent God has entrusted to us. Even though we might attend Church week after week, our baptismal commitment is not complete until we actually begin to contribute to Church life, to build up our Church communities. We can start by being responsible members of the domestic Church: being good spouses, good parents, good children. We can build up our parish Churches by taking active part in the liturgy, by teaching the young, by visiting the sick and elderly, by participating in the many areas of stewardship offered in parish life. We can support our diocesan Church by looking to our Bishop as teacher and sharing in inter-parish activities. And we can build up the universal Church by heeding the words of our Holy Father, by working for peace and justice, and by being mission-minded in our outlook.

With all due respect, stewardship does not begin at a sign-up table in St. Francis foyer. Stewardship begins at our Baptism. And as we grow in the Christian life from Baptism onward, we should develop an “attitude of gratitude” whereby we share with our fellow Christians the marvelous gifts of nature and grace that God has entrusted to us.

Stewardship: A family legacy

A Jamestown resident tells the story of the elderly gentleman in that small New England village who was suddenly being given the cold shoulder by his fellow townsfolk. A neighbor noticed that the long time inhabitant was being shunned by formerly friendly villagers. Inquiring about the abrupt snubs, the neighbor was informed that, instead of being content to live on the interest of his bank accounts, the elderly gentleman had dipped into his capital. After all, everyone knows that capital is for investing, not for spending.

Americans of an earlier generation accepted that inherited family money was not a personal gift to be spent at will. Rather they understood that a family legacy was simply entrusted to them to be handed on intact or augmented to the next generation. “Dipping into one’s capital” was a major transgression for the bourgeoisie of a previous era. Family money was considered a trust, a responsibility, a charge. Ancestral capital could be used to increase the family’s holdings by wise investments and shrewd business practice. But to diminish that initial capital in any way was considered an offense against the previous generation that accumulated it and an affront to the coming generation that would rely on it. Indeed, capital was for saving, not for spending.

Roman Catholics are the religious beneficiaries of a spiritual capital that goes back twenty centuries. The martyrs of the early Church, the monks of the Dark Ages, the scholars of the Middle Years, the teachers of the Counter-Reformation, the moralists of the Enlightenment, the missionaries of the nineteenth century, the parish congregations of the pre-Vatican II Church have bequeathed to the present generation a liturgical, educational and ethical legacy faithfully drawn from Scripture and Tradition. The prayers memorized as a child, the devotions enjoyed during the liturgical seasons, the moral guidance provided by parents and teachers, the social awareness engendered by Church leaders, the spirit of evangelization shared with missionaries, are just a few of the spiritual riches that two thousand years of Catholic Church life have produced. The lamentable question is whether the present generation of believers is at least preserving this heritage intact or eagerly augmenting this inheritance for the generation ahead — or mindlessly and selfishly squandering it.

Her Majesty the Queen once observed in a Christmas address: “I fear that we are living off the spiritual capital of another age.” Elizabeth II was, alas, correct. Catholicity for many today is simply an inheritance from the past which the believer makes little attempt to preserve or increase. To be Catholic means to be from Irish or Italian or Polish or Portuguese stock. To be Catholic means a baptism years ago at Holy Name or a First Communion at St. Michael’s or a marriage at Blessed Sacrament. To be Catholic means having an aunt who is a nun in Canada. To be Catholic means to have graduated from LaSalle or St. Xavier Academy. Such a foundation is a fine inheritance. But this spiritual capital will soon be exhausted if the believer contributes nothing to sustain or supplement it. Mom’s going to Mass every morning and Grandpa’s saying his rosary each day does not make the newer generation of Catholics good stewards. Children cannot expect merely to live off their parents’ capital. They have to have a sense of good stewardship themselves.

Saint Paul wisely admonishes his readers in this Sunday’s second reading: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” St. Paul’s words are a perfect description of Christian stewardship: “…looking out for the interest of others.” The alert steward will certainly understand that the spiritual capital bequeathed by his ancestors in the faith is not just there for his personal enrichment. On the contrary, stewardship means thoughtful and generous service. The practical steward will jealously preserve what was best in the past and hand it on enhanced to the generation to come. Otherwise living off the spiritual capital of a bygone era will sadly lead to spiritual bankruptcy just as surely as draining the family funds will eventually lead to financial ruin.

Opportunities to Serve

  • ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT: a Holy Hour or Half Hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
  • ADULT CHOIR: at Saturday/Sunday Masses and holidays.
  • ADULT EDUCATION: Weekly instruction/discussion on the Bible or Catholic Catechism.
  • ALTAR SERVER: grade 3 or 4 +, public or parish school.
  • BUILDINGS & GROUNDS COMMITTEE: help clean-up and maintain parish facilities.
  • EXTRA-ORDINARY MINISTER OF COMMUNION: assist with Communion at Mass or at home with parish shut-ins.
  • FOOD BASKET FOR NEEDY: donate non-perishable food items at church regularly.
  • HOSPITALITY COMMITTEE: assist with Coffee An’, parish socials, dinners, baking, etc.
  • LECTOR (Reader): at weekend Masses.
  • LITURGY COMMITTEE: assist with the worship program for Sundays & holidays.
  • MUSICIAN/INSTRUMENTALIST: at Saturday/Sunday Masses and holidays.
  • NEIGHBORHOOD FRIENDLY VISITORS: visit a parish shut in at home or nursing home.
  • OCTOBER/ MAY DEVOTIONS: participate in evening devotions to Our Lady.
  • PARISH or FINANCE COUNCIL MEMBER: periodic advisory meeting on parish affairs.
  • PRAYER LINE: receive and forward prayer requests over the phone.
  • PRO-LIFE ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE: prayer, witnessing, lobbying, active work for the unborn.
  • RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults): Assist with the preparation of converts to the faith.
  • RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION AIDE: help with classes for grades 1 through 10.
  • RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION TEACHER: lead class for grades 1 through 10.
  • SOCIAL ACTION COMMITTEE: participate in activities for Peace and Justice in society.
  • ST. MATTHEW GUILD: help open weekend budget envelopes after Sunday Masses.
  • STEWARDSHIP COMMITTEE: promote the use of time, talent and treasure among all parishioners.
  • TWELVE WEEK CLUB: A dollar a week raffle for the school or parish! Donate, dine & dance!
  • USHER/COLLECTOR/GREETER: at weekend Mass.
  • YOUTH GROUP ADVISOR: adult helpers of youth groups.
  • YOUTH GROUP PARTICIPANT: religious and social events for ‘tweens and teens.
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