The Way Forward
The spirit of stewardship is already present in our parishes. As I travel around in my mission as bishop, I am impressed by the generosity with which our priests, religious, and parishioners devote their time, talent, and treasure to the service of God and neighbour. We do not need to import the spirit of stewardship from somewhere else, as if it were lacking among us. Not at all. It would, after all, be odd if something so central to the Gospel were absent from our community. But we can more intentionally and systematically seek to foster stewardship in each of our parishes, so that all of us live fully as generous stewards of God’s many gifts. There are proven ways of doing this, and we can benefit from them.
Stewardship is an essential dimension of the vision underlying our pastoral plan. We are called by the Lord to the pastoral responsibility of caring for the gathered, for those who already are engaged in the life of faith; and we are sent by the Lord on the apostolic mission of reaching out to the scattered: to those who have drifted away from the Church, or who have not heard the Gospel. The creative use as stewards of our time, talent, and treasure will allow those who are gathered to form a community of Christians to be more fruitfully engaged in the life of the Gospel, and more inclined to reach out effectively to the scattered, and to offer to them an attractive example of a vibrant Christian community.
The first pillar of the pastoral plan is the development of vibrant parishes, and that is precisely what stewardship is all about. The second pillar is vocations, of all kinds: we are called to determine with God’s help, how he wants us to be good stewards of the gifts he has given us in the vocation to which he has called us. Once we have discovered the path in life which God wants us to follow in our Christian life of discipleship, the spirit of stewardship will help us to be more fruitful in our vocation.
The third pillar is the care of those who are in need, as we reach out to them in love and justice. We do so by sharing our gifts with them, as good stewards of time, talent, and treasure. The fourth pillar is the mission to evangelize the culture. If a life of discipleship shaped by a commitment to stewardship leads us to use our gifts fruitfully, then our vibrant parishes, our dedicated Christians following their particular vocations, and our care for the needy will have an impact on our secular society, helping us to evangelize the secular culture.
As our archdiocese prepares to enter more fully into the spirit of stewardship, an archdiocesan Stewardship Commission has been formed to work with our Associate Director of Parish Vitality and Stewardship at the Office of Formation for Discipleship. Their mission is to implement the development of stewardship within our parishes and within our whole archdiocese. One of our annual assemblies of priests is devoted to stewardship, as also one of our priests’ retreats. The leadership of the priests is essential if stewardship is to flourish. Since we need to learn from the wider world, we will send a strong delegation to national and international stewardship meetings. As we proceed, we will try continually to deepen our understanding of the basic principles of stewardship, and the ways in which it can be fruitfully introduced into parish communities, taking advantage of what we learn from the experience of others.
We can then design an approach to stewardship that is adapted to our own particular situation, keeping in mind the importance of building upon a solid foundation of understanding and reflection. To use another image, it is wise to follow the carpenter’s maxim: measure twice and cut once. As parishes enter more fully into stewardship, it is important that the Pastor and Parish Pastoral Council enhance their understanding of stewardship, by sending representatives to the various stewardship assemblies, by working with the Office of Formation for Discipleship, and by studying prayerfully sources such as the American bishops’ document, and material from the International Catholic Stewardship Council. They will then be able more effectively to apply these insights to the particular situation of the parish. They should establish a Parish Stewardship Committee which can
work on fostering stewardship within the parish. Note that this committee reports to the Pastor and the Parish Pastoral Council, not to the Parish Finance Committee, as stewardship involves far more than financial issues. As stewardship advances, each year the parish can be introduced to the witness of people whose lives have been transformed by stewardship, and offered practical ways in which every parishioner can have opportunities to become more involved in generous sharing of time, talent, and treasure.
The pastoral plan for our archdiocese is based on the Acts of the Apostles. There we see a community of disciples who are energized by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and who are moving outward into their society to share their experience of Jesus. They are not a perfect community, and neither are we: we are all sinners, in need of the mercy of God. After all, Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation because we need it. But the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles do seek to be faithful witnesses to the Lord, as best they can. The community itself struggles at times, but is strengthened in its mission by a profound trust in the providence of God. It does not fall back upon itself and its problems, but reaches out to evangelize the Roman world, a society indifferent or hostile to the Gospel. That is the spirit of the Acts of the Apostles, and of every community in the history of the Church that has been fruitful in its apostolic witness.
We can learn from that, since we also face numerous problems in our mission of discipleship, and our society is often not receptive to the Gospel. We need to be honestly attentive to the problems we face, and spend perhaps about twenty per cent of our time and energy responding to them. But we need to devote at least eighty percent of our attention to deepening our experience of the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, and of the call of Jesus in the Gospel, so that we can reach out to our society, confident in the God’s providence.
Individual conversion is the starting point. After all, Jesus did begin his mission by saying: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), repeating the same message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2) Our Lord will purify us of the sins that trap us in selfishness, which is the opposite of the generous attitude of stewardship. But this conversion is not so that we can become focused on ourselves, but rather so that together we can build up the community of faith, the Body of Christ in this world, and effectively make present the kingdom of God. This happens when each baptized disciple becomes more rooted in the experience of Christ in the sacraments and in the written word of God, and in the living faith of the Church. In recent years, especially as I have been trying to describe as best I can the marvels of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I have often thought of those who have drifted away from the practice of the faith, or who are tepid in their practice. How can a person not be in awe of the Eucharist, and Reconciliation, and the other sacraments? If only people would realize what a gift Jesus has given us in the sacraments and in the whole of our faith, they would be beating down the doors of our
Churches. But even the most precious gifts can be taken for granted, or hidden by the sludge of routine, and the vibrant reality of our faith can be obscured by our sinfulness, and lack of engagement.
A great attraction of stewardship, as I have seen it in action, is that it leads Catholic Christians to become more fully engaged in the whole of their life of faith, and so become more able to fulfil their mission to the world. Each of us needs to realize, with wonder and gratitude, the precious gifts of God that we have received, beginning with the gift of life itself, so cheaply valued in our world of terrorism, abortion, euthanasia, and social injustice. We all are given a small portion of time in this brief life, and are variously endowed with talents and treasure. We are given the supernatural blessings of word and
sacrament, and the whole reality of the faith that comes to us from the apostles. Truly to realize that is to be impelled to share those gifts generously, and in giving to be even more richly blessed.
Pastoral Letter on Stewardship