Father Mahan Headlines 2013 Stewardship Leadership Seminar
What is Stewardship?
Stewardship is the acknowledgement and acceptance of a single truth. All we are and all we have are gifts from God. These gifts are only for our temporary use and for our use in helping our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we use our gifts, as God intended, we realize that we are indeed, “God’s co-workers,” (1 Cor 3:9) partners with Christ, and can share in His “creative, redemptive and sanctifying work.” Stewardship, a Christian faith journey, begins not with the needs of the parish, no matter how great those needs might be, but rather with the need of each of us to return to God, with grateful hearts, a proportionate share of the time, talent and treasure he has entrusted and gifted each of us with.
We are asked to make a commitment to give back to the Lord a portion of our time through prayer, a portion of our material resources through financial gifts and a portion of our talent through ministry and service to others. Scripture tells us “and whatever you do, in words and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving him thanks to God (Colossians 3:12-17).
Let us come together individually and as a community of believers to give thanks to God the Father by being good stewards of our God given gifts.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AND FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF STEWARDSHIP
IN THE DIOCESE OF LAFAYETTE
The Diocese of Lafayette extends from the Bayous of the Teche and Vermilion to the coastal wetlands of Vermilion Parish to the rolling, verdant prairies of Acadia, St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes. The mostly rural area is dotted with more cosmopolitan cities such as new Iberia, Lafayette, Abbeville, Opelousas and Crowley. It is a region rich in culture, steeped in tradition and predominantly Catholic. There are 112,703 Catholic Households comprised of 322,507 Catholics (The official U.S. Catholic Directory 2010).
The Diocese of Lafayette has 143 churches and missions. These houses of worship range from the historical; the first church, St. Martin de Tours, built in 1765 and St. John Cathedral, quaint country churches like St. John’s in Henry and St. Leo in Robert’s Cove, to more modern architectural facades such as St. Joseph in Milton and St. Edmond’s in Lafayette.
These churches, no matter the opulence or simplicity of the structure have one common thread. They are centers of parish worship built with the love, commitment, toil, human and material resources of our ancestors and our contemporaries. They were built by good Christian stewards ‘of God’s varied graces’ (1 Peter 4:10). It is only today that we define these acts as Stewardship. Stewardship is really a new word for actions that have been performed, over generations and even centuries, by those who have gone before us.
What does Stewardship mean in our Church today? Prompted by their concerns for the future of the Church faced with declining material and human resources, the United States Bishops authored a Pastoral Letter in 1992, entitled “Stewardship – A Disciple’s Response.” This pastoral, in essence, empowers the laity to take a more active role, as Christian stewards, in the future direction of the Church by saying, “if Christians understand Stewardship and strive to live it fully they grasp that they are no less than ‘God’s co-workers’ (1 Cor 3:9) with their own particular share in his creative, redemptive and sanctifying work.”
Our Bishops are taking the leadership role in by initiating Stewardship Formation by charging their Diocesan Development Offices with this task throughout the United States and abroad. They have taken their commitment one step further by saying in their Stewardship Pastoral, “We recognize our obligation to be models of Stewardship in all aspects of our lives. We must be stewards in our prayer and worship, in how we fulfill our pastoral duties, in our custody of the Church’s doctrine, spiritual resources, personnel and funds, in our lifestyle and use of time and even in such matters as the attention we give to personal health and recreation.”
By the U.S. Bishop’s definition, “The Christian Steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible manner, shares them in justice and love with others and returns them with increase to the Lord.”
Let us dissect this definition of Stewardship. ‘Receives God’s gifts gratefully’ – Scriptures read “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should contribute so freely? For everything is from you, and we only give you what we have received from you…O Lord, our God, all this wealth that we have brought together to build you a house in honor of your holy name comes from you and is entirely yours.” (Chronicles 29:14-16) David was favored by Yahweh and was allowed to prevail over his enemies, build a huge empire and had prosperity promised to his descendants. David knew, without question, that all of his success, prestige, power, honor were gifts from God. In return, he amassed all of his resources, both human and material, and gave back to the Lord, in gratitude for his many blessings. He also influenced his people by saying “Give Yahweh his due, families of peoples, give Yahweh his due of glory and power, give Yahweh the glory due to his name!” (1 Chron. 16:26-29)
We must ask ourselves, are we like David? Do we acknowledge that all we possess are gifts from God or are we stubborn and unbending? Do we live by society’s standards and adhere to the beliefs that our material belongings are because we are “self-made” or “we built it from the ground up” or “we earned it the old-fashioned way.” Do we attribute our good health to “good genes” or “clean living?” In our heart of hearts do we really believe that we can be anything or do anything without the loving generosity of our heavenly Father? Health, wealth, vocations, professions, education, job, talents, family, church, environment, and yes, even the air we breathe are gifts.
‘Cherishing these gifts and tending them in a responsible manner’ – Once we recognize that who we are and all we are is a result of God’s goodness, do we take our gifts for granted? Do we believe these gifts are our God-given right? Do we squander our material resources on needless luxuries while we observe so many living in abject poverty? Do we take our health for granted and abuse our bodies with excesses of food, beverages and chemicals? Do we neglect our environment and contribute to the destruction and depletion of our natural resources? How do we treat our most precious gift of all…our family? Do we give to our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters the love, time, attention and protection that they deserve? Or, are we too wrapped in our personal wants and needs and self-gratifications, hobbies, addictions, forsaking all others? How about our faith communities? Our church? Do we feel that the needs of the church are someone else’s responsibility and something we might do later when we have more time on our hands? “Shares their gifts in justice and love with others and returns them with increase to the Lord.”
We are reminded of the story of the “Little Red Hen.” Remember, the little red hen planted the seed, harvested the crop, ground the wheat and baked the bread. Throughout the story she asks for help from the pig, the cow and the horse. No one was willing to help her in her mission until the very end when the wonderful aroma of the freshly baked bread permeated the farmyard, then suddenly everyone was anxious to participate in eating the bread. The little red hen cherished her gift of seed; she planted, tended it and transformed the simple gift into something wonderful and delicious that could be enjoyed by all. She treated her gift in a responsible and accountable manner. Not only that, she was willing to share her gift in justice and love with others. We can just hear the Lord saying to the little red hen, “well done, good and faithful steward.”
If the story of the little red hen described our faith life where would we fit? Are we like the little red hen? Have we used the Lord’s gifts in a responsible and accountable manner and shared them in love and justice wit others or are we like the barnyard animals that only want to come to the table when all the work is done?
Conclusion – The Stewardship journey in the parishes of our diocese may sometimes be a rocky one and at times there may seem like there are more of the barnyard variety that “little red hens!” Patience, love and education are the key to encouraging Catholics in the Diocese of Lafayette to live Stewardship as a way of life.
Stewardship is a spiritual consciousness or lifestyle based in scripture that holds that we are lifelong caretakers of God’s spiritual and worldly blessings and that we are responsible for sharing them in justice and love with others.
People who share financial blessings generally are motivated by a “faith based need” to give. The Chronicle of Philanthropyreports that People who regularly attend church give 70% of all gifts to Charity (religion, education, health agencies, the arts, social services, etc.) These individuals regularly demonstrate their need to give and understand it as an expression of faith.
Stewardship of Prayer, Ministry and Finance
“As generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received.” (1 Peter 4:10) Stewardship of Prayer, Ministry and Finance (time, talent and treasure) calls each of us to use our gifts for the betterment of one another. In the quote from Peter; he tells us that we should all give, but “each in the measure he has received” or a proportionate share. The key word is proportionate; we are expected to give back to God in gratitude for the gifts he has bestowed upon us. He doesn’t ask for all. He asks for a proportionate share. This message is repeated in (Dt. 16:10) “The measure of your own free will offerings shall be in proportion to the blessings your Lord, your God has bestowed on you…” and again in Luke 12:48 “when much has been given to people, much will be required of them.”
The word also calls us to “Honor the Lord…with the first fruits…” Prov. 3:9. Is it really a show of gratitude to God to give Him only the leftovers of our time, talent and treasure?
The desire to improve our prayer life is with us all. We know it is the only way to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. How does prayer fit into our daily agendas? Do we postpone prayer because we allow the duties of the day to claim priority? Can we pledge ourselves to place prayer at the top of our list of daily things to do?
Stewardship of Ministry calls us to discover and grow in our giftedness. Each of us has a unique blend of abilities and talents. Stewardship of Ministry focuses on service and the responsibility each one of us has to use our talents to build the Body of Christ. As stewards, God calls us to reflect on our talents and put them to use to serve others whether it is in our own families, our Church parish or community. The Lord calls us to commit our talent and time to various ministries in the parish. What is your response?
Stewardship of Finance calls us to take stock of all financial resources that are ours. It calls us to accept the basic principle of Christian Stewardship that our financial blessings as well as out time and talent are gifts from God. In gratitude for these gifts we must dedicate a portion of these gifts to further God’s kingdom. Gratitude is one response to God’s gifts. Trust is another. Scripture tells us “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Everyone must give accordingly to what he has inwardly decided; not sadly, not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Reflect on your giving habits. Is your gift..Planned? For most of us unless we plan something it doesn’t happen. You should prayerfully make a decision to plan your gift to God so that it does not become an optional expense or given from the leftovers. Planning enables us to give our “first fruits.” Does God deserve less?
Proportionate? How much should you give? Start with an assessments of your level of giving now. Most of us are dismayed to discover how little that is. The proportion you choose should be sacrificial and truly commensurate to what God has given you. There is no magic number that represents the right amount! Whatever you decide should reflect your gratitude for God’s generosity.
Identifiable? Make your intentions known to the administration of the parish. It will be of such value to the parish leaders in planning for the future. Make a commitment to become an identifiable giver by using Church envelopes.