We’re almost done with May Gray and summer is right around the corner. Flowers are blooming and trees are budding. And Christian stewards are reminding themselves that stewardship continues as we head into the days of vacation, barbecues, summer reading lists, family reunions and trips to the beach.
We need to be especially mindful of our commitment to giving to our parish and our local church, the diocese. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that November and December are the biggest months for giving in the United States. But for those lazy days of summer? Not so much.
Just think about the giving impetus during the holiday season. Every school classroom has a charitable project, youth groups take a turn working at the local soup kitchen. Offices sprout “giving trees” and shelters are inundated with food and donations. The Christmas spirit inspires us to share the bounty. Cold weather brings out our desire to make sure others are sheltered from storm. But often, charities tell us that the shelves are not quite so full in the summer, even though people are still hungry.
Agencies scramble to fill the roster of helpers who are out on vacation, and sometimes people forget to call and ask how they might fill a need. Even parishes turn to electronic giving programs to make sure that financial donations continue during the summer weeks.
Christian stewards are well aware of summer needs, as well as being aware of their own need to give throughout the year. For the Christian steward, the spirituality of gratitude to God is part of their everyday lives and motivates their generous heart. On a practical level, this can mean involving your whole family in a summer project at a shelter or soup kitchen.
With kids out of school, there’s a great opportunity to fill some idle hours with some eye-opening charitable ventures to a part of town they’ve never seen, or an agency they’ve never visited. The Christian steward can offer to pick up the slack for a day or two when an agency is short on helpers. Remember to make that special monetary gift that equals our holiday giving. We can use spring housecleaning, not as an excuse to spend a day running a garage sale, but instead as a chance to visit a charity with our surplus and spend the day helping.
We should, of course, not forget our own parish when we go away on vacation. Make sure to increase your gifts to make up for those weekend Masses you will not attend at your parish.
Also, many diocesan appeals take place in the spring and summer. Giving to the diocesan annual appeal is an excellent way to support the ministries of the local church that no single parish could undertake by itself. Summer offers a chance to have fun and adventures. Your summer stewardship plan can be as unique and beneficial as the season itself.
Welcoming newcomers to our parish is not just the job of the pastoral staff, ushers, ministers of hospitality or greeters. It is everyone’s responsibility. Here are ten things you can do to provide better hospitality in our parish..
- Cultivate the virtue of hospitality at Mass. Many Mass attendees tend to gather into little cliques and ignore those who are not members of their particular clique. They are not really inhospitable, just heedless of the need for hospitality. Make hospitality a new habit when you go to Mass.
- Go in peace to greet someone! Seek out someone you’ve not met before. Shake their hand, introduce yourself, and take a few moments to welcome them to your parish home, God’s house.
- Welcome everyone. Not only do visitors need your warm welcome, regular Mass attendees also need a friendly greeting. Develop a good handshake and be enthusiastic about your parish. You are greeting others in the name of Christ.
- Help newcomers connect. While you are getting to know visitors, introduce them to other parishioners as the opportunity presents itself. Feel free to invite visitors to sit next to you.
- Say goodbye with genuine warmth. After Mass, bid farewell to visitors, inviting them to return next week. Introduce them to the priest if the opportunity arises.
- Avoid parish business. Avoid conducting parish business with others immediately before or after Mass. Focus on visitors.
- Give visitors information about the parish. Ensure that a visitor has a bulletin and other information about the parish before they leave. Invite them to the Parish Center after morning Mass for Coffee & Donuts. Bring them personally for best results.
- Be part of a greeting ministry team. We are always in need of greeters to serve regularly, and provide ongoing formation to new greeters. Help out, be a greeter. If you’re interested in this ministry, contact Amy Nelson. This is a ministry that your children can do with you as well.
- Greet those who already minister in the area of hospitality. It isn’t necessary to neglect the people who are already ministers of hospitality in order to make visitors feel at home. A simple wave and a smile go a long way.
I’m pretty sure I’m “preaching to the choir” with this article, because I get so many good comments on a regular basis about our hospitable parishioners. Keep up the good work!
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples to bring fire and flame to their hearts’ commitment to Jesus. Do we sense the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Do we allow the Lord to inspire us to burn with a desire for greater intimacy? Good stewards balance their everyday lives with their outpouring of love in their deeds and in their prayer lives as they grow closer to Christ.
In the mystical writings of St. Teresa of Avila, this doctor of the Church tells a beautiful story that underscores her relationship with Jesus. Teresa would often engage in conversation with the Lord, and one evening, Teresa heard Jesus ask her name, to which she replied with her religious name, saying, “I am Teresa of Jesus.”
Teresa was heartened to inquire of the Lord, “And who are you?” to which she heard Jesus respond, “I am Jesus of Teresa.”
What beautiful intimacy Teresa felt with the Lord! It is to this intimacy, this deeply personal relationship, that each of us is called. St. Francis of Assisi, whose name our new Pope Francis has chosen, was said to have prayed simply by asking repeatedly of the Lord, “Who are you, and who am I?” It was from the depths of the answers he received, and the questions he continued to ask, that Francis drew his strength to renew Christ’s church.
To lead a life filled with contemplative moments is the call given to each Christian steward. St. Ignatius of Loyola called us to “contemplation in action,” that combination, that holy amalgam, of prayer in our life that inspires the good things we do each day which in return deepens our commitment to prayer.
As Christian stewards, we know that our good works become hollow when they are done without a relationship with the Lord who inspires us. By the same token, a prayer life can become rote and sterile if we leave it behind when we set out into our workaday world. We must be committed to a balance, a blend in our lives of the intimacy with Christ which enables us to do the good work to which we aspire.
May this Easter Season and the feast of Pentecost inflame our hearts with the desire to know Jesus and to live our lives in his service.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and what better way for us to reveal God’s compassion during this Year of Mercy than to become more aware of and embrace the people we encounter who suffer from mental illness.
People with mental illness sometimes behave in ways we can’t comprehend. Those with severe depression sometimes stay in bed all day, unable to manage the most basic motivation to move. People with anxiety disorders can be gripped by irrational or even unidentifiable fears that don’t incapacitate others. Those affected by psychotic disorders may see things that aren’t real, hear voices that don’t exist, and sometimes lose the ability to discern reality at all. Sometimes people with mental illness mistreat or hurt the people they love—or themselves. Some who need medication stop taking it or won’t start. Some who seem to be doing well suddenly start showing symptoms again. Whatever the mental health crisis, members of our family of faith are called to be good stewards and embrace these vulnerable brothers and sisters, as Jesus did.
When people see symptoms of mental illness in others there is a tendency to distance themselves, ignore them and hope someone else will help, even in our parish communities. One weary mom lamented: “When a family member suffers from cancer or other diseases, people send cards, visit and bring a casserole. If your family member suffers from a mental illness, there is no contact or support.” This mother’s feeling of abandonment is regrettable and suggests that our family of faith has no tolerance or empathy for this kind of suffering. But the parish community is the Body of Christ. It cannot leave the impression that Christ himself is ready to walk away from those who carry these burdens.
As stewards of Christ’s love and mercy, we are called to follow his example, to reach out to those who suffer, even those who suffer mentally and emotionally; to embrace them rather than shrink away. No one is beyond hope, past the point where God’s grace touches them. We are not called to have all the answers or understand all the mysteries of mental illness. But we are called to love. That is the disciple’s response.
When we encounter mental illness among family members, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, what should we do?
- Seek understanding instead of passing judgment. Mental illness is a disease, one we may not initially understand.
- Get more information—read a book, do some research online, or perhaps even attend a workshop sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Resist the temptation to believe that people in treatment have all their needs met; mental health professionals can’t be expected to provide all the needs of one in treatment. It takes a community to provide acceptance, spiritual guidance and compassion.
- Offer positive support and be sensitive to those seeking medical intervention
- Be silent if you don’t know what to say—but be there for and merciful to those with mental illness.
- If you’re not a mental-health professional, acknowledge your limitations but remember no professional qualifications are required to be friendly and kind or to enter into a supportive friendship.
- Offer the dignity of a handshake and a smile, companionship and perhaps even friendship.
- Remember in your prayers those who suffer from mental illness, their families, caregivers and mental-health professionals.
This article has been adapted from a reflection by Mary Ann Otto, Stewardship Director, Diocese of Green Bay, WI