Everything We Have is a Gift from God 

This excerpt is fifth in a series based on the forthcoming book by Rev. Joseph D. Creedon, pastor emeritus, Christ the King Parish, Providence, Rhode Island.  

Everything we have is a gift from God. That is a foundational principle in the spirituality of Christian stewardship. It is not easy to embrace the reality that everything we have is a gift from God. Many of us, at a subliminal level, believe that everything we have is a result of our own efforts.

The following story points out how persistent this false belief can be. The setting for the story is the Irish countryside; the focus is an abandoned farmhouse. A stranger buys the dilapidated farmhouse and immediately begins to make improvements. The stone walls are rebuilt, the house gets a new coat of whitewash, the fields are plowed and planted and the thatched roof is repaired. The people in the nearby village watch all this work with curiosity and wonder. One thing they know for certain is that whoever the new owner is he never goes to church. A group of the villagers goes to the parish priest and convince him to discover who the new owner is and to invite him to church. Soon thereafter the parish priest goes out to the newly restored farmhouse and knocks on the door. The door is opened, the priest is greeted and he soon legal order viagra online canada finds himself seated at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea and homemade scones. After the obligatory small talk, the priest zeroes in on the purpose of his visit. He says to the new owner, “I love what you and God have done with this place.” The new owner pauses, takes a sip of tea and says, “Father, do you remember what the place looked like when God had it all to Himself?”

The story is both humorous and tragic. Humorous because it invites us to laugh at ourselves. Tragic because it lays bare the fact that we are inclined to take too much credit for our successes and too little blame for our failures. The new owner’s heart is not filled with gratitude because his heart is too full of pride in his own accomplishments. Needless to say, he is not alone in this attitude. If we are to embrace fully the spirituality of stewardship, we must embrace the belief that “everything we have is a gift from God.” We must develop what stewards call “the attitude of gratitude.” Prayerfully consider what will help you realize more fully that everything we have is a gift from God.

We Stewards Are A Testimony to Hope

This is a heart-wrenching time for our Church. We are numbed by the recent reports of past sexual abuses and the failure of some Church leaders to protect the most vulnerable among us. These reports reveal a crisis in our midst and the anger and dismay are natural. But how do we, as Christian stewards, respond? How do we participate in the healing and guiding work of the Holy Spirit? How do we stewards become a testimony to hope?

First, we can re-think how we work within the Church to protect the most vulnerable among us. How might we become better stewards of those entrusted to us? Christian stewards do not stand idly by, helpless or disengaged. They open their hearts to conversion, draw closer to those who suffer and seek ways to respond to injustice even if it is within their own family of faith.

Second, let’s make an honest assessment of our own life in Christ, beginning with the stewardship of our prayer lives. We pray for the victims and their families; for the innocents who continue to suffer; for a new resolve to reform the structures that have abetted wrongdoing; and even for those who have sinned. But let’s be honest about our conversations with God and the way we reveal our own weakness and frailty. It is here that we come to know the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It is here that Christ declares, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Third, let us embrace a new awareness of our stewardship of the Church. Our Church is found in our parish at the Eucharistic celebration, at faith formation gatherings, at our dinner table, in giving of our time at the soup kitchen, senior citizens’ home or the religious education of our young people. It is found in the many ways we give witness to the loving presence of Christ in a suffering world and offer hope.

Let’s ask ourselves: “How am I stewarding our Church?”  One of the profoundly prophetic voices of the 20th century, Karl Rahner, insisted: Quite enough terrible and base things have happened in the history of the church … Where would we go if we left the church? Would we then be more faithful to the liberating spirit of Jesus if, egotistical sinners that we are, we distanced ourselves as the “pure” from this poor church?

We can do our part to remove its meanness only if we try to live in the church as Christians and help bear the responsibility of constantly changing it from inside (The Practice of Faith, New York: Crossroad, 1983, p. 15). As we persevere through the current crisis, let us remain mindful that Jesus taught us how not only to overcome evil, but to redeem it. Christian stewards, as active instruments of God’s mercy, understand the redemptive quality of being stewards of the Gospel. It is in fidelity to this stewardship, made manifest in prayer, word and deed, that our testimony of hope emerges to reveal the healing power of Christ’s presence.

ST. VINCENT DE PAUL: Stewardship Saint of September

The feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul is September 27, the date of his passing in 1660. He was the founder of the Vincentians and the Sisters of Charity,  and is the patron saint of all charitable organizations.

Born in 1581 to a peasant family in southwestern France, Vincent studied for the priesthood at a local Franciscan college and then at Toulouse University. He was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen. Little is truly known of Vincent’s early life in the priesthood except that he spent a year in Rome, perhaps studying. In 1612 he became a parish priest in a village just north of Paris and the following year became a tutor in the household of the wealthy and politically powerful Gondi family. He remained with the family for the next 12 years and spent some time as a parish priest where he attended to the needs of the sick and the poor in his parish.

In 1617 he formed a group of women who ministered to the needs of these families. He established similar groups in other villages. Around the year 1618 Vincent came to know Saint Francis de Sales, whose writings, especially the Introduction to the Devout Life, had a strong influence on him. That same year Vincent established a society of priests, sometimes referred to as “Vincentians,” who with the financial support of Madame Gondi, would go from village to village on the Gondi estates to preach to the peasants and conduct missions. The mission work became so successful that with the approval of the archbishop of Paris and continued financial support of the Gondis, the group established a base in Paris and their community continued to grow along with their ministry. Meanwhile the women’s groups started to multiply. In 1633 Vincent began offering formal religious formation for this new group, called the Daughters of Charity. A new order of women religious was born that ministered in hospitals, orphanages, prisons and many other places. The order was formally approved by the Church in 1668.

Vincent’s approach to a devout life of faith was to be simple, practical and to have confidence in God’s love and mercy. He would maintain: “When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.” At Vincent’s funeral the presiding bishop said that he had “changed the face of the Church.”

He was canonized in 1737. In 1833, Blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam would found the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1885 Pope Leo XIII named St. Vincent de Paul universal patron of all works of charity.

Stewardship in the Gospel of Matthew (by Rev. Joe Creedon)

In last month’s reflection, we looked at stewardship parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. For our final Gospel parables we will go to Matthew, chapter 25.

The first is the parable of the three servants (stewards). One is given five talents, one is given two talents and the last servant is given one talent. The one with five talents makes five more, the one with two gains two more but the one who is given one talent does nothing with what was given to him. The two servants who use their talents wisely are praised by the master; the one who is fearful of the gift he has been given is stripped of what he was given. I have always wished there was a fourth servant who tried to use what he was given as gift and failed because if there were a fourth servant I am sure that the master would have said to him, “Here are three more try again.”

This parable is not about success but about remembering our need to give thanks to God for the gifts he has placed in our lives. This parable comes right before Matthew’s beautiful and chilling parable of the Last Judgment where we are reminded that when our life is over God will judge us on how we shared our gifts with others. The time will come when we get to ask, as did the folks in Matthew 25: 31-46: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to the least of these, you neglected to do it to me. And they will go away to eternal punishment and the virtuous to eternal life.”

God has given each and every one of us the gift of faith in Baptism. At Baptism, we are given both a mission and a ministry. The mission: to become disciples of Jesus and stewards of God’s gifts; the ministry is to use our unique gifts and talents in a way that gives glory to God. Stewardship then is a spirituality rooted in the Bible and based on the principle that everything we have is a gift from God.

September: New Beginnings In Our Parish

New Year’s resolutions are famously made on January 1, and infamously broken by the end of that month. But for many stewards, the real time of renewal and recommitment comes as we turn the calendar page into September, and the resolutions have a longer and greater impact. Why? Because good Catholic stewards realize that the parish is often-times the place where people encounter Christ’s presence in their lives, and in the fall, everything kicks into high gear at the parish.

Opportunities abound for growth, for giving, for community. It’s now that we ponder and make our decisions for how we will make a disciple’s response during the coming year through our commitment to the life of our parishes.

Here are a few tips for maximizing a grace-filled year: • Make Mass your top weekend priority, ahead of sports, school activities, or other temptations. • Consider how best to use your talents in the service of the parish. Pray over the ministry which calls to you the most. • Make an appointment to introduce yourself to the pastor or any new clergy if you do not know them, visit with them, or invite them to dinner. • Serve the poor through activities in your parish, in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul. Our Feed My People Ministry is always in need of more helpers. • Visit our parish Ministry Faire next Sunday. Fun and informative, the Faire is a community builder, and a great way to get involved. • Visit your child’s faith formation class and introduce yourself to the teacher. Let your children know religious education is a priority to you, and be sure to thank in some way the parishioners who give of their time and talent to this ministry. • Review your financial giving. Were you a faithful giver during the summer? Think about signing up for on-line giving so your year-round support helps provide a stable parish income.

Our Ministry Faire will be held next Sunday, September 9 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Parish Center parking lot.  Please stop by to talk with the members of our ministries and then prayerfully discern where your gifts and talents can best be used.

Stewardship and Missionary Discipleship: Tending Our Faith Responsibly

Saint John Paul II wrote “Life is entrusted to man as a treasure which must not be squandered, as a talent which must be used well” (Evangelium Vitae, 52).

Our late pontiff also wrote: It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal (Prayer Vigil, World Youth Day, August 19, 2000).

Another year of learning begins soon. Teachers everywhere will assemble students, engaging and encouraging them to discover their talents, recognize and focus on their potential, and understand more about life, faith, and the world.

Likewise, “Missionary Discipleship” calls each of us to commit ourselves to learning more about our faith. The need for ongoing formation and catechesis is not just for the young. It’s vital for everyone, throughout our lives. We respond to the call to be Missionary Disciples and gratefully receive the gift of our faith and cherish it. However, before we can share our faith with others in justice and love, we must tend to it, in a responsible and accountable manner.

What are some ways we could tend to our faith? Here are a few ideas: • Join, or lead, a parish Bible study group. • Start a book club reading religious books about saints, liturgy and Catholic practices. • Subscribe to or download an app for a daily devotional with reflection and commentary. • Participate in a diocesan faith-formation course. • Check a nearby seminary or Franciscan School for Theology (located at Mission San Luis Rey) for courses available to laity. • Read religious pamphlets and the diocesan Southern Cross newspaper  • Look for Catholic educational resources online or on DVD. • Search for and read online the documents and summaries from the Second Vatican Council. •  Pray every day, often. As regards to prayer, it would be a good idea to set aside time routinely for complete silence in order to listen for God’s still, small voice, like Elijah waiting in the cave. He too was humbly and patiently waiting to improve himself and society. The Lord called Elijah with a whisper, sending him on a mission to Damascus (1 Kings 19:12-16). We, too, are summoned to fulfill a role only we can play using the gift of faith entrusted to us. What is God pressing on your heart to do with your faith? How will you respond?