by Leisa Anslinger, Associate Department Director for Pastoral Life, Archdiocese of Cincinnati
We commit ourselves to live as disciples who steward our many gifts and blessings involves every facet of our lives. We will experience God’s call differently in distinct moments of our lives. At times, we may recognize the call to give our time sacrificially; at other times, our treasure. In some moments, we may discern a call to active service among the poor, ill, or imprisoned; in other moments, our stewardship may be of prayer or the sharing of faith. In all of these times and circumstances, we follow Jesus Christ, and learn to embrace his way of self-giving love.
The young creature in the stall of Bethlehem was a human being with human brain and heart and soul. And it was God. Its life was to manifest the will of the Father; to proclaim the sacred tidings, to stir mankind with the power of God, to establish the Covenant, and shoulder the sin of the world, expiating it with love and leading mankind through the destruction of sacrifice and the victory of the Resurrection into the new existence of grace. In this accomplishment alone lay Jesus’ self-perfection: fulfillment of mission and personal fulfillment were one (Romano Guardini, quoted in Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, p. 23).
We are all called to discern and live out our vocation, the life vocation that each of us has, and the many calls we experience as followers of Jesus. Another way of saying this is to recognize that living out our vocational call is our mission. We fulfill our mission by being good stewards of our lives, gifts, and blessings. This ongoing discernment and fulfillment of our mission is one of the many things that makes stewardship leadership such a dynamic and sometimes challenging endeavor. Helping people recognize their mission to witness to and make Christ’s love known through their stewardship is a sacred responsibility. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us pray that we may fulfill this mission well and with grace. Merry Christmas!
“Bah! Humbug!” was the attitude of Ebenezer Scrooge toward the two gentlemen who came looking for a Christmas donation to help the poor and homeless in the streets of London. “All I want to do is eat, drink and be merry!” was the attitude of the rich fool in Jesus’ parable. Neither the wealthy but miserly Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, nor Jesus’ miserly fool in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 12:16-21), would find good company with Christian stewards who know those attitudes draw us away from God, not closer.
As we await the coming of Jesus at Christmas, the Advent season is the perfect time to reflect on our own attitudes toward the things we possess and our need to share with others who are less fortunate.
There is, of course, no season quite so full of wild abundance as the Christmas season. We are entering a joyful, exuberant time, full of music, family, parties, good food and friends. But every Christian steward knows that there is a shadow side to abundance, particularly material abundance, which brings its own challenges. Poverty, in North America and indeed worldwide, is growing, not diminishing. In the United States alone, one in six Americans now lives below the poverty line. The poor among us become invisible and the poverty that overtakes them becomes a scourge that brings a whole host of societal problems such as hunger, homelessness, crime and domestic violence. Moreover, a culture that is focused on consuming more and more and built on satisfying the self and ignoring the needs of other people is a culture that impoverishes the soul. A preoccupation with our own wants and possessions fosters a spiritual poverty that has no room for the Lord at its center. That kind of spiritual poverty neglects the true meaning of Christmas in its joy and abundance. Despite the great spiritual significance of this feast, the season becomes a time of material excess.
The beautiful season of Advent is upon us, and with it a desire for the simplicity which fosters spiritual depth. This desire often runs into headwinds during December. A season which is often marked by excess and over-consumption coincides with the poverty and simplicity of the manger. It’s a conundrum for the Christian steward. We are increasingly aware of Pope Francis’s call to be stewards of the environment. But let’s face it, how many of us have felt a twinge of guilt on Christmas morning as garbage bags full of unrecyclable wrapping paper and protective plastic toy containers are carried to the trash. Do our children really need so much? Do we?
There’s been a movement afoot in the last few years to cut back on Christmas buying, especially as it pertains to our kids, whom we sometimes overindulge on that special day. The easy-to-remember plan is called “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Following those four pointers, our children can receive four well-thought-out gifts that fulfill both practical and fun desires. Think quality. Refrain from lots of “stuff,” which we excuse as “stocking stuffers” and often are broken or discarded by New Year’s Day. The plan can work for a spouse or another special person as well.
Another important consideration for the Christian steward is to remember that the Christmas need to give extends far beyond family. Schools, churches and faith formation programs often promote “giving trees” where we select a person or family in need who may not receive a gift without our help. This is a great program for kids who can become totally involved in the selection, and perhaps with their allowances, even the purchase of a gift for a stranger. Shelters collect socks, nursing homes need carolers, the clerk at the busy grocery store needs an extra smile, your pastor and your teacher might appreciate a special thank you note.
There are scores of ways to give during the Advent and Christmas seasons. If we commit to keeping it a little simpler under the tree on Christmas morning, we’ll have more time and energy for other forms of giving. We’ll do the environment a favor, and we will give our kids a lesson in giving rather than getting. And that, of course, is an authentic Christmas message.
December is such a busy time of year, and a month that tempts us to lose sight of the profound spiritual importance of the Advent and Christmas seasons. The best way to stay focused on the coming of Jesus Christ is to be good stewards of his presence in our daily lives. Here are simple ways to exercise good stewardship of this sacred time of year.
- Give God a very special gift this year: Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending more time with God daily. Perhaps there is a habit you know you should give up. Why wait for a New Year’s resolution? Start now.
- Celebrate the season of Advent: Light the Advent wreath candles each night before dinner. If you have children, let them offer their own prayers to the Christ child for whom we are waiting.
- Set aside a special time to read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Saint Luke 1:5-56 through 2:1-20: Consider reading this account with your family and discussing it together.
- Put a crèche up in your home at the beginning of Advent: Consider having one set that is “kid-proof” which your children are allowed to handle. Kids love to make the Nativity story their own, and they especially love the angels!
- Plan a project to help someone this Christmas: Identify someone with a genuine need, involve your whole family and see how happy you can make someone this Christmas. Call Catholic Charities or another charity and find a family through their programs. Make sure your children take part in shopping for a family who needs extra help and make them aware of the needs in your community.
- Take a group Christmas caroling to a nursing home or a children’s hospital: Get people together. Make it festive. Bring the gifts of your joyful smiles and voices to those who may need these gifts.
- Give a surprise gift of service to each member of your family: The idea of giving an unexpected gift of service to members of your family reveals your own love and concern for them. You might consider giving your spouse a day away, running an errand for your brother, or cleaning out a closet for your mother. Make it personal and meaningful.
- Send Christmas cards and thank you notes that convey a spiritual message: This is an easy way to share your faith during the Advent season. Don’t just sign your name! Include a personal message with each card. Set aside some time after Christmas Day to write thank you notes and help your children to write thank you notes for the gifts they receive. This is a wonderful habit for a lifetime, and a good way to foster a steward’s gratitude for all gifts.
- Write a Christmas letter to someone far away such as someone in the service, or perhaps someone working or ministering in a foreign country: It has been said that receiving a letter when you are far away from home is like opening a priceless gift on Christmas morning, no matter what day of the year. Many people are unable to travel home for the holidays, so it can be a very lonely time for them. Write a special Christmas letter to someone of your choice.
- Attend Christmas Mass together with your family: December 25 falls on Wednesday this year so make sure you are present at the Table of the Lord. If you are alone this Christmas or don’t have family living near you, invite a friend or a neighbor to join you.
During the 1997 World Youth Day celebrations in Paris, Saint John Paul II beatified Antoine Frederic Ozanam in Notre Dame Cathedral and proclaimed him to be a model for all Catholic laity. “No better model could be given to the youth of the world than this young man … ‘Show us your works!’”
Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam was a French Catholic scholar and defender of the Catholic faith at a time when it underwent severe challenges in early 19th century France. He also founded the Catholic association of laity dedicated to serving the poor, which came to be known as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Frederic was born in Milan, Italy, in 1813, the fifth of 14 children. Showing academic promise at an early age, his parents encouraged him to study. He was interested in law, languages and philosophy, and in 1831 went to the renowned Parisian university, the Sorbonne, to study law. It was here that he encountered hostility to Catholicism. He published a short work responding to this hostility that attracted the attention of French Catholic writers and politicians. Frederic’s writings emphasized the important social contributions of the Church, but a conversation with another student disturbed him: “Frederic, I accept that the Church may have done things for people in the past but what are you doing now? Show us your works!” Those words stung the young Frederic so much that he decided to work with the poor. In 1833, with seven university companions, he laid the foundations of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul honoring the great saint who in another time had also ministered to the poor of the city of Paris. He was 20 years old. Frederic earned a doctor of laws in 1836 and a doctorate in letters in 1839. He became a professor at the university and, in time, chair of foreign languages. His lectures at the Sorbonne were among the most popular as students flocked to hear this young, vibrant speaker.
In 1841 Frederic married, had one daughter, and is said to have embraced a youthful enthusiasm for his marriage and his parenting. Each month he would observe the anniversary of his wedding with a thoughtfully chosen gift, however small. Frederic brought that same domestic love and attention to the growing Society which spread throughout France and other countries within a relatively short time. He gained a reputation as the leading historical and literary critic in the “new” Catholic movement in France, and his popular writings in the late 1840s won him a number of French writing awards. He was hailed as a brilliant promoter of the Catholic faith.
Frederic died of tuberculosis at age 40 on September 8, 1853. Today the Society numbers nearly a million members in 142 countries. Frederic’s feast day is September 9.
Summer’s end brings with it nostalgia for carefree days, long nights, lazy weekend afternoons, reunions with families, and summer road trips. But autumn brings a burst of new life that makes September feel almost like spring. Why?
For the Christian steward, fall brings a renewed sense of commitment. Literally, many of us make our commitment of time and resources to our parish during September or soon after. Stewardship and ministry fairs bring a sense of excitement to parish weekends, witness talks remind us of the good work to be done, renewed calls for sign-ups for Eucharistic Adoration are issued, and kids are everywhere – in our Catholic schools and in our faith formation programs – filling us with hope and enthusiasm for our young Church. This is the time when we reexamine and reconfirm our stewardship.
If you found yourself away from our parish this summer – either through neglect or through travel and visits to other parishes – now is the time to get reacquainted. Our parish is our primary faith community, where we built relationships based on our shared values and sacramental life, and September is a wonderful way to come “home” to that community.
Some things which will draw you closer to your faith community during September: • Visit, or better yet help with, the ministry fair. Spend time with people you may not have seen due to summer travels, and “meet and greet” any newcomers you spot. • Consider a new ministry this year. Think of something that will reinvigorate you, provide the greatest service, bring out your best talents, and help you to meet more of your fellow parishioners. • Find out what adult faith formation classes or presentations are offered for the fall, and commit to at least one. • Take inventory of your financial giving. Did you sometimes neglect the parish offertory during the summer months? Find out if your parish has online giving, or automatic withdrawal, so that your year-round stewardship helps provide the parish with a stable income. • Make Sunday Mass your top weekend priority, ahead of sports, school activities, or other temptations.
Saint Mary Magdalene is one of the most revered saints in the history of the Church and her discipleship emphasizes the complementary roles of women. From the New Testament, one can conclude that Mary came from Magdala, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. She was a friend of Jesus of Nazareth and a leading figure among those who were his disciples. She was one of the women who accompanied and financially supported Jesus and the twelve apostles which suggests that the women were respectable, well-to-do members of the community.
At the time Jesus was executed on Golgotha, when the men in his company had already run away and abandoned him, Mary Magdalene is specifically identified in the Gospels as one of the women who refused to leave him. She was present at the Crucifixion and burial. What is by far the most important affirmation about Mary Magdalene, however, is that she is mentioned in all five of the Resurrection narratives of the Gospel tradition (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 23:55-24:12, John 20:1-18, and Mark 16:9-20). In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, she is the primary witness to Christ’s Resurrection. All four Gospels explicitly name her as being present at the tomb and she was the first person to preach the “Good News” of that miracle.
From other texts of the early Christian era, Mary Magdalene’s status as a disciple in the years after Jesus’ death is as prominent as the twelve apostles. For many centuries Mary Magdalene was the symbol of Christian devotion, especially that of repentance. However, Christian traditions that came after the New Testament era erroneously equated Mary Magdalene with both the sinful woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus and with Mary of Bethany in John 11 and Luke 10 who also anointed Jesus.
The tradition that Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute has been dismissed by modern biblical scholarship as almost certainly untrue. Saint Mary Magdalene has been celebrated throughout Christian history in art and literature. There are many famous depictions of her in art such as Rembrandt’s Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb and Titian’s Noli Me Tangere (Latin: “Do not touch me”). Her feast day is July 22.
The air in July seems to be filled with the music of birds and the hum of insects. We hear the happy sounds of picnickers, boaters, golfers, fireworks, kids splashing in the pool, and concerts in the park. It’s a celebratory time, a time when many people take vacation or welcome visitors from afar or young adults home from college. We think of July as a fun time, a time for rest and relaxation, a time for leisure.
It’s important to be a good steward of the wonders of summer, a good steward of our time of rest and renewal, a good steward of leisure. A time to recharge our batteries is all part of leading a healthy, balanced life. After all, we recall that Jesus directed his disciples to “. . .go off to a secluded place and rest” (Mark 6:31).
Stewardship calls us to nurture and care for God’s gifts which include taking care of the gift that is ourselves. So, make leisure a priority this July.
- Simplify your activities and focus on relationships, resting, recreating, and enjoying the beauty of God’s world.
- Ease up on planning the perfect party or barbecue and instead focus on the fun of everyone chipping in to spend time together.
- Give yourself space to be alone in the midst of summer’s fun.
- Be healthy in eating and drinking.
- Long walks at dawn or dusk and plenty of exercise will aid both your body and your spirit, as will enjoying the wealth of summer’s bounty and the produce of our gardens and farmers’ markets.
- Consider activities that add variety to our lives and relationships.
- Make time for those books piling up on the bookshelf.
- Do something out of the ordinary.
- Plan a long lunch with an old friend, or enjoy jazz “on the green.” But don’t add heavy burdens of preparation and commitment.
- Scale down.
- Let go.
- Be spontaneous.
- Be a good steward of your leisure time.
- Bask in the glory of summer’s long days. This will not only prove restorative but will reveal more acutely the blessings of God’s creation and help us discover in new ways the wonder of our loved ones and ourselves.
For many individuals and families alike, summer means travel. And summer travel may mean new visitors to our parish for weekend liturgies. Providing hospitality to strangers is a hallmark of Christian stewardship. In the Gospel of Matthew good stewards were commended for their hospitality: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
Saint Benedict directed his followers to receive guests and travelers as if they were Christ. Extending hospitality is especially important when it comes to welcoming visitors who may be attending Mass at our parish for the first time. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that the ability of a first-time visitor to have a meaningful experience of Christ in the liturgy is directly impacted by the warmth of the welcome extended by the local worshipping community. When people say hello, the worship experience is enhanced. A warm welcome is part of evangelization, work necessary in a church’s mission to help people discover or renew their faith in Christ.
How do we treat the unknown person who walks by us in church, or who sits next to us at Mass? Do we take the initiative to greet them, smile, extend a warm handshake? Remember, we are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our actions and reactions toward visitors at Mass communicate who we are and who we represent. Let us take time to welcome visitors to our parish this summer. Welcoming gestures, however small, will not only have a positive impact on visitors, they will make us more hospitable ambassadors of Christ.
María Guadalupe García Zavala was born in 1878 in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico. As a child she made frequent visits to the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, located next to her father’s religious goods shop. Her acquaintances said Maria treated everyone with equal respect and kindness.
At age 23, Maria was engaged to be married, but broke it off because of a growing sense that the Lord was calling her to life in religious community and of service to the sick and the poor. When she confided this change of heart to her spiritual director, he revealed his own desire to establish a religious community to work with those who were hospitalized. He invited María to join him.
The new congregation, which officially began in 1901, was known as the “Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary (Alacoque) and the Poor.” María worked as a nurse in the hospital. Compassion and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of the sick were the primary concerns. María worked tirelessly. Sister María was soon named head of the quickly-growing community of sisters. She taught the community, mostly by her example, the importance of living the Gospel’s spirit of poverty. This included living a life of humility and exhibiting joy and a loving demeanor each day to each person they encountered. At times, Mother María and others in the community would take to the streets begging in order to collect money for the hospital. The sisters also worked in parishes to assist the priests and to serve as catechists.
From 1911 until 1936, the Catholic Church in Mexico underwent severe persecution. Mother María put her own life at risk to help the clergy of Guadalajara, and even the archbishop, go into hiding in the community’s hospital. The humble and generous treatment she extended even to their persecutors when they needed food or medical care did not go unnoticed. It was not long before they, too, began defending the hospital run by the sisters.
During her lifetime, 11 foundations were established in Mexico. Today, the religious community has 22 foundations and is active in Mexico, Peru, Iceland, Greece and Italy. Mother María died on June 24, 1963, at the age of 85. Her feast day is June 24.