Stewards of the Church in the 21st Century

By Mary Ann Otto, Pastoral Minister for Missionary Discipleship, St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin

As we approach Pentecost, we anticipate an event so powerful that even after two thousand years it is hard to fully grasp its impact. The transforming nature of the Holy Spirit raised up a small group of courageous disciples to carry the mission and message of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Proclaiming their encounter with the risen Lord without Church buildings, budgets, a catechism and technology, they were directed to steward the loving, forgiving and hopeful message of Jesus Christ to the world. The life-altering result of their early ministry brought the small early Christian community to a worldwide Church that numbers in the billions.

It is interesting to consider the journey of faith taken by these early disciples in light of the words of the United States bishops in their pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, in describing what Christian stewards do. To say that these disciples received God’s gift of the Good News of Jesus gratefully, nurtured it together with passion and faithfulness responsibly, shared it generously at the risk of losing their lives and returned to God in abundance is truly an understatement.

How did they spread the Gospel in dangerous times with so little at their disposal? Imagining what it might be like to sit with Mary of Magdala, Peter, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila and a few other brave and faithful disciples around a table, I cannot help but believe that they might encourage us to go back to our roots and announce the Good News to our neighbors with courage, passion and trust.

Our Church has been blessed with longevity and a rich deposit of faith. Pope Francis, however, reminds us that our first responsibility is to share the kerygma, that foundational proclamation of our faith, with everyone we encounter. Jesus loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. This “Good News” should be imbedded deeply in the hearts and expressed passionately on the lips of every Christian steward of the 21st century Church. For many of us, the pontiff’s constant reminder has been an incredible shift in the way we understand what it means to be a disciple. If we reflect, however, on our efforts to speak the Good News aloud, it is always accompanied by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit. What might the early disciples say? Perhaps it would be: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, be brave and speak up! It is your turn!”