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.
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.
This article was written by Rev. Joseph D. Creedon, Pastor Emeritus, Christ the King Parish, Providence, Rhode Island
Many ingredients of the spirituality of stewardship are counterintuitive. None more so than this: “Stewardship is based on the need of the giver to give more than on the need of the receiver to receive.” Most of us have been conditioned to be need-based givers. If someone has a need they should present their case and, if we agree with both the cause and the need, then we think about giving. Need-based giving is unfortunately the bedrock of most, if not all, church-related giving of “time, talent and treasure.” It takes a while to unlearn our conditioning to be needed.
Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite spiritual authors, said, “If I can only give and not receive, then the only honest thing to do is question why I give.” There has to be a balance between giving and receiving. To give is to be in control; to receive is to be vulnerable. How many times have you learned from a friend that he or she needed help but did not ask for it? How many times have you been offended because that friend did not ask for help? How many times have you needed help but did not ask for it? True sharing can only happen if it is reciprocal. If we enjoy giving then we should be willing to receive as well. Only a small percentage of us will ever be able to enjoy receiving but that should be our goal. It is good to give a friend a listening ear; it is better if there are times when we are the speaker and allow our friend to be the listener. It is good when we carve spaces in our schedules to be present to a neighbor; it is better if there are times when we are willing to ask our neighbor to carve out time for us.
One of the mysteries of our Christian faith is that it is not based on either/or but both/and. It is not giving or receiving that should be the mark of our stewardship but giving and receiving.
This article was written by Leisa Anslinger, Associate Department Director for Pastoral Life, Archdiocese of Cincinnati
During the Easter season we immerse ourselves in the wonder of Jesus’ resurrection and the story of the early Church through our Sunday liturgies. Each year, I look forward to hearing from the Acts of the Apostles during this season. I am inspired by the faith and courage of the apostles and those who came to believe in Jesus Christ as a result of their witness and stewardship of their community of faith. I am also encouraged when reading the story of the development of the early communities of believers – not only did they face immense challenges from the Roman and Jewish authorities, they were often challenged from within, as they figured out what it meant to be Christians in community with one another.
In his book on the gift of administration, Reverend Donald Senior, biblical scholar and former president of Catholic Theological Union, writes of the ways leadership emerged in the early Church. He writes: The inspiration for all leadership in the New Testament is rooted in the example of Jesus. His qualities of compassion, integrity, and selfless service in the carrying out of his mission are reflected in the virtues lifted up in the examples of early community leaders such as Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and Priscilla and Aquila.
The fundamental responsibility of New Testament leaders is to foster the common good of the community – and here, too, the example of Jesus is paramount. Jesus the healer and teacher was committed to the restoration and well-being of God’s people. So, too, the charismatic leadership of Paul and the more administrative type of leadership exercised by Peter, Barnabas, Phoebe, and Priscilla and Aquila and many others were directed to building up the Body of Christ. Father Senior goes on to summarize this form of leadership, modeled by Jesus himself, as “servant leadership” (The Gift of Administration: New Testament Foundations for the Vocation of Administrative Service, Liturgical Press, 2016).
As we hear the story of the early Church this Easter season, let us reflect on our stewardship of others in our family of faith, our role as servant leaders: How do we continue the mission of Jesus with compassion, integrity and selfless service? How do we build up the Body of Christ as a community of disciples and stewards?
This article was written by Mary Ann Otto, Pastoral Minister for Missionary Discipleship, St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin
The Upper Room in Scripture has always held a very sacred place in my heart. I imagine this candlelit dwelling in Jerusalem as providing a home for weary travelers and an address for those who needed to find them. I step into the room with all four Gospel writers and they give me a glimpse into the humanness of the first disciples, the patience and love of Jesus and the power of the love between the Son and His Father. Truthfully, as I sat among and observed the Upper Room inhabitants, I learned and continue to learn so much about Jesus and myself through the humanity and divinity found there. This place in Jerusalem is where I came to know the true meaning of friendship as Jesus shared his last supper, the Passover meal, with his followers. It is where the saying “It’s not about you” was fully demonstrated and authentic servant leadership was modeled as he washed the feet of his friends. It is in the Upper Room where the New Covenant in Jesus became a reality and I saw that even those who profess the ultimate love could become a betrayer, a denier or a doubter. The question “Is it me?” continues to ring throughout the ages. The Upper Room is where I witnessed our soon to be Savior wish his friends peace and place them in the care of his Father. Here I perceive Jesus’ sadness as he leaves this place courageously to take on the sinfulness of his friends, me and humankind. As dawn breaks on Easter morning, the messages in the Upper Room are magnified. I discovered the importance of being a good steward of community as a follower of Jesus and the power of huddling with fellow disciples. I understood what it might be like to experience grief, fear, surprise and joy at the same time and the importance of sharing our Jesus encounters with other followers. The crucial lesson of believing without seeing was made real in this space through Jesus’ conversation with Thomas. In the Upper Room I came to know that even with all my human failings, I can be an agent for building Christ’s Church because there is no stronger force on this earth than the power of the Holy Spirit if we pray for its guidance and gifts. I want to be that missionary disciple and steward of the Church so I shall return to this sacred place often for inspiration and encouragement. Alleluia! He is Risen!
Saint Damien de Veuster is better known as Saint Damien of Molokai, “apostle to lepers.” When he was born in 1840, few people had any firsthand knowledge of leprosy, Hansen’s disease. But by the time he died at age 49, people all over the world knew about this disease because of him.
Joseph de Veuster grew up in a small village in Belgium. He joined the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1859, taking the religious name Damien. When his brother, who was also a member of the congregation, was taken ill and unable to embark on his assignment in the Hawaiian Islands, Damien went in his place. He was ordained a priest there in 1864. In 1873 Father Damien responded to the local bishop’s call for volunteers to work on Molokai, an island used in part as a leper colony. At the time there was no cure for leprosy and those who contracted the disease were shunned. There were about eight hundred lepers on the island when Father Damien arrived and the number continued to grow. Living conditions were so terrible that Damien referred to the place as a “living cemetery.” He visited the lepers in their huts and brought them the sacraments. He also made efforts to improve the roads, harbor, and water supply and to expand the hospital. His multiple responsibilities were said to have included those of a pastor, physician, counselor, builder, sheriff, and undertaker.
In one of his letters home, he wrote: “I make myself a leper with the lepers, to bring all to Jesus Christ.” Father Damien returned to Honolulu to beg for money, clothing and medicine and as news of his ministry spread, donations began to pour in from all over the world. But in 1885, he himself contracted leprosy and was forbidden to leave the island. Volunteers and visitors stopped coming. When Father Damien spent a week in a Honolulu hospital, his ministry gained even more recognition. He was visited by the king and the prime minister, and money and offers of prayers continued to pour in from Europe and the United States. As his condition worsened, Damien accepted it as God’s will and described himself as the “happiest missionary in the world.” He died on April 15, 1889. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, it selected Damien as one of its two representatives in the Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol. Damien was canonized in 2009.
Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen! If you’re thinking this greeting comes a little late, since Easter Sunday was April 21, think again. As Catholic Christians, we celebrate the Easter season for seven weeks, until the fires of Pentecost once again inflame our hearts on June 9. Indeed, how could we not continue to celebrate this event that has changed everything for us?
It’s easy to slip into a cultural way of thinking about our great feasts. Many people have the Christmas tree taken down at the end of New Year’s Day, rather than waiting for Epiphany. Likewise, most of us have long ago put the Easter decorations away. But the Christian steward is aware of the beauty and meaning of the seasons in the liturgical calendar.
The Easter season remains a special time for recommitment to the Lord. One word for this period is “mystagogia,” and those who were newly baptized at the Great Easter Vigil are especially familiar with this term. It literally means that we delve more deeply into the mystery of our faith. But exploring this mystery is not just an endeavor for new Christians. As we prepare for Pentecost, we prayerfully examine what the Resurrection means in our own lives.
For Christian stewards, it’s a time to reevaluate how faith in the Risen Lord informs every aspect of our lives – how we labor, how we play, the way we pray, how we allocate our resources, where we spend our time, how we love, how we extend our compassion to others. If Christ is truly risen – an astounding and life-altering belief – then this Easter time brings immense joy and a continuing desire to know the Risen Lord.
The Scripture readings of the season are especially helpful. We hear once again the stories of the appearances of Jesus to his friends; how often they failed, initially, to recognize him in his glory. The Acts of the Apostles tell us of the struggles and the excitement of the new community of believers. We spent forty days in the penitential season of Lent.
Now, we are embarked on fifty days of joyous celebration. Let us experience this joy throughout the Easter season, so that when we celebrate Pentecost, we may truly find our hearts on fire with the Holy Spirit.