During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we have a number of opportunities to reflect on and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is a model of stewardship par excellence. Mary teaches us the meaning of stewardship by her own life witness.
On December 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the conception of Mary in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
On December 12, we celebrate Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531 she appeared to Juan Diego on a hill outside Mexico City. A life-size figure of the Virgin as a young, dark-skinned American Indian woman with the face of a mestizo was imprinted on his cloak. The image gave the indigenous people of the Americas assurance that our Blessed Mother was loving and compassionate toward them.
On December 25, when we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we celebrate the birth of Jesus through his mother, Mary. The Incarnation took place through Mary’s own flesh, and the infant Jesus was nourished by Mary’s own body.
On January 1, Mary is honored as the “Mother of God,” the greatest of her titles. This title is the foundation for every other title attributed to her as she became the mother of God from the instant Jesus was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Advent is a time of waiting and expectation; a season of quiet anticipation and preparation. We are waiting for our Lord to come into the world as the baby Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
We are also preparing for His return, His second coming as the shepherd-king, to restore harmony and right relationship to all creation. Advent is a season yearning for God to come and set the world right with perfect justice, truth and peace.
It is a season of hope. Advent is a time to emphasize preparation through prayer. While Lent emphasizes a spirit of repentance through prayer and fasting, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers for deliverance, prayers of gladness and joyful expectation, prayers that await the light of Christ coming into the world.
We do not shrink from those Advent scripture readings that reveal a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment. Christ’s disciples expect the Lord to hold them accountable for what has been entrusted to them just as a spouse, parent, teacher or supervisor holds us accountable.
And just as the steward was found faithful in small matters by the master, we too are confident that we will be found faithful and will enter the joy of the Master. We have absolute trust in the Lord’s countenance. Assuredly, during Advent we anticipate the Lord’s coming with hope. It is that hope, however faint at times, that keeps us from despair and the darkness of sin and its destructiveness.
It is a hope that urges us to be kind, loving and compassionate toward one another. It is a hope that encourages our faith in a merciful God who continues to pour His grace upon us. We don’t know when Christ will come again to bring human history to its completion. But we celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent and we rekindle that positive, joyful spirit within us because we know, as Zechariah prophesied, that the light of Christ will shine on all who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and He will guide our feet into the way of peace.
Your Thanksgiving Day can be more than just enjoying a great meal and turning on the television to search for the traditional parades and football games. How about expressing your stewardship of this day in a more meaningful way?
Here are some suggestions for making Thanksgiving an opportunity for expressing our gratitude to the Lord in creative ways:
Go to Mass and count your blessings. Start the day off on a positive note and celebrate the Eucharist. In your prayer reflect on five things for which you are most grateful in your life. Then reflect on how you can be an even better steward of these gifts.
Write “I’m thankful for you” cards and give them out or e-mail them on Thanksgiving (or mail them beforehand).
Share your Thanksgiving meal with someone who is alone this Thanksgiving. Come to our parish Family Meal being hosted in the Star of the Sea Center from 10-12 on Thanksgiving Day (after the 9 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving). Or look for someone, such as a neighbor, co-worker, fellow parishioner, college student or armed services personnel who may be separated from family and ask them to join in your Thanksgiving dinner.
Volunteer your time to help serve Thanksgiving dinners to those attending our parish Family Meal.
Practice ecumenism! Many parishes make Thanksgiving an opportune time to join in ecumenical services with other Christian worshipping communities, or inter-faith activities and programs with non-Christian centers of worship. Find one nearby and experience something new and enriching.
Visit the sick. Check with hospitals, assisted living facilities or nursing homes in the area to see if there are volunteer opportunities to visit with patients or residents on that day.
Help someone if you can. Extend your generosity and blessings beyond your own family. Be part of an adopt-a-family effort, help distribute food baskets, or bring canned foods or clothing to St. Vincent de Paul centers.
Take a walk. Find a place to enjoy God’s gift of creation. Head out the door for a refreshing walk. Invite family, friends or others to share the experience too.
Most important! Take advantage of the Thanksgiving holidays to focus on what you’re grateful for and the things you appreciate about yourself and others. It is an ideal time to remember and to celebrate the many blessings in our lives.
Saint Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican priest, considered one of the most extraordinary men of his age alongside Peter Lombard, Roger Bacon and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
His stewardship of the intellectual life, his students and our life of faith is profound. Born in 1200, near Ulm, Albert was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German family. He was educated in the liberal arts at the University of Padua, Italy, and against his family’s wishes, joined the Dominican Order in 1223. He earned his doctorate at the University of Paris and taught theology with much success in a number of medieval German universities, including Cologne. For a time Albert was the pope’s personal theologian, and in 1260 was appointed bishop of Regensburg, Germany, against his will. He remained for only three years before returning his time and energy to teaching and writing in Cologne.
He enhanced his reputation for humility by refusing to ride horses. Instead, he walked back and forth across his huge diocese, keeping with the rules of the Dominican order. Albert’s influence on scholars is substantial.
His fame is due in part to being the forerunner, spiritual guide and teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas. But he also composed an encyclopedia containing treatises on almost every branch of learning known at the time. His work fills thirty-eight volumes and covers subjects ranging from astronomy and chemistry to geography and philosophy. His knowledge of science was considerable, and for the age remarkably accurate. He also displayed an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology that surprised his contemporaries, who named him “Magnus” (“the Great”) to recognize his genius. Albert even inspired a mystical school of theology among fellow Dominicans such as Meister Eckhart.
Albert participated in the Second Council of Lyons, France, in 1274, the fourteenth of the Catholic Church’s 21 great councils (Vatican II was the twentyfirst). On his way to the council, he was shocked to learn of Aquinas’ death at age 49, and he publicly defended his former student against attacks on the Catholicity of his writings.
After suffering from what is now thought to be Alzheimer’s disease, Albert died in Cologne on November 15, 1280. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931, one of only 33 individuals bestowed that honor. His tomb is in the crypt of the Dominican church in Cologne, and his relics are in the Cologne Cathedral. His feast day is November 15.
Through the generosity of our pastor, I was able to fly to Nashville this past weekend and attend the International Catholic Stewardship Conference. I spoke with many of the vendors (who I have come to know over the years) and they each shared their relief and amazement at how many stewards were at the conference and how uplifting and hopeful the mood was. They had been concerned because of the recent crisis in the Catholic Church and how it has impacted the hearts of the faithful.
What I witnessed at the conference was a counter-narrative to the shame, embarrassment, outrage, and disappointment of our current Church. What I saw was a fortified hope. I encountered faithful men and women who were saying that nothing could take away their faith. They would not succumb to shunning Jesus because of Judas. I saw these faith-filled stewards link arms and charge into battle, ready to defend their faith.
I know that it is easy to be disheartened by what we’ve seen in the past and what is hitting the news as we speak. I know that the easiest response is to turn away from what pains us. I know that attendance is down in Catholic churches all across the nation. I know that this is the time when attendance should be up. We need to be down on our knees asking God to heal those who were injured, asking God to heal those who made bad choices, and asking God to give us the fortitude to stand up for our Catholic faith and heritage.
An old adage warning a person not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” sounds silly but I think it makes a point. We need to sort through what we know, believe that God will guide those trying to make sense of all this, and pray for the strength and wisdom to carry on.
November brings Santa Ana winds, raking leaves, mid-term exams, plenty of football, and the beginning of our Christmas plans. But for those in the U.S., November’s highlight is that great national holiday, Thanksgiving. It’s wonderful to have a day to call attention to the need for gratitude, but this holiday also reminds the Christian steward that every day should include thanksgiving because gratitude is essential to discipleship.
Feeling a deep appreciation for the giftedness of our lives can’t be confined to one holiday when we spend a few minutes around a laden table remembering our many blessings. Neither can gratitude become a rote response.
Gratitude is good for our spiritual lives in so many ways. It reminds us of our neediness before the Lord, without whom we have nothing. The mere daily act of focusing on our blessings makes us more mindful, more present to God’s mystery and gifts, and more aware of the needs of others around us.
Gratitude is best achieved by daily, focused attention. So perhaps a good exercise for November would be to write down, each day, some things for which we are truly grateful. Your list will no doubt include people – a teacher who inspired you, a coach who believed in you, an aunt who made you feel special, an employer who mentored you. Your notes might include simple things – the aroma of freshly ground coffee, a lunch invitation that brightened your day, a phone call that brought a smile. Focus on things you sometimes take for granted – the warm home in which you live, the sunshine that peeked through a cloudy day, the faithful presence of your spouse.
And during this month of thanks, remember to give thanks to the risen Lord: Let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17).
Luke is the author of the third Gospel and was a companion of Saint Paul. According to reliable tradition, he was a Syrian physician from Antioch who wrote his Gospel in Achaea (Greece). Both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to Luke, because he appears to be the person intended by the first-person reference in Acts. The opening of Acts refers to the Gospel and is dedicated to the same person, Theophilus. The basic point of Luke’s New Testament writings is to emphasize the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
Luke also has an interest in the reality of poverty and reveals a deep concern for the poor, the outcast, and the underprivileged throughout the Gospel.
Stewardship is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel. As a matter of fact, what emerges from Luke’s writings is a sophisticated theology of stewardship that is unique to his Gospel and not addressed so profoundly by other New Testament writers. Luke defines the duty and role of a steward as a unique sort of servant who is entrusted with material possessions by a master, takes charge of them and is required to use them prudently. Luke envisions the steward as not having any possessions or property of his own, but as taking care of his master’s property and wealth until the master summons him to turn in an account of his stewardship. There is a finiteness to stewardship. According to Luke, a steward carries out his responsibilities with alertness, knowing that the master’s return may come at any time. And depending on the quality of his stewardship, there is the anticipation of a reward as a result of his stewardship. Luke believes stewards are not just a chosen or appointed few. Stewardship is the responsibility of all Christian disciples. Luke takes his basic ideas of stewardship and applies them to the motif of material possessions as well, instructing his readers on the right use of wealth and the wrong use of wealth. Finally, Luke’s concept of almsgiving, based on his theology of stewardship, was unique and radical at the time of his writing. Almsgiving was considered an obligation of Christian disciples; imperative inside and outside the community. Luke enjoined his readers to look upon the poor with genuine sympathy and urged those with material resources to remember their identity as stewards, to distribute their wealth to the poor as alms, and to give up ownership of their own material possessions. Luke is the patron saint of physicians, artists and butchers. His feast day is October 18.
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 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.
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.
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.