Saint Mary Magdalene, Steward of Christ’s Ministry

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.

Be a Good Steward of Your Leisure Time

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.
  • Relax.
  • 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.

Hospitality at Mass: A Key to Good Stewardship

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.

Stewardship Saint for June: María Guadalupe García Zavala

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.

Ten Commandments for Welcoming Visitors at Mass

Welcoming newcomers to our parish is not just the job of the pastoral staff, ushers, ministers of hospitality or greeters. It is everyone’s responsibility. Here are ten things you can do to provide better hospitality in our parish.

1. Cultivate the virtue of hospitality at Mass. Many parishioners tend to gather into little cliques and ignore those who are not members of their particular clique. They are not really inhospitable, just heedless of the need for hospitality. Make hospitality a new habit when you come to Mass.

2. Come early, leave late. Instead of rushing to Mass to be there on time, and then rushing out at its conclusion, make time to come a little early and linger just a bit later. Make room in your busy life to greet and spend time with others at Mass.

3. Go in peace to greet someone! Seek out someone you’ve not met before. Shake their hand, introduce yourself, and take a few moments to welcome them to our parish home, God’s house.

4. Welcome everyone. Not only do visitors need your warm welcome, regular Mass attendees also need a friendly greeting. Develop a good handshake and be enthusiastic about our parish. You are greeting others in the name of Christ.

5. Help newcomers connect. While you are getting to know visitors, introduce them to other parishioners as the opportunity presents itself. Feel free to invite visitors to sit next to you.

6. Say goodbye with genuine warmth. After Mass, bid farewell to visitors, inviting them to return next week. Introduce them to the celebrant if the opportunity arises.

7. Avoid parish business. Avoid conducting parish business with others immediately before or after Mass. Focus on visitors.

8. Give visitors information about the parish. Ensure that a visitor has a bulletin and other information about the parish before they leave. If there is a social gathering after Mass, such as Coffee & Donuts, invite them.

9. Be part of a greeting ministry team. Parishes are always in need of greeters to serve regularly, and provide ongoing formation to new greeters. Help out, be a greeter. If your parish doesn’t have greeters, now is a good time to start!

10. Greet those who already minister in the area of hospitality. It isn’t necessary to neglect the people who are already ministers of hospitality in order to make visitors feel at home. A simple wave and a smile go a long way.

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!”

Stewardship: Giving and Receiving

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.

Stewardship of Others: Our Life as Servant Leaders

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?

From Holy Week to Pentecost – A Stewardship Lesson from the Upper Room

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!

Stewardship Saint for May: Saint Damien de Veuster

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.