Saint John the Almsgiver earned the title “almsgiver” because of his passion for social justice and his stewardship of the poor and oppressed. Born at Amathus, Cyprus, around 560, the son of the governor of Cyprus, he was wealthy and of noble lineage. His wife and children died before John reached the age of 50.
A devout Christian, John sought to live a life of simplicity and in the spirit of poverty despite his wealth. He used his riches and position to help the poor. Despite being a layman, the Church at Alexandria petitioned to have John appointed bishop. He was consecrated Patriarch of Alexandria in 610. He pledged himself to practice “charity without limits” and placed several thousand needy persons under his personal, pastoral care. He always referred to the poor as his “lords and masters,” because of what he called “their mighty influence at the Court of the Most High.” He divided the church treasury’s gold among hospitals and monasteries, and worked to establish an economic redistribution system whereby poor people received adequate money and means to support themselves. Refugees from neighboring territories were welcomed with open arms. John was a reformer who established new hospitals and increased the number of churches in Alexandria from seven to seventy. As bishop, John developed a reputation for kindness. Twice weekly, he made himself available to anyone, rich or destitute, who wished to speak with him. People lined up and waited patiently for their turn. When asked about his passionate concern for the poor, it is said that John often recounted a youthful dream. In it, a beautiful young woman told him that she was “charity.” She told him: “I am the oldest daughter of the King. If you are devoted to me, I will lead you to Jesus. No one is as influential with him as I am. Remember, it was for me that he became a baby to redeem the world.” John used this story to persuade the rich to be generous. When the Persians sacked Jerusalem in 614, John sent food and money to support the Christian refugees. Eventually, the Persians took over Alexandria, and John himself was forced to flee to his native Cyprus. John died peacefully on November 11, 619. His feast day is January 23.
“Money must serve, not rule!”
This is how Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, put the emphasis on one of seven major themes in his pastoral letter, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The pontiff’s letter, formally referred to as an “apostolic exhortation,” devotes itself to the subject of the new evangelization, and shares ideas about how the church can reform itself in order to embrace a renewed sense of mission.
One of our Holy Father’s urgent concerns is how the poor of the world are being treated. In his letter he states emphatically that he loves everyone, both rich and poor, but that he is obliged in the name of Jesus Christ to remind everyone that the rich have a responsibility “… to help, respect and promote the poor” (par. 58).
Pope Francis is especially concerned about the growing global economic inequity and challenges world political and financial leaders to use our economic systems in a way that favors human beings: Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? (par. 52).
The pope is insistent: God calls us to make a committed response to the poor in a way that transcends the logic of the marketplace. In his Christmas message, Pope Francis urged us to “place ourselves at the service of the poor, make ourselves small and poor with them.” He does not condemn capitalism, nor does he favor a Marxist view of economics. He is challenging each of us to follow Christ and be good stewards of his gospel message which includes loving God and neighbor, especially the poor, the prisoners, the sick, and the outcast; all whom Jesus makes reference to in his teaching on the final judgment of the nations in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46).
It is a call to action Pope Francis urges upon us as we move into this New Year.
Another year is upon us! Still in the context of our beautiful Christmas season, many of us will answer the questions: “What will be new in my growth as a follower of Jesus? What tangible changes of heart and habit will I strive for in 2020?” Perhaps we might even ask those questions as a parish community. As Christian stewards, you and I could come up with some definite hopes and dreams for our personal and overall parish conversions, especially in light of the encouragement of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation: The Joy of the Gospel. In that document we are called over and over again to shine as the light and love of Jesus in the world.
Pope Paul VI also dealt with the demeanor of the faithful in his decree: On the Mission Activity of the Church. In this document, which also deals with evangelization, he writes: The presence of the Christian faithful in these human groups should be inspired by that charity with which God has loved us, and with which He still wills that we should love one another. (cf. 1 John 4-:11) Christian charity truly extends to all, without distinction of race, creed or social condition: it looks for neither gain nor gratitude. (#12)
The word charity seems like such a simple term, but it generates a powerful outcome. It addresses all areas of the life of a Christian steward including time for our relationship with God, each other, the environment and human life. Charity asks us to consider our attitudes towards others, the use of our talents and of course our treasure. Saint Teresa of Calcutta was someone who placed the word within her heart and let it drive her life as a disciple of Jesus.
Perhaps you will make a list of New Year’s resolutions for 2020. Perhaps you will set some simple goals as parish leaders this year. As you sit down to reflect, consider using the beautiful word charity as a guide and see how your resolutions might look different from prior years. Consider how it might help you imitate the life of Jesus more fully. Have a happy and charitable 2020!
by Mary Ann Otto, Minister for Missionary Discipleship, St. Joseph and St. Mary Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin
Christian stewards may very well interpret the greeting “Happy New Year” to mean: “I hope and pray for you a joyous year ahead in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ!” If we are to interpret this cheery salutation in that way, should we not consider similar greetings throughout the year?
“Happy New Day!” In the lyrics of the popular gospel song “Oh, Happy Day!” we are reminded that Jesus taught us “… how to live rejoicing every day.” Be grateful for each of God’s amazing days.
“Happy New Week!” The motto of many is to Live for the Weekend. Why not live for the entire week? Let’s resolve to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others in our homes, offices and schools each week of the year.
“Happy New Month!” As we examine our monthly planners and budgets, we should ask ourselves: Have I left room for Jesus Christ this month? How can I be a good steward of God’s gifts in the coming month? What am I willing to do this month for the sake of the Gospel? As we turn over 2019 to the history books, let’s approach 2020 with renewed vigor.
Let us see the days, weeks and months for the God-given gifts they truly are: “Happy New Year!”
John of Kanty, also known as John Cantius, was born to a wealthy family in Kanti, near Auschwitz, Poland, in 1390. He was educated at the University of Krakow and was ordained a priest soon after completing his studies. John was appointed a lecturer at the university and was known to be an effective teacher and preacher. He was assigned to a parish for a time, but after a few years was recalled to university life to hold a chair in theology. John was held in such high esteem that his academic gown was used to invest each new candidate at the conferring of doctoral degrees.
He was known to be a good steward of the students entrusted to him and saw to their religious instruction. He taught them to oppose false statements and opinions with courtesy and persuasiveness. He was renowned not only for his teaching but also for his good humor, humility, simple way of life and generosity to the poor. He subsisted only on what was strictly necessary to sustain his life, giving food and clothing regularly to the poor. When he was urged to take better care of his health he replied by pointing out that the early desert fathers were notably long-lived.
His fame was not all confined to academic circles. He was a welcome guest at the homes of the nobility, although once his simple cassock caused the servants to refuse him admission. He made a number of pilgrimages, all by walking; four to Rome and one to Turkish-held Jerusalem where he desired to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Turks.
John of Kanty died on Christmas Eve, 1473, at the age of 83. He was canonized in 1767. His feast day is December 23. He is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. His remains were interred in the Church of St. Anne in Kraków, where his tomb became and remains a popular pilgrimage site.
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.