By Fr. Ron Rolheiser
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him (Lk 15:20bc).
The sun is extraordinarily generous, giving huge parts of itself away every second.
Scientists tell us that every second, inside the sun, the equivalent of 4 million elephants are being transformed into light, an irretrievable, one-time gift. The sun is giving itself away. If this generosity should halt, all energy would eventually lose its source and everything would die and become inert. We, and everything on our planet, live because of the generosity of the sun.
In this generosity, the sun reflects the abundance of God, a largesse that invites us to also be generous, to have big-hearts, to risk more in giving ourselves away in self-sacrifice, to witness to God’s abundance.
But this isn’t easy. Instinctually we move more naturally to self-preservation and security. By nature we fear and we horde. Because of this, whether we are poor or not, we tend to work out of a sense of scarcity, fearing always that we don’t have enough, that there isn’t enough, and that we need to be careful in what we give away, that we can’t afford to be too generous.
But God belies this, as does nature. God is prodigal, abundance, generous, and wasteful beyond our small fears and imaginations. Nature too is stunningly overwhelming and prodigal. The scope of our universe, even just in so far as we know it, is almost unimaginable. So too is the abundance and prodigal character of God.
We see this, for instance, in the biblical parable of the Sower: The Sower, God, whom Jesus describes, is not a calculating person who sows his grain carefully and discriminately only into worthy soil. This Sower scatters seeds indiscriminately everywhere: on the road, in the bushes, in the rocks, into barren soil, as well as into good soil. He has, it seems, unlimited seeds and so he works from a generous sense of abundance rather than from a guarded sense of scarcity. We see that same abundance in the parable of the vineyard owner, where the owner, God, gives a full day’s wage to everybody, whether he or she worked the full day or not. God, we are told, has limitless wealth and is not stingy in giving it out.
God is equally as prodigal and generous in forgiveness, as we see, in the Gospels. In the parable of the Father who forgives the prodigal son we see a person who can forgive out of a richness that dwarfs dignity and calculated cost to self. And we see this same largesse in Jesus himself as he forgives both those who executed him and those who abandoned him during his execution.
God, from everything we can see, is so rich in love and mercy that he can afford to be wasteful, over-generous, non-calculating, non-discriminating, incredibly risk-taking, and big-hearted beyond our imaginations.
And that’s the invitation: To have a sense of God’s abundance so as to risk always a bigger heart and generosity beyond the instinctual fear that has us believe that, because things seem scarce, we need to be more calculating.
Gospel of Luke has one of the strongest social justice messages in all of scripture (every sixth line is a direct challenge for justice for the poor) and yet, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, while warning about the danger of wealth, does not condemn the rich or riches. Rather he makes a distinction between the generous rich and the miserly rich. The former are good because they radiate and incarnate God’s abundance and generosity while the latter are bad because they belie God’s abundance, generosity, and huge heart.
Jesus assures us that the measure we measure out is the measure that we ourselves will receive in return. In essence, that says that the air we breathe out will be the air we re-inhale. That isn’t just true ecologically. It is a broad truth for life in general. If we breathe out miserliness, we will re-inhale miserliness; if we breathe out pettiness, we will breathe in pettiness; if we breathe out bitterness, then bitterness will be the air that surrounds us; and if we breathe out a sense of scarcity that makes us calculate and be fearful, then calculation and fearfulness will be the air we re-inhale. But, if aware of God’s abundance, we breathe out generosity and forgiveness, we will breathe in the air of generosity and forgiveness. We re-inhale what we exhale.
I have never met a truly generous man or woman who didn’t say that, always, he or she received more in return than he or she gave out. And I have never met a truly big-hearted man or woman who lived out of a sense of scarcity. To be generous and big-hearted we have to first trust in God’s abundance and generosity.
From God’s abundance we get a sun that is generous and a universe that is too huge and prodigal to be imagined. That’s a challenge not just to the mind and the imagination, but especially to the heart—for it to become huge and generous.
Stewardship is more about recognizing God rather than money
By Jeff Graham
The Archdiocese of Vancouver has been stressing lately that stewardship is about a lot more than just money.
For Father Robert Wong, SJ, the director of the newly formed stewardship commission, properly maintaining and managing our God-given gifts of time, talent, and treasure is at the heart of stewardship, and goes far beyond the amount of money put into the collection basket each week.
"It's not all about money," Father Wong told The B.C. Catholic. "The treasure we receive is a very small part of stewardship. Stewardship is more of a recognition that God is the giver of all gifts, and it's about having an attitude of gratitude."
As Archbishop Raymond Roussin of Vancouver explained, stewardship is a way of life, and is meant to draw us closer to the love of God.
"Having been a priest for many years in different schools, parishes and dioceses, I'm well aware that the thrust of true stewardship is a realization of Christ's call to be generous, to be kind, and to give of oneself," said the archbishop. "When I think of the stewardship process I think of the importance of individuals giving of their time, talent and treasure."
Father Wong echoed Archbishop Roussin's words by saying that stewardship in the best sense flows from the baptismal call of Catholics to follow Christ and give of themselves.
"It's a way of life and a spirituality; it's grounded in God as the creator and giver of all gifts," explained Father Wong. "What we have is not ours; rather, what we have are gifts from God that have been entrusted to us, and with that in mind, we need to ask ourselves how we are using these gifts as a responsible stewards to build up the kingdom of God."
"Knowing a bit of his background," said Archbishop Roussin, "I trust he will be able to make this office not only a successful one, but one that brings us to understand stewardship more profoundly. I sincerely pray that this office will also be blessed by the Holy Spirit's presence."
The newly formed commission is a direct result of the archdiocesan synod, which recommended that the archdiocese establish a time, talent, and treasure stewardship program. Father Wong, a Jesuit priest, said the Ignatian spirituality of his order helps him come to a deeper appreciation of the spirituality of stewardship, and will give him guidance in chairing the commission.
"For me as a Jesuit, it's very much a part of the Ignatian charism and the spiritual exercises," he explained. "It's about seeing God as the creator, and asking ourselves how we use his gifts to build up the kingdom."
Father Wong said Catholics are called to be stewards of all the gifts God has given them, whether it's taking care of the environment, renovating their church, or taking care of their families. He also emphatically stated that stewardship needs to be grounded in the love of Christ.
"It can take a while for people to grasp all this," said Father Wong. "That's why you have to invest in people and in their formation. It's a one-on-one conversion process."
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By Father Phil Bloom
Bottom line: God entrusts his vineyard to tenants; they are not just the powerful ones. You and I are the tenants.
To say it in a few words: greed, laziness and deception.
Now, every citizen wants the ones responsible for this mess to be exposed and held accountable. At the same time - if we have paid attention to today's parable - we recognize that we will have our own day of exposure and accountability. The parable of the tenants speaks about the inevitability of judgment.
In the coming weeks we will reflect on trust and accountability in a serious, but positive way. Stewardship simply means that God has entrusted us with something - time, abilities, financial resources - and wants us to use those gifts for his glory and the good of our brothers and sisters. This Sunday's parable is about bad Stewardship, but we can turn it around - just like we can turn around our lives.
To sum up: Jesus speaks about the landowner - God - who leases his vineyard to tenants and expects something productive from them. And, once again, who are the tenants? For sure, they are the president and other national leaders. They are the bankers and business executives. But more to the point, you and I...we are the tenants.
A fascinating example of stewardship
By Fr. Phil Bloom
Bottom line: We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the Body of Christ: We have been entrusted with a stewardship.
Many years ago, in England, three men were pouring into a trough a mixture of water, sand, lime and other ingredients. A passer-by asked them what they were doing. The first said, "I am making mortar." The second: "I am laying bricks." But the third said, "I am building a cathedral." They were doing the same thing, but each looked at it differently. And what a difference that made!
We can see something similar in the way people relate to their parish, why they give. One person says, "Oh! All they do down there is ask for money." The second person replies, "Well, you have to pay the bills." But the third person says, "I am building the Body of Christ." The three are doing the same thing, but what a difference in their attitudes!
Today's Scripture readings reflect those differences. Poor Job says that life is nothing but drudgery: When I lie down at night, I toss and turn - and wonder when morning will come. But when I get up, I am tired and I ask how long until I can get back to bed!
Most people can identify with Job. But St. Paul takes a different approach. Few people worked as hard as him - or went through so many trials. Yet he says this about his work: "I do so willingly...I have been entrusted with a stewardship."
The Gospel Reading we cover today presents a fascinating example of stewardship: St. Peter's mother-in-law. She was in bed, sick, when her son-in-law brought unexpected guests. One of them, Jesus, went to her bedside, took her hand - and she sat up. The fever went away and, quote, "she waited on them."
Now, some people think she would have preferred to stay in bed. That viewpoint says more about us that it does about that wonderful woman. For people in ancient times, hospitality was their top value.* It was the glue that held their society together. For Peter's mother-in-law, hospitality would have been a sacred duty. But there is something more. The text says, "she waited on them." The word for "waiting on them" is "diaconia" - the root of our word "deacon." Jesus had touched her and healed her. To be his "deaconess" would be pure joy, a beautiful honor.
When I was a seminarian, I remember an elderly priest saying, "Since this 'servant' concept came into the Church, I have taken a terrible beating." But he said it with a smile. To serve is hard work - and often, humbling - but being a servant of Christ is joy.
St. Paul illustrates the joy of service. With no fanfare, he says that he is free. (And who of us has greater inner freedom than Paul?) Nevertheless, says Paul, I have made myself a slave to all. For a Christian, freedom is not license to do whatever a person wants. It is freedom for service.
One thing about I like about President Obama is that he is not afraid to use the "s-word": sacrifice. He used the word twice in his short inaugural address. Now, it is easy to become cynical, especially when one hears about people using public money for personal benefit. But, as followers of Jesus, we cannot use other people's failings - or our own - as an excuse. It is clear what he asks of us. And, remember, we are not simply mixing mortar. We are building a cathedral. We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the Body of Christ: We have been entrusted with a stewardship.
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By Mary Rose of Church of St. Michael, Minneapolis
A pyramid approach to personally inviting parishioners yields plentiful pledges.
"There are two foundational pieces to any successful parish capital campaign for the priest: first, the people must know that their pastor loves them; second, he must build up their faith and generosity over time by his own witness and words. Vision and the courage to ask are also key ingredients.... Still, in the end it is all a matter of Divine Providence." Fr. Michael Becker, St. Michael, Minnesota
THE NEED IT MEETS
Raising funds for a new church building due to the significant increase in parishioners.
WHERE IT CAME FROM
Four years ago, St. Michael’s Parish had 1,680 registered families and was housed in a beautiful historic church. Many Sunday Masses were filled to capacity, with the overflow in the finished church basement participating via closed-circuit TV. The projected increase of parishioners in the next ten years required the planning of a new church building. Father Michael Becker, the pastor, desired a capital campaign that would effectively involve all the members of the parish, cultivating in them a true spirit of stewardship.
HOW IT WORKS
Fr. Michael initiated the capital campaign, called “Heaven on Earth”, by personally inviting a few families that were able to donate a significant amount. Father then formed a pyramid-structured group of volunteers that would visit with each registered parishioner, inviting them to make a monetary pledge over a three-year period.
At the top of the pyramid were 6 chair leaders who each had 4 division leaders under them. The division leaders then found 10 more volunteers each. Every volunteer committed to personally visiting 5 parish families by a certain date, leaving them with literature detailing the plan for the new church and a response card. Every parishioner 18 years and older was asked to prayerfully consider a confidential monetary commitment.
An amazing 65% of the registered parishioners participated in the “Heaven on Earth” capital campaign. Pledges totaled $4,254,823, with $4,074,847 collected thus far, and the parishioners now have a new church building! St. Michael’s is currently home to 2,020 families with 18 new families registering each month.
A second three-year capital campaign, “Moving Forward in Faith”, has been started to pay off the new church’s remaining debt, and to fund a social hall and K-thru-8 school classrooms. The same strategy is being implemented, with a pyramid scheme of volunteers, though they began this campaign with an "in-the-pew" solicitation during Sunday Masses over a four week period.
So far $2,756,403 has been pledged and $180,764 has been collected, with 35% participation. As in the previous campaign, volunteers will visit the parishioners that have not yet signed a pledge.
The priest must be a true witness of generosity and charity.
Personal contact from a parishioner volunteer, inviting each registered person or family to participate in the three-year pledge campaign.
Treat everyone over 18 as a contributing adult of the parish.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT IT
Define your fundraising goals and the needs it will meet.
Clearly present the plan to parishioners, e.g. display a model of the new church or produce literature on the plan.
The pastor himself personally invites families who may be able to give a substantial donation.
Develop a pyramid of volunteers: 6 chair leaders, 4 division leaders for each chair leader, and 10 volunteers under each division leader.
Ask for volunteers to commit to meeting personally with 5 other parishioners/families who have not yet made pledges.
Have one meeting with the volunteers to give practical tips.
The pastor sends out hand-signed thank-you letters to each parishioner/family that has pledged, with their pledge amount pointed out in the letter.
Continue mentioning the campaign -- briefly -- at Mass, expressing gratitude and excitement for the future church building.
Post collection updates in the Sunday bulletin.Submitted by Mary Rose at the parish office on January 15, 2007. Fr. Michael Becker is pastor of Church of St. Michael.
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