Stewardship in the Fall

Daily scripture readings in the fall are filled with lessons on stewardship. If a priest or deacon wants to preach about stewardship without turning it into an ask for money, this is the time of year to do that.

The essence of all those passages is this: Everything comes from God, everything belongs to God, and God wants us to give it all back to him with increase.

Fall is also the time when God shows us his artist’s palette.

I recently traveled to Wisconsin to visit family. While there we went to my hometown of South Milwaukee, home to Grant Park. Grant Park is a true jewel in the Milwaukee County Parks system. It is also a place where I spent much of my free time growing up.

Each fall, Grant Park erupts in color. I was able to capture some of that color on this trip, and I would like to share it with you today.

How is this stewardship? I received a gift from God – the sights of this beautiful spot – and am sharing it with you. That’s the increase. Now both of us see the beauty of God’s creation. If you would like to, feel free to share this post and you will have increased your gift as well.

All glory goes to God.

Snake Run

I’ve been at the work of development and stewardship in the Catholic Church a long time.  It’s a vocation I never expected, never planned on, and never had an inkling towards undertaking.  Yet here I am, just about ten years into it. 

Over that time, I have visited hundreds of churches across the US and around the world.  I’ve been in such disparate places as St. Peter’s in Rome and a church with a dirt floor and rough-hewn benches in Honduras.  I’ve photographed many of these places, too.  Maybe one day I will offer a little tour of some of these holy places right here in this space.

It’s funny how, even after seeing some of the most beautiful, breathtaking, architectural wonders in the world, it’s the smallest structures that seem to mean the most.

Yesterday, October 16, I visited two pastors and their parishes in our diocese.  As a result of consolidation a few years ago, each of these two pastors has responsibility for two churches.  Fr. Frank Renner has Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Petersburg, and Blessed Sacrament in Oakland City.  Fr. Brian Emmick has St. Joseph’s in Princeton and St. Bernard in Snake Run.

I was intrigued by the name of the community where St. Bernard’s is located:  Snake Run.  In my mind, that’s more of a Wyoming name than one from Indiana.  I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, and decided to stop by.

What I found was a beautiful little church out in the country that was incredibly well-cared for.   Let me tell you about it.

The church is a traditional structure with a very tall steeple.  It stands on a hill above the highway and can be seen from a long way off.  The entrance is framed by two large trees that having been standing as sentinels for many, many years.

Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels.Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels. (See the slideshow below)

The statues are all part of a Rosary garden, which also contains a Rosary walk.  The walk features a large crucifix with five decades of “beads” which one can walk on as the Rosary is prayed.

There is a marker in the pavement that lists all the priests from the beginning of the parish through 2015.  Fr. Brian is the current pastor, and his name is on the marker as an associate from his time there from 2012-2014.  One day it will be there as the pastor.

Farther back is a cemetery.  There is a marker that shows the final resting place of Johann Adam Zerker, from Heligenstein. Heiligenstein was ceded to France after World War I, but lies in the Alsace region, which has considerably deep German roots.  He died (gestorben) in 1855 in America.

Fr. Brian told me about the German heritage in this little community, and it shows in every corner.  The landscaping is immaculate and the church looks like it was built and painted yesterday. 

I have a real soft spot in my heart for small parishes and churches. To me they are the epitome of stewardship, as the people who have been given the gift of their faith take that gift and offer it back to God, with increase, in the form of a place to give praise to the LORD.

It’s not St. Peter’s.  There aren’t any popes buried at Snake Run.  But St. Bernard’s is a testament of faith for a people who know what faith is.

Wisdom Day

I was recently introduced to an event that has been a staple of the Diocese of Evansville for many years.  It’s called “Wisdom Day” and it is held in cities across the diocese.  This year, the first Wisdom Day was held in Huntingburg, followed with one in Vincennes on October 28, then in Evansville on November 4. 

Participants heard from Bishop Siegel; our COO, Tim McGuire; Sr. Anita Louise Lowe, the Prioress at the Benedictine Abbey at St. Ferdinand; and yours truly.  We were entertained by a group of five girls, sisters, who sang traditional Gospel music, some Irish songs, and some contemporary pieces.  Their harmonies were outstanding and it was a delight to listen to them.

Wisdom Day is specifically aimed at retired folks, as it is held from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. A very nice lunch is part of the package. 

Bishop Siegel noted, and I concur, that most of the wisdom in that room came from those who were at the tables.  I wish it were possible to add up the number of years of experience in Church matters represented by attendees.  With 200+ participants, that number would easily reach into the tens of thousands.  That’s an awful lot of Church knowledge and Wisdom for the ages.

Many thanks to all those who participated.  Special thanks to Eric Girten, our Director of Family Life for coordinating the event.

Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace – Memorial of St. Francis, October 4, 2017

The title of this post is deliberately misleading. We all know the Prayer of St. Francis, don’t we? We have read it in greeting cards, seen it on inspirational plaques, even sung it at Mass. It’s a lovely prayer, lovely poem, lovely song.

But St. Francis didn’t write it. Some research shows shows that the prayer actually originated with a French Protestant movement known as The Knights of the Prince of Peace.

So let’s ignore that nice prayer, and lots of other stories attributed to St. Francis. Let’s talk about who the man was.

This is a portrait of St. Francis. In fact, it is the only known portrait of St. Francis. It is a fresco done sometime before 1224, as we can see that he has not been given the gift of the stigmata at this point. This amazing painting can be viewed in Subiaco, Italy, in the church at the Monastery of St. Benedict. The monastery is built around the Sacro Speco, Sacred Space, a cave where St. Benedict lived as a hermit for three years in the beginning of the 6th century.

700 years later, Brother Francis traveled to Subiaco and stayed at the monastery, where his likeness was committed to paint and plaster.

This is the San Damiano cross, which spoke to Francis and told him to rebuild the Church. It hangs over the altar of the Chapel of the Crucifix in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assissi.

Francis took the command literally. He was to rebuild a Church that had lost its way, and he was to rebuild a church for him and his friars. He was given a small chapel built by the Benedictines in the 9th century, and he refurbished it with his own hands.

The story of the Porziuncola, the little church, is that Francis was awakened with a strong impulse to pray at its altar. While praying, Jesus and Mary appeared to Francis and asked him what he wanted. He asked for a full pardon of all sins to all who have repented and confessed their sins and visited the church. Jesus granted the request, and Pope Honorius III ratified it. The chapel is inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, St. Mary of the Angels.

Francis was a man entirely devoted to God. He never stopped praying, and he considered everything he had as a gift from God. He considered his poverty to be a gift from God, too.

That is the true message of stewardship. That’s the message we should carry with us every minute of every day. All that we have comes from God, and everything belongs to him. We are the caretakers of those gifts – their stewards.

Happy memorial of St. Francis. Go ahead and sing that song. Even though St. Francis never wrote it, it’s still a very nice message attached to soothing music. Just know that Francis was truly devoted, and that his prayer would be for us to be devoted to God as well.

The Strength of the Church

The joining of the rafters at St. John the Baptist Church in Newburgh, Indiana.

This past Monday, September 23, I attended Mass where the new altar of St. John the Baptist parish in Newburgh, Indiana was consecrated.

I’ve been to a few of these very special, very rare celebrations.  The parish has just finished a major renovation to their church, and it was an honor to be a part of this event.

During the consecration, the bishop removes his chasuble, dons an apron, then pours oil of chrism over the altar and rubs it in, then wipes off the excess.   There’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. A couple photos from the consecration are included with this post, and others can be seen here.

Something that caught my attention at the church was not at the altar, but rather in the ceiling. 

This big, round steel structure has a technical name, but I have no idea what that would be.  But as I looked at it, it occurred to me that the entire building depends on its strength and integrity.  There are no interior walls in the church, and the entire roof is supported by large beams, which all come together at this point.

If the steel structure fails, catastrophe would ensue.  The entire roof would come down, likely taking the walls with it.  The whole church would fall in on itself.

How appropriate, I thought, that a church is held together by one thing in the center.  Much like the Church is held together by one thing in the center – Jesus.

When Jesus is at the center of everything, we can withstand the rigors of the elements.  Nothing can come between us and his love for us.  When we put Jesus off to the side, or remove him altogether, we are weak, and catastrophic failure lies in wait.

I encourage you to visit St. John’s in Newburgh.  It’s a beautiful place built as a testament to the stewardship of the parishioners. 

Bishop Siegel pours Oil of Chrism on the new altar.
Spreading the oil to all sides of the altar.
Jesus is at the center of all.

Feast of St. Matthew

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Friends, this is a reprint from a blog post that I made on September 21, 2017. I only mention that because, a few paragraphs down, I wrote back then: ” Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew? “

Since that time, we walked away from everything we knew, leaving Wyoming, our children and their families, friends and neighbors because the Lord called us to do so.

Stewardship requires sacrifice, but mostly it requires faith. When we step into faith and do what the Lord asks, the rewards are great.

Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. Luke 6:38

Happy Feast of St. Matthew!

————————————————————————————-

This is a photo of the statue of Matthew the Evangelist, which has its home in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.  There are enormous statues of all 12 Apostles inside the Archbasilica.  On September 21, the feast of St. Matthew, it is entirely appropriate that we show only this one.

We all know Matthew was a tax collector.  In ancient Capernaum, tax collecting was not an honorable trade.  The collectors were a cross between loan sharks, thieves, bill collectors, and generally despised citizens.  They were also some of the richest people in town, and Matthew was likely no exception.

One day, while he was sitting at the customs house, Jesus came up to him.  He said “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him. (Mt. 9-9)

There was no argument from Matthew.  He never told Jesus that he had go clean up his house first, or that he could follow next Tuesday at 10.  He never talked about why he just couldn’t go right now because he had a vacation planned, or that he had to go get some groceries and feed his dog. He never said he had to take his kids to a soccer game on Sunday, and couldn’t possibly follow Jesus until later that week.

That’s it. No questions, no delays.  Jesus gave a command, and Matthew followed it.

And he got up and followed him.

I don’t know many – any – people who would do the same.  Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew?

Matthew understood what was going on.  Jesus said “Follow me” and Matthew did.  There were no subordinate clauses, or excuses, or conditions. Just “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him.

Stewardship is like that.  Jesus calls, we answer with a yes.  We don’t ask how many meetings we have to attend, or how long is our term, or if we will be compensated for any costs we bear.  Jesus wants us all, and he wants all of us.  So when the Jesus says to get up and follow him, we need to be like Matthew.

And he got up and followed him.

Beans

I’m new to Indiana.

After spending 35 years deeply embedded in the ways of Wyoming, its people, and its culture, I have undertaken a change that is awakening me to things I had never considered before.

Beans, for example.

There is a place just on the edge of Evansville, our new home, that offers some outstanding cycling opportunities.  (I love cycling. It has been an integral part of my life for … ever.)  The downside to this place is that I have to drive to it, as getting there on my bicycle would be a risky adventure due to lots of traffic between home and there.

Instead, I put my bike in the back of the car and drive to a dead-end road where I park and begin my ride.

This is not about cycling, though. It’s about beans.

And stewardship.

The field across from my parking spot is, like much of Indiana, covered in beans.  Oceans of beans.

Throughout the summer, I have been watching these beans grow.  In the early summer, they were just little green stems shooting up from the rich, black soil.  This time of year, they are starting to show their signs of readiness for harvesting, as their leaves change from bright green to yellow, eventually getting that fall brown color.  Here’s a short video on bean harvesting

Beans get planted with the anticipation they will grow to yield an abundant crop, providing a return for the farmer’s labors.

Stewardship works the same way.  God gives us everything we have, His gifts to us, the seeds to eternal life.  We have to plant them, care for them, and grow them so that we might reap an abundant harvest to return to Him.

Imagine a farmer who purchases seeds to grow his beans, but is so consumed with fear of the vagaries of farming – too much rain, too little rain, too cold, too hot, insects, problems with machinery – that he never plants the seeds.  Instead, he hides them in his barn where no harm will come to them.

Now, I am no farmer, but even I know if we don’t plant the seeds we have, nothing will grow and there will be no return on our investment.

The same with the gifts God has given us.  He commands us to take those gifts, use them in His glory, and return them with increase.  If we hide those gifts, storing them in the dark out of fear or laziness rather than growing them, the outlook for our eternity does not look so good. 

Jesus explains this pretty clearly when he shares the Parable of the Talents with His disciples.  In this familiar story, the master goes away and gives three of his servants some money, telling them to take care of it.  Upon his return, the master receives back from two of the servants the original investment with return, while the third one gave back only the original amount:

“It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more. His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

[Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’  Mt25: 24-30

When I reach the gates of heaven, the last thing I want to hear is “You wicked, lazy servant!” 

Let’s be like the bean farmer across from my parking spot.  Plant, care for, grow, harvest. 

Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”

St. Robert Bellarmine

The ceiling of St. Ignatius of Loyola church in Rome

Today is the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ, Doctor of the Church.

Brilliant man, defender of the Church. 

His most famous work is his three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. Bellarmine incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. “

Seems to me anytime one is incurring the anger of monarchists, one is doing the right thing. Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.

St. Robert Bellarmine’s remains are entombed in the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The photo here is of a portion of the ceiling of that magnificent structure. What makes it look three dimensional are the painted shadows on the walls.

St. Robert Bellarmine, pray for us.

Why fundraising is not stewardship

Reprinted from The Message, Southwestern Indiana’s Catholic Community Newspaper

Last we left, dear reader, we were engaged in a discussion regarding a pastoral letter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992: “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” Part of this discussion focused on the idea that when we equate fundraising to stewardship, there is not much honesty in the discussion of either.

That concept is borne from a misunderstanding of the meanings of “stewardship” and “fundraising.” Even though those two terms are often used interchangeably, that is a mistake. Let’s clear the decks of our preconceived notions of fundraising and stewardship right now, and let’s start with fresh descriptions of each as they are presented in this groundbreaking letter from the bishops.

Fundraising

“Unlike stewardship, which is a way of life involving all aspects of an individual Christian’s daily life, fundraising is a very specific set of activities designed to support the mission and goals of a diocese, parish, or other church-related organization. Fundraising is a discipline. It is a planned and organized effort to find potential volunteers and donors, to build strong relationships, and to ask for gifts of time, talent, and treasure to support the fundraising organization’s specific mission and goals” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response).

Let’s say a parish wants to add a building for classrooms due to growth in parish membership. It’s a pretty straightforward process.

• A fundraising goal, based on need and capacity, is determined. In other words, how much will the building cost, and what is the reasonable expectation of how much money can be raised?
• Committees are created to handle the various duties of a fundraising campaign — marketing, mailing, calling, asking and organizing all the moving parts.
• Key members of the parish are recruited to serve on these committees.
• All the pieces are then put together, and the asks are made.
• Pledges are collected, money counted and classrooms built.

That’s it. It has a beginning and an end. It can be done internally or outsourced. While we need volunteers to act in a “spirit of stewardship,” once the campaign is over, they are free to go onto other things in life. All it requires is an interest in that one project.

Secular organizations do this kind of fundraising all the time. I regularly receive requests for money from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, asking
me to upgrade my membership or just to make an additional contribution. But that’s not stewardship because the RMEF is asking me to support its particular cause, not to commit my life to the foundation.

Stewardship

Stewardship is a different animal altogether. The bishops’ letter says a steward is “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”

This is the point where we recognize the difference between stewardship and fundraising.

Fundraising is an activity. Stewardship is a way of life.

Wow. That is radical thinking. Notice that nowhere in the definition of a steward does it say anything about money. That would be easy, to just get out our checkbooks and tick off that box. “Here’s my contribution, so I have fulfilled my stewardship requirement.”

What it says is far more comprehensive and demanding.

Stewardship requires us to embrace the truth that all gifts come from God. All. Total. Everything. Good and bad. No exceptions.

As stewards, God requires us to take care of those gifts, share them and return them with increase.

Fundraising allows degrees of ambivalence.

Stewardship is all in.

Stewardship transcends fundraising. Stewardship is to fundraising like the universe is to a single star or an ocean to a drop of water.

We are all called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, not His fundraising team. To be His disciples, we are to act as stewards of the gifts He has given. Lest we forget, even when we return those gifts with increase, God will never be outdone in generosity.

That’s honest. That’s radical.

%d bloggers like this: