First Sunday of Lent-C
Introduction to the Stewardship Way of Life
March 10, 2019
Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13
Jesus is “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings.” Maybe you have never thought of Jesus as “a steward.” But look at today’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing for His public ministry with 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert.
Jesus regularly uses His time for prayer with His Father. With fasting, He is preparing to use His talent as our Savior. And He is getting ready to share His treasure of salvation and eternal life with us by His passion, death and resurrection.
As we follow Jesus, “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings,” during this season Lent with our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we do so as His disciples: as grateful stewards of God’s bountiful blessings to us.
We hear the word “stewardship” so often at Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes. And it can conjure up several meanings. For some, stewardship might mean “increasing the Sunday collection.” For others, stewardship might mean “getting more volunteers.” But stewardship at its heart is much larger than these limited definitions. It is not a program that we use to achieve a desired goal, and then we are done with it. No, the meaning that we use here is that stewardship is “a way of life,” that once you have begun you never finish until God calls you home.
Since our two parishes have had different experiences of stewardship over the years, and since new parishioners have joined us along the way, I thought that examining the stewardship way of life would be a valuable thing for us to do together over the six weeks of Lent. For the goal of Lent is to become even better disciples of Jesus, and “stewardship is a disciple’s response” to Him.
Two Lents ago, in 2017, we looked at the Sunday Gospel each weekend in light of Matthew Kelly’s book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. Do you remember what these four signs are? Prayer, Study, Generosity and Evangelization. Now we have a working knowledge and experience of each of those terms. And they are no longer scary!
This Lent I would like to use a similar approach to examine “stewardship as a way of life.” In this weekend’s bulletin and on our parish websites you will find a list of reading assignments and some questions for reflection and discussion. This will happen for each of the six Sundays of Lent. May I now introduce you to the two publications that we will be reading together each week.
The first is a pastoral letter from the Bishops of the United States that was published in 1992. It is entitled: Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. [You can access it on the homepages of our parish websites. If you do not have computer access, you may pick up a copy in our parish offices.] Although it was written 27 years ago, it is still fresh and full of meaning for us.
In the Preface and Introduction – which are the pages listed today for reading for the First Sunday of Lent – we read that “stewardship always starts with the personal experience of the Risen Christ in our midst and in our hearts. It is a vocation to discipleship. The following of Christ as a disciple entails a personal response, and this call can result in a positive impact on our faith communities. The life of the Christian steward models the life of Jesus” [Diocese of Wichita, Summary of Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response].
This pastoral letter contains three primary convictions:
The Challenge: Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ, no matter the cost to themselves.
The Choice: Beginning in conversion, a change of mind and heart, this commitment is expressed not in a single action, nor even in a number of actions over a period of time, but in an entire way of life. It means committing one’s very self to the Lord.
The Vision: Stewardship is an expression of Christian discipleship with the power to change how we understand our lives. Disciples who practice stewardship recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, the source of all they have and are and will be. They are grateful for what they have received and eager to cultivate their gifts out of love of God and one another.
Although the Bishops of the United States were the ones who approved this pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, its principal author was Msgr. Thomas McGread. That is why this pastoral letter and the second publication for our reading this Lent, Grateful and Giving, go hand-in-hand. [Copies of Grateful and Giving are available in church this weekend, free of charge, with one copy per household, please.]
Grateful and Giving is the real-life story of how Msgr. Thomas McGread’s stewardship message has impacted Catholic parishes throughout the United States – including our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes. This book was written by Deacon Don McArdle, who is a friend of mine, and who spent countless hours interviewing Msgr. McGread so that his lessons would continue after the Lord called him home – which happened on 1 April 2013.
I invite you to get to know Msgr. McGread by reading the introduction and first chapter this week of Grateful and Giving. He puts flesh on the bones of stewardship theology.
So how many pages am I asking you to read this week? 11 pages from the Bishop’s pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response and 21 pages from Deacon Don McArdle’s book, Grateful and Giving. That is 32 pages for the week or 4½ pages a day. Can we do this? Yes or yes?
May I tell you a little about my own experience with Msgr. McGread? I first met him in August 2009 at a stewardship conference in Wichita where I was invited to speak. He was born in Ireland and ordained a priest in Dublin at a time when priests were very plentiful there. So he came to the United States as a young priest and ministered for the rest of his life in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. He said that all he knew about Kansas when he came here from Ireland was that it was famous for its tornadoes!
I have been privileged to speak several times at the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita which is hosted twice each year by Catholic Stewardship Consultants – who are assisting our two parishes in our stewardship life. At these conferences I had a number of opportunities to be with Msgr. McGread and ask him questions and learn from his experience. And I will forever be grateful for these experiences.
In this book you will read about Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita where Msgr. McGread was the pastor for 31 years [1968-1999] and how it came to be the outstanding parish that it still is today. [I have visited there!] And what happened there can also happen here in our parishes.
You will also see in the bulletin and on our parish websites that you are all invited to our “Stewardship Plunge” Retreat on Saturday, 30 March, from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM at Nativity Parish. I will be the retreat leader and, through videos and reflections, I will bring a portion of the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita here to our two parishes. Please save the date and plan to attend.
As fellow disciples, as followers of Jesus, “the perfect steward of His Father’s bountiful blessings,” I wish you happy reading, happy reflecting, and a happy Lent, everyone!