Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 16, 2004
Stewardship heeds Acts of Apostles
Pastoral plan focuses on total parish community
The Shepherd Speaks
By ARCHBISHOP THOMAS COLLINS
The pastoral plan for our archdiocese is found in the Acts of the Apostles. There we see a community of disciples who are energized by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and who are moving outward into their society to share their experience of Jesus.
They are not a perfect community, and neither are we: we are all sinners, in need of the mercy of God. After all, Jesus gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation because we need it.
But the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles do seek to be faithful witnesses to the Lord, as best they can. The community itself struggles at times, but is strengthened on its mission by a profound trust in the providence of God. It does not fall back upon itself and its problems, but reaches out to evangelize the Roman world, a society indifferent or hostile to the Gospel. That is the spirit of the Acts of the Apostles, and of every community in the history of the Church that has been fruitful in its apostolic witness.
We can learn from that, since we also face numerous problems in our mission of discipleship, and our society is often not receptive to the Gospel. We need to be honestly attentive to the problems we face, and spend 20 per cent of our time and energy responding to them. But we need to devote at least 80 per cent of our attention to deepening our experience of the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, and of the call of Jesus in the Gospel, so that we can reach out to our society, confident in the providence of our heavenly Father.
Individual conversion is the starting point. Jesus began his mission by saying: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Our Lord will purify us of the sins that trap us in selfishness. But this is not so that we can become focused on ourselves, but rather so that together we can build up the community of faith, the Body of Christ in this world, and effectively make present the kingdom of God.
This happens when each baptized disciple becomes more rooted in the experience of Christ in the sacraments and in the written word of God, and in the living faith of the Church. In recent years, especially as I have been trying to describe as best I can the marvels of the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, I have often thought of those who have drifted away from the practice of the faith, or who are tepid in their practice.
How can a person not be in awe of the Eucharist, and Reconciliation, and the other sacraments? If only people would realize what a gift Jesus has given us in the sacraments and in the whole of our faith, they would be beating down the doors of our churches. But even the most precious gifts can be taken for granted, or hidden by the sludge of routine, and the vibrant reality of our faith can be obscured by our sinfulness, and lack of engagement.
For me, this is a great attraction of stewardship, as I have seen it in action: it leads Catholic Christians to become more fully engaged in the whole of their life of faith, and so become more able to fulfill their mission to the world. Each of us needs to realize, with wonder and gratitude, the precious gifts of God that we have received, beginning with the gift of life itself, so cheaply valued in our world of terrorism, abortion, and social injustice.
We all are given a small portion of time in this brief life, and are variously endowed with talents and treasure. We are given the supernatural blessings of word and sacrament, and the whole reality of the faith that comes to us from the apostles. Truly to realize that is to be impelled to share those gifts generously, and in giving to be even more richly blessed.
If each Catholic Christian can be engaged more fully (and that has been the experience in parishes that have entered into stewardship), then we will also address a painful difficulty sometimes found in our parishes, when a very small number of the parishioners bear a disproportionate burden of the responsibilities.
After awhile, they can become overburdened, and withdraw, or become discouraged. We can end up with a community in which a few parishioners are active and most are passive. One key effect of stewardship is more actively to engage all of the parishioners in sharing their time, talent and treasure in generous service, so that the full richness of the parish community can be experienced, and its energy be focused outward in making Christ more present in our world.
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