Holy Week 2011 will include a personal Lenten experience that caused me to “stretch” not only my understanding of stewardship as a disciple of Jesus Christ, but challenged me to practice it in a way that will stay with me for a very long time, if not for the rest of my life.
Here in the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., we have supported and participated in the Catholics Come Home program to invite Catholics who have left the Faith to return. A series of well-produced and inspiring television ads were aired on prime-time television and through parish promotions. I thank God every day that — for some — this program has been helpful. But when the program was introduced, I also wondered how “anti-Catholic forces” would use this program to attack our Church.
As time went on, the commercials aired and most comments were favorable. Some did come forward, thanks be to God. But then, “it” happened! The notoriously anti-religious HBO talk show host Bill Maher recently featured a three-minute segment on his Real Time with Bill Maher show, slamming Catholicism and, in particular, Catholic priests, just as one billion Catholics worldwide observed Ash Wednesday — the start of the 40-day Holy Season of Lent.
Maher specifically edited and perverted one of the highly-effective national commercials produced by the lay-Catholic charitable outreach organization, Catholics Come Home. Having never watched his program, I wasn’t aware of the segment until the director of the Catholics Come Home organization sent an e-mail message to all of us who had used the ads in our diocese to alert us of the damage done. I read the message and then watched the clip of the segment. The audience laughed, and then cheered and applauded what was done to the commercial and mission of Catholics Come Home. After enduring years of anti-Catholic messages in the media, this is by far the worst I have experienced. I was crushed, humiliated and very angry. This was the “state” I was in when “stretching the stewardship way of life” became my course of action and, eventually, consolation.
It was close to midnight when I walked to the church and chose to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. I entered the darkened sanctuary, noticing the flicker of the sanctuary light telling me I wasn’t alone. Christ was present to listen, console, and even heal me. Giving of my time in the middle of the night in prayer would prove once again that practicing the stewardship way of life, right then and there, would change me spiritually and bring me closer to a Holy Week experience I hadn’t had before. I dimmed the light on the crucifix and pulled the chair in front of the tabernacle. Not knowing what to expect, the time I had already spent was becoming quality time spent with the Lord asking for help and guidance.
The Lord turned my thoughts to that day when Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem, being mocked, laughed at, spit upon and even cursed. As I looked up at our crucifix into the face of Jesus looking down upon me, the only thought I had was His words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” As His words became mine, the “stretching” of my faith was occurring, a common dynamic of practicing stewardship. Had I not given the time to our Lord that night, I know hurt would have turned to bitterness, contempt and perhaps hatred.
In the dark cool but comfort of the sanctuary that night, I realized once again that practicing the stewardship way of life wasn’t just making decisions about what to do with my time, talent and treasure. To live the stewardship way of life, I had to be a disciple of Jesus in all things, especially when confronting evil, humiliation and injustice. Isn’t that what Jesus did?
That night in the darkness and coldness of my parish worship space, I could feel the “stretching” of the stewardship way of life to include forgiveness and compassion, and I could sincerely and honestly pray for the conversion of others. Bill Maher made it to the top of that list! Out of the sorrow I felt for those persecuting our Catholic Church, I actually found hope. The experience, which can be described as “stretching” my understanding of stewardship, re-ignited the conversion experience of my faith six years ago when being introduced to the Catholic stewardship that Msgr. Thomas McGread preached and lived in his life as well.
Today, I am even more convinced that “stretching the stewardship way of life” is so important to my life. As we prepare to celebrate the Easter Season, with mind and hearts renewed, time spent with the Lord can only help us to see better the ways and the possibilities of being a true disciple. In the long tradition of Christian discipleship, that “stretch” is one to always hope for and celebrate when it happens.