A few years ago, I was one of approximately 400 pilgrims who filled a meeting room, eager to hear one of the parish priests of St. James Church in the town of Medjugorje speak. When the priest spoke, he talked about the daily life in his parish—one that has become a host to millions of pilgrims each year, all who come to find or strengthen their faith and restore their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Despite the influx of travelers from all over the world, St. James is still a parish church; they have CCD, adult education, and celebration of the sacraments just like any other parish anywhere in the world. The priest described programs and activities that could have been any person’s parish who was sitting in that room.
St. James Church has developed a good religious education for the youth and they have the beginnings of a Catholic School. The humble priest made a comment that one day the children will have a gymnasium. The pastor didn’t dwell on the need for a facility such as this; he simply said that someday the children would have one. Up to this point, the priest had described the dedication and commitment of the people to the parish, especially in the celebration of sacraments. I personally witnessed that and still find it difficult to put into words what I saw and felt. But at this meeting with 400 pilgrims, the word “gymnasium” seemed to provoke a reaction.
A hand from an American woman went up and interrupted the pastor saying, “You say the word, Father, and we will pass a hat right here and now and by the end of this gathering you will have your gymnasium.” You could tell she was eager to write the first generous check. The pastor smiled and thanked the woman for her suggestion and kindness, but declined the offer to everyone’s amazement. I couldn’t believe my ears — he refused the offer! And then he gave an explanation which stunned and humbled every pastor and person in that room.
He said that while he appreciated the thought, he “couldn’t deprive the people of the parish the opportunity to join together and work to achieve the facility for the children.” He explained that the work of God shining through the people of this parish church has been demonstrated in their commitment to the parish and their dedication to work together to make things happen there; they respond to the needs of the parish family and work hard to satisfy their needs.
I was astounded by his words. But the woman didn’t get it. She persisted in her personal drive to get the children a gymnasium right then and there. The parish priest continued to graciously decline, explaining to us that while funding is necessary and helpful, it is the commitment and determination that drives the faith of the people of his parish church. Every opportunity offers them the chance to be involved in their parish life, and the people’s commitment to prayer and community was so obvious in their worship. St. James Parish Church was alive not because of visitors, but because its members breathe life into it.
That display of stewardship in a foreign land made me think of the “blessings of opportunity,” which in so much of His life, Jesus offered to his followers. Have you embraced these little “opportunities” to work together, pray together, and experience the blessings of your parish community? These are the fruits of stewardship made evident in your commitment to the Church.