Sometime last year, I received a complaint from some parishioners that stewardship is “getting old” for some people. For many who know me, you can imagine this made my heart sink. However, it also makes me wonder, with some concern — when did living a life of discipleship “get old”? I realize that something that changed my life and so many others hasn’t changed everyone. There are people who still find the term “stewardship” confusing or even offensive. I notice it not only in parishioners, but priests and strangers alike.
Last November, on the return flight from a pilgrimage to Rome, I sat next to a faith-filled, enthusiastic American woman who was also returning from a pilgrimage. As we talked, I told her that I have spoken about the spirituality of stewardship in parishes around the country. She responded, “Well, that’s good. We need you money people.” I’m glad my seat belt was fastened for I could have gone through the roof — something you don’t do at 37,000 feet! Trying hard not to sound defensive, I said, “It isn’t about money, you know.” To my disappointment, she was convinced it was. Then, sadly, I backed down and returned my attention to the little screen in front of me that indicated how far we had to go before we “touched down.”
Pondering this dialogue, it crossed my mind, we have a long way to go before linking stewardship and discipleship becomes common and understandable to more people. I know in my parish of St. John’s and in my own personal life, we have “taken off” and already traveled quite a distance. I am so grateful and feel very blessed for how far we have come! Sometimes, our journey has been very smooth and sometimes, we have had a little turbulence. But we are airborne! I do not believe we can nor should we turn back.
That evening upon arrival, I was asked by the customs agent, “Anything to declare?” “Nothing” was my quick reply. However, I wondered what kind of reaction I would have received if I said, “Yes, stewardship is a way of life.” I know it would not have gotten me through the line any faster. That night, with a bad case of jet lag and a huge pile of mail waiting for me, I picked a package from our bishop which contained a book by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti titled Letters to My Brothers: Words of Hope and Challenge for Priests. With a heartfelt letter of support and affirmation, the gift was thoughtful and insightful. In the introduction, I read, “Like St. Paul, we say: ‘For an obligation has been imposed on me. Woe to me if I do not preach it!’ (1 Corinthians 9:16).”
For Msgr. Rossetti, his book is what he needed to declare to us priests. Although, the words of Paul to the Corinthians caught my attention, and I immediately thought about my obligation to preach stewardship as a way of life made clear in the Word of God. I wrote the words on a small card and placed it in my prayer book. For this priest, they are “words of hope and a challenge.” I suspect they would be for any pastor or deacon who preaches the Word of God and speaks from the heart about the call to discipleship. I have an intense desire to “declare” stewardship is a way of life. It hasn’t gone away! It is a part of my calling to serve the Church. It is my way of life and yours. It remains to be the clearest and most understandable expression of the discipleship that you and me and so many others strive to practice in our daily life, our spiritual life and our Church. We shouldn’t be afraid to “declare it” with our actions, in our prayers and in participation in the Catholic faith. And it has never been just for “the money people.”
Our world and society today doesn’t like “obligations imposed” upon us. And yet, the great apostle Paul believes our faith is a gift that imposes on us an obligation that is more of an opportunity to “declare” to those around us to live a life of the disciple which for many of us, is to live the faithful stewardship way of life. He even warns us, this “opportunity” is not as optional as we would like for, if we choose not to be the “faithful steward,” there will be consequences.
Our world and our society need us to “declare” our faith in thought, word and deed. It needs us to not back down on what we believe and are called to “declare.” For when our journey finally comes to an end, it won’t be a customs agent asking us if we have anything to declare. It is our Lord himself asking us to declare what kind of stewards we have been with what we have been given. “Anything to declare?” I wouldn’t want to be the one who replies, “No, my Lord, nothing.” Would you?