July 17, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Worship and stewardship are closely related

The fifth of five precepts of the Church recognizes that the Church lives in the real world. The precept is described in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults: “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church. This means contributing to the support of the activities of the Church with time, talent, and financial resources, each according to their ability” (p. 335).

This fifth precept addresses our call as individual members of the Catholic Church to be good stewards. The first letter of St. Peter reminds us: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt 4:10).

I like to reflect on the obligation of being good stewards by reflecting on the spiritual connection between the Eucharist and stewardship. There is a connection that we can trace back to the beginnings of the Church.

The principle is clear. All baptized Catholics, wealthy and not so wealthy, educated and uneducated, should all be received in the community at Eucharist with the same welcome and respect, and all should share. The ministry of the Church, above all sacramental ministry, is not reserved only to those who are blessed with more personal and financial resources.

This is why collections of money for the poor have been taken up in assemblies of the faithful from the very origins of the Church. All kinds of scriptural references attest to the fact. It was perhaps best expressed by St. Paul’s conviction that we cannot share the Eucharist while refusing to share our daily bread.

St. Paul goes one step further when he applies the word liturgy to the ministry of love and of fellowship, which is made concrete in the collection of gifts, including money. He uses the term “liturgy” (leiturgia), which he says in turn leads to an outpouring of thanksgiving to God (Rom 15:27; 2 Cor 9:12f).

Writing to the Romans, St. Paul said, “I must take a present of money to the saints in Jerusalem, since Macedonia and Achaia have decided to send a generous contribution to the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. A generous contribution as it should be since it is really repaying a debt; the pagans who share the spiritual possessions of these poor people have a duty to help them with temporal possessions” (Rom 15:25-27).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote: “The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one, and made richer in every way, you will be able to do all the generous things which, through us, are the cause of thanksgiving to God. For doing this holy service (leiturgia) is not only supplying all the needs of the saints, but it is also increasing the amount of thanksgiving that God receives.

“By offering this service, you show them what you are, and that makes them give glory to God for the way you accept and profess the gospel of Christ, and for your sympathetic generosity for them and for all. And their prayers for you, too, show how they are drawn to you on account of all the grace that God has given you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor 9:10-15).

I bring this connection of worship and generous sharing to the forefront to remind us that our generous stewardship mirrors the teaching of St. Paul and, in fact, finds its Christian roots in this ancient tradition. Our generosity gives glory to God and it helps the poor among the “saints” of our local Church in central and southern Indiana.

In 2002, we bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter on Christian stewardship titled “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” A summary of the letter teaches that Jesus calls us to be disciples, and that call includes our decision to follow Jesus no matter what the cost (cf. the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, pp. 450-452).

The letter reminds us that the Bible contains a profound message about the stewardship of material creation. We are stewards of creation. Our physical labor, the trades and professions, the arts and sciences, our work, is a participation in the stewardship of creation.

We are to be stewards of vocation. Each of us and all of us are called by God to make a difference in our world. Our response is an act of stewardship.

The fifth precept of the Church reminds us that we are stewards of the Church and there are practical implications. We are co-workers in the mission of proclaiming and cooperating in Christ’s redemptive work.

All of us have our role as stewards of Christ’s mission. †

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