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Stewardship: The Outcome of Intentional Catholicism

by Very Reverend Jovita C. Okonkwo

 

Fr Jovita Okonkwo OFFICIAL
Faith Flourishing

In my previous discussions on Intentional Catholicism, I have emphasized liturgical and spiritual renewal, communication of our faith to others, education and catechesis. This month, I’d like to discuss stewardship as a means to let our faith flourish. I am aware that several Catholics think only of money whenever they hear the word stewardship. For them, whenever the priest or a member of the parish stewardship team contacts them, it means they are being requested to give more money to their parish. I’ll admit that the way stewardship has been presented often gives that impression. However, it need not be so. I would like to discuss what I understand by stewardship, what it means for a true disciple of Christ, and why it is the only way we can practice intentional discipleship and intentional Catholicism. What can we learn from the life of Mary?

 

The Month of Mary and the Month of Discipleship

May is the month of Mary. It is also the month of discipleship, because Mary is the perfect disciple and God’s handmaid. She remained with the apostles after the resurrection, and was present at the Pentecost when the Catholic Church was born. The Church celebrates two important Marian feasts in May, namely: Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, celebrated on the Saturday after the Ascension of Lord. The second is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, one of the mysteries of the rosary. Mary’s visitation brought Christ to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and brings her to our various homes when we welcome her in true devotion. One need only recall what happened during the wedding at Cana where the couple had invited Mary, Jesus and the apostles (John 2:1). Mary’s presence in our homes and lives assures us that there is a caretaker who will tell Jesus: They have no wine; Frank has no job; Edith has no peace; Sara needs a child; Lisa needs a loving husband, or whatever any of us truly needs from God. Sometimes Jesus can be ‘compelled’ to provide for our need as communicated to him by Mary. A very ancient tradition called the Tricesimum (Thirty-Day Devotion) was a way Catholics celebrated the month of May with thirty spiritual exercises in honor of Mary. We won’t forget also that in many countries, including the United States, May crowning comes on the first Sunday of May, and Mothers’ Day is usually celebrated on the second Sunday in May, which is also First Communion for our kids. May is also the month of workers. The first of May is celebrated as Workers’ Day, after St. Joseph, the Worker. With Joseph and the Holy Family we gather together our tools to begin the work of intentional discipleship.

 

The Month of Fecundity

Greek culture had May dedicated to the goddess Artemis, the goddess of fecundity. Pagan Rome dedicated the month of May to Flora, the goddess of bloom or blossoms. The floral games of the Romans – Iudi florales, still celebrated today starts at the end of April. When paganism reigned, the floral games were celebrated to ask the intercession of the goddess Flora to send the blooms which would expel winter and usher in growth. It shouldn’t surprise Catholics to learn that almost every pagan feast of the Romans was Christianized. Instead of Artemis and Flora, May became the month of Mary and the month of mothers. In essence, it is the month and the season when new life blossoms. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new life for all believers, especially those who received the new life of baptism at Easter. When Easter life blossoms, we become reborn (born-again) and begin the journey anew toward intentional discipleship.

 

When Faith Needs Expression

A few years ago, a woman who told me she had been away from the Church went through RCIA with her daughter, who, in turn,needed to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. During Ashley’s confirmation that Easter vigil, I experienced visibly, for the first time, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a person. She didn’t shake or quake or swirl, but I saw the outlook of the young woman change. A brilliant light was revealed in her eyes and an indescribable joy came over her. After the ceremonies, she told me that she truly experienced a torrent come over her. Ashley’s confirmation and her mother’s new commitment to the faith brought remarkable change to their family. Her mother has since then been the RCIA coordinator for her parish. She and her daughter started the practice of attending daily Mass. She realized, according to her, that daily Mass attendance was far easier than brushing one’s teeth. It reminded me about the words of Fulton Sheen that an act which becomes a habit by daily repetition, loses it difficulty. The Holy Mass done once a week is like an interruption of normal life or an interruption to the week. When one attends daily Mass, its absence any day becomes an interruption. Hence, for Ashley’s mom, all other events during the day, including her job as a bank executive, appear as distractions to daily Mass. Her other daughter, Emelia who was present at Ashley’s confirmation experienced a ‘spiritual envy’ which made her decide to go through RCIA the next year. Emelia had her marriage blessed and became a joyful believer and an intentional Catholic. A few months later, Emelia’s husband had a life-changing experience that made him decide to take the same path as his wife. Next was Ashley’s father who was a city official. The flame caught on him and he too went through RCIA. The family could be said to have experienced a ‘spiritual roller-coaster’ and has become an expression of discipleship and stewardship. The extent to which the family turned around to embrace discipleship in various forms of Christian witnessing was simply astonishing. And by the way, the family became one of the highest financial contributors to their parish.

 

Discipleship is the Driver of Stewardship

St. Peter writing to the Church said: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:10). The U.S Bishops list the implications of discipleship and how it drives stewardship, as expressed clearly in the life of Ashley and her family.

  • Disciples experience conversion – life-shaping changes of mind and heart and commitment to Lord
  • Mature disciples make a conscious decision to follow Jesus, no matter the cost
  • Christian stewards respond in a particular way to the call to be disciples
  • Stewardship has the power to shape and mold our understanding of our lives and the way in which we live (USCCB Pastoral Letter on Stewardship)

 

Three Steps to Stewardship

Conversion: The first step toward stewardship is conversion. Several of us do not think that we need to be converted. My challenge: If you want to know how bad you are, try to be good. We never know how selfish we are until we try to be self-giving. We never know how ignorant we are until we try to learn. The subject of my story told me that conversion is not possible for anyone who has completely bought into the dominant secular culture of the West which frequently encourages us to focus on the self and the search for comfort and pleasure.

Discipleship: The second step is the conscious decision to follow Jesus. The consciousness is what makes discipleship intentional. The converted person becomes an intentional disciple who seeks avenues to express the faith.

Fellowship: Fellowship is the sharing of God’s manifold gifts with others. It is the outcome of conversion and discipleship. The reason many Catholics view stewardship as a request for more money is that they have not experienced true conversion and have not become intentional disciples. Stewardship programs that do not stem from discipleship are usually unsuccessful. Without emphasis on discipleship, stewardship becomes a money-raising activity which may bring in a few dollars but would not change the heart of the giver.

 

How to do Stewardship

Outside stewardship, there has been found no other way to practice discipleship. It is extremely insufficient to be a disciple of Christ only one hour a week. To be disciples, we must make the conscious choice to serve Christ in the Church and the world through giving our time, talent and treasure in myriads of ways. Join a prayer or bible study group, serve as a volunteer in the parish or finance council, outreach, or other areas your skills can be put to use, give a fair share of your treasure to the work of evangelization. Good stewards recognize that the Church is also their family and would include the Church in their end of life plans.

Jesus’ life is a perfect example of stewardship. He kept nothing for himself but gave all to save us. We also have Mary as an ideal steward responding generously to her call to be the mother of God and a disciple of Jesus. May she whose “yes” brought us the savior lead us to him who turns our lukewarm grapes into refreshing wines of service!

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