In the beginning, was God. There was nothing other than God, and then God chose to create. God created everything; from the physical universe to the science that governs it. God created the animals that wander the planet, the plants that grow and the humans who reap the harvest. All has been created by God. And it is in recognizing this truth where we find the origins of stewardship.
Stewardship begins by acknowledging the fact that everything we have, our resources, our talents, our very life itself has been given to us without our earning it. Yes, we apply many of the gifts, but at their origins, everything is a gift. Think back to your upbringing: You were given life and consciousness without having earned it. You were then given a family who took care of you without any labor on your part. You were clothed and fed, you were educated and loved, simply because you existed. It was all gift. If we see this for what it is, we discover that everything is a gift. And when we have this recognition, we change how we use the gifts. We are merely stewards (or caretakers) of all that is given to us. It becomes our duty to turn to the source of all these gifts, namely God, to discover how we ought to use the gifts.
This is how we, as Catholics, approach the stewardship of all of our gifts. We first acknowledge that everything is a gift and then we turn to God in prayer to gain the wisdom to know how we should steward these many gifts. It is an ongoing conversation with God.
An analogy might be a teenager who receives his driver’s license. The use of the car is a gift to him and initially, his parents will allow him to use the car only a short distance; avoiding the freeway (especially 494 and 35W!). Then, he consults with his parents after successful driving and he is allowed to use the car on the freeway. He consults with his parents again and now he is required to go to the store to purchase food before he uses the car to visit his friends. Then later, he may be required to fill the car with gasoline (using his own money!). But it is always an ongoing conversation with his parents as to what is the proper way to use the gift of the car. And we should do this in prayer with our Father in heaven as we discern how we are to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us: Our time, our talent and our treasure.
This weekend, we begin our stewardship campaign. In consultation with the Stewardship Council of Nativity of Mary, we are approaching our stewardship campaign in a different way, but with the similar intent: To help all of us live out stewardship as a part of our Catholic faith. We will be separating the “treasure” portion from our “time and talent” portion, which will take place in January. Over the next few weeks, we will be hearing about the importance of stewardship of our treasure, the blessings that come from being a good steward of our finances, and how we can contribute to the financial health of our parish.
I invite you to be open and prayerful to a life of stewardship. First, recognize that all is a gift from God and then recognize that God is a loving Father who desires to help you use his gifts well for your good, the good of our parish and the good of the whole world. May God bless you all.
If you could ask God just one question, what would it be? (Yes, I am quoting Joan Osbourn). However, this lyrical line came to mind as I read the Gospel for this week. We see the Apostles following Jesus for three years. They must have had many opportunities to ask questions of him. Even a few of those questions are recorded in the Gospels. However, today, we hear that they were afraid to question him. Why would this be? What would cause them to be afraid to inquire? Certainly, it would be beneficial to understand what the Messiah is saying, so why be afraid.
What is important to note, is what Jesus said, right before the comment about their fear. Mark writes, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” (Mark 9:30-31). Their fear arises from the demands of being a follower of Jesus. They were not afraid to ask the question...they were afraid of the response that they would receive, namely that to follow Jesus would require sacrifice.
They had been following Jesus and had seen some miraculous cures; they heard some beautiful teachings of mercy, which are all very comfortable and pleasant. They liked that, but then Jesus speaks about suffering and death. Now, all of the sudden, there was a part of Jesus’ mission and work that made them uncomfortable. As a result, they were inclined to “hide” from that portion of Jesus, desiring not to speak about it or understand it further. They may have been hoping that it would even go away if they never inquired...and how many times do we choose the same approach to Jesus.
We do enjoy the statements about mercy. We delight in the offer of an eternal happiness. We delight in the resurrection, though we often desire to hide from the crucifixion. We try to have Jesus without the cross. Though, as Jesus stated today in the Gospel, this is his whole mission and if we desire to follow him, we must accept the entire Jesus. We must seek to know and embrace Jesus in his life, his death and his resurrection. We need not fear, as the disciples did, to go deeper into the mystery of his suffering, for it is in his suffering where we find the mercy and the love that God truly has for each of us. And even, we will be called to follow Jesus through our own trials, our own sufferings. Though, if we choose to follow Jesus through the sufferings, it is there where we discover the glory of the resurrection. It is in the resurrection that we discover the meaning of the suffering, and even our own sufferings.
In your prayer, do not be afraid to speak to Jesus and ask him the questions that are longing in your heart. Be ready to listen to his response, to what he shares with you. I know that in my own personal prayer, I rarely receive the message that I desired. I am often tempted to go into prayer with a list of demands that he must meet, with results that I am convinced (at the time) would be best and must occur. And all that I discover, is that his response to my prayer is one that is different...and better for me, than what I originally expected. Because Jesus knows what is truly good, even though it is not the easy response...but that is why he is God and we can trust him. In your prayer, do not be afraid to question God about any of your trails or his teachings. And then be open to the totality of his response because his response will always be a response of love for us. In your prayer, do not be afraid to question God about any of your trials or his teachings. And then be open to the totality of his response because his response will always be a response of love for us.
A few years back I had the opportunity to go on a retreat that was a silent retreat. We had been on silent retreats in seminary before, and I expected this silent retreat to be similar. In seminary, our retreats allowed us time to read novels for fun, to listen to some talks and even a little social time while eating by making faces at each other. This silent retreat, however, was different.
When I arrived at the retreat house, my spiritual director met me there and informed me that I would be the only person staying there for the entire week. Even he would be returning to his parish and would stop out once a day for spiritual direction. He also informed me that I would not be allowed to listen to any music or recordings, that I was not to have any literature other than the Bible, my brieverary and one spiritual book (that he assigned). He informed me that this was to be a full-silent retreat.
I confess that my first reaction was to panic. As you have probably already noticed, I am an extrovert and I perceived this approach to a silent retreat as being a form of torture. However, I was convinced that God wanted me on this retreat, and as a consequence I decided that I would try to embrace this new form of silence...and what I discovered, was that it was just what I needed. It was a silence of my very person: mouth, mind, body, and most especially, my soul.
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) says the Psalmist, and that is exactly what I needed in my heart. Too often, I am one who enters into prayer and even without intention, I begin reviewing all of the things that are on my mind. I will begin by trying to pay attention to God and his love for me, but my mind will be so filled with ideas and activities, that I will begin planning or reviewing, rather than entering in a place of “stillness.” It is in that stillness of the mind and soul, where we are able to discover one of the greatest truths about our God, that God simply wants to love us. We need to create that time for silence where God can simply love us.
The first place we need to seek out this stillness and silence is at the beginning of prayer. Before you pray at any time, pause for a moment and realize that you are looking to God, but He has always been looking at you first. Take some time at the beginning of the morning or at the end of the day when the children are asleep to find the time of silence to realize God’s love for you. If you are able, make a silent retreat, even if it is just for a day at one of the retreat centers here in the Twin Cities.
We are active creatures and our minds and hearts are filled with many worries, thoughts and ideas. Let us not allow these to keep us from the stillness that we also need to allow ourselves to be loved by God.
The beginning of the new school year was always exciting for me as a child. Yes, there were the usual concerns about having the correct supplies for class, concerns that my clothing was not the “cool” clothing for the school year (see the Bugs and Taz shirts dressed as Kriss Kross from the 90s), and wondering if I would get lost in the hallways on my way to class. But underneath all of those concerns was always an excitement. I would not admit this to my friends, but my excitement was really centered around the fact that I would be learning something new! I enjoyed my science classes where we learned about the world around us. I delighted in history where we discovered amazing events in human history and learned from them. I enjoyed English and creative writing. I really enjoyed all of it! And I see that happening again and again every year as the students return to school. And this should the be attitude that we have as adults with our entire lives, especially with our life of faith.
I will often hear people make the comment, “They never taught me about that when I was in Catholic schools or in Religious Education!” when they discover a long held belief of the Church or some other teaching that they did not know. The assumption is that everything should have been taught to us by the time that we received the sacrament of Confirmation. While it is true that our Catholic school teachers and our religious education catechists worked hard to teach us about our Catholic faith, it is possible that they missed some particulars or (dare I say), we were not paying close attention. As a result, we did not retain some of the truths taught about our faith. It is when we discover this reality that we must embrace that desire to learn and seek out to discover the truths of our faith on our own.
Thankfully, we live in the 21st century where there are more resources to learn about our faith than any prior generation of Catholics. Some of the great resources that we have at our fingertips are the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings and teachings of the Church as found at www.vatican.va, the books from quality Catholic publishing companies, the good Catholic book stores that we have in the Twin Cities, the Lightous Catholic Media CDs that can be ordered, and the different programs and offerings that we have right here in our very own parish! We have been hardwired from God to learn and discover the world that God created and ultimately to discover God himself. As we see the children returning to school this week with the desire to learn, let us reignite that same desire in our hearts to learn more about our Catholic faith so that we might love God and our neighbor all the more. May God bless you and your pursuit of learning his truth this week.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl