Earlier this year, The Most Reverend Paul A. Zipfel, Bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota, wrote a pastoral letter on stewardship titled, Who is the Good and Faithful Steward? In this pastoral, the bishop responded to three sets of questions that are frequently asked by Catholics who hear the word "stewardship" but who are not sure what it means - or how it applies to them. Here are some excerpts from Bishop Zipfel's reflections, edited for use in The Good Steward Newsletter:
1. Who is a Christian steward? What does it mean to live stewardship?
A Christian steward is a disciple of Jesus Christ who incorporates four essential virtues into his or her daily living: gratitude, responsibility, generosity and the willingness to give back with increase. Stewardship begins with discipleship. First, we must freely accept the Lord's call to follow him without counting the cost. In order to respond wholeheartedly to Jesus' invitation, we must let go of our dependence on the things of this world. Then, we must cast off self-centeredness and fear, and we must place our trust wholly and completely in the Lord.
It is not easy to follow Jesus, to be his disciple. Letting go is difficult for all of us. We are taught to be self-reliant. To look out for No. 1 (ourselves). To be rugged individualists who make our own way in the world without depending on others. And yet, the Lord tells us something radically different. "Go, sell what you have; give to the poor... and come, follow me." Jesus asks us to be dependent on Him alone, to trust in the providence of God, and to share freely with others - especially the poor and needy among us.
Discipleship requires us to make a choice: to surrender ourselves through the power of God's grace and to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. Once we have made this choice - to let go absolutely and follow Jesus' way - stewardship is not an option. To be disciples of Christ who invite others to follow Him, we must be grateful, responsible and generous stewards of all God's gifts. We must learn to invest everything we have, and all that we are, in living as He taught us. We must grow God's gifts and return them to the Lord with increase.
Most of us think of money when we hear the word stewardship. That's because too often stewardship is only spoken about when it’s time to renew our financial commitment to the Church. This is a serious misunderstanding of the concept of stewardship. As important as Church support is for sustaining the ministries of our parishes, diocese and the universal Church, a true understanding of stewardship calls us to a much broader and deeper awareness of the ways in which we have been called and gifted as Christian disciples who develop and share God's abundant blessings out of a profound sense of justice and charity.
2. What does it mean to be a stewardship parish? How can the concept of stewardship help us to be vital communities of faith committed to Word, sacrament and service?
A stewardship parish is a community of faith where the Word of God is taken seriously. Through effective proclamation in the liturgy, faith-filled catechesis (including parochial education and religious education for adults, youth and children), community prayer and devotions, and genuine faith-sharing (evangelization), God's Word comes alive in our parishes. It speaks to our hearts - challenging us to change (conversion) and to let Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, become the meaning and purpose of our lives. A stewardship parish takes seriously its responsibility to be a faithful steward of the Word of God.
A stewardship parish is a sacramental community. Its gratitude is expressed first and foremost in the Eucharist, the great prayer of thanksgiving, in which the Lord Jesus offers Himself to the Father and shares with us the gift of his Body and Blood. In communion with the Lord and with one another, each parish in our diocese receives gratefully the gifts of the Holy Spirit that flow from the sacraments of the Church - baptism, holy Communion, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, orders and the anointing of the sick. The parish community, in turn, is called to cherish and share these divine gifts with others - both within and outside parish boundaries. By celebrating the sacraments well, with reverence and with a special sincerity that is reserved for the things of God, each parish expresses the true source of its vitality. Regardless of its size, its cultural or ethnic makeup, its affluence or poverty, the parish that embraces fully its responsibility as a steward of the sacramental life of the Church is alive in Christ.
A stewardship parish dedicates itself wholeheartedly to Christian service. Sharing with others - both within and beyond parish boundaries - is a hallmark of Christian stewardship. Signs of this commitment to service should be evident from the moment a new parishioner or visitor enters the parish church. Hospitality and a genuine concern for the welfare of all should permeate the atmosphere. Opportunities to participate in the life of the parish and its service to others should be extended to all parishioners on a regular basis. Parishioners should be encouraged frequently to share their gifts of time, talent and treasure with people in need close to home and far away. A community that only focuses its time, attention and resources on its own needs is not a Christian community, and it is not a good steward of the gifts and blessings the Lord bestows on his Church. A stewardship parish develops all its gifts (material and spiritual) and shares them generously with others.
Every parish is called to be a stewardship parish, because every parish has been gifted by God with opportunities to proclaim the Word of God, to celebrate the sacraments and to serve those who are in need. May the Lord continue to strengthen our parishes with his grace so that they may continue to accept His call to be faithful stewards of the Church's divine mission - ambassadors for Christ who live stewardship in Word, sacrament and service.
3. What does it mean to be a stewardship diocese? How does living stewardship help us to carry out our Church's mission?
A diocese is a particular, or local, Church. That means it is a community of Christians who live in a certain territory and who are united under the pastoral care of a bishop. It is the bishop's responsibility to unite his people - with one another and with all of the other local Churches that are part of the universal Church. Together as one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, Catholics are united under the pastoral care of the bishop of Rome, the pope, and as a diocese they participate in the universal mission of the Church, which is to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to be the seeds and beginning of that Kingdom here on earth.
Individual Christians live stewardship through the four characteristics of gratitude, responsibility, generosity and the willingness to give back with increase. Parishes express their stewardship responsibilities through proclamation of God's Word, through reverent and sincere celebration of the sacraments, and through a profound commitment to Christian service. But how does a diocese live stewardship? Put another way, how does living stewardship help each diocese carry out its distinctive mission to be the seed and beginning of God's Kingdom in Word, sacrament and service?
Every diocese exists to encourage and support individual Christians, and parish communities, in their stewardship journeys. A stewardship diocese, therefore, is one that encourages, supports and enables its clergy, religious and lay members in their understanding and practice of stewardship. The diocese provides stewardship education resources where possible and appropriate, but it also promotes stewardship by making important connections between Church teaching and practice and the lived experience of its people. For example, a diocese strives to help parents understand and accept their responsibility to cherish, nurture, develop and share God's gift of children. And it emphasizes that all human life comes from God as a gift to be reverenced and defended from the moment of conception to natural death. This is a fundamental Christian belief, but it is also a very practical stewardship responsibility - to be guardians, or stewards, of the precious gift of human life.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we will all be asked to render an account of our "ambassadorship," our ability to represent him in our words and our actions. A stewardship diocese, therefore, is one that witnesses to the importance of transparency and accountability - in its decision-making, in its development and use of resources, and in all its financial affairs. To be transparent means to let the light of truth shine on us, to admit our mistakes and to work harder than ever to be faithful stewards of our God-given mission.
A stewardship diocese should be generous with its human, physical and financial resources. We should share with one another - and with other dioceses in need throughout the world. Our annual or capital appeals, special collections and other forms of generous sharing should be undertaken with a grateful heart, not grudgingly, in gratitude to God for the many ways he has blessed our diocese. In addition to the generous sharing of our material resources (time, talent and treasure), as a stewardship diocese we should be prodigal in prayerfulness. We should remember in prayer those individuals, families and communities who are struggling during hard times - economically, politically or because of natural disasters.
If we truly are a stewardship diocese, our commitment to generous sharing should be an expression of our gratitude to God for all the many ways that he continues to bless his Church. May the Lord give us the courage and strength we need to trust in his goodness and to serve him faithfully - as individual Christians, as parish communities and as stewards of our particular church, the diocese.
The Good Steward Newsletter wishes to expresses its gratitude to Bishop Zipfel. To read a copy of the complete pastoral letter, Who is the Good and Faithful Steward?, please use the following link (.pdf):
Or you may contact:
Ron Schatz, Director
Center for Pastoral Ministry
520 North Washington Street/P.O. Box 1137
Bismarck, ND 58502-1137
Phone: 701-222-3035, ext.117
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