In September of 1999, I was ordained and installed as the Twelfth Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston. In the six years since that occasion, I have had the blessed opportunity to travel throughout our diocese, meet thousands of our diocesan families, and witness the strength of faith of the Catholic people of South Carolina. In traveling to all parts of the diocese, I have experienced first-hand the generosity of so many people and their love for the Lord and for their Church, despite the scandals that have plagued our Church in recent years.
Since being ordained a priest in 1970, I have witnessed many changes that have occurred in our society and in our Church. There were many changes that have been brought about in our Church that were authentically the fruit of the Second Vatican Council and have helped us grow in faith, hope, and love. Other challenges facing the Church were determined by our Magisterium as unfaithful to the Gospel and Church teaching and were not incorporated in our Magisterium into the compendium of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
Among the special fruits of renewal and revitalization of our Church in the period following the Second Vatican Council was a deepened appreciation of the role of Stewardship in the life of our Church.
Stewardship is a biblical concept that has not received proper attention in our Catholic Church until recent years and has been particularly promoted in pockets of the U. S. Catholic clergy and laity, following Vatican II.
Stewardship is fundamentally about spirituality, about our relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is “a way of life, of holiness, of spirituality” (Father Daniel J. Mahan, “More Than Silver or Gold,” Saint Catherine of Siena Press, p. 14).
In their 1992 pastoral letter “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” the American bishops defined a good Steward as one who is grateful for the gifts God has given that person, and from that perspective of gratitude takes on a special responsibility for the gifts God has given, shares those gifts, making a return to the Lord with increase.
Among the great Scriptural models of Stewardship is the Lord Jesus himself. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16). In love for a world on a collision course with disaster, God rescued the world He loved by sending His priceless possession, His Son. In Jesus God emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives (Phil 2:7) to become human, to become Emmanuel, God with us.
A second great model is the widow, who gave her mite, the smallest of coins; but for her it was a powerful gift. The widow didn’t tithe 10 percent. She gave 100 percent. The Lord held her up as the model for generosity. “ … This poor widow contributed more than all the others who donated to the treasury. They gave from their surplus wealth, but she gave from her want, all that she had to live on” (Mark 12: 44).
I was introduced to the concept of Stewardship while pastor of the Cathedral parish in St. Augustine, Florida, in the early ’80s, and had an even more direct experience of it as Pastor of Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville in the late ’90s. Christ the King Parish was literally transformed by my predecessor, Msgr. Mort Danaher, when he introduced Stewardship in a dramatic way to that parish. It became a full Stewardship parish. People gave so generously of time, talent, and treasure that the parish school was able to eliminate tuition for its parishioners who attend the school.
Dramatic things happen when one learns the meaning of Stewardship as a way of life. Learning the meaning of Love from a deep personal prayer life, centered around the Holy Eucharist and other Sacraments, one automatically learns how to love, to give, to share. Once there is a proper spiritual base, generosity happens.
I am inviting all Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston this New Year – 2006 – to embrace the biblical message of Stewardship, to understand it better, and take it to heart in a deeper way through prayer, study, and reflection, which in turn would propel one to a greater desire to serve and to share.
In addition to the many ways of catechesis for Stewardship, among young adults, men and women’s organizations, and study groups, parish school religion classes and religious formation programs and retreat groups, there should be a concerted effort to share this message with teenagers. An excellent opportunity for such a catechesis would be in the two-year Confirmation preparation programs.
I personally believe that in a unique and special way, Confirmation is the Sacrament of Christian Stewardship. Aided by the Holy Spirit our teenagers become aware of how good and loving God is through their study of the Scriptures and Catholic teachings. They learn to see Christ in everyone and everything. In turn they carry Christ into those areas of life where He is absent by learning to give of themselves generously and joyfully, sharing their resources of time, talent, and treasure, once they have identified those special opportunities for sharing in their own lives. The Sacrament of Confirmation is the activity of the Holy Spirit loving them and empowering them to love in a way distinctly their own.
Can we not as a diocesan Church make this new year an opportunity to become better Stewards of the Kingdom of Christ, using the gifts and fruits of the Sacrament of Baptism and especially the Sacrament of Confirmation to become people like Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the generous widow, people who are so desirous of serving others because we know that we have been served so generously by the Lord Jesus, that Lord who came among us not to be served, but to serve, “to give his own life as a ransom for the many” (Matt 20:28)?
The good Steward is the one who follows the great teaching of Jesus: “…Whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” (Matt 20:27).