17 October 2020

Homily - Stewardship is about giving myself back to God

 The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

World Mission Day 2020

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we heard again the famous saying of Jesus, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). It is easy enough to determine what belongs to Caesar – that is, to the government of the day – but what is that belongs to God? What belongs to God “is the human person, who bears the image of the living God” (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Consequently, “our highest obligation in life – and one that is imposed on every man, woman, and child, regardless of nationality or citizenship – is to give ourselves back to our Maker.”[1]

As a means of helping us learn how to give ourselves back to God, each parish in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is beginning a Season of Stewardship, a time in which every parish household – and everyone in each household - is asked to prayerfully discern their gifts of stewardship not only as given to the local parish, but also as given toward the apostolic work of the Diocese as a whole. Such a stewardship naturally involves an individual’s and a family’s willing and eager use of time, talent, and treasure.

Now, before you stop listening to me altogether, stewardship is not simply about money, nor is this homily about money. While it is true that stewardship involves money, it is also true that stewardship is much more about living fully as a committed disciple of Jesus Christ; stewardship entails how I respond to the call of the Lord Jesus to give myself to back God in every aspect of my life and at every moment of my life.

Thinking about giving myself back to God is easy on a theoretical level, but how we do so on a practical level? If I am studying, whether at home or at school, I can seek to learn about the world around us so that we might better know God who created it. If I am a mother of small children, I can care for them and love them as if I were caring for the Child of Bethlehem and thank God for being entrusted with such precious gifts. If I am at work I can greet each person who comes to me as if I they were Christ. I can give to God all of my joys and happiness, and even give my woundedness and sorrows, as well.

If we are to live in such a way that we recognize everything we have in this life is a gift from God, we would do well to ask ourselves a few questions recommended by Pope Francis. The Holy Father reminds us that the mission of stewardship “is a free and conscious response to God’s call. Yet,” he says, “we discern this call only when we have a personal relationship of love with Jesus present in his Church.”[2] Therefore, he says,

Let us ask ourselves: are we prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to the call to mission … in all the everyday events of life? Are we willing to be sent forth at any time or place to witness to our faith in God the merciful Father, to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, to share the divine life of the Holy Spirit by building up the Church? Are we, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, ready to be completely at the service of God’s will (cf. Lk 1:38)? This interior openness is essential if we are to say to God: “Here am I, Lord, send me” (cf. Is 6:8). And this, not in the abstract, but in this chapter of the life of the Church and of history.[3]

In light of these questions and in light of Jesus’ command to give ourselves back completely to the Father, Bishop Paprocki has invited every Catholic in these twenty-eight central counties in Illinois to recommit ourselves – or, perhaps, to commit ourselves for the first time – to using our time, talent, and treasure in the service of the Church. Doing so requires a resolve to no longer live for oneself, but to live for God and to live for others.

Three years ago, Bishop Paprocki convoked the Fourth Synod of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and invited representatives from every parish in the diocese to discern how we, both collectively and individually, will share in the mission of Jesus.

In the sacrifice of the cross, where the mission of Jesus is fully accomplished (cf. Jn 19:28-30), God shows us that his love is for each and every one of us (cf. Jn 19:26-27). He asks us to be personally willing to be sent, because he himself is Love, love that is always “on mission”, always reaching out in order to give life. Out of his love for us, God the Father sent his Son Jesus (cf. Jn 3:16). Jesus is the Father’s Missionary: his life and ministry reveal his total obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4:34; 6:38; 8:12-30; Heb 10:5-10). Jesus, crucified and risen for us, draws us in turn into his mission of love, and with his Spirit which enlivens the Church, he makes us his disciples and sends us on a mission to the world and to its peoples.[4]

The Synod proposed twelve declarations to be discussed within the synodal sessions and which we adopted by Bishop Paprocki. These Declarations now form the road map, if you will, for the future.

The first Declaration turned our eyes to the future by giving us the mission to “to build a fervent community of intentional and dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints.”[5] The last three Declarations help us see how we can become dedicated missionary disciples and steadfast stewards. The tenth Declaration reminds us that “the community of Catholic faithful recognizes that everything we have comes from God and that He has given us gifts not just to use them for ourselves but also to share them with others.” As a means toward this sharing of our gifts with others, the eleventh statute says:

Trusting in God’s providence and giving according to their means, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are called to lives as disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ by giving of their time and talent and striving to fulfill the Biblical command to tithe by donating the suggested amount of at least 8% of their income to their parishes and 2% to other charities as an expression of their gratitude to God and of their stewardship of His manifold gifts of creation.

The twelfth Declaration establishes that parishes “shall tithe approximately 10% of their designated annual income to the Diocese…” You should have received a letter from Bishop Paprocki in the last few days regarding this last Declaration.

Now, before you say, “Father, I thought you said stewardship isn’t just about money?” I maintain that statement and point out the other Synodal Declarations were about inviting people to discipleship and stewardship, a relationship with Jesus Christ, being committed to the Catholic faith, being formed in the Catholic life, the reception of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, Catholic education, the proper celebration of the Mass, and the art of dying in God’s grace. Bishop Paprocki is now calling us to realize this goal through this Season of Stewardship.

Taken together and separately, each declaration concerns a lift of stewardship and the various ways we give ourselves back to God. Now is the time to ask ourselves: Am I using my time, talent, and treasure in meaningless pursuits, or am I using them in the service of the Gospel? Let us help one another to recognize that “Life itself, as a gift freely received, is implicitly an invitation to this gift of self,” so that having recognized this we will strive to help each other give ourselves back to God. Amen.[6]

[1] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 286.

[2] Pope Francis, Message for World Mission Day 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 2017 Synodal Declarations, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, 1.

[6] Pope Francis, Message for World Mission Day 2020.