These last few weeks have been troubling. I suspect the next several months, or weeks (or even longer) may be even more troubling. The whole world seems to be on the brink of some great abyss. Our economy is turning down. This will likely mean lower employment, higher unemployment, reduced household wealth, and much insecurity among us all. In times like this it is hard to be joyful.
It is in such times though that our call to be neighbor, to be community tugs at our hearts with increased strength. This tug is a call for renewal of Stewardship; a call to renew the acceptance of our responsibility to care for and to share that which we hold in trust as result of God’s gift. Others have failed us, but we need not fail ourselves or one another!
All that exists is gift from God. This includes not only that which is material but also the values and capabilities of life. It includes our free will; that special gift God gave to humanity. And it is through that gift of free will that we choose. With it we can choose the Christian lifestyle of Stewardship.
Through that lifestyle we can yet see joy, even in these troubled times. We can still know and do what we know to be right. Let me help you picture what may be right for you and let me do it with more joy filled examples than those presented by our deteriorating economy.
You know you have done everything just right when you bring your golf swing around and you hear that unmistakably clear ping of the club head as it makes contact with the ball just as it should, or when you swing a baseball bat and as it makes contact with the ball and you hear that crack of the bat giving evidence that contact was made right in the sweet spot, or when you put together that holiday meal with all the food coming out to perfection and you watch your family gather in joyful conversation, truly enjoying the food and one other.
It is that feeling, that sound, that experience of doing it just right that draws us back to that game or that work of hospitality again and again.
Feelings of this same nature have counterparts in Christian service. God calls each of us toward his design for our lives through similar feelings of joy and consolation. Likewise, he steers us away from paths that we are not intended to take through feelings of anxiety and desolation. Let me give you a personal example of this.
For many years I suffered from a phobia that would just not allow me to get up in front of a large group of people. I even feared to be a lector or minister of Holy Communion. If I tried to speak or serve in those capacities, I feared that I would actually pass out. In response to the anxiety of the situation my body would just check out. With that fear, I just could not volunteer for such responsibilities.
One of our previous pastors, Fr. Hitch, once asked me to be a lector and minister of Holy Communion. I had to say no! Dr. Kevin Riley once asked me to give the Commencement Address at a Gretna High School graduation. I had to say no!
At those times my faith was not as strong as it should have been and my example was not yet ready to be drawn upon to give council to others. Through anxiety and desolation, God told me that it was not yet time for me to do those things.
A turning point came for me in my formation to become a deacon. It came into full bloom almost 3 years ago to this day when Fr. Mike asked me to give the lay stewardship talk here at mass. That is the talk you will hear next week from another parishioner.
When I was on the altar during that mass, I really felt at peace and at home. I knew then, beyond a doubt, that this is where I was called to be; that this is what I was called to do.
It was like hearing that clear ping of a golf club, the sweet crack of the bat, or that love filled conversation of a family enjoying a sumptuous meal together. When I am on this altar at mass and when I am doing other deacon ministry, I get that warm feeling that I am doing everything just right; that I am doing God’s will for me. I can take comfort in that even in troubled times such as these.
We can know what in our lives is of God when we are made able to do the very things we knew we could not do; when what was previously impossible suddenly becomes possible; when what we once feared suddenly becomes a source of joy. It is then that we know that those changes were the result of his doing. For me, that was an amazing revelation and an amazing gift.
Now let’s move on to you and your responsibilities for stewardship. God has placed in each of us abilities, gifts, and creativity. We each need to come to know what ours are. God always makes the gifts he has given us fit into the life he has given us, so we need not fear that we are going to have to make some radical change that will disrupt our family or our career.
God has planned for each of us something unique; something that only we can do. If we have a sense of his call on our life (and that is key); let me repeat that, if we have a sense of his call on our life, doors of opportunity will be opened through which we can develop and use our gifts in that calling. We will be truly fulfilled only when we are using the gifts that God gave us for the purposes for which God calls us.
The Lord has called each of us to walk a unique and fulfilling path. That path involves three things; first, growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ; second, understanding our faith more each day; and third, sharing his unconditional love with others through service both inside and outside his Church.
Catholicism is not the easy, neat, non-participatory religion that some may think it is. It is much more than “getting your sacraments” and going to mass on Sunday. Catholicism is not just a “me and God” experience. It is also an “us and God” experience. It is deeply personal but not private. Community is so very important and essential to the true living of a Catholic faith.
By our baptism each one of us is called to Christian ministry to witness and to serve. This can take the form of serving on various councils, committees, prayer groups, and such that you will find represented in our Stewardship Fair outside under the big tent today.
But, you say, I am too young; I am too old; I am too timid; or I am not prepared. Do you remember when God called the profit Jeremiah to prophesy and Jeremiah said, “I know not how to speak; I am too young”? God replied, “I am with you to deliver you.” Do you recall that Moses first told God in a reading we heard just a few weeks ago that he was “slow of speech”? God gave him Aaron as his mouthpiece.
I refer you to my own experience. The very thing I could not do using my own strength, I could do using the strength of God. Volunteering for service in an area that we feel somewhat unprepared for may require us to take a leap of faith, but it is a leap that we someday must take. In a parish as fast growing as ours, there are many opportunities to use our gifts in God’s service.
That is what stewardship is about. It is not about getting things done for someone else. It is about providing opportunities for us to use the gifts God has given us in service to him. This is more about fulfilling our need to serve him than it is about us taking action to accomplish someone else’s agenda.
For our benefit, God calls us to his service. He calls us, he does not command us. We must exercise our free will to choose to serve. He has made the call. He awaits our response he awaits our choice to serve him and his people.
If we hear his call and answer it, he will bless us with fulfillment and consolation. He will even fill troubled hearts during troubling times with experiences of joy. We will experience that feeling of “Yes, this feels like I am doing God’s will for me just right. This feels like what I am called to do”.
Today, we are hosting our 2nd Annual Stewardship Fair in the big tent outside. There you can see what opportunities for service are already underway here at St. Patrick’s. What you see, or what you don’t see, may also make you aware of where we are not yet offering a valuable service that really should be a part of what we do.
Visit the Fair and be attentive to the subtle voice of God. He may be calling you to participate in one of these ministries or he may be calling you to begin one that is absent from those already started. Don’t be fearful of your abilities to serve. You can use his strength, not your own, to do this work.