A Letter on Stewardship from Father Newman
The Feast of St. Augustine
28 August 2002
Dear People of St. Mary's Church,
On the road to Caesarea Philippi, the Lord Jesus questioned the Twelve Apostles, "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:15). This is the fundamental question of every human life, and to find the happiness for which God created us from nothing, we must each come to confess with St. Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). From the moment we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we become His followers, His disciples, and the whole Christian life may be described as learning the cost of discipleship. We are not our own; we have been purchased at a great price by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow Him in the Way of the Cross.
Since my formal installation as your pastor in August 2001 on the Feast of St. Augustine, I have sought in every way I know how to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified and awaken in all the people of St. Mary's a passion for the Gospel and a life-changing commitment to discipleship. A parish church is a spiritual family, a fellowship of disciples, and we must all be dedicated to the service of Christ and His Church if we are to fulfill our baptismal vocation to be witnesses of Christ to others and lead them to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.
A major part of such a commitment to discipleship is the careful use of the goods of the earth entrusted by God to our care; everything we are and everything we have comes from God, and at our judgment each of us must render to Him an account of our use of all that He bestowed upon us. I urge you to read the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 14-30. In that parable, the Lord Jesus explains our solemn duty to use well all the good things God has given us; this dimension of discipleship is called stewardship.
A steward is one who cares for the property and manages the affairs of a master, and before God we are all stewards. He is the Master who gives to us life, health, strength, gifts of mind and body: in a word-everything. And He gives us these good things to use for the well-being of others: of our family and friends, of the poor and needy, of His Church. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a steward of God's gifts of time, talent, and treasure, and we have a solemn duty to use everything we have in keeping with the principles revealed in Sacred Scripture and lived in the Church.
In the Book of Genesis (14:17-20), we find the first indication in Sacred Scripture of how God intends us to use material goods; Abraham has conquered an enemy in battle, and he meets the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who is also a priest of God Most High. Melchizedek offers a thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine, and Abraham gives him a tenth of everything he has. From this offering by Abraham emerges the Scriptural practice of tithing, of giving ten percent of our goods to God, a practice hallowed by thousands of years of Jewish and Christian practice.
Here an essential point of tithing must be noted: God does not ask us to tithe because there are bills to pay; He asks us to tithe because we need to be reminded that nothing we have belongs to us absolutely. So dependent are we on His grace, that without Him we would simply not exist. Giving ten percent of our goods in a thanksgiving sacrifice to God is a powerful way of living always in the humbling truth that we are creatures in need of redemption.
While tithing should be the norm for all followers of Christ, in the Catholic tradition Christians have never been asked to give the entire ten percent of their income directly to the Church. Rather, we are encouraged to give part of our tithe to the Church and the rest to other charities of our own choice. Our father in God, our Bishop Robert, asks us all to tithe in this way: 5% of our income to our parish; 1% directly to the diocese in the Bishop's Stewardship Appeal (BSA), and the remaining 4% to a worthy charity. Following this formula, any household can quickly determine the level of support which should be given to the Church.
How Much Should I Donate?
|Total Annual Income
|Your Annual gift
|... and so forth|
The 5% contribution to the parish should be given in the primary collection to our operating fund, and from the remaining 4% of your tithe would come all special collections at Mass, all gifts to other charities, college alumni programs, the United Way, etc. The 1% for the diocese should be contributed directly through the Bishop's Stewardship Appeal. Obviously, there are circumstances (such as unemployment, chronic illness, responsibility for dependents) that mitigate this basic principle, but even those who can give only "the widow's mite" are still called by the Gospel to give.
St. Mary's presently has approximately 2,300 registered households, and if each family in the parish were contributing at the level indicated by Scriptural authority and the teaching of our Bishop, then given Greenville's average per capita income, our total weekly collection would be around $38,000. Instead, our average collection is about $21,000-each week-half of what we should be collecting. The principle reason for this huge gap is that of our 2,100 registered households, 750 gave nothing at all to the parish in the past year; and another 500 households gave less than $5 each week.
Such patterns of giving indicate a very poor understanding of the demands of discipleship, and that is why I spent my first year as pastor trying to ignite a fire for the Gospel in the heart and mind of every person in our parish family. Those who have encountered the risen Christ and left everything to follow Him will very naturally come to be good stewards. Those who have only a lukewarm commitment to Jesus Christ will give grudgingly, if at all, because the Gospel has not yet been grasped as the pearl of great price. And so I challenge every soul who calls St. Mary's home: we must redouble our efforts to help every man, woman, and child in our parish to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ; we must strive with ever greater devotion to transform a large, diverse group of people from a random collection of strangers into a genuine family of God.
The weekly contribution should be a part of every household's regular budget and not something decided at the last minute based on what spare change is at hand when the offering plate passes. Make a plan now for regular, predictable, weekly support, and keep that up all year long.
If every registered family in this parish regularly attends Mass and faithfully contributes to the work of the Church, then we will have not only the means we need to survive but also the ability to assist others in need and thus fulfill the call of the Lord Jesus to serve Him by serving His brothers and sisters. Please be generous, and encourage your fellow parishioners to become deeply involved in the work of the parish. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus needs your help.
We are now calling on the gifts of people all over the parish to help us reach out to all households who call St. Mary's home and help them grow closer to the Lord Jesus, who is the only answer to which every human life is the question. "Who do you say that I am?", he asks us. We must answer with St. Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Father Jay Scott Newman