Last Sunday at Mass I was pleasantly reminded of a talk given by the keynote speaker for Stewardship Day, 2012. Fr. Darrin Gurr is the pastor at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish and also serves as the liturgy director for the Diocese of Winnipeg, Canada.
When the basket was being passed at Mass, I recalled Fr. Darrin starting out his presentation by asking us what we thought the most common responses were to the question “Why the Sunday offering?” The hundred people in the audience chuckled as we came up with the top five responses: to pay bills, to keep God happy, to feed the priest, membership responsibility and an income tax break. There is no doubt that many of us at one time or another held these views. In truth, the answer to that question reveals much about how you and I understand stewardship of generous sharing.
Fr. Darrin recommends that if we want to experience the true reason for the Sunday offering, you and I should go deeper into the offertory ritual by touching the basket with our hands. This is true whether we use envelopes or use electronic funds transfer. In that moment each week, we should discern if our gift truly represents the fruit of our labor. Did our giving cost us something?
Unlike the process of leaving a tip or token in the basket, Fr. Darrin suggested that when we are asked to “pay a price” to give our offertory gift, our lives change. You and I are putting a piece of ourselves in the basket. Our own generosity has the power not to transform God but to transform us.
If we respond to the question “Why the Sunday offering?” with any of the answers above, there is a good chance that the gift we give will not be transformative. Giving to a need and participating in fundraising is limiting. But understanding as humans created in the image of God, we have a need to give not out of obligation but out of gratitude and love, changes everything. Perhaps you are like me and want your relationship with Jesus and his church to grow during every stage of your life. In essence, we long for the ongoing conversion and transformation.
Each time we attend Mass we receive the great gifts of the word of God and body and blood of Jesus. If we listen carefully in the context of this sacred liturgy, you and I are being challenged as stewards to return to the master a portion of what has been entrusted to us. We do this, not to pay the bills of the parish (although it does) or as a stipend because we are “consumers” but to invest in the potential and mission of our parish.
Approaching this opportunity as an honor in which we can give back of our very selves is not something that most of us are familiar with. In our culture of consumerism, is takes a generous amount of prayer and self-reflection.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus is the ultimate steward. He returned to the Father in abundance all that had been given him. The Mass is our reminder of all that Jesus sacrificed and accomplished for us. The offertory is the unique opportunity for you and me to present our gifts, part of our living sacrifice, back to the Lord.
Perhaps we should take Fr. Darrin’s suggestion and spend a moment with the offertory basket next Sunday and reflect upon our gift. Perhaps we should even imagine that Jesus is passing the basket. Transformative? I would say “Yes!”
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.