Stewardship and the works of mercy

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | November 18, 2016

maryannotto_web-graphicI’m concerned, are you? We just celebrated Stewardship Weekend with the theme “Live Discipleship!”

It potentially was a time of empowerment for all of us who profess to believe in and follow Jesus to gratefully move forward on our journeys of prayer, service and generous sharing. Hopefully you were able to listen to that inner voice inviting you to a deeper relationship with Christ through Christian stewardship.

But the climate in our country is suggesting that there is currently, and perhaps will be more so in the future, an urgency to address the needs of the under-resourced in our parishes and surrounding communities. I have talked about how local churches are the “hope of the world.” It is even more evident now that it is you and me who will need to step up in a proactive and serious manner that goes beyond the boundaries of our current parish practices. Yes, it will mean more time in prayer, more use of our talents in service and more sharing of our financial resources.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses our relationship with the poor not as a responsibility to the “entitled” but a “love for the poor.” It states: “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them” (CCC 2443). It continues: “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.  The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead” (CCC 2447).

The under-resourced in our parishes and local communities have different faces. How do we respond as Christian stewards to the nutrition and medical needs of children, the working poor, the elderly who are alone, those who are addicted or with mental health issues? It can be so overwhelming for one person to consider, but for the “Body of Christ” nothing is impossible! The generosity and love of Christian stewards and the work of many hands can accomplish amazing things.

There is no doubt that there are wonderful “works of mercy efforts” going on in the diocese. I can’t help but think of Sunday Suppers started at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Two Rivers and picked up by Holy Spirit Parish in Kimberly/Darboy. The parishes invite anyone in their community to join them for a meal and fellowship. They send drivers or a bus to pick up those who need transportation. Amazingly, they never have a difficult time acquiring volunteers or donations to cover the cost of the meals. The power of the Holy Spirit working creatively in the gifts and talents of the faithful is wonderful.

Many of our parishes have in-house food pantries or ongoing collections for local food banks, as well as those that support Leaven or other organizations. What a blessing you have been! The Catechism reminds us: “The church’s love for the poor … is a part of her constant tradition.” This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, the poverty of Jesus, and his concern for the poor. Love of the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to “be able to give to those in need” (CCC 2444).

In light of the current climate, do you think your parish understands and has its hands on the pulse of the needs in your community? Are you aware of the changes in neighborhoods and demographics? Have you been involved in the same types of parish outreach for years? Do you have an active Social Concerns Committee to assist your pastor/pastoral leader and parish council? Do you invite new members to join on a regular basis?

If we are to be the “hope in our neighborhoods” and are going to be proactive, we need to address these important questions. Perhaps, if you feel you have been in spiritual, emotional or physical “retirement” from witnessing to the love of Jesus through generosity and service, now might be the time to reconsider your call to Christian stewardship.

Does your parish need a “jumpstart” or guidance in this matter? I’m happy to recommend Eric Weydt, Catholic Social Justice coordinator for the Diocese of Green Bay. He can be reached at [email protected] and will be able to provide you with important information and help you to get organized.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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