The transformative power of stewardship

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | February 17, 2017

Consider this image of the seed and the soil from a stewardship perspective: We are the seeds who have been baptized and are professed followers of Jesus. As disciples, we wrap ourselves and our daily lives in the foundational principles of the good steward. We are trusting in God, giving of our first fruits, gratitude, hospitality, knowing everything belongs to God. We are grounded in prayer/worship and generously share our talents in service and our financial blessings with the church and the world.

The soil in this image is the current reality of our parish, our community and our world. It encompasses not only the joy, but also the many issues that are difficult outcomes of poverty and injustice. As seeds we are then planted into the soil to bear fruit and witness to the love of Jesus, but also to help transform our current reality. We become the hands and voice of the most vulnerable. It calls us to throw open the doors of our parish and become the “field hospital” that Pope Francis often talks about.

Powerful image, especially when it is a guiding force in a country whose goal is to become the church of the poor.

One of my favorite mantras has always been, “You just never know when you get up in the morning …”

The invitation to go on a stewardship mission trip came last fall and in January I found myself over 6,000 miles from home, standing with my feet firmly planted in the Philippines. My initial rationale for going was to share some insights and best practices on stewardship as a response to discipleship and to offer a StrengthsFinder workshop. It was also a way of saying “thank you” to a church that has sent priests to our diocese to assist with our clergy shortage. Of course, God’s plans encompassed so much more.

As you may know, the Philippines is an incredibly beautiful country in the developing world, made up of about 7,100 tropical islands. In spite of their humble surroundings, the Filipino people are lovely and very hospitable. The country is densely populated at about 101 million people (in 116, 000 square miles) with 80 million being Roman Catholic. When you compare that to the United States, which is about 72 million Catholics in about 3.8 million square miles, a much clearer picture unfolds. I visited one parish that had 150,000 members.

Catholic Filipinos are very religious. They flock to church for Mass and confession. On the weekend, city parishes often have Masses on the hour, every hour, beginning at 4 a.m. and continuing through 8 p.m. The worship space is full. It is a beautiful experience to worship with them.

All generations are present. Their devotion to Mary, the Child Jesus, the rosary as well as to eucharistic adoration is remarkable. Yet, according to some pastors and bishops, there seemed to be a disconnect between their religiosity and spirituality. How was their religiosity transforming their daily lives?

The introduction to the spirituality of stewardship began in the Philippine church in the year 2000. Nationally known stewardship speaker and author from Denver, Colo., and Filipino native, Mila Glodava, went home to share the joy and impact of stewardship. Her goal was to assist her childhood parish in becoming strong and viable. Mila also wanted parishioners to become hope for each other in their developing world circumstances. Stewardship took root in 2003, when nationally recognized stewardship expert Fr. Andrew Kemberling, also from Denver, joined Mila in the Philippines to address additional pastors and bishops.

It has been 17 years since the spirituality of stewardship has been introduced into the Church of the Philippines. For the parishes that have embraced it, amazing things have been accomplished. New churches and chapels have been built by everyone giving a little from their substance (minimum wage is $10 a day), people have found they could serve in ministries even if they were not wealthy or educated, they have created Basic Ecclesial Communities (small faith sharing groups) for prayer and support and some have hired their first paid staff person.

The story that brings me back to the image of the seed and the soil is that involving a major rainstorm, flooding and horrific landslide which killed 1,000 people including the local diocesan chancellor. People in this community lost what little they had.  Yet, in their own grief, they came out to help each other. Some of the bishops wept.  When I heard the story, I did too. Stewardship is transformative.

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

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