Stewardship and the New Evangelization, 2017 Florida Statewide Stewardship Day, April 29, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Keynote Speech
2017 Statewide Stewardship Day: “Engaging the Faithful through the Four Pillars of Stewardship”
Hyatt Regency, Orlando
April 29, 2017

 

I was asked to give the keynote address at the 2017 Statewide Stewardship Day for the seven dioceses of the State of Florida on the subject of Stewardship and the New Evangelization. 

To listen to a recording of today’s talk, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the lecture: 

  • Introduction
    • Thank you! It is such a great honor to be here for this historic statewide stewardship day. Last night I found out, in talking to some of the other speakers who are true experts in forming people and transforming parishes to become good stewards that this is the largest stewardship conference in the history of the state of Florida. I’m humbled to have been asked to start us off today, to speak about Stewardship and the New Evangelization. Whenever we speak about the new evangelization, we should be conscious of the first, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, Mary, and many of the disciples huddled in the Upper Room. He came as a strong driving wind, the wind, Jesus said, who blows where he wills, to help the apostles know to put up their sails as he was about to blow them to the ends of the earth; and as tongues of fire, not ice-cold eyeballs, not tepid big toes, but tongues of fire, showing how he was going to help them preach the Gospel with ardent love. It’s that image of the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire given to us, the fire of evangelization, with which I’d like to begin today.
    • Today is the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, the great 14th century Italian mystic and doctor of the Church. Her most famous line, one that St. John Paul II often quoted in his talks to young people, was “Se sarete quello che dovete essere, metterete fuoco in tutta Italia, non tanto costì.” “If you are who you should be, you will set not only Italy but the whole world ablaze.” If you are who should be, you will ignite the world. It’s a focus on our Christian being and actions that are meant to flow freely from that identity. Francis de Sales would later would say that the most important part of living our Christian life, of living a devout or good life was, “Soyez vous mêmes,” “be yourself.” St. Charles Borromeo, who helped reform the whole Church in response to the Protestant Reformation, would say, “Be who you promised to be,” meaning on the day of your baptism, on the day of your Confirmation, on the day of your marriage, or religion consecration, or priestly ordination. If you are as you have been made to be, you will set the globe on fire. But that provokes the questions, “Who are we?” and “Who should we be?” Our most fundamental identity is that we have been created in God’s image, and what we should be is through our actions become his moral likeness. There are many ways to understand what it means to be created in God’s image. Traditionally it was looked upon as what separates us from animals, that, like God, we’re thinkers and choosers, we have reason and free will. Scott Hahn and others have helped us to grasp that, since Christ is the image of the invisible God, that living as God’s image means entering into Jesus’ sonship, becoming heirs of the treasure of God’s life in its fullness and living as chips off the old divine block. St. John Paul II said that the deepest aspect of our being made in the divine image is that we’re called to exist, like God, in a loving communion of persons. But I think we could synthesize all of this complementary truths in a most helpful way for our discussion today on stewardship by saying we’ve been made in the image of God who is an eternal communion of giving and receiving. We’ve been given, as St. John Paul II said, a nuptial nature, meant to exist in a covenant with God and others, the highest earthly reflection of which is the one-flesh, fruitful, faithful, indissoluble union of a man and a woman in the sacrament of marriage. We’re created as beings-for-others, called to love-and-responsibility for others. But we can only give what we have. Before we’re capable of that loving responsibility, we must first receive God’s love and care, our parents’ love and care, our teachers’ love and care, the Church’s love and care. And this leads to the experience of gratitude for what we’ve received that inspires us to care for others not principally out of constraint or dry duty but with a grateful, cheerful and whole heart, paying forward what we received without cost. Stewardship begins with this gratitude. Stewardship is an outgrowth of our being made in the image of God who is the divine giver, of God who is love and loves us to the extreme, of the God who appeared to Moses in the bush that burned but was never consumed, of the God who came down as a tongue of fire, of a God who revealed himself to St. Margaret Mary as a heart on fire.
    • Catherine of Siena in life was who she ought to have been. From the age of six, when she had a mystical experience walking home seeing Jesus in glory surrounded by Saints Peter, Paul and John, and so moved, she wanted to give her whole life to God and help others to come to God. She had a lot of opposition from her family, which wanted her to marry. She had opposition from other third order Dominicans, because the female tertiaries were almost all widows and they were resistant to have such a young, never-been-married girl change the nature of their spiritual club. But she did, and her life gave testimony to the four pillars of stewardship built on Christ as the cornerstone and the successor of St. Peter as the living rock.
      • She welcomed so many who came to her for help. The poor and the hungry entreated her. Public authorities came to her, begging her assistance to come to try to secure peace. Those searching for God, for spiritual direction, came to her. And she welcomed them all, by the hundreds. She was a model of hospitality who saw in others the image of Christ.
      • Her life was an existence made prayer. She didn’t just pray but became a pray-er, for prayer is far more than an exchange of words or ideas but an exchange of persons in which God abides in us and we in him. God blessed her with himself and she shared him, allowing others to enter into her verbal and existential dialogues with God, passing onto others the fruits of her contemplation and teaching them, likewise, how to grow in prayer through praying with her. Prayer was so much the source of her life that she literally survived on the Eucharist alone for years.
      • She was formed and sought to form God formed her in prayer and the Dominicans of Siena took it from there, helping her advance, so that she could continuously and literally re-form through constantly conversion and con-form her life more and more to God. And she then formed many others to learn how to live the Gospel. She essentially established around her a school of holiness that brought many — including popes, bishops, priests, friars, prominent civic leaders and so many ordinary people — to repentance and faith. She passed on as of the first importance, with a grateful heart, the gift of faith (1 Cor 15:3).
      • And she served others out of love. Surrounded by so many who no matter how much older they were called her “mama,” she would go out to care for the ill during times of influenza when others were fleeing. She cared for those in the primitive Italian hospitals of the day when family members were expected to be nurses but stayed away from their relatives’ contagions. She took responsibility for the poor, for the orphans, for widows, for so many others in need, and trained others likewise to be stewards of, and Good Samaritans to, their neighbor. She served the common good in an extraordinary way as a peacemaker, intervening as an arbitrator to settle disputes between city states and nations. And she exercised a particular care for the Church as a whole, which was desperately in need of reform. She traveled to Avignon France to persuade Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after the Avignon Captivity, something he did two years later, commanding her to join him in Rome to try to reform the city. In an age in which there would have been every excuse to pass the buck to others and just focus on her own prayer, St Catherine’s prayer led her outward, taking responsibility for others’, the Church’s and the world’s problems. She took stewardship over issues that no one would have expected a young woman who died at the age of 33 to tackle. But God worked through her. She was who God was calling her to be, she set the world on fire, and her fire still burns.
    • Right before coming here to Florida, as I stopped by the rectory where I live in Manhattan to get my suitcase, I saw Archbishop Charles Brown on the stairs. He’s just finished as Papal Nuncio to Ireland and is staying with for a little while in his home town before he takes up his new assignment as Apostolic Nuncio to Albania. Seeing my carry-on, he asked where I was going. I told him I was coming here and, knowing it would be the feast of St. Catherine, he told me that he would pray through her intercession for me and for you. I told him I was planning to start my talk by mentioning her famous quotation, se sarete quello che dovete…, and he asked whether I knew the source where St. Catherine had said it. Sometimes, we know, there are quotations for which no one can find the actual source, like for example, the one often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach always, and if necessary use words.” I told him that I would try to find the source! Last night I found it — during a commercial when the Celtics were crushing the Chicago Bulls — and sent it to him. It was in one of St. Catherine’s letters, and the context is important not just to understand why she said what she said but also to learn something about what’s needed to move others to a life featuring the four pillars.
      • The letter was written from Rome to Stefano Maconi, one of her young spiritual directees who was in Siena. She said, “Dearest son in Christ, sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you arise from the lukewarmness of your heart, lest you be spewed from the mouth of God, hearing this rebuke, ‘Cursed are you, the lukewarm! Would you had at least been ice-cold!’”
      • She was quoting from the Book of Revelation Christ’s words to the Church of Laodicea, which many have said bears a resemblance to the Church today in the United States and Western Europe. “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
      • Catherine diagnosed for Stefano the root of his tepidity. “This lukewarmness,” she said, “proceeds from ingratitude, which comes from a faint light that does not let us see the agonizing and utter love of Christ crucified, and the infinite benefits received from Him. For in truth, if we saw them, our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon thee, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew. …  Be fervent and not tepid. … If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy and beyond!
      • Lukewarmness flows from ingratitude, she says, a lack of thankfulness for the extraordinary love of the Lord and the “infinite benefits,” the blessings, he has given. Once we really grasp those benefits, she says, our hearts would burn for love, we would be starving for time — like she was! — to use all we are and have to spread God’s honor and help bring others to salvation. Gratitude is the source of stewardship and ingratitude leads not only to tepidity but to so many other spiritual maladies, because we often fail to see ourselves as created in the image of the Divine Giver called to give our all our mind, heart, soul and strength to God and to others in God.
      • Pope Francis has also talked about this ingratitude that leads to lukewarmness and lack of stewardship. It’s from a book length interview given a few years before he was elected Pope in the context of a passage about the gratitude we should have for God’s having saved us, with overflowing mercy. He said:
        • (Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio, El Jesuita) An authentically Christian discipleship begins our recognition that we’re sinners in need of salvation and the concomitant experience that that Savior looks on us with merciful love. “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope Francis said in “El Jesuita.” At the Easter Vigil, he says, we sing “O Felix culpa,” exulting in the “happy sin” that brought us to experience the love of the Redeemer. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio said, “he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.” Many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved,” he lamented. He then gave a powerful metaphor of what the true experience of God’s mercy is like. “It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone’s risking his life to save a boy drowning in the river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning and someone gives his life to save me.” That’s what Christ did for us to save us from the eternal watery grave of the deluge of sin. That’s what we should celebrate every day of our life, just like someone whose life has been saved by a hero would never be able to forget it, not to mention thank him enough. Unfortunately, he said, “There are people to whom you tell the story who don’t see it, who don’t want to see, who don’t want to know what happened to that boy, or who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are. I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.”
      • It’s imperative for each of us to ask: Do I recognize what God has given? Do I know who I am? Do I grasp that God loves me so much that he gave his life to save mine, and would do so over and over again if I still needed saving? Unless we see this, unless we realize God’s “infinite benefits,” we will never understand him, ourselves or who he wants us to become. We will never be able to be who we should be and enkindle the world.
      • I’d like to finish these introductory remarks with one more thought on the theme of the fire of evangelization, on setting the world ablaze, and its relationship to stewardship. Jesus summarized his entire mission, which he has entrusted us to continue and complete in time, by saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49). Christ wants us to be a holy team of spiritual arsonists, sparking a great worldwide bonfire of love, a holy conflagration of charity for God and others.
      • But do you know the passage that comes right before these words of Jesus in St. Luke’s Gospel? They’re about stewardship, about what it takes to be a good and faithful steward. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute [the] food allowance at the proper time?,” adding, “Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.” But he contrast the good and prudent steward with the lukewarm one. “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.” Jesus concluded, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 42:49).
      • That’s what leads into Jesus’ words about fire. He shared his agony with his disciples because he wants stewards on fire, those who will distribute his nourishment to others at the time they need it, those who are always found caring for others, so that whenever Christ comes, they willl be doing what they should according to their identity as his chosen servants. What agonized Jesus is that so many are not on fire. They think that they have all the time in the world to do other less important things. There live with no urgency to do what they should. They don’t realize what they’ve been given and how the Lord wants them to be stewards of that gift full-time, so that no matter when he comes they’ll be faithful, prudent ready to receive his blessing.
      • Let’s get more specific about what we have been given, about the contents of our stewardship, and what he wants us to do with it. In another part of the Gospel, Jesus describes in a parable just how much each of us has been blessed, something that’s so good for us to ponder at the beginning of this day.
      • In St. Matthew, Jesus says, “A man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one — to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ [Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
      • There are so many lessons in this parable:
        • The parable discusses how we use the gifts God has given us. The good steward is the one who precisely “invests” the “talents” God has given him: the talent of his life; the talent of his health, education and know-how; the talent of his work; the talent of natural, spiritual, and material gifts; the talent of his opportunities; the talent of his faith; the talent of the Sacraments; the talent of his parish and diocese.
        • The Master carefully assesses the natural abilities of each servant, but he is very generous to each. A talent was the largest denomination of the time, equivalent to 6,000 days wages, about 16-and-two-thirds years worth of work, so it was a huge amount. In today’s money, if one were making $12.50 an hour, one talent would be equivalent to $600,000. So even the one who had received one talent had received a fortune. We might not be as gifted as it seems some others are, they might seem to have twice or five or more times the gifts we do, but by these quantities Jesus is saying that we’re all really gifted!
        • We see God’s extraordinary reward if we’re faithful stewards. He says to the ones who put the talents to the service of his kingdom, who made his gifts grow, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Lord.” When we respond to God and are faithful to his trust, God blesses us with even greater gifts to invest, not out of some type of human incentivization or favoritism — because God wants to bless us all abundantly — but because when we use the gifts he’s given us we are more greatly and gratefully receptive to his further gifts.
        • We see quite clearly the problem with the third servant. His problem was fear. The master in the Parable was angered at the timidity of the servant who had received the one talent. In the rabbinical teaching of the age, it was possible to hide the money in the ground. Burying, in fact, was regarded as the best security against theft. If a person entrusted with money buried it as soon as he took possession of it, he would be free from liability should anything happen to it, something that would not obtain in the case of money that one had hidden in some other way. In the Parable, Jesus went against cultural convention to make the point about putting God’s gifts to use to encourage reasonable risk-taking. The Master considered burying the talent— and thus breaking even—to be foolish, because he believed capital should earn a reasonable rate of return. The ferocity of the Master’s reaction to the wasting of opportunity is noteworthy: He calls him “wicked and slothful” and banishes him forever. Apparently it is not just the servant’s sloth that brings such wrath on his head. He has also shown no contrition, and has blamed the master for his timidity. His excuse for not investing the money is that he viewed the master as a hard and exacting man, though he had been given generous resources. Out of fear of failure, he has refused to even try to succeed. We learn here lessons for stewardship. If we have the false idea of God, we will often be afraid of him, afraid of his gifts, afraid of Hell. Where when we know how good he, we want to love like he loves. Poor stewards are too concerned about themselves, about their earthly security, about what might happen if they’re “too” generous, or take too much of a risk in caring for others. They often place their security in what they have such that they don’t want to lose it, rather than placing their trust in God and in his providence, that he who cares for the lilies and the sparrows will care for them. They begin to serve mammon by obsessing about preserving mammon, whereas God calls us to serve him with mammon.
        • This last point is made clear in the occasionally confusing parable of the Dishonest steward in Luke 16:1-13, in which Jesus tells us that we should use all that we have for his kingdom, if not out of love for God and others, at least out of self-interest. He calls us to make friends for ourselves with all that God has given us, to be like the steward who cut his commissions so that others would welcome him into their homes.
          • Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
        • We either serve God or mammon. We can’t serve both. And therefore if we’re going to serve God, all of our material goods, all that we’ve received, are meant to be talents that we invest for God’s glory. That’s the secret of life. That’s the means by which we store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. That’s the way we make it through the eye of the needle. That’s the way we become perfect, like God is perfect. To be a good, faithful and prudent steward is to seek to see everything we have as a trust God has placed in our hands to build ourselves up, bless others, and build his kingdom.
  • Stewardship and Evangelization
    • I’d like to go more deeply into the heart of our topic today, Stewardship and Evangelization.
    • Every Pope since the Second Vatican Council has made the new evangelization his top priority.
      • Blessed Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi stressed that the Church exists to evangelize, said that the Church exists to form evangelized evangelizers and stressed that that would most effectively happen not through words but through the witness of a life changed by Jesus.
      • John Paul II in his travels called himself a “pilgrim pope of evangelization,” coined the pharse New evangelization in Santo Domingo — new in “ardor, method and expression” — criss-crossed the world to 104 different countries sharing the faith, and left us an extraordinary exhortation on the Mission of the Redeemer, a mission which we continue.
      • Pope Benedict, both prior to and during his Pontificate, tried to stir up the Church to recognize why we need a new evangelization and how it would be achieved not by gimmicks but by returning to the basics with new fervor. We’ll listen to a couple of his thoughts soon.
      • But Pope Francis was elected after a powerful intervention to the cardinal electors on the type of evangelization needed today and explicitly gave us his whole platform of Church reform through evangelization in his programmatic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel. He called for a total transformation of the Church so that every institution of the Church takes part in mission. He wrote in Evangelic Gaudier (EG) 27: “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” He said earlier in EG 15 that preaching the Gospel is the “first task of the Church,” but asks, “What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.”
    • But what is evangelization? What does it mean to be evangelized?
      • The clearest articulation of what it is came from the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a December 2000 address to catechists during the Great Jubilee. He said: “At the beginning of His public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Lk 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path towards happiness – rather: I am that path.” Jesus responds to the deepest poverty, which, the Cardinal continued, is the “tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory,” a life without joy that produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice, and other destructive responses to the lack of meaning. “This is why we are in need of a new evangelization,” he finished, for “if the art of living remains and unknown, nothing else works.” One of the reasons why we need a New Evangelization, he said, is because “a large part of today’s humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent evangelization of the Church, that is to say, the convincing response to the question: How to live? This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and uninterrupted and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to “classic” evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.”
      • To be evangelized means to receive Christ the seed on good soil and bear fruit 30, 60, 100 fold. It means not to receive on hardened, or rocky/superficial, or thorny/divided-by-pleasures-or-anxieties soil. It means to allow Christ to become the real defining aspect of one’s life.
    • The process of evangelization was described in the famous Aparecida document of the Episcopal Conferences of the Caribbean and Latin America in 2007, for which Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was the principal author. It involves five basic steps, which I think are right on:
      • The first step is the Encounter with Jesus Christ:
        • Many have never encountered Christ.
        • Problem with ex-Catholics, with the nones, with the millennials. They haven’t discovered Christ where they should have. It’s dry. Lifeless. Godless.
        • We need to promote this encounter in prayer, adoration, the word of God, each of the Sacraments — especially the Eucharist and Confession — in Christian service, in clergy and Christians who remind others of Jesus.
        • EG 264: The primary reason for evangelizing is the love and salvation of Jesus that we have received, urging us to greater love of him. “What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?”
        • EG 265: Evangelization responds to that expectation. “We have a treasure of life and love that cannot deceive, and a message that cannot mislead or disappoint.” It ennobles us and is never out of date. This infinite love cures our infinite sadness.
        • EG 266: We must sustain this conviction through savoring Christ’s friendship and message. It’s impossible to persevere in fervent evangelization “unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. …We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.” A true missionary doesn’t evangelize alone, but with Jesus. This helps us not to lose enthusiasm, passion and vigor.
        • EG 7: “If we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”
        • We facilitate that encounter by preaching the centrality of our faith, what the Church has always called the “kerygma” from the Greek word for “proclamation” used by St. Paul. Pope Francis describes the kerygma as the truth that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
      • The second step is conversion.
        • We often have faulty notions of conversion, focused first the sins we need to leave behind, rather than focused on God, his mercy and his help to leave those sins behind. Conversion involves three moments: aversion from sin, adversion to God, and conversion (literally, “turning with”) Jesus Christ.
        • This truth about the deepest meaning of conversion was beautifully described by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his Great Jubilee address to Catechists in 2000. He said, “The fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the message by John the Baptist: metanoete – Convert! There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching Jesus without answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus took up the message of John in the synthesis of His own preaching: [repent and believe]. The Greek word for converting means: to rethink, to question one’s own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of one’s life; to judge not merely according to the current opinions. Therefore, to convert means: not to live as all the others live, not to do what all the others are doing, not to feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just because others are doing the same; [it means] to begin to see one’s life through the eyes of God; [it means] therefore looking for the good, even if uncomfortable, not aiming at the judgment of the majority of men, but on the justice of God; [it means] in other words: to look for a new style of life, a new life.”
        • Conversion means we look to Jesus and recognize we’re not who we are supposed to be, who we want to be, whom God wants to help us become. And we seek that new life, that real life in Jesus. It’s true that once we see ourselves in the mirror of Jesus’ eyes burning with love toward us, we begin to see the ways we need to change, including the eyes we have to pluck out and the hands and the feet we need to chop off. We see the sins that cry out for his mercy and go to him like a patient to a doctor to be healed and restored and live in a spiritually healthy way. But the excising of sin comes after the encounter with Jesus and seeing in him the image of who we really are.
        • Aparecida: “It is the initial response of those who have listened to the Lord in wonder, who believe in Him through the action of the Spirit, and who decide to be His friend and go with him, changing how they think and live, accepting the cross of Christ, conscious that dying to sin is attaining life. In Baptism and the sacrament of Reconciliation Christ’s Redemption is actualized for us.”
      • The third step is discipleship:
        • We become Jesus’ student. That’s what disciple means in Greek. Student comes from the Latin word to be zealous, to be on fire. To be Jesus’ disciple means to be on fire.
        • Not just knowing what Jesus has taught. But seeking to become like the master.
        • Story of Italian porn actor who had graduated with an ethics degree from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart: to be a student means not just to regurgitate what a teacher taught, but to live it.
        • So discipleship is when we become the living images of Jesus’ teaching, so that others in us may see someone who knows Jesus Christ, whose life has been changed by Jesus Christ, and who seeks to follow him all the way.
        • For this we and others need on going formation, catechesis, sacramental life, Word of God.
      • The fourth step is communion:
        • Jesus came ultimately to found a family. He prayed during the Last Supper for us to be one, just as the Father and He are one, so that the world might know that the Father sent Him and that the Father loves us just as much as he loves the Son. Church communion is a key part of the new evangelization, for others to know Christ’s identity and come to experience his love.
        • Unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit’s work. It’s a consequence of the Eucharist, which has as its ultimate purpose (res et sacramentum) our becoming through receiving Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, one body, one spirit in Christ.
        • We see this type of communion and its consequences for evangelization in the early Church. They had all things in common. They prayed together, went to the Temple together, ate together, and sacrificed for each other, laying all of the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to share with those who had most need. This had enormous evangelical appeal. People came because of that communion. People still long for it. They’d be busting down the doors of our Churches if we had it to the extent that God wants us to have it.
        • This is why welcoming or hospitality is so important on one of the pillars of stewardship. The two great reasons why people drift away from the Church, according to the CARA surveys, are bad preaching and lack of community. The two biggest scandals of all: Clergy who preach without tongues of holy fire and Catholics who come to Mass without hearts on fire for God and others, especially newcomers.
        • Aparecida: “There can be no Christian life except in community: in families, parishes, communities of consecrated life, base communities, other small communities, and movements. Like the early Christians who met in community, the disciples take part in the life of the Church, and in the encounter with brothers and sisters, living the love of Christ in solidarity, in fraternal life. They are also accompanied and encouraged by the community and its shepherds as they mature in the live of the Spirit.”
      • The final step, the real fruit and crown of evangelization, is mission:
        • If we’ve been evangelized, we become evangelizers. The fruit of the seed planted grows and contains lots of seeds that can help others grow.
        • When we’ve been evangelized, we make our own St. Paul’s expression, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).
        • When we’ve met and received Jesus, converted and have begun to follow him, we share that with others, to bring them to know Jesus and share communion with us. That’s what we see in the Samaritan woman at the well. That’s what we see with so many who were cured by Jesus of physical ailments. That’s what we see in St. Matthew when he was called.
        • The truth is that we have the medicine others need, the antidote for death, the words and food of eternal life. How can we keep that to ourselves?
        • Aparecida: “As they get to know and love their Lord, disciples experience the need to share with others their joy at being sent, at going to the world to proclaim Jesus Christ, dead and risen, to make real the love and service in the person of the neediest, in short, to build the Kingdom of God. Mission is inseparable from discipleship, and hence it must not be understood as a stage subsequent to formation, although it is carried out in different ways, depending on one’s own vocation and on the moment in human and Christian maturation at which the person stands.”
    • When we talk about the relationship between stewardship and evangelization, the central point I want to make is that stewardship is both a root and a fruit of evangelization, it’s something that leads people to this process of being evangelized, and something that flows from this process in all of its aspects.
      • Let’s start first with the fruit, which is perhaps more obvious.
        • Encountering Jesus as he really is changes the way we approach life, everything we have, where we’re going, what we hope to accomplish. We recognize the gift we’ve received and not only don’t want to waste it but want to treasure it and to the extent possible share it.
        • The conversion that flows from meeting Jesus and experiencing his calling us to be holy as he is holy, merciful as God is merciful, perfect (fit) for completing our task as he is perfect, and loving others as he has loved us first — all of this changes us. We begin to see we can no longer live for ourselves. We don’t want be selfish. We begin to see our neighbor not as a threat but as a gift, even as Christ in disguise, and that revolutionizes everything.
        • Discipleship leads us to take Jesus’ words seriously, to open ourselves up to his instruction through the Church, to receive his help to put what he teaches into practice, to yoke ourselves to him in caring for ourselves, for others, for the Church, for our family, for our parish and diocese and world, and beyond. True disciples seek to be good stewards. Stewardship is the Disciples’ Response, as the US Bishops’ Document, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, reminds us.
        • When we begin to live in communion, we live in mutual and reciprocal responsible, loving care for each other. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We share their burdens, sorrows and joys. Like the early Church, we assist each other. We become our brother’s and sister’s keeper!
        • And when we start to identify with and live out the mission of the Church, we do all that we can to try to facilitate that mission, welcoming others, praying for them and with them, passing on as of first importance what we ourselves have received, seeking to enter into deeper communion with them in God, helping them to assist us in caring for the mission of the Church as if we, like the first followers of Jesus, were responsible for bringing this gift to the whole world. They couldn’t pass the buck to another 12. We shouldn’t think we can. Some people may never come to know Jesus if we don’t introduce them to him. St. Therese’s comments about Africa, that the reason why there were so many who hadn’t heard of Christ’s saving name despite 1850 years of the Church, the reason behind the need for missionaries there, was because of the failure of previous Christians to be so fully evangelized that they would burn to share their faith. One of the reasons why we need a new evangelization is because so many of us have thought that others would pick up our slack as we gave our time, energy, resources to other things. The truly evangelized disciple seeks to help everyone become missionary disciples in communion.
      • We can also focus on how stewardship is a root of evangelization.
        • When we ask people’s help, when we ask others to be responsible and exercise some stewardship with us however small, they can begin to grow in such a way that they go from not even followers to become Christians, or from those on the margins to the center, or from lukewarm to on fire.
        • A study of priestly vocations in 2014, entitled, The Influence of College Experiences on Vocational Discernment to Priesthood and Religious Life, showed that the most important factors for helping young men open themselves to a priestly vocation and respond were being asked by at least three people, having a spiritual director to discern what God was asking, and the invitation to participate in true Christian service. It was the experience of helping others in Appalachia, or in Central or South America, or in the poorest areas of Africa or Asia that changed them, or in their own parishes or campuses, that led them to take their faith more seriously, to see why it matters.
        • We see this same lesson with so many teens and young adults. When they’re asked to get involved, they often begin to grow, to recognize that their life is meant to be given, and that, since they can only give what they have, they want to grow in faith so that they can give God. But the same lesson happens with older adults. I remember arriving to the first parish where I was pastor and desperately needed a new director for our food pantry, which fed several hundred families a week. A woman responded, an emergency room nurse named Paula Briden. She was looking for some way to grow in faith and give back and the thought of so many hungry moved her to get involved. And through that process, she grew tremendously in faith, vastly improved the food pantry, and catalyzed so many other volunteers and recipients to grow in faith, too. Stewardship, exercising responsibility in the Church, can be a greater starter for growth.
        • President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to say that if you want someone to take you seriously, don’t do something for him, let him do something for you. Then that person will be invested in your success. It’s crass. It’s Machiavellian. But there’s an important principle at work that we should know. When people sacrifice for someone or something, they do in general take it more seriously. When we ask others to get involved in helping with some aspect of the Church, God can and does use that initial responsibility, that first “talent,” to lead them from that perhaps humble starting point to much bigger responsibilities and gifts. With Portuguese men in one of my parishioners, I started with asking their help to build things. As they showed me construction, I helped them, in the time we spent together, to strengthen the foundations of their spiritual life. With Portuguese women, I began with their using their talents in the kitchen during Church dinners to get them to hunger for ever word coming from God’s mouth. With parents, I asked them to start as a teacher’s aid in religious ed because we just needed a responsible “body,” but from there, the Master began to aid them. My own faith grew as an altar boy, where I went from the “need” to help the priest to getting to know more and more about the priesthood and drawing closer to prists themselves.
        • To summarize, stewardship is not just a fruit but a root of leading people step-by-step to the fullness of the faith. Another way of saying it is that stewardship is part of evangelization at the beginning, at the end and at every part in between. And when stewardship is truly be lived as it ought, we’re correlatively evangelizing in every application of stewardship: our faith is something we treasure and feel responsible for, as we are those persons or activities or things that have been placed in our hands and hearts.
      • The call to evangelizing stewardship and to taking responsibility for evangelization.
        • Pope Benedict used to talk often, in contrast to the culture of passing the buck, of a culture of “co-responsibility” of all of us in the Church — laity, clergy, religious, men, women, young, old, everyone in between — for the fulfillment of the Mission entrusted to us by Christ. His words are so relevant to our theme today.
        • He said to a 2009 convocation of the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, “Brothers and sisters, … to what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged? In past centuries, thanks to the generous witness of all the baptized who spent their life educating the new generations in the faith, healing the sick and going to the aid of the poor, the Christian community proclaimed the Gospel to the inhabitants of Rome. The self-same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city in which many of the baptized have strayed from the path of the Church and those who are Christian are unacquainted with beauty of our faith. … There is still a long way to go. Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services. Compared to the number of inhabitants in each parish, the lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields, although they profess to be Catholic, are still few and far between. Of course, social and cultural difficulties abound but faithful to the Lord’s mandate, we cannot resign ourselves to preserving what exists. Trusting in the grace of the Spirit whom the Risen Christ guaranteed to us, we must continue on our way with renewed energy. What paths can we take? In the first place we must renew our efforts for a formation that is more attentive and focused on the vision of the Church. … At the same time, it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people. This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as “co-responsible”, for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. This common awareness of being Church of all the baptized in no way diminishes the responsibility of parish priests. It is precisely your task, dear parish priests, to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes. They form the core of the community that will act as a leaven for the ”
        • Do we feel just as responsible for the Mission of the Church as Pope Francis? As Archbishop Wenski, Bishop Noonan and Bishop Estevez? As the priests, deacons and religious in the room? As the Blessed Mother, as St. Peter and the apostles, as St. Mary Magdalene, as the disciples from Emmaus, as the great saints throughout the centuries like Paul, Francis Xavier, John Paul II, and Catherine of Siena? If the Church in our country entered into a time of martyrdom and all the other Catholics in our parish were killed, would we take the responsibility of rebuilding once it was possible?
  • Conclusion
    • Today, we know, Pope Francis is in Egypt. We pray for his safety. Egypt was once one of the great strongholds of Christianity, with Alexandria in particular serving as one of the five principal sees in the early Church. It’s a place that produced many saints like Anthony of the Desert, Paul of the Desert, Athanasius and Christopher. But I’d like to bring this talk toward conclusion by mentioning a saint you may not know all that well, but who is famous in Church history for forming the first monasteries, what we call cenobitic monks, those who in contrast to hermits, would go out into the desert to seek God together. In his story, we see the crucial importance of stewardship in evangelization, particularly the pillar of service.
    • Pachomius was a pagan and at 20 the Romans conscripted him into their army. The habit of the Romans in distant territories was to lock their “impressed” soldiers in prisons at night so that they wouldn’t try to escape and go home. While Pachomius and other Egyptians were locked in jail, a huge famine hit the territory of Thebes where basically even the Romans didn’t have enough food. They could have starved to death. But each night, strangers started to slip food between the bars. Food was in short supply, but they were sharing it any way. Pachomius at first didn’t ask questions, thinking that it might be provided by the army, but soon it became clear it wasn’t the army. Before he had a chance to speak to the people who were giving food that could have been confiscated by the Romans, they marched out to another area. But grateful for his survival, he said that after his release he would want to go back to find out more about them. About a year later, when he had finished his obligations, he sought them out. He discovered that they were disciples of Jesus. He became a catechumen and grew in faith. Evntually he realized there was another famine ravaging the area, a famine for God, a famine within him and others. And so he went out into the desert just as Jesus had done. He became a father to so many other monks who surrounded him, giving them spiritual food day and night. They called him “Abba” for “Daddy,” from which we get the term “Abbot.” But his stewardship for them would perhaps never had happened were it not for the simple stewardship of the Christians of Thebes. Little do we know whther our stewardship, our responsibility for a parish, or for people in need, may produce future great saints, Popes, world-changing figures bringing Christ’s kingdom. As St. Teresa of Calcutta used to say, God asks to be faithful, not necessarily successful. But if we seek to be good and faithful stewards, we leave the rest to God, knowing that he can multiply our efforts manifold. This is what we saw in the charity of the early Church. Pope Benedict said in 2009, “Historians answer the question as to how the success of Christianity in the first centuries can be explained … by saying that it was the experience of Christian charity in particular that convinced the world. Living charity is the primary form of missionary outreach. The word proclaimed and lived becomes credible if it is incarnate in behavior that demonstrates solidarity and sharing, in deeds that show the Face of Christ as man’s true Friend. … Therefore be ‘Good Samaritans,’ ready to treat the material and spiritual wounds of your brethren.” The early Christians were who they were supposed to be, who they promised to be.
    • Let’s finish with St. Catherine, with whose words, “If you are who you should be you will set the world ablaze,” we began this historic day. At this Stewardship and Evangelization Conference on the four pillars, God wants to remind us of who we are, how much he loves us, how much he trusts us, how much he’s counting on us. He wants to restore us more and more deeply in his image. He wants to send to us anew the gift and fire of the Holy Spirit, so that, like we at the Easter vigil when we lit by the Risen Jesus symbolically as our tapers are lit by the Paschal candle and then go as stewards of the light to ignite others’ tapers, we may today begin a holy firestorm that the winds of the world can’t extinguish as God send us out to the furthest confines of Florida and even to the United Nations to enkindle the fire of divine love and thereby renew the face of the earth. This is what we were made for. Let’s go light the world on fire!

The poster for the Conference was: