Monday, January 25, 2010
Bishop Felipe Estevez
The earthquake in Haiti was a cry for help to our hearts. And the solidarity towards a suffering humanity has been notable and admirable.
There will always be humanitarian emergencies knocking on the door of our hearts. But there is another type of aid which is essentially as important as an emergency, the type that emanates not from the outside but from the inside: from a faithful and generous heart. This aid is motivated by co-responsibility in the Church, because we are all members of the body of Christ, and we call it simply: stewardship.
Ironically, stewardship is founded on the premise that God does not need anything from us. It is we who, by virtue of our dignity as children of God, need to give generously. A preface says it so well, telling God: “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift.” This is the secret of our generosity, the conviction that we have been abundantly blessed by the Lord in multiple ways, in an endless number of events in our personal history. Jesus said this to his apostles in the form of a proverb: “without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.” (Matt. 10:8) And the bishop-theologian St. Irenaeus adds: “He needs no sacrifice from us, but the offerer is himself glorified through his offering, if his gift is accepted.” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book 4, 18).
Stewardship is a ritual we practice weekly, “on the first day of the week,” the day of the Lord. My family gives its offering during the cult of adoration. Love is paid, literally, with love. My offering is a response to the one who loved us to the point of giving his own life for us. That is why Scripture speaks about the proportion of the offering: “No one shall appear before the Lord empty-handed, but each of you with as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the Lord, your God, has bestowed on you.” (Deut. 16:17) And here is the cause of the great difficulties of the Church: the laity do not give in proportion to their blessings!
The vocations of total consecration are the best examples of stewardship because they reveal the total giving to God of a human being’s freedom – the joy of the total gift.
Jesus highlighted the gesture of a poor widow who gave her only coin as an offering to the temple because it was an expression of her total self-giving: “For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mk. 12:44) Ireneaus also comments: “That is, whereas the men of old consecrated a tenth part of their goods, those who have freedom put their entire property at the Lord’s disposal. Joyfully and freely they give their lesser goods because of their hope of greater ones to come – like the poor widow who threw her whole livelihood into the treasury of God.”
That is why I believe that no multimillion dollar offering surpasses the value of the offering made by the Church’s Curé of Ars!
The Cursillo movement has helped the lay faithful understand the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, captured in the slogan “I am the Church.” The saying has many practical consequences that call forth my talents, my time and my treasure. In reality, everything, everything I have, belongs to God. My only duty is to know how to administer it well and with a generosity that matches the gift of Christ. This is the challenge, since this measure pays no heed to selfishness. As a Carmelite saint said so well: “If anyone were to ask me the secret of happiness, I would say it is no longer to think of self...”
Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez
Auxiliary Bishop of Miami