As the saying goes, “You cannot love what you do not know.” Our formation in stewardship is a way for us to grow in our love and commitment to this way of life. The Stewardship Way of Life is the way every single one of us participates in the mission of the Gospel. This Gospel of Jesus Christ unites us into a single community centered on the worship of God in the Eucharist. My whole purpose for this talk, year after year, is to invite you into a greater participation in this mission through a more sincere gift of yourself and your family through your sharing of time, talent, and treasure.
First, I want to encourage you to turn in your stewardship renewal form. Some may ask, “Why do we have to turn in this form every year?” The answer to that question was given by Msgr. McGread several decades ago: filling out the stewardship form is an act of discernment by which a person annually recognizes new ways to share their blessings in gratitude to God and in love of neighbor. Every year, each person’s time, talent, and treasure takes on new growth and new possibilities. Therefore, every year, each of us must consider how we can share our gifts in a new and more mature way. Let me repeat: your stewardship form is an annual discernment of your giftedness and how you can share those gifts in love of God and neighbor. Please turn in your stewardship form as soon as possible. It sometimes happens that these are extremely delayed which causes challenges in inviting people to share their time and talent. The forms are due November 18-19. Thank you for caring for this part of your stewardship.
Several summers ago, as some of you may remember, I was taking classes in Detroit. One day, while in Detroit, a priest friend of mine from India and I drove under a superhighway overpass. It was one of those overpasses constructed of tons of material stacked one bridge-layer over another. As we approached this massive labyrinth of bridges, he exclaimed, “How is it that you Americans can construct such amazing things? My country is many centuries older than yours. Why do we not have structures like this?” It was truly massive ... and impressive.
I, like most Americans, have become so used to seeing such amazing infrastructure that I rarely, if ever, give it a second thought. His surprise convicted me of my lack of awareness and gratitude for the amazing blessings we have as Americans. American tax dollars, architectural ingenuity, construction intelligence, a dedicated work force, and economic and communal concern all went into making those amazing structures. His comment caused me to see the American highway system through a foreigner’s eyes.
As I struggled for a response, I realized an answer to his question. I said,
“Perhaps it is because America was built on the American dream, where even the most impoverished person can live in the hope for greatness. Because many Americans live by the belief that everyone has something to offer, more people contribute their ‘grit and grind’ to the good of society, and we have achieved much because of it.”
What my friend said of a superhighway overpass, people from outside the Diocese of Wichita say of the Stewardship Way of Life. Many people look to our Diocese, and our parish, and they see, with amazement, this great structure of parish life that we have built. We have so much to be thankful for as a parish! But, like my lack of appreciation for our country’s infrastructure, I fear that it is easy to lack appreciation for what we have as a parish. I fear it is easy to regard the great beauty of our parish family life with a sense of entitlement or to take it for granted.
I want to take a moment and consider this massive machine that we call the parish family of St. Francis of Assisi. There is a Psalm verse that says, “Walk through Zion, walk all around it, count all its towers, review all its ramparts, that you may tell of them to the next generation” (Ps 48:12-14). I want to take you on a mental tour of our parish family. The tour begins with a question: “Are you aware of the massive infrastructure that is our parish stewardship way of life? Are you aware of how many amazing service opportunities we have as a parish family?” In the same way that we cannot love what we do not know, we cannot appreciate that of which we are not aware! So, let’s take a mental tour of this space:
Let’s begin with Sunday Masses. Last week I traveled to see two of our six seminarians, one in Chicago and one in St. Louis. When I go there, I also remember my own formation and seek to update it with the latest practices. Once again, even after seeing seminary liturgies that are executed with the precision of a monastic Mass, I am so proud of our Masses here at St. Francis. We have beautifully dignified Sunday celebrations in an atmosphere of deep devotion with amazing choirs, cantors, and musicians who sing hymns, propers, and choral pieces so well. I am so proud of our welcoming committee, ushers, lectors, and sacristans who bring hospitality and solemnity to our celebrations. And I am uniquely proud of our grade school youth servers and sacristans who are highly trained and add dignity and class to our liturgies.
Next, I am very edified by the hundreds of people who dedicate themselves year after year to perpetual adoration. Thank you for keeping it going during our summer exodus in the gymnasium. Your love of the Eucharist and constant intercession are the source of not only many hidden graces, but also of our parish’s and diocese’s many seminarians and religious vocations! I am also grateful for the daily faithfulness of people to the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily rosary, the stations of the cross, or devotion to the movement of the Holy Spirit in prayer, intercession, and healing as at Shekinah.
Thank you also to the many people who continue their further education through bible study groups, adult ed groups, Lenten God Squad, Harvest House, and other formation opportunities. You live the saying that I already have shared, “You cannot love what you do not know.” Because you study much, you learn to love much: both God and neighbor.
I am extremely grateful for our robust youth ministry. High school CYM, middle school Blaze and Ignite, and our faithful PSR students. Each week hundreds of children go to our Nazareth House to meet the person of Christ in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Likewise, year after year many youths are formed for the sacraments of Confession, Eucharist, and Confirmation, not to mention the many adults who go through baptismal prep, marriage prep, and OCIA to enter our Catholic faith. All that formation happens because of the sincere dedication of dozens and dozens of catechists!
I am thankful for the way that our community supports the suffering and grieving. We have several people who take communion to our homebound every week. Many others visit shut-ins and those in nursing homes. We have many funerals here, but this parish committed a long time ago to never let a family grieve without the presence of the parish family through Tobit’s ministry. And words cannot express my gratefulness to the hundreds of people who provide funeral dinners so that families can share love and consolation together.
I am grateful, too, for the many people who help us take care of this massive campus. Dozens of lawn mowers and gardeners keep our parish grounds beautiful. And many Church cleaners vacuum and dust every week. Thank you to the Catholic businessmen and women who provide their work at a discounted price for us to cover the costs of needed repairs. Thank you, too, to the hundreds of men and women who continue to fulfill their pledge to the Rebuild My Church campaign, or who have already done so. I am proud of our newly renovated space and your generosity has allowed it to exist.
I wish I had the time to share gratitude to each and every stewardship opportunity we have in our parish family; but, since our parish has nearly one hundred and fifty opportunities, it would take too long to read about them all. But even those one hundred and fifty opportunities do not include the ways families can serve as school volunteers and classroom aids.
A final word of gratitude goes to all our council members, committee heads, ministry leaders, adult ed. leaders, not to mention our many dedicated and persevering staff, faculty, and administration. Without your leadership, we could not be a stewardship parish.
Do you see what I mean when I say that this parish family is a massive machine? All of this, and so much more, are direct fruits of men and women who have seen a need, formulated a response, and taken ownership of a particular part of parish family life. So, perhaps I can rewrite that Psalm verse I quoted to say,
“Walk through our parish family, walk all around it, count all its buildings, number all its stewards, so that you can tell of them to the next generation.”
I am asking you to be amazed at this! I am asking you to appreciate it! My friend from India was amazed at a superhighway overpass, a thing that I, as a native born American, took for granted. I didn’t make that highway, but I received it from those who provided it for my use. Other people’s taxes and other people’s ‘grit and grind’ made that overpass happen. In the same way, we, the current parishioners of St. Francis, have inherited this amazing parish from the generosity of our parish ancestors. We didn’t make it, but we received it from those who provided it for our use. Now it is our turn to give our ‘grit and grind’ to take care of our parish and preserve it for future generations.
The reality is this: we have now come to a new moment in parish history. It is clear that our society is experiencing new economic and social pressure. Heck, my own vehicle insurance went up 20% this year. This pressure is, in turn, placing great pressures on the welfare of our households. And that, in turn, has put new pressures on our parish, not least of which is financial pressure.
I want to thank our Finance Council who, in the weeks prior to Mass in the gym, publicly shared these financial pressures with the parish. I also want to thank Fr. Meng who, over the past three weekends, shared a very good homily with us on the need for tithing in a sacrificial manner. Because he gave that homily, I don’t have to repeat what he has already inspired in us. But you do need to know why we are in a situation for more financial need.
Over the last four years, our tithing has stayed the same–about $5.4 Million dollars a year. But raises for our faculty and staff, as well as our expenses have increased at a steep pace over those same four years. These raises were necessary because public school teachers, over the last four years, have been given nearly 25% pay increases. We, as a parish, had to respond by raising our teachers’ salaries to keep them relatively close to public school salaries. Since this affects both Catholic grade schools and Catholic high schools, the cost for each Bishop Carroll student also increased. Furthermore, there is a veritable ‘feeding frenzy’ for teachers, paraprofessionals, and resource aides. Last year alone, there were over 1,000 open teacher positions in the Kansas public school system. And, just like my vehicle insurance went up, our parish’s insurance has doubled in cost.
We must remember this: our employees, faculty, staff, and administration work for our parish because they believe in our mission and love you. Every employee who works at this parish, without exception, works at a salary less than what they could make working outside the Church. They do it because they believe in the mission of this parish; but we cannot disrespect that sacrifice! We must show them our love in return by properly supporting them at a wage proper to their sacrifice on our behalf. We who are benefiting from their sacrifice, must sacrifice for them financially.
Over 50 years ago Msgr. McGread proposed this promise of the Stewardship Way of Life: if every parishioner were to offer their time, talent, and treasure in a sacrificial, proportional, and generous way, every aspect of this parish’s mission and ministry would be provided for, including Catholic school. Now is the time for us, today’s parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi, to protect and enhance the great legacy that our forefathers have handed on to us. We cannot lack appreciation for what we have inherited, nor can we expect to be served faithfully if we are not willing to support faithfully those we have asked to provide for our parish.
Now is OUR time to pick up the baton of Stewardship that we have inherited from our parish founders and forefathers and to commit our own ‘grit and grind’ to the health and vitality of this Way of Life. As one ancient author said, “Do not stretch out your hand to receive only to withdraw it when it comes time to give." Each of us must give of our time, talent, and treasure, in an annually increasing generosity, to provide for all the missions and ministries of our parish.
When I consider the success of the Stewardship Way of Life, and the pressure we all feel in its increasing need, only one word is adequate: Faith. Stewardship is a faith response to a God who will always be faithful. Each of us must exhort ourselves to greater and greater trust in him. We must pray. We must believe. We must sacrifice. Only then can we be found worthy of the inheritance we have received from our parish forefathers. From them, we have received a gift. Because of them, we benefit from this gift.
Your commitment to the Stewardship Way of Life is the only way our parish will survive. I wholeheartedly believe this: Stewardship is the Way of Life God designed for our parish family. With faith and faithfulness, it will not fail.
Father Jarrod Lies, Pastor