Monday evening, the St. Barbara and St. Anthony communities gathered in Cody for Mass followed by a reception at a local restaurant.  This was the fourth such gathering around the diocese in an effort to accomplish a number of things.

First of all, we wish to gather for prayer with our people.  Each of these events begins with Mass, which is the heart and soul of who we are as Catholics.  Then, we gather for some time to socialize and enjoy a light meal.  Jesus was always building relationships, and so must we as Catholics.  Ministry is about people, and about people helping people.

Then, after everyone has had a chance to mingle, we dive into the main presentation of the evening.  First, we let the people know that they are the ones who have been leading the support of our annual appeal.  With that said, we want to thank them for their support, and let them know how much we appreciate them.  Gratitude is a central role in stewardship.

The evening affords me as bishop an opportunity to talk about our vision for the future, to help people make the connection that the appeal, Living And Giving In Christ, is about ministry, which is about people.  So I talk about the priorities of our pastoral plan, and the need for appropriate support to make sure this plan is adequately implemented, which means revitalizing our Church.

We want both the parish and the diocese to be successful in reaching the annual appeal goals.  We want the positive attitude and understanding of these donors to spread to others.  We want and need a growing number of people to understand the needs that exist beyond their parish and beyond the diocese, such as St. Joseph’s Children’s Home and Catholic Charities.

Each of the last several gatherings, someone has asked: “So, what are you asking of us?”  I tell them, that I cannot tell anyone how much to give.  There is a phrase I learned years ago which always seems to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to tithing: “Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.”  Each family / individual has different capacities and realities at work in their lives.  Each needs to prayerfully discover  how they are to respond to God’s goodness by the gift they offer.

I shared last night specifically the percentage of my income that I try to tithe every year, then I tell them that scripturally, we are called to offer ten percent of our earnings.  But, I also think the word “sacrifice” is important.  Does our support of the Church bring us to a point of true sacrifice? 

Someone last night made the beautiful connection that our tithing a certain percentage of our income brings us economic freedom, in that it “frees us from the burden” of what to do with some of our income.  I would go even further in saying that it leads us to true, authentic human freedom.  Charity and freedom go hand in hand…and the freedom is for following Christ as freely and as fully as we can.

Take for example Jesus calling his first disciples.  He encounters them along the seashore, tending the boats and mending their nets.  He tells them, leave your things behind, and come follow me.  He repeats this invitation several times in the Gospels.  The “leaving things behind” is not so much about the material possessions as it is about the interior freedom required to follow Jesus. 

I firmly believe this is the primary benefit of our generosity, the freedom that accompanies the giving.  With this freedom then comes the greatest gift of all, the ability to freely follow Jesus wherever He leads.  Yesterday’s Gospel reminds us that the measure with which we give is the measure we will receive.  The greatest gift God gives is Christ.  He is indeed the beginning and the end.  The initiation of God’s goodness towards us comes through Christ…the reward of our response to God’s goodness is Christ!

Let us Live and Give in Christ!