Kathleen Vetter and Bishop Etienne

Every now and then, a life experience brings a biblical passage powerfully to mind and to life.  I had one of those moments this week. 

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

Matt Potter (Stewardship & Development Director for the Diocese of Cheyenne) and I have been on the road again this week praying and visiting with parishioners in preparation for this year’s Living and Giving in Christ, Unity Through Diocesan Ministries annual appeal.

After Mass at St. Rose in Torrington, a young girl waited patiently to greet me.  When she approached, she handed me a small gift and a lovely card.  She had the eyes of faith and an adorable smile.  Just greeting her lifted my spirit.  As is usually the case, the card and gift were placed in the car, and I then went to the reception. 

It was not until the next morning that I remembered receiving the gift, and was curious to open it and see what it contained.  Inside were three dollar bills and some loose change with a note that read: “Here is some money for you to bild {spelling} a new church!  I am saveing {spelling} and saveing!  Love, Kathleen Vetter.”

I was struck by the profound and simple faith of this child, as well as the generosity of her gift.  I thought, “She gets it!” 

 This kind of faith and generosity are what lie at the heart of true stewardship.  Stewardship is all about giving back to the God who has and continues to bless us with His abundant richness.  Even though our annual appeals at the parish and diocesan levels are about funding the ministries of the Church, it is ultimately about our loving response to God.

So often we hear practical questions about the Living and Giving in Christ appeal, such as, “How does our support practically benefit us?”  To some extent, this is a valid question, and to a large extent, the work of the Diocese is to support and guide what happens at the parish level.  But, that kind of question and or mentality ultimately falls short of the true purpose of stewardship and support of the Church.

Our gifts to the Church, the ‘first fruits’ to use biblical language, are all about our response to the relationship God has called us into through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament, (see Ex 22:29ff; Numbers 15:19, 18:11; Deuteronomy 18:3) the ‘tithe’ that was offered to God (such as a gift to ‘redeem’ a first born child, or even a first born of the flock) was meant to call to mind the final act of God (taking the first born of the Egyptians) that freed the Israelites from their years of bondage in Egypt.

The same still holds true for us today.  Our stewardship is ultimately rooted in our knowledge that we have been freed from the slavery of sin through the gift of God’s Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ.  Ours is a response of gratitude to the Gift that has already been given, namely that of Jesus Christ, the gift of Salvation, the gift of the Church, the gift of the Sacraments, the gift of Faith!

St. Luke tells us in Luke 6:38:  “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

 Stewardship invites us not only to make a response to God’s gifts, but more importantly, to make a leap of faith in sharing of our blessings in a way that places us once again in a stance of faith and trust before God that He will continue to give us all that we need.  In a real sense, our stewardship allows room in our hearts for God to continue to grow our Faith.

Another beautiful quote can be found in the Didache:  “Do not hold your hands open for receiving and closed for giving.  (Eccl 4:36)  If you possess something by the labor of your hands, give it for the redemption of your sins.  Do not be reluctant in giving, or murmur when you give, for you well know who He is who gives a good reward.  Do not turn away from the needy (Eccl 4:5), but share all with your brother and do not claim that it is your own.  (Acts 4:32)  For, if you are sharers in immortal things, how much more in mortal.  (Romans 15:27)  (Didache Chapter 4)

I hope and pray that this Lenten season provides the grace for all of us to recognize again the saving work of God.  I hope and pray it provides the grace for us to ‘become like children’ that we may grow in faith and charity.  I hope and pray this Lenten season gives the grace to soften our hardened hearts to the love of Christ, and open them in love to our brothers and sisters.