By JIM MYERS
It is clear from the very origins of Christianity, the laity “as individuals, families, and entire communities” shared in the spreading of the faith.
Pope John Paul II
Redemptoris Missio, 72.1
Of the many gifts God has given us, few are more important than the precious gift of time. Each of us knows of someone taken by death suddenly, unexpectedly, often tragically. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 showed us all once again, sadly, the uncertain and fragile nature of human life. A terrible tragedy on this scale serves to remind us that every day of life on earth with friends and loved ones is a precious gift from God. Such enormous tragedies may also cause us to reflect on the meaning of our own lives and to consider how in some small measure we can repay God for the wonderful gift of time.
Bishop Robert J. Baker has declared the year 2002 a Year of Evangelization, a year for us to share with others the good news of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. What better use could we possibly make of this precious gift of time than to share ourselves with others in furthering Christ’s work and the work of the church in the world? And this is exactly what Bishop Baker has asked us to do, as good Christian stewards, in this special Year of Evangelization. Speaking to a Catholic high school in Chicago many years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin said this about evangelization:
Evangelization, then, is not an office, or a program, or a technique. It is a way of life. It is a matter of waking up, stirring up, challenging. To evangelize is to be in a constant state of spiritual growth and renewal. This has many implications for our parishes and our ministry in its many forms. It means transforming the parishes so that they become true communities of faith, communities alive with the Spirit, communities that truly understand the demands of discipleship, communities that are not turned in on themselves but have adopted the cosmic vision of the crucified and risen Christ. (“Selected Works,” Vol. 2, p. 430)
These are strong words indeed, words which challenge us not only to be good stewards of our time, but also to look to our spiritual growth and renewal. This call comes at a time when many of our parishes are in the process of conducting ministry fairs, encouraging the faithful to give a portion of their time and talent to the various ministries of the parish. Some people are already participating in activities, but many volunteers are still needed.
Some may feel that they are too busy to give time to the church, but more often than not, time is really a matter of priorities. We almost always have time for the things that are truly important to us. For those of us who feel deficient in the area of talent, we have only to look at the Twelve Apostles for example. These were ordinary, poor, doubtful, fearful men. Did not Peter even deny Jesus three times? Yet, Jesus chose these same men to build his church. Each of us, no matter how lacking in talent we feel ourselves to be, has some talent that can be put to good use in meeting the many and varied needs of our parishes, our diocese and the church at large. If we do not answer the call, who will? Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, writes in his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio:
Within the church, there are various types of services, functions, ministries and ways of promoting the Christian life (RH, 72.1). All the members of the laity ought to devote a part of their time to the church, living their faith authentically (RH, 74).
The need for all the faithful to share in this responsibility is not merely a matter of making the apostolate more effective it is a right and a duty based on their baptismal dignity (RH, 71.3).
This brings us back to the point that stewardship and evangelization are not programs or techniques or strategies. They are a way of life lived out through actions in our daily lives. To quote Cardinal Bernardin again, “We are at that privileged and responsible point of intersection between the living past and the hope-filled future” (SW, 2, p. 442). That is, it is “we” who are called to this responsibility. Our priests and bishops can only do so much without our participation.
Many times in these pages we have defined true Christian stewardship as a way of life, a life of conversion and discipleship. Evangelization is the work of the church; stewardship is the way to accomplish that mission. Stewardship is, as Bishop Michael Warfel said, “the fuel for the fire.” In declaring 2002 a Year of Evangelization, Bishop Baker has asked us to be good stewards of the precious gift of time and to participate in the great work of spreading the good news. It is a call for us to seek growth and renewal in our own spiritual lives and to share with others, in whatever way we are able, our time and talents in spreading the gospel message of Jesus of redemption and eternal life.
Jim Myers, Ph.D., is director of Stewardship for the Diocese of Charleston.