Dear Fr. Zagloba,
Sorry we missed you. We went to St. Jude’s for Mass last weekend to hear my sister-in-law cantor. That church is the jewel of the city. Our boys just loved looking up at traditional stained glass windows. The incense, the Gregorian Chant… it’s really quite heavenly. I think the beauty of the church actually helped them to focus a little better.
So it turned out that the focus of the sermon and the announcements was their annual stewardship campaign. The Gospel reading about the unjust steward seemed like a natural starting point for the campaign, but I don’t think the deacon hit the mark in his homily.
What are YOU putting in the mailbox?
Why does every stewardship homily talk about how much it costs to keep the church air-conditioned? I mean really. I know this is Georgia and that we should probably start a Saint’s cause for whoever invented air conditioning, but is this really the best topic to get people inspired to give?
NO! Air conditioning bills just aren’t exciting. Do you get excited when you get the Georgia Power Bill? Mine is much smaller than the parish’s, but even so, I don’t race to the mail box every month filled with hope that maybe, just maybe the power bill has arrived. I’m ranting a little bit. Please forgive me.
Think about the things that thrill you when you open your mailbox. Letter from a friend? A birthday card? Something unexpected? Or maybe it’s that book that you’ve been waiting for that has been on back order? When something that we’ve been waiting for shows up in the mailbox, we get a thrill because IT’S FINALLY HERE.
When you open your mailbox and see that it’s full, you get a little excited, don’t you? That excitement drains away like a bathtub when you realize that it’s nothing but bills and ads. The same thing can happen when you start your stewardship campaign with a discussion of just how much it costs to keep the build in g air c on d zzzz ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. By the end of your first paragraph, people are dead in the pews.
Aim for sizzle, not fizzle!
Have you ever read the book Ben Hur? Not the movies, although the one with Charlton Heston may be one of the best films ever made. The book captures something that just doesn’t show up on the screen. Longing. Deep and desperate hunger. For the Messiah. The whole book centers on this national desire for the arrival of the Messiah. Conversations about the ‘Gallilean’ focus on this question – Who is he… is he the one promised by the prophets?
Every conversation in that book sizzled with anticipation. This is our goal. When you talk about stewardship, parish life, outreach… it should be like throwing a handful of steak strips in a hot cast iron skillet. SIZZLE. The Kingdom God is exciting!!! It is supernaturally exciting, and our Parish in on the front lines. The time of fulfillment is at hand. The kingdom of God is among us!
In a very real way, stewardship lets us participate in fulfilling ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Doesn’t this get you excited? Think about how you felt when you first entered seminary, ready to give up everything to serve God and build His Church. The sacrifices you made were real and they were difficult, but God gave you a hunger to ‘Go therefore and make disciples…” And you willingly left everything behind.
That hunger, that “I’ll leave everything to follow You, Jesus,” that’s the sizzle. If you’re not feeling it at this particular moment, dive into prayer. Ask God to rekindle that fire in you. Like St. Catherine of Siena, our church’s patron, famously said, “Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire!”
You are a priest of the most High God! WOW! Through the sacraments, you bring people into real, physical, spiritual contact with the Creator of all things. Be this to the fullest extent possible, pushing every urgent but fruitless distraction to the side, and there’s no telling what will happen. In a year, we could be planning a capital campaign to accommodate all of our new parishioners.
It’s a trap!
One warning! Last week, the good deacon accidentally stepped on a fundraising landmine during the homily. I’ve heard it many times before, so he’s not entirely to blame. It was the “Everything you own belongs to God, anyways” detonator. Everytime I hear it, I dive under the pews to avoid the shrapnel.
Why is this so bad? Because it destroys each potential donor’s sense of personal responsibility. The social teaching of the church supports the idea of private property and personal responsibility, and it is really central to the idea of stewardship. God created all things, and everything that we have is a gift from Him. Once He gives it to us, it truly belongs to us. If it is not ours to give, then our gift has no merit. We are just returning something that doesn’t belong to us. It feels good to give because we are giving of ourselves.
Here’s a great illustration of this principle from Scripture. One of the wild stories from the book of Acts is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They sell some property and bring a portion of what they sold it for to St. Peter. They wanted to appear as holy as the people who really gave everything, so they lied to St. Peter and told him that they were giving the entire sale price. St. Peter rebukes them so fiercely for lying about their donation that they both die. Whoah!
Now they didn’t die because they held some of the money back. St. Peter points out that the property belonged to them before they sold it, and that the money was theirs before they donated it. St. Peter clearly demonstrated his support of private property and private ownership. The crime that cost the couple their lives was lying about their donation, trying to appear holier than they really were.
Wedding invitations, not utility bills or tax notices
So when you talk about stewardship, you don’t want to focus on the boring but necessary details of what it costs to keep the parish running. You don’t want to leave them the idea that their gifts are mandatory. You are giving them an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Our stewardship campaign should be one of the most exciting parts of our parish life, because it means getting up out of the recliner and going out on mission. You are calling them to participate in the great missionary work of the Church! Exciting stuff!
P.S. Would you like to come over to dinner Wednesday night? Mary is making something that is absolutely tasteless and bland. We will be bored senseless.
P.P.S. See how that doesn’t work? Let’s try it again. Want to join us for dinner Wednesday night? Mary is making pot roast with all the fixin’s, and I think I can convince her to whip up a homemade chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce. If you’re up for it, afterwards we can go out back and I’ll teach you how to throw knives.
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