Over the years, I have had many people ask me a very simple question when we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. That question is: “Why was Jesus baptized? If Jesus is sinless and the Son of God made flesh, why does he need to be baptized?”
The reason why Jesus chooses to be baptized is connected with who Jesus is. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus has become one of us in order to show us the way to salvation and how we are to live in order to be saved. He is baptized, in order to show us that it is through Baptism that we are called to share in the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit before he begins His public ministry in order to show us that as we are anointed by the Spirit in the Sacraments of Initiation, we too share in His mission. Just as in Baptism the Father declares Jesus to be His beloved Son, so too through our Baptisms the Father claims us to be His beloved sons and daughters. As Jesus took up His ministry after His Baptism and anointing by the Spirit, so too each one of us is given a mission within the Church through our Baptism and anointing at Confirmation.
There is a very powerful theology and image of the Church which describes the relationship between the events of Christ’s life and the call that each of us receives in Baptism and Confirmation. This theology goes back to the Apostle Paul and has the title “The Theology of the Mystical Body of Christ.” The beauty of this theology is that it articulates how we today are called to continue Christ’s work in the world. One of the best examples of this reality is seen in the two-part work of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Written by the Evangelist St. Luke, in the first part, the Gospel of Luke, from which we hear read today, tells how the Father sent Jesus into the world to reveal God’s salvation and forgiveness of all people. As we hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus was anointed by the Father to take up this mission. In the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus ascends into Heaven, on Pentecost Sunday, the members of the Church were anointed to continue Christ’s work in the world. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Church continues Christ’s saving work and spreads His mission throughout time and space, bringing His saving message to all people. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded that just as Christ had a mission from the Father, so too do each of us through Baptism and Confirmation, as members of the Church—the Body of Christ.
Cardinal Collins has written a pastoral letter that discusses the responsibility that each Christian has for the Church because of the gifts that he or she has received from God. The word that he uses to describe this responsibility is “Stewardship.” In this letter, Cardinal Collins reminds all of us that because of the gifts that God has given us, we are all called to use them responsibly and with great gratitude to the one who has given them to us. Stewardship calls all of us to recognize that everything that we have is a gift from God. These gifts are ours to enjoy for as long as we enjoy the gift of life. At the end of our lives, we are all going to be called to return everything that we have to God and to give an account of how we have used our gifts. Proper stewardship means using our gifts of time, talent and treasure in a way that recognizes that everything we have is a gift from God and expresses our gratitude for these gifts.
Authentic stewardship invites all of us to ask ourselves what responsibility we have for the life of our parish church. In many parishes there is a small group of people who does everything and burnout and a larger group that expects everything to be done by other people. I have seen that on occasion here when people ask me if we can have a certain kind of group in the parish—like for seniors, or parents or a social committee. When I tell them that I would love to have such a group and then ask when can they start to lead it, they are boggled that I will not find someone else to lead the group that they want to see started in their parish. The life of this parish depends upon all of us doing our part to share our time, talent and treasure for its vitality.
Cardinal Collins has asked that every parish make the call to stewardship a pastoral priority in the coming years. With the Pastoral Council of the parish, I will be working in the future to explore how our own parish community can take this call more seriously. In the bulletin this weekend, the Pastoral Council has placed a survey asking you what you would like our parish to do more of and what you would like us to do less of in the coming years. As you fill out this survey, I would simply ask you to bear in mind one question: If you want to see some activity taking place in our parish, what role are you willing to play in doing it? Each one of us is a member of the Church and parish. We are all responsible for playing our role in what we hope it will become. In the bulletin this weekend, I have also placed a portion of Cardinal Collins’ letter on Stewardship. It is entitled: “Reasons to Become Involved in Stewardship.” Please give it a read. Full copies of the Cardinal’s pastoral letter on Stewardship are available at the back of the church.
Jesus is baptized and anointed by the Spirit for only one reason: to show us how we are to live. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we all have a mission because of our Baptisms and because we have been anointed by the Spirit and acknowledged by the Father as His beloved children. The word that best describes the responsibility that is given to each of us as gifted members of the Church is “Stewardship.” Let us pray, that in the coming months and years, we may each embrace the spirit of stewardship that will allow us to bring vitality to our community as we share the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has given to us to use during our lives.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto
Chapter III from Cardinal Collins’ letter on Stewardship: “Reasons to Become Involved with Stewardship.”
Here are some reasons why I believe that an effort systematically to develop and deepen the spirit of stewardship will be valuable for our diocese.
- Stewardship is clearly a central theme in the Bible and in our living Christian faith. I have already pointed out its scriptural foundations.
- Stewardship is undeniably fruitful. Where, over time, more and more parishioners become engaged in committing their time, talent, and treasure to the work of the Gospel, the Church flourishes. Stewardship parishes report an upsurge in volunteer engagement, a greater fervour in the prayer life of the community, a more effective outreach to those in need, an increase in religious and priestly vocations, and so on. We need humbly to learn from others, especially when it comes to what has proven to be apostolically effective.
- Stewardship is realistic. On a video which presents examples of excellent stewardship parishes, the pastor of one parish says that they have been working on stewardship for thirty years. That makes sense. What is important in life takes time, and a steady growth of commitment in the community. The most important things in life are not like machines that we build, but like plants that grow over time.
- Stewardship is not a new program, but is Continuous and Permanent. Stewardship is a way of life, not a program. We regularly experience spiritual programs and movements that come, flourish, diminish, and disappear, only to be replaced by others. These programs and movements do great good, and we will always have them, but there is an instability in going from program to program that is problematic, a kind of a boom and bust pattern. Stewardship is so deeply rooted in the foundational themes of the Gospel that it involves a permanent and continuous reorientation of our approach to discipleship, and so provides a stable base for the life of faith in our communities. Stewardship calls for nothing less than both individual and communal conversion, rooted in faith and fruitful in action.
- Stewardship addresses the Engagement Dilemma. Stewardship leads to a fairer sharing of the responsibilities of parish membership. Sometimes a few parishioners carry a disproportionate share in the work of the parish. They can become overworked and can then, discouraged, simply drop out of all involvement. Or the leadership of a parish can become concentrated in a few dedicated people, and others can feel left out. Neither of these situations is healthy. Many hands make light work, and as more parishioners are engaged, each can experience the joy of giving without being threatened with the danger of burning out. We do not want to have a community in which a few parishioners are active and most are passive, the religious equivalent of couch potatoes. One key effect of stewardship is more actively to engage all of the parishioners in sharing their time, talent, and treasure in generous service, so that the full richness of the parish community can be experienced, and its energy be focused outward in making Christ more present in our world.
- Stewardship is Comprehensive, and enhances already existing activity Because stewardship is set on the very foundations of discipleship, it is harmonious with all of our other apostolic endeavours and organizations. It does not duplicate, replace, or interfere with them, but enhances them. It is something like the image of holiness found in St. Francis de Sales, who says that when diamonds and rubies and emeralds are dropped in honey they remain themselves, but simply shine more brightly. His point is that our own personalities are not obliterated when we live by the spirit of charity which is holiness. We simply become our true selves more radiantly. The same is true for our various apostolic initiatives and groups when we all enter more fully into the spirit of stewardship: each remains itself, but shines more radiantly if all are enhanced by a deepened spirit of gratitude for God’s gifts, with the resulting flourishing of a spirit of generosity in the use of time, talent, and treasure. Our archdiocese is richly blessed with apostolic organizations and movements, and I believe that each will benefit as our whole community of faith moves more intentionally into an attitude of stewardship. If as an archdiocese and parish we are all seeking to be more faithful trustees of God’s gifts, then each person can become a more engaged and effective member of the Catholic Women’s League, or Knights of Columbus, or other apostolic organization. Similarly, the deepening of the “attitude of gratitude” will enhance our commitment to prayer and Eucharistic adoration (so essential if our apostolic action is to be fruitful), to the flourishing of lay engagement in the mission of evangelization, to an increase in the response to the call to the priesthood and religious life, to a courageous and effective dedication to social justice, and so on. A conscious, engaged, and intentional orientation to stewardship will help all of our apostolic organizations and initiatives to flourish, and will cause new ones to be created, to the glory of God and to the service of His people. I ask every apostolic group or movement within the archdiocese prayerfully to reflect upon the themes of stewardship, and to participate actively in the development of stewardship within our community.
- Stewardship is Proactive We often look too much at the problems we face, and then become immobilized by the immensity of the task that faces us as disciples. Jesus tells us, as he told Peter: “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:5) Confident not in our own strength but in the providence of God, we need to concentrate on building up the kingdom of God, as did the Apostles and the great saints of the Church, and then the problems we face will be dealt with in due time. We cannot get into a state of mind in which we are simply reacting. If we look to the Acts of the Apostles, we see how the early Christian community, with all of its own evident weaknesses, confidently moved outward into the pagan Empire. In stewardship we concentrate on developing a deep sense of gratitude for God’s gifts, and on inviting all disciples to become engaged in the Gospel mission received at baptism. That positive and energizing approach is the only way forward. What a benefit it would be for our whole society if more and more of the generous energy of all of the members of our archdiocese were activated, to bring the life of the Gospel to a world so desperately in need of it. Stewardship is a conscious and careful effort to activate that energy, and to focus it effectively in the service of God and neighbour.