Attitude of gratitude

12 November 2017 — Homeport — Stewardship Sunday 

Next week, our nation observes Thanksgiving Day. This civic holiday’s religious underpinnings have become nothing but a vague memory for many Americans. Some may even conclude that one day of feasting and football is sufficient to thank God for a year’s worth of blessings — just as long as somebody remembers to say grace. 

Don’t get me wrong, dear readers. I love Thanksgiving Day. Each year I look forward to some local family inviting me over for Thanksgiving. You’ll find this hard to believe, but I lack the skills to cook a turkey. I remain, however, most appreciative of a Thanksgiving turkey served with all the fixings. About once a month, year round, I even order a “Thanksgiving toasted sandwich” at the sub shop down the street. 

Nevertheless, one day a year dedicated to offering thanksgiving to God is hardly sufficient. Gratitude is an attitude. Thanksgiving is a way of life. The Bible-based word for the concrete expression of our unending gratitude is “stewardship.” Like Thanksgiving Day, the true meaning of stewardship can get lost. 

Here’s what stewardship is not. 

Stewardship is not a program. It’s not some fund-raising gimmick. It’s not a deal cut with God. “If I promise good stewardship, God will give me (fill in the blank).” 

All time belongs to the Lord. All good gifts come from God. Stewardship of time and talent isn’t about the need for more parish volunteers (although “Ministry Fairs” are helpful tools). “You must give more time to the parish school Bingo or you’ll have to find another school for your children.” Oh, please! 

As for financial stewardship, it’s not a “suggested” dollar amount or an “expected” percentage of income. “If everyone gives $3 more in the basket, the parish will be able to pay bills this month.” Or, “the Finance Council expects all parishioners to tithe 10 percent of their income.” And what planet are these people from? Don’t you hate it when a thinly-veiled threat is used to raise funds? “If you don’t give more money, we won’t be able to heat the church.” Give me a break! People must do their own prayerful discernment. The responsibility of parish leadership is to provide the information parishioners need to make their long-range plan of charitable giving.

Here’s what stewardship is.

All stewardship originates in Baptism and is affirmed by Confirmation. It’s the call to participate in the task of building the Kingdom. It’s based on the premise that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. Our response can only be to offer grateful praise to God and then to share our gifts with others. For Catholics, participation in Holy Mass is the ultimate prayer of gratitude. The word “Eucharist” actually means “thanksgiving.” All of us have a Spiritual need to give thanks. To give is to give thanks.

Some succinctly say stewardship means gratefully sharing “time, talent and treasure.” It involves offering the Biblical “first-fruits,” not the left-overs. 

Not only are we called to be grateful to God, but also to one another. It’s always appropriate for a parish community to recognize and thank those who routinely share their time and talent with the faith community. Remember when the junior curate would take all the altar servers out to a ball game? Remember when the pastor would present some token Christmas gift to those who helped out around the parish? I do. Those small gestures were always appreciated. 

For ultimate recognition of stewardship of time and talent, parishioners can be nominated for the annual diocesan Marian Medal Award or the St. Pius X Youth Award. Why a pastor would forego these opportunities to recognize parishioners is beyond me. 

Many parishes these days, if at all possible, hold annual “appreciation banquets” to which are invited catechists, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, greeters, wedding coordinators, and all those who serve the faith community in so many and varied ways throughout the year.

Those who share their “treasure” with the Church should also be thanked. This calls for a certain degree of discretion on the part of the parish staff. It must never appear that the Church is somehow giving special attention to the wealthier members of the community at the expense of financially-challenged parish families. Less affluent families are rightfully offended by this sort of schmoozing. I know because I grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. 

Father Tom Washburn, pastor of St. Margaret Church, Buzzards Bay, has come up with a creative way to randomly say “thank you” to financial contributors. He writes three notes a week to those who contributed in the collection basket the previous Sunday. He isn’t told how much they contributed, but simply that they did. 

I’ll be trying something new this weekend — hosting a casual lunch at the rectory for those who gave exceptionally this year in the collection basket, in the parish Annual Collection, or in the diocesan Catholic Charities Appeal. It’s just another simple way to say “thank you.”

Unfortunately, roast turkey will not be served. It’s too close to Thanksgiving Day. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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