December 9, 2004 The Feast of the Dedication of St. Mary’s Cathedral (Diocese of Lansing)
My friends in Christ,
May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of our diocesan Cathedral Church. It is a special day for the people of the Diocese of Lansing as we remember the gift to us that Bishop Carl has been both for this Diocese as a whole and for our parish in particular. Let us keep him in prayer as he prepares to retire. Let us also continue to pray that his successor would be a man of prayer, a “believer” as Bishop Carl would say.
As we continue our preparation for Christmas, this weekend has a special celebration: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin imperative; it is literally a command to rejoice! The Third Sunday of Advent is set aside during this time of preparation as an opportunity to simply rejoice in the many gifts that we have been given from the hands of our ever-generous Savior. As a Parish we have much to rejoice for- during this special Year of the Eucharist in particular, we rejoice in the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord, as the Lord Jesus draws us into an ever deeper Communion with Himself.
As is so often the case with our human condition, however, even in the midst of our rejoicing there are always challenges to face. One of the challenges we currently face as a parish concerns our financial situation. As you know from reading the bulletin, we have steadily fallen further and further behind in our actual income versus the income we need to make our budget. As of this point we are more than $24,000 behind in the income we need to continue to run the parish. While we usually experience a year-end surge in giving, that surge has already been anticipated and calculated into our budget.
However, as we have been attempting to explain in the series of homilies on stewardship, the issue is not about encouraging people to give just so that we can make our budget. The issue is helping to educate people to appreciate the essential Christian understanding of stewardship: all we have is a gift to us from the Lord Jesus, the Savior Who loves to save. Our response to His constant gift to us, especially the ultimate gift, the gift of Himself, is to give ourselves back to Him, fully and completely. It is the appropriate response of our hearts: to fully surrender to His Lordship in our lives. It is the appropriate response of a disciple who gratefully realizes what the Master Himself has freely chosen to give. The particular purpose of those homilies was to help each of us see that trusting surrender is the hallmark of the Christian life. While that has practical ramifications in terms of our stewardship of the time, talent, and treasure we have been given, at its heart the Christian life is about a love affair with the Savior, lived in the power of the Spirit, in the heart of His holy Bride, the Church.
This message has been central to the preaching of John Paul since his election as our Pope. It is perfectly summarized in his constant command: “open wide the doors of your heart to Christ!” It is a message that none of us can hear too often: the constant call to deeper and deeper personal conversion. As Zaccheus pointed out to us, one of the signs of that conversion is the essential recognition that all we have properly belongs to God; we are stewards, not owners, and part of our responsibility as followers of the Lord Jesus is to continue to seek His guidance as to how to use the gifts that He, in His mercy and love, has given us.
In this vein, two practical issues that frequently arise concern the use of our treasure: how are we to use it for the building of the Kingdom of God? And, just how much of our treasure are we to use for the Kingdom? That issue was addressed in some of the homilies: the issue of tithing. We are putting together on our web site more concrete information on this, including some statements by the Church on the matter, e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas’ reflection on tithing, some reflections on the Scriptural content, even some responses from our own Christ the King Pastoral Advisory Council. I would invite you to visit our web site and peruse this material; it will hopefully prove helpful in making practical decisions about the treasure aspect of our stewardship. Hopefully this will be on our site by mid-week or so.
I realize that some of our parishioners have already received some excellent formation on this question through their time in the Covenant Communities, but it is still worth addressing because approximately half of the current membership of Christ the King does not come from that background and so usually does not have that formation. Part of the reason for the current stewardship initiative is to help the newer members of Christ the King explore for themselves this issue of tithing and their responsibilities there. Is this an issue? In the last several months, we have experienced as a parish a 15% increase in membership, but only a 2.3% increase in giving. This suggests that many newer members may have an attitude toward giving that is more typical of American Catholics as a whole, rather than the approach demonstrated by the longer term members of the parish.
Why does this matter? On one level, folks could say that this is only a concern to me because I am trying to balance a budget. While it would certainly be nice if I could balance the budget at present, that is not the primary issue. The issue is that since the Scriptures make it clear that the people of God are to support the Kingdom of God with their time, talent, and treasure, it is the duty of those pastorally responsible for them to give them adequate formation so that they can make choices that reflect their Christian accountability in this area. As you will be able to see, when you take a look at the web site article on the Biblical mandate, this is an issue that the Lord takes very seriously. It is therefore my responsibility as pastor to make sure that the people of Christ the King are adequately catechized in this matter.
To that end, I would invite you, not only to read carefully the material in this mailing, reviewing the homilies, reading our annual report, etc., but to also visit the web site and look at the materials there on tithing. (Also included in this mailing is a handout on our Eucharistic Life and our Charismatic Life please take the time to read them as well!). As each of us reflects and prays about these matters, let us trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us that we might truly live out the Lord Jesus’ will for our lives.
Where do I weigh in on the tithe issue personally? While I appreciate that there is some ambiguity in this whole matter, it is my personal belief, and the choice that I make, that the Biblical mandate of 10% of gross income reflects Jesus’ will most adequately. However, note that I said it is my personal belief- this is not some mandate that I would ‘enforce’ as pastor, it is simply what I believe to be the case, based on prayer and reflection on the available data- it is what I chose to do in my life. How the 10% may be divided up among the Parish and charities, etc., is also a personal question worthy of serious prayer and discernment. All I would ask for as pastor is that the members of Christ the King would prayerfully reflect on the data and then make decisions based on what they think the Lord Jesus is calling them to do.
Ultimately, we return to the fact that how we approach tithing, stewardship, etc. must be rooted in our fundamental surrender to the Lord Jesus. As long as it is each of our desires to follow Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, that is all that matters. If we need a ‘course correction’ from time to time, He will gently provide it. As long as we are intending to be faithful, the Savior Who loves to save will shepherd us along His path. With grateful hearts, let us continue to follow Him- as individuals, as families, as a Parish. With gratitude for all you do to build the Kingdom of God, I commend you to the care of the Mother of God, the protection of St. Michael, and the intercession of St. Joseph.
Your brother in the service of Christ the King, Fr. Ed Fride, Pastor Christ the King Catholic Church