“What part of ourselves do we deliberately choose to reserve from belonging to Christ and his Church?”
Every Christian must seriously consider that question in order to become a true disciple.
“Christ wants our hearts, he wants our total being, not just one aspect of us, whether it’s the hour we spend in church on Sunday or certain things we do throughout the day,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight told the members of the newly convened Diocesan Stewardship Council.
“He wants us all, 100 percent,” he said. “So not reserving any part of ourselves is essential to living a life in response to the many blessings that God has given us, especially our faith.”
The bishop’s remarks were a key agenda item at the Diocesan Stewardship Council’s inaugural meeting the afternoon of Aug. 23.
The 12-member council, a diverse group of laypeople and clergy representing the regions of the diocese, will advise the bishop on many aspects of promoting stewardship as a way of life for Catholics in these 38 counties.
“This is about the salvation of souls and the participation of every person in the Church,” Bishop McKnight stated.
He reminded the group that stewardship is about being an intentional disciple, in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
The late Monsignor Thomas McGread, who was pastor of Bishop McKnight’s home parish in Wichita, Kansas for 31 years, began articulating the timeless elements of Catholic stewardship in the early years after the Council.
“He was simply trying as a parish priest to implement what the Council was calling for, especially the active participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church,” said Bishop McKnight.
Msgr. McGread focused on gratitude and on concrete ways of putting it into practice.
Over time, the understanding that God bestows blessings in order for people to cultivate and share them with one another, out of unbridled gratitude and a desire to lead other people to Him took root and flourished in the lives of Msgr. McGread’s parishioners.
“That was the environment and experience of being Catholic that I was born into and raised in,” Bishop McKnight noted.
Msgr. McGread’s interpretation of Catholic stewardship gradually spread throughout the Wichita diocese and to other dioceses throughout the United States.
When Bishop McKnight arrived to lead this diocese in 2018, he made promoting an authentic spirituality of Catholic stewardship one of the pillars for discerning a new diocesan pastoral plan.
For Catholics, active stewardship means:
Bishop McKnight emphasized that stewardship is about much, much more than people committing to tithe their income.
“That’s not to say that tithing isn’t an important part of the stewardship way of life,” he noted. “But all the more so, it’s really about the spirituality of the investment of people’s time and talent.”
Nonetheless, it does substantially change the financial focus at the parish level.
It means “not relying upon fundraisers or gimmicks to get people outside the Church or even people in the Church to fund the mission, having it as part of our intentional recognition of our obligation,” he said.
It has also led to a move away from an annual solicitation of funds, along with special collections and an annual assessment to all parishes known as a cathedraticum, in favor of a simple, three-tier tithing model.
Each year, parishioners are encouraged to make a sacrificial pledge of 8 percent or more of their income to their parish.
Parishes, in turn, commit 10 percent of their offertory collections to the diocese, to pay for ministries that benefit all parishes.
From that money, the diocese helps support the work of the Church throughout the world.
“We’ve now done away with cathedraticum, with its mysterious, opaque method of assessing individual parishes,” the bishop said, referring to the annual assessment previously made to parishes to fund diocesan administration.
“Having something that’s so above-board and consistent for everyone, which is what we have with stewardship renewal, is a much better way of funding the mission of the Church,” he said.
Bishop McKnight noted that funding diocesan ministries based on what the parishes are able to support through tithing will help motivate diocesan offices to work better within their means.
“This is much fairer and more sustainable,” he said. “And it forces the Chancery to work within the means of the tithe that comes from the parishes.”
Equipping the faithful
As part of this new focus, every parish in the diocese must convene and maintain a parish stewardship council, to work with its parish pastoral council and parish finance council and its school advisory council if the parish has one.
Bishop McKnight said that much like the relationship between the Diocesan Stewardship Council’s relationship to the bishop, a parish stewardship council “should be fundamentally focused on assisting the pastor, who has the responsibility for the presidency of the charisms of the parish — that is, the gifts and talents of the people, and employing them in a way that is most beneficial to the mission of the parish.
“Its purpose is not so much to determine what the goals of the parish are going to be — that’s the parish pastoral council,” he said, “or how is this going to get funded or supported financially — it’s the role of the finance council, to advise the pastor in that regard.
“But it really is identifying, getting to know people, getting to know their skill sets, understanding what their needs are in terms of the mission of the local parish, and connecting the two,” the bishop stated.
Once the pastor invites people to assist with a specific work of the parish, lay ministry leaders in the parish will be called upon to make sure those people have access to all the resources they need to do their work successfully.
“The stewardship council of a parish should be focused on assisting and mentoring, coaching, reminding sometimes, every once in a while, those basic principles and fostering the discipleship for everybody,” he said.
Good stewardship in the parish relies on recognizing the unique gifts and charisms each person receives from God so they can help carry out the Church’s mission of leading people to God.
Toward that end, each person must know that his or her gifts are recognized, needed, appreciated and put to meaningful use.
“That requires a parish community that’s willing to take risks, that’s willing to open up to more ministries that are not already happening, that’s not afraid to try something that might not work out,” Bishop McKnight insisted.
He said the pastor should encourage laypeople to propose new things in the parish and let them take responsibility for bringing them about.
“The pastor has a specific responsibility and has a mutual respect for the rights and obligations of others in the Church,” he stated.
Ideally, the parish stewardship council in each parish will take an active role in getting more people involved in proclaiming the Gospel and responding to it through concrete action.
All of this, the bishop insisted, is part of the process for ensuring that all parishes are vibrant, cooperating with other nearby parishes, and focused on the mission of making disciples for Christ.
He spoke of the long process of inner conversion from a desire to “give to a need” to “giving out of a need to give — which is the grateful response of a Christian disciple.”