Happy All Saints Day! Today we not only celebrate All Saints Day but this first weekend in November launches our annual stewardship renewal. We see in our saints living examples of disciple’s and stewards. Over the past two weeks I have been meditating on these two words and a question has been on my mind, “What is the difference between discipleship and stewardship?” It is a great honor to be appointed pastor here at St. Francis of Assisi. This great parish has served both locally and nationally as a model of the Stewardship Way of Life. As a pastor of such a parish I have thought a lot about how I can continue to foster our identity as a stewardship parish. And my mind has been trying to understand, “What really is the difference between discipleship and stewardship?” Now those two things go hand in hand and, in the end, you cannot have one without the other. A steward is a disciple and a disciple is a steward. This is why this year’s Stewardship Poster says, “Once you become a disciple…stewardship is not an option.”
So in order to answer this question I looked at this book called “The Characteristics of a Christian Steward” and these characteristics are listed as: prayer, humility, trust, patience, responsibility, gratitude, generosity, mercy, simplicity and perseverance. But when I look and this list I said to myself, “Well, those are characteristics of a Christian disciple, too.” A disciple prays. A disciple is humble. A disciple has trust… and the like. If we were asked, “How do we define stewardship,” we have the definition on our wall over here. If we were asked, “How do you do we define discipleship,” we would say that it is following Jesus Christ. But if we were asked to make a distinction between the two of them perhaps we would find it difficult to put it into words. Last weekend I was able to be at the International Catholic Stewardship Conference where I really tried to wrap my mind around this distinction.
Then I realized the distinction by thinking about my own family growing up. I grew up in the house of David and Patty Lies. Several years ago my Dad fell in love with my Mom. The two of them got married and raised five boys. My mom and dad worked to form us into a true family. But inside my family, as in every family, there are two distinct kinds of relationship. There is my father’s love for my mother called “spousal love.” But then there is our brother’s love for one another and our child’s love for our parents called “familial love.” We all know that there is a distinction between these two types of relationships while at the same time the two loves go hand in hand. The love of the spouses overflows into the love of the children such that as parents love one another so their children learn to love from them.
But in my household, growing up, love of family meant responsibility for that family. Everyone in the family had a role to play. My mom and dad made sure that the duties of the household were shared equally by all of us in the house. For example, every person in the house had chores. When I was a little child I had to feed the dog and take out the trash. When I got older I had to mow the lawn and do yard work. When I got even older I started working in my father’s plumbing business stocking shelves and cleaning the shop. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were times when I did not want to play my full role in the family. Perhaps I didn’t want to take out the trash, mow the lawn, or clean the shop… and when I refused to play my part I got grounded. And it was usually at that moment when I heard my mom and dad say, as many of you may have heard your parents say, “As long as you live in our house you are going to play your full role and be a part of this household.” And “this household cannot function unless all of us work together.” The way in which I showed my love for the family was by playing my part in the household. And so, thinking about my family helped me realize the distinction between discipleship and stewardship.
Discipleship is like the spousal relationship between my mom and my dad. Disciples are devoted to Jesus Christ like one spouse is devoted to another. Every single one of us who is here today is here because we know the man Jesus Christ and we desire to love him with all our heart and soul. Somehow the love of Jesus Christ has touched each of our hearts. Your presence at Mass today shows that you love him in return and desire to worship him as your savior. In this way our love of Jesus is like the love of spouses: intense, individual and a total self-gift. To the degree that you have given your heart to the Lord, to that degree your discipleship is like a spousal relationship.
But inside a household there is not only the spousal love between husband and wife; there is also the familial love between siblings and parents. Stewardship is like this family love. Since all of us in this Church are disciples of the same Jesus Christ we are also brothers and sisters in Christ. And just like in my household every member had to play their full role and had to share in the responsibilities of the household; so too, in this parish family that we call St. Francis we each have a role to play for the full functioning of this household. This is our house and we are the only one’s responsible for its proper functioning. To the degree that we all take responsibility for this parish family, to that degree will we be successful in sharing the Gospel message that is entrusted to us.
But in order for this to happen each of us needs to define ourselves not only as disciples, but also has stewards. As we have already heard, “Once one becomes a disciple…stewardship is not an option.” But you see, it is possible attempt to live as a disciple and not as a steward. And it is also possible to attempt to live as a steward but not as a disciple. What do I mean?
If a person defines his relationship to Jesus Christ as “me and Jesus” then it is possible for such a person to think, “I can pray to Jesus and ignore the needs of my brothers and sisters.” Or, “If I go to Mass than I am doing all I need to do.” If a person defines his relationship to Jesus individualistically, as simply “me and Jesus,” then such a person could think they don’t have to play a role within the larger community. But Jesus never defined our relationship to him in individualistic terms. Even Jesus himself shared his ministry with twelve apostles. And those twelve apostles in turn shared their ministry with other disciples. For Jesus, it wasn’t enough to only be a disciple; one must also care for his family as well. Just as in a household there is both spousal love and familial love so too in the body of Christ there is not only discipleship, but also stewardship.
But there are others who attempt to be a steward without being a disciple. What do I mean by this? There are many Catholic Christians whose faith has become a boring routine or simply a duty without affection. Such a person could say to himself, “I go to Mass because I always go to Mass.” “I pray every day because I always pray every day.” “I belong to a particular group at a parish because I always belonged to this group.” In other words, it is possible for the fire of love for Christ to give way to a simply duty or a static routine. The danger is that such a person has lost the ardent love of Jesus Christ, who saved him from sin and made him a child of the Father and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the fire of love can give way to a mere role to play from day to day; but we are called to much more than that. We are called to be inspired in discipleship so that we can joyfully give ourselves in this family relationship that is the parish of St. Francis.
Today we celebrate All Saints Day where we think about the Saints in heaven who gave themselves to Jesus Christ as disciples but also played their full role as members of the family of Christ in radically different ways. St. Thomas vs. St. Francis. St. Ignatius of Loyola vs. St. Teresa of Liseaux. Mother Teresa vs. St. Catherine of Sienna. St. Maria Goretti vs. St. John Paul II. Following the example of these saints each of us all called to not only be disciples but also, like them, to be stewards and to share our gifts with the body of Christ, the Church. And just like each household cannot properly function unless everyone in the family carries out their responsibility for the household, so a parish family is hampered when we all don’t take our full role inside this house. This is our house! And we are the ones who are responsible for it. We must all play our part.
We have come upon the time of our annual Stewardship Renewal where each one of us is able to renew our commitment to this parish family. We should not see this as a duty or as “one piece of paper among many pieces of paper.” But this renewal is actually a meditation, “What gifts do I have so that I can play my full role within my parish family.” Each one of us benefits from the gifts that others share within this family. This very church building was built by the time, effort and generosity of men and women of previous years and yet we are able to rejoice in this church because other people sacrificially provided it for us. We have an opportunity to look at these forms not as as an exaction to be paid, or some “thing we gotta’ do,” but as the way in which we can show our love to this parish family.
There is a distinction between being a disciple and being a steward. Disciples follow Jesus Christ with their whole heart, mind and soul. But disciples also belong to the body of Christ as to a family. In order for this family to work we all need to play our full role. So please pray about the gift that you are and how you can offer that gift both out of love for Jesus, the spouse of your soul, and out of love for the family of Jesus we call the parish of St. Francis.