Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stewardship talk

I was asked to speak to the parish on the topic of stewardship. Below is the text of that speech.

Hello, I'm Darren Fix. My son and I have been members of the St Matthews parish for about a year and a half now. I was born into a Catholic family, and although I was baptized and received First Communion in the Catholic Church, my family quit going to church right before I was to be confirmed. My parents had a lot of different reasons for pulling us out, but basically it all boiled down to their feeling that the Church was dreary obligation that stifled them and their relationship with God. For a lot of people this would have been the end of the story, but I was blessed. Twenty some odd years later, I found my way back. Last year with the help of the wonderful people of the St Matthews RCIA program, I finally received the sacrament of Confirmation.

Today, I have been asked to share with you what I think about stewardship and how loving God and serving my neighbors has had a profound impact on my life.

A little over a year ago, God answered one of my prayers, and it I wasn't ready for it. It was a Saturday afternoon and my son was at a birthday party, so I decided to take that opportunity to go to confession. When I came into the church there were a few people already in line and so I made my way to the pews to gather myself, say some prayers and see if I had forgotten anything with my examination of consciousness. When I knelt down to pray I noticed a young woman at the front of the church. She wasn't kneeling or doing much of anything that I could tell. She was just sitting up there and I just had this sense that she was going through something difficult and that she was up there looking for some help. After a a few minutes, while I was wrapping up my prayers and preparations for confession, I looked up and noticed that she was still up at the front of the church. So I threw out a final prayer: "Lord, please help her find what she's looking for. Please give her what she needs."

With that I crossed myself and joined the line for confession, which by this time only had one other person in it. Almost immediately upon getting in line the confessional door creaked open and the person in front of me went in. A moment later the young lady from the front of the church joined me in line, and when she spoke to me I was a little surprised.

She began to tell me a story about how she had just arrived in town that week and that while she had already found a job she was flat broke until she got paid on Friday. She asked me if I could spare any money to tide her over until payday. (pause) Now, two minutes earlier I had asked God to help her and God had answered my prayer by sending her back to me! I was thunderstruck. To this day I couldn't tell you what she looked like or how tall she was or even the color of her hair. I just couldn't believe that God had answered my prayer so quickly and so directly. I pulled my money out of my pocket and looked at it in front of her. I had a ten and two ones. I gave her the ten and she was grateful for it. I put the other two dollars back in my pocket and I was immediately filled with regret. The Lord had asked me to help her, and I helped her all right. I helped her 10 dollars worth, just not 12 dollars worth.

I mean, are you kidding me? Two dollars? Those two dollars didn't mean anything to me but they could have bought her eight packages of ramen noodles or a few cans of tuna fish. Two dollars is about half of what I usually spend on a drink at Starbucks. It's half of a movie rental. I had my checkbook in my car, credit and ATM cards in my wallet, but I couldn't part with those last two dollars. It's not like God had asked me to sell everything that I had and follow him. He asked me to give what was convenient and at hand, and I couldn't even do that.

God had answered my prayers, and I wasn't ready for it. I had asked Him to help her, and help her He did. By answering my prayer that way, he essentially said to me. "I have decided to grant your prayer. I will help YOUR neighbor by sending her to YOU for help. I was so close to doing it right. So close. But I didn't. I failed by the tiniest amount, and instead of feeling the pride of having served my Lord well, I felt the shame of disappointing him.

But that's OK, because I was born to make mistakes. I've talked to people about this experience and about the remorse that I felt for not giving what I could. Some people told me that "if God wanted me to give her the full twelve dollars then I would have." Others told me that it was prudent of me to hold some money back - after all she might have been trying to scam me. They all wanted to make me feel better about what I perceived as my failure. What they didn't understand, and what I'm not sure that I can explain is that I cherish the regret that I feel when I think about that moment. Because in that regret I feel an incredible sense of hope. Not only do I know that God loves me, but I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he wants me to love him and to serve my neighbors. He knew that there was a good chance that I was going to hold back when he asked me to give of myself, but he asked me anyway. And as it turns out, His asking me was one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received.

So, not only has God given each and every one of us gifts - He has given us different gifts and different combinations of gifts and He expects us to use those gifts. When we use those gifts to love Him and serve our neighbors - well, that's called stewardship. Sometimes we can find stewardship opportunities in a Parish ministry or on a school council. Sometimes these opportunities are found out in the community at large - volunteering at Hospice or the Salvation Army or with Feeding the Flathead. Sometimes that opportunity is found in PRAYING for the people involved in those ministries. And sometimes, that opportunity can be found while waiting in line for reconciliation. But always remember, God wouldn't have given these gifts to us if there wasn't a time and a place for us to use them.

If there is one thing that I hope you take away from my talk, it's this: You don't have to be perfect to be a steward. Often times we'll give too little of ourselves. But other times we'll give too much. We'll overextend or put ourselves into a position where we can't sustain our stewardship. We're all going to make some mistakes along the way, but that's OK. Hopefully we've got a lot of time to fine tune our stewardship and find a good balance. The very nature of stewardship allows us to explore it within ourselves, our families and our lives.

Finally, I want to remind you of something that Father Vic has told us: "Stewardship isn't about giving until it hurts. Stewardship is about giving until it feels good." So, I humbly ask you, particularly over the next week, to pray about the gifts that God has given to you that make you unique amongst all of His creation. Please think about these gifts and how you can use them to love God and serve your neighbors.

Thank you.