Before the Cross | Vibrant parishes have collaborative leaders, exercise good stewardship

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson

What's your definition of a good pastor? A man of prayer? One who cares for his parishioners? A collaborative leader? Someone who delivers inspiring (but short) homilies? A good manager of the parish's money -- who doesn't ask too often?

What Jesus demands of us, His pastors, is clearly spelled out in the Gospel. He wants us to be holy and to serve rather than be served. He wants us to be teachers (using both words and actions) and to be pastoral ministers who live out in our daily lives the Gospel we proclaim, and the sacraments we administer, in His name.

Vibrant parishes have strong collaborative leaders who are good stewards of the Church's human, physical and financial resources. We know that it's humanly impossible for every pastor to possess all the skills and talents that are needed to lead a vibrant parish. That's why "collaboration" is so important. Good pastors seek help with things that are beyond their personal skills or abilities.

Not every pastor is a naturally gifted fundraiser or money manager. Not everyone can deliver stirring homilies. Some are gifted planners who can cast vision for the future. Others live in the moment -- trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Vibrant parishes don't have perfect pastors (or bishops) to lead them. By the grace of God, they have men who are growing in holiness and in their ability to listen and learn from others. Whatever a pastor's strengths and weaknesses are, he doesn't have to do it all himself. He should trust in God and in the parishioners God has given him to share in his pastoral ministry.

Vibrant parishes reflect an awareness that everything we have is a gift from God--our minds and hearts, our skills and talents and all our material possessions all come as free gifts from a generous and loving God. Good pastors remind their people--by their words and their example--that we own nothing. God owns everything, and He shares His gifts with us so that we can share them with others.

Once we accept that everything truly belongs to God, there are two appropriate responses:

• The first is to be filled with gratitude for all the blessings God shares with us so generously. How do we express our thanksgiving to God--as individuals and as a parish community? Do our eucharistic celebrations (the greatest prayer of thanksgiving we have) carry over into our daily lives?

• The second is to recognize that we have a responsibility to use our gifts wisely and well in the way that God wants--sharing them generously with others. How generous are we as individuals, families and parish communities? Do we give the minimum necessary to get by (putting "our fair share" in the weekly collection)? Or are we like the Good Samaritan who opened his purse to care for a stranger? Or the prodigal son's father who killed the fatted calf and rejoiced at his irresponsible son's return? Or the widow who Jesus tells us gave "everything she had"?

Gratitude and responsibility are fundamental characteristics of Christian stewardship and, therefore, of a vibrant parish. Both demand that we be people of prayer who share generously all that God has given us.

When we pray, especially in the Eucharist, we give God thanks and praise. We acknowledge His goodness to us, and we express our profound gratitude for all His abundant blessings. When we pray, we should seek God's will for the development and use of all His gifts to us. We can only know how God wants us to use our gifts if we turn to Him every day in prayer and ask Him.

Good pastors invite parishioners to gather around the altar and to acknowledge their identity as members of a vibrant parish community. Once people of faith acknowledge their giftedness and their responsibility for carrying on the ministry of Christ, the mission of His Church, they share generously their time, their talents and their financial resources. They live stewardship.

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