Stewardship: Placing the Lord first leads to the joy of giving
In 1977, Bill Goeddel had open-heart surgery replacing his main aortic valve. Surgeons worked in teams, and it took hours to complete.
Goeddel was 39 at the time and had three children in St. Raphael School in south St. Louis. He remained in the hospital for three weeks due to complications. He recuperated at home for three months before returning to work.
"During this extremely emotional and stressful time, our lives were turned upside down. The power of prayer became our strongest and best friend," Goeddel's wife, Peggy, said in a talk she gave at their parish on stewardship. "Small things that we used to worry about suddenly became insignificant. We knew how blessed we were that God had given us a second chance to serve Him in a much better way. We put God first in our lives in everything we did. I had my husband back and our children had their dad to assist in raising them. What a tremendous gift from our Lord and Savior."
While recuperating from the surgery, Bill Goeddel received an inheritance and reminded his wife that the are stewards of their time, talent and treasure, but God owns everything.
"We are only on earth to share our gifts," Peggy said. "Thus our financial gifts from that time on were given right off the top. Bill donated to our parish because 'we needed to give even if the parish did not need the money.' He also made several gifts to various charities. ... This became a way of life for us...even when we win a small raffle of only $25 or so, we give God the first share. It is in giving that we receive...and it feels so good."
Peggy recently noted that "we do everything we possibly can because we place the Lord first. ... We honestly believe He will take care of us in our needs."
Today the couple, married 52 years, struggle with physical limitations after Bill had two strokes. But their attitude hasn't changed. Though it is difficult, they make it to Mass and do what they can for St. Raphael Parish. Peggy recently was honored at the archdiocesan Women's Recognition Awards ceremony for their involvement in the life of her parish and her unconditional commitment. She and Bill have been involved in many aspects of parish life, from the parish picnic to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. They have assisted with the Annual Catholic Appeal in the parish, and Peggy and Bill served as parish co-chairs of the Appeal. Bill also had a number of roles, from treasurer of the men's club to lector.
'The Joy of Giving'
"The Joy of Giving" is the theme of Stewardship Awareness Sunday to be observed in parishes the weekend of Sept. 15 and 16. The observance, established in 2000, was suggested by pastors as a unified approach that would explain how everyone is called by the Gospel to be stewards.
This year is the third year in a series of stewardship themes set by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson for prayer, participation and generosity. He points out that stewardship starts with prayer: "How do we know what God expects from us if we are not in close communication with Him through prayer?"
He points out that God gives everyone unique talents, but these gifts are not given just for the individual's own benefit. The gifts allow people to participate in the work of the Church.
As for generosity, Archbishop Carlson said stewardship "challenges us to accept responsibility for our own lives and the lives of others."
Everyone is a steward, said Dave Baranowski, director of stewardship education for the archdiocese. He noted that a consistent message is being used in communications. "Many people, when they hear stewardship, think that's the Catholic term for fundraising. Stewardship is all about improving my relationship with God. It begins with prayer. Prayer is what separates stewardship from just being a donor or volunteer."
The three-year program starts with prayer and grows from that, Baranowski noted. "If people are true stewards, they hear the calling, they participate in ministries ... then there's joy, the joy of giving."
Expressions of stewardship
Tim Soer, a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in House Springs, is an electrician who has been unemployed for almost three years. He saw it as an opportunity to donate his time and talent to his parish. His brother, also an electrician, has donated his time and talent, and they helped buy materials. In all, they've probably saved the parish some $30,000 in labor costs, Soer said.
"It's the right thing to do," he noted. "Even though I'm unemployed, I don't think I should hold God hostage by not participating . Stewardship is a wonderful thing. You are giving, but you do get back."
For example, he said, he has made friends through donating his time and talent.
The joblessness has been tough, and he no longer gets unemployment benefits. His insurance coverage ran out, though he does have coverage again. He contributes to the parish from his bank account and believes God will provide. "I thank Him every day for the blessings I do have."
Ann Love, chairperson of the stewardship committee at Our Lady Queen of Peace, noted that her parish mission statement points out that "we hear the will of God and live the way of Jesus, especially through our Sunday worship and parishioners caring for one another."
This statement "could also be a mini stewardship mission statement," Love said. "If we all hear and obey the word of God, live the way of Jesus, and care for one another, we will have more than enough to support ourselves and our parish. By educating our parishioners about the biblical call to stewardship, we will place special emphasis on living the will of God through returning to Him with increase as thanksgiving for all the wonderful gifts He has so generously bestowed on us. God promised us everything we need, not everything we want."
In the past year, she said, electricians, asphalt layers, accountants, roofers, plumbers, cooks and many others have given tirelessly to help keep her parish in good repair and operating efficiently. The parish is always generous financially when presented with a specific or special need, Love pointed out, noting that "the challenge is to become a stewardship parish continuously, without waiting for the special situation or crisis."
Love said that once she began living the stewardship way of life, "I have had 'enough' just as God promised. I may not have had everything I wanted, but I have had enough; enough to return to God, enough to feed my family, enough to pay my bills, enough to send my children to Catholic grade and high schools and enough to enjoy life."
Don LaPoint, a member of Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in Creve Coeur who is on the archdiocese's Stewardship Education Council, said that people are able to give back in many ways, "and it gives us a sense of ownership within the Catholic Church. They have an opportunity to express themselves through a variety of different avenues -- whether it be time, talent or treasure."
He noted that "I have seen people you wouldn't expect ... stepping up and seeing it as a way of getting involved in parish community activity."
For example, he has seen families quietly assisting other families who are caring for a person who is ill or elderly. He also has seen an elderly woman on a fixed income who donated to her parish because it means so much to her to be able to give back, doing what she could. "Those are big expressions" of stewardship, LaPoint said.
At his parish, La Point is on the finance and stewardship committees, participates in the annual education fund and is assisting with the electronic giving program and preparing the annual report
Rob Zeitler, stewardship chairperson at St. Simon the Apostle Parish in South County, said that bringing the message of stewardship to the parish will help others find what they may be missing in their life. "It's important for us to tell not only what stewardship is but to show others what it is. Effectively communicating this to our parishioners is imperative if we want to succeed in growing closer to God and as a community," Zeitler said.
To him, stewardship means "being doers of God's word and not just listeners of it. There is a difference, and showing the action of stewardship is the foundation of building your relationship with God."
Peggy Goeddel noted that parishioners "must take responsibility for maintaining the operation of our parish plant. It is just like taking care of our home. Our parish is our 'home' and depends upon our resources to assist in paying the bills. We need to seriously consider our priorities when it comes to "first-fruits." If we want our parish to continue to operate at top efficiency, we need to be financially responsible."
Generations of stewardship
A man's quiet stewardship has led succeeding generations to carry on his efforts, especially in supporting Catholic education.For the past four years, the family of Robert A. Schuler — his daughter, son and wife — has sponsored a scholarship for incoming eighth-graders at Queen of All Saints School in Oakville. Two scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded. This year's recipients, chosen from a blind essay and other criteria, are Andrew Smith and Anna Hackett.
Schuler was a volunteer at Queen of All Saints until March of 2009 when he died suddenly. He greatly valued Catholic education, and he and his wife, Mary, sacrificed to send their own children to Catholic schools.
"My father always made the comment that sending us to Catholic school was a sacrifice," said Frank Schuler, a member of Queen of All Saints Parish. He and his sister, Cathy Schuler-Loew, attended St. Joan of Arc School. Schuler-Loew, who now lives in Atlanta, went to Nerinx Hall and her brother attended St. Louis University High School.
Frank Schuler's children attended Queen of All Saints; his son is a junior at Christian Brothers College High School, and his daughter is a graduate of Ursuline Academy, now attending Missouri State Univerisity and set to do student teaching at a Catholic school in Springfield, Mo.
Frank's son, Daniel Schuler, wrote that his grandfather was a fixture at Queen of All Saints after retiring as a mail carrier. "He volunteered his time as money counter and usher at Queen of All Saints, collected food for Feed my People, was very active with St. Vincent dePaul and worked as a teacher's aide and recess monitor at my grade school ... . One way or another he would find a way to make you laugh. He would hand out holy cards and religious medals to the kids who had the right answers to his riddles."
Robert Schuler had been invited by a student as his "hero" to a program at the school just before his death. Frank Schuler went in his place, and the student who invited the former school volunteer told Frank Schuler that "your dad could have been on a golf course or done anything he wanted. But he decided to spend his retirement with us at our school."
Robert Schuler's stewardship went beyond the ordinary by passing along a sense of kindness, generosity and humility. His favorite quote was, "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."
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