by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
MAKING DISCIPLES FOR JESUS
This Sunday’s Gospel is a parable filled with great wisdom. Through this parable, Jesus makes clear that in receiving God’s gifts, we also accept some responsibilities. Indeed, God expects us to use our talents, skills and material blessings in ways that give honor to the One who is the source of all of these gifts.
Essentially, God bestows us with many gifts and we, in turn, use these gifts to give him glory. In the very next verses in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that the best way we please and honor God is by helping our fellow human beings who are suffering in some way.
When we use our gifts in ways that please and honor God, he blesses us even more and thus provides us with even greater opportunities and responsibilities to care for others who are in need. In my experience, it is impossible to outdo the generosity of God.
The world offers us many opportunities to experience intense pleasures that, in the end, leave us empty and craving for more. When we honor God by caring for others, we experience a deep and enduring joy and help make the world a better place.
At the conclusion of the Mass each week, we are sent on mission to proclaim the Gospel (good news) to others — not so much by what we say in words, but more by what we communicate with our actions.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples. In other words, they were to announce the joy of the Gospel revealed to them by God through his son, Jesus Christ. We might be tempted to think that the mission to make disciples only applied to the apostles and the early church.
We should be edified and encouraged by the example of those early disciples, who succeeded in a relatively short time to transform an unbelieving world with the truth and beauty of the Gospel. They did this at a time when there were no automobiles or airplanes and none of the tools for mass communication that are available to us today.
Those first disciples spread the Gospel of Jesus through personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. They did this without advertising campaigns and modern techniques for marketing and branding. They did it by sharing the incredible story of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. They convinced the world of their time by witnessing to the joy that the risen Jesus had brought to their lives.
Statistically, Christianity is the largest religious group in the world, numbering about 2.3 billion. Almost half (approximately 1 billion) of all Christians are Catholics. This is the fruit of the zeal and passion with which our spiritual ancestors lived their Catholic faith.
Our culture and society appear to be changing at a dramatic pace. In our nation today, the fastest growing demographic pertaining to religious affiliation is the so-called “nones” — those who do not identify as part of any organized religion.
Even in northeast Kansas, in our cities and towns, there are an increasing number of individuals who do not know Jesus Christ. Many of our neighbors and co-workers, members of our families and our friends, may know something about the historical figure of Jesus, but they do not know him as both friend and savior.
In recent years, the opinion of many Americans on how to experience authentic happiness and find true joy has changed. The shared belief of previous generations that the purpose and meaning of life was striving to do God’s will by loving your family and friends, by helping those in need and by striving to live a virtuous life has been replaced for many with a combination of self-centered goals that include a combination of career advancement, the acquisition of more and more material things and the enjoyment of creature comforts.
Though Americans enjoy the highest standard of living of any society in the history of the world and have almost an unlimited amount of entertainment options at our fingertips, we have record numbers of people struggling with depression, boredom and loneliness. As Catholics, we have a duty to show by our example the true path to abundant life in this world and everlasting happiness in the world to come.
The very fact that you are reading this article means there is a high probability that you not only know Jesus but are working on deepening your friendship with him. All of us enjoy and treasure the gift of our Catholic faith, because someone shared it with us — perhaps a parent, a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or neighbor.
Each of us who have this pearl of great price, the gift of friendship with Jesus and fellowship in his church, have a responsibility to share this gift with others. We dare not bury our gift and keep it to ourselves. We do not have to be an expert in the Scriptures or have the Catechism of the Catholic Church memorized to have a meaningful conversation with someone else about the gift of our Catholic faith and the reason for our hope in Jesus. Every member of the church is called to do our best to share with others the joy of the Gospel.
If you had vital information that could save the life of another person, would you hesitate to communicate this life-saving info? If you have played a role in saving the physical life of another person, you appreciate firsthand the incredible joy that comes from having the privilege of making such a difference in another human being’s life.
We have vital information that many people desperately need — not just to buy a few more years in this world, but to enjoy everlasting life with Jesus and his saints. Evangelization is simply sharing with others the love revealed by God when he took on our human flesh and gave his life for us on Calvary.
God so loved us that he gave us the inspired books of the Bible, which some have cleverly dubbed to be an acronym of Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Jesus founded the church upon Peter and the other apostles and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It remains after 2,000 years because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the heroism of the saints who have gone before us. It is both our privilege and responsibility to continue today the mission of the church to bring Jesus to others and to bring others to Jesus Christ.
You may wonder how this letter relates to our annual financial report. Our finances are and must be at the service of our mission. The church is not in the business of erecting buildings, operating schools, administering skilled nursing facilities, running a youth camp, etc., to make a profit. Our mission is not to build equity or expand our investment portfolio for its own sake.
Everything in which we are engaged is at the service of our mission. What is the mission? Expressed very succinctly, it is: to grow as disciples of Jesus and to make disciples for Jesus. This must be the prism through which we evaluate the allocation and use of our material resources.
As Catholics, we also have the greatest respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person. Our conviction for the dignity of the human person flows from our belief that every human being is created in the image of God and every human person is of such worth in God’s eyes that Jesus gave his life on Calvary for each of us, no matter race, gender, ethnic background or intelligence quotient.
The reality is that it takes a lot of organizational infrastructure to support our parishes, where the Gospel of Jesus is preached, the sacraments are administered and disciples of Jesus are formed. Pooling and sharing our resources makes our parishes more cost-effective in executing our common mission than if every parish operated independently. The unnecessary duplication of administrative infrastructure would be poor stewardship, because it makes fewer resources available to advance our mission.
Our unity as a Catholic community allows us to be able to do more for less than if every parish operated as a completely autonomous entity. We see this locally by what ministries like Catholic Charities or the Catholic Education Foundation or Call to Share are able to accomplish in our region. On a national and international level, we see this economy of scale once again by our worldwide mission efforts, Catholic Relief Services bringing disaster relief all over the globe, the care for retired religious etc.
I believe in financial transparency. Each year, we attempt to present the financial picture of the archdiocese in great detail as well as the comparative results from the previous year. There is nothing the church possesses that is not the fruit of a sacrificial gift by one of its members. I take seriously our obligation to work to gain the maximum impact for our mission from every dollar donated.
Overall, our financial position remains strong. You will notice that for the past two years we have had expenses exceed revenues. In large part, this is due to planned spending of income recognized in previous years, such as distributions from the Private Appeal for Catholic High Schools or enhancements to the administration of our health care plan, in part necessitated by the Affordable Care Act.
Some were not planned, such as expenses related to the closure of Immaculata High School in Leavenworth. Fortunately, because of prudent financial management over the long term, we have adequate reserves to absorb the occasional unanticipated event.
Another aspect of good stewardship is looking forward and addressing large capital and pastoral needs that cannot be funded through the normal operating budget. The archdiocese is currently studying the possibility of an all-parish capital campaign that would significantly benefit parishes, fund fully our priest retirement plan, build an independent living retirement residence for priests, create an endowment to help cover the cost for the formation of seminarians, make the necessary capital investment into Villa St. Francis — our skilled nursing facility — demolish or repurpose buildings necessitated by the past consolidation of parishes in some areas of the archdiocese, make Savior Pastoral Center handicap accessible, etc.
By the end of 2017, I plan to make a decision on whether or not to conduct a campaign, as well as determine the precise scope of the campaign.
The parable of the talents illustrates God’s expectations that we use wisely the gifts he has entrusted to us as a church and individuals. It also makes clear the worst thing we can do in God’s eyes is to bury his gifts. Jesus reminds us that the ultimate financial report we will have to provide is to the Lord.
Gratefully yours in Jesus, the Lord of Life,
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann