Stewardship: Giving Thanks to the Giver

new audio with better quality. sorry for troubles. 

Good morning! My name is David Constantine. My parents were some of the first members of St. Pius X Church. I am a relatively new member of St. Dominic Parish. It is only through the grace of God, and, I am sure, years of prayers by several retired nuns, that I am in this place today.

More about that later. Most of you already know that the St. Dominic Stewardship Council has adopted four pillars as a framework for our concerted efforts: Prayer, Study, Evangelization and Generosity. Today, I will talk about generosity, in terms of your time, your talent and your treasure. 

There is a twist to my talking with you today, you see…I am the Prodigal Son in my family. I left the Catholic Church nearly 30 years ago. It was very difficult on my family, and a lot of silly and hurtful things were said. It was especially hard on my mother but, ironically, near the end of her life in 1989, my mom, in a semi-conscious state, without prompting, said. “You were born a Catholic, you will die a Catholic.” Only last year, did I find a note on my Dad’s kitchen counter revealing that my parents had enlisted the help and prayers of Father Joseph Jennings and the sisters from St. Pius, in particular Sister Clare, back in 1985, to “pray me back to the church”. Why did I leave? I was very active in my church, an altar boy at St. Pius, a song leader from 5th grade on …But for me, church had become a performance only and so I started looking for something more. What I felt I needed was guidance through the next week as opposed to what it was going to take to eventually get this Catholic boy into heaven. I visited nearly every denomination…. joined a Baptist church and after a big letdown there… joined Christ United Methodist Church. In 2010, while looking for a Methodist Church home in Greenville SC, God put me in a very modern Catholic Church that honestly, from the outside, looked exactly like a Methodist Church here in Mobile. All of the prayers worked. I rejoined the Catholic Church in 2011. I was not aware of the Catholics Coming Home movement at that time, but that is a story for another day, one that I will gladly share with those of you who are praying for a loved one to return to the church. I beg you, please don’t give up. My parents never did! In fact I think you should meet regularly to encourage one another and pray as a group.
This second time around, as a Catholic, I decided to be a full-fledged Catholic- all in! That includes novenas, early morning mass, prayers during the day and the biblical tithe.
The tithe decision was made as a result of something that bothered me all of my childhood and a good part of my teen years. It concerns the story of the five loaves and the two fishes, and more importantly, how little was said about the young man who brought them. Why did he give up everything he brought? Apparently none of the other 5,000 brought anything to eat? Did our Creator, before the young man was even conceived, perhaps eons ago, know that this boy would bring what was needed for the miracle? Did the boy himself expect a miracle? Did he know he was doing his part to allow a miracle? Would there have been a miracle if the boy had not given everything? He gave everything he was asked for…
Or was the boy simply… so affected by the presence of the living Jesus, standing before him, that giving… even giving everything, was simply a natural response to the charity of Christ, …who would eventually give His everything for all of us? I wonder, if Jesus was standing here, right now, is there anything He could ask for that we would refuse Him?
Jesus often used parables that involved brokenness. A broken heart, a broken will, a broken spirit … Could the bread only be part of a miracle once it was actually broken? Did the bread miraculously multiply only after Jesus broke it? Was this act, in front of his disciples a thinly veiled foretelling of the last supper? And what of the fish? The scripture says they gathered 12 baskets of leftover bread. And nothing is said of the leftover fish. As a young child I wondered whether or not these were the very first leftovers, and you know, Catholic families know about leftovers. But, seriously, every time I heard that gospel or read it in a devotional, I wondered about the symbolism.
Much later in life, I arrived at a simple conclusion; the two fish represent what God asks us to return to Him, of what he has entrusted to us while on this earth, and we must have no expectation of anything for that sacrifice; there are no rebates on the two fish, no frequent flyer points, and interestingly enough, no leftovers. It is what we are obliged to return. Can we realistically expect miracles if we are not giving sacrificially? Thus, my decision for the biblical tithe.

Ah… but the bread! Multiplied, thousands of times over…. this is, at least to me, what we give beyond what is required or expected, and it is what is multiplied and returned to us, in innumerable ways and in such abundance that we have no option but to give even more…. to share with those who have less…just for them to live. As Mother Theresa said, “Live simply, so that others can simply live”.
My conviction at age 55 is that part of the reason we are on this earth is to use the gifts that God has entrusted to us to glorify Him.
Every material thing entrusted to you, every talent God has entrusted to you, the very number of your remaining days on this earth, (another way of saying your time), we are compelled to use in some way to glorify God while we are here. Can each of us list the things that God has entrusted to us on His earth and at least demonstrate to ourselves that we are using some, reasonable portion of that gift to fulfill our obligation? I challenge you to examine the Creator’s gifts to you and at least explore how you might use them to glorify God. Encourage your children to do the same.
Like St. Pius, this parish was founded as a Stewardship Parish, meaning most of the families here not only returned at least 10 percent of their income but often more than that in terms of their time and their talent. At present, giving 5% of your earnings to the church and 5% to other related charities is considered tithing.
If you are already tithing here, then I challenge you to examine your time and consider the many volunteer opportunities at St. Dominic and those with affiliated organizations.
I challenge you to examine your talents. If you are not good at assessing your own talents, ask your spouse, or better yet, ask your children. My son Patrick is 24 and he astounds me with his insight into the strengths that God has entrusted to me. If you need help with how to use your particular talent or skill set for Christ, pray about it and then give Fr. Cink a call or send him an email. Father Cink, or Father Murphy or Father Matt can help you use your talents wisely. I truly hope his phone is lit up for days, and his mailbox is more overwhelmed than normal.
From a purely personal standpoint, and in the interest of clarity, I was not a true tithing Catholic until I joined St. Dominic. Yes I gave somewhere between 4% and 6%, but I wanted to do what my parents did, 10% of the gross, the biblical tithe. So, I made tough sacrifices, I said NO a lot more than I was used to, I stayed home instead of traveling. I ate at home or brought my lunch to work. I cancelled Direct TV. I learned to do with less. And…the strangest thing happened: Money and resources came out of nowhere. Property that had been on the market for years sold for market value, refunds came in the mail, a 2008 lawsuit for an auto accident suddenly settled. At the end of this year, I will have no debt save for my mortgage and my car. I am working extra hard to pay those off. In April of 2012, I had significant debt. Clearly God has honored my putting Him first. I was not expecting that … I was only giving what I was supposed to give.
A further progression for me: sometimes, I give in faith, not sure where it will come from but with complete confidence that it will be provided to me later, sort of a reimbursement plan…and God has never failed me. I repeat, God has never failed me. Sometimes we have not, because we ask not. And sometimes we ask not, because we don’t have enough faith to be absolutely certain that God will give us what we ask for…and for the record, that “FAITH” is the essential part of the “asking”: We must believe that God will honor what we do and what we ask Him for, in faith. HIS supply is unlimited. What keeps us from asking? I say, act on faith, put your feet into the water, in faith…and waters will part. Don’t just pray and wait for the waters to part.
Why has God blessed me? Am I somehow different than any of you. Absolutely not. I am nothing if not a sinner. I think about it this way:

Part of the process of tithing forced me to study tithing and to actively practice contentment. And, I can tell you, practice is what it takes, so I practice being happy with less. I begin my day with a simple prayer to God thanking Him for everything He has entrusted to me, all the gifts He has entrusted to me, all the trials He has entrusted to me, all the prayers He has answered and all the prayers He will answer in my lifetime. It is nearly impossible to be unhappy when I am praising God for His many gifts. Start your day by giving thanks to God for His many gifts. Encourage your children to do the same. It is a wonderful thing to teach them early in their Catholic life
I visited many Catholic parishes when I returned to Mobile, some more welcoming than others. I walked through those rear doors one Sunday and recognized the heavenly music of Randy Bolden and was greeted with a firm handshake by Andy Zakrewski, a classmate of mine from St. Pius X days. He said, “I am so glad you are here, it is good to see you again.” Folks, I was at home again and I felt that deep into my bones. This parish is such a warm and inviting parish and it has so much going for it. I am convinced that NOW is the right time for this parish to become a stewardship parish again. Not one of us in this room can even begin to imagine the blessings that God will bestow upon the people of this parish when we achieve that. I have prayed, and others in this church today have prayed, that God will open the ears and the hearts of those who want to use the church’s human failings as a reason not to answer the call of Christ… I ask you to faithfully acknowledge that you were placed here to use your gifts to glorify the Giver.
There are three little things I am going to ask you to do.
1) Examine and even list what God has entrusted to you, and make a serious commitment to use a portion of each of those things to fulfill your purpose on earth, to glorify the Giver.
2) Complete both parts of a Stewardship commitment card. If you are not a tither, take a step toward that and in faith, knowing that God will honor and bless that, begin with 1 percent, and add a percent per year… OR, begin with ½ of a percent, but please …do not pass up the blessings by refusing to commit what you can, in faith, especially with respect to your time and talents.
3) I am asking also that you complete a card to have your tithe deducted from your account the day after you are paid. These hardworking priests and the lean church staff should not have to concern themselves with week to week collection amounts. They are doing GOD’s work on this earth. They have dedicated their entire lives to us and to our children and we are so very fortunate to have them.
God knows your circumstances, so show your commitment and step out in Faith.
Now, I understand from Father Cink that some folks won’t sign up for automatic deduction because they like the ritual and the symbolism of putting an envelope in the basket as it is passed. I wholeheartedly agree, so I put whatever money I have in my pocket that morning, which is sometimes only a few dollars… or I write a check for 5 dollars and put that in my envelope. I consider that my 5 loaves, my over-and-above, which is always returned to me a hundred times over… sometimes by the end of that very week.
Closing: You may feel that what I have asked is too much, or is overwhelming or will not fit into your current family situation, or life, or work life, or single parent life, or your budget or your “desired” lifestyle. And that may be true… at least now. But a very wise Sister of Mercy once told me this: We are not at our best when we are perched at the summit, nor while we contemplate the climb, we are at our best when we are climbing, even when the way is steep. I can tell you, from personal experience, once you begin climbing, you will finish. I thank my son, my parents and my extended family for their patience with me and you for the welcome this Prodigal Son has received here at St. Dominic. Thank you for listening.

David Constantine

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