Christmas Giving and Receiving
By Daniel Conway
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)
Christmas is the season of giving and receiving. Which do most of us like better—giving presents or receiving them? If we’re honest, the answer is probably “both.”
Most of us like giving gifts at Christmas as much or more than we like receiving them. Why? Because unselfish giving always receives something back in return—even if it’s just a smile, a hug, or a heartfelt “thank you!” When we give, we establish a two-way relationship with the person who benefits from our generosity.
But that means that giving is also receiving. When we give a gift to someone we love, we get back so much more in return. Generosity is good for the soul. We are better persons when we give generously “not counting the cost” and “not expecting anything in return.” Even if the person who receives our gift is ungrateful or preoccupied with worries or too self-centered to say “thank you,” we are better off giving than we would be holding back.
God the Father is the greatest giver, of course. At Christmas we celebrate the most precious gift imaginable. God loves us so much that by the power of the Holy Spirit he gives us his only Son as our Lord and Savior. This is such a magnificent gift that our only possible response is to receive this gift with gratitude and humility as faithful stewards of God’s abundant generosity.
Christian stewardship invites us to be generous givers and grateful receivers—especially during this holy season. There are four characteristics or qualities that define the spirituality of stewardship: Gratitude, Accountability, Generosity and the Willingness to Give Back to the Lord with Increase. Especially during Christmas, these qualities can make the difference between a joyful season and a sad one.
Gratitude helps us remember that we have been abundantly blessed by a loving and merciful God. It reminds us to say “thank you” and not take the gifts of Christmas for granted.
Accountability challenges us to be responsible for taking care of the gifts we receive at Christmas time and throughout the New Year. When we accept our responsibilities and can be accountable for the gifts of time, talent and treasure that we have received, we can truly experience the peace and joy of Christmas.
Generosity is what Christmas is all about. God gives us everything we have (our material and spiritual gifts). All he asks in return is that we share these gifts generously with all our sisters and brothers everywhere.
And Giving Back to the Lord with Increase is what makes Christmas such a special time of year. As faithful Christian stewards, we don’t simply hold onto (or hide) God’s gifts; we increase them, making sure they multiply and grow! That’s why the joys of the season spread exponentially whenever we are grateful, accountable and generous in giving and receiving God’s gifts.
God loves us so much that he constantly gives us his gifts of healing and hope, love and mercy, peace and joy, courage and perseverance, and faithfulness even when we turn our backs on him or fail to say “thank you.”
God so loved the world that at the first Christmas he gave us the perfect gift—his only Son, Jesus Christ. And he continues to give this gift generously. How shall we receive this precious gift this year?
Stewardship Saint of the Month
Saint Juan Diego (1474-1548)
Feast Day: December 9
Patron Saint of Indigenous Peoples
Most Catholics would probably associate Saint Juan Diego with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is celebrated on December 12. He was a servant of God and our Lady, the Blessed Mother. He lived in what is today Mexico City during the 1500s.
The story goes that the Blessed Mother appeared to this lowly, humble man on December 9, 1531. She asked that a chapel be built there. From that point on, Juan Diego cared for the chapel and the pilgrims that flocked to it. The Blessed Mother left an image of her face on his cloak. Today we recognize that image as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. The original tilma, as they call it, is located at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a site that is frequently visited by many year-round.
"I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf."
— St. Juan Diego to the Our Lady of Guadalupe
Respect for Human Life
The Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese promotes the right to life from conception to natural death and offers pro-life-geared services, programs, and events for parishes and schools. Among the many highlights of the year, Cheryl Riley, Director of the Respect Life Office, along with LIFENET, a non-profit educational organization, and a team of dedicated volunteers, helped lead the 20/20 Postcard Campaign. The purpose of the statewide effort is to urge our New Jersey legislators to sign a bill that would ban abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy by the year 2020. This spring, they also organized a movie night at a nearby theater for Unplanned, the conversion story of former Planned P
arenthood Director, Abby Johnson.
Other events that the office organizes annually are the March for Life in Washington, D.C., the Trenton Pro-Life Rally, and Rachel’s Vineyard and Grief to Grace healing retreats. In addition, Cheryl also manages the Mercy House, located in Newark, which opened in June 2018. It is a resource and referral center for those in need and is open on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 8:00 – 4:00 P.M.
A new initiative beginning this fall will be a Caring for Life Committee, which will take place in schools throughout the Archdiocese to educate youth on the pro-life issue. The vital work of the Respect Life Office would not be possible without your financial and prayerful support through the Sharing God’s Blessings Annual Appeal. Through your generous support, you help fund this ministry so that it may continue to promote and protect the dignity of all human life. Please consider giving a year-end gift here: www.rcan.org/sharing
The Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry
The Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry serves to support the pastors, clergy, coordinators, and the parish communities of our Archdiocese as they work to minister to the young Church. Through a diverse program that includes leadership gatherings and trainings, youth and young adult events, and retreat opportunities, the office provides ongoing support and formation in the spirit of evangelization.
This past June and July the office hosted its third year of the series Love and Responsibility NJ: Young Adults Building Healthy Relationships with the collaboration of the Offices for Evangelization and Family Life. In an era where there is much confusion about love and relationships, the series provides a life changing 4-week program based on St. John Paul II's Love and Responsibility. The themes are grounded in Dr. Edward Sri's Men, Women and the Mystery of Love. The series concludes with Holy Mass.
Each evening includes insightful talks, engaging witness, live praise and worship, and enthusiastic fellowship. This year, the series had a great lineup of Catholic speakers that included a Catholic therapist, theology professors, and a director of formation from one of our Catholic schools. Each evening focused on themes of Identity, Integrity, and Intimacy in marriage and in friendship. Overall, the annual series is an amazing event that gives young adults an opportunity to connect with their faith, the God who loves them, themselves, and each other.
The 2019 series had a total attendance of over 420 young adults! They came, heard the message, and engaged in lively conversations with others who, like them, are looking to live purposeful and meaningful lives rooted in the truths of our faith.
Your generosity towards the Sharing God’s Blessings Annual Appeal has a direct impact on the lives of thousands of young people who are seeking fellowship and a greater sense of spiritual fulfillment. Your support advances the mission of the Archdiocese of Newark and allows us to continue to proclaim the Gospel. For more information on the Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, please visit www.newarkoym.com.
Heeding God's Call to Serve as Holy Priests
Each year, the Sharing God’s Blessings Annual Appeal funds vital programs and ministries within the Archdiocese of Newark, including various initiatives meant to foster vocations and support seminarians in formation for the priesthood.
The Archdiocese of Newark has certainly been blessed over the years with a great number of hard-working, holy, and dedicated priests who serve Christ and His people in our local church. There is no doubt that without the support of the Annual Appeal, forming such men would not be possible.
The sad reality in the Church today is that people in parishes go without the presence of a priest. Despite numbers of ordinations slightly rising over the past few years in the United States, there are over 3,500 parishes in the United States that do not have a resident priest. (that’s over 20% of all parishes!). In these areas, priests are asked to be Pastors of two or three parishes in
addition to running other specialized ministries. In other areas, priests are asked to merge or close multiple parishes. Unfortunately, this is becoming the norm for Catholics in the United States and can easily be our future. This is why promoting and supporting vocations in our local church is essential. It is perhaps needed now, more than ever.
The Annual Appeal directly supports our 56 Seminarians studying at 4 different seminaries. Last year, 9 men were ordained to the priesthood; and the numbers are dropping. In less than ten years, over 150 priests will be at or above retirement age. This means that there are not enough men coming in to “replenish” those numbers. Right now, parishes in the Archdiocese are served, on average, by two full time priests. Should this downward trend continue, that number could very well reverse with one priest serving two parishes. In the near future, our newly ordained priests will be faced with a new set of challenges, not seen by generations before them.
Therefore, it is through your generous support of the annual appeal, that our seminarians are provided the opportunity to focus 100% on their studies and formation, so that they can be fully prepared to meet these challenges and serve you, God willing, when they are ordained to the priesthood. In addition, through a collaborative effort with many other Archdiocesan offices, the Office of Priestly Vocations can help build a culture of vocations where young men are encouraged to give of their lives to Christ and His Church.
Such initiatives include events where young men and women can spend time with seminarians, priests, and religious brothers and sisters. Through summer camps, school events, and Come and See evenings at the seminary, young people witness and reflect upon the joy lived out through various vocations in the Church. Additionally, this past year, men discerning the priesthood were able to accompany priests and seminarians on a pilgrimage to various shrines and religious sites in Northeastern United States and Canada. Over winter break, many of these men also participated in a mission trip to El Salvador, encountering Christ in the poor and reflecting on the life of St. Oscar Romero, priest and martyr. To learn about current Vocations initiatives and how to promote vocations at your local parish, please visit NewarkPriest.com and follow NewarkPriest on social media.
Thank you for your generous support of the Annual Appeal, which directly impacts the future of our Church. The future of our Church relies upon young people knowing who they are as beloved children of God and developing a relationship with Him. Through that relationship, they will be able to respond generously to His will for their lives. By your generous support of the Annual Appeal, the Archdiocesan Vocations Office and Seminaries are able to provide opportunities for young people to do just that.
To make an online gift to the 2019 Annual Appeal, please visit www.rcan.org/sharing.
In Support of Christians Worldwide
As Christian stewards, we are called to pray for our local churches, but also for the universal Church, particularly in times of tragedy. We remember our fellow Christians who are continually persecuted for their belief in Christ, especially those who died this Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. We offer up our prayers and works to the Lord, the ultimate victor in our fight for all that is good. We also offer our prayers for the conversion of sinners, those who inflict harm on Christians, and those who do not know a loving and merciful God.
When horrific events occur in our world, acts of terror in this case, we see an even greater need to evangelize and spread the Gospel message. The reality is that we live in very dark times. The culture is in need of conversion — and in a major way. Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace to the earth. He understood this well, as many of his disciples had to suffer for their beliefs. The struggle to live an authentic Christian life is something we all experience, to one degree or another. So, as we take a moment to pray and fast for Christians, we also can mediate on this quote from scripture:
"If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world" John 15:18-19.
As good and faithful Christian stewards, we need to pray, but we also must practice giving of ourselves more and more to our Lord. Hold a prayer vigil in memory of the victims of the Easter Sunday massacre, put forth your intentions for persecuted Christians at Mass, or make a daily sacrifice. For we are blessed to be alive in Christ, to be able to go out to the world and spread the Good News; let's not take that for granted. Even more important is the fact that we live in a country that - believe it or not - still allows us the freedom to practice our faith. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" Galatians 5:1.
May God continue to spiritually arm us and protect us. May we have the courage and the fortitude in the face of tragic events to live out the fullness of our Catholic Christian faith, to be authentic Christian stewards of our time, our talent, and our treasure.
An Inside Look at Our Cathedrals
We make a special mention this month of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, which as many of us know suffered a horrific fire on April 15, right at the beginning of Holy Week. A significant portion of the historic cathedral was destroyed in the blaze, the spire included. Despite the destruction, the relic of the Crown of Thorns was saved, a tremendous effort by Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade. Catholics around the world have praised this priest for his bravery. Notre Dame is one of the most remarkable, architectural structures in the history of western civilization. It was built in 1163 and underwent many additions and renovations over time. It was constructed in the Gothic architectural style, which dates back to the 12th century of the Middle Ages. It is truly a work of art, a fixture of the Catholic Church, that believers and non-believers flock to year-round to experience its sacred beauty. A treasure has been partially lost, but the memory of Notre Dame is still alive in our hearts. A pledge has been made to rebuild this historic landmark as well as financial support from the public, including our own Archdiocese. Please visit https://www.nationalshrine.org/support-notre-dame/ for more information on how you can donate to the rebuilding project. And for more interesting facts about Notre Dame's history, visit: https://www.discoverwalks.com/blog/10-facts-about-notre-dame-cathedral/.
The Grace of Giving by Allan Caballero
Both the Bible and various religious sources teach us how beautiful it is to give of ourselves to others. However, this gift of the Holy Spirit is more than a good deed; it is a way of life. As disciples of Jesus, we are invited to respond to the call to follow him, imitating him with a humble and grateful heart as the saints did. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, became a figure known worldwide for her work with the most needy, which was to give of herself, as Christ did on the cross.
The death of Jesus on the cross is a living and eternal gift. Being disciples of Jesus, we find that the true treasure of the Christian is in giving, and not in receiving. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" Acts 20:35. However, we often find that, despite having the intention to give and help, this idea is not always realized. Many of us "think" about giving in the same way we "think" about exercising. We know it would be good to do it and we will feel better once we do it. We would like to, really, we would. But it does not always happen!” (Debbie Nutley).
Following the example and teachings of Jesus and the saints, we see that like them, we are called to serve and not to be served, in order to help our brothers and sisters in need, knowing that our reward is in heaven. Jesus being King, has given himself to the extreme because of his love for us. This has been the greatest act of love and surrender in the history of mankind. One of the treasures of Hispanic Catholicism is the generosity of its people. This generosity and desire to help can be demonstrated in different ways, especially in our parishes:
• Prayer: for the Parish and Parish Priest
• Participation: in the ministries and parish groups.
• Generosity: with our treasures and material goods.
Our Prayer: Prayer is a connection between God and us. God is always waiting for us to speak to him through our personal prayer. Do I dedicate significant time to prayer? When was the last time I prayed for my pastor? Do I teach my children and family the importance of prayer?
Our Participation: As children of God, we have received talents and gifts. At the end of our lives, God will ask us: How did you use your time and gifts? Sharing our time and talents through the participation of different ministries and parish groups is to proclaim Jesus, and be part of his mission to save and preach to all souls. Do you? If not, this is a good opportunity to start doing it. "It's never too late to love." Either one day a week, or one hour a year, all God wants is your help in building his kingdom.
Our Generosity: Our material goods, including money, are gifts that God gives us. He asks us to administer and share generously for the good of our neighbor and brothers in Christ. Helping the Church through a Sunday offering is helping our second home. Do you? Is the offering a simple habit, what is left over, or what I find in my pocket during the Mass? A planned and generous offering gives a feeling of peace, since God does not receive what we have left, but a true offering of love.
Finally, let us remember that God does not gain anything from our generosity. It is the soul that gives that will receive much more. "You will be enriched in every way so that on every occasion you can be generous, and that through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" 2 Corinthians 9:11.
May the grace of God be with you!
Stewardship Saint of the Month
St. Bernadette Soubirous
During the month of April, we honor Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, whose feast day is April 16. This year we celebrate her in a special way, as it is the 175th anniversary of her birth and the 140th anniversary of her death. When we think of her, we think of Lourdes, France, a popular Catholic pilgrimage site, where many miracles have taken place. This holy site was the place where the Blessed Mother appeared numerous times to a teenaged Bernadette, where she ultimately revealed her identity, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” One of Mary’s requests of Bernadette was that a chapel be built at the site. Today it is a national shrine where people from all over the world come for healing and cures. According to a Catholic News Agency article published in 2018, there have been 70 reported miracles that have occurred at the Lourdes grotto; it is truly a holy site.
Bernadette was the oldest of nine children, born in 1844 into an extremely poor family. A sad fact of her life was that she was chronically ill, a cross she had to endure up until her death. Because her family was so poor, she was not properly educated, not even in her Catholic faith. Eventually, she was given some instruction and received her first communion. In her teenage years, her life changed in a beautiful way. A series of apparitions occurred at the site of the grotto, where she had her first encounter with the Blessed Mother, not knowing who she was until she ultimately revealed herself. Bernadette told people of her visions, though at the beginning many were skeptical. Eventually, they came to believe, especially in knowing of the healing power of the Lourdes water.
Although she lived a short life, having died at the age of 35, Bernadette put the Lord first. For many of us, in these modern times, it is hard to imagine growing up in poverty or having to cope with suffering. Here in the United States, we live in freedom under a system that allows us the opportunity to get a job, own a home, own a car, and move up financially in society. Despite that, we should recall Saint Bernadette when we think of the less fortunate and the sick. She is, after all, the patron saint of sick people. As a good and faithful steward, in her own small way, she shared her time with the Blessed Mother, continually visiting her at the grotto. She also shared her time with others in speaking about faith. Her love for and devotion to the Lord was immense. As a faithful disciple of Christ and a beloved daughter of Mary, her life should be an example for all of us who are working towards holiness, and our ultimate goal of heaven.
Saint Bernadette’s life was depicted in the movie, The Song of Bernadette, where Jennifer Jones plays the main role. It is one of the more beautiful films done by Hollywood. It is family-friendly, and perhaps, a spiritually enriching movie to watch before Easter.
For more information on Saint Bernadette, go to: https://www.lourdes-france.org/en/the-bernadette-year-has-begun/.
We Are An Easter People!
As we ready ourselves for Easter Sunday, we pause to reflect on this time of overflowing graces, the outpouring of God’s mercy, and our willingness to sacrifice as we near the end of Lent. Many parishes around the Archdiocese of Newark have offered weekly Stations of the Cross – typically on Fridays – as well as additional opportunities for confession and Lenten reflection talks, among other things. They provide ample services to spiritually awaken us, lest we fall into a spiritual rut and are not sure how to get out. “Then Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Were you not able to keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak’" Matthew: 40-41.
Lent is a time for both a spiritual awakening and renewal as we mediate on Christ’s passion and death on the cross over 2,000 years ago. We make a turn towards the Lord – in both a physical and religious sense – especially if there is a void in our faith life. What void might we have in our life that we want the Lord to fill before Easter? Some questions to consider: Have we
avoided confession? Do we need to deepen our prayer life? Do we need to change our habits? Have we not been charitable in thought, word, and deed? Have we not been generous with our time, our talent, and our treasure? Now is the time to turn towards the Lord as we approach the joyous celebration of Easter.
In celebrating Easter, we understand the deep meaning of our Catholic faith. If Jesus had not died and had not risen, as scripture tells us, there would be no resurrection, and thus our faith would be in vain. Catholics celebrate the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven in part because of the writings passed down from the Gospel writers. The word ‘mystery’ is significant in that faith itself is a mystery, a realization that we must put our trust in God; we must believe even when we cannot see. Therefore, because of the resurrection, we call ourselves an Easter people that continue to have hope in the Lord. We live according to His ways and pray that we may experience the fullness of life in eternity.
May all of us have a most spiritually meaningful Lent and a joy-filled Easter Sunday.
Evangelizing through the Catechetical Office
The ministry of catechesis is essential to the life of the Church. We are committed to passing on the faith to the next generation and the formation of missionary disciples, people driven by a relationship with Jesus to live the Gospel.
The ArchdiocesanCatechetical Office does this every day by supporting 330 Parish Catechetical Leaders (Directors and Coordinators of Religious Education) in their efforts at their local parish. With a growing number of lay ecclesial leaders, some of whom are volunteers, the support, resources, and training that our office provides is crucial to the success of their efforts. The office also provides formation for over 7,000 catechists through workshops offered throughout the Archdiocese, the annual Catechist Convocation, and various online opportunities. Together with parish leaders and catechists, we work to provide effective programs for 65,874 children and teens, as well as for their parents and families. In addition, the office serves to support catechesis in 94 Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese and supports programs that serve nearly 30,000 adults participating in adult faith formation opportunities.
Some of the initiatives that the Catechetical Office is able to provide are Family and Adult Faith Formation programs, Bible Conferences, and, most recently, support of Prison Ministry.
Our goal is to help parish leaders in their ministry with families by providing training, materials, consultation, and support for program design and implementation. The Family and Adult Faith Formation program offers the Spotlight series, which are courses that focus on the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Bible Conference is a new initiative in collaboration with the Evangelization Office and the American Bible Society, which has enabled the Catechetical Office to offer an Archdiocesan Bible Conference, offering workshops, presentations, as well as bible literacy programs. In addition, we most recently began work on providing scripture resources, catechetical materials, and bibles to prisoners who are incarcerated in the prisons located in the archdiocese.
We are reminded that the Church “is bidden to offer catechesis her best resources in people an energy, without sparing effort, toil or material means, in order to organize it better and to train qualified personnel. This is no mere human calculation; it is an attitude of faith.” (Catechesis Tradendae, 15)
Your generosity towards the Sharing God’s Blessings Annual Appeal has a direct impact on the lives of thousands of people who are seeking a greater sense of spiritual fulfillment. These programs and ministries would not thrive without your generosity. The Annual Appeal supports these essential programs, which are critical to the future of our Church, and are bringing Catholics into a deeper relationship with Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
To learn more about the programs and ministries supported by the Sharing God’s Blessings Annual Appeal or to make an online gift, please visit www.rcan.org/sharing.
St. Katharine Drexel's Life Teaches Us that Philanthropy is a Sacred Call
By Elizabeth Ziegler, Pressident and CEO, GPC
Today, on her feast day, I revel in a little-known fact about St. Katharine Drexel. Her name is commonplace on hospitals, schools, churches, missions, and college campuses. Her work for and reach to the most marginalized was undoubtedly tremendous. She was the embodiment of a missionary disciple. Hers was a life lived at the peripheries – despite, or perhaps because of, her family’s wealth – to meet and be with those most in need.
Yet, what some may not know about St. Katharine is her patronage. She is the patron saint of both philanthropy and racial justice. And it is this legacy that unlocks for us the future of the Catholic Church.
At its most basic, philanthropy is goodwill to the human race. It is so vital that without it, society as we know it would cease to exist. Humanity therefore depends on philanthropy, and in particular, on Catholic philanthropy.
The Church – thanks to saints such as St. Katharine and countless other women and men who lived in service to others – is one of the greatest forces for good in the world. Through the millennia, its schools, hospitals, shelters, and sanctuaries have provided physical and spiritual care for billions around the globe. No other institution on the planet can say the same. And yet, this work is only possible with holy and inspired Catholic philanthropy – the kind of passionate, full-hearted giving by which St. Katharine lived.
From a young age, St. Katharine was drawn to alleviating injustice around her. Her family opened their home to shelter and care for the poor each week. She felt pulled in particular by the plight of Native- and African-Americans, donating time and money in service to marginalized and overlooked communities. As with many saintly women and men, St. Katharine’s work and faith were one, each reinforcing her commitment to give back to the Lord with increase. The fruits of this generosity are still apparent today. She went on to establish the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament congregation and founded a secondary school for African-American students in New Orleans that would eventually become Xavier University of Louisiana.
Oddly enough, raising the kind of money St. Katharine and her family donated can be viewed as a funny business, an unfortunate necessity bordering on a dirty deed. As a professional fundraiser in the Church, I know this feeling all too well. It is a feeling that the sacred must not be confused or watered down by the temporal – that giving and asking for material wealth are actions devoid of spirituality, a realm God does not frequent. St. Katharine’s life teaches us just the opposite – that philanthropy is a sacred call, one of the most holy ways to serve the Church and live out one’s faith. Simply put, St. Katharine sanctified philanthropy. And in doing so, she made the ask – fundraising – not a bad word, but a holy one. She modeled a spirituality of stewardship for us all, before it was given a name.
Today, we look to St. Katharine for the promise her life and legacy hold for the Church. We are pulled by her life of service and gift to elevate philanthropy so that those it serves around the globe – the good of the Church – can flourish. It is an exhilarating call to answer and a compelling ask to make.
Elizabeth Zeigler is President and CEO of Graham-Pelton Consulting and GP Catholic Services, a leading fundraising consulting firm serving the Catholic Church and specializing in designing and managing fundraising campaigns for dioceses, schools, parishes, religious orders and congregations. Elizabeth and her family are parishioners at St. Michael Church in Cranford and her daughter is graduating from Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains this May.
Lent, a Season to Love
As we embark on our Lenten journeys once again, we pause to reflect on what this season is all about. For those of us who practice the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – we know that there is more to it. We can pray harder and more often, we can fast not only on the obligatory days of fasting, we can sacrifice something like a favorite food or social media, and we can certainly give more of our ourselves to the Lord and donate our unwanted or unused possessions. Despite how good these Lenten deeds are, we are made for even more! Lent is a season to love and to love more deeply, just like Jesus. Sports figures, like Tim Tebow, very often use this biblical quote, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is so poignant and perfectly sums up the love that God the Father and Son have for us. We are also reminded of the sacrificial love of Jesus, as described here: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). He suffered and died for each one of us, no matter the circumstances. During this Lenten season, let’s spend some extra moments throughout the day reflecting on that truth. Let’s also practice Christ’s teaching on love and charity towards our fellow neighbors, in thought, word, and deed. May we all have a most blessed and holy Lent, filled with the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Stewardship Saint of the Month - Saint Patrick
This month we honor Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. His feast day is celebrated on March 17, and in the United States, it is not only a day to venerate a great Catholic saint but to also celebrate Irish heritage – whether or not one has Irish ancestry. As the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick is remembered for bringing Catholicism to pagan Ireland in the 5th century, A.D. When we think of Saint Patrick, we might think of shamrocks, an Irish and Catholic symbol for the Holy Trinity. What some people might not know is that when he was a teenager he was sold into slavery and lived in captivity until his early twenties, where he then had a spiritual conversion. From there, he traveled back to Ireland to begin his missionary life, changing hearts and minds, and converting the Irish people. As a teacher of the faith, he demonstrated the beauty and truth of Catholicism. This Saint Patrick’s Day, when we are enjoying our usual Irish fare, let us also reflect on the importance of this saint and his great accomplishments. Saint Patrick, pray for us!
By Ivan Arocho, Executive Director of Development
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Lent is here. At the start of the season, I can always recall the worry I felt as a child the Tuesday evening before Ash Wednesday. “What am I giving up for Lent? Chocolate…TV…meat?” To be honest, I was never as successful as my five siblings were. Undoubtedly every year, I approached the altar on Easter thinking two things: “It’s over!”; 2) “I’ll get this done next year.” Fast forward 30 years, and I think it finally clicked for me.
This year I’m reframing the question entirely. Lent is not about me at all and it really isn’t about giving up anything. Lent is about Him! It’s not about what I give up – but what He gave to me! I’m thankful to be a father and husband, for my job, for my parish community – but I’m also deeply grateful for my Baptism, the Eucharist, for the forgiveness of my sins, and the missionary call to share the Gospel with others - which are just as, if not, more important.
It’s taken three decades, but I think this is the first time I’ve taken a step back to re-think Lent and to be intentional about prayer, penance, and giving. These tools are not my gifts to God, but His gift to me, they’re His way of showing me who He is – A Powerful, Merciful, and Generous God.
Reframing the question, Lent asks us to think about “What He gave me?”
I’m looking forward to watching the Easter candle pierce through the darkness at my parish vigil. It will be a sacramental reminder of hope and Christ’s ability to dispel the shadows that can creep into our lives and into our Church.
I pray that your Lenten season is filled with grace, renewal, and conversion. Thank you for the many ways you partner with, serve, and lead this local Church. Your generosity witnesses to the faith, hope, and love of this Archdiocese.
Wishing you a grace-filled Lent, and joyous Easter Season.
Supporting the Suffering
Annual Appeal Story
This year, the Archdiocese of Newark is highlighting specific ministries that are directly supported by donations to the Annual Appeal. There are three pillars the appeal is focusing on: proclaiming the Gospel, passing on the faith to the next generation and caring for the poor and vulnerable. The first of those—proclaiming the Gospel—was seen in the video recently shown in parishes. In that video you met Lauren Egan. She’s the associate director of the Office of Family Life, and shares how she found healing through an archdiocesan support group. Here’s more of her story.
Lauren can openly talk about the struggles she has endured during her life, including the ending of her marriage and the loss of her daughter Faith during her ninth month of pregnancy. She can share these hardships with others to help them with their own grief and find healing. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I was in a really bad place in my life. After the divorce, I cut God out of my life. I was angry with Him,” admits Lauren, who was raised in the Catholic faith. She says her husband left soon after the baby’s death, causing her to lose her house and her in-home business and finding herself a single mother.
She moved from southern New Jersey to northern New Jersey to be closer to her family. Lauren explains that, for months, she felt lost and angry and wasn’t allowing herself to grieve. She says it wasn’t until a friend told her that it was OK to be angry with God and to talk to Him about it that she slowly started to open herself up to the pain. “I remember going home and crying and yelling at Him,” Lauren recalls. “The next night, I was talking to Him again. That opened up the door to communication.”
Lauren came across a separated and divorced support group at Notre Dame Parish in North Caldwell and decided to attend. “I don’t remember how I found out about it, but that’s the amazing thing. I didn’t want to come back to the Church; I wanted to be around people who felt the same way,” she says.
During these meetings, Lauren and the others who attended talked about their experiences, shared their stories and prayed together. She says there’s a real benefit in meeting with someone else going through similar sufferings. Lauren recalls a priest explaining during one of the sessions that they are not excommunicated from the Church. And during a later confession with that same priest, he told her that Jesus always welcomes back His lost sheep. “I started crying,” Lauren says. “In that moment, I felt this huge heaviness released off of me. I felt now I can be with God again. I was ready to come back to the Church. I’m finally free.”
In coming back into communion with the Church, Lauren describes how she started to feel something special when receiving the Eucharist at Mass. “There was a peace I felt that I can’t explain. I wanted to feel that peace all the time,” she says. “I craved the Eucharist and being with the Lord, so I started going to daily Mass. It’s what sustains me. I made it a priority above all things in my life.”
Another moment of transformation happened for Lauren when she was offered the position of associate director of the Family Life Office in the Archdiocese of Newark. “I feel God made this position for me. All my sufferings can be used for good here,” claims Lauren, who had been working in a mental health counseling center.
In the three years she’s been working at the archdiocese, Lauren has added 10 more separated and divorced support groups, doubled the number of general bereavement support groups and started a single parents support group. “The more support groups we have, the more people we’ll be able to reach and affect their lives,” she expresses. There are more than 60 support groups ministering to 1,500 Catholics. “Because it was such a help to me, I want to be able to give back.”
Lauren, who has a degree in psychology and a certification in substance use counseling, is also responsible for training the facilitators who run the various support groups. She conducts a 20-hour course that teaches basic counseling skills—like how to listen—and discusses real-life experiences, which she calls “real play” instead of role-play.
According to Lauren, the whole purpose of the groups is to make sure people don’t mourn alone. “I think these groups are important; they are the hands and feet of Jesus. Through their suffering, the participants of the group can eventually be resurrected. There is a hope and healing that can happen. It’s important to experience the cross with other people.”
Through the work she is doing, Lauren says it gives meaning to her own loss and it’s rewarding when she witnesses another person’s transformation. “God is helping and healing people,” she states. “I feel like I’m doing something, there’s a purpose. You’re giving them the opportunity and the space to grieve. There’s a bond that’s created with the people. Having these groups shows they’re not alone, God does love you, the Church does care.”
To learn more about the support groups offered by the Office of Family Life, visit rcan.org/loss-transition or contact Lauren Egan at 973-497-4327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to donate to the Annual Appeal and help ministries like Lauren’s, please visit rcan.org/sharing.
This story was featured in the March issue of New Jersey Catholic. To view the article, click here.
The Spirituality of Stewardship by Daniel Conway
The American bishops’ pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, describes a Christian steward as “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, and returns them with increase to the Lord.” Thus, there are four characteristics of a Christian steward.
The first characteristic is gratitude. A Christian steward is “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully.” Gratitude assumes that we acknowledge God as the true owner of all that we have and all that we are. Gratitude to God, and to those who have shared themselves with us, helps us maintain a true sense of identity as Christ’s disciples.
The second characteristic is accountability. A good steward is “one who cherishes and tends God’s gifts in a responsible and accountable manner.” Accountability reminds us that we are responsible for what we do (or fail to do) with our time, our talent, and our money. As Christ’s disciples, we are responsible for building up God’s kingdom, and on the Last Day, we will be held accountable.
The third characteristic is generosity. A Christian steward is “one who shares God’s gifts with others out of justice and love.” Generosity propels us outside of ourselves – often in ways that contradict our own interests. The lives of the saints give us countless examples of individuals whose generosity won them true freedom and joy. Giving is good for us; it is also right and just to share what we have been given with others.
The final characteristic is the willingness to give back to the Lord with increase. God wants us to take his gifts and develop them. A Christian steward is called to be productive, to make a difference in the world.
Traditional Christian spirituality teaches us to give back to the Lord by means of the ascetical practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In prayer, we give back to God our time (and our hearts). By fasting, we deny ourselves the good things that we want and need; the more genuine our self-denial is, the more we flourish and grow. Through almsgiving, we share what God has given us with others; if we give from the heart, we gain infinitely more than we have given away. Prayer, self-denial, and sacrificial giving are the essence of what Christian stewardship is all about!
Stewardship Saint of the Month – Mary
This month we honor our Blessed Mother Mary, queen of all the saints and queen of heaven. We recognize her, not only because she was the mother of God, but also because she was one of the first Christian stewards. Mary lived a virtuous and holy life, humbly and gracefully accepting the Lord’s will. Just imagine how she was only a teenager when the Angel Gabriel revealed to her that she would be the mother of our Savior. She had no relations with a man, no husband at the time, and no financial means to support herself. What she did have was faith and trust in God – how powerful is that? We have to ask ourselves: Is having financial means and going to Mass on Sunday enough to be good stewards? By doing those two things alone get us into heaven? Not necessarily. It is how we live our daily lives, by giving back to our local church community, and by sharing our gifts of time, our talents, and our treasure. Preaching the Gospel, passing on the faith, and caring for the poor and vulnerable are what make a good steward. Stewardship is a way of life. Let us reflect on and remember Mary, who gave so much of herself to be the mother of God and of our church!
Stewardship at the Parish – Saint Francis de Sales, Lodi
On January 25, Saint Francis de Sales in Lodi – one of the Archdiocese’s more diverse parishes – hosted a Stewardship Appreciation Dinner for about 50 donors. The parishioners enjoyed a catered meal and towards the end of the evening, they watched this year’s Annual Appeal promotional video, entitled Loss and Transition: Lauren’s Story. The event was an opportunity for the pastor, Fr. Francisco Rodriguez, to express his gratitude and appreciation for the parishioners’ gifts of time, talent, and treasure, specifically at the parish level. Fr. Francisco spoke a few words of thanks, encouraging them to use their gifts not only in their own parish community, but also towards this year’s Annual Appeal.
2019 Annual Appeal Update
Our first Annual Appeal and Stewardship Dinner took place on Tuesday, January 8 at the Venetian in Garfield. The Office of Development and Stewardship recognized over 250 lay leaders and 150 pastors and vicars for their gifts of time, talent, and treasure to the Archdiocese of Newark. Over 40 parishes were also recognized for their support of the 2018 Annual Appeal.