Spirituality of Stewardship in Basic Ecclesial Communities

(Talk given by Fr. Amado Picardal, CSsR to the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines during the seminar on Spirituality of Stewardship, Jan. 22, 2013)

Your eminence & your excellencies, guests, good afternoon. It is indeed inspiring to hear the stories and testimonies coming from dioceses and parishes with BECs that are practicing the Spirituality of Stewardship (SoS). I’m sure, that we all share the same wish – that all the BECs in the Philippines will adopt this. But, we have to admit that as of the moment, there are only a few dioceses, parishes and BECs that are practising SoS as promoted by Fr. Kemberling & SPI, and also by Fr. Mahan
and the Claretian publications

However, if we examine the theory and praxis of BECs – or the ecclesiological vision and the lived experience, we can see that stewardship has, in some way, always been part of the way of life or culture of many BECs –especially those that are fully developed – even if they have not heard about SoS.

Stewardship as part of the lived-experience of many BECs

The sharing of time, talent and treasure – a term popularized as early as the late 1970s by NASSA during lent (Alay Kapwa program) – has been practiced in varying degrees in many BECs.

Sharing of time and talent – this is what many lay people are doing as members of parish BEC formation/animation teams, as BEC lay liturgical leaders, as lay evangelists and catechists,  as members of parish/BEC social action committees.  The spirit of voluntarism is very much alive in many parishes and BECs.

There are various forms of Sharing of Treasure and pooling of resources in many BECs: mutual aid systems (kalipay ug kasakit),modified-tithing (balik-halad, Gasa Balik sa Dios, hatag-uli) –
Romblon, San Carlos, Ipil,  Pagadian,Dipolog, Digos (40 – 40 – 20) gradually doing away with arancel system,   multipurpose cooperatives, food bank, contribution to ordination, charity fund, calamity fund, Pondong Pinoy/Share & Care Program, Church of the Poor Fund (Ayala Alabang), contributions to major BEC events (Mindanao-wide BEC gathering).

Many BECs have been engaged in environmental advocacy: the anti-logging and reforestation campaign, anti-mining, anti-coal fired power plants, waste-management. These BECs were motivated by the awareness of being stewards of creation.
Stewardship as linked with the PCP II vision of Church & BEC

 

The values that SoS promote are actually contained in the PCP II vision of the renewed Church, which is realized in BECs:

The Church as Community of Disciples

living in Communion

participating in the Mission of Christ

as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people

and as the Church of the Poor,.

Stewardship and Discipleship. The overarching vision of the Church in PCP II which is appropriated by BECs is that “community of disciples” According to US Conference of Bishops in their pastoral letter on Stewardship: “Stewardship is the disciple’s response and this is lived in the context of the community of faith.” Thus, stewardship is an expression of discipleship lived in community.

Stewardship and Ecclesial Communion. Communion (Koinonia) is the ecclesiological basis for SoS. The account of the proto-Community as recorded in Acts 2:42 ff and Acts 4:32 ff is considered as the model of ecclesial communion, which the Church in general and the BECs in particular are trying to realize.

“The community of believers were on one heart and one mind and they held everything in common.”

There are various levels of expression of koinonia: fraternal communion  (the unity, friendship, sense of belonging and solidarity in the context of community), communion in faith, communion of the table-fellowship (Eucharistic Communion), and communion of goods.

The communion of goods – the sharing of material and spiritual resources – has always been an expression of koinonia. Because the members were united in a bond of love as a community of disciples and friends, they shared everything – their time, talent, treasure. The collection taken up during their liturgical celebration was also called “koinonia” – a concrete expression of the communion of goods. The proceeds did not belong to the leaders or the clergy, these were meant to be shared by all according to their needs (esp. the poor – widows and the orphans).

The members were aware that the goods that they had did not belong to them but were meant to be shared with each other. The leaders of the community were aware that the proceeds of the sharing of goods did not belong to them.  They were aware that they were not the owners but the stewards. That everything was held in trust and to be shared.Thus, sharing and accountability have always been part of ecclesial communion and stewardship.

This communion is to be realized in all levels – universal and local – in the diocese, parish and the BECs. The BECs are the locus where communion is experienced by the ordinary lay faithful. It is in the BECs that the faithful experience the sense of belonging, solidarity, friendship and sharing with one another. This is where they can practice stewardship. Thus, John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio 51 affirms that:  “BECs are an expression of communion and a means towards greater communion.”

Participation in Mission. According to PCP II – echoing John Paul  II – communion implies participation in mission. This means that all the members of the Church – including the lay faithful – have the responsibility to participate in the three-fold mission of the Redeemer. This participation in mission requires that the lay-faithful, especially in BECs, share their time, talent and treasure in order to actively carry out their mission.  It  is about bringing our gifts to mission.

Prophetic/Evangelizing Mission: The Church and BECs are stewards of the Gospel with the responsibility to nurture and share the faith with others.

Priestly Mission: Stewards of the sacraments – especially the Eucharist – we share the bread of life

The Kingly/Servant Mission: Sharing our time, talent and resources to care for the needy and the earth, for the defense of life & human rights, for the promotion of justice and peace.

Church of the Poor. The Church and the BECs, according to PCP II, are called to bea Church of the Poor. The Church of the poor means that the members of the Church and the BECs embrace evangelical poverty. This means trusting in Divine Providence, sharing one’s goods – time, talent, treasure with others (especially the poor) , and living a simple lifestyle.

The Church of the Poor requires those who are not poor to make a preferential option for the poor, to love the poor, to be in solidarity with the poor, to defend the rights of the poor. It also means empowering the poor, enabling them to actively take part in the process of transformation. Thus, the vision of the Church of the Poor in order to be realized and sustained in the BECs and parishes requires the practice of stewardship.

The Contribution of SoS to BECs

Since, stewardship is already found in the vision and praxis of BECs, what can the SoS contribute? I believe it is the emphasis on the Spirituality of Stewardship and a deeper and holistic perspective. It is a matter of recognizing and appreciating what is already there in the BECs and parishes and to deepen & integrate these experiences.

Thus, we are not importing something new from abroad. We do not start from scratch, but rather build up and enrich what is there already.

In a Focus Group Discussion (FGD)  conducted among BEC leaders  in a parish in Davao that adopted the SoS, these were the findings:

The SoS thrive in BECs that were already existing and flourishing. The more active the BEC, the greater the receptivity to the SoS.

The SoS  increased the income of the BEC and the parish. There was no need for external source of funding to run parish/BEC programs. There was greater financial accountability and transparency. SoS also increased the attendance and participation of the members in BEC activities  (KSP). There was greater enthusiasm and dynamism among the members. There were more people willing to accept leadership responsibilities. Thus, SoS can help in the formation and revitalization of BECs.

In many dioceses in Luzon and Visayas where BECs are just starting, the SoS when integrated in the evangelizing and organizing components can help in the formation of BECs. The SoS can also help in the process of revitalization of many BECs in Mindanao and other parts of the country that have been on a plateau or maintenance mode, or  are stagnating. When BECs practice SoS, they can become more sustainable.

Prescription for a Sustainable SoS Program

The whole diocese has to accept and implement the SoS rather than just leave it to the discretion of the parish priests. This is the example of  one diocese where a seminar on SoS was conducted by the SPI. Afterwards, it was left to the individual parish priests to implement it. There were only 3 out 28 parish priests who accepted it. The SoS was successfully implemented in these parishes, but when the parish priest of one of the parishes was transferred, the new parish priest did not support it and it gradually died out.

From my own observation and from what I gathered in the parish Focus Group Discussions, the initiative and support of the parish priest is key to the adoption and sustainability of the SoS.At the same time, the SoS has to be adopted by the whole diocese so that it becomes part of the thrust, the system and institutional culture of the whole diocese. So, it will no longer just depend on the interest or discretion of the parish priest.

The SoS is not just for the lay-faithful, not just for the BECs. The clergy has to be the prime movers and practitioners of SoS. The SoS cannot be implemented when you have a clergy who
regard their priesthood in terms of power and privilege, who think they own the parish and all its income and resources, who have no sense of accountability and transparency.

The SoS cannot prosper with the clergy who think they can use and dispose of the financial resources of the parish/diocese for their personal needs, vices and luxurious lifestyle, who resist transfer to poorer parishes or will find means to be assigned to richer parishes, or who will bring with them everything when they leave.

The lay faithful will not be inspired to be generous with their time, talent and treasure when they see their shepherds no better than the corrupt politicians and government officials who make use of
their office to enrich themselves.

Thus, it is important to emphasize that SoS requires some conversion- a metanoia. This not just on the part of the lay-faithful but especially the clergy.This means being true pastors – being Good Shepherds – close to the flock, living a simple lifestyle, accountable and transparent, who are aware of being stewards/servants not owners or lords of the flock.

At the same time it is not enough to just focus on the spirituality of stewardship. What is vital is also a system, culture and structure of stewardship at the diocesan, parish and BEC levels. Stewardship must become a way of life for the leaders and members of the Church. This will require a more centralized financial system, a more functional finance council, greater transparency and accountability, a system of sharing of resources and subsidies especially with poorer parishes.

A more transparent financial report and budgeting must show how much is coming in and how much is spent or allocated. This includes budget for operations of various programs (evangelization, catechesis, youth, social action, family & life, BEC, etc.) It should also reflect how much is allocated for the poor in terms of charity, poverty-alleviation projects, etc. While there is reliance onvolunteers, the paid full-time staff must be well-remunerated and operational expenses set aside for volunteers.

Thus, the SoS is not just a clever scheme of fund-raising or another term for tithing, to encourage the lay-faithful to be more generous with their time, talent and treasure. It is much more than that. It is a way of life – about living as genuine disciples and stewards in community.

When bishops and priests become practitioners and models of stewardship, the lay faithful in the parishes and BECs will be more inspired to follow. We will then realize the vision of a renewed Church.