EHRENKRANZ: The air they breathe: Priestly stewardship in action

May 10, 2022

Through Baptism, each of us is called to be a disciple of Jesus. How that is lived out is an individual and unique response based on our own set of gifts, talents, interests, knowledge and experience. That response is stewardship. As stewards, we make a conscious decision to follow Jesus, express our commitment not in a single action but as a way of life, and give generously and gratefully to God as the source of all we have, are and will be.

Many of us will “live and move and have our being” as stewards of God’s various graces within the context of the secular world. But a distinct few will respond to this call as parish priests. While I am not one of those few, my position on the staff of a large parish has afforded me the privilege of knowing and working alongside a number of great Catholic priests.

In fact, it wasn’t until I was on staff that I learned just how much a parish priest does for the faithful. Until we need them for something (marry, bury, baptize, anoint the sick, etc.), many of us don’t consider what our priests do outside of Sunday Mass. Briefly, I’d like to focus on the topic of parish priests as stewards.

Conscious decision to follow Jesus
We are all invited to follow Jesus. When I made the choice to follow Jesus, it impacted my life and the lives of those in my family. But a priest is responsible for an entire parish: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture” (Jer 23:1). They are responsible to God for our very souls! It’s a much higher calling than we can imagine.

How many times have we walked away from Mass, analyzing and criticizing the homily? Too long, too short, too provocative, not provocative enough… or worse, grumbling that the priest’s accent is different from ours? If we consider the awesome responsibility a priest has for the souls of everyone in the pews (and everyone not in the pews, for that matter), perhaps we will appreciate the true gift of his vocation.

Our parish priests didn’t make a conscious decision to follow Jesus to serve up a world-class homily on exactly the issue we want to hear about on a particular Sunday. Rather, they serve “Jesus-in-us.” It’s a higher calling than trying to please us. They’re trying to help save us.

Stewardship is a way of life
It is said that stewardship is expressed not in a single action or even in a series of actions over a period of time but as an entire way of life. When a priest is ordained, he is a “priest forever” (Heb 7:17). This is why the priesthood is called a vocation, not a career or a job. It is his very life.

For many of us, we can look for another job if we desire more money, recognition or better work conditions. A parish priest stays and serves. At our jobs, we may be expected to work certain hours of the day, then go home. Parish priests literally live at their workplace so that they can be available to meet the spiritual needs of their parish family.

A parish is a family. Just as we experience the highs and lows in our families, parish priests experience the same highs and lows within the big parish family. As Father Gregory Boyle, SJ, founder and director of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang-intervention and rehabilitation program, and former pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, said, “The disciples didn’t leave Jesus’s side with a fully memorized set of beliefs. Rather, theirs was a loving way of life that had become the air they breathed… fully dedicated to kinship as its goal.”

Kinship with us and leading us to heaven is much more than a job — it’s a parish priest’s way of life.

Give generously and gratefully
Stewards recognize all is a gift. “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17), so with gratitude, we generously give back our time, talent and material gifts as a way of thanking God.
Parish priests are grateful for the faithful and generous members of their parish family. Together, priests and laypeople share pastoral co-responsibility for the parish, joyfully, gratefully working together to be a “light for the nations” (Is 42:6).

Even the humblest offering — shared joyfully and with gratitude — is a delight to God and a great blessing to your parish family. With God, the more you give, the more you will have “packed together, shaken down, and overflowing” (Luke 6:38). What a marvelous mystery!

My pastor at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Father Drew Wood, often says, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived as gracefully, graciously and gratefully as you can.” May we all choose to live this mystery and follow Jesus. And may the example of our parish priests serve as inspiration for us to live as gracefully, graciously and gratefully as possible. 

Sharon Ehrenkranz serves on the Stewardship Advisory Council for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and is the Director of Parish Life at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land, winner of the 2019 Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy Parish Stewardship Award.