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Saint Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, is considered a model of Christian stewardship. He authored the famous Rule of St. Benedict, a handbook of daily Christian living that emphasizes exercising stewardship over prayer, work, and community.

Born in central Italy in the town of Nursia around 480, Benedict studied in Rome as a young man. He was so distressed by the chaos and incivility he found there that he left the city and traveled to Subiaco, Italy to become a hermit. He soon attracted followers who wanted to join him in his simple way of living; imitating his style of prayer and work while respecting the rhythms of the day. Benedict stayed there for 25 years before taking a small group of his monks to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he wrote the final version of his Rule.

The Rule of St. Benedict started a simple, spiritual tradition that exists to this day. It was meant to “…establish a school for the Lord’s service.” It is a set of Christian principles around which the members of the community were to organize their daily lives, focusing on the most important Christian values that would direct their daily actions and help them cultivate habits that would ensure good stewardship of their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

A hallmark of Christian stewardship is hospitality, making room for others. St. Benedict found this aspect of the Christian life especially important for his communities. In his Rule, St. Benedict writes:

“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt. 25:35).’ ‘And to all let due honor be shown, especially to those who share our faith’ (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims…In welcoming the poor and pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received” (Rule of St. Benedict 53:1-2, 15).

The Rule of St. Benedict was meant to stand on the shoulders of the Gospels and many spiritual writers throughout the ages attest to its transforming power to change lives. It teaches the principles of stewardship, shows one how to live in a way that is uniquely countercultural and invites its adherents to enter into a deeper and more joyful relationship with the Lord.

St. Benedict died in approximately 550. He is the patron saint of monks and farm workers. In 1964 Pope Paul VI declared him to be the patron saint of Europe. His feast day is July 11.

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Everybody loves a good story. Stories of faith engage listeners differently than a list of facts or good ideas. When people share their faith journey with others, it offers powerful encouragement to both the storyteller and the recipient. I’ve been there too. We’re in this together. Parishes that limit their stewardship discussions to theological discussion and ignore the personal connection will have a difficult time fully engaging everyone. Finding and telling the right story is possible for every parish.

FIND THE RIGHT CANDIDATE

If you ask various parish leaders, good candidates for such a task will usually be clear. Some will jump at the chance! Others will be apprehensive and need encouragement. Some will express fear and should be given more time before sharing publicly. The sharing of one’s faith journey should be an uplifting exercise for the writer and an encouragement to the reader. Anyone who doesn’t agree freely to write about himself or herself should be respected.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Once you’ve determined who will write, make sure you’re asking the right questions. Invite the writers to share how parish events or ministries have affected their lives in a specific way. For example:

  • How did the parish retreat help you grow in your faith?
  • You’ve been volunteering for the soup kitchen for a long time. What effect has that had on you?
  • How have you changed over the years as a result of being a lector at Mass?


If the crux of someone’s story lies outside of parish life, ask them to hone in on the main story. For example:

  • How has battling cancer tested and strengthened your faith?
  • How has your relationship with God changed as a result of your time in the military?
  • What have you learned about your family through the experience of adoption?


SHARE THE RIGHT WAY

When it comes to the actual writing, the key to an effective testimony is economy of words. A piece that offers too much information takes too long to read. A writer over-sharing can have the opposite of the desired effect.

Because testimonies can be so powerful and moving, caution must be exercised. A person’s story must be respected, but a good editor has the responsibility to edit something that might be hurtful or offensive to others. The audience for testimonials can be very diverse. All possibilities of negative reaction should be taken into account. This is usually not a problem, but sometimes a person will say something that does not enrich the community and can have a negative effect.

Any stewardship campaign or process of increasing engagement can be enriched by the story of a lay witness. Offering these testimonies in your bulletin or parish newsletter can reach everyone on your mailing list, including those who are homebound or those who have drifted away from regular Mass attendance. Personal testimonies invite everyone to discover faithful stewardship as a matter that relates not to their wallet, but to their hearts.

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World 41)

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