Sharing our gifts makes a difference

By Renae Kranz

No parish is an island. No Catholic is on their own in their faith journey. But sometimes parishes and the Catholics in them might feel like the challenge to grow the community of God is too big and the resources are too few.

I’m just one person. What can I really do?

As Catholic adults, we can have a massive impact on the people around us, especially young people. Adult faith formation in our parishes is the linchpin that supports all the other programs and makes them more effective.

These programs are an essential part of growing the family of God. And you are a critical part of helping to provide your parish and all parishes in the diocese with the tools they need to help make a difference in their people’s lives.

Adult education: the trickle down effect

Adult faith formation programs provided by the diocese and supported by the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal are meant to support parishes and individuals so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. These programs help to build community and strong spirituality in parishes.

Father Paul Rutten, pastor at St. Mary Parish, Sioux Falls

Father Paul Rutten, pastor at St. Mary Parish in Sioux Falls, says we need to invest in the lives of the adults in our parishes because that investment trickles down to impact everything else. Faith formation helps us understand our faith better so we can say yes to God’s will in our lives. When others see our burning desire to serve God, it moves them to follow suit.

A perfect example of the trickle down impact is Dylan and Marissa Kessler, parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Aberdeen. Dylan’s strong faith was formed early on by the adults in his life, beginning at home. He attended diocesan programs, including youth rallies and Discipleship Camps, and experienced a World Youth Day pilgrimage. Those programs and the adults who led them provided a firm foundation and put him on a path of missionary discipleship as an adult which gives him a way to share his burgeoning faith with others.

“Most of us are called to live our missionary calling in our daily lives, spreading the Gospel to those we work with, the person behind us in line at the grocery store, and, especially, those in the pews with us at Mass,” Dylan says. “Our world is desperate for genuine human connection and authentic relationships. We’re fortunate that our diocese is able to offer so many resources and opportunities to support us in these everyday endeavors.”

Marissa, a convert to Catholicism, finds comfort in the support and sense of community at the diocesan level. Chaperoning a March for Life trip early on after her conversion helped her make connections with other adults and build friendships in her new faith community.

“I was so struck by the universality of the Church, and the fact that our diocese is a small but important part of a much larger church,” Marissa says. “The coordination and resources that go into planning and executing a trip like that are significant and the impact is incredible.”

Dylan and Marissa Kessler family

Many adults, especially parents, are concerned about their children holding on to their faith as they go off to college and become adults themselves. Missy Baumberger, adult faith formation director at Immaculate Conception Parish in Watertown, has seen how vital parents and other adults can be in acting as examples for those kids to look to.

After hearing a statistic that 90 percent of kids who have gone through religious education can lose their faith when they go to college if their parents are not committed to their own faith, Baumberger decided she didn’t want that to happen at her parish under her watch.

“I feel very strongly that God was leading me in a direction that we needed to offer something for our adults,” she says, “because we’re just big kids trying to learn too. But we need to know what’s out there. And it’s humbling to ask because our kids look to us like we should know.”

With the help of the Adult Discipleship and Evangelization office of the diocese, Baumberger has been able to create several programs, host events and offer resources to the adults at Immaculate Conception and surrounding parishes. Since parents are so busy, she wanted to find ways to help support them and fit faith education into their hectic lives.

“Now our adults are getting excited because they’re seeing who they are in a new way,” Baumberger says. “They’re seeing their gifts and their talents and they want to be involved. And then the kids buy in and are excited and it sticks for them.”

Dylan has a deep appreciation for the ways the Church focuses on and provides resources for all members, regardless of age or the extent of their current faith life.

“The model, inspiration, support, and even vulnerability that we can give to those around us pays off many times over in the ripple effects it has on strengthening our families, our parishes, our diocese, and the entire Church,” Dylan says. “That’s why it’s so important that we are continually filling our own cups from the font of opportunities offered by the diocese.”

Diocesan programs create opportunity

Father Rutten has used most of the resources the diocese offers to help his parishioners fill their cups. He regularly reaches out to Dr. Chris Burgwald, director of Adult Discipleship and Evangelization, to give talks and assist with creating programs for the adults. He also makes good use of the office of Youth Discipleship and Evangelization, the Marriage Tribunal, the Information Technology office and Catholic Family Services.

“One of the things that I’ve seen is there’s so many facets of parish life that you would like to be able to build upon,” Father Rutten says. “There are so many needs each parish has that you just can’t afford to hire people for all of those things. So with the diocesan offices, we have at our fingertips people who desire to share what they have, not just with one group, but with the entire diocese.”

He believes adult formation is the biggest need in most parishes. While he was pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Watertown, he reached out to Dr. Burgwald and his staff to help him train and provide resources to Baumberger as she got the adult faith formation program started in the parish. That assistance has been invaluable as the program has been developed.

Darin and Missy Baumberger family

This wasn’t Baumberger’s first experience with the diocesan offices. She has worked with them to start a Theology on Tap program, an apologetics program and marriage programs that have enhanced the faith lives of those who take advantage of them. She figured out pretty quickly that the people at the diocese weren’t just doing office work. What they do is outreach to those in the field.

“As adults we love our Catholic faith, and we desire to share our faith,” Baumberger says. “But sometimes we don’t know how to do that. We need the right tools, and Dr. Burgwald has been a great asset to not only myself but to those in our parish to accomplish that.”

For Father Rutten, whenever he faces a challenge he needs help with, he knows where to turn first. He looks to the diocesan office and asks if something can be done and if they can help. He says he almost always gets a “yes, we’ll be there.”

“It’s an untapped resource. I think it’s our best kept secret that shouldn’t be a secret,” he says, “that we have all of these people who have all kinds of talents and they’re just waiting to be asked.”

Emily Leedom, director of Marriage, Family and Respect Life for the diocese, is one of those people waiting to be asked to help parishes. She finds it profoundly encouraging when she gets those calls from parishes wanting to take the initiative to do new things.

“They’re often reaching out to me because they have an idea or vision and are looking for help or resources to make that happen. It’s a great joy to brainstorm ideas, connect them with other people or resources and fan the flames burning steady in the hearts of the faithful across the diocese,” Leedom says.

Dr. Burgwald agrees, saying the reason his job exists is to help parishes deepen the faith of their adults. He stands ready to help.

“Whether it’s by coming to offer a workshop, a retreat or a mission, or by offering any guidance or recommendations that I might have to offer, I am more than happy to help,” he says. “I want to do whatever I can to help people grow in their knowledge and love of God and to experience the difference that makes in their lives.”

The real differences adult faith formation makes are profound and felt by more than just the adults involved. That formation benefits the whole church.

Fruitful outpourings of adult formation

Remember the trickle down impact mentioned earlier? Father Rutten has seen it firsthand in the kids of his parishes. When the adults step up and really commit to learning about their faith, the kids respond because they realize nobody makes the adults come. They come because they want something more.

“Now the parents are living this faith and they share with their children what it is that’s important, not just intellectually, but in the way they live their life,” Father Rutten says. “The children can look up and see their parents are going to things and are part of things and they’re asking questions and getting answers, and they really are just learning that this is something that’s important.”

Baumberger saw the same thing. Those kids wanted more from their faith as they became adults. Many of them became involved in Newman Centers at their college campuses. If they stayed in their hometown or returned after college, they asked to become involved with faith formation in their parishes.

When both the adults and youth are growing in their relationship to the Lord in a parish, Father Rutten says you’ll begin to see real changes occur. The parish becomes a community, a family.

“The biggest thing I saw in the six years I was at Immaculate Conception was a real vibrancy in the understanding of what it means to have Catholic faith, how it’s lived, how it’s nurtured, how it’s shared,” he said.

Baumberger has learned it takes time and work to grow in our Catholic faith. She takes advantage of several programs personally, including the Equip program lead by Dr. Burgwald. Equip is a three-year program focused on creating evangelists for the Church. It’s made a huge difference in Baumberger’s faith life and pushes her to do more for her church as a whole.

“It’s why I need to give more of my time and my energy. Because I see Christ alive. I feel Him in a new way through the Equip program, through the friendships that I’ve made at the diocese, through the programs that I’ve been able to offer. They’re life changing,” Baumberger says.

“It never has interested me to just put a program together for no reason. And I know that with the support through the diocese, they’re not just programs. They’re not just events. They’re life changing. And I’ve experienced that firsthand.”

These programs don’t only change those who attend them. They have enormous impact on those who create them and assist in making them happen.

Emily Leedom speaking at a women’s retreat and brunch at St. Therese Parish, Sioux Falls.

“My work is an outpouring of what God is doing in my life,” Leedom says. “I’ve encountered something deeply profound that has illuminated every aspect of my life and has enhanced my vision of the world, myself, my marriage and my family.”

“I know the difference that a deep relationship with God can make from my own experience and from the experience of countless other Catholics across our diocese,” Dr. Burgwald says, “and it’s a joy for me to be able to help others experience the transformation that comes from a life lived in communion with our Lord.”

Sharing our gifts makes a difference

All of us have gifts to be shared. Father Rutten says we often fail to recognize our own gifts and therefore never share them. Maybe our gift comes so naturally to us we don’t consider it anything special at all. But God gave something to each of us with the expectation we will use our gift to grow His kingdom.

Father Rutten has seen when people share their gifts they see them in a different way and want to share them over and over. But how do we know for sure we’re doing what God wants us to do? Father Rutten says we must ask.

“Just ask the Lord ‘What do you want?’ I’ve found the average person doesn’t believe that if they really sit down and say, ‘Lord what do you want from me?’ that there’ll be a response back,” Father Rutten says. “But what I’ve discovered is when people do it, when people really take me seriously and ask the question, something is placed upon their heart.

“And in that moment they have to make a choice. They have to choose to trust that whatever it was that was placed on their heart really came from the one that created them, the one that knows them, and the one that understands them.”

He says the answer placed on our hearts in that moment often will challenge us and pull us into a place where we have to trust Him. It might not be about giving more money. It might be to answer a call to help with a program.

“Sometimes it’s the willingness to call your pastor and say, you keep asking for someone to help with this program. And I think it’s me. Can I help you?”

The gifts we’re given by God are really His gifts. We act as stewards of those gifts which means we have to trust Him enough to be willing to give them to others because, as Baumberger says, our faith was never meant to be done alone. She has seen how God multiplies our gifts and uses them to create community. God asks us to give our very best for Him.

Dr. Chris Burgwald speaks at an event at Immaculate Conception Parish, Watertown.

“He wasn’t asking that because He needed them. He knew that we were the ones who needed it,” Baumberger says. “We need to give our best to Him because that’s when He can fill us with the most grace. When you become a part of the CFSA sharing, it’s us giving back to God and His Church. And His Church is not a building; it’s people.”

Dylan and Marissa love knowing that their financial gifts to Catholic Family Sharing Appeal, no matter how large or small, impact so many others in the diocese. But they also know the gifts of time and spiritual support are important as well. They have been offering their time by helping with a pilot of a new marriage preparation program for the diocese.

“A true gift is not given without some form of sacrifice, whether it’s financial or emotional, through your time or within your prayers,” says Marissa.

Dr. Burgwald says giving to CFSA is a tangible way to help evangelize in today’s world.

“God has called all of us to be His own beloved sons and daughters, and He also asks us to share that powerful, beautiful truth with others. Through the generosity of the people of the diocese to CFSA, we have been able to both spread that good news and help other Catholics share that news with others.”

Even small gifts have huge impact

Father Rutten is grateful for every contribution to CFSA, whether it’s prayers or financial support large and small. He wants us to understand the impact we have.

“The thing I love and hold so dear isn’t easily transmitted, and yet through so many of the resources, through so many people, through so many different things, I’ve seen it transmitted,” he says. “Not because I did it, but because I was able to put people in touch with other people. I just hope people can see it, that they can see a life changed, a faith that’s been deepened, a renewed hope in a church that really is about hope.”

Baumberger knows sometimes the gift hurts, and she feels like thank you isn’t enough to say to the giver.

“I know it changes lives. I’ve experienced it firsthand,” she says. “I’ve seen it in those I’ve worked with from the youth all the way to the adults. I’ve been able to see families get stronger and to see people believe in themselves more. It’s not just money. It’s an opportunity for growth. And so when I say thank you, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Women across the diocese gathered together for the “Beloved” Catholic Women’s Conference. (Photo by Kevin Fitzgibbons)

Dylan reminds us that the amount isn’t the important thing. It’s the impact that matters.

“We’re not judged by the amount we give, but there are very few times when our gifts are able to do so much good for so many in our own communities,” he says.

And those who toil behind the scenes probably see it best. These gifts are critical help in an age when help is desperately needed.

“In a time of many trials in the Church, Bishop Robert Barron recently challenged us to ‘stay and fight,’ Leedom says. “The work we do is our battle cry in the fight for souls for the kingdom of heaven, and CFSA is a sword in the hands of many individuals who are rising up. For me, it has been a tool to think bigger, fight harder, trust deeper and rejoice louder in what God is doing in this diocese.”

Take Father Rutten’s words to heart. Ask the Lord, “What do you want from me?” Wait for His answer and then take action. Your prayers and your gifts continue to bless our diocese in ways you can’t even imagine.