Denver parish transmits spirit of stewardship, community for over 45 years

Spirit of Christ continues to bear fruit through generosity and small-group ministries

Avatar

When Father Chris Renner requests volunteers for a new parish outreach project, he often has a different problem than most priests: too many people respond. It’s a problem many pastors would like to have more frequently. Founded in 1974, Spirit of Christ Parish has kept a living tradition of generously giving to the Church and local community by keeping a spirit of stewardship and small church communities that continues to bear fruit.

“From its very beginnings, Spirit of Christ was founded with a sense of outreach, charity, stewardship and small church communities,” said Father Renner, pastor of the parish. “People have a sense of it being a community center for their lives and families. It has maintained that for over 45 years. Parishioners have been true to that tradition.”

When it comes to supporting international and archdiocesan ministries monetarily, few parishes can afford to do what Spirit of Christ does. With hundreds of thousands of dollars given to charity and ministries, the parish tithes 15 percent of their gross offertory yearly, without fundraisers or second collections.

Spirit of Christ committed to a zero-based budget from its foundation and was honest with its members about what the church needed to sustain itself.

(Photo by Andrew Wright)

“From the beginning we said that we would live from what people gave us. They had to support [the parish] because we didn’t have the money to survive [without their help]. So, volunteers had to step up and do what needed to be done,” said Cathi Politano, current Ministry Coordinator and staff member for 23 years. “Then every year the budget grew. And finance council raised the percentage of tithing, which is now at 15 percent.

“The finance council believed we needed to be true to what we had received. God blessed us, and we need to bless those in return,” she continued. “And that’s what we teach. We rely only on what we need and everything else we will share with those who have a need and present it.”

Yearly, dozens of organizations submit grant requests of direct needs to the parish. Some of the institutions Spirit of Christ has had the opportunity to help are St. Antony’s Hospital, Christ in the City, Centro San Juan Diego, Marisol Health, international groups that build houses or develop water programs, other local groups to help the poor and homeless, and many more.

“It makes me feel good when people call and ask, ‘Do you think your parish could do this?’ and I’m able to say, ‘Yes, we can do that.’ We are blessed with this parish, with the people and the Spirit that resides here. And I believe 100 percent he’s active here every single day,” Politano said.

Giving together

Father Renner sees the key to sustaining the original mission and vision of the parish in two factors: the pastor and the community.

“The parish has had strong pastors who have truly embraced stewardship in their hearts,” he said. They have committed to preaching and talking about it. “[Parishioners understand that] it is about a responsibility we have to God, to each other, to the Church… I’d never seen stewardship so infused in everything in the parish.”

When people understand that stewardship is a lifestyle in which the Christian is called to trust and cooperate with God for the building up of the Kingdom on earth through their time, talent and treasure, it becomes contagious. For this reason, community is another aspect that has kept this mission alive in the parish.

From its very beginnings, Spirit of Christ was founded with a sense of outreach, charity, stewardship and small church communities. People have a sense of it being a community center for their lives and families. It has maintained that for over 45 years. Parishioners have been true to that tradition.”

“When you see your fellow parishioners so involved and so giving, it’s a positive reinforcement and challenge,” the pastor said.

It’s no surprise that the spirit of giving has grown along with the spirit of community, especially through the 118 small church communities that form part of the parish.

“These faith-based small communities were developed when the Church was founded. They consist of small groups of eight to 12 individuals that meet at homes, have meals together, have social time and pray together. Some groups do book studies and discuss them, or others prepare for Sunday readings, [etc.],” said Susan Levesque, Small Church Communities Director at Sprit of Christ, where she grew up.

Among the many small church communities, there are some specifically for families, newly married couples, widows, divorced, and for men and women in general, among others.

Through small church communities like this, Spirit of Christ fosters a culture of discipleship among its parishioners. (Photo provided)

Amy Feijoo, long-time parishioner, says that being part of a small church community has allowed her and her husband to transmit a strong Catholic foundation to their children and form strong relationships that have helped them grow.

“I am most grateful for the love my community has given me. I have these people that love me unconditionally and can share with me in Christ. It’s true love for neighbor and I’m just so grateful for that,” she said. “We have laughed, prayed, cried, and walked with each other. We have supported a couple from our community through the process of adoption … [and have even] helped each other in hard financial times.”

Small church communities also help non-practicing Catholics and non-Catholics who are part of their group to know the faith and attend Mass and other parish activities, Levesque said.

These strong relationships and commitment to the mission of generosity to God and neighbor present at Spirit of Christ Parish make anyone feel at home, she added: “I’m home. I got really spoiled growing up in this parish. You can go years without finding another parish like this and you come back and say, ‘This is it, I’m home.’”

COMING UP: Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Lent and the art of fasting

Aaron Lambert

One interesting thing about liturgical seasons in the Church is that despite the fact they happen at roughly the same time every year, they still manage to sneak up on us.

Lent begins in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year. Never mind that most of us are probably just now fully recovered from the craziness of the Christmas season; it’s now time to enter what is arguably the most important season in the liturgical year. Oh, and we’re supposed to be extremely prayerful, reverent and intentional in how we approach Lent. Given all the other things happening in each of our lives, no big deal, right?

Don’t worry — you’re not alone in feeling just a bit overwhelmed at the thought. But let’s take it a step even further and add some icing to that cake in the form of fasting (no pun intended). Fasting is an ancient practice that pre-dates even Christianity and is common to nearly all religions of the world. In fact, the act of fasting is mentioned more times in the Bible than baptism. In recent times, much has been said about the physical benefits of fasting — weight loss, stronger immune system, more effective cell regeneration — but it’s important for us to remember that fasting is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, one that’s meant to spool the thread which connects us to our loving Creator.

Admittedly, the rules for fasting during Lent have loosened up over the centuries; it’s not a stretch to say that in the time of the apostles, fasting was a hardcore thing for disciples of Jesus Christ to do. You see, back then, fasting during Lent meant fasting for all 40 of those days leading up to the feast of Easter. While many of us may tremble at the thought of not eating anything of true sustenance for over five weeks, there is something to be said in the spirit of denying ourselves our usual pleasures during the Lenten season as a way to draw nearer to he who can provide true nourishment and satisfaction.

The act of fasting can help foster in us three characteristics that ultimately make Lent not only a penitential season, but also one of renewal.

Asceticism
The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise and most especially athletic training. Essentially, it is the act of rigorous self-discipline and avoidance of overindulgence, with the aim of instilling in oneself a sense of self-control and virtue. In its most basic form, fasting is a type of asceticism; willingly denying ourselves the everyday comforts of life in an effort to unite our spirits more closely with that of Christ.

Of course, the practice of asceticism is counter-cultural in almost every way. We live in a world where our needs and desires are met on-demand, and to voluntarily abstain from one of these seems a preposterous proposition to the outsider. But it’s interesting, to bring back the Greek root of this word, to think of how the world’s best athletes implement this practice. Think of the intense training, strict dietary restrictions and long hours of work they put in the be the absolute best at what they do. Yes, it’s likely unbearably difficult at times, but they know deep down that their discomfort has a purpose.

Society tells us that suffering and discomfort are bad things to be avoided at all costs. But we as Christians look to the example of our Lord, who was willingly led to his death on Calvary, undertook unspeakable suffering and was made to feel like less than a man. Through his suffering mankind was redeemed, and because of his victory, we, too, can find redemption and renewal in our own trials. By practicing asceticism during Lent and giving up those things we find comfort in — sugar, Netflix, technology, or any other vice — we are not only reminded of the sacrifice Christ made for us, but we are strengthening the muscles of willpower and virtue that lead us closer to the Lord, and ultimately, true joy and peace.

Humility
“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish.”

St. John Vianney is quoted as saying this, and it’s a simple yet effective illustration of how all virtue flows from humility. To use a metaphor, if asceticism is what it is to, say, learn a new instrument, then humility is the marked improvement and mastery of that instrument over time.

By observing the Lenten fast, we are humbled rather quickly. Nothing makes us reflect on our own mortality and brokenness quite like the low grumble of a hungry stomach. And yet, by offering up this minute suffering during Lent and allowing the Lord to take it, it becomes apparent just how much we rely on him to not only provide the various provisions of our life, but also to provide meaning in our various sufferings. Mankind, for all its wonders and brilliance, cannot be sustained without the provisions of God.

From a more practical angle, there’s also no harm in fasting from food and technology to remind us of the many different walks of life people come from. It’s easy to take all the conveniences of our cozy lives for granted but Lent especially presents a great opportunity to remember those “least of us” who live in third-world countries, or even just down the street. Instead of buying two Big Macs for yourself for lunch, why not give one to the woman holding a sign at that intersection?

By maintaining a disposition of humility, we tap into the very core of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Freedom
So, through fasting, you have committed to a practice of asceticism for Lent, are reaping the benefits of staying humble, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Now what?

Ultimately, there is a profound freedom that comes from fasting. Father Richard Simon of Relevant Radio said in a May 2019 episode of his show Father Simon Says, “Fasting is an exercise in freedom. The purpose of it is to train your will to do God’s will. To train your will to obey the Lord. Freedom is the absolute requirement for the Christian life. Most people think that freedom is getting what they want, but they don’t understand that they don’t want what they want, it is their passions controlling them.

“It is their desires, their hungers, their preferences that want what they want when they want it,” he continued. “The self is not free. The self is subject to this sort of barrage off weakened human nature, but fasting is about freedom.”

True freedom, as defined by God, isn’t the ability to say “yes” to your own desires whenever you want — it is the discipline to say yes to the Lord’s desires for you. Therefore, as we go through the Lenten season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, we fast in remembrance of the perfect image of true freedom: Christ crucified on the Cross.

One of the lessons of the Lenten season is that we, too, are capable of achieving this freedom. By strengthening our will through the practice of fasting, we can grow in humility, from which all other virtue flows. In our humility, we find freedom to do the Lord’s will for our lives. And in that freedom, waiting with open arms, is the sweet renewal that our souls yearn for — renewal in the self-denying, humble and freely-given love of Christ.