The Office of Stewardship
Incomplete View of Stewardship
Often times when someone hears the word stewardship, they automatically think of money. This is understandable because around the country, offices and businesses dedicated to fundraising often have stewardship in their titles. Sometimes stewardship looks like “a fancy way to get people to donate more money to the Church.” But the reality is to reduce stewardship just to money is a very impoverished way to look at Christian Stewardship. Stewardship is about our money, but it is about so much more than just our money.
Let’s step back a little and look at the word “steward.” A steward is someone who cares for something that is not his own.
In Luke chapter 16, Jesus tells the parable of the “dishonest Steward” – A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ (cf. Luke 16:1-2). What was this man’s job? It was to manage the property and affairs of the rich man.
In general, a steward is anyone who takes care of something not his/her own.
A steward is someone who cares for something that is not his own and a Christian Steward knows that every good thing in our lives is a gift from God. Our material wealth, our health, our talents, the time we have each day, our faith. A Christian steward believes this and commits to caring well for these things which aren’t his/her own, but are essentially God’s. The Christian Steward makes decisions based on this truth: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1)
In 1992, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops produced a document on stewardship entitled, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” In that document the Bishops say this:
“As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultive them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”
Within this definition, is the basic understanding that everything we typically think of as ours can be viewed as a gift from God. This is the key that unlocks a true understanding of stewardship.
The Witness of a Christian Steward
Many years ago, my mom traveled to Centennial, Colorado with a group of fellow parishioners to visit St. Thomas More Parish and to learn about how they practiced stewardship. Later, when I asked her about the trip, she said:
“Essentially, stewardship boils down to this: do you live life with an attitude of abundance or with an attitude of scarcity.”
For some reason, this really resonated in my heart. I began to think seriously about which of these two attitudes I had. I looked at my attitude towards time. I always felt like I didn’t have enough time. I felt too busy! I looked at my attitude towards money. I always felt like I didn’t have enough money. I looked at my talents and gifts. Too often, I felt inadequate; like I didn’t have what it took to do what I was being asked. In short, I had an attitude of scarcity. And this attitude was not contributing to my happiness. In fact, just the opposite. I wanted to change. But how?
A Clearer Understanding of Stewardship
I found the paradigm shift I needed hidden within the U.S. Bishop’s definition of stewardship, particularly this phrase:
“We receive God’s gifts gratefully.”
A Christian steward believes that all is gift. Bishop Kemme, of the Diocese of Wichita says, “There is nothing we have; nothing; that is not a gift. Everything we are and everything we have is founded in the loving generosity of the Creator. When we know this, not just in our minds but in the depths of our hearts, then life takes on a whole new meaning. Then we have a whole different perspective about our time or our talents or our treasure, our bodies, our minds, hearts – everything that we are and everything that we have—takes on a completely different perspective.”
I realized that this is what was missing in my own life. I had been unconsciously thinking that it was my time, my money, my talents. When I began to understand what Bishop Kemme stated, that all that I had was a gift, then my whole attitude shifted because God is infinite and so are his gifts. I came to understand that I was, in some sense, drawing from an infinite store. I no longer cried out, “I never have enough time to do what I have to do!” Instead, I began to see that today was a gift given to me by God and so instead I could say, “Lord, what do you want me to do with this day which you have given me?” And what did I find? That God never gives you too much to do! The same is true of money and talents.
Living Life with Open Hands
When I came to understand “in the depth of my heart” that God is generous and good and loving, and that he desires to give to me in abundance, I began to live differently. I felt as if I were going out into the world with open hands. This was the key for me in developing an attitude of abundance. This led me to generosity. I was no longer afraid of not having enough. This change has helped me forget myself and frees me to focus on others. It also has discouraged a tendency to “keep score” with others. If all I have is a gift from someone else, what’s the point of keeping track of how much I have shared versus how much others have shared with me? What’s the point of worrying about whether or not others are using my gifts the way I would?
In fact, once this attitude was firmly planted in my heart, the rest of the definition of stewardship fell into place.
Christian stewards believe and trust in God’s generosity and goodness. Realizing that all good things come from Him and knowing that his goodness and love are infinite, they live life with an attitude of abundance. They believe there will always be enough to meet their needs and the needs of their neighbor.
A steward understands that God will never be outdone in generosity and lives from this truth.
Diane Clarke, parishioner at Our Lady of the Black Hills, has experienced this in her life. She speaks here about her belief that God will never be outdone in generosity and she has a beautiful way of reminding herself of that. When she gives financially to her parish, she writes on her check: GPR. For her, it is a reminder of God’s generosity and the reality that her gift is a gift of gratitude to God. What does GPR stand for? Watch to find out:
Stewards like Diane are free to be generous with their time, talents, and material goods.
Most importantly, though, the Christian steward has a heart that is open to others. He/she is willing to give of himself/herself because he/she doesn’t just draw from themselves, but from the infinite capacity, love, and mercy of God. This is the key that unlocks everything else in stewardship.
“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”
Module 2 — How Stewards Live Day-to-Day Differently
Living this Catholic Way of Life
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