What is Stewardship?
When the Parish Stewardship Program was launched a few years ago, there were many calls for the archdiocese to change the name of the Catholic Stewardship Appeal to avoid confusion between gifts to the parish and gifts to the diocese. The name didn't change, however, and for very good reason. Our hope is for Catholics to embrace the concept of stewardship fully and understand that stewardship is a way of life, a way to give back what God has blessed us with. This giving back isn't limited to the parish or the diocese. It encompasses both and much more.
A rich description is found in the 1993 pastoral from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled: "Stewardship: A Disciple's Response".
The bishops call us to:
- Receive God's gifts gratefully;
- Cultivate them responsibly;
- Share them lovingly with others; and
- Return them with increase to God.
Stewardship includes the concept of safeguarding - using wisely and justly - our human and financial resources. It is frequently expressed as a call to give our time, talent and financial resources to God, especially through the Church.
Advocating stewardship does not mean we ask people to relinquish all of their possessions. Stewardship does require education and the effort to connect it with our relationships. Stewardship education is about how we care for the possessions that God has entrusted to us. Stewardship calls us to nurture our relationships with God, our families, our church, our workplace, our environment, our suffering neighbors, and our world.
Stewardship is a personal response as Christians to the Gospel call to conversion of mind and heart. Stewardship is a faith response to share all we have and thus participate fully in God's plan for our world.
Stewardship is an expression of discipleship - how we understand and live our lives. Whatever we are and possess is in actuality God's gift that we hold in trust. God calls us to be collaborators in the work of creation, redemption and sanctification. Jesus enjoins us to live in witness to His love with such an enthusiasm that we freely and gratefully share our gifts with others.
Stewardship is part of our Catholic tradition and who we are as Church. God is the source of all we have and are, and we can learn to see ourselves as caring in the work of God by the way we live, by the way we use our time, talents and financial resources. Stewardship calls for commitment and, for some of us, that might mean a radical conversion. We need to avoid the temptation to make giving an end in itself - it is part of something much larger.
Stewardship is Also About Money
We are constantly hearing, "Stewardship is NOT just about money." And it isn't. By embracing the lessons stewardship teaches us, we learn to receive our gifts gratefully from God, tend them responsibly, share them with others, and give back with increase to God. We know in our hearts that if all were to live a stewardship life, resources would flow as people give of themselves to the Church without thought or question.
Reality, is, however, that people must learn that money is part of the sharing of resources good stewardship requires. In our zeal to convince people that a stewardship presentation isn't just a "money talk," we may have swung the pendulum too far the other way. Time and talent are now being wonderfully (and rightly) emphasized. But somewhere along the way, money was branded as a "dirty word" in stewardship efforts and is now sometimes ignored completely!
At the 1999 National Catholic Stewardship Council conference, Fr. Tony Nugent and Marianne Murphy of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, spoke eloquently on the importance of talking about money. Their ideas are compelling and thought-provoking.
The Taboo Subject
Forty years ago, death was a taboo subject. Oftentimes, people with terminal illnesses were not told they were dying. Relatives and friends were admonished not to tell the patient he or she was fatally ill because it would be too upsetting. The result of this lack of openness led to those close to the dying being unable to communicate important last thoughts to them. Relatives could not say goodbye, they couldn't celebrate the lives of those who were dying or tell them how much they have been enriched by the other's life. The dying then had no opportunity to bring closure to projects or issues, to mend any fences, to prepare for a good death. Death was simply something no one talked about.
This changed with the publication of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's seminal work Death and Dying. Kubler-Ross brought the subject of death and grieving into the open and, in doing so, unleashed a flood of pent-up emotion and attention to the issue of death. From this wellspring of dialogue grew movements and programs which we take for granted today yet are relatively new. Bereavement ministries now help families cope with the loss of a loved one. Hospices make the dying comfortable and secure as they start on their final journey. Funerals are now often celebrations of life that the deceased has helped to plan. Today, money is a taboo subject much as death used to be. It's somewhat of a paradox - given our materialistic society - but we rarely have mature, open discussions about money. We talk to our children about many issues. We warn them about gangs, drugs, and smoking. We talk to them about their futures, jobs, and school. But we never talk about how much money we make or how much we give away. We give children very little perspective about money, about the power it has. Many children grow up knowing only that it's good to have money - and the more of it the better!
Meanwhile, society is sending messages about money but not teaching the responsible use of the resource. Rather, what is promoted are ways to spend and borrow more and more money. We are constantly exhorted to extend our credit farther, buy bigger and better products, and keep up with our neighbors in the materialism rat race. Rarely do we hear a call to give more of our money.
Because of these constant messages from the media and society, it is our duty to talk about the responsible use of money. This includes direct conversation about giving it away, of sharing our financial resources with others.
Our Responsibility to Talk about Money
The Church needs to have a voice in this societal discussion of money. As people are bombarded with the message to spend and borrow, it is the Church's responsibility to let its members know that what they are giving makes a difference. Parishioners need to understand that money is needed to accomplish mission and vision and that the Church is every bit as important a place to put money as the shopping mall.
People are not going to change their spending habits until they are challenged to do so. They need to learn that when money is asked for, it is because it is needed, that it has an importance and will have an impact on lives. Too many requests for money are prefaced with "I hate to ask you this but..." or "I don't like talking about this but…" Instead, the message should be, "Just think what we could do if…" or "Do you realize what would happen if your giving increased…" There should be no shame in the asking but rather joy in helping someone to give of their resources to an important mission, to fulfill their lives as a faithful steward.
Just as we denied the dying an opportunity for a "good death" so too have we prevented people from experiencing the good life of a faithful steward. By our reluctance to talk about money, we are not providing the opportunities we should for people to give. And, at the same time, we are not allowing our ministries to realize their full potential because of lack of adequate funding - funding that may be available if we just ask for it!
To truly realize our potential as a Church and as a people of faith, the issue of money must be addressed. Approach the subject by emphasizing the power of money's potential to affect change. Challenge parishioners to examine their own attitudes toward spending and sharing. And, above all, keep the stewardship message front and center throughout the year. In that way, you will change the mind and heart together.