By Leisa Anslinger - OSV Newsweeky, 9/4/2011
Let’s be honest. When asked about our goals or dreams for our lives, few of us would say, “I want to become a good steward.”
We may think of ourselves as Catholics; we may know ourselves to be disciples; we might be involved in our parish or apostolate, and we may regularly give our financial resources as we are asked. Still, stewardship may not be a guiding principle for our lives, and we may not think of all that we are and do in terms of our call to live as good stewards.
Yet, Jesus tells us that stewardship is a guiding principle for our lives. He tells his disciples a story of three slaves who were given various amounts of talents (a measure of money in Jesus’ time, but also a symbol of all our worldly and personal possessions). You know the story: Two of the servants multiplied what was given to them, while one buried his talents. To the ones who had multiplied their talents, the master said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:23). So, being a friend and follower of Jesus means learning to care for what we have been given, multiplying and giving our gifts. And in doing this, we will find joy!
Yet do we recognize God as the giver of all we are, have and will be? Do we give of our gifts, our very lives, freely? How often instead are we like the one who buried his talents, fearful of losing what he had been given?
This is the latest installment of a monthly series. The next, on Catholic funerals, will appear Oct. 9.
Not only does Jesus tell us to be good stewards of all we have and are, he is the best model of life lived as a steward. The vision of one who lives as Jesus desires is not one who is fearful or hoarding of possessions. When Jesus encounters people who need to be touched by him, personally and physically, he gives of himself as a sign of God’s love, care and mercy. Living as a good steward is a deep and meaningful way of being Christian people.
Just as our relationship with Jesus and with others will change and grow over time, stewardship is a particular lifestyle that will grow and develop throughout our lives, if we are willing. Growing in discipleship and adopting stewardship as a guiding principle for our lives will lead us to reflect, change, give and grow, and we will continue to do so throughout our lives, if we are to be good and faithful stewards.
“Jesus sometimes describes a disciple’s life in terms of stewardship, not because being a steward is the whole of it but because this role sheds a certain light on it,” the U.S. bishops wrote in their pastoral letter “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response” (see sidebar).
What (or who) is a disciple? A disciple is one who is learning the ways of a master teacher. Our master teacher is Jesus Christ, whose very life is the lesson we will learn throughout our lives. We look to Christ as our model and “see” the fullness of what it means to live for God and to live for others. Each step along the way, we meet challenges and joys, making choices and decisions based upon our understanding of the master’s way.
The choices may be simple, yet often they are profound. Looking to Christ as the mirror of our heart’s desire, we learn to live as image and likeness of God, to be our very self. We consider how we can best reflect Christ’s love through our prayer, our presence, by sharing our gifts and offering service to others.
What (or who) is a steward?
Have you ever agreed to care for a friend’s pet? Or perhaps you have told neighbors you will water their garden while they are away on vacation. Such acts give us a small glimpse into what stewardship is all about.
A steward is one who cares for something of value that belongs to another. In biblical times and today, a steward is one who cares for the property, livestock, crops or vineyard of another.
The steward is not passive in his or her care for this valued possession of the other, however. The steward nurtures it so that it grows, flourishes and yields with increase.
You wouldn’t agree to care for a friend’s pet and then ignore the animal the whole time your friend was gone. Not only would that not be what you said you would do, the animal would suffer, and your friend would see such suffering as a sign that you really did not value your friendship. A good steward will water the neighbor’s garden and perhaps weed from time to time, or give the plants a bit of fertilizer, so the garden is flourishing when the neighbors return.
So what is Christian stewardship all about?
Everything we consider our own really belongs to someone else. The persons we are, and the greater person we are called to be, every moment of every day. Our relationships with family and friends, our possessions, the food on our table and the food at the Eucharistic table: All are gifts — amazing, overwhelming and precious gifts.
We can choose to generously share the gifts we have been given, out of gratitude for the gift and the Giver, or we can possessively hold what we perceive as a personal possession, even though in reflection we realize that it is not that at all.
We can apply reason and say “I am the one who has earned what I own. I’ve worked hard; I deserve to hold onto my possessions all I want.” But then, reason will also tell us, if we are willing to think about it, that the talents and abilities used to do the work involved are given to us by our lavishly generous God. And then, reason will also tell us that it makes sense to share with others in the manner with which we have been given from the beginning.
That is the essence of stewardship. All we have and are and will be is God’s. We are caretakers of all of this, and being a caretaker of so much means that we have been given great responsibility. Amazingly, we are given complete freedom to decide how we will care for our lives, our relationship with God and others, our vocation, our possessions.
Not only this, we have been shown what true stewardship “looks like,” in the person of Jesus Christ. Living the life of a disciple of Christ inevitably leads to reflection about what is important in life.
Jesus did not hesitate to respond to the needs of those whom he encountered. How will we use the gifts we have been given to continue Christ’s response to the needs of the people Christ encounters today? The Christian steward grows in willingness to give life, love and care as a continuation of the work of the Master, and finds true joy in the giving.
We are not left alone to do this good work, either. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit within and among us to guide and strengthen our decisions and action. We also have one another, as members of Christ’s body united in the Spirit.
As we grow as stewards, we come to appreciate that each of us has been given specific talents and abilities, special combinations of traits that uniquely equip us to contribute to Christ’s mission. Since each of us is particularly gifted, it is essential that each person does his or her part. Alone, each of us can do only what one person can do; together, we can transform our world.
Discovering how to combine our strengths in ministry benefits those who are served and simultaneously builds up the community of faith, drawing people more deeply into Christ’s life with a sense of purpose and love.
Leisa Anslinger is the editor of OSV’s Grace in Action bulletin insert. She writes from Indiana.
Characteristics of stewardship
“Thank you!” This is the response when someone gives us something, is it not? And the greater the gift, the more we seek ways to express our gratitude. We may express our thankfulness in words, through a handwritten card, or by doing something special as a sign of our gratitude.
“Thank you!” For what are you most grateful? Your life? The people you love and who love you? The blessing of work and ability to provide for your family, even if you are currently underemployed? How can you say “thank you” to God for gifts such as these? How might you recognize the generosity of friends, family members, and the community if you are out of work or face unemployment?
This desire to say “thank you!” to God for all we are, have, and will be, is the beginning point of stewardship.
When we take to heart the realization that everything we have and are is pure gift from God, we look at life differently. We see through the eyes of one who understands that the source of life, time, talents, relationships, material and financial resources is the One who blesses us with all good gifts. And, we see that the response that is due is more than going through the motions with a perfunctory “thank you.” Rather, the response that is due to the Giver of all good gifts is substantial and generous giving!
Gratitude leads us to generosity. That is the next step toward a life of stewardship. Even if we know in our minds and hearts that our worth is not measured by how much money or material possessions we have accumulated, there is much that surrounds us that says that such things do determine “worth.” Success in the world is measured by how much we have. Growing as a steward calls us to think differently about the most important things in life. “Success” as a friend and follower of Jesus is measured by the ways in which we give of ourselves and our possessions. “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Lk 12:32-34). When we take to heart that Jesus’ way is the way of thankfulness and giving, the urge to hoard and hold close gives way to generosity, and we find freedom in giving! We realize that real “worth” is measured by eternal standards!
So, how do we find the grace to become generous? Those who have begun to intentionally live as stewards tell us the movement toward generosity is taken one step of faith after another, in trust that all will be well, and that God will be with us in every moment. The more we take little opportunities to give of our time, our personal presence, our talents and skills and our material or financial resources, the more generous we find ourselves becoming. Generosity leads to generosity. Perhaps living with open hands is simply more fulfilling than holding onto all that stuff! And giving is a meaningful way of living.
Have you ever taken a “trust walk?” One person is blindfolded, simulating loss of sight. The “blind” person is dependent upon a companion who acts as guide in order to reach his or her destination. At times, the “blind” person holds onto the guide for direction. At other times the guide calls the person, providing insight into the moment’s situation and giving essential instruction. As long as the “blind” person follows her or his guide, all is well. Trust provides the bond that allows both to journey together in love.
If we really think about it, each of us is on a “trust walk” with God, every moment and every step of our lives. When we follow Christ and learn to make decisions based on Jesus’ instruction, our lives are filled with depth and fullness.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we come to trust that God, who has given us our very lives, who we are, and what we have, will continue to provide all we need. As long as we follow our guide, all will be well. Trust will provide the bond that allows us to journey with God in love, and this trusting love is vital to our growth as stewards.
Stewardship is a guiding principle for our lives that is deeply Eucharistic. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are formed and transformed as people of Christ who are willing to give of ourselves in Christ’s name. “And what do Christians bring to the Eucharistic celebration and join there with Jesus’ offering? Their lives as Christian disciples; their personal vocations and the stewardship they have exercised regarding them; their individual contributions to the great work of restoring all things in Christ. Disciples give thanks to God for gifts received and strive to share them with others. ... More than that, the Eucharist is the sign and agent of that heavenly communion in which we shall together share, enjoying the fruits of stewardship ‘freed of stain, burnished and transfigured’ (Gaudium et Spes, No. 39). It is not only the promise but the commencement of the heavenly banquet where human lives are perfectly fulfilled” (SDR, Pages 34-35).
“We must ask ourselves: Do we also wish to be disciples of Jesus Christ and Christian stewards of our world and our Church? Central to our human and Christian vocations, as well as to the unique vocation each one of us receives from God, is that we be good stewards of the gifts we possess. God gives us this divine-human workshop. ... The Spirit shows us the way. Stewardship is part of that journey” (SDR, Page 44).
Here are some ideas for growing as a steward
Pray for openness of mind and heart to Christian stewardship as a way of life
How do you already give of yourself to your family, in your workplace, in your parish, in service in your local community, for the needs of the world?
Recognize the ways you already live as a steward
What are your talents? What gifts have you been given that you give freely in service or in your relationships with others?
How do you share your material or financial resources?
Look for ways to stretch as you embrace stewardship
Make a commitment to be a good steward of your physical and spiritual self:
Set aside special time for prayer, spiritual reading and reflection
Eat healthier meals by cooking at home more often
Gather your family at table for meals whenever possible
Add involvement in your parish, a neighborhood or civic organization, or in your child’s school.
Find ways to share your personal presence at home, with extended family, and with people in a local assisted care facility, hospital or the homebound of your parish.
Care for the environment by recycling, using recycled or green materials, study lifestyle choices that result in less negative environmental impact.
Choose to live more simply
Donate material goods you no longer need to your parish or local ministry collections.
Challenge yourself and your family to purchase wisely.
Learn to distinguish between wants and needs and invite your family members to do the same.
Ask yourself each day: For what am I grateful? How do I thank God for my blessings today?
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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