Effective Stewardship

09-23-2012Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

One of the harder ideas to shake from our thinking is that the amount of wealth that can be had in the world is basically a zero-sum game. In other words if someone gets rich it is because someone else got poor. But this way of thinking has for centuries kept people in poverty. Today many economists are challenging this way of seeing wealth and the free market by pointing out that there is in fact a nearly infinite amount of wealth that can be created and in which everyone can participate in its creation and benefit from it. Markets tend to reward those who excel by serving others well and meeting the needs and wants of customers. Economic activity then should be pursued as mutually beneficial exchanges and not the domination of the strong over the weak. In this view each of us then is a potential producer of wealth and resources for others.

Transposing this from the temporal to the spiritual means that if each of us is the best steward we can be then each of us individually and the Body of Christ at large will have all that we need. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that when we observe our neighbor's success that we ourselves do not possess we should react with zeal for self-improvement. But too often, Aquinas noted that when we observe good in others that surpasses what we ourselves possess we grieve over it rather than rejoice and in a malicious spirit seek to destroy it. This is the sin we call envy. If that is us then the spiritual challenge we face is to rejoice over a neighbor's good rather than resent that we do not possess the same and to be inspired by it not to tear others down but to address our own flaws and weaknesses.

This is the whole point of our focus on Stewardship. First to remind ourselves that God provides an infinite amount of riches both spiritually and temporally that are available to our community if we each are willing to serve to the best of our ability. Stewardship also challenges us not to be envious of another's gifts but rather to be inspired by them so that we might do better ourselves and to have zeal for doing good for others with our time, talent and treasure.

The Church constantly parades before us men and women who were the best of stewards. We call them the saints. We tend to look at them and think, "I can never do that" and when we do we are doing just what St. Thomas Aquinas warned us not to do. We should instead look at the saints and be inspired to do the same and so become productive and creative stewards.

Here's the heart of the matter: a heart that seeks to possess is a heart that cannot give. An effective steward is one who like the saints starts with the recognition that all that is, is in fact a gift from God. Our use then of our time, talent and treasure is only possible because God has given them first to us. Anything less than the recognition that all is gift puts us in the position of being a self-seeker and not a self-giver. The world has lots of go-getters what God wants is lots of go-givers.

So if you resist exercising stewardship of your spiritual and temporal gifts, if you say to yourself "I don't have the time" or "I don't have the resources" or "I have no particular skill or talent" then you have not allowed your heart to be truly converted and the message of stewardship is just another marketing appeal for your "stuff".

Without a proper view of God and a correct understanding of creation as gift we will turn our wealth, our talents into idols to be served rather than gifts to be shared. When we do that we can be assured we will never have enough, never be secure enough and never be happy enough.

As we prepare for another "People Raiser" take some time this week to consider what kind of steward you are, how well do you use the resources entrusted to you, how well do you use all your gifts to build better relationships, in what areas do you resist the message of stewardship? The People Raiser is designed to help you find ways to serve. For when we commit to some form of service we are at least beginning to allow stewardship to become a way of life. Our theme this year: You gotta serve somebody begs the question: whom do you serve? Also in October we begin the Year of Faith in which we will all be challenged to become better stewards of our Faith.

Finally consider this: God can be said to be a "free enterpriser since he expects a return on his gifts". (Matt 25) God has in fact invested in each of us. What return shall we make to the Lord? Stewardship must be a governing principle in our lives as Christians which in turn will become the transforming principle in our lives, our homes, our parish, our community and our culture. Our call is not to be sovereigns over our lives but to be responsible stewards of all we have and are.

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