As Catholics and Christians, in the end we believe that we own nothing and that we take nothing with us from this world when we die. At some point in our lives, we are called by the Holy Spirit to see and understand this deep truth… That all in life is a gift from God… that there is nothing we earn and therefore have some sort of unchallengeable right to. This awareness of the “un-earnable giftedness” of life calls us to a profound realization of our utter dependence on God and to an equally profound gratitude and trust in God.
For this reason, we believe that the things we “possess” in life are really things that God has entrusted to us for the time we live here. We think very differently about things when we understand them as having been entrusted to us. All that we have in the way of time, talent and treasure are entrusted to us by God for the benefit of the world. We are made to be stewards of all the God has entrusted to us, and good stewards at that.
So much of Jesus’ teaching challenges, encourages and even warns us to be good stewards. The Parable of the Talents readily comes to mind. But even in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the innkeeper is entrusted to care for the unfortunate man, and the Samaritan of the story gives the innkeeper money to care for him “until he returns”. In the Gospels, I think that wherever it occurs, the phase “until he returns” connects the figure in the parable with Christ, who will return at the end of time. Our faith is that we will all have to give some sort of accounting to Christ for what was entrusted to us.
Continuing on with the parable of the Good Samaritan, allegorically, the unfortunate victim of the robbers stands for humanity and the innkeeper stands for the church. The Good Samaritan is a Christ figure, who will return. The innkeeper/church is charged with caring for humanity until the Samaritan/Christ returns. This sheds light on the reason for our need to be good stewards: “We are to care for humanity in its needs.”
Experience also teaches us the same lesson that the key to happiness is to be a generous person… a person not so attached to things. Jesus’ invitation to us to be good stewards is also an invitation to learn the way of compassion and selflessness. In a word, Jesus invites/teaches us onto the way of generosity and large-heartedness.
At Saint Agnes, every year, we conduct a Stewardship Awareness Program. However, Stewardship itself is not a program but a constitutive dimension of discipleship. As such, it is a “year round” thing, not a “once-a-year” thing. Every year in the fall we take time to remind ourselves of this fundamental dimension of Christian life, hence the title, “Stewardship Awareness Program”. Letters from the pastor are sent to all parish households, along with educational brochures. While people can sign up to become involved in parish activities at any time of the year, sign-up for such activities is a special part of the Stewardship Awareness Program. It is also a time to consider one’s financial support of our church and of our parish. We strongly encourage parishioners to adopt a tithing mentality. The actual percentage is not so important as the commitment to give a certain portion of your income, first thing each time you get a paycheck, rather than give something to the church after everything else is paid for. Committing to such generosity is make a priority the care of those who are in need. It is also an important practice that helps keep us from becoming too attached to the things of this world.
Feeling that we should model as a parish what we believe and preach about Stewardship, several years ago, our parish leadership decided to commit a certain percentage of our Sunday offerings (collections) to outreach. We started at 6% and currently we are at 8%. The goal is to reach 10% and so far we have been able to increase the percentage every year since we began. From the beginning, we have pledged 10% of any unplanned income (such as bequests) to this outreach as well. We call this tithing fund our “We Are His Hands” fund. The activities of this aspect of our parish stewardship are covered in the bulletin each Sunday. The result of this is that on a monthly basis we have committed a certain percentage of our income to help support agencies such as Interfaith Hospitality Network, our Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Saint Augustine Parish City Heights Mission, Saint Augustine Parish, our Parish Christian Service Committee, etc. We also help with grants such agencies as the Saint Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy, the televised Mass from our Cathedral, Be Concerned, the Sisters of Notre Dame, etc. This is all in addition to the diocesan collections.
In the end, one way of looking at life is that it is a long lesson in becoming a generous person (God is a great believer in experiential education!). Life invites us to become generous not only with our material goods, but our talent and our time. Perhaps most importantly, life invites us to be generous toward all that is beyond our understanding… toward all that is Mystery. Life invites us to discover and to trust that in God’s Providence, everything has a place and nothing is lost. The road of good Stewardship helps us to discover this.
– Father Mark Keene