Stewardship is the work God has given us. In the Bible it starts as far back as the “Garden of Eden” story, when the first couple are made responsible for tending the garden. God says to them, in effect, “See what you can dream up to make it useful and beautiful.” We’ve been at it ever since – on our own plots of land, in our living-rooms, and in our societies.
We’ve also messed up at times, of course. Sometimes that comes from a good idea gone wrong (as with the many decorative plants and animals introduced into a new habitat and then making a mess of it); sometimes from casual or selfish destruction, as we see in everything from roadside litter to oil spills. But our vocation is to tend God’s creation, to make it and ourselves ready and cooperative as God remakes everything (through Grace) into the “Kingdom of God” which Jesus announced.
Here in Our Lady of Grace we do our best to continue that work: to change lives through the Risen Christ in our worship, our faith formation and children’s programs, our social ministry, and our care for our neighbors in any way we can. So that we can do Christ’s work we ask four things of parishioners: prayer; presence at Sunday Mass; witness of Christian life; and support through generosity with time, talent, and money. It’s this last one that I’ll focus on for the next few weeks.
There are a lot of obstacles to being good stewards. Primary, in my sense of things, is that our culture is stacked against it. We’re encouraged to be “consumers,” not stewards; and we’re told that “it’s your money – you earned it,” rather than being taught to appreciate that our very ability to earn is God’s gift given to us in trust for His work. The vision of stewardship goes against the very atmosphere we breathe – in what we see in the media, in the possessions of others that we see around us, and especially in advertising that falsely promises to make us happy (or at least acceptable to others) only if we buy…
Another obstacle is the lack of useful conversation about how to be a good steward. Even the churches can’t seem to say with a unified voice “how much is enough.” (Sometimes the saints are exceptions. I came across a line attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa: “It doesn’t matter how much you give; what matters is how much you have left.”) How much is appropriate for me to “have left”? How much, if I have young children to support and educate? How much, if I care for an elderly parent (or have to plan to do so)? How much, for my own old age? We don’t have useful, faith-based conversations about those things, and we’re spiritually the poorer for that.
During these weeks before Thanksgiving we’re going to be thinking and talking about financial stewardship. I invite you to do the same, with friends, around the dinner table, and with God in prayer. (Do you know that less than 10% of Christians ever talk about their use of money with anyone? That’s not a good sign for the health of our work for Christ. But we can each start to change that.)
I’ll have more to say in my next few Bulletin columns about some of these topics. And I’d appreciate hearing from you your own thoughts on the Christian use of money and about “how much is enough.” If we’re to do the work of Christ well, we have to talk with one another about wise stewardship, and we have to learn to be accountable to one another for our choices (just as we will have to give an account to Christ eventually).
One last thing this week: I encourage you to explore and, if possible, to use our new online giving tool, WeShare, for your stewardship offerings. Planning to give a certain amount over the course of the year (or a fixed amount each pay period, or each week – whatever makes sense in your circumstances) is a fine way to take responsibility for a share in our common mission from Christ, and a WeShare account will help you to do that. As pastor I have to be accountable to you, and to give an account of my stewardship of what you’ve entrusted to parish leadership. You’ll hear that from me in a few weeks. But accountability is everyone’s task before Christ, who is the source of all we have. More to come. Until next week, peace.