One of the key lessons I learned as a spiritual guide was that I should focus on what Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a priest-psychologist who passed away recently, called “the next good step” for any person. Christian teaching is full of ideals – and the Christian tradition understands that often people aren’t ready to embrace and live by those ideals fully. There has to be a period of growth first. So the question for a guide becomes, What is the next step in the right direction that this person is capable of taking right now? Ask too little, and an opportunity is missed; ask too much, and the person can get discouraged.
It’s the same with responsible stewardship. Most of us grew up in a culture that’s insistent that what we have is ours; as a politician once said, “After all, you’ve earned it.” Not quite. As Catholics we know three things:
- Everything we have comes from God;
- God entrusts these things (abilities, money, opportunities, time) to us for our wise management for our own and others’ well-being;
- We will be called to give an account for how we have used what God has entrusted to us.
To use Matthew Kelly’s phrasing, “Your worldview is made up of a million thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and prejudices. It is unique to you, and largely formed by your past experiences and education. For these reasons your worldview has blind spots and is imperfect. … This is why God constantly challenges our worldview.” Our worldview has to become more like Christ’s, and less like the culture’s. But we can’t make one big change and be done with it; that climb is too steep for most of us.
So how do we learn to see everything as God’s gift, rather than what we have a right to? How do we learn that everything we have is entrusted to us not just for our own well-being but for others’ as well? How do we learn to be good stewards who will win God’s approval when an accounting is called-for? We do it one good step at a time in the right direction.
How does this apply to financial stewardship? A good navigator has to know where she is before she can figure out the route to where she wants to go. So the first step, if you haven’t already done it, is to rough out a personal or family budget and to see where sacrificial giving comes in. The chart on the next page can help you: You can take what your income is (weekly, monthly, or annually) and what you give each week, and find from that what percentage of your income you’re now giving to charity. (Instructions are on the chart.)
“The next good step” is often, as it was for me, toward greater generosity. Here too the chart can help. If you now give, say, 1% of your income, you might set as a goal to raise it to 2%. Make that change in your weekly giving – the chart will tell you how much that is. Don’t be discouraged if the percentage you now give seems low, and your aspiration seems to be just too much. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t (now) do. Read Kelly’s pages 134-136 for encouragement. The path to sanctity is this: continuous improvement.
This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day when our culture focuses on gratitude and generosity. For followers of Jesus it shouldn’t be just a day. But use the boost given by the celebrations of the week to focus on how generous God has been to you – you might even make a list of things to be grateful for. If you do, then don’t put it aside; go back to it through the year. And use the chart on the next page as part of your Thanksgiving preparations: take a step toward the sort of generosity we receive from God at every moment. And please join us for Mass on Thanksgiving morning at 9am. Until next week, peace.
 The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, p. 76.