“Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
St. Teresa of Avila
Sometimes our parish stewardship efforts focus primarily on getting parishioners to sign up for ministries or activities. If we haven’t been educating parishioners about stewardship and the breathtaking challenge of living as Christian Stewards, then it should not be a surprise that the same few people sign up and our efforts do not lead to a more vibrant parish with people experiencing the spark of the Holy Spirit.
The Bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship is a wonderful resource to help us grasp what it means to live as a Christian steward. Why not incorporate some of these topics into homilies this fall? The letter is comprised of five sections, which are summarized here:
To be a Christian steward, we must recognize first that Jesus invites us into a relationship with him. So many of us have missed this. Jesus does not summon disciples as a nameless group, but as a personal invitation, which then translates to an individual journey and individual vocation. Accepting the invitation leads to the practice of stewardship, which is based on a Christ-centered life.
Jesus uses stewardship as a role that helps to describe a disciple’s life. The parable of the man going on a journey (MT 25:14-30) tells of a man who left his wealth in silver pieces to be tended by three servants. The silver pieces are a metaphor for all temporal and spiritual goods, which are gifts from God. We are measured based on our unique mix of talents, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses and how we have done with what we have been given.
Living as a Steward.
Stewardship of creation can be expressed as “be fertile and multiply,” but at the same time is also “cultivating and caring for the earth”. Humankind is on earth to be its steward and “work” is our meaningful application of stewardship. The pastoral letter devotes a large part of this section to ecological stewardship, which means cultivating a heightened sense of human interdependence and solidarity. This begins with an “appreciation for how precious life is”, also expressed by “jubilant appreciation of nature.” This balance of individual work in the context of our surroundings and in relationship with the people of the world predates and reinforces the message of interdependence of all things as Pope Francis describes in Laudato Si’.
Stewards of the Church.
As a collection of individuals, we are “the Body of Christ” and are called to care for the well-being of the Church. We As a collection of individuals, we are “the Body of Christ” and are called to care for the well-being of the Church. We have a personal responsibility to foster our gifts while using them to serve our faith community. Part of this is financial giving. As Fr. Mallon states in Divine Renovation: Beyond the Parish, the kind of giving that changes the heart is “ conscious, intentional, proportional and generous giving.” But financial giving is only one aspect. We are commissioned to recognize and use all our gifts for the greater good of our Church. In the pastoral letter, the Bishops specifically call out evangelization as an important facet of stewardship. This includes the role of parents as stewards of the domestic church, but also calls us to use our gifts to “proclaim the Good News” through strengthening the faith, and through acts of justice and mercy.
The Christian Steward.
“Do not be deceived…all good living and every perfect gift is from above.” Jas 1:16-17. As a Christian steward we have committed to living in imitation of the life of Christ. The fundamental premise is to serve one another through love.
In summary, the Christian steward is one who “ receives God’s gifts gratefully, cultivates them responsibly, shares them lovingly in justice with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”
Wow. This is much more than signing up for a bible study group. I hope it inspires you as much as it does me.
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive who is passionate about serving the Church through supporting his leaders and organizations. His experience includes coaching and training Catholic leaders, facilitating priority planning with dioceses and parishes, consulting with parish leaders to engage parishioners, and using technology to foster stewardship. Terry serves as chairman of the finance council for his home parish in Hartsville, SC, and as cantor for his parish in Myrtle Beach.