Our diocese will soon begin Stewardship: Our Way of Life. As we prepare to take up this "way of life" in our local church, I will be presenting a series of articles in which I will share my reflections on Stewardship, hoping also to communicate my excitement and enthusiasm about this way of living our faith.
In this first article, I wish to concentrate on the all-important point that stewardship is not simply a program for raising money. As we embrace stewardship, people may come to have an increased awareness of the importance of sharing their treasure, as well as their time and talent. Nonetheless, this sharing is only one aspect of stewardship. To claim that stewardship is a money-raising program would be like saying that baseball is all about home runs. While home runs are certainly an exciting element of baseball, they are only one of the many aspects of our national pastime.
I remember a presenter who recently told us that when he signed up for a baseball team in high school, his coach told him that his first challenge would be to unlearn all that his uncle had taught him in throwing a curve ball; only then would he be able to learn the proper way to throw this elusive pitch. So also, many of us are going to have to let go of preconceived notions of what stewardship is before we can begin to live it in our lives.
I would define stewardship as being in right relationship with God. Being in "right relationship" with God means that I understand that God is the giver and I am the receiver. Absolutely everything that I am and that I have is given to me by God and is intended to draw me closer to him. St. Augustine puts it this way: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord." Saint Ignatius builds on this theme when he reminds us that we are created by God so that we might return to him in the fullness of his kingdom. Ignatius’ first Principle and Foundation states that a person is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
Ignatius believed that we should be indifferent to the gifts given us and only use them as vehicles that bring us closer to God. In this light, Ignatius reminds us that "…we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us move toward the end for which we are created" namely, to be one with God.
This is what Jesus meant when he said "I am the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6) Jesus begins us on our journey of existence, Jesus is the journey and Jesus is the destination. When I fully embrace this reality then I come to understand what it means to say that stewardship is a way of life: Stewardship keeps me focused on God as the center of my being. God is the one who gives me life. God is my companion on the journey and is involved in every aspect of my person and of my relationships. All my aspirations, dreams and desires are rooted in God in one way or the other.
Another way to put this is to say that I see existence through the lens of my faith. As a National Geographic photographer once said, "Some people say ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ but I say, ‘I’ll see it when I believe it.’" Hence, we find God in everything and everything in God. Christians walk not by sight but by faith. Grounded in this belief, my life takes on new meaning and every day presents me with a new opportunity to come closer to God.
It is easy to see, then, that stewardship is not a program. Rather, it is a way of being, a way of looking at God and responding to him. This "right relationship" with God changes everything. To say that I am a faithful steward means, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, that I fall in love with God anew every day. Being in love cannot be reduced to a program but can only mean I’m entering into that mysterious realm that makes all life worthwhile.
Please join me in praying that we will all embrace this way of life called Stewardship in our diocese. It is an exciting moment for us and I look forward to sharing it with you. In my next article, I will take up the question of how we respond to God’s love and grace in our lives. God bless you!