The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

The Stewardship Way of Life

Authored by Steven Farley in Issue #9.4 of Catechetical Review

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Image by Freepik: Man handing out bread in communityMonsignor Thomas McGread, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Wichita, Kansas from 1968 to 1999, had great confidence in his plan for parish revival when he asked parishioners to trust in the Lord and tithe their fair amount. He promised that when they looked back at the end of the year, if they hadn’t received more out of the parish than they put in, he would return the full amount of their tithe. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not a single family who participated in this model demanded their money back. More than simply a new program or financial campaign, Monsignor McGread sought to invite souls into a radical way of life. Jesus, too, invited his followers to the complete surrender of time, talent, and treasure.[1] It turns out that the best strategy for parish life is the one for which Jesus planted the seeds: the stewardship way of life.

Over fifty years later, the fruits of the stewardship way of life speak for themselves. After the success at St. Francis, the entire Wichita diocese would adopt the model. Mass attendance in the diocese is double the national average. One third of the 90 parishes have perpetual adoration. Seminarians are plentiful, with 39 men being ordained in the last seven years. Committed giving per household is almost four times the national average. Catholic schools are funded by the parishes, allowing families access to Catholic education regardless of financial circumstances. Finally, other diocesan ministries can be supported, including a clinic that offers free healthcare for the uninsured and impoverished.[2] As a result, the diocese sees high rates of adult and youth participation and volunteerism.

From an early age, every student at St. Francis of Assisi parish learns the definition of stewardship: The grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor. Stewardship flows out of a personal encounter with the living Christ who invites us into a life that does not seek to grasp but opens itself to trustful surrender. It is the recognition that everything we have is a gift from God and should be used to love him and our neighbor in return—“What do you possess that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7).

Every person has time, talent, and treasure to give. “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10). The stewardship way of life is not just about money. Parishioners can use their time and diverse talents to support their church in myriad ways. Parishes can then allocate financial resources to things that really make an impact on families, such as Catholic education.

St. Francis of Assisi parish has eight fundamental beliefs about stewardship:

  1. Everything we have received is a gift from God (i.e., life, love, health, talents, family, vocation, etc.), therefore we are called to develop and share our gifts sacrificially, generously, and proportionally.
  2. Stewardship is primarily about faith. It is an invitation by God for the faithful in each parish to grow in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
  3. Stewardship is a spirituality that builds a way of life, expressed not in a single action or even in a number of actions but in an entire way of life. It is a committing of one’s total self to the Lord.
  4. Stewardship is characterized by hospitality, prayer, formation, and service.
  5. Our bishop, pastors, and parish leaders have a crucial responsibility to live stewardship and motivate the faithful to follow their lead in order for stewardship to be a spirituality that builds a way of life.
  6. Stewardship should be integrated into all aspects of parish and diocesan mission and ministry.
  7. The universal Church, including parish and diocesan missions, should be supported primarily by the generous, sacrificial, and proportionate sharing of time, talent, and treasure of parishioners to their parish.
  8. We are called in Scripture to return to God the first of our fruits, through our tithe.[3]

Every family experiences times of abundance and famine. The stewardship way of life is a trustful response that reflects the family’s belief that, no matter how tight finances may be, being generous to God will never lead to the destruction of the family. While families are able to give more or less depending on their current situation, there are six minimum commitments that participating families agree to:

  1. Make a lifelong commitment to practice stewardship as a way of life.
  2. Participate in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, ideally in your parish.
  3. Practice the faith in the workplace, the home, the classroom, and in civic life.
  4. Support and participate in the religious education programs of the parish.
  5. Participate in parish ministries, activities, and organizations through your contribution of time and talent.
  6. Support the ministries of the Catholic Church by pledging and tithing sacrificially to the parish (With a goal of 8% of family income and 2% to other charities).[4]

God will not be outdone in generosity. It is the common experience that those who give their time to God in consistent daily prayer find enough time to sustain their other responsibilities. Likewise, though a 10 percent tithe can be intimidating, those who participate often find that a promotion comes, or a handout is given, or an unexpected check comes in the mail. The God who is love desires to use his children to support his children, and any open avenue he finds he will greatly bless. God invites us to share in his generosity. The talents, education, resources, and experiences we have received have given us the opportunity to engage in the very life of God. This is both an amazing prospect and a grave responsibility.

God’s Revelation of the Stewardship Way of Life

Of the many references to stewardship and the “good and faithful steward” in Scripture, the most explicit teaching of Jesus comes to us in the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14–30). In this parable, the master of the estate entrusts a portion of his property to three servants, each according to his ability, before departing on a journey. The servants respond in two major ways: the first two immediately put the investment to use, while the third buries the investment in fear of losing it. Upon returning from the journey, the master invites the servants to present what they were able to accomplish with what was entrusted to them. The first two, with great joy, return double what they had originally received and are greatly rewarded. The third, with self-pity and excuses, returns exactly what he had originally received. Before being cast out, the little he has is taken from him and given to one who has much.

There are three fundamental points to pull from this passage. The first is the conviction that the time, talent, and treasure we have been given are not ours to use for ourselves. We are stewards of God’s gifts, not owners, and certainly not the creators. Second, while not everyone is given the same gifts, every person has the responsibility to use them to help build the kingdom. What is important is not the amount of fruit God produces through us but that we try to make use of the short time we have on earth. As Mother Teresa famously said, “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing.” The third point is that we will be judged according to our work—our faith in action. Jesus is coming and will expect the fruit of our labor. To those who have been given much, much is expected. Those who have given of themselves will be given more. Those who have abused their gifts out of fear or selfishness will have everything taken away.

The Old Testament is full of examples of stewardship, many of which are also radical models of faith-filled living. In 1 Kings, Elijah asks a widow for water and some bread in a time of intense famine. The widow replies: “Just now I was collecting a few sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die” (1 Kgs 17:12). While certainly being an extreme situation, the woman trusts in the words of Elijah and offers what little she has. In return for her faith and generosity, God never lets her jar run dry. Christ invites us to the same conviction that if we give ourselves unreservedly to him, we will be abundantly cared for.

The Stewardship Way of Life in the Church

These sentiments are also expressed by the Church, who invites all people to the stewardship way of life. The USCCB has released many documents on the topic of stewardship. One such document is the pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, which explains Christian stewardship as rooted in the Gospel. This document offers a manual for beginning stewardship in parishes and dioceses. The Bishops write: “As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”[5]

The stewardship way of life is authentic Gospel living. “Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ leads naturally to the practice of stewardship.”[6] While many see this as an ideal, its implementation might seem impossible. Church leaders might be hesitant to call parishioners to a higher standard or worry about inviting families who are already struggling financially to give more money. Inviting parishioners to give more may cause division, but is this not what Jesus did? Jesus did not shy away from confrontation out of fear of losing followers. At the Bread of Life discourse, he asked his disciples, “Will you also go away?” (Jn 6:67). The stewardship way of life invites families to make a trusting gift of self to God. The cost is faith, and the reward is life in abundance. Fulfillment, peace, joy, and communion with the Creator can only be found in giving ourselves away. “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”[7]

The Implementation of the Stewardship Way of Life

It is no secret that many parishes and dioceses are struggling with low involvement, lack of priests, disinterest for the faith, and a dearth of financial resources. It is in difficult times that the temptation to hunker down and worry solely about oneself can creep in. This will only increase the difficulty and drive people apart. The stewardship way of life can work in your family, in your parish, and in your diocese. This is an important part of the renewal the faithful need. It is an intentional invitation into living the Gospel more fully that will reveal itself as life-giving and fruitful. The fruits that St. Francis of Assisi church have seen have only come after many years of hard work and development. This is an invitation to plant the seeds and slowly nurture the stewardship way of life.

For anyone seeking to live this way, the first step is our own conversion: consistent prayer, authentic Gospel living, and living out the six minimum commitments in our personal and family lives. By living out the Gospel more fully we will see change take effect. Take note of the fruits and blessings that begin to roll in, and then talk about them. By talking about the goodness of God in our lives the Holy Spirit is given an avenue to inspire our friends, pastor, and fellow parishioners.

After this comes the invitation. We need to personally invite other families to participate in this way of life with us, to make a firm commitment of time, talent, and treasure to the parish. As the number of participants grows, the number of ministries and expenses can grow with it. Set goals, such as providing tuition for Catholic school students each year. Look to provide new ways of involvement and adult evangelization and catechesis opportunities.

Next, it is important to get the right people involved. A dedicated bishop and priests who are working on the same page can do wonders, and a team of qualified professionals who can give financial and administrative advice will be tremendously helpful. Begin to develop concrete pastoral plans with small-terms goals and checkpoints that emphasize annual renewal.

Lastly, it is important not to lead with the invitation to give money. The priority is conversion. When people see the fruit of giving their time and talent, the treasure will come much easier. This is not a financial campaign or program; it’s a way of life, and money is only a small part of it.

Three Testimonies to the Stewardship Way of Life

A second-generation benefactor of the stewardship way of life and mother of four writes:

I am both a product and a practitioner of the Stewardship Way of Life in the Diocese of Wichita. I attended Catholic Schools from kindergarten through high school, and in turn, my four children have also received the same blessings that Catholic education has provided through parish generosity. It’s a beautiful process of giving your fair share, which may not be as much when you are starting out with family responsibilities and lower income, but your fellow parishioners are carrying the weight when you are not as able, and in turn, you carry the weight for others as life moves on and your own blessings increase. It’s a true sign of love, with the founding belief that Catholic education should be open to all, regardless of financial position. You cannot underestimate the value of community, diversity, and simple gratitude that stewardship creates. This is our parish, our school community, and our faith built together through a grateful response to God’s many blessings.

Ordained in 2017, a young priest in the Diocese of Wichita comments:

Stewardship became a reality in my life when my family moved from Nebraska to the Diocese of Wichita. My dad’s position was eliminated in Holdrege, NE, and our family had the choice of relocating to Hastings, NE, Beloit, KS, or Hutchinson, KS. The primary reason we chose Hutchinson was because of the Catholic school system that is supported through stewardship. What a blessing it was for my parents to send all four of us kids to a Catholic school that was supported through the generous time, talent, and treasure of the parishioners of three Catholic parishes in Hutchinson. Fast-forwarding to today, I am currently the chaplain of St. Mary’s Colgan Catholic Schools in Pittsburg, KS, and I have the blessing of teaching religion to our juniors and seniors. I always include a fervorino[8] on stewardship in my classes, and while I know it’s not the official diocesan definition, I tell our students that stewardship is “the natural response of one who has encountered and experienced the love of Jesus Christ.” How could you not give everything to the God who has given you his everything?! And ultimately, stewardship is written into our bones and our DNA as human persons. Pope John Paul the Great says that the human person is wired to love, to give himself away, and to lay down his life, and when he does this, he discovers the life, the joy, and the peace that he has been made for. The great saint of our modern times calls this the “law of the gift”; in the Diocese of Wichita, we call it stewardship!

An eighth grader at St. Francis of Assisi, in a thank-you testimony before the parish, says:

I want to thank you for all the opportunities I have been given and all the experiences that have shaped me into the person that I am today. The Catholic environment that has been provided to me has been such a privilege for me and my classmates to grow alongside one another, through Confirmation and the Holy Spirit. St. Lucy, my confirmation saint, has shown me a model of love and generosity that has made me appreciate the wonderful chance I've been given here at St. Francis. And it's all thanks to you that I was able to gain her assistance at all, not to mention the other opportunities I've been granted such as the school play, Battle of the Books, and Scholars and Religion Bowl, which have kindled my confidence and love for knowledge and reading. I am grateful for the gifts I have been given by the parishioners here at St. Francis, and I'm looking forward to my future growth and the opportunities that lie in front of me as I continue my spiritual and educational journey through high school and college. Thank you for your support and generosity that has given me the opportunity to find my physical and spiritual identity. I can now proudly declare myself as a bookworm, a steward, and, most importantly, a child of God.

Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor. This is not a model that depends primarily on donors, pastors, or accountants. This model depends primarily on trust in God and trust in his Church. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8).

Jesus is our example of stewardship. Jesus, completely divine, fully entered into human poverty and held nothing back for himself, going even so far as to suffer the Cross for the human race. He then comes to us in the humble presence of the Eucharist. We who have received the greatest gift, God himself, must imitate him in the stewardship way of life.

Steven Farley teaches middle school religion at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in the Diocese of Wichita.

Notes

[1] See for example Mt 25:14–30; Lk 12:42–48; 16:1–2.

[2] These fruits are outlined in C. Jarrod Lies, A Grateful Response to God’s Abundant Gifts: Stewardship in the Diocese of Wichita (self-pub., 2017).

[3] “Stewardship,” St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, https://www.stfranciswichita.com/index.php/stewardship/information.

[4] St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 2023 Stewardship Renewal Form.

[5] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response: A Pastoral Letter on Stewardship,” tenth anniversary edition (Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2002), 42.

[6] USCCB, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response," 14

[7] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 24

[8] A quick pep-talk or exhortation.

This article originally appeared on page 28-31 of the printed edition.

Art credit: Freepik.com.


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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