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Stewardship is commonly misunderstood and associated with the concept of tithing, the practice of donating 10% of one’s income. While the Second Vatican Council never created an official church law on tithing, it reiterated the importance of supporting the Church stating that Christians have a duty and an honor to give back to God a portion of their gifts. In 1992, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expanded on this principle when they published a Pastoral Letter entitled Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. Their definition of stewardship reached far beyond financial contributions and encouraged Catholics to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. Equipped with this knowledge, we have the “power to change how we understand and live out our lives.” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response)
In their Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, the Bishops of our nation defined a Christian steward. Very simply, they stated that a Christian steward was, “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.” This thought conversion begins a life-long process of sharing our gifts of time, talent and treasure out of gratitude, not out of obligation. Living our lives as true stewards reminds us of our baptismal promises and becomes the motivational force behind our actions.
The time given to us as stewards of this earth is a precious gift, which God wants us to use wisely. We must never forget that Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” and saved us in human history. We are born in time, Baptized in time and invited to live lives of faith within the precious gift of time. Time is a consumable but non-renewable gift. Therefore, the faithful and responsible celebration of time is a vital part of Christian stewardship. “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:10
God gives us many gifts – our faith, the love and affection of friends and family, our possessions – to name but a few. As good stewards, as good Catholics, we need to discover more and better ways to express our gratitude. As individuals and as members of the community of faith, we have been blessed with many talents. Stewardship invites us to offer our gifts and talents to our parish in order to build up the kingdom of God on earth. Some are able to organize, some are teachers, still others have the ability to visit the sick and listen with great care. Talents are not better or worse, talents are just different. Together we can always do more than when we act alone. We are not called to be passive beneficiaries but active doers of the work of God.“There are different kinds of gifts but the same spirit: there are different forms of service but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:4
We have all been blessed with riches. We live in a land of plenty and reap the benefits. Stewardship invites us to recognize how God blesses our efforts and enriches our lives. W hen we recognize God’s part in our lives and His part in our success, we will be eager to make a return to God for all He gives us. It is not enough to just thank God; we must make a return to God from our possessions. True stewardship of treasure should flow from our need to give and not be tempered by a response to a proven need. Responding to a proven need is charity. Charity is important, but far less than true stewardship. True stewardship is much more than charity because it responds to a need in our hearts more than the need in our world.
“It is in giving that we receive…” Prayer of Saint Francis.