Last week, the clergy and pastoral leaders of the Diocese of Cheyenne gathered in Laramie for a two day work shop to study the spirituality of stewardship. We brought in a group of known and proven speakers from Catholic Stewardship Consultants who shared with us their experience as pastors and parish leaders in building a spirituality and culture of stewardship in their own parishes. The results can be transforming for a parish, and the lives of the individuals who make up a parish.
Our annual institute is always a shot in the arm to all the participants. It not only gives us solid and current information about our efforts to serve a common mission of the Church, but is also a great opportunity to renew and strengthen our many and varied relationships and to be reminded that we are all in the same boat, serving the People of God in order to lead others to Christ.
As we all know, many hold today that stewardship is nothing but a program for raising money. Truth be told, that is the last goal of stewardship. Remember the ‘jingle:’ Time – Talent – and only then, Treasure. Stewardship is not a program, it is a way of life; a spirituality. A steward is one who recognizes that everything comes from God. All of creation, every human life, even the time that is given each day, and all that makes up our life is a gift from God. A good steward recognizes this Truth that God created everything, and has entrusted a portion of this reality to us for proper cultivation.
The steward gratefully receives everything from God. Because she recognizes God as the origin of all that she has, she wisely develops these gifts, and does not horde them privately or selfishly, but rather generously shares them with God and with others. A good steward is one who wants to grow deeper in their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I am mindful of today’s reading which comes from the beginning of the Book of Job. Recall that Job was a wealthy man, blessed with a large family. Job was also a man of faith, and he recognized the hand and Providence of God in his many blessings. Even when God chose to remove Job’s wealth, possessions, family and even health, Job still blessed God. This is the heart of the steward who can bless God even in the trials and sufferings of life. Even though the loss of his children and possessions caused great grief and sadness, Job, though filled with many questions, still clung to God. Even though chided by his wife to ‘curse God’ and cautioned by his friends that he surely had done something sinful to deserve such punishment, Job stayed the course in his mysterious relationship with God.
With much similarity to Job, St. Paul, even in prison and in chains remained joyful in the Lord, Jesus Christ. What mattered most to St. Paul was that whether from pure motives (love) or ill, the most important thing was the Christ be proclaimed to the world. This is why he was able to proclaim:
My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. (Philippians 1: 20-24)
Stewardship calls each of us to live every moment of our day in relationship to Jesus Christ – by keeping his great commandment of loving God with all our heart and mind and our neighbor as our self. Stewardship as a way of life calls us to make God the priority in all things. The spirituality of stewardship calls us to continually grow in our friendship with and service of Jesus Christ. Because it is Christ who unites us, our life is always in relationship to God and others. Our life is always in communion with the Body of Christ, the Church. That is why there are no lone rangers in the Church, only disciples.
As our institute came to a close, during our closing Mass, I shared with the group that in some ways, every Eucharist, and these kinds of gatherings, are like half-time for a football team. We gather in the locker room to review strategies and plays, to re-charge our energy, but then we must go back out onto the field, where the game is actually played (and won!) The Eucharist and the sacraments are key to our life in Christ. But, the Church exists in the world. Our faith is lived in the day-to-day demands of life. The good steward is one who integrates their faith and Christ into the fiber and fabric of an entire life, who does not segregate faith from life by relegating it to what is done only in church.
So, get our there, everyone! Together, as God’s good stewards, let us live our life for Christ, and win others for Christ! Let us be joyful in our discipleship; loving and following Christ – leading others to the Good Shepherd.