Dependence on him is the start of true stewardship
December 5, 2019
Q: The Archdiocese recently marked the conclusion of the Ignite the Faith capital campaign. Could you tell us a little about how that effort came about and its impact?
Several years ago, after we had done some pastoral planning for parishes and schools in several areas of our archdiocese, we realized that there were helpful new initiatives that we could launch if we had the necessary resources. After a feasibility study and consultation with people around the archdiocese, we launched a campaign called Ignite the Faith. It had a goal of $40 million, and we are celebrating the fact that we have received gifts totaling over $50 million.
We heard from our people that they were most enthusiastic about supporting causes that have to do with Catholic education. So, a number of the facets of the campaign did just that, supporting further education for teachers, excellence grants for our schools, some capital improvements and help for inner city schools, and support for Catholic education in rural areas of the archdiocese. We launched the Consortium of Catholic Schools in South Omaha. We funded our priests’ retirement, and we received additional money for the formation of our seminarians. It was really an excellent effort.
I am so grateful to thousands and thousands of people across the archdiocese who supported the campaign, and also very grateful to our Stewardship and Development Office and those who accepted positions of leadership right from the beginning of the effort. As we have celebrated Thanksgiving recently, this is an extra reason for me to say thanks to God for the generosity of the people of the archdiocese and for the many good things that are now possible because of this campaign.
Q: It is popular in our culture this time of year to talk about thankfulness and being generous to others. In what ways is the Christian understanding of stewardship deeper than this?
It is one thing to feel grateful, to have a heart full of warmth because something good has happened. But to give thanks to God is an act of worship, an act of acknowledgement of God’s Fatherly care and His sovereignty over all of creation. We acknowledge that God is the source of every good gift and that we would have nothing without God willing it lovingly. What is owed to God is first of all thanks.
The Scriptures help me see that all the gifts with which God surrounds me are not only for me. This is clear in St. Paul’s writings as the Church begins to reflect on its own nature. As a member of the body of Christ, any gift I receive—whether spiritual or material—is given for my benefit, but also so that the life of the Church can be enriched through me, through my sharing of what I have received.
God entrusts the goods of this world, including my own life, my body, everything that I experience as a human person, to me for my careful use. But it all still belongs to God.
That in no way implies that God is selfish or tentative about whether He wants to bless us. In a sense puts confidence in us to take the things that are the fruit of His loving creative will and use them in a way that’s respectful of God and of God’s purposes and also respectful of ourselves and of others. That is, not simply to devour them or consume them, but to see how they might be put to good use or simply enjoyed for their own sake in the company of our brothers and sisters.
It is not unusual for us in the Church to hear and respond to appeals for help with some particular need. Ignite the Faith is a great example of how the people of this archdiocese are routinely very generous. I say “routinely,” but I do not take it for granted—it is a beautiful and powerful thing to witness. Most of us face a little bit more of a challenge, however, going to the next step in understanding stewardship as a practice of our faith.
So we’re not thinking so much of the practical use of a gift that we have. Again, nothing wrong with that at all. But we begin with the notion of thanksgiving, that is, recognizing that everything I have comes from God and asking how I can offer a significant portion of what I have received back to God as a gift. It’s very much out of the tradition of sacrifices in the Old Testament. We know that God doesn’t need anything that we have. God doesn’t need anything in this world, but God loves our thanks and our praise. God also tells us, we must be aware of the needs of the community.
So as we pray and reflect on what we have received and where it is all from, the scriptures lead us to make a commitment—before we do anything else, before anybody even asks for anything, before I decide what I need for myself or even for my family—to set aside a certain portion of that as an offering of thanks to God. Then, I look at what the needs are around me and respond as people make requests. But I entrust the first portion of my monthly paycheck or my inheritance or my energy, whatever God has given me, to God, strictly for His purposes as He will make them known to me.
It may seem like a subtle difference, but I think it is a significant one. This is a pure act of faith, a pure recognition that everything is from God anyway, and that I am utterly dependent on God’s providence. Whether I recognize it or not, it is true.
The challenge of the scriptures and of our Catholic faith is to begin with a stance of recognizing our dependence on God, of giving thanks and then making an offering to Him without a lot of fanfare. We say to Him in our own mind, and practically in our checkbook, or by whatever means we have, “This significant portion of what I have received I am dedicating to you and to your purposes, and you will help me see how best to make use of it.”
Q: This raises the question, “How much should I give?” I am reminded of the answer Jesus gives in the Gospel story of the rich young man…
Yes—Jesus wants everything. But why does Jesus want everything? Is it because He is hoarding things or He just wants to kind of keep us under His thumb?
This is the temptation that the evil one offered to Adam and Eve, which we also face: thinking that God is somehow competing with us. We think that if we let God into our lives, we are going to get crowded out somehow, and that He is going to steal our time, energy, health, money, etc.
We see in Jesus’ coming into our human experience, that God wants to be with us in all of these things. He comes not to take them away from us, but to transform our life, our relationships with people and possessions into something that is good and life-giving.
Jesus says to us, “I want everything.” It is worth praying over these questions: Why would He want that? Why does He want me? Why does He want anything I have?
He humbles Himself and enters right into the details, responsibilities, and challenges of every day with us. It is His delight to be there. The more we let Him in, the more He teaches us how to live in full praise of the Father and in gratitude for what we have received. He places us in right relationship with God, open to receiving everything that is being offered, ready to share, and knowing that in every moment we are in God’s hands.
That is the realization of the Christian steward: This is God’s project, and I am privileged to be entrusted with a part of it.