When Catholics Give
By Dan Conway
How much is “enough”? Must we “give ’til it hurts”? What are some good guidelines, and questions to ask ourselves, to determine whether we’re being appropriately generous?
The Gospel answer is radical: “Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow me.” Everything? How is this possible except for those who have been called to take the vow of poverty. And even then — we are tempted to ask, “Does the Lord really mean everything?”
Each of us must answer this question for ourselves. Do I really need the material things I have — for the sake of my family, to live comfortably, to provide for retirement or an unexpected illness? Or do I have more than I really need? Would I feel better if I shared more of what I have with those who need it more than I do?
For example, if a family of four has the necessities (food, shelter, etc.), saves for the future, and then has extra money to spend, they might ask themselves questions like:
1. Why do we want this item/experience and what do we hope to gain by it? (e.g. “This game/concert/weekend vacation will facilitate our family’s quality time together” is a stronger reason than “it would be really cool to have that new TV/car” or “All the other girls in school have this purse/pair of jeans/cell phone.”)
2. Does the cost of this item outweigh its benefit? In a family that loves cooking, for instance, spending a little on cooking gadgets and appliances can help encourage a positive activity and family togetherness. But do you need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a fancy model if a cheaper, less glitzy one gets the job done well enough?
3. What else could we do with this money? Could this money be better spent elsewhere? This is where prayer, family discussion, and the willingness to sacrifice make a big difference in a family’s daily life. Archbishop Robert Carlson tells the true story of a family in the cathedral parish in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that had been saving for a trip to Disney World for a couple of years. When they had more than $1,000 saved they were going to make the trip. In response to a stewardship appeal from their parish, the children urged their parents to donate their “vacation fund” to the parish. The parents were stunned, but after prayerful reflection and discussion, they agreed. The family — prompted by the children — donated their vacation money to the parish to be used to provide assistance to poor families.
Sacrificial giving isn’t “giving ’til it hurts.” It’s making choices about what’s most important to us. We all make sacrifices for those we love and for things we believe in. The Lord asks us to be generous, to choose between the things we need and the things we want, and to share his gifts with others — as generously and wholeheartedly as we can out of gratitude to God (and to those who have made sacrifices for us).
I hear a lot in Church about stewardship. Can you explain what that means?
Stewardship is a way of life, a practical form of spirituality. It is a response to the Lord’s call to discipleship. Christian stewards are: 1) grateful for all God’s gifts, 2) accountable for their development and use, 3) generous in sharing with others, and 4) willing to give back to God with increase.
The American bishops’ pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, describes the opportunities and challenges facing all Catholic parishes and dioceses. The pastoral letter speaks of three convictions or principles that are at the heart of Christian stewardship.
The first conviction is that “Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves (SDR, p 5). Mature discipleship is not impulsive or short-lived. It is carefully considered, deliberately chosen and lived day-in and day-out in the concrete circumstances of our lives. With this first conviction, the bishops make it clear that stewardship is serious business. It is a way of life that is only undertaken by mature men and women who can accept the risks and who are willing to pay the price.
The second conviction is that “beginning in conversion, change of mind and heart, this commitment is expressed not in a single action, nor even a number of actions over a period of time, but in an entire way of life. It means committing one’s very self to the Lord” (SDR, p. 5). Stewardship requires a radical change of attitude and lifestyle. It is not something that can be accomplished once and for all, but requires a lifelong commitment. And what is committed is not something incidental or extra. Stewardship demands a total commitment — heart and mind, body and soul, intentions and actions. Indeed, stewardship means committing one’s very self to the Lord!
The third conviction of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter is that “Stewardship is an expression of Christian discipleship with the power to change how we understand and live our lives” (SDR, p. 5). It is not enough to make a conscious decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to make a total commitment of ourselves to a new way of life. We must actually change. We must begin to see things differently. We must change our understanding and awareness of God, of the world around us, and of the people we cohabitate with on the planet Earth (including our families, our neighbors and friends, our fellow citizens, and even strangers and enemies). Above all, we must live differently and make new choices about developing and sharing all the gifts God has given us.
Stewardship is an entire way of life, an ongoing process, a journey that will last until the Day of Judgment, the day when we will all be asked to render an account of our guardianship of all God’s gifts — spiritual and material. None of us can ever be perfect stewards, but we can grow in our understanding and practice of stewardship principles. We can grow as stewards. As individuals and as faith communities, we can make progress on the stewardship journey.
*Thumbnail photo from Photos.com