At the Catholic Foundation, stewardship is at the core of what we do. “What identifies a steward? … 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” (USCCB, “To Be A Christian Steward: A Summary of the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship”). Year-round the Catholic Foundation is a good steward of your gifts. During Lent, many people practice almsgiving — sharing sacrificially with an attitude of generosity.
A number of years ago I attended a conference featuring Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy of Seattle. He was an inspiring speaker and I was struck by his passion for stewardship and his warm, engaging presence. Archbishop Murphy really caused me to pause and look at stewardship in a very different light.
The key question posed by Archbishop Murphy: “What do I own, and what owns me?” At the end of the day, it was abundantly clear he was very aware he owned absolutely nothing, and he himself was owned completely by God.
It might seem we own our things, right? We bought them with money we earned from our jobs. But is that really the case? Do I own my stuff or does my stuff own me? How much stuff do I have, how much more do I want? Does one thing lead to another thing? In fact, most people are owned by their possessions: jewelry, cars, homes, clothing … our “stuff.” When is enough “enough”? How much “more” or “better” do we really need? I know for me and my family, these are ongoing questions. Stewardship is a lifetime journey, not a one-shot deal; it has ups and downs along the way.
I commit to stewardship because I recognize that God has given us everything we have, everything we are. The talents we possess, our skills to work, our ability to socialize, our possessions. These are all wonderful blessings from God. All of our things, even our lives, are on loan from God. In the end, God won’t be judging us on our status, title or possessions. In fact, I think we will be asked, “What have you given? What have you taken? What have you shared? Have you shared with a generous heart?”
At the Catholic Foundation, we see tremendous generosity. Every day we witness people who give with a grateful heart. Our friends of the Catholic Foundation and the Bishop’s Appeal recognize people’s needs in our diocese; they see the face of God in their parishes, in their Catholic schools, in people who need help. They give because they know their gift becomes the heart and hand of Jesus.
Archbishop Murphy suggested, “It’s not about what you tithe, it’s about what you do with the other 90 percent.” What a different perspective to consider! So when you think about almsgiving, it’s really not about how much or what percentage you give, it’s about how you spend. Where are your spending priorities? What are your true needs? The true needs of others? Can you do a better job at sharing than spending? Where does your 90 percent go? Your 95 percent? Your 99 percent?
At the heart of almsgiving, true disciples of Christ recognize God as the source of all. “Disciples who practice stewardship recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, the source of all they have and are and all they will be. … They know themselves to be recipients and caretakers of God’s many gifts” (“Stewardship: A Disciples Response,” written by the U.S. bishops in 1992).
During Lent take time to get right with God, to listen to him. Almsgiving extends our love for God so we see him in our neighbor, we see him in those who need love and compassion. Through almsgiving, we recognize the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross by making a sacrifice of our own. If you want to make a commitment to almsgiving this Lent, be aware of what opportunities are available in your parish. If you want to do even more, consider a gift to the Catholic Foundation or to the 2014 Bishop’s Appeal.
What is a sacrificial gift for one might be a token gift for another. Consider the story of the widow’s mite from the Gospel of Luke. She gave only two coins, and others gave large sums of money. Who really gave more? “When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood’” (LK 21:1-4). The widow was right with God, and she knew what she owned. She gave back to God with a joyful heart.
If you would like to learn more about opportunities for almsgiving in northeastern Wisconsin through the Catholic Foundation, visit www.catholicfoundationgb/org.
Brawner is executive director of the Catholic Foundation, Diocese of Green Bay.