‘What I gave will be mine forever’

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | June 14, 2016

I am a morning person. Sometimes I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and cannot go back to sleep. When this happens, I spend some time in prayer. Then, I usually I get up for a while, sit in the recliner with my laptop and also turn on the TV. I often turn on the Christian Broadcast Network. The last three times I have encountered heart-wrenching stories. Is God speaking to me through my insomnia?

These episodes are sponsored by the missionary arm of TV evangelists or other not-for-profit mission efforts. My first encounter took me to Haiti, where they were trying to raise money for clean water filtration systems. The pictures told the story. Children and adults were unnecessarily dying from diseases contracted from drinking unsafe water. “Please be the hands of Jesus and give so mothers don’t have to watch their children die” is a very clear message.

My second encounter that week took me to Africa, where the number of people who were starving to death every day was remarkable. Again, because children are the most vulnerable, they became the population with the most deaths. All of those little starving faces in the 21st century, how can this be? “If we don’t give, these children will die.” Once again, there was no mincing of words.

The third encounter in my insomnia series was with the beautiful, very Catholic Roma Downey of “Touched by Angel” fame. She was sharing her life-changing experience as a missionary with Operation Smile. This volunteer organization travels the world offering free surgical procedures for underprivileged children who have been born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. She tearfully describes the abuse the children and their families go through for something that a simple surgery can correct. “Some children are buried alive at birth.” I can hardly bear to see that statement in writing but it is the truth.

As professed friends and baptized followers of Jesus, I think it is difficult to not ask ourselves what does this have to do with me? As Christian stewards of absolutely everything that is placed in our care, what is our responsibility in the problem and in its resolution?

Sharing generously of our resources is biblical. The Old Testament refers to it as a tithe. Simply explained, we are asked to joyfully give the first 10 percent of our income back to God. We do that in supporting our parishes and other charitable organizations. The Hebrew people of Old Testament times were asked not to “rob God” of these offerings. Harsh, I know. Today, you and I give less than 2 percent back to God.

I wonder what the disconnect is for you and me. I know that part of it is cultural. What we use to consider wants and needs is different. Our patterns of consumption have certainly changed. Stewardship experts say that there is a definite correlation between our relationship with Jesus and our generosity.

As the stewardship director for the diocese, it is my role to further the stewardship message. In doing so, I am constantly challenged to look at my own relationship with Jesus and my own generosity. Recently, I came across quotations on stewardship of generous sharing that challenged my heart. They asked me to look at my financial resources not from what I give, but from what I have left. Here is an example:

American novelist and playwright C.S. Lewis said: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There should be things we like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them.”

Perhaps we could look more closely at our monthly budgets, invite Jesus into the conversation and give more generously to those suffering around the world. Then like one person, maybe our tombstone epitaph will say: “What I spent is gone. What I kept is lost. But what I gave will be mine forever.”

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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