The thirtieth anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response” will occur later this fall in November 2022. This document is the foundation of stewardship in U.S. Catholic parishes today.
The introduction discusses three “convictions” that underlie stewardship. I’ll list each conviction and provide some thoughts on each.
First, mature disciples make a conscious decision to be followers of Jesus, no matter the cost. Just like any Scripture message, before the seed (the message) can take hold and bear fruit, the soil (us, the disciples) must be receptive to receive the seed. Here lies the problem — many are not receptive to receive the message. Our culture today often contradicts our Catholic values. Materialism, relativism, hedonism, individualism and consumerism are the opposite of stewardship. In reality, very few of us are “mature” disciples. Many of us have not developed a personal friendship with Jesus.
So what do we do? Mature disciples need to become disciple-makers. Identify a few people that are curious about the faith and are open to an ongoing dialogue. These “few people” are not hard to spot, they are the people closest to you. Spend time with them. Be willing to invest in them. This may mean being available when it is convenient for them, not for you. A key to accompanying someone on their faith journey is to be a good listener. Listen to understand, rather than listening to respond. Humility is a vital component to good listening.
Second, conversion of heart and mind is not a single action, but a number of actions over a lifetime. Ongoing conversion is difficult because it requires patience and practice, and it is intentional. All of which is counter to today’s culture where we want it fast, with little to no sacrifice and it has to make us stand out ahead of others. Most people recognize there are no shortcuts to success. If you want to get better at something, you have to practice on a regular basis. This is the same with faith.
So what do we do? Joyfully share your faith story with others. Mature disciples radiate an internal joy and peace, regardless of the external circumstances, that others are attracted to. They see God’s active presence in their lives. Their lives are more “God-centered” and “other-centered” rather than “self-centered.” They recognize that they are planting the seeds of conversion while God does the actual work. Trust in God is a vital component to sharing your faith.
Third, stewardship is an expression of discipleship. A simple definition of stewardship is recognizing that everything we have and are is a gift from God. We aren’t “owners” of anything, we are “stewards” of our God-given gifts. Many people today take their God-given gifts for granted. They act as though they are entitled or deserve them. Many are misled to believe that their gifts are meant for the betterment of themselves, not for the good of others. Pride and selfishness has risen to new heights.
So what do we do? Thank God for all that He has given you and encourage others to do the same. Many people say they don’t know how to pray. If you just simply thank God for all that He has given you, you will quickly notice that you will be thanking (praying to) God all day long. “Thank you God for another day of life; thank you for a family that loves me; thank you for the food, clothing, housing, car, money that you’ve given me; thank you for the light traffic, thank you for a job to go to, thank you for the beauty of nature…” Mature disciples are grateful for all they have received and they recognize God as the source of their gifts. The byproduct of gratitude is generosity. Gratitude and generosity is a contagious, powerful cycle, and it all starts with a simple daily prayer of thanks.
Let’s take up the challenge and make more disciples. Everyone reading this article should be able to identify just three people that you will help on their faith journey. Invest time with them, joyfully share your faith story with them, and help them grow in gratitude for all they have been given. Let’s plant the seeds and watch God make them grow!
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.