July 15, 2005


Stewardship helps us follow Jesus in America today

We often hear it said that the Christian way of life is “countercultural.” The values that our Catholic faith proclaims are often contrary to the lifestyles promoted in the media and in the prevailing attitudes of our contemporary American culture. How do we resist the temptation to “follow the crowd” and adopt the values of an affluent, consumer-oriented culture? How do we identify—and live—authentic principles of daily Christian living?

The U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” and the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, “The Church in America,” are two Church documents which describe a simple but powerful antidote to those cultural values that too often have a poisonous effect on authentic Christian living. Aware that their actions and example are especially significant whenever they discuss principles of daily Christian living, the late pope and the bishops address their admonitions directly to themselves, the leadership of the Church, but their advice clearly applies to all Christians living in America today.

According to Pope John Paul II:

“Conversion demands especially of us bishops a genuine identification with the personal style of Jesus Christ, who leads us to simplicity, poverty, responsibility for others and the renunciation of our own advantage, so that like him and not trusting in human means, we may draw from the strength of the Holy Spirit and of the Word all the power of the Gospel, remaining open above all to those who are furthest away and excluded” (“The Church in America,” #28).

Simplicity, poverty, responsibility for others and the renunciation of personal advantage are the hallmarks of a countercultural, Christian way of life. And this “personal style of Jesus Christ” is required of every Christian disciple regardless of his or her state in life (rich or poor, advantaged or disadvantaged, members of the “in-crowd” or outcasts living on the margins of society). The U.S. bishops make a similar point in their pastoral letter. “As bishops we recognize our obligation to be models of stewardship in all aspects of our lives,” they wrote. “As we ask you to respond to the challenge of stewardship, we pray that we also will be open to the grace to respond” (“Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” p. 8).

There is something very powerful being described here which goes far beyond our ordinary understanding of stewardship as “gifts of time, talent and treasure.” It is the recognition that stewardship (understood as a way of life characterized by simplicity, poverty, responsibility for others and the renunciation of personal advantage) has the power to change our individual lives (no matter who we are) and to transform the world in which we live. This is truly a countercultural notion in America today.

Is it really possible that the solution to our restless longing—our cultural rootlessness—can be found in stewardship, the personal style of Jesus Christ, and not in an endless pursuit of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous”?

The simple answer is “yes!” The way to true happiness is the way of Jesus, the way of the Cross. By surrendering to the will of the Father, by living simply and for others, by renouncing our insatiable desire for more and more of what the world has to offer (possessions, social status and the pursuit of pleasure), we find true freedom, real peace and lasting joy. By losing our self-centeredness, we find God. And we find that we are no longer alone in this world fighting desperately for what we want (and deserve) as Americans.

We are members of the one family of God (the universal Church which also includes everyone who has gone before us—the communion of saints). But we are also the proud citizens of a great country which, in spite of its many virtues, is constantly in need of transformation. Simplicity, poverty, responsibility for others and the renunciation of personal advantage are characteristics of authentic Christian stewardship. Our challenge in central and southern Indiana, and throughout the United States, is to make these American values as well.

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.) † 


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