September 13, 2013


Being grateful stewards and grateful believers

The Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago will conclude the end of this Church year on the Feast of Christ the King, on Nov. 30. All year long we have been thinking about the mystery that is Christian faith.

Faith is a gift. It is a beacon of light that shines in our darkness. We all experience the pain, suffering and confusion that are caused by darkness in our lives.

Sin and death are the primary expressions of darkness that no human person—except the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the grace of God—can escape. We cannot overcome the world’s darkness by our own efforts, but our faith tells us that we can open our minds and hearts to the light of Christ and, so, “journey through time” illumined by his brightness.

The Church teaches that faith comes as the result of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? How deeply do we love him? How effectively do we serve him by responding to the most profound needs of our sisters and brothers in faith?

The light of Christ shines through our darkness. It illumines the shadows of our life and touches us in what Pope Francis describes in his encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), as “the core of our being.” When we see with faith, we recognize the meaning of life—and of our individual lives.

Through faith, our minds and hearts are opened to the truth. We are not orphans. We are the sons and daughters of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, who are called to see and to believe with great joy!

As people of faith, we are called to thank God for this great gift. But giving thanks, expressing our gratitude in thought and word, is only an initial aspect of being a grateful believer. We are called not only to say thanks to God, but to do thanks as well. This expression of gratitude to God in action is called stewardship.

In their pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the American bishops teach that authentic Christian stewardship is a disciple’s response in faith to all the gifts we have been given by a loving and generous God.

When somebody gives us a gift or does us a favor, we spontaneously say, “Thank you.” That’s the expected response our parents taught us to make at a very early age.

But just saying thanks isn’t really enough. Yes, we are expected to acknowledge in words the gift or benefit we have received, but we are expected to acknowledge it in action, too. This acknowledgment in action is not supposed to be a “payback” in which we calculate the value of what we have received and give exactly that much back to the giver.

Rather, it’s intended to be a more intense expression of grateful acknowledgment, a more emphatic way of showing that we are aware of what we have received and that we want to express our sincere appreciation by giving something in return.

Gratitude in action is more demanding than just expressing thanks with words. It’s more substantive. It costs more. It’s more complicated. But it is also more expressive, and the more we have been given, the more we are expected to give in return. Unless there is a willingness to give in return, the gratitude we express with words can easily become a mere formality.

Stewardship is the term used to express our “sacrificial giving” in return to the Lord who has given everything to us. Stewardship is not just giving our “time, talent and treasure.” It’s not simply a technique for asking people to contribute more to the Church in order to pay the light bills and keep parish and school ministries going. Stewardship is the practice of putting our faith in action—or as one theologian has said, “Stewardship is what we do after we say we believe.”

The practice of stewardship should not be a once in a while thing, anymore than gratitude to God is a once in a while thing. Gratitude, and the expression of it in word and action, are supposed to be habitual in our lives. They are part of what we are about in our day-to-day lives, every day. They are constituent elements of our Christian spirituality, of faith in action.

Let’s thank God for all his gifts. Let’s be grateful stewards whose words and actions show that we are responsible, generous and willing to give back to the Lord with increase. Let’s be grateful believers who do thanks as well as say it.

—Daniel Conway

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