Spirituality of Stewardship
By Very Rev. Andrew Kemberling, V.F.
Most people think of stewardship as time, talent and treasure. Yet there’s more to stewardship than the commonly known as three “T’s.” Underneath the time, talent and treasure are four underlying or core values: identity, trust, gratitude and love. These core values are very important in developing the importance of time, talent and treasure. Once you understand these four values, time, talent and treasure take on an even greater importance.
“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God for God.” CCC, No. 27
Our Christian identity is founded upon the basic idea of God as Creator. God created us in His image and likeness (Gen 1:27). This means that we have human dignity. But don’t stop there. We are created by God for God. In a very real way, we are not our own. We belong to God. Thus, we can truly say, “I am a child of God; I belong to God.”
Scripture says this well.
In Psalm 95:6-7 we hear:
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 100:1-3 says it even better:
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God
It is he that made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
In the New Testament, St. Paul says,
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20)
Not only do these passages tell us of our identity, but they remind us of the primacy of God in our lives. The fact remains, if we are not our own, then the things we have are not our own either. We really do not own them; we steward them. God lets us have these things and asks us to be good stewards. Even our talents are not our own. They too belong to God.
A good illustration of is this is the parable of the talents found in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 25. The word “talent” is a unit of coinage, and the English word we use is derived directly from this Biblical passage.
In the story, a man, who goes on a journey, calls in his servants and entrusts his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two and to a third, one––each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately, the one who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.
Please notice that the man did not bury his OWN money, but his master’s money. The “talents” did not belong to the servant. They were given to the servant by the master, and they were given to be used, not wasted. The same is true of us. Our talents are not our own, because we are not our own. We belong to God and everything we have is from God.
It’s important to remember this important value of identity because as you look at your identity you begin to realize that “I am a steward.” What does it mean to be a steward, a good steward? To be a good steward, you have to go back to the relationship between God and us. God is the Creator and He created us in His image and likeness.
“We are created by God” is what most people would agree upon. Of course, God created me! But what most of us Christians have a hard time accepting is “I am not only created by God; I am created for God.” I am created for God, not for myself. This is not what much of the world tells us, however. The trend nowadays is towards individualism, which emphasizes, “I was created for myself so that I could satisfy all my needs and wants.” No. This is not the case. Nowhere in Christianity do you find that concept. Rather, we are created by God for God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, even the Baltimore catechism, teaches us of our Universal Desire for God. It says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God for God.” Thus I can truly say, “I am created by God and for God, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.”
The FOR God part is an essential part of stewardship spirituality. It is something we need to inculcate in the programs, in our talks and in what we believe about stewardship. It begins to create a detachment from things, even from ourselves. In that detachment we can see that God is the owner of everything.
In stewardship spirituality you’re looking at that very basic identity issue: “Who am I?” I am created by God, for God. This is very clear in the Old Testament, and the New Testament tells us we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are not our own. We were purchased at a price, the price of the cross. It’s there repeatedly. We really don’t own ourselves.
I often remind people about our bodies. Our bodies are not ours. They are God’s. It is God’s body. He has given it to us and it is temporary. It dies. We get our permanent one at the Resurrection of the Dead––that’s our permanent body. The one we have right now is mortal. It will die. And God asks us to steward it as we steward every other thing in our lives.
Knowing our identity and relationship with God as His creation in His image and likeness and being created for Him has a lot of implications. If I am not my own, then all the things that I “own,” and all that I have are not mine either. They are lent to me by God; they are given to me by God. We are His stewards, who will take care of everything that He has given us.
Remember, a steward is someone who manages someone else’s things. We are stewards of all God has given us and we manage them ourselves as well as all the other things God has given in our care. We steward our own talents, our time and our treasure and we, perhaps, steward other’s treasure, time and talent, especially in our roles as parents, priests, or other positions of authority.
“Happy are those who make the Lord their trust” Ps. 40:4
The underlying value of trust builds upon the value of identity. Since everything we have is from God, it is God who is in charge of our lives, not us. As we live our life, we are caught up in something much bigger than ourselves. The value of trust allows us to let go of what seemingly is in our control and to “let God” do what he is already doing for us. Thus the saying, “let go” and “let God.”
As hard as it is to believe, everything is just the way God would have it at this very moment. Yes, evil is real and causes pain, suffering and death. But God has a plan to bring about life, and it’s happening right now. Mysteriously, God brings about good even from evil; all we have to do is trust. For the good stewards, God provides everything we have. Our ability to be a provider is in itself a gift from God. He gives us everything we need.
Stewardship becomes a way of life by putting into action the trust that we have. This happens when acceptance comes from letting go of control. Our control is self-centeredness. It is the false belief that the world is created in our own image, and that somehow we are in charge. When things don’t go “our” way, anger and resentment fuels a cynical view of life that is full of frustration. Trusting in God is based upon the belief in our own powerlessness. We realign our belief in God’s almighty power and his total but hidden control to bring about what’s best for us in the midst of a struggling world. We “let go” and “let God.” Acceptance only comes when we come to the realization that we pray for God’s will in our life, not our own. God does not let us down either. He sends His calming grace that says “Everything is all right, don’t worry. You’ll be okay.” Peace of mind is the end result of trust brought about by acceptance.
This trust level comes out of our sense of identity. “I don’t create all this stuff. God does, and He provides it to me. I develop an understanding that I’m not making it happen; God is making it happen.” Then, our free will can confuse us. In our ability to have free will, something else that God has given to us, we think that we’re causing things to happen and we trust in ourselves instead of realizing that it is when we surrender our wills, it is God who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That’s the basic understanding of trust––our trusting in God that there is something greater than ourselves going on here––and it does take faith to believe that God really will provide for us.
People generally believe that, in some sort of nebulous way. When it comes down to paying bills and going off to work, however, you might think “I am doing this all by myself.” But don’t be fooled, God is really the one providing for you and your family. All we need to do is to trust Him.
If we really believe and trust that God will provide for all our needs, then we must be trustworthy also. We must be worthy of His trust; God must also trust us. We must be honest trustworthy in all our dealings. You cannot just say you’re trustworthy; you must actually be trustworthy; you have to act it out.
This is particularly true in our relationships with our families, the parish structure, within the church, and back to the archdiocese; all of that has to be clean. If we’re not trustworthy in reporting things back properly and in doing what we’re obliged to do, then stewardship becomes a sham. It becomes an outward show with internal corruption. The internal issue of trust has to be established firmly within good stewardship because you miss the point of identity, if you don’t understand the trust part. The trust comes from the fact that I am not my own. I am God’s and God trusts me to take care of everything. This trust is shown in the way I handle all of my material possessions. As Our Lord Jesus says, if you can be trustworthy in a small matter, you can be trustworthy in larger matters. It means you have to act your spirituality—and that means you have to be trustworthy in your own parish.
How do you handle your volunteers? Do you misuse them? Are you honest with them? How do you deal with people’s money? Are you honest and trustworthy? Are you totally honest with the diocese, with the government, and with all of our people in the way we handle the money that is given to our care?
These must not be sacrificed. It is easy to come up with excuses like, “Well, you know, it’s really an unfair system, so I’m holding a little something back because in justice we’ve really got it coming to us.” Folks, you would be fooling yourselves. You would undermine the very grace that comes from God as part of the spirituality. Trust God. You don’t have to cheat your way into being a good steward.
That’s exactly why Jesus criticized the Pharisees. They were excellent tithers, yet they were crooked. That’s what upset Jesus. Outwardly, they would really tithe. They tithed on everything, even on their garden at the back of the house and even on the littlest, teeniest plants, they would tithe ten percent.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Mt. 23:23
Justice is based upon truth; you cannot be cheating. Truth and being trustworthy are an essential part of stewardship spirituality.
This is a hard pill to swallow for some people. Nevertheless, everything has to be as straight and as clean as possible. Believe it; you cannot cheat and get ahead on stewardship. God has ALL the money in the world. To the priests, I say, “Don’t worry about paying your full amount to the archdiocese; don’t worry about a full assessment. Just pay it. God will give you more. In fact, that’s what He’s counting on. How is the diocese going to get funding for their services? They’re going to get it from you. God’s going to give you more than you’ve ever had. And you can’t cheat the poor, either (I’ll get into what I mean by that in a latter part of the book).”
I would like to end this section with the teaching from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says,
“Trust in God is the preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.” No. 2547
In identity we realize that we are not our own; we belong to God; we are created by God and for God. Our identity helps us to trust that God will provide for us; while on our part, we need to be trustworthy in all our dealings. That’s the underpinning of what it is to be a steward. A steward is first and foremost honest and full of integrity.
Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever. Ps. 106:1
“We thank God the Father, through Christ in the Spirit, for the gifts of creation, salvation and sanctification.” CCC, No. 1352.
Trust and acceptance naturally lead to the next core value of gratitude. Coming to the realization that enough is enough is fueled by acceptance. It is an attitude shift of looking at what we have, not at what we don’t have.
The greatest gift is our relationship with loved ones. People are more important than things. We come to accept that God has given us just what we need. We come to believe that God does for us what we can not do for ourselves. And God’s way of providing is for our own good. Our detachment from material goods places them in their proper perspective. We appreciate them for what they are––a gift.
Gratitude fills our heart as we realize the wisdom and forethought God has in giving us what we need. If we don’t have it, perhaps we don’t need it. If God wants us to have something, we remember that nothing is impossible with God. What we have is shared with us by God and we appreciate his trust in us to be stewards of the good things of life. Our thanks to God is an offering in itself. It is our way of responding to the relationship founded upon God’s love.
Gratitude is like the fruit of the first two because as you start losing yourself, you start focusing upon the things that you have been given. All of stewardship sees everything as a gift, a gift from God. Listen for the gift language in the Eucharistic prayer. You hear it all the time. “Oh God, we present these gifts to you and all the gifts that you’ve given us.” Thus in the Eucharist, “We thank God the Father, through Christ in the Spirit, for the gifts of creation, salvation and sanctification.” CCC, No.___ Indeed, God has given you every single thing in your life. Thus you won’t take anything for granted. You realize how God’s action and control has made everything happen in your life.
Gratitude is born out of trust because the ultimate trust is letting go of the control. God is in control. When you realize that God is in control and you realize he’s given everything as a gift, gratitude is born.
Greed and Envy
The opposites of gratitude are greed and envy. Greed and envy are qualities in our world that are destructive to gratitude because greed and envy want more, more, more. With gratitude we say, “I am not trying to seek what I don’t have. Rather, I appreciate what I already have.” It changes the focus. It’s like taking a 180-degree turn in gratitude. You start seeing a different picture.
Thus, you say, “I have this, and I have that,” and you begin to realize what you do have instead of being filled with covetousness, with avarice, and with wanting more. You appreciate what you have. You begin to say “I don’t need so much, I can live with less.” That’s what gratitude does. It helps you realize you can have less. You don’t have to have all that you want. Instead, you say “I have enough. In fact, I have too much already. Look at all God’s given me!” You start to take an inventory of everything you have and you say “I have more than I’ve ever needed!” And then you begin to realize, when you compare what you have to what other people have, that: “I am blessed; I am truly blessed.”
This is especially true for travelers from First World countries to Third World countries. You can be a real wimp when it comes to getting ready in the morning, with hot water and a shower readily available. This might not be the case in Third World countries and it could be a very hard experience for some. Thus, when you go home, you’ll be thanking God for hot water!
When was the last time you thanked God for that? It reminds you of how much we have, yet we take them for granted ––even the most basic creature comforts of life. I thank God for a private bathroom, and I thank God for drinkable water. Imagine not having potable water! Most often in Third World countries, you have to drink out of bottles. Thus, we realize how much we have in our country.
Gratitude is a quality of humility. We need to lose our selfishness and, perhaps, some sense of control, and we need to become humble. Humility does not focus on oneself; rather, it upon the ultimate. The ultimate is that God is God and He gives us everything we have. Then we realize we don’t need anything more because we already have so much now.
Everything we have is a gift. That means there’s this relationship of giving and receiving that’s very important to stewardship spirituality. God gives and we receive; and then on our part we learn how to give. Just as God gives us everything, we too, need to learn to give as part of this spirituality. This is not an intellectual process. These are actions that come from your heart. This is very moral––things you have to do. And so in this spirituality, gratitude means you need to be thankful. You cannot just think thankfulness; you have to act out being thankful.
“And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13
We have identified the three core values of identity, trust, gratitude and now we come to the last core value of love. Scripture tells us that there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love. (1Cor 13:13) As God loves us, we love God. Love is the requirement of the Christian. It is NOT optional.
I often remind people that love is also in our language as another word––it’s called charity. When people hear charity they immediately think money! When you think of love you don’t think of money. But we say faith, hope and love: faith, hope and charity. Charity and love are the same thing; they are interchangeable. We use them all the time in theological context. But if you’re going to move it into a spiritual context, that means if you are going to love, you are going to have to give.
Charity, therefore, is the requirement of a Christian. Love is not self-seeking. Love itself requires one to give. One cannot love if all one does is receive, receive, receive. Think about it. If in our family relationships, all that we do is receive, would we call that love? No. Love therefore, requires us to give, to give of ourselves. To give time to God in prayer is an exceptional sign of our love.
The good steward understands that our charitable giving is based upon the key idea that we have a need to give before we give to a need. Our need to give is our response in love. We give back what is not really ours. God does not want all of it back––not yet. He will, when we die. He does not want half of it back, like the elderly man who won the million dollars was willing to do. No. God asks a tithe back in thanksgiving for what God has done. He asks us to give of our time, talent and treasure. As God loves us we love God. When God sees our response in love, God gives us even more. God cannot be outdone in generosity.
The love we have for God is manifested in setting nothing before our relationship with him. Out of love, our first priority is God. We don’t let things get in the way. Remember, God made us; we don’t belong to ourselves. If we don’t belong to ourselves, then the things we have are not even ours. They are lent to us. Just as when we rent something, there is a real owner, and that owner is God. This is particularly true when it comes to spending money entrusted to us. Put God first before paying any bills or setting any money aside.
When we rent something, we have to return it, give it back. Renters can be careless, which shows lack of respect for the owner. An even greater insult is for the renter to use an item and never to return it. That’s stealing from the owner. God is the owner, and we are the managers of his treasure. God, however, says, “Keep 90percent; use it even though it is not yours. Give back only 10percent––a tithe.” A tithe is not what’s leftover, or the table droppings. It is the best portion, the first portion. It is a sign of our love to give the very best.
I ask you wives, would it be love if all your husbands ever did was receive, receive, receive? No. That’s not love. You need to give. It must be mutual giving. That’s what we believe marriage is. It’s a covenant of mutuality. It means you give and you receive. You receive and you give. You learn how to give back and forth. And the requirement of the Christian is to love. The requirement of the Christian is to give. You need to learn to give.
What do you give? Well, we believe there are a number of things you can give but we have categorized these as time, talent and treasure. Often, we think that giving is optional. It is not optional. Love requires us to give; it’s part of loving. You can think your way through love, but when you act your way through love you have to give of yourself. For those of you who are married, you entered a covenant of receiving and receiving. You love each other. You know how to give. You give of yourself. You don’t give 50/50. You give 100/100. You give your whole self. And by giving yourself, you hold nothing back and you become even greater because you’re giving yourself away. That’s what the sacrament of marriage is about. It’s a beautiful image. And it really is born out of this image of love.
Love is important in stewardship spirituality. It is expressed in giving. If we say we love God, why is it hard to give to the collection basket at Church? Why do so many make excuses when people do not give? This, to me, diminishes the value of love. If people give, even as little as it is, it teaches them to focus on someone else rather then on himself or herself. It focuses on a relationship, a deep and loving relationship with God. Remember first core value of identity––that God created us for Him.
One way to look at love as a requirement of the Christian is what Scriptures tell us in the Old Testament: “do not come empty handed when you come to the altar.” In biblical times, there were the three times a year when they were required “to celebrate a pilgrim feast’ to God (Ex 23:14). They didn’t come empty-handed. They had to give, “the choicest first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.” Ex 23:19.
It was a way of life then in the Old Testament, and it’s a way of life for us now. To explain this further, I would like to go back to that identity issue. One of the images we came across while promoting stewardship as a way of life in the Philippines was this idea of the spousal image of identity. Remember what scriptures teach us: God has married us; we are married to God. We are His spouse. In addition, Jesus calls himself as the “bridegroom” and the Church is his bride. The Church is our spouse. That’s a beautiful image.
Of course, we also have another image which is more accepted within the church and that is: “the Church is our mother.” It’s a beautiful image, a very beautiful image. Indeed, the church provides for and feeds and looks after us just like what a mother does for her child. It’s very tender, and there’s trust and the sense of security.
Let’s face it though, little children grow up. And when you grow up, you don’t marry your mother; you don’t marry your father. You marry your spouse; you marry your husband; you marry your wife. And if you can see the Church not as just your mother, but as your husband or as your wife, then you also see an obligation that comes with loving a spouse––loving a wife or a husband. It is in that spousal relationship that we challenge a poor parish to ask: “How would you treat your wife? Would you treat your wife this way by giving her nothing?” You would go out of your way to make sure she had everything she needed.
Remember, that’s what spirituality is––applying it––asking people to take seriously that the Church is their spouse. Are you in love with your spouse? Look at her. Look at him. Are you in love with him? Are you only thinking you love him? Are you showing your love for your spouse?
Even the poorest people know about marriage. They know that image. You don’t have to explain it too hard. They get that one real fast because they know what it is to have a husband and a wife. They know how to be good to their spouses. When they think of the Church as their spouse, they learn to now to treat the Church with that same understanding.
Remember, love is a requirement of the Christian. We love, and then we know how to love, especially those of us who are married. They know how to love. If they can understand the kind of love there is between husband and wife, they can transfer that to the Church. That’s an important start, but it’s just a start.
Time, Talent and Treasure
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4;10
The Spirituality of Stewardship deals with time, talent and treasure. As we look into the core values of identity, trust, gratitude and love, we understand how to be good stewards. We remember who we are. We trust enough to let go and let God. It is a sign of our love to give the best by putting God first in our lives and in our spending. We love God as he loves us. We express our love of God by giving of our time, talent and treasure.
As St. Peter said,
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 1 Peter 4:10.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
Time is a gift from God. In stewardship spirituality, we think of time and talent as connected. One has to spend time giving of one’s talent. So the two are obviously linked. But reflecting upon time alone gives further insights into the spirituality of stewardship.
The timelessness of God is found in the “Glory Be” prayer.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Yes, God’s world is not like our world. Time is a creation of God. Time is for our created world. It’s limited, and it will have an end. We clearly hear in Scriptures that Jesus will return at “the end of time.” Since time is a creation of our world, perhaps time has been created solely for our human benefit. This is a staggering thought in the light of the millions and billions of years that have passed before human existence. Perhaps time was created so that the phrase, “In the fullness of time, God sent His only Son to be our Redeemer,” would take on greater meaning. In comparison to the vast amount of time that has passed before us, a relatively short time has passed since Jesus made the announcement, “This is the time of fulfillment; the kingdom of God is at hand.”
We have learned from science that time and space are intricately connected since they are a function of each other. Since God is timeless, He is also space-less. The world of the afterlife, where God lives, has no time. It has no space. God’s world is not like our world. These are qualities of our world that need to be appreciated for the gift that they are. I believe that when we no longer have them, we will appreciate them for the gift that they are.
I believe we will be able to look upon all of our time and how we spent it. How we prioritize our time will reveal our motives and intentions. We will remember the hours we spent watching movies or television. Time spent with family will be compared with time spent working. The time spent with God will stand out in a special way. Will this review of our time betray us and reveal us to be hypocrites?
Time spent in prayer is time well spent. In the beginning God took six days to create and on the seventh day He rested. As a reminder, these are divine days, since an earthly day was created on the fourth day when God created the sun and the moon. Scripture tells us in Psalm 90 that a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years. Whatever these divine days mean to God, who has no time, He took the seventh day and made it holy.
We imitate God since we have seven days in our week, with Sunday the day set aside for rest. Six days may be considered ours but the seventh day belongs to God. That is why Sunday is called the “Lord’s Day.” The main reason for the prohibition of work is so we would have the time to pray. I like to say, “Remember the days when to miss Mass on Sunday was a sin? Well, it still is.” Yes, the primacy of Sunday being a day of prayer is important in stewardship spirituality. Please note that attending Saturday evening Mass is a fulfillment of our Sunday obligation.
In stewardship spirituality we fulfill an obligation of being thankful for this gift of time by giving a portion back to God in prayer. The portion that is given back to God is called the tithe. The first ten percent of this gift is to be given back to God in thanksgiving. In respect to time, we would be asked to give the first and the best of it. Sunday being the first day of the week has a special place in our time marked out for prayer. The one-tenth portion of a day is two hours and 24 minutes. Being conscious of the amount of time we spend in prayer will allow us to pass the best of our time ever mindful of it being a gift to us.
Well, that’s what many people in religious orders do. For those who already have a dedication to a prayer life, wouldn’t it be wonderful if added to that spirituality was the understanding that the time spent in prayer is that of being a good steward accepting, receiving and giving back the gift of time that God has given to us? It gives greater meaning to a prayer life. You might say, “I’m doing this as a gift back to God.”
This is particularly true for me as a priest. There may be two or three days a week, when I get to tithe two hours and 24 minutes of time back to God. I’m celebrating Mass. I’m hearing confessions. I’m praying the Rosary. I’m leading a group in prayer. When I do that and it starts to seem burdensome to me I remind myself, “Wait a minute, this is my opportunity to tithe this time back to God in thanksgiving for what God has done.” I’m being a good steward of time. When I realize that I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Where is the present moment in this?” Then it gets me deeper into the prayer that I’m praying. The distractions become something further away. When we become aware that distractions are part of interfering with the present moment, then we deepen our prayer life.
Making time to pray can be seen in this story:
During the lunch hour the president of a large factory wanted to talk to his company’s manager about an urgent matter, but the manager’s secretary said, “He is in conference as he is every day at this time.” “But,” said the impatient official, “Tell him the president wants to see him.” The secretary firmly replied, “I have strict orders not to disturb him when he is in conference. Angrily, he brushed the secretary aside and opened the door to the manager’s private office. After one look, he backed out slowly, gently closed the door, and said, “I’m sorry. Is this a daily occurrence?” “Yes, everyday he spends 15 minutes in such a conference,” said the secretary. The president had found the manager on his knees before an open Bible. Of course, the 15-minute daily conference was with God.
Sometimes people feel distracted when they pray. Understanding the relationship of prayer to time can be helpful in this matter. Experiencing time in relation to the present moment is a critical idea in understanding time as a gift. It is even more important when we see the link of time to prayer. Time can seem elusive because we view time as being past, present and future. As hard as it may seem, time is only experienced in the here and now. There is the constant temptation to live time as if it were either in the future or the past. When we begin to think like this, we rob ourselves of the present moment and we lose peace and serenity. By living in the future, we experience worry and fear. By living in the past, we are plagued by guilt and shame. Only in the present moment is there any relief. Finding that present moment is where we also find the presence of God.
When we try to seek to live in the past without the involvement of God in the present moment, we fail miserably. Historians have a noble profession but have always found their efforts ultimately take on meaning in relation to the present. Planners and developers dream dreams that ultimately have their meaning also in the present. Living in the here and now means adopting spiritual principles that recognize time as a gift.
In our modern society, we have many timesaving devices, yet less time than ever! Over-activity and the pursuit of leisure activities rob us of the present moment. Being busy has us scurrying about, causing a lack of focus and priorities. We become too busy to pray. Some are too busy to attend Sunday Mass. Time gets hijacked by the business world. Time is money, and no losses will be recorded by the industrious. This kind of utilitarian way of thinking wickedly transforms time into being a measure of production and efficiency. Time becomes a curse and not a blessing. The pursuit of pleasure also makes time into a commodity. Our hedonistic tendency needs time to experience gratification. Of course, one can never get enough, as temperance is a casualty of pursuit of pleasure. God is lost, or forgotten, because the gift of the present moment becomes irrelevant.
These threats need to be consciously addressed as we reclaim the present moment out of respect for God. Time is a gift, a gift from God. True peace and serenity will not be found in deed or gratification, but in God. The spiritual principle of stewardship resets our priority upon the primacy of God as creator. We are creatures of His created order, an order of time and space. Past and future have their places as do fear and shame. Emotional freedom is found in the here and now and recognizes life as being lived in the present moment.
Stewards of all that God gives us, we are ever conscious of the gift of time. We don’t find time to pray, we make time to pray. Time spent in prayer is balanced with the time experienced each moment of our lives. When we are too far ahead of ourselves, we know that we will experience fear and worry. When we are too far behind ourselves, we will experience guilt and shame. The good steward acts rightly, loves goodness and walks humbly with his God. (Micah 6:8) First things are done first and one thing is done at a time. We stay focused upon the primacy of God and see every moment as a gift. In all things may God be glorified.
Time, in stewardship spirituality, is more than time spent in giving of our talents. It is an attitude that stays focused and unafraid. Being God-conscious in all that we do keeps us ever linked to the present because only God is found in the here and now. This spiritual understanding of time is important to understanding and embracing the spirituality of stewardship.
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12:6-8).
As we mentioned in the section on “Identity,” the English word “talent” originated in the Bible which describes talent as a unit of money. It’s a coin representing a specific amount. And, as we talked about there, the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is a reminder that a talent is something that is not our own.
I have to convince myself of that sometimes. I’m trained as an artist but right now a lot of my art training is on hold. Most parishioners don’t know that I’m an artist. They have never seen me do any artwork, so they have no clue. Although I was able to leave behind a work of art in my previous parish, I still ask: “God, what about the talent you gave me in art? How am I going to use that?” My mind tells me “It’s coming. It will have a way of coming out.”
It’s not mine. It’s God’s gift to me and it’s how well I use it. I have other talents. I use those in a ay that I believe God is directing me to. As with yourself, every one of us is given talents, some more, some less. With each of the talents we received, we are asked first of all to appreciate them, to be grateful for God’s gifts. Remember how we were being grateful for the gift of time? We need to see everything as gift, and that’s why gratitude is an underlying value. We begin to understand that we are not our own. We need to identify with our Master. We need to be trustworthy and to trust that God gives us talent to use well and to use it honestly and with integrity.
Again, the talent is a reflection of God the creator. God has created us in his image and likeness. The abilities that we have are in some sense a reflection of who God is in us. We all reflect God a little differently in the talents that we have. Our talents reflect the goodness and creativity of God as well as the activity of God in one another.
As we see that our talent is not our own and that we should use it for God and for the benefit of God, we realize that part of this gift of our talent needs to be given back to God in thanksgiving for what he has done. Tithing of one’s talent is a difficult quantity to put together, so giving a tenth of one’s talent is something I don’t know how to tell you to do. I have yet to hear anybody really explain that one, and I’m open for suggestions. I do know that at least making a commitment of one’s time and talent together has been the way most people see time, because you have to give of your time to be able to give of your talent. So that’s how the two were put together in discussing stewardship.
I like to separate out our time in prayer because that’s an important one for all of us Christians. Everybody says prayer is important. Well then do it! Make a schedule. Set it up so that you’re at least spending two hours and twenty-four minutes a week in prayer. At least tithe one day a week of prayer throughout the week. It is the same thing with talent. Tithe your talent back to God by putting time and talent together. Tithe that back to God in thanksgiving for all that God has done.
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Lk 12:34).
Treasure is everything that God has given to us; it’s not just the money that God provides. It’s the food. It’s the shelter. It’s the clothing. God has given them all to us as a gift. Now in our society when we’ve become “self-sufficient,” meaning that we’re more than self-sufficient, we can start thinking: “I’m providing for myself. I’m making that money happen. I’m earning the salary. I’m paying the bills. I bought all of this stuff.”
What do I mean God gave it to you? Well, God gives us our every breath. God makes everything happen to enable us to have our job, our health, and the ability to keep the job we have. God has created the economy and he blesses us. I believe this. God bless America! God has blessed America. I believe that when we get rid of our greed and look with humility and thankfulness at all that God has given us, we will realize how incredibly blessed we are in this country, and that God keeps on blessing us. We have so much in comparison to other countries.
When we look at treasure as a gift of all the things that God has given us, we need to remind ourselves that what God gives us is not our own. It belongs to God. He gives it all to us.
When you give ten percent back, that’s tithing. What a great idea the tithe is! In the Old Testament everybody knows that you give a tithe and we’ve heard about that, but do we remember how it gets used? The tithe is given to the Levites. Now there were twelve tribes, and tribe of Levi was one of them. All except the Levites got land. Well, how are they going to have a farm? How are they going to raise food to feed themselves? How will they live if they don’t have any land? They are given some cities, but they are given no land. How can they survive? God told Moses that the people, the other tribes, would provide for the tribe of Levi by tithing. They would give their food to the Levites and that’s how the Levites would survive.
What kind of a system would be developed to implement this? The Levite tribe provided the priests. To be a priest you had to be in “perfect” condition. You had to be male, and you had to be between the ages of twenty-five and fifty. If you had a broken finger or a bad eye, you couldn’t be a priest. If a person was spotless, unblemished, male and a Levite, that person would become a priest. The priests offered sacrifices and also helped run Israel. They had the responsibility of collecting the tithe. After all, they had to feed mom and dad and sister and brother. The people would bring the tithe in so it could be used to feed everyone.
The Levites also were required to tithe and this tithe provided for the poor. In the Old Testament the poor were directly provided for in the year of jubilee. It was the time when debts were forgiven, land was returned (that is, rested: no planting crops), the prisoners and slaves set free. There was a prohibition on interest and on taking collateral for loans from neighbors. (Foreigners, yes. Neighbors, no.) There was an obligation to tithe. Even in the fields there was a tithe, the poor were allowed by law to glean them.
The third section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses on the “Moral Life and the Ten Commandments.” The seventh commandment, “thou shall not steal,” is all about stewardship and you might be surprised at what the Catechism has to say about private property and about having an obligation. Private property is not an absolute. The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race. We can own it. We’re allowed to own what we need for ourselves, but there’s also an obligation to others outside of ourselves and our privacy. It has to do with justice and charity. When we do not give our money to the poor, we are stealing from them.
That’s what the Catechism describes. We have an obligation to the poor, and where do we find it? In the commandment “thou shall not steal.” There’s one other place that treasure and stewardship is mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is in the fourth section, the one on prayer. In the Our Father, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We have an image of God providing us everything we need. Remember, this is about treasure. God gives us everything we need.
In addressing the issue of helping the poor, the Catechism talks about the parable of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. (See Lk 16:19-31.) There he is at the gates of the rich man and he is covered with sores which are licked by the dogs. The rich man eats splendidly every day and poor Lazarus longs to eat the scraps that fall from the rich man’s table. One day the poor man dies and is immediately whisked to heaven in the arms of Father Abraham. Sure enough, the rich man dies and finds himself in torment and flames. He looks up and sees Lazarus in the arms of Abraham and calls out, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus down here to give me some water.” Father Abraham says, “No, Lazarus is not coming to give you any water. You were well off in your life and now you suffer, whereas poor Lazarus was poor off and now he’s found consolation.” He says, “Besides, he can’t come down to you and you can’t come up to us. There’s a chasm between the two.” Then the rich man says, “Well then, send him to my family. I have five brothers. Tell them so that they don’t end up in this terrible place like me.” Father Abraham says, “Look. If they won’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe if someone rises from the dead” — a reference to Jesus, rising from the dead.
What does that story tell us? The rich man is not condemned for being rich. He is condemned for not caring for the poor. You see, God gives us everything we need to live. God even gives us the portion –– the tithe –– to be give back to him. People tend to think it’s theirs and they tend to keep it for themselves. It isn’t ours. It belongs to God. “Give us this day our daily bread” applied to Lazarus. God gave Lazarus his daily bread. The problem is he didn’t get it. The rich man kept it for himself. That’s the problem of poverty in the world. The rich keep the tithe for themselves and don’t feed the poor. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus tells us. (See Mt 26:11.)
So when we have poverty in our midst it’s proof that we’re not treating the treasure that God has given to us with the respect that God expects of us. The tithe, that ten percent, isn’t ours. It is to be used to take care of the needs of the poor. The rich man would not have even noticed the scraps that fell from his table. He probably wouldn’t have noticed if he had given the first and best ten percent to Lazarus. Do you think the rich man would have ended up with less? God would have given the rich man even more. You will find out that God loves a good steward because he can trust him. What happens when you are trustworthy, or you’re in charge of something, and you find someone who is trustworthy? Do you give that person less or do you give that person more? You give more of course, or you take on more. God will give you more. He’ll give you more to manage. You know what? You don’t have to give all that increase away. He just says give ten percent of it away. So you get ninety percent more. You think, well, I’ll tithe again. God will again give you more.
That’s what God does. It is amazing. I’ve watched it happen. You will not end up with less. You’ll end up with more. Lazarus would have had his stomach full. The rich man would have had just as much food on his table and would not have noticed any lack. In fact, he would have had more food on his table. In that sense, we need to talk about treasure and how the tithe worked in the Old Testament. First of all, the tithe is not leftovers. You can’t look at everything you have and then say, “OK, whatever I can spare and whatever I can do without I give to God.” That’s not it at all. It needs to be an action of the first priority. It is the first fruits of the harvest. It’s not after sweeping up the grain bins that you figure out what you’re going to give to God. It is the first thing that is picked.
There’s a story of a village where a missionary came and talked all about tithing. A little boy went fishing. When he returned he came and knocked on the door of the missionary and said, “Here’s my fish.” The missionary asked, “Where are the other nine?” The boy said, “They’re still in the river. I haven’t caught them yet.”
He gave his first fish! This is a great story about trust. He trusted that God would provide and give him those other fish. It should be the same with us. We need to give the first tenth to God knowing that the other nine are in the river. God will give them to us. Can we do that? It was what was expected of the Israelites. They gave the first fruits to God, not knowing what the rest of the crop would bring.
When the Israelites offered a lamb for sacrifice, they didn’t pick out the blind and lame one. They didn’t ask, “Which lamb can I do without?” They found the prettiest, the most beautiful, and the healthiest one-year-old male lamb without blemish, the best one. That’s the one that was given to God and by God as our sacrifice. So it is in stewardship spirituality, when you’re looking at treasure and it’s time to tithe we need an attitude change. We need to give not what’s leftover but what we have now. We give to God in thanksgiving for what God has done. We give our first and our best.
My personal practice is to get ahead of my tithe. I like to give more at the beginning of the year than I do at the end of the year. A lot of people catch up at the end of the year. I front load the year. I think that if God’s going to really bless me, he might really surprise me. I don’t want to find out I’m behind in my tithe when he is blessing. It’s an attitude change I made in myself because then I’m always looking for the blessings of God. I find out that God has already blessed me. I don’t look for some sort of extraordinary way God has blessed me. I start appreciating the ordinary blessings that I have and I’m grateful.
That’s what it does for me personally when I’m ahead of my tithe. I keep giving. I keep challenging myself saying, “OK, maybe I can give more.” When I just keep giving more I find out more keeps coming in. Try it. You’ll find out. You cannot outdo God in generosity. You cannot. Try it. Try giving half of it away and see what happens. You’ll get it all back and more. That’s just how God works. It’s amazing.