November 7, 2004
Last week Fr. Ed addressed the topic of stewardship as part of implementing a diocesan stewardship program in our parish. This program is part of a larger stewardship movement within the Church that has born great fruit over the past 2 or 3 decades. Many parishes can attest to the transforming effect that has occurred because of seriously addressing the call we have as disciples of Jesus to be good stewards of what God gives us and by taking practical steps to live out this call. For those of us who are familiar with the history of the charismatic renewal, there is a parallel story to be told about the stewardship movement and the impact it has had in bringing adult conversion to many Catholics. Today we are continuing to address stewardship with a focus on stewardship of treasure.
There are 3 underlying principles to consider in the stewardship of treasure. First, everything in our life belongs to God, not us. He owns our homes, our friends, our families, our schools, our computers, everything. We see the ultimate example of this in todayís first reading (2 Mac 7: 1-2, 9-14) where 7 brothers and their mother were willing to undergo both torture and death in order to be faithful to God. The hope of this family was that God would resurrect them if they loved Him even unto death. They knew that everything they had belonged to the Lord even their physical life.
First, principle is simple. We own nothing. God owns everything. We are simply stewards.
Second, we are here for a purpose. God has a plan and mission for our lives. That mission is to bring the good news of the love and mercy of God found in Jesus Christ to the world. JPII has said this over and over that our mission is to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the answer that is every human life. In the call to be good stewards, we need to consider how to use the blessings God gives us, to serve this mission.
Third, gratitude. As Psalm 116 says, "How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me." We donít consider giving of our resources to the Lord out of sense of guilt or fear or compulsion but rather with gratefulness and genuine appreciation for all his goodness to us personally.
So what does stewardship really mean when it comes to using the resources God has given us for the sake of the kingdom?
When Scripture talks about stewardship we often hear the words tithes and alms. Alms are about using our resources to care for people in need. Itís very simply the idea of caring for the poor. A major theme of the prophets is to care for the widow and orphan, in other words those in greatest need. Doing so is what Almsgiving is about.
Our understanding of tithes comes from the Old Testament. The Jews had a religious responsibility to contribute to the Temple and to those who took care of the liturgical activity of the Israelites. The word tithe means tenth. The general understanding of tithing is that as a sign of recognition that the Lord was their provider; the Israelites should give to the Lord the first tenth of the fruit of their harvest or labors, i.e. their income. One example of many Scriptures that refer to tithing is from the book of Sirach (35:7-9). It says, "In generous spirit pay homage to the Lord, be not sparing of freewill gifts. With each contribution show a cheerful countenance and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as He has given to you, generously, according to your means."
In the New Testament, Jesus confirmed the idea of tithing but took the idea of using our resources for the sake of the kingdom much farther. To the rich young man who observed all the commandments but wanted to know what else he should do, Jesus said, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Mk 10). Beyond giving a tithe of income, Jesus told the man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.
Jesus told the disciples after this encounter with the young man that it was hard for those with many possessions to enter the kingdom of God. By giving our wealth to the poor we get liberated from the hold that earthly things have on us, so that we can follow Jesus. In some way, material goods have a hold on all of us. By giving them away we are liberated from that hold. It is interesting to note that Jesus directed the man to give the proceeds of selling his possessions to the poor and not to the Temple. Jesus put a very strong emphasis on caring for the needy.
We see this radical teaching of Jesus regarding possessions lived out in the early Church. In Acts 2 it says that "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
One way of summarizing the message in Scripture is this: In the Old Testament, the Jews were asked for 10%. In the New Testament, Jesus is requiring 100%. He is saying that everything we have belongs to God. Our challenge as His disciples is to be good stewards of the blessings He gives us for the sake of serving His purposes.
The teaching from Sacred Scripture on how to be good stewards does not come without a reward.
After this encounter of Jesus with the young man, the disciples asked Jesus what was in it for them because they had already done left everything to follow Jesus. He responded by telling the disciples that whoever has given up family, land and treasure for the sake of the kingdom will receive a hundredfold return of family, land and treasure in this world and eternal life in the next.
In regards to the reward for tithing, the Lord said through the prophet Malachi to, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me in this says the Lord of hosts: shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?" (Mal 3:10).
During this past week, I spent some time talking with a number of people about their experience with the practice of tithing and almsgiving. I have heard from many about how much they have been blessed by seriously giving a portion of their income to the Church and to those in need.
One married man in his late 40ís with 6 children told me he started tithing when he was 14. He told me how glad he was that he has done this and how much God has blessed him and provided for him. A couple of families shared how they started the practice of tithing early on in their marriage when they really had very little to live on. Although it was a sacrifice and a big step in faith, they experienced God blessing them and providing for them financially. Another couple said the rewards were not just financial but that they experienced the Lord blessing them in other ways as well.
Another man who was single and hoping to get married told me that after putting aside some savings that he was giving everything beyond his expenses to charity. This man said that he experienced great spiritual blessing from being able to reach out to those who had little in this world.
One student I know had an experience of stepping back from giving because of the cost of schooling but later felt the Lord inspiring him to trust in Godís ability to provide and to resume tithing. He did so and soon after, his financial picture changed and he experienced the Lord providing enough for his schooling.
Brothers and sisters, we can never out give God. He simply loves us immeasurably- even more than we love ourselves. We can be confident that God will care for us. All of the people I spoke with talked with conviction about the value of giving to the Church and the needy in a committed way. All of them said, that even in difficult times, they always had enough. God never failed them.
While there may not be a universal practice within the Church today on how much we should give of our income, acceptance of the call to give a in a committed way to help build the kingdom and to help others is an important first step. Many have found the concept of tithing to be a good rule of thumb. Making this decision takes real faith. We need to seek the Lord about how in specific he wants us to give.
Practically, I recommend that we begin to pray and think about how the Lord wants us personally to respond to the call to be good stewards of our treasure. Next week, we will hand out cards that you can use to help make personal decisions about what how to be good stewards of time, talent and treasure. It is important not only to pray about this, but also to discuss it with others. If you are married, talk to your spouse. I encourage age appropriate discussions with children. For teens, I encourage you to discuss this with your friends and your parents. If you are single, talk to someone you trust about what you feel God is calling you to do. And remember that whatever you decide to do, do with a positive attitude for as the proverb says "God loves a cheerful giver."
Last week, Fr. Ed concluded his homily be encouraging us to be good stewards of our vote. My feeling about the election this week is that we saw a bit of a moral victory but only a bit. My encouragement is that while we are looking at the call to be good stewards, donít forget to include stewardship of our citizenship. We may have an opportunity that we have not had in 30 years to begin to reverse the legal decision supporting abortion. By being proactive about our citizenship we may be able to make a difference for those who are most needy in our country, the unborn. I encourage us to be on our toes and to do everything possible in the days ahead. I specifically recommend staying in touch w/ pro life organizations like Right to Life, Focus on the Family, Priests for Life and other organizations to stay on top of further opportunities to make a difference for the unborn. And also, letís keep praying for abortion to be defeated.