Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

True stewardship gives generously from gratitude more than guilt

Published: September 7, 2002

By Eleanor Henley

Contributions to the Church, whether to the local parish or to diocesan drives, have not kept up with inflation in recent years. Catholics, as a religious denomination, give half as much as their Protestant brothers and sisters.

When most Catholics were poor, they were asked to give only when there was a specific need and no one was asked to give very much. Supplemental income was raised through parish fund-raising activities, such as bingo, raffles and bake sales. This approach was sufficient when parish ministers were priests, religious brothers and sisters who worked for less than minimum wages, and when building and program costs were much lower.

New approaches to stewardship tend to emphasize gratitude over guilt. A true steward gives generously from the heart without counting the cost, grateful for God’s blessings. Stewardship replaces “obligation” with a real sense of participation in the mission of the Church. Although there are spiritual benefits of tithing — the ancient practice of giving 10 percent of household income back to God — too often it sounds like one more obligation.

Stewardship education programs today suggest that individuals and families make a decision about how much they plan to give from their “first fruits,” not from whatever is left over after other financial obligations are met. Parishioners are asked to take two things into account. First, the Church suffers from inflation just like individuals. Those who are giving the same amount as they did five years ago are actually giving less.

The second point is that the more we have, the more responsibility we have to share it proportionally. Stewardship is not only about treasure (or time and talent for that matter), but also about our attitude toward our time, our talent and our treasure. How do we respond to what we have? The spirit of stewardship is about gratitude for what we have been given, based on the realization that we have enough, even more than enough, so that we want to return a portion of our gifts to God.

Gratitude is the foundation for generosity. The rationale is that we will give out of love once we realize how much we have been given. Stewardship makes no sense at all unless it enables us to connect faith with daily living. How do I spend my time? How do I make a living? Does my Catholic faith call me to participate more in civic affairs and in my parish? Do I have a special responsibility to care for the environment and my health?

Do I need the latest technological gadget or is there a better way to spend my hard-earned dollars? Am I a full-fledged, contributing member of my parish or do I just make token a contribution toward it, expecting others to make up for my share? In these days of shaky economic times our churches are hard pressed to continue providing the very services that will keep our faith alive and well.

We tend to turn to God and the Church when times are tough, whether it is through increased visits to church and attendance at daily Mass or participation in Scripture programs and support groups. Stewardship is about the bottom line. We have limited gifts from God for which we are accountable. Money is a part of it; sacraments are also part if it, because they remind us of our limits and our nature. How we take care of our limited gifts of time, talent and treasure is, or should be, a major part of our spiritual life.