by Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., Pastor, St. Mary of the Visitation, Ottumwa, Iowa
Over the years, I have thought much about stewardship and preached on it often to both Anglo and Hispanic congregations. I imagine most of our members in parishes have preached at least annually on stewardship. In this article, I would like to share thoughts about stewardship and its relationship to a biblical understanding of Justice.
I think we can identify two motivations for giving: an external motivation for giving for external needs and an internal motivation within us that comes from who are. We are all familiar with external motivation. The pastor and/or head of the finance council explains the needs of the parish and faithful parishioners respond. There is often a need for larger weekend collections, a new building project or simply retiring a debt. I once heard that Catholics are good about responding to a crisis. This external motivation is a worst-case scenario; however the crises in our lives are often the motivation we need to act.
The internal motivation for giving comes from within, from who we are. I believe this motivation is what we have learned lately about Christian stewardship. It is not a new program in the Church, but an awakening among Catholics to a biblical theology of giving. As Catholic Christians, our giving must be consistent with who we are. We have all heard that we are blessed by God with time, talent and treasure, and that we should then bless others with a portion of each. Christ is our model for stewardship: He came to serve and showed us the supreme example of sacrifice. As followers of Christ, He shows us an example for stewardship: we also must serve others and sacrifice with our use of our time, talent and treasure. We are also stewards of the Gospel, of faith and love. The extent to which we have been taught the Gospel and blessed with faith and love in our lives, is the motivation for sharing the Gospel with faith and love.
In my talks on stewardship, I stress that stewardship is more than charity: it is a matter of justice. When I speak about justice in the context of stewardship, I speak about being in right relationship with others, not demanding individual rights. Christian stewardship places us in right relationship with God, our Church and the poor. The poor widow who gave from her need was in right relationship with her God and the Temple (Mark 12:42-44). Jesus was pleased with her offering, since in giving a sacrificial offering, she was practicing biblical justice. When our offering is sacrificial rather than an offering from our surplus, we also practice biblical justice.
I try to help parishioners understand that their planned, regular and sacrificial offerings are important in the paying just and livable salaries to the parish employees. Most parish employees today are lay men and women with families. As parishioners are paid just salaries in their work, the parish, in kind, pays just and livable salaries to its employees. Collectively, when parishioners give a sacrificial offering each weekend, they practice justice in empowering the parish to pay just salaries to their employees.
Teaching Catholics that sacrificial giving to the weekend collection is a matter of justice is a challenge. We live a society that is very individualistic, more concerned with receiving justice than practicing justice. We are working against years of misunderstanding of church finances and, most recently, with mistrust and apathy. I think we need to evangelize Catholics to the best of our ability about stewardship, sacrificial giving and practicing justice. In reviewing the history of the 50th anniversary of giving all Americans the right to vote through Civil Rights legislation, we see how slowly a consciousness of justice comes about in our society. Change in our society and in our church comes about through those who are faithful in speaking the truth. Speaking the truth is also a part of our work of stewardship: we are stewards of the Gospel and must preach it at all times and on all occasions.