The Gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus makes for an ideal stewardship reflection. So does today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom. Good stewards have faith in, and give thanks for, an almighty and powerful God who transcends the universe, but who gives personal attention to every human being. God loves his creation, his people. He lives in them, and through his Holy Spirit, instills a fundamental goodness in them. Good stewards recognize this movement of the Spirit as a gift, and make efforts to cultivate this gift and grow in their faith. Take time this week to stop and look around you, be aware of God’s awe-inspiring creation, and give thanks for God’s loving care and concern for each of us. ICSC@catholicstewardship.org (800) 352-3452 International Catholic Stewardship Council www.cat
This article is by Leisa Anslinger, the 2022 recipient of ICSC’s Christian Stewardship Award.
I have been greatly influenced by the wisdom of Bishop Sylvester Ryan, bishop emeritus of Monterey, California, who often reminds us that stewardship and evangelization are two sides of the same coin. That coin is discipleship. Forming people who are aware of their call to grow as disciples is a dynamic and life-giving process. It can also be challenging, as is the call itself. Jesus’ way is one that places demands upon us, and yet, as the United States bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship notes, it is also a way of joy and a life filled with meaning. Let us briefly explore these three interrelated calls:
Discipleship: While we are drawn into Christ’s Body through the waters of baptism, many of us grow into a living relationship with Christ over many years. Once that relationship has been ignited, or re-ignited, people’s lives are shaped by their faith and desire to grow in love of God and all that we believe as Christians. This process of ongoing conversion takes place within the community of faith. As leaders, we have the opportunity to create an environment in which those who are already on the journey of discipleship recognize their call to reach out to others, building bridges to living faith.
Stewardship: We are Christian stewards because we are followers of Jesus Christ. As the bishops’ pastoral indicates clearly, “Stewardship is an expression of discipleship with the power to change how we understand and live out our lives.” Through our lives as stewards, we embrace Christ’s self-giving, sacrificial way of life.
Evangelization: When we are in love, we cannot help but share that love with others. That is the essence of evangelization. We share the love of God as good stewards of our faith, and our sharing has the potential to draw others into a new or deeper relationship with God in Jesus Christ, as disciples and stewards. Keeping this interrelationship in mind as we develop stewardship processes and initiatives helps us lead the people we serve to a joy-filled, meaningful way of life.
There is an interesting twist we find in today’s gospel when we hear Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple. The Pharisee is “praying to himself.” It doesn’t mean he was praying silently. It seems to mean something a lot more troubling, that he is praying to himself; that God is not his prayer’s intended audience. The words of the Pharisee are very much centered on himself: he makes claims about his character. He highlights his own admirable activities. Good stewards of their prayer lives know that a prayer of praise and thanksgiving should focus on the goodness of God. Do your prayers of thanksgiving always stay focused on God’s unfathomable, immeasurable goodness and generosity?
Luke is the author of the third Gospel and was a companion of Saint Paul. According to reliable tradition, he was a Syrian physician from Antioch who wrote his Gospel in Achaea (Greece). Both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to Luke, because he appears to be the person intended by the first-person reference in Acts. The opening of Acts refers to the Gospel and is dedicated to the same person, Theophilus. The basic point of Luke’s New Testament writings is to emphasize the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. Luke also has an interest in the reality of poverty and reveals a deep concern for the poor, the outcast, and the underprivileged throughout the Gospel.
Stewardship is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel. As a matter of fact, what emerges from Luke’s writings is a sophisticated theology of stewardship that is unique to his Gospel and not addressed so profoundly by other New Testament writers. Luke defines the duty and role of a steward as a unique sort of servant who is entrusted with material possessions by a master, takes charge of them and is required to use them prudently. Luke envisions the steward as not having any possessions or property of his own, but as taking care of his master’s property and wealth until the master summons him to turn in an account of his stewardship. There is a finiteness to stewardship.
According to Luke, a steward carries out his responsibilities with alertness, knowing that the master’s return may come at any time. And depending on the quality of his stewardship, there is the anticipation of a reward as a result of his stewardship. Luke believes stewards are not just a chosen or appointed few. Stewardship is the responsibility of all Christian disciples. Luke takes his basic ideas of stewardship and applies them to the motif of material possessions as well, instructing his readers on the right use of wealth and the wrong use of wealth.
Finally, Luke’s concept of almsgiving, based on his theology of stewardship, was unique and radical at the time of his writing. Almsgiving was considered an obligation of Christian disciples; imperative inside and outside the community. Luke enjoined his readers to look upon the poor with genuine sympathy and urged those with material resources to remember their identity as stewards, to distribute their wealth to the poor as alms, and to give up ownership of their own material possessions. Luke is the patron saint of physicians, artists and butchers. His feast day is October 18.
If we want to know what Jesus’ parable is about in today’s Gospel, it seems that we don’t need to work too hard because Saint Luke tell us right at the beginning: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This parable has often been used to bring comfort to us about our prayer life. But could there be a more challenging message for those who take stewardship seriously? Widows were the poorest and most vulnerable of people in Jesus’ time. Oppressive legal and economic structures were the norm. Jesus embraced with great compassion the poor and the marginalized. Could it be that we are also encouraged to pray persistently for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable as we hear their cry for justice? And that we must not lose heart that we can effect change in their lives?
The month of October is an ideal time to focus our prayerful reflections on the world and to see its peoples as a gift from God. The global community is a gift to be received with gratitude and held in stewardship. With the celebration of World Mission Sunday, October is a month that offers Catholics worldwide the opportunity to renew their commitment to proclaim the Gospel and to give a greater missionary focus to parish activities. It is time to reflect on the global context of our stewardship, and to express our gratitude to missionaries who bear witness to Christ in the most remote and challenging places of the world, often with their lives.
The month of October can remind us that being witnesses to Jesus Christ is a stewardship responsibility of us all, and that in a world experiencing increasingly disturbing forms of alienation and indifference, our communion of faith can offer signs of hope and work to make the planet a home for all peoples. We are “communion” because of the gift of the Eucharist. And this gift that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with everyone. That is one reason the missionary impulse of our Church has always been a sign of vitality in its unique witness of unity around the world.
There are a number of ways you can focus on the missionary activity of the Church:
• Include petitions for the Church’s missionary work in your daily prayers.
• Increase your awareness of the wider global mission of the Church.
• Discover ways to participate in specific missionary activities taking place in your parish or diocese.
• Give generously on World Mission Sunday, celebrated this year on October 23.
The Church’s work around the world is as important as the work in our own neighborhood. Let us be mindful this month that we are stewards of the Gospel, called to proclaim it to the ends of the earth, bringing hope to a world that hungers for Christ’s peace.