Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins signs a copy of his new book, Cornerstones of Faith, at the archdiocese’s pastoral centre Feb. 20. Photo by Ruane Remy

We cannot serve both God and wealth

By 
  • March 2, 2013

Editor’s note: Cornerstones of Faith: Reconciliation, Eucharist and Stewardship, by Cardinal Thomas Collins, was recently published by Novalis. What follows is an excerpt from the book.

Stewardship can be, and often is, understood in a shallow and limited sense, as no more than a code word for “tithing” or for “fundraising for religious purposes.” That is, undeniably, one important but limited dimension of stewardship. If we have a proper spirit of gratitude for all that we have received from God, and are resolved to act as responsible trustees of God’s gifts (which is, in fact, the real meaning of stewardship), then we will be disposed to contribute financially as members of our Church community, and this might involve tithing, or participating in raising funds.

Even when the Church was young, St. Paul was greatly concerned about organizing a collection (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8–9; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-28). We do not live in a dream world, and so the work of the Church must be effectively funded. We have to pay the bills, and care for the practical needs of the poor. It is certainly an act of stewardship to set aside a portion, traditionally one tenth, of one’s goods to be given not only to the Church itself, but to the broader community.

When we cling to our money, we sink. When we are generouswith it, we never are in want.

That, however, is only one aspect of stewardship, and will take care of itself if the deeper reality is emphasized — a profound inner conversion that leads us to live in a spirit of generosity, which is most fully revealed in the sharing of time and talent.

It has been noted that even with tithing, the key question is not what we do with the 10 per cent, but how we use the other 90 per cent. As we seek to enter into the experience of stewardship, it is essential that we avoid being short-circuited by emphasis upon its most obvious but superficial dimension, the sharing of material goods. If we start with the idea of stewardship as fundraising for apostolic purposes, that will absorb our energies and we will go no further, and stewardship will become just another program. No, we can only be satisfied with deep stewardship, which means a profound inner conversion as individuals and as a community in which we become committed to living generously in every way, as the Gospel calls us to do. If we do that, the financial aspect will follow in its proper place; if we concentrate on the financial  aspect, we will end there, and notexperience the profound spiritual conversion that is the real heart of stewardship.

Deep stewardship begins with gratitude and ends with responsibility. Stewardship is sometimes called “the attitude of gratitude.” We recognize gratefully that everything in life is a gift of God. We do not ultimately own anything, but are entrusted with time, talent and treasure for use during our passage through this life. And at the end of life, we take nothing with us, except the life that arises out of generous love.

If each of us is profoundly aware that all is gift, then we are freed from possessiveness, and can be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us in life, sharing generously, and so at the end of life returning all to the Lord with increase. Stewardship ends with responsibility and accountability. Like the servants in the parable, we will be called to account for the way in which we have used what has been entrusted to us.

True stewardship means having our priorities straight. As disciples of Jesus we must be clear about what really matters in our brief life. St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely invites those who take his “Spiritual Exercises” to ask themselves who their Master is. That determines everything. Every spiritual tradition in Christianity insists that we do this.

In religious orders, sisters, brothers and priests vow to follow the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Most disciples do not commit themselves in so formal a way to living by these counsels, and yet they speak to us all by emphasizing that we are not masters of our own lives, but are to use what we have for the service of others. All three counsels come down basically to poverty — to trusting in the Lord, being at the disposal of others, not claiming our own mastery of the situation. We are only stewards and are not in control. That awareness is liberating. There are two sure ways of discovering what is really important in my life — of discovering who my Master is.

The first is to look at how I spend my money, at how I am steward of material possessions. I spend my money on what I consider to be important. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). It is also true that where your heart is, there will your treasure be. Look at the financial statement of any organization, or family, or individual to find out what is really considered important. Whatever you think your priorities are, look at last month’s credit card bill to discover what your actual priorities are.

It has wisely been observed that it is the mission of the leadership in any organization or community to make sure that the financial statement reflects the vision statement, which for us Christians is found in the Gospel, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).
An even more revealing way to discover my priorities is to examine how I spend my time. Our lives are woven out of time, and my stewardship of the scarce resource of time truly reveals what I really consider to be important. Every day has 24 hours, and time once past will never come again. I must constantly choose how to spend my time, for once this moment is past it is not my time any more.

A profound spiritual theme is the “Sacrament of the Present Moment”: my life is found in each passing moment, and I need simply to offer that moment to God in obedience to His will. “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.”

If I do so, I will never regret the past or fear the future. Such is the stewardship of time. Time, talent and treasure: these are the gifts that each of us has freely received and that we need to use responsibly in a spirit of gratitude. If we do that, day by day, until the day when we are called to account, then we will experience the joyful serenity of deep stewardship.

(Cornerstones of Faith by Cardinal Thomas Collins is available through novalis.ca for $11.95.)

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