Theology of Stewardship
by Bishop Robert Morneau
Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, WI
Stewardship is a way of life. For Christians who follow in the way of the Lord Jesus, stewardship is an expression of discipleship. When we recognize that God is the origin of all life, the giver of everything that we have and are, the source of our freedom and giftedness, the healthy person responds by thanking God through prayer, by serving God and God’s people through ministry, by sharing our financial resources with those in need. Stewardship is a way of life based upon conversion of heart.
Why conversion? Because too often our hearts lack the vision and compassion that makes us true followers of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, makes this statement: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Our God is a promise-maker; our God is a promise-keeper. When the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives, our hearts become prayerful, our ministry joyful, and our generosity extravagant.
Stewards, according to the pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, do four things:
- Receive God’s gifts gratefully
- Nurture God’s gifts responsibly
- Share God’s gifts justly and charitably
- Return those gifts to God abundantly
Gratitude is the cornerstone of stewardship. All is gift for those who see life with the eyes of faith. God gives us our existence and talents, our time and our treasure, our family and friends. Stewards express their gratitude by a life of generosity. Stewards are serious about naming and developing the gifts and talents given to them for the sake of the community. As one poet asks: “What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?” (Antonio Machado). Responsibility and accountability are part of our call as disciples. Stewards share. What has been given to us is not simply for our own use. Recipients are to become benefactors. So we return to the Lord and our needy sisters and brothers a just and sacrificial portion of all that comes our way.
A theology of stewardship looks to the future. Our lives here on earth are relatively short. One day we return to the Lord from whom we came. If we have lived in Christ and in the Spirit, then we will bear fruit, abundant fruit. Stewards yield a rich harvest.
Stewardship as a way of life based upon conversion of heart is broad in its range and demanding in its claim. Stewardship embraces all of life and challenges us to be faithful to our calling. The following passage from the pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response articulates the range of this way of life:
“Stewardship plays an important role in the lives of people who seek to follow
Christ. In particular, Christians must be stewards of their personal vocations, for it is these that show how, according to the circumstances of their individual lives, God wants them to cherish and serve a broad range of interests and
concerns: life and health, along with their intellectual and spiritual wellbeing
and that of others; material goods and resources; the natural environment; the
cultural heritage of humankind.”
Using the image of a garden we might ask ourselves the question – how well have we or are we tending the following gardens of our life?
- The garden of our body (physical garden)
- The garden of family – friends (social garden)
- The garden of the globe (ecological garden)
- The garden of choices (moral garden)
- The garden of our emotions (psychological garden)
- The garden of the city/nation (political garden)
- The garden of the “chip” (technological garden)
- The garden of history (historical garden)
- The garden of mind (intellectual garden)
- The garden of the arts (cultural garden)
- The garden of money (economic garden)
- The garden of our soul (spiritual garden)
Obviously, these gardens overlap and intersect. But each of them calls for a certain amount of tending and care. Each person must decide on how we allocate our limited time and resources in attempting to be good stewards of these many gardens. Stewardship: A Way of Life Over the years many people in talking of stewardship have used the categories of time, talent, and treasure. In our stewardship thrust, we will be using the terms prayer, service, and sharing.
Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, National Conference of Catholic
Bishops (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1993).
Reprinted from “Parish Committee Guidelines of the Diocese of Green Bay.”
Bishop Robert Morneau is a member of the USCCB ad hoc Committee on Stewardship.