Father Michael F.X. Hinkley
Each year, New England’s great array of foliage colors sets the stage for the coming of our wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving. As a national observance, Thanksgiving Day reminds us that our country is founded on the principle of rendering thanks to God. In this way, our one nation under God is most authentic when it turns to the Lord with gratitude for the abundance of blessings on this land!
Expressing gratitude to God is not only an American tradition, it is also the foundation for Catholic stewardship. Just as the Native Americans and Pilgrims found a common need to turn to God in thanksgiving, so too do mature Christian disciples. Along with the members of the parish I am pastor of, I have become profoundly aware that God is the source of all the time, talent and treasure that make up our lives. Thus, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to give thanks to God not just on one holiday a year, but through a lifestyle that demonstrates that we take seriously our stewardship of the time, talent and treasure God has blessed us with.
While Christian stewardship has been promoted in many parishes over the last number of years, it is often the case that Catholics don’t fully understand what exactly it is. Catholic stewardship is not a program, special retreat or fund-raiser – it is a way of life inspired by God’s goodness. In other words, stewardship is a lifestyle that puts God first in all things!
There are three basic stages to one’s maturation as a steward of God’s gifts. First, the Christian must become aware that he or she has received from God. We must find within ourselves the ability to realize that the time, talent and treasure we enjoy are from God. In this way, stewardship reveals how essential it is for us to acknowledge the generosity of God. Our Judeo-Christian tradition calls for us to count our blessings and then praise and thank the Lord! Unless we are fully aware of having received blessings from God, we can’t be thankful for them.
The second part of a mature spirit of stewardship is one’s response to God’s goodness and generosity. Just as is the case with a boy or girl receiving birthday gifts, the gift given by God isn’t properly received until the giver is thanked. Catholic stewardship entails an intentional and committed choice to live a life in thanksgiving as a follower Christ: What would Jesus ask you to do with your gifts, talents and resources?
Thirdly, by choosing to center your life in the Gospel, you become a mature disciple of Jesus and reveal God’s Kingdom in the here and now. In this way, you take on a lifestyle that joyfully reflects your faith in the spirit of gratitude! Without question, mature stewardship of God’s gifts requires Christian conversion in the deepest sense. Thus, stewardship invites us to a change of heart; we come to appreciate that our time, talent and treasure are gifts from God. In turn, as committed disciples, we freely return a portion of our gifts to help build up the Kingdom of God.
Once you make the choice to give back to God, you become a revelation of God’s kingdom in a practical way. You identify your gifts as having their source in God and they now become an expression of your faith in the Gospel as you return a portion of them to God. Catholic stewardship as a lifestyle is always practical. This is especially the case for our stewardship of our financial resources. Many Catholics in the Northeast shun the practice of tithing, viewing it as something foreign and more in keeping with the Protestant religious traditions.
Properly understood, tithing is a religious practice with its origins in the Old Testament (Malachi 3:10). Tithing was also asked of the New Testament disciples of Jesus (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Matthew 6:31-33). It calls for the believer to appreciate that all good gifts have God as their origin. With this understanding, the believer returns 10 percent of his or her gross income to God. Our Catholic tradition of tithing calls for 5-7 percent to be given to the local parish, 1-2 percent to archdiocesan causes and the remaining 2-4 percent to be divided among other charities of the believer’s choice.
When you speak to people in New England parishes about tithing and Catholic stewardship, they often look at you as if you just smashed an egg into your forehead. For some odd reason, tithing doesn’t seem to make sense to Catholics of our region. Why is this the case? Do we not owe gratitude to the Lord for the financial advantages we know as Americans? Every Thanksgiving Day echoes this very same appreciation for the many advantages we know as Americans. Remember that Catholic stewardship is not a fund-raiser; it is a lifestyle based on giving thanks for what God has provided! Thus, we are to support our parishes and schools for no other reason than gratitude for God’s goodness.
As we anticipate our national observance of Thanksgiving Day, let us renew our commitment to being good stewards of the gifts God has given. In this way, we grow stronger in our faith and reveal evermore the greatness of our good God!
Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and School and the Shrine of St. Anne for All Mothers, both in Waterbury. He holds a doctorate in moral theology and advanced degrees in spiritual theology and marriage and family studies.