There is something different in the person who lives with the spirit of gratitude. Able to view life as an opportunity to celebrate the varied gifts of God, this sort of person is generous and appreciative in an almost boundless way.
I once had the blessing of celebrating the sacrament of the sick for a great-aunt who was facing terminal cancer. She was one of those great people of gratitude. Coupled with the fact that the cancerous tumor had disfigured her face in a disturbing way, she was well aware that her hour was approaching. Still, her spirits were high. She was able, as she always had been, to receive every day as a gracious gift from God for her to enjoy. And enjoy she did! Her love for people was remarkable, and everyone was considered a friend worthy of passing small talk and a shared laugh. In fact, with the tears of Gods grace, she was able to articulate her gratitude for the gift of faith to everyone who visited her bedside.
It may well be true that those who appreciate Gods gifts are able to be more generous in return. Such people are eager to develop and employ their gifts out of love for God. They face life as an opportunity to give thanks. With this understanding, one can see Christian stewardship as maturation of the disciple in love. Such good people mirror the generosity of God in what they say and do for others. A person of gratitude knows himself or herself to be a blessed caretaker of Gods gifts in service to others. These are the kind of people who make our local parishes wonderful communities of warmth and care.
To live a life of generosity is attractive to most of us. We are edified when we hear of anothers kindness and goodness. And yet, does this not beg the question of why more people arent given over to the spirit of generosity and Christian stewardship? Somehow there is one big but, spiritually, for many people. For some their time is so sacred, they cant volunteer even once a year for a worthy cause in which they believe. Others will find that offering their talents in an attempt to help their local community isnt important. Still others will donate all their time and make their talents available for any need, yet when it comes to tithing their income, they are shocked or even insulted by the idea: How can you really ask that of anyone?
To enjoy the blessings that come with being generous, one must welcome the experience of a personal conversion. Disciples will fail to appreciate the Lords grace and goodness if they are still living according to their own perceptions and understandings. Stewardship as a way of life requires a profound and personal change in the believers heart. All life is now a gracious gift. Whether one knows a long life or a short one, good health or illness, a professional career or a trade, these are all Gods gifts. In this way of life, no one is solely responsible for being self-made. It becomes folly for someone to cling to his or her gifts as if God will somehow run out of generosity.
Truth be told, no one will outdo God in generosity. It is countercultural to accept the view that all that you have as time, talent and treasure is a result of Gods goodness to you and your family. While much can be said for the strong faith of the American people, there is a dominant secular culture that contradicts the principles of the Gospel. The American bishops have observed: This is a culture in which destructive isms materialism, relativism, hedonism, individualism, and consumerism exercise seductive, powerful influences. Thus, there are strong forces that pull even good people of faith away from the generous example of the Lord into a personalized and more self-centered notion of discipleship. In the end, if the destructive forces adversely affect the believer, he or she will find it nearly impossible to mirror the generosity of God.
While the disciple must dwell in the world as it is, in order to remain faithful to Christ, he or she must choose to remain distinct from the secular culture. Here, the generous person is not only seen as enjoying a blessed life, but he or she is courageous in addressing the secular and surrounding culture. By the sharing of his or her time, talent and treasure, the disciple of Christian stewardship brings the grace of a generous heart to his or her brothers and sisters and, in turn, glorifies our loving Father. How different our parishes would be if we further celebrated those among us living generous lives!
Father Hinkley is Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and the Shrine of St. Anne, both in Waterbury. He holds a doctorate in moral theology and advanced degrees in marriage and family studies and spiritual theology.