THE GOOD STEWARD | Stewardship is the practice of putting our faith in action

This is the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago, which will conclude the end of this Church year on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 30.

Faith is a gift. It is a beacon of light that shines in our darkness. We all experience the pain, suffering and confusion that are caused by darkness in our lives. Sin and death are the primary expressions of darkness that no human person (except the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the grace of God) can escape. We cannot overcome the world's darkness by our own efforts, but our faith tells us that we can open our minds and hearts to the light of Christ and, so, "journey through time" illumined by His brightness.

The Church teaches that faith comes as the result of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. How well do we know Him? How deeply do we love Him? How effectively do we serve Him by responding to the most profound needs of our sisters and brothers in faith?

The light of Christ shines through our darkness. It illumines the shadows of our life and touches us in what Pope Francis describes as "the core of our being." When we see with faith, we recognize the meaning of life (and of our individual lives). Through faith, our minds and hearts are opened to the truth.

As people of faith, we are called to thank God for this great gift of faith. But giving thanks, expressing our gratitude in thought and word is only an initial aspect of being a grateful believer. We are called not only to say thanks to God, but to do thanks to God as well. This expression of gratitude in action is what is called stewardship. Stewardship is a response in faith to all the gifts we have been given by a loving and generous God.

When somebody gives us a gift or does us a favor, we spontaneously say, "Thank you." That's the expected response. But just saying thanks often isn't enough. We are expected to acknowledge in words what we have received, but we are expected to acknowledge it in action, too. This acknowledgment in action is not supposed to be a "payback" in which we calculate the value of what we have received and give exactly that much back to the giver. Rather, it's intended to be a more intense expression of acknowledgment, a more emphatic way of saying that we are aware of having received and that we want to express that by giving in return.

Gratitude in action is more demanding than just expressing thanks with words. It's more elaborate. It costs more. It's more complicated. But it is also more expressive. And the more we have been given, the more we are expected to give in return. Unless there is a willingness to give in return, the gratitude we express with words easily can become a mere formality.

Stewardship is the term used to express our giving in return to the Lord who has given everything to us. Stewardship is not just "time, talent and treasure." It's not simply a technique for asking people to contribute more to the Church in order to pay the light bills and keep parish and school ministries going. Stewardship is the practice of putting our faith in action --or as one theologian has said, "Stewardship is what we do after we say we believe."

The practice of stewardship is not a once-in-a-while thing, any more than is gratitude to God. Gratitude and the expression of it in word and action are supposed to be habitual. They are part of what we are about in our day-to-day lives. They are constituent elements of our Christian spirituality, of faith in action.

Let's thank God for all his gifts. Let's be grateful stewards whose words and actions show that we are responsible, generous and willing to give back to the Lord with increase. Let's be grateful believers who do thanks as well as say it.

Conway has served as consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He now is senior vice president of Marian University in Indianapolis.

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