Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

Looking at the clear connection between discipleship and stewardship

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In the coming weeks, the parishes in our dioceses will be conducting their season of stewardship. This is a major shift away from the former mindset of fundraising for donations, moving instead to the practice of stewardship, which is a grateful response of giving back to God a portion of the gifts that God has given to us. This change in approach was reflected in several declarations that were adopted at our Fourth Diocesan Synod, which was held in 2017 with representatives from each of our 129 parishes in our diocese.

The tenth declaration of our Fourth Diocesan Synod states: “As a diocese committed to discipleship and stewardship, the community of Catholic faithful recognizes that everything we have comes from God and that He has given us gifts not just to use them for ourselves but also to share them with others. As faithful and generous stewards of God’s abundant gifts, those committed to discipleship and stewardship as a way of life pledge to share their talents, give of their time and contribute proportionately from their financial resources for the good of the Church and those in need.”

This declaration makes clear the connection between discipleship and stewardship. The word “disciple” comes from the Latin word “disco,” which is not a dance, but means “I learn.” A disciple is someone who learns from someone else. A disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus in order to learn from Him and live accordingly.

A “steward” is a person whose responsibility it is to take care of something, such as a person employed to manage another’s property. As followers of Jesus, we learn that everything we have comes from God our Father. God not only created everything, but in a real sense He still owns everything. We are only caretakers of creation given the responsibility to manage the affairs of this world.

This is a radically different way of looking at things. If you ask most people who it is that owns their possessions, they would answer, “I do.” If you ask them who is responsible for acquiring these possessions, they would answer, “I am.” In contrast, if you ask followers of Jesus who have embraced the discipleship and stewardship way of life who owns their possessions, they would answer, “God does.” If you ask them who is responsible for acquiring these possessions, they would answer, “God is, and He has given me these gifts to take care of them for Him.”

The eleventh declaration of our Fourth Diocesan Synod states: “Trusting in God’s providence and giving according to their means, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are called to live as disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ by giving of their time and talent and striving to fulfill the Biblical command to tithe by donating the suggested amount of at least 8% of their income to their parishes and 2% to other charities as an expression of their gratitude to God and of their stewardship of His manifold gifts of creation.”

Tithing is a concept that is not familiar to many Catholics despite its strong biblical roots. The earliest example of tithing in the Bible is found in chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis, where Abram (before God changes his name to Abraham) returns victoriously from battle after rescuing his nephew Lot from captivity and recovering all of the possessions and food supplies that had been stolen from his countrymen. Melchizedek, King of Salem, appears majestically to recognize Abram’s great victory. Melchizedek prefigures the Eucharist by bringing out bread and wine and blessing Abram. In response, the Bible says, “Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20).

There is much that we can learn from this account. First, we should note that the 10-percent tithe is given after the battle, not before. This is significant in that the offering is not made in supplication as a plea for God to grant the favor of a successful outcome in battle. Rather, the offering is made in gratitude for the victory having already been achieved.

Second, the offering is not made in response to a request from Melchizedek to satisfy some financial need. Melchizedek, for example, did not ask for a donation to pay for repairs for a leaky temple roof. Nor did Abram ask what Melchizedek intended to do with his gift. That is in contrast to our present reality where so much of charitable giving today is based on responding to a demonstrated need.

In this regard, a study by the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative found that Catholics are more likely “to focus on giving as ‘paying the bills’ rather than ‘living the vision’ when thinking about money.” As a result, the report showed that, on average, “Catholics are less generous in voluntary financial giving than other Christian groups in the United States.” In response to this reality, the study suggests that what is needed is “fostering parish cultures in which the use of money is not seen as a mere secular or profane matter, but, as the Bible teaches, a spiritual concern that God cares about, that shapes one’s personal spiritual life profoundly, and that can genuinely help transform the world along Christian values and purposes.”

In the Diocese of Wichita, where stewardship has been widely embraced and implemented, the generous response of parishioners has made it possible to offer Catholic education from kindergarten through high school without charging tuition to the parents of the students. What a great blessing it would be for our diocese if we could do the same!

May God give us this grace. Amen.