Stewardship is a form of spirituality, and a way of helping busy people grow closer to the Lord, Father Daniel J. Mahan explained to those who’d come to The Burgundy Basin Conference Center in Pittsford April 26 for the diocese’s annual stewardship conference.
Father Mahan was the keynote speaker for Stewardship Day 2008, which also featured reflections, workshops and presentations by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, two diocesan priests and one deacon. During his keynote presentation about stewardship as spirituality, Father Mahan told participants the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has defined a steward as one who gratefully receives God’s gifts; cherishes and tends those gifts in a responsible manner; shares those gifts in justice and love with all; and increases those gifts and returns them to the Lord. Stewardship is a practical way for people to connect the material and spiritual aspects of their lives, he told participants.
As executive director of the Marian College Center for Catholic Stewardship in Indianapolis and director of formation for the International Catholic Stewardship Council, Father Mahan has given similar presentations for parishes and dioceses throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and the Philippines. Later in the day he led a workshop that outlined the differences between Christian stewardship and secular fundraising.
Secular fundraising is all about money and is focused on a particular organization, while stewardship is about time and talent first, then treasure, and is focused on the individual soul, he said. Secular fundraising seeks fulfillment in a short-term goal, promotes recognition for gifts given and is based upon persuasion that is sometimes manipulative. Conversely, Christian stewardship seeks lifelong change, promotes altruistic acts of compassion and is based upon a faith response, Father Mahan said.
Earlier that morning Father Peter Clifford, cochair of the diocesan Spirit Alive! spiritual renewal, spoke about the relationship between stewardship and spiritual renewal. The third season of Spirit Alive! is focused on discipleship and stewardship, but that doesn’t mean individuals and parishes need to wait before embarking on stewardship journeys, he said.
Rather, stewardship is an integral part of each season of the renewal, the first two of which are focused on deepening personal relationships with Jesus and on Scripture.
“I clearly don’t understand myself to be a steward if I don’t have a sense of my relationship with Jesus,” Father Clifford said. “Stewardship is clearly founded in Scripture, which is the focus of the second season.”
The concepts of stewardship and spiritual renewal are closely intertwined, said Father Clifford, pastor of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport.
“If one successfully did stewardship one would also have renewed the spiritual life of one’s parish. St. John of Rochester would certainly have absolutely no hesitancy to pursue stewardship while at the same time pursuing the spiritual renewal,” he said.
Later in the day Deacon John McDermott shared the challenges and triumphs St. Rita Parish in Webster recently experienced while implementing a stewardship program, and Father Jim Lawlor, retired pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mendon, shared insights he garnered while guiding his former parish on a path to stewardship. St. Catherine of Siena began by forming a stewardship committee, which spent about a year studying the concept of stewardship, he said.
“The concept of stewardship is the idea that everything we have is God’s gift, and life is sometimes saying thank you to God for what we have,” Father Lawlor told the Catholic Courier.
Stewardship is different from a parish program, Father Lawlor noted, which usually has set starting and ending times. Rather, stewardship is a lifelong journey, one that asks people to establish God, their faith and their parish communities as priorities and work the other aspects of their lives around those priorities.
“Stewardship says, ‘Let’s prioritize.’ Can we start with God and say, ‘OK, we’ll give God an hour a week, and then we’ll plan the games, the shopping?'” Father Lawlor said.
The concept of stewardship asks people to show thanks for their talents and treasure as well. If every single member of a nearly 1,000-member parish regularly shared just one talent — whether it be planting flowers at the church or coaching a parish sports team — the results would be tremendous, he said.
Many people have misconceptions of the treasure aspect of stewardship, he noted.
“The treasure component is not about asking people to give another buck or another five bucks for the collection. The notion of treasure is simply to invite people to start with God again,” Father Lawlor said.
Instead of paying all your bills and then throwing whatever is left into the collection, try designating a set amount to give back to God and the church and then working your budget around that, he suggested.
“Stewardship says you start with God. Figure that out first, and then you figure the other things out,” he said. “Stewardship is ultimately a leap of faith. It’s really believing that if we put God first, God is going to reward and protect us.”