Tag Archives: stewardship

The Lord of the Wedding Rings

25 Feb

f718c73f-12be-4393-9d5f-2ace13bb0e2cIn Tolkien’s novel The Return of the King, the Steward of Gondor has been at his post so long he has forgotten that he is merely the guardian of the land, not its king. He sees it as his possession. This leads to a grasping at the last clutches of power, a resentment toward the real king, and ultimately an untimely death born of despair.

This Sunday’s second reading reminds us that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God. As married people, we are called specifically to safeguard the Sacrament of Matrimony. This means our marriages are a gift from God for which we are meant to care, not possess or dominate.  This perspective is freeing!  It helps us:

  • Worry less, because God is with us.
  • Release our spouse (and ourselves!) from unrealistic expectations.
  • Love our children in the most generous way.
  • See our vocation as the noble calling it is!

For more resources, go to www.JoyfulMarriageProject.com.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

My Brother Louie

17 Nov

As we meditate on the Gospels, it’s only natural that we would try to imagine what the various biblical figures looked like, beginning with Our Lord Himself. One character I find especially intriguing is Zacchaeus, whose encounter with our Lord is recorded in today’s Gospel.

Whenever I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Louie De Palma, Danny DeVito’s character in the popular 1980s television series Taxi. We know that Zacchaeus was not only short, but also dishonest, despised, and resourceful. He was hardly the sort of character we might choose to emulate, any more than we would aspire to be like Louie De Palma. Yet I’d suggest that Catholic laymen do well to meditate on the call and conversion of Zacchaeus.

Perhaps the call of the rich young man is better known, so we might compare the two accounts. The rich young man keeps the commandments but wants to know what else he must do to attain eternal life. Good question! Jesus’s response–sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him–was more than the rich young man bargained for, at least for the moment. We understand in Our Lord’s response the call to evangelical perfection, particularly as lived by consecrated persons who embrace radical lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Jesus’ response to the rich young man is instructive to all of us as we strive to follow Him single-heartedly. But what about us “rich” middle-aged men, with wife, children, job, mortgage, credit-card bills, and student loans? Are we supposed to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and only then follow Jesus? How does Jesus’ universal call to discipleship relate to Catholic men who are to remain “in the world,” but not of it?

Enter Zacchaeus. Continue reading

Giving with All Our Mite

19 Mar

When my family lived in Steubenville, Ohio, my wife Maureen and I always looked forward to the dinner in which our bishop would launch the annual diocesan fund-raising campaign. It became an annual “date” for us. We have always tried to give what we can to our diocese and parish, Catholic apostolates, and worthwhile charities.

Each year we’re stretched a little thinner as we support more and more “good causes.” And at the same time, our children have gotten older and have more expensive educational and personal needs, including Catholic schools.

We know that good stewardship involves looking out for number one, except our “number one” is not ourselves, but Our Lord.

The biblical concept is tithing. In the Old Testament, tithing was a moral and spiritual obligation to make an offering to God of ten percent off the top of all the fruits of one’s labors (cf. Lev. 27:30). In fact, if one didn’t tithe, it was considered stealing from God! (Mal. 3:7-8).

Even more fundamental than the mere “accounting” aspect is the sense of generosity and piety that goes along with tithing. It’s all about making the Lord the priority in one’s life, as brought home so clearly in the story of the widow’s mite (Lk. 21:1-4). The poor widow was not a major Temple benefactor by earthly standards, but her gift was singled out for praise by the Lord because of the great love she showed in giving the little she had.

Maybe that’s why my favorite birthday or Father’s Day gifts tend to be the ones my children make themselves. These artistic treasures, often saved for posterity on our refrigerator or my office’s walls, serve absolutely no practical purpose. What makes them valuable to me is that they represent a loving sacrifice on the part of my children, which means infinitely more than any monetary value other gifts might have.

When it comes to tithing today, the Church doesn’t require that we give 10%, but we are required to support the Church through the generous use of our own time, talent, and treasure. The exact amount isn’t as important as the priority and generosity that accompany the giving. The traditional 10% is a helpful, biblical measuring rod, but there’s nothing preventing us from giving 15 or 20%!

Speaking for myself, I wasn’t raised in a tithing home. We really valued a buck. It has taken me a while to really soak in the Church’s teaching in this area, and I am far from where I need to be in this area. Still, I can say from personal experience, despite many financial obligations and the fact that over twenty years ago I left my law practice to work for Church-related entities, that the more our family has given, the more Our Lord has provided for our every need. I shouldn’t be surprised at this, because He pretty much tells us that this would be the case (cf. Mt. 6:33). Yet, I still truly marvel at this reality.

Perhaps God multiplies our offerings like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Maybe generosity instills a right order that shapes all of our spending. Perhaps tithing encourages us to do without things that really aren’t necessary. Or, more likely, it’s a combination of all of the above.

I know Christian financial advisors whose first advice to clients who are heavily in debt is to begin to tithe, and if they won’t do it, then they can’t help them. Tithing is part of the solution even on a most pragmatic, worldly level.

As the saying goes, Our Lord will not be outdone in generosity. Ordinarily, we are commanded not to put the Lord to the test. But when it comes to supporting the Church, Scripture invites us to put the Lord to the test (cf. Mal 3:10). Those who do are amazed at what happens.

Generosity involves much more than writing a check–but Maureen and I long ago decided that that’s not a bad place to start. I guess we’re just putting our money where our hearts are.

Creation Matters

4 Oct

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved saints in all of Christendom, and now the patron saint and inspiration of our new Holy Father.

No religious figure is as closely tied with nature as St. Francis. He is the patron saint of animals, zoos, ecology, the environment, and peace, among other things. When we think of him, we’re more likely to call to mind “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” and not an apologetics debate or Church politics. I like to think there’s a little St. Francis in all of us–hence the recurring joke that even God doesn’t know how many Franciscans there are in the world.

So today is a great day to look at some of the issues that resonate with our “inner Francis.” For example, where do we stand as Catholics when it comes to going “green”? And what about animal rights? PETA surely seems to be over the top, but don’t we condemn cruelty to animals? What principles should form our approach to the environment? To the animal kingdom? WWSFS? (What would St. Francis say?) Continue reading

The “Book” on Gambling

24 Apr

doctors of the church bingoSo what’s the big deal about gambling? After all, the Church says it’s not a sin. Why get worked up about church bingo?

The two key virtues when examining gambling are temperance and justice. The Catechism defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (no. 1809). Temperance, also called “moderation” or “sobriety,” is frequently praised in Scripture, although not always by name. For example, St. Paul instructs Titus that we should “live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Tit. 2:12).

Thus, when it comes to gambling, one must act moderately and not fall prey to the passion and excitement of the moment, which might lead him to wager an amount that is excessive for someone in his circumstances.

The virtue of justice applies to both the game itself and to the participants. The game must be fair and free from all fraud or deception. The participants should only risk “disposable” income. In other words, the money gambled should be viewed as a recreational expense that is not needed to meet one’s obligations to God, himself, his family, or his creditors.

Temperance and justice call for an examination of how one uses his time and resources. Even a wealthy, debt-free person needs to use moderation. Gambling ought not be an occasion to excessively separate a parent from his or her family, even if the amount gambled is modest. And everyone should recognize that money used on frivolous or excessive gambling can be put to better use, such as to help out those who are less fortunate. After all, as St. John Chrysostom said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life” (Catechism, no. 2446).

You Shall Not Steal

The Catechism treats the subject of gambling in the section dealing with the Seventh Commandment (“You Shall Not Steal”):

“Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant” (no. 2413).

While the Church does not consider gambling to be necessarily sinful, she does, however, recognize the serious dangers in habitual or excessive gambling. For many people, especially those with a particular weakness in this area, games of chance are an occasion of sin. Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine once said, “The Devil invented gambling.”

Parish Bingo

Gathering for a night of low-stakes bingo in the parish hall to socialize, enjoy a little excitement, and provide support for the parish is morally legitimate, both from the standpoint of the participant and from the standpoint of the parish that hosts the event.

However, since gambling can easily become a vicious habit, a parish or other church organization would be well advised to consider the following precautions when it comes to sponsoring bingo:

(a) Promote virtue. There are many ways this can be done. For example, limit the amount that one can wager. Don’t serve alcoholic beverages. Create a friendly, Christian atmosphere. In short, do whatever can be done to promote the positive aspects of bingo (e.g., recreation, fellowship, etc.) while preventing, to the extent possible, its negative side effects.

(b) Avoid scandal. Many people are scandalized by the fact that many Catholic churches use bingo as a means of generating revenue. This sense of scandal not only affects many Catholics but also other Christians who tend to see gambling as evil. This problem could be considerably lessened if bingo is clearly presented to parishioners and to the public as being used to raise revenue for effective Christian ministries. The scandal is greater when bingo is perceived as a “Catholic institution” in itself, and where the parish does not seem to do much to spread the Gospel.

(c) Evangelize.
All Catholics need to hear convincing, biblically sound teaching on stewardship, tithing, and generosity. Bingo may supplement this imperative, but not replace it. As for the non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics who are drawn to parish bingo looking for some “action,” reasonable efforts should be made not only to welcome the individual’s bingo money, but also the individual himself or herself.

(d) Avoid enslavement. Parishes, and not just gambling addicts, can become enslaved by bingo, such that the parish may consider itself forced to keep bingo in order to keep its school or religious education program in operation. I encourage pastors and parishes to prayerfully consider the possibility of liberation from the slavery of bingo. This freedom could be a scary thing. It would present a new set of challenges and call for creative ideas to compensate for the loss of bingo revenue while providing new opportunities for Christian fellowship. In this regard, some lay Catholics have successfully gone to their pastor and have offered to increase their weekly offering if the parish would eliminate its dependence on bingo. Such a gesture shows the pastor that despite our personal opposition to church bingo, we are fully committed to our support for the parish.

(e) Welcome other means of support. Even though parish bingo is not necessarily a sinful activity, some people are turned off by bingo and will not participate. Others simply may not have the time or interest. Still others may feel it is an occasion of sin for them and feel obliged to stay away. The parish should listen to the needs and concerns of these individuals and provide them alternative means of supporting the parish.

Conversely, all Catholics are bound to assist with the needs of the Church (Code of Canon Law, canon 222), and should not use their distaste for parish bingo as a pretext for not supporting the Church in other ways. Indeed, generosity is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a wellspring of renewal for the Church.

Giving with All Our Mite

Generosity is the virtue directly opposed to selfishness, which is the refusal to give of ourselves. The choice to be generous–to give of ourselves to God and neighbor–is nothing less than charity lived out in concrete circumstances. Christ Himself, in word and deed, taught that such self-giving is at the heart of the abundant, Trinitarian life He has come to give us.

In this life, generosity involves sacrifice and even death. This is the test of faith–to give in the midst of suffering. Our society doesn’t understand “sacrifice,” and consequently we are prone to selfishness in all phases of our lives, including our relationship with the Church. We’re a far cry from the Church of previous generations that was willing to build parishes, schools, and facilities with its own blood, sweat, and tears. If generosity literally means “full of giving life,” then it’s not a stretch to see that selfishness plays a significant role in what has been called a “culture of death.”

Let’s look at ways that we can grow in generosity.

First, are we generous with God Himself? Is prayer a regular, vital part of our daily lives, or is it merely a weekly obligation or something we do only in times of need?

This sometimes apparent “waste” of time does not “change” God, but it does change us and is a source of profound blessing.

Second, are we generous in our support of the apostolate, putting our time, talents, and checkbook at the service of the Gospel? Do we tithe? Do we give our “first fruits” or our spare change? Do we give only out of our excess, or do we give whatever we can, like the widow in the Gospel (cf. Lk. 21:1-4)?

Third, are we generous to others? Are we generous with our family, especially with our spouse and children? Are we generous as married couples, opening our home to another child or perhaps a family member or even a stranger in need? Are we sensitive to the needs we see all around us, looking for the “hidden Jesus” in the poor or forgotten in our midst?

This generosity will go a long way toward reinvigorating our own lives of faith and will help build up the Church in our midst. Our Blessed Lord will not be outdone in generosity:

“Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you and overflowing blessing” (Mal. 3:10).

Let’s put Him to the test.

Giving What We Got

7 Jun

Sr. Evangeline with her family

Last month my family drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit our daughter, Sr. Evangeline. This was our first opportunity to visit her since she received a new name and religious habit as a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist last summer. We were all so excited to see her!

With this upcoming visit in mind, I was recently pondering a light-hearted comment that one of the Dominican sisters once made at a gathering of Catholic leaders. She said, “We need your prayers. We need your money. We need your daughters.” On all three counts, I can’t think of a better recipient than this thriving, faithful religious community.

Yet, our society and especially our government are competing for the same things!

The money, of course, is a no-brainer. The government wants as much of it as it can get away with taking, and our consumerist society is ready to pounce on whatever is left.

But what about the others? What does our secular society, let alone our government, care about our prayers? It would seem that if anything they don’t want us to pray or acknowledge God at all, especially in public.

Maybe instead of prayer we could say our “hearts.” They want our “buy in.” They want our allegiance, our adherence to their agenda. They want us to be Americans who happen to be (nominal) Catholics, not Catholics who happen to be Americans.

As sincere Catholics, we pray to God, trusting that our heavenly Father knows what”s best for us (cf. Mt. 6:31-32; 7:11; Lk, 12:7; Phil. 4:19). We want to grow in union with Him.

Society and the government want us to trust them instead (never mind what it says on our money!), because they think they know what’s best for us. They don’t want us to be counter-cultural witnesses to Christ. Instead, they want us to “go with the flow” and follow the fashions and political correctness of an increasingly “godless” society in the West.

And, like the good sisters, they want our kids. That makes sense economically, not only when it comes to selling them (with us picking up the tab!) things they don’t need, but even more in ensuring a labor force as the effects of reproductive “choices” affect us on a macro level. Immigrants as well as large Catholic families are prime sources of the next generation of children, which is America’s greatest resource.

But it’s not enough for them to wait for a pay off on this resource (when our kids become laborers/consumers/taxpayers). They want to “program” them now, which makes things a lot easier on the back end. That explains much of the indoctrination that goes on in public schools (and before that, in daycare), as well as some of the institutional hostility to private Catholic schools and especially homeschooling families.

More on all that later. The question I’d like us to consider today is who gets our hearts, who gets our money, and who gets our kids? As much as we’d like to think so, we can’t have it both ways (cf. Mt. 6:24). May Our Lord Jesus Christ truly be the center of our lives, and may we truly give Him our best in all that we do.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” –Matthew 6:33

Sloth Management

20 Jul

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction.

(1) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day

I recently had the occasion to reread Blessed John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come. 

I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp!) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.

One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).

Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us.

This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.

On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”

When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.

In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of the church parking lot fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”

But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.

(2) Take stock of our schedule

Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.

That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.

(3) Cultivate virtue

If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are still some patches of green grass, despite the heat, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also fertilizing and watering the grass.

When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various forms of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.

When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.