Stewardship: A path to discipleship,
a tool for evangelism
In their pastoral letter, "Stewardship, a Disciple's Response," the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains how Christian Stewardship is a vital component of our lives as disciples of Christ. There is an important relationship between stewardship and discipleship, as well as some distinctions between them.
The foundation of stewardship is the relationship established by God, the Creator of this world, with the world itself and us, his caretaker creatures. By granting humanity dominion in this world, God has tasked us to care for it with respect and dignity, use and develop it responsibly and share its bounty generously. The crux of good stewardship is primarily the understanding that God is the Creator and we, as his creatures, have been given responsibility to care for his creation.
By contrast, discipleship has its foundation in our baptism through which we are initiated into the Body of Christ (Corpus Christi) and accorded salvation and eternal life. With our baptism, we receive a sacred invitation to become disciples of Christ — to make a conscious choice to surrender the defining direction of our lives to the will of God — to step away from who we would be naturally if we were only self-directed, and to discover our identities as members of the Body of Christ.
As expressed in the bishops' letter, "Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves."
Being a disciple of Christ is to actively seek God's direction in our lives and, when necessary, deny ourselves in order to align with God's will. It is a decision that we make moment-by-moment throughout a life-long journey of faith.
A disciple of Christ who has established the habit of being guided by the Holy Spirit in every important aspect of his or her life finds a life of stewardship to be completely consistent with his or her commitment to discipleship. But the self-denial often required of disciples may seem daunting to many faithful and committed Roman Catholic Christians. This is where practicing good stewardship can support our journey. The practice of yielding to God as Christian stewards can be an easier initial adjustment to incorporate in our lives than the comparatively radical commitment of discipleship. Stewardship is second nature to, flows quite naturally from, and is an integral component of authentic discipleship. So, over time, the practice of stewardship — the habit of being mindful of God and deferring to the will of God, may make the commitment of discipleship more accessible.
While discipleship is a commitment that unites Catholics in the Body of Christ, Christian Stewardship is a component of discipleship that extends beyond religion and connects us — unites us — to people from different religious faiths, different cultural backgrounds, different political affiliations and different socio-economic positions.
When one considers the various causes that are supported by stewardship's fundamental values, the list is truly remarkable: resource conservation and environmental protection; ethical treatment of animals and protection of endangered species; campaigns against human trafficking and support for human rights; sanctity of life, protection of the elderly, children and the disabled; advocacy for the poor, support for minority rights, and on, and on.
The expansiveness of stewardship makes it a powerful tool that Christians can use to reach out to others and find commonality and fellowship. "As with all things pertaining to the Gospel, stewardship is fundamentally the work of the Spirit in our lives. When we accept [this], the Spirit can use us as apt instruments for spreading the Gospel. Whenever the Spirit works, there is joy. Good stewards are always the joyful bearers of … [the Light of Christ]."
(Walt Sears is director, Pastoral Year Program, at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park.)