The rains came to the hollows of Appalachia. The forecast was that rains at the higher elevations would be especially heavy resulting in rising floodwaters in all places and flashfloods in the steeper hollows and valleys of the county. The emergency warnings were for all residents to seek high grounds and keep away from streams and rivers.
When the neighbors saw Jonas, an older resident and a member of the local congregation, they encouraged him to leave his homestead and come with them to higher ground. Jonas thanked them for their offer but said, “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.” The neighbors drove on up the road.
When the waters rose, Jonas retreated to the first floor of his house. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters are still rising. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” “No, thanks,” Jonas replied. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”
And the rains came, and waters continued to rise. Jonas had to abandon the first floor and move to the second. At which point the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” “No, thanks,” Jonas replied. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”
The floodwaters were unrelenting, forcing Jonas onto the roof of his house. A little time later a rescue helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and rescuers said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.” “No, thanks,” Jonas replied. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”
In time the floodwater swept Jonas away to his death. When he arrived in heaven, he met God and asked, “Lord, I prayed for you to save me. I trusted you to save me from that flood, but you did nothing and let me drown.” The Lord replied, “I sent you a car, a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”
You might ask why am I telling a joke (think of it more as a modern parable) when I have been writing about Stewardship in the three previous pastor columns? The last sentence in each of the previous columns is this: “The start of Sacred Heart being a Stewardship Parish is for each one of us to be good Stewards in our own lives.” In its own way, the “parable” raises the point about what it means to be a good steward of our Time, Talent, and Treasures. Not just as individuals, but as a community joined in common purpose in faith.
I have described Stewardship, in its simplest terms, as the act of putting God’s priorities before our own. Stewards do four things: receive God’s gifts gratefully, nurture God’s gifts responsibly, share God’s gifts justly and charitably, and return those gifts to God abundantly. How did Jonas do? How about you?
Was Jonas a good steward of his own gifts? Was he willing to let others be good stewards of their gifts? It is also a story about how a proper understanding of Stewardship results in actions in the world. But all such action rests upon four core values: identity, trust, gratitude, and love. These are the root and foundation of the Spirituality of Stewardship.
Identity: We are God’s children. That’s our identity. We know this from Genesis 1:27: “God created mankind in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” The Catechism goes on to explain: “man is created by God and for God, and God never ceases to draw man to himself.”
Trust: If we are God’s children, who are destined to return to God, we can trust that God will provide for all our needs. Conversely, we also need to be trustworthy and honest in everything we do and entrusted to us, so that we are worthy of God’s trust. As St. Paul says, “Thus, should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)
Gratitude: If we identify as God’s children and trust, we come to clearly know that God is the source of everything we are and have. The natural response is to be grateful. God gives and we receive; and then on our part we learn how to give. Just as God gives us everything, we too, need to recognize our need to give rather than always giving in to a need.
Love: God loves us first and sometimes in spite of ourselves. We are created, redeemed and sanctified by “God our savior who wills everyone to be saved.” (1 Tim 2:4) Now we need to return His love by loving Him back. The act of love requires that we give. We express our love by giving of our time, talent and treasure.
Stewardship is a recognition of our relationship to God and God’s people that calls for our action (gratefully accept, nurture, share, and return God’s gifts to us) and calls us to have those actions rooted in our identity, trust, gratitude and love. Stewardship is a way of being in the world as disciples. It is our Spirituality.
The start of Sacred Heart being a Stewardship Parish is for each one of us to be good Stewards in our own lives.