Stewardship is responsible discipleship

Father John A. Kiley

Many consider the pre-eminent effect of the Second Vatican Council to be the introduction of the Age of the Laity. More lay participation in the liturgy, more lay persons on parish boards, as well as lay involvement in parish education and parish ministry would confirm this attitude. Yet Father Joseph D. Creedon, in his newly published book “Stewardship, A Life-giving Spirituality,” wisely understands that Vatican II actually introduced — or re-introduced — the Age of the Baptized. Every baptized member of the Church — laity, religious, clergy — has the same commission from Christ to live the faith personally and to share the faith universally. The laity will certainly manifest their Christian stewardship in a fashion that is different from religious women and men and from the ordained clergy. But the principle behind all this assorted Christian activity is the same sense of discipleship, the same dedication to service, the same understanding of stewardship, bestowed originally and universally through the sacrament of Baptism.

Father Creedon ably employs Scriptural references, quotes from theologians ancient and recent, family anecdotes and personal reflections to convince the reader that spirituality is not just a support for stewardship but rather that stewardship lived out energetically and resolutely is a spirituality in itself. Father Creedon writes that all believers, lay, religious and clerical, will share their time, talent and treasure most effectively when they are driven by a spirit of gratitude, a sense of thanksgiving and a notion of appreciation. By pondering the gifts of creation through God the Father, the Good News of redemption through God the Son, and the graces of sanctification through the Holy Spirit, the Christian should be overwhelmed with a sense of indebtedness, compelling the believer to respond with a similar generosity toward God. This “attitude of gratitude,” an expression Father Creedon favors, should dispose all believers to spend their time before God and on behalf of God, to offer their talents bestowed by God and in support of God, and to share their treasure received from God and now happily returned to God through diligence and charity.

Besides being a personal rule of life, stewardship is also an organized ministry with books and pamphlets and meetings and spokespersons. The American bishops encouraged this way of life with their 1992 document, “Stewardship, A Disciple’s Response.” Father Creedon has long been part of this nationwide enterprise. Father Creedon rightly cites the parable of the talents in which those who received five or two talents doubled their holdings while the person who received only one talent buried it in the ground for fear of losing it. Hence, stewardship involves the risk of embracing a “dream” and then heading out for the “deep water,” as Christ instructed St. Peter. Stewardship spirituality is the challenge to allot one’s time wisely, to employ one’s talents effectively and to bestow one’s treasure generously. Lay persons who embrace stewardship are especially responsible to offer their time, talent and treasure not only for the benefit of the Church but also for the advantage of their families and the secular world as well.

Effective stewardship is properly a lifetime commitment; it is happily a transforming commitment. The baptized are not alone in their pursuit of worthy discipleship. The baptized have the seven sacraments whose lifetime assistance Father Creedon describes in generous detail. Offering Scriptural foundations and historical developments of the various sacraments, Father understands Baptism and Confirmation to be especially important celebrations in orienting the believers toward a life of service. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are presented in detail as foundational supports for any effective stewardship. Father also outlines at length the many liturgical indications of an “attitude of gratitude” present in the introductory rites, Eucharistic prayers and the reception of holy Communion at Mass. The sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick are accorded worthy pastoral assessments especially suitable for the present age when confessional lines and sick calls are rarer. Matrimony and Holy Orders are again introduced from an historical perspective and are then considered also as services to the larger community.

St. Paul’s words to his Thessalonian readership proclaimed in this Sunday’s first reading anticipate Father Creedon’s ponderings: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” Stewardship is responsible discipleship, restoring to God the gifts God has generously bestowed on all his baptized disciples, laity, religious and clergy.