Every year around this time, parishes invite us to consider getting involved in a variety of ministries. Some are in-house activities that help build up the church – things like greeting people at the door, making coffee after Mass, singing in the choir, or even serving as a Eucharistic Minister. Other ministries focus on reaching out to people in need – doing things like delivering food and household items on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, or serving dinner and visiting with our guests at the Inn from the Cold. September is a great time to think about how we can participate, especially as many of us are in the midst of setting up our schedules for the coming year.
Volunteering vs. Stewardship
The rewards of volunteering are well known. There is an enormous satisfaction that comes from helping others and being part of larger group initiatives. We often come away feeling better about ourselves – energized and enriched by the relationships that have been created through sharing our time and talents with others. Getting involved can help us feel more at home because we meet new people and form new friendships. It feels good to do our part and contribute to the well being of our communities. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun!
But it’s possible to take volunteering to a whole new level – to allow it to be something that’s not only rewarding, but also spiritually transforming – something that can be as life changing for you as it is for the people around you. When we stop regarding our volunteer work as something ‘special’ or ‘extra’ that we do and begin to see it as part of what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ (that is, to be a follower of Jesus), our whole perspective changes. Our generosity has the possibility of being transformed – to turn into what we refer to as stewardship. ‘Stewards’ recognize that everything we are and have is a gift of God. We also understand that God gave us these gifts for the good of all – not just for ourselves; and He asks us to share them with others.
What does stewardship look like?
When we think about signing up to volunteer, one of the first questions we often ask ourselves is, “What would I like to do?” This is an important consideration, but stewardship would have us go beyond that initial question to ask, “What is God asking me to do?” and “Where is the greatest need?” Because ultimately, God’s will for us is found where our interests, gifts, and talents intersect with the needs of our community.
When we invite God into the equation and allow faith to penetrate our actions, we open ourselves up to a whole new experience. Our attitudes and motivations change. It’s no longer just about satisfying our own interests or a desire to feel good. Instead, we consider God’s plan for our lives. We realize that we are God’s hands and feet here on earth, and we actively seek out how we can bring His love and mercy to those around us. We strive to see Christ in others – and we want others to see Christ in us. Our hope is that they will see past our weaknesses and shortcomings – that they will only be able to see the love of God in all that we do.
From the outside, a ‘steward’ may look just like a ‘volunteer’. They serve bowls of soup to the hungry and sweep the parish floors just like everyone else. But there is a difference, and it begins with the love that animates all of our actions. It’s a new, hidden dimension that makes room for God – a supernatural openness to His transforming power. Stewards serve others out of love for God and in gratitude for all that He has done for us. Furthermore, because love is the motor, we rely on God – not ourselves – to be the source of our strength. It is then that God can work in and through us – that we really can do great things. As St. Paul once wrote, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
No one else can do what you are called to do
But maybe you think that there others out there who are better suited for the task. It’s true that we’ve all received different gifts, and we may think that others are much smarter, talented, or gifted than we are. And truth be told, maybe they are! I, for one, am very grateful to the ladies who put on the coffee at church every week, because that’s definitely not my gift. (The only time I tried, all that I managed to brew was a pot of hot water!) But despite our shortcomings, God asks us to do our best with whatever He’s given us. We’ve all been created as unique individuals, and His plan for us is equally unique. If we don’t do what God asks of us, no one will be able to take our place.
Young or old, strong or frail, rich or poor – we all have our own, important parts to play. This is true even for those who suffer from illness or some kind of handicap. Pope John Paul II was so convinced of it that he entrusted the Church and the entire world to the sick and suffering. “We ask all you who suffer to support us,” he wrote. “We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. … May your suffering in union with the cross of Christ be victorious!”2 That’s the key: union with Christ. When we depend on God and not on ourselves, we can do anything (Phil 4:13).
We serve God when we serve others
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about stewardship is that when we use our gifts to help others, it’s as though we are helping God himself. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Blessed Teresa of Calcutta understood this so well. “I see Jesus in every human being,” she said. “I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”3
What about you? Would you like to sign up to be a steward? If so, as you look ahead to the coming year, don’t just ask yourself what you want to do. Instead, take a few moments to pray and reflect on what God has in mind for you. Perhaps He’s asking you to be generous with your ‘time’, or maybe you have ‘talents’ that He’d like you to share with others. He might even be asking you to give of your ‘treasure’ to financially support the Church or some other worthwhile cause. Whatever it is – and it could be one, or any combination of these things – I hope that you will say “yes” to His invitation. Because God wants nothing more than for you to experience the joy and peace that comes from being in the centre of His will.
– Sharon van der Sloot
Want to learn more about stewardship?
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary will be hosting the Western Canadian Catholic Stewardship Conference in Calgary from June 12-14, 2015. The theme is “Stewards Radiating the Joy of the Gospel.” The keynote speakers will be Cardinal Thomas Collins and Bishop Robert Morneau. This event will be an amazing opportunity for all of us to deepen our understanding of stewardship. As Bishop Frederick Henry explained, the spirituality of stewardship helps us to grow closer to Christ and to deepen our “attitude of gratitude.” For more information about the conference, go to http://www.wccsc.ca, or click on the following link to download a copy of their brochure: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bil0ad4lv4tmwtf/2015 WCCSC Brochure.pdf.
1 In Biblical times, a talent was a large amount of money.
2 Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering); available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html; Internet; accessed 2 September 2014.
3 Mother Teresa, “150 Mother Teresa Quotes with pictures,” Very Best Quotes; available from http://www.verybestquotes.com/150-mother-teresa-quotes/ – sthash.D2VljeNr.dpuf; Internet; accessed 2 September 2014.