In their pastoral letter “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, ” the U.S. bishops define the Christian steward as “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”
Since the 2002 publication of the bishops’ letter, there has been an increase in the number of organizations designed to help Catholics answer the call to stewardship. One of these groups is Faith Direct (FaithDirect.net), whose electronic-giving program allows parishioners to support their church through automatic contributions. Faith Direct works the same way as other electronic-funds transfer systems, providing a simple and hassle-free way for Catholics to donate to the Church.
Long ago, those donations took the form of gifts of livestock and produce. But these days, says Faith Direct president Brian Walsh, “The offering of money has become the normal manner in which the faithful offer the ‘first fruits’ of their lives,” adding that, by 2015, 80% of church collections will be processed electronically.
According to Walsh, Faith Direct is rooted in the stewardship model that, through sacrificial sharing of treasure, places God first and ourselves next. Participation in the program expresses one’s willingness to be a dependable partner “in the mission and ministry of both the universal Church and the local church, week in and week out.”
The Faith Direct program works directly with a bank, credit or debit card to deduct one monthly transaction in the amount designated in writing by the donor. Since the program eliminates the need for customary offertory envelopes, personalized offertory cards are provided to drop into the collection basket as a visible sign of one’s financial stewardship.
The offertory cards help to further “the continuum of the tradition of ‘wrapping our gifts’ and offering them to God,” says Walsh.
With the help of the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., even the more conventional method of gift wrapping can become an act of good stewardship. The monks’ own Snail’s Pace (SnailsPacePaper.com) paper goods, made by hand in their 150-year-old Benedictine monastic community, meet stringent social and environmental standards. Snail’s Pace products include gift wrap, calendars, journals, stationery, scrapbook pages and recipe cards and boxes. All products are created with recycled paper and soy-based inks and are packaged in compostable or recycled materials.
“In St. Benedict’s Rule, we monks find the basic principles that can allow us to make the values of environmental protection a part of our contemporary way of life,” observes Archabbot Justin DuVall. In urging his monks to treat “the goods and tools of the monastery” as vessels of the altar, St. Benedict “draws a strong parallel between material things given for our use and the worship of God.”
The environmental stewardship of the monks at Saint Meinrad’s extends beyond responsible printing processes and practices. The monks maintain an impressive recycling program, which was begun in 1978, have planted more than 220,000 trees and saved about 555 acres of crop and pastureland, are substituting fuel-efficient vehicles for older models, and rely on waste-oil furnaces for some of their heating needs.
The Snail’s Pace products themselves are more than just an eco-friendly merchandise line. Their gentle designs and colors extend an invitation to slow down and rediscover the beauty of the written word. Says Brother Francis Wagner, an unhurried pace of living allows “real Christian transformation” to take place in the lives of the faithful.
Those Catholics who hear the call to accountability, says John Wilson, originator of Snail’s Pace, “now have a new opportunity to practice environmental stewardship, whether they are selecting products from our website, at a local store or through our fundraising program.”
It’s a fundraising program that is uniquely designed for the maximum support of the Church. The program allows groups to earn up to 50% of sales proceeds, with the remainder allocated to Saint Meinrad’s.
The benefits of the Snail’s Pace program go beyond the mere financial. Explains Wilson, “The fundraising program not only generates money to support their ministry, but also reinforces and models Catholic social teaching relative to environmental stewardship. The parents of school-age children, who typically choose and implement their schools’ annual fundraisers, can now choose a fundraiser which both supports this same teaching of the Church and provides them with an opportunity to discuss this teaching with their children.”
Quick-and-easy online ordering makes short work of supporting one’s favorite organization.
“Technology is a wonderful thing for the Church,” remarks Faith Direct’s Walsh. “After all, even the Pope has a Twitter account!”
Walsh is enthusiastic about the compatibility of technology and stewardship.
“The Faith Direct program makes use of technology to help meet the needs of today’s busy parishioners. Clients can use their iPhone, BlackBerry or desktop (computer) to manage their giving. It’s an entire program that enhances stewardship principles.”
With groups like Faith Direct and Snail’s Pace making it easy for Catholics to give of their time, talent and treasure, what is there to prevent the faithful from answering the call to stewardship?
“There are a multitude of obstacles,” states Ed Laughlin. Laughlin and his wife, April, are the founders of Partners in Stewardship for Life (PartnersinStewardship.com), an organization that helps parishes and families to develop a “stewardship way of life.”
“It’s a way of life that is absolutely countercultural,” says Laughlin. “The emphases and attitudes in media, government, education and the arts have consistently drifted away from Jesus’ admonition ‘I come to serve, not to be served.’ The negativity makes it very difficult for people to live lives of stewardship.”
A serious accident involving their eldest child prompted the Laughlins to move away from their own “average Catholic” way of life and resolve instead to “follow faithfully, live responsibly, share gratefully and possess loosely.”
“At the time of Mike’s accident, we were thousands of miles from any family members who might have been able to assist,” explains Laughlin. “During Mike’s lengthy hospitalization and subsequent surgeries, we learned that everything we are and everything we have is gift — and that we are totally reliant upon trust in God. The seeds of stewardship were planted during that ordeal.”
The Laughlins recently spoke for the 16th time at the National Conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council. Their personal witness has led many people to live as Christian stewards in relation to the Church, the family and the community.
Still, admits Laughlin, “stewardship is a daily challenge for all of us, simply because we are human and we are sinners.”
Adds April Laughlin, “Stewardship focuses on giftedness, on the positive. It’s about what we have been given, not what we have not been given.”
In the Catholic tradition, it’s all about gratitude and accountability.
“Christian stewards recognize that all we are and all we have belongs to God,” says Walsh. “Therefore, we are accountable to him for the use of all things. We must live and give as Christians, generously sharing our God-given gifts of time, talent and treasure.”
Celeste Behe writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.