Stewarding Your Money
The foundation of financial stewardship is knowing what God wants us to do with our lives. When making decisions about money, we must always return to questions such as "Is this helping us to be the parents God wants us to be?"
by Bill Gorman | Source: Catholic.net
Stewardship is a word that often causes Catholics to think of fund-raising. We frequently hear it when a parish or mission is trying to raise money. Financial stewardship, however, is a way of life. It’s an important tool in building both our faith and marriage.
Discerning our vocation is essential to financial stewardship. Often we have the penchant to want to learn what Sacred Scripture and the Church teach about money, and we don’t give much thought to our individual callings. That’s a mistake.
God, Then Mammon
Scripture lays out guidelines that highlight wrongful behavior. For example, God does not want us to be lazy (cf. Pfov, 19:24), greedy (cf. Prov. 23:4), hasty (cf. Prov. 21:5) or debt laden (cf. Prov. 22:7). This is fairly easy to understand, but applying it to our lives can be difficult. Am I lazy? Am I greedy and hasty? Am I overrun with debt? It’s easy for us to point these faults out in others, but when it comes to ourselves…
We need to take time to discover what God wants us to do with our lives. Once we have done that, we can manage the money that has been entrusted to us as simply an administrative matter. The purpose of our money is to help us to better know, love and serve the Lord. If the way we are handling our money hinders our ability to do that, then our money management techniques are inappropriate for our particular calling.
Acknowledging that God made and owns everything (cf. Deut. 10:14) is a practical first step in handling money properly. And knowing that we possess material things to help fulfill our calling helps us to differentiate between needs and wants.
Fit To Be Tithed
Tithing is our way of showing God that we know He owns everything. The tithe was paid to the Levites (cf. Num. 18:21) and the Levites themselves paid a tithe (cf. Num 18:25-29). They tithed the tithe.
We tithe not because God needs the money, but because we need God. It’s our way of showing God that He reigns in our hearts. It’s also a pretty good indicator of where our treasure lies. With God placed first, everything else follows from that. In the Old Testament, the tithe was the law. What strikes me as strange is not so much that they had to pay the tithe, but that they were happy to pay it (cf. Neh. 12:44-47) – even though the promised Messiah had yet to appear. We have more than promises. We have Jesus Christ who opened the heavens for us!
The tithe comes from the first fruits (cf. Ex 34:26). A 10 percent tithe (cf. Gen. 14:20, 28:22) is a common way of thanking God for His blessings. We see that our cup overflows and we give back. In addition, the Catechism states that “the faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities” (no. 2043).
The New Testament parables help us to see ourselves as we are, and how Christ wants us to be. Consider the rich fool (cf. Lk. 12:16-21). He had become so wealthy that he wanted to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. It never occurred to him that he could have built an additional barn. He also never thought to share his wealth with others. The rich young man (cf. Mt. 19:16-30) was unwilling to give up his material things. Jesus never condemned the money that he had, only that he was not willing to give it up – it took priority even over Jesus Himself.
Being able to walk away from anything and everything for Christ reveals a pure heart. Money is one of those things from which we should be able to walk away. Money is as difficult an issue now as it was when Jesus began His public ministry. Do we tend to take our money into the sanctuaries of our hearts – a place where God should be?
A prideful heart is an obstacle to the pure heart that God wants from us. When my wife, Bridget, was expecting our fourth child, we needed a van. We didn’t want to take on a car loan, so we decided to buy a used van in cash. I really struggled with this since I wanted a new van. Yet, I traded in my fancy four-wheel drive SUV and bought a green mini-van with wood paneling, which didn’t fit “my lifestyle.”
But the deal hit a snag when the dealer wouldn’t take the license plates from my truck and put them on the van. My primary concern was that the dealership was going to put those temporary paper tags on the van for all to see. It’s one thing to drive an older van, but it is something entirely different to buy an older van. What was in my heart? Sure, I knew God didn’t want me to have the debt of a new van. I knew this was the right thing to do in light of our financial situation at that point in my life. I knew my wife supported me in this decision. But those paper tags were like the scarlet letter! I almost cracked and was tempted to take on the debt of a new van.
Using Our Talents
Money is one of the tools that God uses to “break us” of our faults. What is in our hearts becomes evident through outward signs (like debt). Financial problems, more times than not, are spiritual problems. Recognizing these problems can be difficult.
In the big scheme of things, money is a rather inconsequential thing. We are, and should be, more concerned about our health, the spiritual formation of our children, and pleasing God. In the parable of the talents (cf. Mt. 25: 14-30), we learn that God is looking for faithfulness in the little things.
In this case it was the talents, which was a form of money. The man who entrusted money to his servants expected a return. Two of the servants managed their money well and were rewarded with more of their master’s goods. The third servant managed the money poorly. When the master returned he punished the one servant for the mismanagement of his goods. He told him that if he could not even handle this little task, then he could never manage or enjoy the fruits of greater responsibility.
Mastery over money is mastery over ourselves. From this self-control grows a broader ability to know, love and serve the Lord, and along with that comes a greater share in our Master’s goods.
When my mother was growing up my grandmother kept coffee cans above the kitchen stove. My grandfather would come home and they would divide the money he had earned, putting it into the cans. Each can held money for a specific bill. The money was always allocated to the appropriate can.
A good budget does the same thing. It puts the money in (imaginary) cans so that the money is spread out to cover both immediate and future bills. A failure to do this leads to “famine and feast.”
Many married couples are in the “famine” mode during the first half of the month because this is when their mortgage and other bills are due. The second part of the month – “feast” mode – is when they are more likely to go out to dinner and make more purchases. They don’t like feeling “poor,” and spending makes them feel better. Families could break this “famine and feast” cycle by living in the famine mode for several months. Instead of spending the excess income they have in the back half of the month, they could save it. Over a period of time they build a surplus of cash that allows them to pace their spending habits. This savings allows them to have spending money even in the first part of the month.
Checks and Balances
The foundation of financial stewardship is knowing what God wants us to do with our lives. When discussing money we must always return to our calling as a Christian family. Questions like “Is this helping us to be the parents God wants us to be?” do more good than “Why do you keep buying stupid things?” When conflicts arise, many couples find it useful to sit side-by-side looking at the Crucifix. This helps them remember that these money issues are not about each other, but they are about Christ and doing what will please Him.
Reprinted with permission from Lay Witness.