A few Christmases ago, I was given a coaster and a miniature bottle of whisky. The coaster had a picture of a square-jawed man eagerly picking up a glass. The caption said, ‘the glass can be half empty or half full … as long as there is whiskey in it.
Stewardship implies living from a sense of gratitude for fullness and growing abundance, never from a sense of emptiness and scarcity. One of my spiritual mentors, blind from childhood, used to say: ‘Gratitude is the Attitude of Beatitude.’ It sounds simple, but it never is.
I have been amazed to discover in a book about poverty and affluence by two Dutch economists that they translated the Greek word oikonomia (from which we get the word economics) as ‘care of the household’. Isn’t that what being a steward is all about? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a vision of stewardship drove our entire social and economic decision making. Pope Francis has taken his name from a saint who was asked to rebuild, to care for, God’s house which had fallen into a state of disrepair.
At our last Stewardship day (2 November 2013), I was moved by Newtown lay pastoral leader Karen Holland’s talk. In it she described an abundance which emerged from a scarcity.
A banner, grown fragile with age, had been hung in St Anne’s Newtown. The cloth had pinned to it the word ‘welcome’ in every language that parishioners could think of. This banner symbolised for the parishioners that their church had the capacity to welcome every culture and to give each one recognition. Imagine Karen’s and the parish’s distress when the banner disintegrated as they took it down for cleaning.
What happened next was important. The parish gathered, and an idea took shape and was acted on. What if the cultures present at that time in the parish could find a way of representing their culture visually, so that it could be seen every Sunday as the parish celebrated Mass together? ‘Be still and know that I am God’ is now etched in over 30 languages in the windows of the chapel and, backing each one of the Stations of the Cross at St Anne’s, is a cloth representative of and significant to one of those cultures.
Together those windows and the Stations tell a story not only of the breadth of cultural groupings, but also that those groupings took the time to listen to each other – to take care of the household. Karen’s talk can be found at Catholic Stewardship Page
How important it is to live from a sense of abundance and gift! If we habitually live from a sense of scarcity, we become fearful that what we have will fail, disintegrate or run out.
So we do our best to hold on to what we have, sometimes entering into a world of competition and putting down the other: ‘My culture is better than your culture, my way of doing religion is better than your way …’ If, instead, we can be proud of our culture and proud of our religion then, just as the parish of St Anne’s Newtown discovered, we become freer to welcome, value and learn from each other’s culture and each other’s way of ‘doing religion’. We can give way to each other – surrender, even.
Returning to the half full-half empty conundrum: Are we ‘full enough’ of the Spirit to welcome the changes we will see in our parishes over the coming years? Can we take that same special care that St Francis did in his response to God’s call, as we build and rebuild the new ‘households’ that will result from the people of our parishes coming together?
Careful listening to one other will be a good place to start.
Michael Noonan is director of Archdiocesan Pastoral Services.