By Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila
“In the beginning … God created the heavens and the earth.” He likes what he saw and continued on creating – light, day and night, sky, water and land, seed plants and fruit trees, the sun, moon and stars, animals, fish and birds, and man and woman. “God looked at everthing he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:1-31)
This is how the unending and awesome story of God’s love for us begins. As we read in the book of Genesis and throughout the Old Testament we are caught up in the magnificent unfolding of how greatly and deeply God loves us.
But it is in the New Testament that we are directly confronted with God’s love in an intimate personal way. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) John further involves us in God’s love in his letters by stating “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” (1 John 3:1) And in one of Scripture’s clearest and most powerful statements on God’s love, 1 John 4:7-21, John tells us in no uncertain terms that “God is love” and his love is brought to perfection in us as we live in love and reach out in love to our brothers and sisters. Therefore since God created us in his image as his children, and since He is love, then it follows that we are created as images and channels of his love.
How does God want us to love? What and who does He want us to love?
We are commanded to love God, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our enemies, those who are unloved and/or uncared for. (Matt. 22:36-40; 5:43-48; 25:31-46; John 13:34) These are only a few of the many, many teachings Jesus gives us in the gospels on the subject of love.
We must also love and care for the earth He has given to us. When God settled Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he instructed them “to cultivate and care for it.” (Gen. 2:15) We read in Isaiah 45:18: “For thus says the Lord, The creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, Not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in: I am the Lord, and there is no other.” In Psalm 8 the psalmist sings of the Lord God’s glorious plan for mankind: for us to be stewards over all creation, nourishing and caring for his creation and all creatures, not desecrating, spoiling, killing or letting any go to waste.
God in his wisdom has from the beginning of time created for us a legacy of love showering us with his gifts of creation, life, community and church and He has given us the responsibilities of being stewards of this love and these gifts. Paul calls this “the stewardship of God’s grace” (Eph. 3:2) and says that we are “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1) A mind-blowing thought, isn’t it? You and I are stewards of the mysteries of God, of the uniqueness and wonder of God’s infinite and unconditional love.
There are basically three types of stewardships entrusted to each one of us: the stewardship over self, the stewardship over our relationships, and in general the stewardships over things – property, finances, organizational areas of responsibility in our workplaces, our natural environment, and the world within our reach. Stewardship over self includes taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional health, our intellectual and creative ability, and above all, our relationship with God – our spiritual health. We need to learn to love and care fo ourselves so that we will be in sterling condition to love and nourish relationships with others. And all of this must be accomplished and lived through love, in love and with love – securely anchored and based on God’s love.
Paul further describes the limitlessness of our stewardship responsibility in his letter to the faithful in Ephesus. He prays that “You, rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19) There is just so much to His love that we, his stewards, can never know more than a taste in our lifetime.
God’s love is so different from the other kinds of love we normally experience. His love is the only love that has absolutely no conditions, no hidden agendas. God has no ego needs – and that means he is free to love each of us uniquely for who we are, His children. We do not need to do anything or become anything. He loves us as we are, as He created us, unconditionally and first, even before we come to know and to love him. Yes, God’s love is unconditional but there is responsibility that goes with it. It is this very quality of his divine love that enables us to respond to Him freely and joyfully. As we experience the warm embrace of God’s love every day, we are emboldened to step out in faith to share Him with those people we meet.
A good and faithful steward is one who manages his master’s possessions in such a way as to return these possessions to his master in a better and more improved condition than when they were first given to him. The loyal steward is ready to do this upon the call of his master, at any time, willingly to give an honest accounting of his stewardship.
In practical terms what does this mean? God has given me life, if He calls me back to him tonight, am I ready and willing to account for what I have (or haven’t) done with my life? God has blessed me with a loving spouse, children and grandchildren; am I able to communicate God’s love to them? God has endowed me with various skills and talents: am I using them for His glory? He has provided me with a means of livelihood: are our employees able to see Christ in me? He has led me into the BCBP: does my BCBP service nourish his legacy of love? We need to examine our stewardship in every area of our lives, both the big areas (family, church, livelihood, etc.) as well as the smaller ones (being kind to our helpers, hospitable to strangers, etc.).
My initial introduction to the principles of Christian stewardship was during my BCLP in 1985 (Makati BCLP 9). But it only came to have a deeper meaning for me when I took the Steward Leaders Training Seminar given by Fr. Herb Schneider in 1994. At that time after conscientiously doing the reflection exercises, examining and determining my personal value system, I was able to formulate my Principle and Foundation (P & F) statement that begins with: “I will be an anchor of love for my family and friends with Mary as my model.”
Looking back I realize that at that time, this was more of an intellectual exercise for me, fairly superficial as far as being a life-changing concept. Even as I strove to live out my P & F, it was only after taking the SLT Facilitators’ Course in 1997 and actively began giving SLTs since then that I began to realize the ever-deepening meaning of stewardship love. This led to the living realization that Mama Mary is certainly a role model in stewardship. Not only did she live her whole life in love but she left us a legacy of love to inspire and guide us in our daily lives, a legacy that is still actively impacting our lives today, 2000 years later.
Taking the SLT helped me put my life in order, better understand my values and my priorities in life, and give clearer purpose to my life as His trusted steward/caretaker of all that He has given me. I only wish that this course had been available to me much earlier in my life so I would have been more aware of the way that God was working in my life, of the multitude of blessings He had showered me with, and of my stewardship responsibilities for myself, my relationships, and the other areas in my life that God had led me to.
As the years pass, my awareness of the miracle of life, God’s legacy of love and the abundance of his blessings moment by moment (His legacy of love continuing …) brightens my outlook and sharpens my focus on the journey of life … and on my stewardship responsibility and the necessity of building and nourishing caring and loving relationships with Him, with family and community, and yes, even with our environment. Each day becomes a new adventure!
The Steward Leaders Training course was instrumental in helping me realize that living a life of love is the best way to erase from my heart the fear of death. I resolve, and renew this resolve daily, to live deeply and fully in love every day – with God, with life, with Jun my husband and my family, with my neighbors, brothers and sisters in Christ – to love unconditionally and with a forgiving heart and to strive to live so people would say of me, “I know Jesus is alive because of the way you live.”
The Christian steward’s prayer could very well be Psalm 16:5: “You have given me all I have. You, O Lord, are all I need, my future is in your hands.” God has created a legacy of love for us, and this is all we need. Are we, as stewards of the mysteries of his love, spreading and sharing this love? Are we continuing his legacy of love? In our own way, in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, are we creating our own legacy of love?