By Laurie Stiegelmeier
We can’t outdo God in generosity.
St. Luke writes of this in chapter six, verse 38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
However, that’s not why we give of our time, talent and treasure. In fact, the thought of any reward is often totally blocked by thoughts of why we can’t give. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, we may want to be like the servant in Matthew 25:14-30, who buried his master’s money rather than investing it and yielding an increase like the two good servants did.
But our Lord wants us to be generous as he is generous.
Generosity isn’t easy
Dan and Renee Roemen, members of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Madison, each have different struggles in their desire to be good stewards. Dan’s work doesn’t allow him to be as generous with time as he’d like to be while Renee sometimes wonders if finances can be spared. But they both experience great joy in giving, and Dan said they are often “on the same page,” thinking of the same need at the same time.
Renee shared a time when they were both aware of a need in their parish before going to Mass, and it happened that their priest spoke of it in his homily.
“After communion, Dan leaned over and said, ‘we need to do this.’ It was the timing—we both knew it was right,” Renee said. “For us a key part of giving is letting go of the struggle. We felt called and making the decision brought us peace. We didn’t miss what we gave, and it led us to do even more. We now don’t hesitate to give.”
“We’ve been blessed, so I know I need to give back. I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do,” Dan said. “We need to be like kids at Christmas when they give gifts. They have all the joy. There’s no joy in getting but there’s tons of joy in giving. We need to be more childlike.”
Your gift matters
Carol Smith of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Groton says busyness is an obvious obstacle in giving our time and talent.
“Other struggles would be feelings of inadequacy,” Carol said. “I have often thought, ‘there are so many other people who would do this job better or more efficiently.’ Maybe God isn’t looking for the best person or the most talented person for the job, but the right person. And maybe God wants to teach me something.”
This was true when she began teaching religious education classes out of a sense of obligation rather than desire.
“Our oldest child was starting CCD and I knew we would have children in the ‘system’ for a long time, so I felt obligated to teach,” Carol said. “I felt totally out of my comfort zone, but it turned into such a blessing. I learned so much about the faith by teaching CCD. Teaching CCD opened discussions at our dinner table because I knew what our children were doing in CCD and could ask them questions; that was a great opportunity to reinforce teachings.
“I prayed a lot before class because of my comfort zone,” she continued. “My eyes were opened to the fact that our children cannot be taught the faith in an hour a week—we as parents must be the teachers of the faith. I also realized the value of bringing our children to Mass every Sunday; what is taught in religious education does not make sense unless your child is familiar with the Mass.”
Carol’s husband, Steve, had similar reservations when Carol begged him to serve.
“She would say, ‘We need more dads,’ adding that boys especially need a male presence in the classroom,” Steve said. “My wife is a convert to the faith and yet she taught first reconciliation and first Holy Communion for 10 years at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. But I couldn’t teach CCD and I had all the usual excuses: I was too busy, I didn’t know my faith well enough, I’m not comfortable teaching or sharing my faith in front of a class. I convinced myself I was too busy until the year they didn’t have a sixth-grade teacher, and I finally, and reluctantly, said ‘yes.’ And then, inexplicably, I had the time.”
Dan had a similar experience when he gave despite debt making it an inopportune time. He marvels that giving in a time of stress over debt brought them through the year financially stronger than ever.
“In the Bible, St. Paul tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive. That is so true,” Renee said. “The joy you receive is indescribable. Give with an open heart and you realize you don’t miss what you give.” She shared a line from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” that the only thing you take to heaven is what you give away.
Generosity bears fruit
Steve’s initial “yes” to teaching CCD turned into three years and then, in partnership with Carol, eight years as confirmation teachers. Once he overcame his doubts, teaching became very rewarding. His faith grew and his knowledge of Scripture and Catholic Tradition increased while preparing for each lesson.
He grew in trust as he prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you! Jesus, give me the words my students need to hear and may they be open to them.” His humility grew as he prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! It’s not about me. I don’t have all the answers or truths. Lord, help me plant some seeds of faith and then get out of your way.” And he found joy in thank-you notes from students and parents, and the honor of being asked by a student to be his confirmation sponsor.
The importance of immersing their own children in the Catholic faith led Carol and Steve to host Totus Tuus, D-Camp, Going Deeper and Lumen Christi missionaries—teams that were great additions to religious ed offered by their parish.
“Opening our home to missionaries has been very fruitful,” Carol said.
“Hosting Totus Tuus teams of two to four people in our home was at times trying, but what a joy getting to know these young missionaries,” Steve said. “Learning about their families, their faith experience and, as we got to know them better, some of their struggles.”
He believes hearing the missionaries’ experiences is what inspired their children to be Totus Tuus missionaries and D-Camp counselors.
Giving leads to freedom
Dan looks to others for inspiration in stewardship. “I look at people who are generous with their gifts and they are all wealthy in some aspect—health, joy, family. When you freely give, you’re not smothered by your possessions, you’re not controlled by them,” he said.
But remembering the teaching that it is better to be praised in heaven than on earth, Dan is very careful to give anonymously. Renee adds that they don’t want recognition.
“We give to have the joy between us,” she said. “You can’t take it with you and a friend says, ‘it’s better to give with warm hands than cold hands.’”
Dan agreed. “The best advice I was ever given is to give while I’m alive so I can enjoy seeing the good it does.”
The Smiths and the Roemens are very united as husbands and wives in their philosophy of sharing the gifts they were given. They all speak continually of the joy that comes from it. Pope Francis tells us, “Joy is a grace and a gift of the Holy Spirit, not just positive emotions or feeling cheerful…To be full of joy is the experience of the highest consolation.”
We can’t outdo God in generosity—he always gives more.