What Is Sought in a Steward

Trust in public institutions and in those who hold stewardship over them is minimal, as anyone can see. This includes the Church, a fact we can’t ignore. This includes her ministers, men such as me. Of course, it is tempting for the shepherds of the Church to fault the sheep for their lack of trust but doing so would only erode trust further, as would demanding trust as something owed as a matter of course to God’s stewards. Trust is neither a right nor a duty save when God asks us for it, in which case it is called faith, something only placed in God, whose Son told many parables about faithless stewards. Thankfully, St. Paul gives to the whole Church a model of faithful stewardship, the result of his world-historical conversion.

Note how Paul downplays his own importance while addressing divisions within the early Christian community at Corinth: “Was Paul crucified for you, or was it in Paul’s name that you were baptized?” (1 Cor 1:13) Paul preferred not to exercise even the rights he claims, writing, “I would rather die than that.” (1 Cor 9:15) He wants no obstacles to the gospel, and knows that even where certain rights and prerogatives exist for those with ecclesiastical authority, it is better that he make himself a slave to all, in order to win all. “All this I do”—he writes—“for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its benefits with others”—not that he may arrogate benefits to himself.[1] Paul has not been crucified for them, but he has seen the One who was crucified and raised, who authorized and commissioned him—and he is willing to be treated even as the dregs of the world for the sake of others. Once a zealous steward of the Law, Paul went from persecutor to slave of Christ, exercising authority as a servant, willing to be ill-treated by those he serves because he had seen the Risen One. Commissioned directly by Christ, he made himself a steward of God’s mysteries found trustworthy as the least of all, and the servant of all.

It is easy to hold, intellectually, to this pattern of service and stewardship, but hard to practice it in the flesh.[2] We rely on de jure power rather than de facto holiness—holiness which stems from faith in God who alone is worthy of complete trust, holiness which directs all trust to God. What caused the Corinthians to preserve Paul’s letters if not such holiness? It was not institutional power, but the authority of one who desired to know “only Christ, and him crucified,”.[3] If we are to be found trustworthy like Paul, we must be willing to imitate him who would boast not of his power, but only his weakness, and to earn trust through such Christlike weakness, foolishness in the eyes of the world, but wisdom in the eyes of God, and trusting him alone.

[1] 1 Cor. 9:23.
[2] 1 Cor. 2:1-5.
[3] 1 Cor. 2:2.

Br. Columban Mary Hall, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE