The World

"Stewardship has transformed the lives of many people."

We interviewed Leisa Anslinger, Associate Director of the Vitality Pastoral Office in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (USA), with whom we talked about stewardship in parishes and the importance of generosity and formation of the faithful.

Diego Zalbidea-July 23, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes
leisa anslinger

Leisa Anslinger is currently the Associate Director of the Office of Parish Vitality in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (USA). She is also an author, presenter and consultant to organizations, parishes and dioceses around the world. One of her best known and best selling books is "Forming generous hearts: Stewardship planning for long faith formation.". Leisa loves to discover the talents hidden in the hearts of the people she treats. She is certainly a great expert in helping the faithful to share their strengths and put them at the service of evangelization. 

She is also Co-Director of Catholic Life and Faitha Center for co-responsibility, evangelization and servant leadership development. One of its most carefully designed projects is "Building Bridges to the Heart of Discipleship".

What makes a heart generous? 

What a great question! It seems to me that our hearts respond to everything we are created to do when we find the grace and strength to live as God desires us to live. Of course, this grace and strength come from God himself! Therefore, generosity is the response to God's incredible love.

Is the heart born or made generous? 

Perhaps without realizing it, I have already begun to answer this question in the previous one. It seems to me that the heart is born generous, but we lose sight of this as we mature. We become selfish and self-referential. Growing as disciples, as followers of Jesus, and paying attention to the multitude of blessings that come our way can be a great help in becoming our best version. 

Why does it make us so happy to be generous? 

I think that in the depths of our being we catch a glimpse of the impact of our gifts, the way in which those who receive them are touched by our generosity, and this makes us happy. One of my favorite quotes is from Father Michael Himes, who used to say that Jesus shows us that God's way is the way of self-giving love. He affirms that this is the image in which we have been created, the project according to which we have been designed. If God is pure self-giving, then self-giving is what we most desire. 

Does generosity grow in the head or in the heart? 

In both. At least I think so. Generosity grows in the heart because it is a grateful response to the many blessings entrusted to us by God. It is also a response in the head because we need to be attentive to those gifts, and committed to the pursuit of God's love. 

Does stewardship have the power to transform lives? 

No doubt about it. It has transformed mine, and I know many people who could say the same. Understanding ourselves as stewardship disciples is a powerful way to put our faith into action. I usually write a monthly reflection on the Sunday readings that I call Impact, and the main theme of this newsletter is "Bring faith into your life. Find life in faith" It seems to me that this is exactly what happens when we grow in stewardship.

Why do people tend to focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths? 

It is very interesting. Global talent studies confirm that when we have the choice of knowing our talents to build on them, or knowing our weaknesses to fix them, more than half of people agree that they prefer to know their weaknesses. However, we do our best when we work on what we do best. It seems to me that the idea of working on weaknesses is a perspective we acquire, like any bad habit. Something that comes from Western culture is that we must work hard to become who we want to be. Wouldn't it be much better to discern what we have been called to (even if it is a challenge) and accept that we have the talents to make it happen?

How do people's lives change when they build on their strengths to grow? 

It is particularly liberating to accept that each of us has talents and combinations of talents - and that we also each have things we don't do well. Perhaps we can stop focusing on the things we don't do and instead build on the talents we have received. In addition, we can partner with those who possess the talents we lack. It seems to me that this is just what God is looking for. Think about how Jesus sent his disciples out two by two - each one longed for the company of the other, but perhaps also needed their talents. 

How can stewardship transform a parish?

When a parish grows in stewardship, the faithful perceive without difficulty that God is at work in their lives; at the same time, the desire to donate their time, talents and money to the parish to support the mission of the Church grows. Often stewardship disciples are also happy people; namely because they have been filled with the joy that is deeper than happiness. Joy is an inner place of peace and contentment, and when the community has more joy-filled people, the parish becomes more joyful. The faithful are more prepared to grow as disciples of Jesus, who followed his way of sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness and love. 

Have you been able to check it? 

Yes, especially in the parish where I directed the employees for twelve years. I have discovered families that have been transformed, ministers who grow, faithful who care for others and are very active in charitable service in their own locality or to the farthest corner of the globe. The parish grows and there is in it a greater and more powerful sense of the presence of Christ when they are gathered for Mass. It is not so difficult to find people who give their time to the parish, and in fact, people come to us asking us to let them serve rather than feeling obliged to do so.

But does Stewardship affect the normal life of the faithful after or outside the parish? 

Yes, when we see that stewardship is a way of life, then we know that it is not just about the parish. In fact, I think the most powerful thing about growing as a stewardship disciple is that it helps me to be attentive to God's presence continuously, not just on Sundays. Think, for example, of a young father getting up at night to care for his crying child. Or a middle-aged adult caring for their elderly parent. That time they give, that caring and sharing their affection is co-responsibility. Giving with that awareness enriches the lives of those who give; we become more aware that we are acting in the name of the Lord and achieve a greater sense of fulfillment as a result. There are also practical issues about this. For example, many people who are intentionally growing in stewardship talk about separating our wants from our needs - we don't need all those new things we simply crave - and so they often adopt a more sober lifestyle and find the strength to resist the extreme consumerism that continually tempts us.

How do you get people involved in the mission of the Church?

Start by inviting people to reflect on how they have been blessed and grow in gratitude. Then ask people if they would like to respond by donating, perhaps initially in simple ways, through a collection for food or clothing, for example. Over time the invitation becomes deeper and deeper - perhaps through involvement in a ministry, and also even helping to organize it. Those who are already involved personally invite others and accompany them, so that ministries grow. Parishes that are forming the faithful as stewardship disciples often invite their members to share their experiences through a brief talk before or at the end of Mass - a "lay witness" who shares the impact on their day-to-day living and growing in stewardship. 

How long does it take for a parish to be co-responsible? 

The first thing is that the pastor is open to co-responsibility. This may be a novelty for him, and that's fine. Actually, you could say it's a good thing. In that way, he can share with the faithful why he thinks it is important. Moreover, that novelty gives him the chance to speak to them from the heart about how stewardship is changing the way he lives.

A small group of parishioners can then begin to bring the message of stewardship to others, through short talks, articles in the parish bulletin or newsletter, on the parish website, etc. Such a group can talk to those who are already involved in some service or ministry, and help them get to know the stewardship disciples. They can then ask them to invite others and offer stewardship as a way forward. I think it would be very accurate to say that it takes as much time as the parish is willing to invest - in attention, time and commitment. To the extent that we see the parish coming back to life through stewardship, it is easier for it to continue on that path. 

What is the real strength of the training? 

I often remind people that being a disciple implies a life of change, of continual conversion to Christ. However, change is not always easy and being a disciple can be a real challenge. Formation leads us to fall more deeply in love with God, to understand our faith radically and to be prepared to share it, as well as to offer our gifts and our money as expressions of Christ's love for the world. 

What is the relationship between gratitude and generosity? 

Stewardship begins with gratitude. To the extent that we become attentive to the many blessings offered to us, beginning with life itself, we realize that all good gifts are showered upon us by God with love. And as God gives generously, we are invited to give unselfishly, freely, generously, showing and sharing with others the love of Christ.

How do you go about discovering the strengths that each one has received from God? 

Pay attention to the things you do naturally well. Think of times when you have done something well and then reflect on what happened - what did you do, what skills or talents did you bring into play? Once you recognize the things you do well, use those gifts at other times. 

Some interesting resources:

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