Treasure, Part 3

By Matt Potter

Radical Joy — Catholic Stewardship and Abundance

The last time we got together I hinted at a discussion about Behavioral Finance, an area primarily devoted to investor behavior. Today, however, I want to look at it in light of stewardship.

Behavioral Finance postulates that people make irrational money decisions because it hurts more to lose than it feels good to win. In the area of stewardship, this emotional response drives us to avoid sharing our gifts of treasure in some instances or to be less generous than we might picture ourselves as being in others. We define losing as being involved in a less-than-successful venture; we will do all we can to avoid that situation because losing hurts.

Let’s say that you are in a discussion with Max from your parish. Max is talking to you about a project that helps teens remain faithfully Catholic after they get out of high school. A faithful, prayerful man, Max is known to focus more on his worldly knowledge than prayerful discernment. But he is convinced that the project will be successful and shows you his plans, materials and budget. Knowing that Max gets most things right, you become interested in helping out. While you have interest in the project, the fact that Max seems poised for success means that it is likely that your support will allow you to experience success as well. Max needs an additional $2,000 to get the project up and running, and asks you to contribute that amount. You believe that your odds of winning far exceed your odds of losing, and you tell Max you are in.

Now, let’s say you are having a conversation with Father Mike. Father Mike is a great guy, a wonderful pastor; and the Holy Spirit is alive in everything he does. He mentions that he has an idea of how to keep Catholic teens engaged in their faith after they graduate from high school. He has a general idea of how he wants to get this done, but admittedly doesn’t have a detailed – or any – real plan. But he knows he is to proceed with the project because the idea came to him during prayer, and he has prayed about it for weeks. He keeps coming to the same conclusion – trust in the Holy Spirit to guide him, and he will succeed. You ask him how much he needs to get things rolling and he says “I’m not sure. Maybe $2,000, but it’s just a guess.” Father Mike has not made up a budget for the project, does not have a timeline, and has no training in finance or project management. You tell him “Good luck, Father. I hope this works out for you.”

Why did you commit to Max but wash your hands of Father Mike? Because you concluded that Max has a far better chance of success than Father Mike. You are comforted by budgets, timelines, meetings, agendas and reports. Max has those; Father Mike does not. 

But Father Mike has faith emanating from prayer and discernment. He has cast his trust upon the Holy Spirit to bring the teens of his parish closer to Christ. He is a great believer in the axiom “God will provide,” and he knows things will work out well.

Behavioral Finance tells us that we are far more likely to help out Max than we are Father Mike, but our faith tells us to abandon the spreadsheets and listen to the answers that come from prayer. Just imagine if the Apostles had made their decision to follow Jesus based on the likelihood of success. 

As stewards, we are committed to caring for the gifts with which God has graced us. We are reassured by spreadsheets and audit reports, which are necessary and expected; yet we are called to a greater faith in doing God’s work, where prayer and discernment are far more important than an income statement. Those are the times we respond to an improbable, illogical call that looks like it doomed from the beginning by saying “Sure. I’ll help.”

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