In the great movie, “Schindler’s List,” there’s a scene near the end that speaks poignantly to the heart of anyone who wants to do good in the world.
The 1993 film tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who, at the beginning of World War II, moves to Poland to make his fortune in the war-time industrial boom. He even becomes a member of the Nazi party, not for ideological reasons, but to grease the wheels for his business.
He’s allotted Jewish workers, basically slave labor on their way to death in the camps, which enables him to make even greater profits. But in one of history’s great conversion stories, Schindler begins to see the humanity of his Jewish labor force, and, at risk to his own life, begins to use his business to harbor them. He essentially commits his large fortune to bribing officials and buying his employees’ lives as he secretly defies the Nazis. To be on Schindler’s employment list is to escape extermination.
“The list,” said one of the workers, “is life.”
At the movie’s end, we see Schindler as the Allied forces close in, escaping his factory as his workers are liberated. He fingers a diamond ring and cries bitter tears. With that ring, he laments, he could have saved another life or two.
Few of us will find ourselves in the moral predicament that Schindler faced. He literally knew that he could buy the lives of his Jewish workers. In our troubled world, the suffering refugee or the homeless man doesn’t come with a precise price tag. And yet, each of us questions whether we do enough.
Many charities, in what is probably a great marketing device, will tell you just what you can get for your donation. So many dollars feeds a family for a day, or pays a foreign student’s school tuition for a month. So much money can buy so many life-saving immunizations. As we write our check, how many of us feel a certain pang? Should I, could I, do more?
We have so much, by the world’s standards. How much should we give?
Christian stewardship calls us to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God, and we yearn to return this generosity. Stewardship is also about much beyond money. Like Schindler, we must find ourselves experiencing a change of heart. Ultimately, stewardship is about conversion to a new way of life.
Still, few of us will shed our clothes in the public square like Francis of Assisi and become a beggar for God. We all face choices each day. When people asked a deacon friend of mine questions about how much they should give, he would always reply with a simple but very challenging answer: Give more.
Two things are important for Catholic stewardship: First, our giving of time and talent should be planned and budgeted, and should come off the top, not from what’s leftover at the end of the month or year. Second, our giving should be sacrificial — from our essence, not just from our surplus.
We may think we’re on a tight budget — who doesn’t? But if I look closely at my spending or evaluate my use of time, I see many places I could trim fat to give more.
If you’ve never seen “Schindler’s List,” the movie still resonates more than 20 years after its release, as does the 1982 book by Thomas Keneally on which the movie is based. Both make us wonder, what would I have done? And more important, can I do more?