Thanksgiving is, of course, a time when Americans focus especially on our gratitude and pause to count our blessings. This wonderful holiday at the end of this month celebrates love of country, family and friendship. It gives us an opportunity to stop our normal weekday activities and give thanks to a good and gracious God for the bounty given to us — never forgetting those whose needs are amplified in this time of bounty and who deserve our help.
The holiday, despite the secular “holiday sales” that inevitably come, is steeped in rich tradition and religious belief. President Lincoln specifically pointed to the need for Americans to remember God when he proclaimed this day “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
This celebration, too, always helps me refocus my own thoughts and prayers on efforts in our diocese to develop the concept of stewardship as a way of life. The idea of gratitude is just part of this philosophy, but an integral one. Bishop Robert Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay is a nationally known speaker on stewardship who graced us with a visit last year at our annual Stewardship Day. In an article on his diocesan Web site (www.gbdioc.org/pg/spiritualityStewardshipTheology.tpl), Bishop Morneau writes, “gratitude is the cornerstone of stewardship. All is gift for those who see life with the eyes of faith. God gives us our existence and talents, our time and our treasure, our family and friends. Stewards express their gratitude by a life of generosity.”
Yet a sense of gratitude is just the very beginning of a life of stewardship. With our gratitude comes the realization that we need to act responsibly with the gifts God has given us, whether through care and concern for the environment of our planet, development of the personal talents God has bestowed on each of us, or proper and loving care for our children, our society and, especially, those who do not have as much as we. You see, God has given each and every one of us a sum of talents and treasures, opportunities and challenges, all potentialities, all intended to work for and with God. The Gospels tell us that God expects us to use these gifts well and wisely, and will seek an accounting from us.
What, then, are we called to do?
One who practices good stewardship accepts a complete lifestyle in which God is honored as the creator and provider of all things, and the example of Jesus becomes one’s daily, guiding light. As good stewards, we embrace the mission of collaborating with God in the ongoing work of creation and redemption. Too, we do not only receive God’s gifts gratefully, but also strive to practice responsible management of them. That means we nurture them, increase them, share them, use them to benefit humankind and to actively seek to spread the Kingdom of God on earth. In all this, God truly becomes our first priority.
Isn’t it delightful to think that we, as individuals and as church, can be partners in God’s plan?
In 1992, my fellow bishops and I published what I believe can be for all of us a life-changing pastoral letter called “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.”
“Refracted through the prisms of countless individual vocations,” the document explains, “this way of life embodies and expresses the one mission of Christ: to do God’s will, to proclaim the Good News of salvation, to heal the afflicted, to care for one’s sisters and brothers, to give life — life to the full — as Jesus did.”
Sometimes people who hear about “stewardship” think it is but “another way to talk about giving money to the church.” The church does need financial help to achieve our Christian mission, to be sure, but giving money is certainly not all we as Christians are striving for as good stewards.
Stewardship is much, much more.
Are we properly caring for our bodies, our prayer lives, those lives entrusted to us for nurturing? Are we continuing to expand our minds through new learning and experiences? Are we doing our jobs as well as we can? Are we constructive and collaborative in our relationships with others?
Can we give time to those we love and who need us? Can we give it as volunteers to those strangers who are hurting, those young people who are learning about their faith, those parish activities that need our attention? Do we have a skill we might give pro bono to our larger community, our churches, the many agencies that seek in their own way to better our world for all? Do we fully participate in the Eucharist and share our faith with others, especially our children? And, yes, do we have treasure that we are willing to share to help others?
Are we willing to invest in God?
None of this is easy. We are human and we are part of a society in which acquiring possessions, skills and luxuries is woven into our culture. It defines “the American Dream.” And let us be clear: Success is neither something to be avoided nor somehow wrong in God’s eyes. Wrong occurs in failing to acknowledge that all we have and hold dear is from God, in squandering this bounty through indifference or narcissism, in forgetting others who are also God’s children, in failing to give back to God all we have received and more.
Let us pray that we all can be better stewards of God’s bounty.
Peace to all.