by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
When I was in college, one of my best friends entrusted me with the care of his six finches. They were beautiful, brightly colored, petite birds. My friend was going to be gone overnight. He instructed me as to how much food and water I needed to provide them. He also told me to cover their rather elaborate cage at night.
Everything was going great with the care of my overnight guests. I provided the amount of food and water at the prescribed times. When I went to bed, I threw a blanket over their cage wishing my winged charges: “Sweet dreams!”
When I removed the blanket in the morning, I was stunned to see all six finches lying on the floor of the cage. I did not know much about the life and habits of these birds, but I was fairly certain this was not their normal slumber position. My worst fears were confirmed when I shook the cage and there was no movement from any of the birds. Evidently, I had placed too heavy a blanket, too securely over the cage. All the birds had suffocated.
I felt terrible, much worse than if the birds had been my own. The opportunity to do my friend a favor and return his many kindnesses to me had turned into a disaster.
When my friend returned to pick up his birds, I tried to break the news to him as diplomatically as possible. At first, he thought I was kidding. I can only presume, as the reality of being finchless set in, he was thinking to himself: “Nobody could be so stupid in one night to suffocate all of my finches!” He was very gracious. He declined my offer to replace his recently departed feathered friends. However, it was completely understandable that he never entrusted me again with the care of any living creature.
The subject of this year’s annual workshop for priests was the spirituality of stewardship. Cultivating a spirituality of stewardship is one of the five goals that I have asked our priests, lay leaders, parishes and archdiocesan agencies to make a pastoral priority. The term “stewardship” is a fairly recent word in the Catholic lexicon, but it has deep biblical roots and has been — though under different names — part of the life of the church from the very beginning.
The spirituality of stewardship begins with the realization that everything is God’s gift. Those who have developed this spirituality have a tremendous awareness that they are blessed. Everything that we treasure and hold dear has been given to us by God. Life, health, our talents, abilities, family, friends, educational and job opportunities, as well as every material possession, have their origin and source in God. There is nothing that we can truly claim as our own. The first fruit of this spirituality is a profound gratitude.
A steward is not an owner, but one who has been entrusted with the care and management of the property and assets of another. This provides a helpful image for the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. God has entrusted us with the gift of life and has endowed us with whatever talents or abilities we possess. God simply asks that we use our life and develop our gifts in ways that glorify him.
How can we use the gifts the Lord has given to us in ways that honor and please him? One of the surest ways we glorify God is by using our talents and resources to assist with the mission of the church. In other words, we know that the Lord delights in whatever we can do to announce to others the good news of God’s love for them as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus.
We also know that God is pleased when we use his gifts to make his love real and tangible for others. Our Lord is glorified when we use our gifts to provide for the needs of our family and to make our homes places where faith, love and joy are shared. Jesus made it perfectly clear that nothing gives him greater joy than when his disciples lovingly care for the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned, the stranger, the hungry, the homeless and the poor.
Another of the fruits for those living the spirituality of stewardship is a deep, enduring joy. This abiding happiness derives from our heightened awareness of our own blessings, but also results from the satisfaction that inevitably comes from using God’s gifts as he intended.
The joy of the good steward contrasts with the sadness and despondency so prevalent in our materialistic society. Our culture encourages us to acquire more, better and bigger things that in the end leave us dissatisfied and always longing for something more. The false happiness promised by our materialistic culture is suffocating and brings us to a state as pitiful and lifeless as those six finches lying on the bottom of their cage.
When offered the chance to share your time, talent and treasure with your parish community, pray over the opportunity. Thank the Lord for his blessings. Ask his guidance in discerning how you can best use the gifts, that he has entrusted to you, in ways that will glorify him and bring you lasting joy.
When our friend Jesus returns to see what we have done with all that he has entrusted to us, I hope that we will all have some much better news than the death report I had to deliver to my college friend. Think about it!