by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — More than 200 people involved in parish and diocesan stewardship efforts gathered at Savior Pastoral Center here for the Region IX Stewardship Conference on March 26 and 27.
The participants, members of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, came from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. Additional participants from outside the region also came, representing the Diocese of Tulsa and the Diocese of Little Rock.
The two-day conference offered participants opportunities for education, networking, inspiration, and fellowship.
The speakers included Bishop Michael O. Jackels from the Diocese of Wichita, and Daniel Conway, president and CEO of O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan and Conway. The company, based in Louisville, Ky., is a consulting firm to Catholic organizations.
In his opening keynote on March 26, Bishop Jackels discussed how all Catholics need to come to a deeper understanding of the practice of stewardship, which is “integral to the practice of the Christian faith.”
“Sometimes I think you could even switch the terms and say we practice Christian stewardship, or we practice Christian faith,” he said. “It’s one and the same.”
Stewardship teaches us to recognize and receive all things as gifts from God, said Bishop Jackels. This causes us to respond in gratitude and to use what we receive according to God’s purpose — that is, each person sharing in the mission of the church.
“Everyone is called to do this because of the nature of the church, which we describe in terms of the body of Christ, the family of God, the community of believers,” said the bishop.
Our sharing will differ depending on the circumstances of our life.
“I can’t think of any circumstance that excuses anyone,” he said.
The mission of the church is shared by priests and lay faithful alike. The laity is not at the service of the priest, but at the service of the mission of the church, he said. Laypeople have their own part to play and their own special vocation. In terms of mission, the laity are not dependent on the priest, but are not independent either.
“If the common priesthood of the baptized is exercised in unfolding the grace of baptism, then the ministry of priest in relation to that is helping the baptized to unfold that grace,” said the bishop.
This grace unfolds in two ways: lay ministry and lay apostolate.
The lay apostolate pertains to conducting our temporal affairs according to the plan of God, he said. Those in the lay apostolate act as salt, yeast and light to the world. Lay ministry involves serving with and under the direction of the pastor and undertaking roles related to worship, formation and service not requiring holy orders.
Not all — whether they be laypeople or clergy — are ready to meet these challenges, said Bishop Jackels. So we need patience, perseverance, catechesis, good seminary formation, ongoing clergy formation, and prayer.
In his keynote address the next day, Daniel Conway returned to a foundational message on stewardship presented by Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy in 1993. The archbishop’s questions, asked again by Conway, were: “What do I own?” and “What owns me?”
These questions are key to understanding stewardship as a way of life.
“This basic insight permeates all [Archbishop Murphy’s] teaching, and I believe it is the heart of the stewardship message that he sought to convey in his talks,” said Conway.
The message of stewardship is countercultural. Most of us are not obsessed by money, but materialistic cravings infect us all.
“We cling to whatever wealth and property we have because we are afraid of losing our security, our independence, and our self-respect,” said Conway. “We want to be people of means because we know the world can be a cruel place.”
This craving has become imbedded in our culture and we are taught to see ourselves as consumers who must earn more in order to spend more. To break out of this cycle, we must see ourselves as stewards, he said, and that God alone is the owner of the goods of the earth.
“Although we believe in the right to own and use property as individuals in a free society,” said Conway, “we acknowledge that, in reality, we are merely stewards of what truly belongs to God.”
Although we cannot literally drop everything and follow Jesus, we can accept the Lord’s invitation to let go and trust him completely, he said. This means accepting the Father’s will and acknowledging that everything we have is from God.
How do we chart our progress as we grow to become stewards? The Christian steward receives God’s gifts gratefully, tends them responsibly, shares them generously out of justice and love, and returns them to the Lord with increase, said Conway.
“As Archbishop Murphy has taught us so well, it doesn’t matter who I am or what I own,” said Conway. “What matters is my response to the good and gracious God who has given me everything I have and everything I am.”