When all is said and done, we own nothing because we are possessed wholly and completely by a "good and gracious God."
The invitation we receive to follow Jesus Christ implies our willingness to live as stewards. Some of us understand. Some do not. Jesus also cautions that the more human treasure and talents we possess, the more likely it is that it will be difficult for us to be good stewards.
Sometimes we need a crisis to set our priorities straight. Archbishop Thomas Murphy, the former Archbishop of Seattle, related an experience in his life during the 1970s when he was confronted with unexpected serious surgery. It was then that he received the grace to ask himself honestly, 'What do I own and what owns me?' Those are very important questions for any steward, especially a follower of Jesus Christ. It is a new way of seeing things, an insight which is not customary in our daily routine when we seem to be in control.
What Do I Own and Who Owns Me?
This seventy-two page book summarizes the stewardship message of the late Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy. Archbishop Murphy chaired the United States Catholic bishop's ad hoc committee on stewardship. A twenty-six minute CD that accompanies the book gives the reader an opportunity to hear the Archbishop's central message.
The book describes the task the committee was given and the direction they took. The committee was organized because the church found itself seriously lacking the funds needed to do important work. As the members faced their task, they came to the conclusion that they had two options:
The committee could focus on a quick-fix, i.e. have a fund raising drive to meet emergency needs and focus their energy around answering the practical question, "How can we raise more money to meet growing needs?"
The members could choose an alternative route by attempting to answer the question, "How do we respond to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in a sustained, workable way?" While this did not address the immediate crisis, the answer to this question was deeper, sustaining and critical.
The resultant pastoral letter on stewardship emphasized stewardship as a way of life, not as a program. "Stewardship is a lifestyle that reflects who we are and what we believe and this involves daily living." The guiding principle is a call to be a holy people. Three convictions describe Christian stewardship as a way of life:
- Stewardship is intimately connected to mature Christian discipleship.
- A commitment to stewardship must be realized over time as an "entire way of life."
- A commitment to stewardship has the power to change the way we live.
The four primary characteristics of stewardship are:
- Willingness to give back with increase.
The question, "What do I own and what owns me?" provides a, "framework for assessing our progress in the discipleship journey." "'What do I own?' calls attention to all the spiritual and material gifts that we have received from a good and gracious God." The question, "'Who owns me?' probes the state of our soul."
The videotape of Archbishop Murphy's presentation in 1993,(found as a companion in some but not all editions of the book) reflects an individual with passion for stewardship, self-effacing humor and a powerful message. It is divided into four parts and could easily be used for discussion purposes.
This was a quick and memorable read. Those of us who are asked to help congregations raise funds are challenged to re-frame the question, so as to provide a climate that will nurture a changed life style.
The video CD is worth the investment.
Dan Conway is president of RSI Catholic Services Group.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.