By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
INDEPENDENCE — A physician friend of Green Bay Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau seemed like he had it all — wealth, health, an enormously satisfying career, a terrific family.
Except, the bishop said at the April 20 Diocesan Stewardship Day conference, his friend realized — quite correctly — that he had nothing.
“I just realized, these are not my kids,” the physician told Bishop Morneau. “This is not my wife. This is not my house. This is not my money in the bank. It’s all a gift from God.”
From that moment, his friend’s life changed, the bishop said.
“He changed his self-image from an owner to a trustee,” Bishop Morneau said. “He changed his attitude and he changed his life.”
Bishop Morneau delivered the keynote to well over 100 leaders from half the parishes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph at the conference held at St. Mark Parish in Independence.
The day also featured smaller, “break-out” sessions where participants could explore with experts such topics as building effective stewardship committees, social networking, reaching out to homebound, ill and former Catholics, teaching children the values of stewardship, and creating a parish pastoral plan.
The theme of the day, “Stewards of God’s Grace,” was underscored by the theme that stewardship is more than money. In fact, the theme that Bishop Morneau set for the day was that money raising is a natural outcome when people respond to the gifts God has given them, including life itself.
“Stewardship is what I do after I say, ‘I believe,’” Bishop Morneau said.
“The basic question is not ‘Who am I?’ but ‘Whose am I?’” he said. “To whom do I give myself? Who has a claim? To whom do I belong?”
Realizing that God is the author of everything demands a response, the bishop said.
If that response is true stewardship, it can be summed up in four infinitives, modified by five adverbs, he said:
l To receive God’s gifts gratefully.
l To nurture God’s gifts responsibly.
l To share God’s gifts justly and charitably.
l To return God’s gifts abundantly.
The first step, he said, is realizing that God loves us, Bishop Morneau said.
“Beloved sons and daughters of God, we are loved. We are the recipients and transmitters of God’s love,” he said.
“We are somebody so important that God came to us and died for us,” the bishop said. “If we really believe in this, there would be no abortion or euthanasia. We would believe in human dignity.”
But it is not enough to recognize that God is the source of all our gifts, he said.
“Every gift we have is a responsibility,” Bishop Morneau said. “If I have a great gift, and I don’t use it and nurture it, it’s going to weigh me down and cause depression.”
Bishop Morneau said that nurturing the God-given talent for the benefit of all takes work and time. He noted that professional golfers, when they are playing well, still practice five hours a day. When they are not playing well, they practice eight hours a day.
But Bishop Morneau also noted that God never asks more than a person can give.
“A single mom in one of our parishes stood up and said, ‘I’ll give three percent’ (of her income),” Bishop Morneau said.
“She couldn’t afford that as a single mom,” he said. “But we had people crying in the church as she described her situation.”
Stewardship of not only treasure, but of time and talent of nuturing and sharing the gifts God has given “is very demanding,” Bishop Morneau said.
“And it is very joy-filled,” he said.
“I do not know of anyone who has joy who is not a generous person,” the bishop said. “I do know of people who have lots of things who aren’t very happy people.”
Stewardship, he said, is not only good for the soul, it is necessary for the soul.
“It’s a way of life. It is seeing and acting as Jesus did,” Bishop Morneau said.
“What return can we make to God for all he has given us?” the bishop said. “We can never catch up.”