By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — To understate it, 2012 hasn’t been the best of years for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
That’s why Bishop Robert W. Finn’s words were simple and direct to more than 100 members of the St. Joseph Guardian Circle and the Catholic Heritage Society Aug. 26:
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
In gratitude to those who were generous with the Bishop’s Annual Appeal through a trying year and recognized that the needs funded by the appeal haven’t gone away, Bishop Finn celebrated a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, followed by a reception at the downtown Kansas City Catholic Center.
They had their own reasons for giving in a tough year, including this one:
“I gave because Father Steve told me to.”
And that wasn’t because he was a member of St. Peter’s Parish in Kansas City, where Father Steve Cook is pastor. Those words were spoken by John Cook, Father Cook’s (much) older brother, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Clinton, where the elder Cook is carrying on a long time family tradition of supporting the church.
In fact, John Cook credited Father Tom Hermes, former Holy Rosary pastor, for getting him in the stewardship lifestyle.
“Father Tom was a big influence,” he said. “We started tithing when he was there, and part of tithing is giving to the diocese, which we do.”
Judy Beggendorf had another simple and direct reason.
“We love the bishop and we love the church,” she said. “I am grateful for the church. It does everything for me.”
Kevin Connor, a longtime donor of all the “three T’s” — time, talent and treasure — said it is a way of life for him and his family.
“It’s a pattern of giving — constant support for the diocese in prosperous times and in challenging times,” he said.
An older couple who wished to remain anonymous in their giving said they were inspired by an article in the diocesan Office of Stewarship’s newsletter about the tax benefits of giving to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal from required minimum Individual Retirement Account distributions, written by associate director Greg Vranicar.
“I called Greg and checked on it,” said the older man. “He e-mailed us the form, and we were able to do it.”
Tom and Elinor Bax of St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City said they gave to give back what the church had given them.
“They educated me and they educated our kids,” Tom said. “I’ve always done it.”
“In our generation, our parents always gave,” Elinor added. “It’s our culture. And whatever you give, you get back.”
Jim and Judy Budde said they have given to annual diocesan appeals ever since they moved to Kansas City in 1969 from Iowa, when Jim took a job with Ewing Kauffman’s Marion Laboratories.
“It’s part of our commitment to the church — five percent to the parish, one percent to the diocese, four percent to other charities,” Jim said.
“People always complain about priests talking about money, but parishes have bills to pay. What are they going to do?” Judy said.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Finn told the invited guests that they are true stewards.
“The needs that are met by the Annual Appeal don’t take a holiday,” he said. “If anything, they increase — and you have not taken a holiday from generous giving. So many of you have even increased your gift.
“You have been like St. Joseph, our patron,” the bishop said. “He is the guardian of Jesus the Redeemer. Joseph protects and supports the body of Christ. You do too. I thank you in the name of the church.”
Bishop Finn said that the work supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal in making it possible for the church to feed, clothe, heal, comfort and educate doesn’t diminish in challenging times.
But that is also the time when the people of God step up.
“Here is a moment of decision. These are defining moments in our lives,” Bishop Finn said.
“Perhaps they come when we have experienced a great Grace and gift from God. Full of gratitude, we can either acknowledge the source of grace and gift from God, or we can forget and go the other way.
“Sometimes we face a huge challenge or a trial. Some are leaving, giving up. ‘What about you?’ God seems to say. Will you leave, or will you persevere?”
Bishop Finn said that is why Catholics come to the altar and bring everything that happened in the week with them.
“Again and again in our lives, we have the invitation from Jesus: ‘What about you?’” the bishop said.
“If we have been distant from God, he is ready to ask and receive us back,” he said. “If things are going well, we may for a moment forget that we need him. If we are in trouble, we may think we are too far gone — too far away.
“But Jesus says, ‘You are mine still. I am with you, but what about you? Will you leave or stay?’” Bishop Finn said.
“I personally wish to thank you for your support for the work of the diocese, for all you do in your parishes, for the example of your faith, for your kindness to me particularly in these challenging months,” Bishop Finn told his guests.
“The road ahead is not without its bumps, but with God we go forward,” the bishop said. “God is with us. All our trust is in him.”