By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Flying planes for traffic reporting left Bob Gruss feeling dissatisfied as a Catholic in his late 20s. He prayed for a lived experience of God’s love for him. Over time, “I began to realize the depth of Christ’s love for me. Despite my sinfulness, something was changing in my heart,” now-Bishop Bob Gruss said during a talk he gave April 7 in Iowa City. “I began to realize that all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to be is the result of God’s love.” That realization freed him to live his life for the Lord and led him to the seminary. “Thirty-five years ago I was miserable flying an airplane, now I’m the bishop of Rapid City (S.D.).”
Bishop Gruss, ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Davenport, was the first of two speakers for the diocese’s Stewardship Day at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. He focused on stewardship’s spiritual dimensions while Tracy Welliver, director of parish community and engagement for Liturgical Publications, Inc., shared the practical aspects.
“Stewardship is our primordial spirituality,” observed Bishop Gruss, referring to the book of Genesis where God gave humankind dominion, not domination over all creation. Stewardship has “absolutely nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with the cross of Jesus Christ. If we want to live a life of lively stewardship, we have to embrace the cross of Jesus every day.”
That’s a challenge in a culture that embraces the new religion of secularism, and its core values of materialism, relativism, hedonism, individualism and commercialism, the bishop said. Some Christians want to live their faith with all of their options open, he noted. “They don’t want to live a life of discipleship.”
When he asks confirmation students if they get bored during Mass, “85 percent or more raise their hands.” They don’t understand what’s going on in the Mass. People know about Jesus, but they don’t have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus, the bishop said.
A lively stewardship, which comes from an awakening in the heart of the love of God, is the only thing that will transform a tepid faith community into faith-filled, intentional disciples, Bishop Gruss observed. “The first duty of a pastor is to lead people to a heart-to-heart close relationship with the Trinity.” But, “if it hasn’t happened in the heart of a priest or pastor, it will be difficult to lead other people to it.” A lively stewardship, he continued, begins with this relationship of intimacy with the Lord.
Stewardship requires the faithful to live out their baptismal promise. Stewardship is intrinsic; it’s a way of life. “The Eucharist,” Bishop Gruss noted, “teaches us the way of stewardship. When we come together to participate in the greatest act of charity, we participate in the stewardship of Jesus himself.”
He encouraged Catholics to go back to their parishes and read and study the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, titled “Stewardship, A Disciple’s Response.” “It’s what we do after we say, ‘I believe.’”
Practical ideas for parishes
Stewardship “is about belonging, it’s about giving of one’s gifts and, in the parish community, it’s not just a place where we go to church on a Sunday,” Welliver said. “It is our family, much like the bishop said this morning in terms of moms don’t get up in the morning and say I’m going to volunteer to be a mom. You don’t volunteer your time to your children. You don’t make contributions or donations to your children. You do what is called of you. Your parish is your family and what we do there is what we are called to do.”
Welliver identified eight things parishes can do to advance stewardship:
1. Be a welcoming parish that takes community-building seriously.
2. Appoint a stewardship council/committee.
3. Include stewardship as a vital component of the parish plan.
4. Emphasize stewardship in all parish formation programs.
5. Provide opportunities for lay witness presentations.
6. Encourage parishioners to make commitments to the parish community by pledging.
7. Communicate with parishioners on stewardship.
8. Remember that good stewardship starts with the parish itself.
Parishes striving to be welcoming need to remember that hospitality is not about more doughnuts, he said with a knowing smile on his face. “Hospitality is not something we do; it’s something we are.” Suggested ways of welcome: have ministers of hospitality at church entrances, walk people to their seats (he’s been to parishes where teens do this), provide materials for visitors and welcome kits for newcomers, provide information booths after Masses, host new member dinners and events, organize neighborhood gatherings.
He reiterated points made by Bishop Gruss, that discipleship requires a decision to follow Jesus no matter the cost and that the commitment to discipleship leads to a way of life, not just a series of actions. Getting the message out about stewardship requires constant, consistent, concrete and creative communication. Use parish bulletins, homilies, every program everywhere to communicate, he said.
In his parish, for example, one month was designated “Stewardship of Prayer.” He went to an adoption agency, got the first name and photos of children waiting to be adopted and distributed the information to the faith formation classes. Each student in class received the picture of one child and was instructed to pray every day for that child to be adopted. Six months later, Welliver contacted the adoption agency to find out what had happened to the children his parish prayed for. Seventy percent of the kids had been adopted. “So I go back to those kids in our faith formation program and I say, do you understand the power of your prayer? Look at what you have given to these kids — a brand new life.”
Welliver offers a variety of ideas to consider. Visit his website at www.tracyearlwelliver. com.
Event well received
Dan Ebener, director of stewardship for the Diocese of Davenport, said the diocesan Stewardship Day on April 7 drew 174 participants from throughout the diocese. Evaluations about the event were very positive, he noted.
He thought Bishop Gruss inspired people to be reawakened in their life of stewardship while Welliver gave people concrete ideas about ways to move forward in parish stewardship.
“We have already heard from several parishes that are trying to re-double their efforts at parish stewardship.”
Ebener also paid tribute to Sister Laura Goedken, OP, the diocese’s director of development, as the “heart and soul of stewardship in the Diocese of Davenport.”