01 Jul 2021
Being good stewards
The Southern Cross | July 2021
Having been installed as Archbishop some 13 months ago, I have often in this time thought about the Christian notion of ‘stewardship’. While there is rightly a lot of talk about leadership and governance in preparing for both the Diocesan Assembly in September and the Plenary Council which begins in October, at the heart of all of these and underpinning all that we do, is the quality of being a good steward.
Sometimes, when we hear this word, we associate it with financial giving and management, or perhaps a waiter. I’ve come to understand it as one of the most important qualities we can build into our lives. It both assists our understanding in approaching life in general and ministry in particular.
Once we see that all that we have and all that we are is a ‘gift’, then our role is not to ‘own’, but to ‘care for’, ‘look after’. How often do we hear that particular Australian phrase, ‘look after yourself’?
Pope Francis has reminded us of this ancient piece of wisdom many times, particularly in in his second encyclical Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You). The encyclical has the subtitle ‘on care for our common home’. And in his third encyclical Fratelli Tutti, (All Brothers), subtitled ‘on fraternity and social friendship’, he says ‘To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves’.
In a COVID, care-worn world, this is good news and the tonic we need. And it provides the way forward for us all. Care for the poor, care for the planet, care for nature, care for the communities, care for people – care for God’s creation. It is something that does speak to people of our time. It s harder to get us to go the next step sometimes and move from caring for creation to relating to the creator, but it is an important step. Being good stewards we have all these insights at our disposal.
I recently attended the launch of a book edited by Sr Mary Cresp rsj called Journeying with Joseph. Josephine Essays for the Year of St Joseph. In a short reflection on the occasion I suggested a golden thread passing through all of the 19 essays was that Joseph was a worthy companion. I could add that this worthiness is also manifested in his being a good steward of all that was asked of him. And all this without a recorded word. The good stewardship of silence!
In fact, there is so much to be admired and imitated in all of the saints of how to be good stewards. We’ve to be wise enough to adapt their lives to our times, but desiring the quality of being a good steward is at the heart of all holiness.
A word that has been helpful to the Church in Australia these last few years as we prepare for the Plenary Council is the word discernment. A good steward is one who discerns well. It has been a difficult word to understand and master, but one that serves us well.
In his own reflections on the COVID crisis and the way forward Pope Francis in his book, Let us Dream says: ‘Discerning what is and what is not of God, we begin to see when and how to act. When and where God’s mercy is waiting to overflow, we can open the gates and work with all people of goodwill to bring about the necessary changes.’
In the past 12 months I have seen the Spirit of God at work in our world and in our Church, in our mission and in every person.
As a State we have faced some difficult questions around abortion and euthanasia and what kind of a society we would wish to belong. We have felt the disrupting influence of something that seems interminable, COVID.
I have admired the efforts of so many ‘good stewards’ in our parishes and communities and organisations within the Archdiocese. Their resilience and grace, often under pressure, is nothing short of remarkable. I know many have had to dig deep and I thank you for that. There is always a price to pay. We are more weary this year, and more easily unsettled. But as good stewards we do well to know that it is God’s world, God’s Church and we belong to Christ. Our vocation and call is to be the best stewards we can possibly be.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, St Paul echoes this as he says: ‘Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.’
The process of discernment, a necessary quality of being a good steward, takes time. It takes time to earn the trust St Paul speaks about. So another work, or task of the ‘good steward’, is that ‘… stewards that they be found trustworthy’. Here in Australia we have had to learn to rebuild trust in many of our institutions, organisations, communities (including our Church), families etc, and we know that it takes a long time to rebuild. The journey of the coming Plenary Council is also a journey of trust, ultimately in God and not ourselves.
The prophetic question, which we ought not forget to continue to ask, which we began the process toward the Plenary Council, ‘what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time’ is deceptively simple, yet profoundly challenging. It is easy to answer the question for the past or for the future. Yet the last three words ‘at this time’ remain the most pressing and life-giving.
As good stewards we seek to answer that for our own lives, our families and those with whom we are connected; for our Church, our city or town or village, our State, country and our world, beloved by God.
God’s stewards also pray. Prayer deepens trust and allows us to see things though God’s eyes and not simply our own.
God is good, good indeed.