Utah pastoral congress focuses on stewardship
By Marie Mischel
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.- More than 600 Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Salt Lake City gathered at the Skaggs Catholic Center in Draper, Utah on Sept. 17 for the 2011 Pastoral Congress. In keeping with the new effort that is underway in the diocese, most of the congress speakers focused on the topic of stewardship, which struck a chord with those who attended.

"I come to these congresses because I always need to learn and to grow," said Martina Villalpando, a parishioner of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in West Valley City.

Workshops were given in both English and Spanish. The keynote speaker in English was the Most Rev. Robert F. Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, Wisc. For Spanish speakers, the keynote presenter was Dominican Sister Rosa Monique Peña, who for 20 years was director of the Archdiocese of Miami's Department of Religious Education.

Bishop Morneau "has had extensive pastoral experience; he's been involved in many, many pastoral endeavors and all forms of administration: diocesan, parish, education and pastoral ministry," said the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, who introduced the keynote speaker. "He's somebody who has been a very faithful steward of God's gifts. His life and his ministry are a wonderful example to all of us of one who uses those gifts with gratitude and generosity. I consider Bishop Morneau one of the great leaders in the Church here in the United States of America."

Bishop Morneau, whose topic was "Receiving God's Gifts with Gratitude," is an author who gives retreats to priests and laity throughout the United States. He is considered an expert on stewardship.

In his keynote address, Bishop Morneau said stewardship and spirituality are words that are difficult to comprehend.

"Here is the best definition of spirituality that I have found: Spirituality is just staying awake," he said at the beginning of his talk, eliciting laughter from the crowd before adding, "Spirituality is the awareness that we are in God's presence."

As for stewardship, he confessed that as a young priest – he was ordained 1966 – he didn't practice stewardship as a way of life. "I always thought stewardship was primarily money; giving your 10 percent," he said.

That changed as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began emphasizing stewardship and published a 1992 pastoral letter on the topic.

Then, in 2006, Bishop Morneau attended a retreat directed by Father Robert Barron, who said, "God gives us everything that we have. God is a giver. We have the challenge to give it back to God. We give back to God our time, talent and treasure, but God doesn't need it, so it comes back to us multiplied, overflowing, nourishing," Bishop Morneau said.

Stewardship consists of four aspects, he said: to receive God's gifts gratefully, nurture them responsibly, share them justly and charitably, and to return them abundantly.

Although stewardship is demanding, it also is joy-filled, he said, and it is a way of seeing and acting as Jesus did. Bishop Morneau quoted Michael Mayne's "Pray, Love, Remember, 33": "The vision of Jesus is of a world in which people are more concerned with giving than with having, with sharing than with possessing, with serving than with being served…."

In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Wester picked up this theme while reflecting on the Gospel reading of the vineyard owner who paid all the workers a full day's wages, whether they worked all day or only the last hour.

"The kingdom of God is about God's love and God's goodness and God's unfathomable richness and how He shares that with us without limits," Bishop Wester said. "God loves us. It's not so much a matter of us deserving the kingdom or salvation, it's a matter of our receiving it as a gift because God is good. And God is good right now."

This is a difficult message for people who want to focus on what they themselves do, Bishop Wester said, and for those who don't live in the moment with awe and gratitude. And trust in God "leads me to believe that this moment now is part of a larger piece, part of a larger gift that God has given me. As Bishop Morneau told us, spirituality is just staying awake, just being attentive, being aware of this moment and how God is working in it right now."

Printed with permission from Intermountain Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah.

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