October 14, 2005

Book Review

Late archbishop’s stewardship message
calls us to conversion

What Do I Own and What Owns Me
Daniel Conway
Twenty-Third Publications
72 pages, $12.95
With DVD

Reviewed by Fr. Daniel J. Mahan

Eight years after his untimely death in 1997, participants in a stewardship institute watch a videotape and hang on his every word. His name is honored by the award given annually to the parish that leads the world in stewardship education. In the sprawling suburbs of Seattle, 450 students attend the school that bears his name: Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy High School.

As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Stewardship, Archbishop Murphy oversaw the writing of the document that would become the best-selling pastoral letter in history, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. Subsequently, Archbishop Murphy traveled the country promoting the pastoral letter, often speaking on his day off and taking a late flight home.

His message was simple, but compelling: The Church will have the fiscal and human resources necessary for her mission only to the extent that the virtue of stewardship is promoted. Good things happen when individuals, families, parishes and dioceses practice good stewardship of the many gifts that God has bestowed. Gratitude to God begets a sense of responsibility and accountability. Proper use of God’s gifts naturally entails sharing those gifts generously with others and with the Church. Through this dynamic, the good steward makes a return to the Lord with increase.

Daniel Conway documents Archbishop Murphy’s legacy to the stewardship movement in his new book, What Do I Own and What Owns Me (2005, Twenty-Third Publications). He recounts the way in which Archbishop Murphy addressed hundreds of groups: always passionate about his subject and easily disarming even the most skeptical listener with his Irish wit and love of stories. Many of these stories are presented verbatim as sidebars in the book.

Archbishop Murphy made clear that the lessons of good stewardship rest on three fundamental convictions.

First, stewardship is essential to Christian discipleship, not incidental to it. Every follower of Jesus is called to good stewardship: to make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to follow the Lord without counting the cost. “At its heart, stewardship is counter-cultural. It is a way of life that frequently contradicts values that are communicated day-in and day-out in advertising and the entertainment media” (p. 27).

Second, one does not become a good steward by a single action or by a series of actions. Rather, the seeds of stewardship, which are sown at baptism, must be nurtured and grown over an entire lifetime” (p. 30). Stewardship is not a quick-fix for the needs of the Church. It is a way of life, a deep-rooted consciousness about the need to give and share our gifts in proportion to how we have been blessed.

Finally, the practice of stewardship has the power to change our lives. Stewardship is a lens through which to view the world, a means by which one comes to cherish everything as a gift from the Lord and to live every day committed to following him. Stewardship “… has the power to change us—from the self-centered and anxiety-ridden people we are prone to become in our contemporary culture—to a free people who are grateful to be alive, filled with wonder at the goodness of God, and eager to share ourselves completely with family, friends, neighbors, and other pilgrims on the road to everlasting life” (pp. 37-38).

Stewardship is not a gimmick to provide immediate relief to the financial problems of the Church. Rather, stewardship is a way of life, deeply rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, who never stops calling His disciples to conversion of life.

Readers will enjoy Conway’s description of the hospitality that Archbishop Murphy offered him during their first meeting, an encounter that would have a great impact on Conway’s own sense of stewardship as a way of life. Readers will also appreciate that Conway resists the temptation to canonize his subject.

Archbishop Murphy was keenly aware of his own human weakness, especially as he fought a courageous battle with the leukemia that claimed his life in 1997. In words that are haunting when read today, Archbishop Murphy remarked in one of his talks on stewardship: “For me, this last year has been a significant one in my life. I turned 60 years old, and if I live until the age of 75, which would be a gift and a blessing, I suddenly realized that for every four years that I have lived, I have only one left—if I am fortunate. … Why do I raise these mathematical realities in terms of life? For one reason or another, it makes me aware of the fragile and wonderful gift that God has shared with me, and I must ask how I will use the years that remain. The question so essential to stewardship takes on a new urgency: “What do I own and what owns me?” (p. 66). Archbishop Murphy died at the age of 64.

Archbishop Murphy spoke at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis in 1993 at a stewardship conference for the five dioceses of the state of Indiana. That talk is shown to the participants in the semi-annual Institutes for Stewardship and Development of the International Catholic Stewardship Council. Conway’s book includes a DVD of the talk, which also offers an alternate Spanish soundtrack. Those active in parish life, and especially those who serve on stewardship committees, will appreciate What Do I Own and What Owns Me, as it captures the wit and wisdom of an archbishop who never tired of promoting stewardship as a means of renewal within the Church.

Conway is president of RSI Catholic Services Group, a company that provides stewardship education and fundraising services. He is also a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc. Conway is the former archdiocesan secretary for stewardship and communications and the former associate publisher of Criterion Press. His book can be obtained through www.danconwayrsi.com.

(Father Daniel J. Mahan, pastor of St. Louis Parish in Batesville and dean of the Batesville Deanery, is an internationally known speaker on the topic of Christian stewardship. He is also a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc., and publisher of St. Catherine of Siena Press.)†

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