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“Stewards of God’s Gifts” – Reflections for Catechetical Sunday 2004

by Jim McGinnis


The major components of this 12-page essay

  • The basic vision and call to stewardship, from the Gospels and Brian Swimme’s new cosmology

  • Applying this vision and call to our personal lives in terms of our talents, time, treasure and children

  • Teaching stewardship to children and families, with practical suggestions on countering consumerism

  • Care for creation, perhaps the most critical stewardship challenge, with a 12-step process for becoming friends with the earth

  • The political application of stewardship - how we as a nation have used God’s abundant gifts

  • Conclusion – Sadako Sasaki and making the most of our moments

The basic vision and call to stewardship


“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its flavor, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket.  It is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.  Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5: 13-16).


As Marianne Williamson in her book A RETURN TO LOVE  put it, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feed insecure around you.  We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same…”


Brian Swimme in his book THE UNIVERSE IS A GREEN DRAGON is even more colorful and dramatic in his story of the universe and our role in its unfolding as humans created in the image and likeness of God who is “Ultimate Generosity,” whose very being is to pour forth goodness.  Brian uses the reality of the supernovas as our cosmic model.  “When these stars had filled themselves with riches, they exploded in a vast cosmic celebration of their work.  What would you have done?”  he asks us.  “Would you have had the courage to flood the universe with your riches?  Or would you have talked yourself out of it by pleading that you were too shy?  Or hoarding your riches by insisting that they were yours and that others did not deserve them because they did not work for them?  Remember the supernova’s extravagant generosity and celebration of being.  It reminds us of our destiny… We are Generosity-of-Being evolved into human form” (p. 145-7).


So how do we act like the supernovas, like the human expression of God as “Generosity-of-Being”?

Brian challenges us – “Whatever you deeply feel demands to be given form and released.  Profound joy insists upon song and dance… Learn to sing, learn to see your life and work as a song by the universe.  Dance!  See your most ordinary activities as the dance of the galaxies and all living beings… When you are filled with a desire to fling your gifts into the world, you have become this cosmic dynamic of celebration…” (pp. 147-8).


He continues: “What we bestow on the world allows others to live in joy… What persons will follow us, entering life and the great mystery of love precisely because of our world? … We ignite life in others… We become beauty to ignite the beauty of others… We work to enchant others, to ignite life, to enhance the unfolding of being.  All of this is the actuality of love…” (pp. 61, 79, 56-7)


For those of us who are aging and beginning to face the reality of our own death, he challenges us not to think of early retirement from this awesome task of continuing to create and thereby enchant and ignite others.  “Embrace your death,” he says.  “It will serve you by enabling you to show yourself.  Precisely because you are aware of the limits of life, you are compelled to bring forth what is within you.  This is the only time you have to show yourself.  You can’t hold back or hide in  cave.  You can’t waste away in a meaningless job, cramming your life with trivia.  The drama of the cosmic story won’t allow it… What is especially exciting about our own time is the vision of the death of the species, and of the planet as a whole.  But this is exactly what has the power to ignite the deepest riches within us…” (117-8).


“Think of the tremendous labor of all living forms to have finally arrived at you, the ultimate child of the planet.  They did their work; now you do yours!  Plunge into the work of living as surprise become aware of itself” (p. 123)


Who are we to squander all that God and all those living beings, starting with our family, teachers and mentors, have invested in us.  Who are we to despair as war, poverty, and environmental disasters seem be escalating.  And who are we to shrink from challenges just because we’re getting older or have had a rough year.  God has invested a lot in us, gifted us in so many ways.  And to whom much is given, much is required.


Applying this vision and call to our personal lives


So what does all this mean for our daily lives and for those with whom we teach or minister in other ways?  And how do we teach this stewardship approach to living where nothing is ours exclusively, but all is given, or perhaps better, loaned to us, for the service of others?


In terms of our talents, it’s a challenge to keep them fresh, to be learning new things rather than coasting on what we have done before, just going on “old notes” as it were.  What’s enticing us to create something beautiful and new for God and those entrusted to us?  18 years ago it was becoming a clown and modeling that clown character on the life of Francis of Assisi that brought me back from depression and despair to new life and insight.  And what a wonderful way of bringing God’s love to a variety of people.  Learning how to take beautiful pictures of creation and turning them into greeting cards and gifts has been a wonderful way of letting my light shine in a way that brings people to give gratitude and glory to God. Beginning to worship in an African American parish 12 years ago opened my eyes and heart and head to new understandings and relationships that have enriched my family, my teaching, my working in the world.  Where are your talents being challenged, being offered opportunities for expansion and deepening?


In terms of our time, how generous are we with it?  Perhaps too generous at times, if we’re always on the verge of burn-out.  But who gets the time we have each day?  Do those closest to us get some of our “quality time”?  Are we open to those around us – at work, in check-out lines, on elevators, walking down the street?  Do we share the light and love within in the form of a smile and/or kind word or friendly greeting, or do we waste these everyday opportunities to fling our gifts into the universe and ignite life in others?   Do we use our times of rest to revitalize and renew?  Is there time for reconnecting with God each day in prayerful silence, for renewing our sense of being sent forth as God’s messengers of love?  And when we begin to see people our age retire to more care-free lives, we’re sometimes tempted to want early retirement too.  But I’m reminded by a friend who turned an early retirement into a hospice ministry that “retirement” from ministry may not be appropriate until we are incapacitated, and even there we have opportunities to share the love of God with those who visit us.


In terms of our treasure, our home, goods and money, have we enhanced the beauty of the living space and land God has given us and shared it generously with others?  If we have garden possibilities, have we created something beautiful for God, our neighbors, and those we invite over?  Do we include others in the “treats” we give ourselves – inviting others over for fun evenings, taking others to special events, especially people who don’t have the money to go on their own?  Friends who are willing to share their country cabins with lots of others are models of stewardship for me in this regard.


In terms of the children in our lives, those priceless gifts from God, we face special stewardship challenges.  First, whether we are their parents or grandparents, their teachers or mentors, there are times when our children push us to the limits of our patience, when hanging in with them and refusing to give up or think the worst of them requires unconditional love.  But this is the same love that God has shown us throughout our lives and it’s now our turn to step up to the plate and be the unconditional love of God for these children.  Secondly, as Kahlil Gibran reminds us in his reflection “On Children” in THE PROPHET, these children belong to God, not to us, and our job is to  send them forth, not keep them close:


“Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you.  And though they are with you, yet they do not belong to you.  You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.  You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.  For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.  You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.  The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and the Archer bends you with might that the Archer’s arrows may go swift and far.  Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as the Archer loves the arrow that flies, so the Archer loves also the bow that is stable.”


To be that “stable bow” for the children in our lives is a challenge.  It requires a real balance in our lives – enough rest, caring relationships, a counselor and/or spiritual director, enjoyable hobbies, music and play, and above all a personal and prayerful relationship with God.


Teaching stewardship to children and families


How do we teach this stewardship approach to living to the children and families in our lives and ministry?  This is especially challenging in an affluent society where consumerism is a way of life, at times even an idol.  Our own experience as parents of children now in their early 30s has taught Kathy and me a lot.  As we reflected in a recent article in our IPJ Newsletter:


"Your children have so much that they have lost their souls.

They have lost their connection with the earth and its seasons."

Comment by Grethel Montoya, Nicaraguan mother and women’s leader,

on why she would not want to raise her children in the US.


How do we help young people realize how privileged and unjust the lifestyle of our nation is, especially when that’s what they see all around them?  How do we help them become more person-oriented and less thing-oriented, less tied to consumerism and more committed to service of others? 


Perhaps the best way to open our eyes and move our hearts to a sense of global solidarity is to open our homes and hearts to others.  This can help us experience people and places where the standard of living is very different and where we can meet people and form mutual relationships.  This can begin within our own homes as we open them in hospitality to those needing a sense of belonging and perhaps a meal or short-term stay. We can also reach out into our local communities where we can encounter people who are struggling economically, whether it’s at a shelter, food pantry, or public hospital.  Sometimes taking public transportation provides an opportunity to see and perhaps meet others who can help us see and feel and then act.  For older children, service or solidarity trips, either in this country or overseas, can provide a more expensive, expansive, and highly effective experience. 


It was on a family service trip to Nicaragua that our family, and particularly our daughter, learned or re-learned that we had so many more things than the Nicaraguans did, but that things are not the things that provide genuine happiness.  We experienced people of great courage and faith who invited us to join in their struggle for a more just way of life.  We learned that community cooperation is more satisfying than everyone trying to get as much as they can for themselves. 


At the end of our stay, a 13-year-old named Elizabeth gave our daughter Theresa one of the only two shirts she owned, as a friendship gift.  Theresa at 15 realized what that gift meant.  She felt a little strange going through her suitcase to choose one of her nine shirts to give Elizabeth in return.  She understood the difference in life-styles and the level of generosity in an unforgettable way.  Perhaps we all need to recharge regularly our sense of solidarity with person-to-person experiences, or begin to provide them for the first time.

How Families Can Challenge Materialism & Promote Stewardship


1. Use public facilities.  Instead of always buying new books, use the public library where children learn to care for resources not because they own them, but because others need them too.  Public parks and playgrounds provide many enriching opportunities that backyard play equipment can’t.


2. Critique advertising.  Watching TV with our children, looking through magazines together, commenting on billboards provide opportunities to help young people become more critical thinkers and less susceptible to advertising.


3. Enjoy the outdoors.  Young people who grow up learning the delights of natural beauty are less interested in having lots of stuff in order to be happy.  From walks in the park to hiking in mountains, from sleep-outs in the backyard to camping or canoeing, from local botanical gardens and arboretums to state and national parks, the beauty of creation satisfies and delights far more than computer games and video arcades.


4. Personalize celebrations.  Personal "presence" can be more satisfying than purchased presents when we celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions.  Surprise parties, albums with special photos and personal statements, "homemade" gifts, going special places with the person being celebrated, etc., are all wonderful alternatives to consumer-oriented rituals.


5. Open our homes and hearts to others.  Hospitality at home can include welcoming new neighbors, inviting school friends to dinner who are having a rough time at home, reaching out to relatives or neighbors living alone, offering a place to stay for teens needing temporary shelter or respite, and including international students who can’t go home for holidays.  Regular visits to local shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and nursing homes offer opportunities to meet and develop relationships with people who are hurting.  This might provide the motivation to make sacrifices in one’s life-style in order to help others who have less.


6. Spare and share.  Set up a regular process for cutting back on desserts, soda and liquor, costly entertainment, or new clothes.  Calculate the savings and decide as a family how to distribute them.  Collect appeals for money that you receive through the mail, on the phone, or at the front door and have the whole family consider which to respond to.


7. Institute an "Exchange System."  Consider an "exchange system" whereby for each new item brought into the home, a similar item is given away to someone in need.  This works especially well with articles of clothes but can also apply to books, games, toys; dishware, appliances and furniture.


8. Shop with a conscience.  Buying from local producers (e.g., open air or farmers markets), eating at neighborhood restaurants, shopping at local stores, buying the handicrafts of "Third World" artisans for gifts, participating in boycotts of companies that exploit their workers and/or the environment all demonstrate and teach a sense of social responsibility.  For a regular update on consumer boycotts, see Boycotts.org (the website for Co-op America).


9.  Provide clothing allowances and shop at thrift stores.  Using thrift stores for some clothes when the children are young opens up a whole new world for them beyond the shopping mall.  Inviting their friends to go along on a thrift store outing provides peer support for this way of being "different."  Putting older children on a clothing allowance helps them learn how to budget and shop for bargains, while eliminating many a "please buy me…" argument.


Getting Beyond the Materialism Trap - Some Beginning Reflection Questions
  • How much are we affected by TV commercials and other forms of advertising?  Does our buying reflect our true wants and needs or what advertisers tell us we should have?

  • "People are more important than things."  Do we believe this?  How do we make it real in our lives?

  • Do we know how much of our income we spend on needs and how much on wants?  How do we differentiate between the two?

  • We are stewards of creation.  How can we be more generous with our time, talents, and financial resources?  How can we share more freely with those who have less?

  • Do we have any publications in our home (e.g., Sojourners, The Other Side, Real Money, YES! Magazine) that present an alternative vision from the mainstream press and might challenge us to live more simply?

  • Are we affected by the push to instant gratification?  Is there a way we could slow down our shopping habits to allow for some time to reflect about whether we need an item before we purchase it?

Care for Creation – perhaps the most critical stewardship challenge


This fundamental theme of Catholic social teaching presents an enormous challenge, especially for us living in such a consumeristic society that most of us don’t even recognize the destructiveness and sinfulness of our way of living.  The writings of Thomas Berry are especially helpful in understanding how much is at stake in this issue. 


“Of all the issues we are concerned with at present, the most basic issue, in my estimation, is that of human-earth relations… Our ultimate failure as humans is to become not a crowning glory of the earth, but the instrument of its degradation.  We have contaminated the air, the water, the soil; we have dammed the rivers, cut down the rain forests, destroyed animal habitat on an extensive scale.  We have driven the great blue whale and a multitude of animals almost to extinction.  We have caused the land to be eroded, the rain to be acid.  We have killed ten thousand lakes as habitat for fish.


“ We are playing for high stakes, the beauty and grandeur and even the survival of the earth in its life-giving powers.  From being admired and even worshipped as a mode of divine presence, the earth has become despoiled by the human presence in great urban population centers and in centers of industrial exploitation…


“Once a creature of earthly providence, we are now extensively in control of this providence.  We now have extensive power over the ultimate destinies of the planet, the power of life and death over many of its life systems…”


“No adequate scale of action can be expected until the human community is able to act in some unified way to establish a functional relation with the earth process, which itself does not recognize national boundaries… Our challenge is to create a new sense of what it is to be human.  It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species.”  (THE DREAM OF THE EARTH, pp. 42-43, 50-51)


Another great American 150 years earlier put it quite simply – “The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth” (Chief Seattle, 1854).  This new human-earth community has tremendous potential for enhancing both parties, as Black Elk mystically explains:  “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers; and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere; it is within each of us” (THE SACRED PIPE: BLACK ELK’S ACCOUNT OF THE SEVEN RITES OF THE OGLALA SIOUX, University of Oklahoma Press, 1953).


As these lovers of the earth imply, facing this challenge of the earth’s survival from a sense of guilt or even a sense of imminent catastrophe (as in the new movie DAY AFTER TOMORROW) isn’t enough. Based on a lifetime of caring for creation, John Muir concluded that “knowledge alone will not protect nature, nor will ethics, for by themselves they do not arouse motivation strong enough to transform the exploitative patterns to which we have become accustomed. The protection of nature must be rooted in love and delight – in religious experience.”  Based on my own experiments in pursuing this human-earth relationship, I have identified a 12-step process for growing in appreciation and friendship with the earth.  These steps, outlined below, are elaborated on with several resources for each step in the “Respect Nature” units in the Alternatives to Violence Kits for Christian Education & Elementary Schools and for High Schools and Youth Groups.  One of the many activities for teaching care for creation in these resources is a wonderfully engaging process of Speaking for the Earth, which is also available on the IPJ website.


12 Steps for Becoming Friends with the Earth


Each of the following steps has several questions to help you explore how you might put that step into practice.  Use these steps as guides each time you want to explore the beauty and healing power of creations, your place in creations, and how to protect and share creation with others.


1.  See the faces of the earth.  What are some of the earth’s “faces” (views – e.g., sunrise and sunset) that you enjoy?  When, where and how do you or could you see these and other faces of the earth more fully?  Do you like photography?  We tend to see more when we have a camera with us.  And the pictures we take provide us with the faces of the earth we personally love and can be shared with others.


2.  Learn her names and stories.  What are some of your favorite species of animals, trees, flowers, etc., and how could find out more about them?  How are you learning about the story of the earth and/or the universe as a whole?


3.  “Commune-icate” with the earth.  Do you have some special places you like to visit where you feel close to nature?  Could you visit them more regularly?  How are you present to the earth in those places?  What are you learning from the different species there?


4.  Touch the earth.  What are some ways you can touch the earth more carefully with your hands and feet? Do you have or help with a garden? What opportunity do you have for hiking or nature walks?


5.  Apologize to the earth.  What are some of the ways you have hurt the earth and how can you more sincerely and effectively apologize and make amends for those hurts?


6.  Eat with the earth.  Have you ever thought of having a picnic with the earth, perhaps just you and the earth or you and another special friend?  This would be a time when you would just enjoy and communicate with the earth.  Where would be some good places for you to have these picnics?  What would be appropriate foods to bring for such picnics?  Some people like to bring fruit from the earth and some bread that they bake themselves, so that both are each contributing something to the meal.


7.  Sing and dance with the earth.  What songs or dances do you know that you can sing with the earth and/or teach others?  What songs does the earth sing that you could listen to more carefully?


8.  Praise the earth and her Creator.  What Psalms, other biblical passages, or other hymns of praise could you say regularly?  Check out Psalm 148 especially, but also Psalms 8, 65, 104, 136, 145, 147.  You might even consider writing your own psalm, song, or love letter.


9. Exchange gifts with the earth.  What gifts do you receive from the earth?  What gifts are you giving or could you give to the earth?  Some plant trees as a way of giving something back to the earth.  Can you do this or support groups doing this? See the website of Global Releaf for suggestions.


10.  Protect the earth; stand in defense of creation.  What are you doing individually and as a school or faith community to protect the earth?  Be sure to consider both life-style decisions and social change activities addressing political and economic policies that harm the earth.   Check the websites of groups like the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation.


11.  Make your friendship/commitment explicit.  Learn (or write your own) and share a “covenant” or “pledge of allegiance” to the earth: “I pledge allegiance to the world; to cherish every living thing; to care for earth and sea and air, with peace and justice everywhere.”  Write a letter of friendship to the earth in which you celebrate her, tell her what you like best about her, thank her for her gifts, apologize for hurting her, name how you will protect her more, and anything else you want to say.  Create an I LOVE THE EARTH book of your photographs, postcards, and reflections.


12. Share your friend/concern with others.  How and with whom could you share these steps, become public witnesses (“prophets”) on behalf of the earth?  What about raising some of these issues at school and/or with your faith community, perhaps an article for a school/church newsletter and/or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.  Share your I LOVE THE EARTH book with friends.


The political application of stewardship

There is a third sense of stewardship that is especially important in this election year, namely our stewardship of God’s gift to us of citizenship in a democracy.  With President Bush’s emphasis on promoting democracy around the world, we have an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the meaning of this gift which we often take for granted.  Our religious leaders have reminded us this year as they have in previous election years that as Christians we have a political responsibility to use our citizenship on behalf of the well-being of others, especially marginalized peoples, those victims of injustice around the world as well as in our own communities and nation.

It is clear that God judges nations as well as individuals and that we have to account for how our country has used God’s abundant gifts as well as our own individual use of God’s gifts to us.  The Hebrew prophets are disturbingly clear in their indictments of Israel and its leaders.  Amos, for one, speaks for God in this way: “For the three crimes, the four crimes of Israel, I have made my decree and will not relent, because they have sold the virtuous person for silver and the poor person for a pair of sandals, because they trample on the heads of ordinary people and push the poor out of their path…” (Amos 2: 6-7)

Isaiah explicitly uses a stewardship example, which is repeated several times in the Gospels.  I used this passage as the basis for a sermon – entitled “Choice Grapes or Wild Grapes?” – which I was asked to give on October 7, 2002, the first anniversary of the bombing of Afghanistan.   And I applied the Scriptures to us individually as well as to our nation.

“Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.  My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.  Within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a winepress.  Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.  Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: what more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?  Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?  Now I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled!  Yes, I will make it a ruin; it shall not be pruned or hoed but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.  The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!  For justice, but hark, the outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7)


God has truly blessed us, planting for us the choicest of vines.  What kind of tenants have we been?  And what does God have in store for us when we don’t use these blessings in the service of others, as God intended us to do?  What happens when God looks for choice grapes to match the choice vines but finds wild grapes instead?  We who have been so richly blessed by God, have we been a choice blessing, a mixed blessing, or a curse for others?


First, in applying this passage to ourselves, we have to ask how have we tended the choicest vines that God has given  us.  What kind of fruit have we yielded for God and for God’s people?  Are we choice grapes or wild grapes?  How widely and generously have we developed and shared our talents and other blessings?  How fully do we give ourselves to those around us every day?


As a nation, what kind of fruit have we produced from the choicest vines God gave us?  Isaiah says that “the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”  And we, too, think of our country as specially blessed by God, chosen to be a beacon of light, liberty, love and peace for the rest of the world.  Have we produced CHOICE GRAPES or WILD GRAPES?  I’d say some of both.  Among our “choice grapes” we might include the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, our Social Security system, the Peace Corps, and millions of generous individuals and groups.  Among our “wild grapes” we might include slavery, Native American reservations and racism, increasing poverty within the richest nation in history, the largest military budget in the world, leading the world in arms sales, invading countries or finding others to do it for us whenever we don’t like their leaders – Guatemala, Iran, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and now Iraq. 


What does God promise us in the face of such environmentally, politically, economically and militarily “wild grapes”?   Hear the Word of God, O people of God, take it to heart and act on it, before it’s too late, before our hedge is completely torn down.  Let us commit ourselves to being the best that we can be – as individuals and families, as a faith community, and as a nation.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem and he weeps now over America – “If only today you knew the things that make for peace!”


In conclusion, let us pray as the Psalmist prayed, as Jeremiah prayed, taking no joy in issuing God’s judgment, but pleading for God to turn us, the people of God, around.  “Why have You broken down our walls…?  Take care of this vine and protect what Your right hand has planted…. Restore us…” (Psalm 80: 9, 16).  It’s not too late; it’s not inevitable; but it will happen if we don’t mend our ways. 


In this election year, we have a unique opportunity to choose leadership that can lead our nation in mending those ways that need mending, turning wild grapes into choice grapes.  And foreign policy isn’t the only political issue on the agenda and it is certainly not the only issue which our bishops ask us to consider as we participate in the political campaign and then enter the voting booth on November 2.  Economic and racial justice issues – solidarity and option for the poor; the life issues of abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment; the environment, caring for creation; international cooperation, disarmament and peace – this full range of issues must be in our minds and hearts when we act as stewards of God’s gift of democratic citizenship in the weeks and years ahead.  


Conclusion – Sadako Sasaki and making the most of our moments


Because I work as a pediatric hospice volunteer as well as a prison volunteer and with the AIDS community, I realize that many people don’t have the opportunity in life to “fling their gifts into the universe,” as Brian Swimme put it, for 70 or 80 years, unhampered by poverty, illness, or confinement.  But the model of stewardship I want to leave you with is precisely someone hampered by serious illness, confined to a hospital bed for the last year of her short 12-year lifespan, someone who was the victim of one of the saddest acts of American foreign policy – the bombing of her city of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.


Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  She wasn’t killed, but her grandmother and several friends were.  As a young girl, she was an extremely fast runner.  But at age 11 she collapsed after a race and was eventually admitted to the hospital where she learned that she had contracted leukemia from the radiation of the bomb.  A friend told her about the Japanese legend of the paper cranes.  If you make 1000 cranes, your deepest wish is granted.  Since the crane is a symbol of a long life, her friend thought if Sadako made 1000, maybe she would be cured.  Sadako worked for months, completing more than 600, but realized that she was dying.  On her last crane (#644), she said she wanted to write “Peace” on its wings so that it would fly over the whole world telling children and adults everywhere to work for peace, so that no other child would die as she was.


I sense that this 12-year-old girl realized at the end of her life that her life had more meaning to it, that she was not just doing something that would make her well but would have some meaning for others.  She wanted to make the most of this difficult moment, her final moment in this life.  But no one could have guessed how widely her story would spread and what an impact her life would have.  Her classmates finished the 1000 cranes and raised the money to build a 30-foot arch to Sadako’s memory.  This arch in the Peace Park in Hiroshima has a full-size statue of Sadako on the top, with a crane over her head.  Children and adults all over the world continue to make the paper cranes as a symbol of their desire for peace and their commitment to work for peace.  I make the cranes in this spirit, sometimes as “Francis the Clown,” and distribute them in public places as well as in church and school programs.


As I work with children and families who are struggling with illness or death and with men in prison, I see an even richer meaning to the cranes.  All of us have a limited time in life to make a difference.  We each have a little “light” that is meant to shine on others during the moments we are given.  For each person, the circumstances are different and the recipients of our light are different.  But no matter what those circumstances, we can make the most of our moments.  We each have a little light to share -- by what we do, how we do it, how we relate to others, and especially in how we can reach out to others and touch their lives in some positive way. 


I invite you to learn how to make these paper cranes and use the crane as a symbol of making the most of our moments, as a reminder that our life has meaning beyond the limitations we experience here and now, that each of us does make a difference, that each of us can dispel a little of the darkness around us with the light of our caring heart, eyes, and hands.  If we give ourselves to whatever it is that we can do or be, even in a limited capacity, that light will live on.  We will live on.  Let’s make a splash, even if it’s only a little one, with our lives, as long as God gives us the opportunity.