Reflections Suitable For An Examination Of Conscience For Personal Reflection or a Parish Penitential Service

Many are familiar with the phrase, “time, talent and treasure” as a description of Christian stewardship, and these are important aspects of it. However, stewardship is much more. It entails accepting all aspects of our lives as gift and inviting God into each.

God cares deeply about how we take care of our bodies, emotions and relationships. God wants to use everything we have to bring about the Kingdom in our lives and the world around us.

In September, 2010, Bishop Robert Morneau [Green Bay, Wisc.] gave a presentation on the ‘Spirituality of Stewardship’ at the International Stewardship Conference in San Diego, CA. in which he presented this idea of stewardship as plots in a garden that we are called to tend in our lives.

The Stewardship committee for our archdiocese is pleased to offer the following reflections, based on Bishop Morneau’s analogy of the garden, as a framework for your personal reflection or a parish penitential service. You are free to adapt it and use it as you see best.

Introduction: Being Responsible Stewards Of Our Lives
The Creation story in Genesis speaks about God placing Adam and Eve in a garden . The ‘garden’ we have been entrusted with, is the gift of our very life. Gardens are usually made up of a number of different plots each of which could represent a certain aspect of that life. The following examine looks a how well we have tended those plots and what kind of stewards and custodians we have proved to be. 

The Garden Of The Body
We can sometimes forget that our physical body is a gift given to us by God . St Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. However, we often abuse or neglect our bodies with the excuse of doing more important things instead.

  • Do you nourish your body with nutritious food and a balanced diet?
  • Do you exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight?
  • Do you receive a healthy amount of sleep or is your body sleep- deprived resulting in poor work achievement and less than productive interaction with others.
  • Do you book regular medical , dental and eye examinations?
  • Are you faithful in taking any prescribed medications for the maintenance of your health?
  • Have you unnecessarily exposed your body to toxic and harmful substances?
  • Have you exploited the body of another for your own selfish purposes?

The Social Garden
Our relationships are precious gifts that we often neglect to nurture as much as we should. Sometimes the people we are closest to are the very ones we hurt or take for granted. Cultivating our relationships means being attentive, communicating, and showing our love, commitment and concern.

  • Are there friends and family members that you should spend more time with?
  • Is there someone whom you’ve neglected to tell how much you love them?
  • Are you willing to take the risk of reaching out and welcoming new members of your neighbourhood, school or parish?
  • Do you make it a priority to spend time with your family? Are there steps you can take to have more fun with them?
  • Are you a good and attentive listener?
  • Do you have unresolved issues with a family member or friend that is seriously interfering with your relationship with them?
  • Is there someone you need to pray for?
  • Do you make your relationship with you spouse a priority before all other commitments?

The Ecological Garden
The Bible tells us that God has entrusted the earth and all its creatures to us, so that we might be good caretakers. St. Francis of Assisi made us particularly aware of God’s mysterious presence in all of creation.

  • Have you been wasteful or careless in the use of the material goods entrusted to you?
  • Do you make an effort to recycle or re-use these materials wherever possible?
  • Do you allow concern for the environment to influence your purchasing decisions and do you bother to educate yourself in these matters?
  • Is there a step you could take to reduce the impact you have on the environment [ using cloth re-usable shopping bags, lowering your thermostat, using your automobile a little less, cutting down on the use of plastic water bottles]
  • Have you considered supporting organizations that protect wildlife habitat, preserve parkland, and educate people about environmental issues?
  • Do you understand that stewardship of the earth and its creatures is a way of honouring the Creator and lead to a greater respect for our fellow human beings?

The Garden Of Moral Decisions
Decisions are a responsibility that we frequently fail to tend to. Allowing this plot in our ’life garden’ to be overtaken by the weeds of laziness, neglect, fear and confusion is a betrayal of stewardship of our human will and intellect.

  • Do you ever bring God into your decision-making by incorporating prayer into the process?
  • Does your faith affect the decisions you make in your work?
  • Have you considered counseling or spiritual direction to help you discern how and where God might be leading you?
  • Have you been deliberately avoiding making an important decision which , in turn, has affected others in a negative way?
  • What part of your life have you tried to keep God out of?

The Emotional And Psychological Garden
Our feelings and mental state are integral parts of our humanity. However, like our physical health we have sometimes neglected to water and nourish the garden of our inner health needs.

  • Do you take sufficient breaks and vacation time in order to replenish your mental and emotional energies?
  • Are you a ‘workaholic’ trying to defy burnout?
  • Do you ever ask for help and support from friends, family or professionally-trained people when you are drained or depressed?
  • Do you allow your emotions to build up to an unhealthy level?
  • Do you ever allow yourself to have fun?
  • Do you have a hobby, sport or leisure pastime to give you a break from work and other demanding responsibilities?
  • Do you allow yourself the gift of some quiet time or solitude?
  • Have you taken any steps to deal with any serious issue that has been repressed within you for a long time?
  • Is there a particular emotion within you that you wish to understand better and deal with in a more positive manner?

Our Political Garden
We take for granted the rights, liberties and freedoms that our country affords us. Have we proved to be worthy good and worthy custodians and stewards of the rights of citizenship that we are privileged to have.

  • Do you bother to acquaint yourself with political issues and vote in civic, provincial and federal elections?
  • Does your faith influence your political views? 
  • Have you ever bothered to contact your government representative to express your concern about specific issues?
  • Have you considered taking some small steps or initiatives that would create a more just community, either locally or on a wider scale?
  • Have you ever attended a session of Citizenship Court to witness and welcome new immigrants as fellow countrymen?

The Technology Garden
We live in a vastly different world from one just a few decades ago. Our advances in technology are changing our lives whether we like it or not. We have a responsibility to acquaint ourselves with these new methods of social communication and use them well in building a better world.

  • Are you being called to learn more about some new form of technology or are you resistant to any change?
  • Do you use the means of social networking in a constructive and responsible manner?
  • Have you used the Internet wisely in terms of time and in terms of the content that you view?
  • How has your use of computers , cell phones, iPods and other electronic devices affected your life style and your relationship with others?

The Garden Of History
God calls us to learn about our past in order to better understand who we are now and what we are called to be in the future. The Bible tells of our ancestors in the faith and their relationship with the Creator. Wisdom is gleaned from the experiences and stories given to us from the past. Knowing the sources of our traditions aids us in handing them on to our children and our children’s children.

  • Do you possess a Bible and have you ever taken the opportunity to become familiar with its stories?
  • Do you take advantage of books, videos, Internet, documentaries, and other resources to enrich your perspectives on world and church history?
  • Have you ever researched your own family’s background in order to share with younger generations an appreciation for their cultural heritage?
  • Do you consider learning history important in understanding and interpreting the significance of current events?
  • Have you ever bothered to take the time to reflect on your own personal history in order to comprehend and perhaps share what life has taught you?
  • Have you thought about what God has taught us through the events of both world and our own personal histories?
  • Have you had some experiences from the past that you now feel responsible to act upon?

The Intellectual Garden
Science tells us that we only take advantage of a small part of the of our brain potential. Among all creatures on the earth, humans have been endowed with the greatest capacity to think, reason and learn. Yet perhaps we fall far short in cultivating a desire for knowledge and allow our intellectual gardens to go to seed.

  • With the intelligence and education with which you have been gifted, how have you put this to the service of God and others?
  • Have you sought out opportunities to improve your level of education in either secular or religious areas of interest? Have you checked out what is being offered in your parish, public library ,local community college or university?
  • Do you seek out radio and television programs that instruct and educate rather than just provide shallow entertainment?
  • Have you considered returning to school to upgrade your skills and education level?
  • Have you encouraged young people to continue their education and have you ever volunteered to assist with things like reading programs in your local elementary school?

The Cultural Garden
Our world would be a dull and colourless place without the creativity of the arts. Music, literature, drama, poetry and the many visual genres of art all enrich life and lift the human spirit. We are called to support and explore artistic creativity . In this , we also participate in the life of the Creator who has given us this gift.

  • Do you desire to spend some time in developing an artistic talent -especially one that has perhaps lain dormant for a long time?
  • Is there a particular art form that you have always wanted to explore?
  • Do you support the arts in your local community and in your local elementary or local high schools?
  • Do you take time to notice art around you and allow it to foster a deeper appreciation of beauty?
  • Have you offered any of your artistic talents for the benefit of your local community, church, senior centre, etc.?

The Economic Garden
All the material possession that we have are not really ours. They belong to God Who has entrusted them to us. Our role is to tend, nurture and share them. The question is often asked, “What do we own - and what owns us?”

  • What possessions are you overly attached to? What would not be able to walk away from?
  • Do you give ‘from the top’ of your material resources or from whatever is left over after you’ve spent on yourself?
  • How and where have you invested your material resources?
  • Have you ever thought of sponsoring a needy child or family in a foreign country?
  • Do you financially support local, national or international charities?
  • Do you generously support the financial needs of your church and do you ever volunteer your time and talent to assist with parish programs or projects?

The Spiritual Garden
How do you respond when you are asked if you have a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit? All relationships, like a garden, need on-going attention. Commitment, effort, time and communication are necessary ingredients for a healthy spiritual life.

  • Do you pray regularly? Or just say ‘prayers’.
  • Have you ever made a retreat?
  • Do you use prayer, fasting and almsgiving to cultivate your relationship with God?
  • Do you make use of various resources [books, videos, music] to enhance your prayer and contemplative life?
  • Do you ever set aside some quiet time in your schedule to simply allow God to speak to you in the silence of your heart?
  • Have you ever taken time to learn more about liturgy and probe the deeper beauty of the public prayer of the Church?
  • Do you allow your spiritual convictions to influence all the other aspects of the garden of life entrusted to you by God?

Scripture Passages that might be used for a Lenten Penitential service based on a stewardship theme:

  • Matthew 24: 45-51 [the conscientious steward]
  • Matthew: 25: 15-28 [Parable of the talents]
  • Matthew 5:13-16 [ On not hiding your gifts -being salt and light]
  • Luke: 16: 1-9 [The dishonest steward ]
  • Luke 16:10-13 [On the use of material possessions]
  • Genesis 1:27-31 [God entrusting creation to humankind]
  • 1Cor. 12:4-11 [ the use of the gifts of the Spirit]
  • 1 Peter 4:8-11 [using our gifts to glorify God]

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