Understanding stewardship involves an “attitude of gratitude.” Earlier this month, we as a country celebrated Veterans Day, an important holiday we celebrate each year with gratitude and appreciation for the men and women who have served our country in the military.
As I thought about this year’s holiday, I couldn’t help but think about a small box of buttons and insignia that once were attached to my dad’s military uniform that my brother and I recently discovered in the attic. As we examined the treasures from the past, we imagined a very thin man returning home at the end of World War II. This man would one day become our dad. Eleven years later, my dad passed away from a second heart attack since returning from the war. My brother and I were only 4 at the time, and so we never had a chance to properly thank “our” veteran and express our gratitude. He returned safely from the Normandy campaign and other European battles and campaigns, and we never heard a word about them.
It’s never too late to be grateful, especially when you meet a veteran who deserves our recognition and thanks. Our veterans are a gift to our country and we should always be grateful for what they mean to us. And therein lies the power of stewardship.
As I am certain is true for pretty much every Catholic parish, here in my parish, St. John the Apostle in Minot, N.D., we hear many stories about veterans. In our church, all you have to do is look at the “Wall of Honor,” which displays two folded flags of our parishioners, Gary and Don Lock, and the lists of those veterans belonging to our parish who have served our country.
Having heard many stories that evoke emotion and stimulate my gratitude for their service as I travel around the country, one story pays tribute to one of our parishioners, a veteran of World War II, serving in the navy as a “WAV.” In telling her story, I believe it also allows me to honor the service of my dad and many others. As I tell this story, I often find it difficult to hide my emotion, but I am willing to tell it because it is too important not to. It is a “first class” story of stewardship.
Mary Karhoff of our parish passed away in 2007. When learning she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer, she reflected upon her life and said during one of our visits that she didn’t think she had done enough for people in her life. Somehow, the conversation turned to her service in the navy during World War II. Stationed in San Diego, her job was doing office work on base, which she did with her sense of patriotic duty, knowing she was
doing her part to help the war effort. When she told me that each day she would go to the docks on her lunch hour to meet the ships returning from the Pacific, with “her brothers” as she called them, you could tell by the look on her face that she was reliving the scene as if it were yesterday. The wounded and the dead were met by a young woman from North Dakota, who stood each day rain or shine and received them home, for her country, for their families who couldn’t be there and especially for those who had no one else. Every day she stood there offering the prayers she had for them and their families.
I will never forget the look of surprise and contentment on Mary’s face when she realized what she did so many years ago was indeed “her stewardship.” I believe that realization brought her some assurance at the end of her life; she did do something very important for countless numbers of people she knew not by name, but only by association. I suspect she remembered them each Veterans Day with the same gratitude and love she did each
day standing at the docks receiving them home. It is one of the most moving stewardship stories I know of to this day.
On the day of her funeral, it was a privilege to tell that story to her family and friends and our parish, and as we stood at the graveside, where Mary Karhoff was laid to rest with full military honors, we stood together and prayed for her and her family, hopefully with the same appreciation for this veteran. I know that was “our” stewardship as a parish family and as members of a “grateful nation.”
And now we are set to celebrate the next important holiday in our country, Christmas. So, let us remember to exercise our calling to be “faithful stewards,” and not only be grateful for all our gifts. Let us always remember our veterans that day and each day. For an “attitude of gratitude” isn’t just for a day or two during the year, it is a way of life, one that dictates the stewardship way of life, and something God continues to call us to live each moment given to us in this life.