Our Work is Loving the World: A Lenten Stewardship Reflection

Insightful stewardship expressions can be found in any number of poems we read reflectively. In the poem “Messenger” for instance, the poet Mary Oliver writes: “My work is loving the world.” What does the poet mean by her use of the word “work” in relationship to “loving?” How can Christian stewards make prayerful use of this reflection during the season of Lent?

The forty days of Lent provide stewards with a marvelous opportunity to evaluate the nature of our life’s “work.” Being reminded to take a meaningful and substantive spiritual “pause” in our lives for forty days is a gift in itself. Sometimes, we have good intentions to improve our spiritual lives. But we tend to put it off. The season of Lent begins by reminding us of the brevity of our lives, and then presents us with the immediacy of forty days to focus more intensely on our life in Christ.

This is the first step toward embracing Christian stewardship as a way of life. It’s a good number, forty days; good enough to provide structure to help us open our hearts to conversion as we examine just what our “work” in this world should genuinely be about. As we imagine what Jesus must have done in the desert for forty days, we have the opportunity to examine our lives and vocation, as well as our strengths, weaknesses and temptations.

Oliver probably realizes that if most of us are asked what our “work” is, we would reply with a description of how we earn our paycheck or take care of our family. In a sense, this is correct. We all have to support ourselves and provide for our families. Oliver would hardly reject that necessity. But her poem also suggests that, no matter how we spend our lives, there must be a deeper dimension to our life’s purpose; a way of engaging the world with our loving presence. Indeed, there is a Catholic worldview that encourages us to pray for and to act in ways that make a difference in a world that is hungry for Christ’s love.

For Christian stewards, bringing Christ’s loving presence into our work and our workplace is necessary in order to live in the world as disciples of the Lord. It is key to living the Christian life in our world today. The very word “work” connotes a certain dedication and commitment, indeed a certain obligation. This rings true in Oliver’s simple line. As Christian stewards, we have a fundamental obligation to love and embrace the world as ambassadors of Christ. The season of Lent provides us with a singular opportunity to examine how well we’re doing and to make an even greater commitment to exercising good stewardship of all the Lord has entrusted to us. As Christian stewards, we have a fundamental obligation to love and embrace the world as ambassadors of Christ.

Stewardship of God’s Word: Reading the Bible

February is a transitional month, especially in 2020 with its 26th day as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Many of us also begin to hope that spring will be around the next corner. The first seed catalog we find in the mail reminds us this must be true, yet we know it’s not time to turn the soil. We wait in the quiet of late winter.

What better time than February, before Lent and the advent of spring, to settle in for some reading and praying with sacred scripture? February can be a quiet time of patient reflection for the Christian steward. The psalms, like so many biblical passages, remind us of the benefits of reading God’s word: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105).

Our liturgical year offers us a wonderful pathway to the Bible by providing Lectionary readings for each day. Our Sunday Gospel readings this year come to us mainly from Saint Matthew. In the month of February we have an opportunity to reflect on Christ’s teachings in his Sermon on the Mount with its hope-filled Beatitudes. This Gospel is ideal for spending time with the Lord in quiet meditation. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew Jesus gives us a guide to Christian living. If you choose to read this great book of the Bible, consider just one episode in the Gospel each time you read it. Put yourself into the scene. See what words strike a chord in you. Ask the Lord to help you know him through the Gospel reading.

One of the hallmarks of Saint Matthew’s Gospel is his emphasis on discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus. Christian stewards look to this Gospel to gain new insights into their journey of faith; and much like the desires of gardeners, long for the seeds of the Gospel, especially the Beatitudes, to be planted in their own hearts. Find some quiet time. Pick up your Bible. And use God’s gift of these quiet February days to deepen your knowledge of Christ through sacred scripture.

Stewardship: Living the Beatitudes

Three weekends in our February liturgical calendar will turn our attention to Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew explaining what is to be expected of those who choose to follow him. This is the familiar Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1 – 7:29), the most quoted part of the Bible. Jesus’ sermon begins with messages of comfort, the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12).

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
  •  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

The word “Beatitude” refers to a state of deep happiness or joy. But these sayings are paradoxes. They turn our normal expectations upside down. Jesus is bringing us a new law, new expectations on how to live. He is bringing forth the Kingdom of God. As the United States bishops write in their pastoral letter, “Jesus does not waste time proposing lofty but unrealistic ideals; he tells his followers how they are expected to live. The Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount prescribe the lifestyle of a Christian disciple.”

Each of these “blesseds” is a statement about an important aspect in how we exercise stewardship of our lives. Each of them offers us an ideal of how to live and how we find God living within us. Learn the Beatitudes, memorize them, make them part of your daily prayer life, and ask the Lord for the wisdom and strength to follow this stewardship way of life, a path that follows in the footsteps of Jesus.

Focusing on the Victims of Human Trafficking

February 8 is designated World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. The day is intended to raise awareness and encourage reflection on the violence and injustice that impact victims of human trafficking. February 8 was selected because it is the day commemorating Saint Josephine Bakhita, who herself was sold into slavery as a young girl and whose powerful testimonies raised awareness of human trafficking around the world.

Human trafficking exists in the United States and throughout the world. People are conscripted to work in factories, on farms and as domestic help, and a particularly egregious form of trafficking involves the sex trade.

According to Covenant House, the nonprofit agency which serves runaway and homeless youth, sex trafficking in the United States ensnares over 100,000 youth yearly. Traffickers frequent malls, middle schools and high schools, theaters and bus transit centers looking for vulnerable youngsters. Covenant House also maintains that a girl who has taken to the streets is likely to be approached within 45 minutes. Traffickers create a cycle of dependency and coercion from which it is extremely hard to escape. Millions throughout the world are subjected to modern forms of slavery, and this subjugation can occur in neighborhoods close to us. It happens wherever the homeless, the mentally ill, the runaways, and the poor are neglected. It happens to those who answer ads for employment in faraway places and may not understand what they are getting into. It happens in our cities and small towns. Pope Francis drew attention to the “plague” of human trafficking, and called on government leaders to confront the causes of the trade in human beings.

We are asked to support legislation to strengthen anti-trafficking measures, support the efforts of those who take care of street kids and to be alert to situations around us. The pontiff has insisted that all our efforts to stop human trafficking should begin with prayer, “Prayer is the force that sustains our common commitment” to ending trafficking. Recalling last year’s World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, the Holy Father said that February 8 is a day that invites us to join forces to overcome this challenge. “All of us,” he said, “can and must work together to denounce the cases of exploitation and slavery of men, women, and children”.

Josephine Bakhita: Stewardship Saint for February

Born in western Sudan in 1869, our February stewardship saint recalled having a loving family and happy childhood. At age seven, however, she was abducted by Arab slave traders; the trauma and sheer anguish of which caused her to forget her own name. A slaver sarcastically named her Bakhita, Arabic for lucky. For the next eight years, Bakhita would be sold and resold in African slave markets. She experienced the cruelties, humiliations and sufferings of slavery, including severe emotional abuse, beatings and indescribable mutilations.

In 1883, at age14, Bakhita was sold to an Italian consul, who treated her with much kindness. She was gifted to an Italian couple in 1885 who took her to their villa outside Venice where she would become nanny to their infant daughter. Needing to leave the country on business for a several weeks in late 1888, the couple entrusted their daughter and Bakhita to the care of a Venetian convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. But when time came for the pair to be collected, Bakhita refused to leave. To protect her, the religious superior complained to local authorities. An Italian court ruled that because Sudan had outlawed slavery even before Bakhita’s birth and because in any case Italian law did not recognize slavery, Bakhita had never legally been a slave, could not be considered property, and having reached majority age, could make her own decisions. Bakhita chose to remain with the religious community.

In 1890, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation, and embraced the name Josephine. She was eventually admitted into the Canossian community and in 1902, Sister Josephine was assigned to the convent in Schio, a town in the Italian Alps. For the rest of her life, Sister Josephine happily served the community in Schio as sacristan, cook, and portress, the community member appointed to interact with the public and provide hospitality to guests. Besides her humble and faithful stewardship of daily prayer and service, Sister Josephine helped prepare other members for missionary work in Africa. Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile caught others’ attention.

She was encouraged by her community to tell her story, and in 1931, its publication made her well known throughout Italy. Her life in Schio continued uninterrupted through two world wars. When air-raid sirens sent others scurrying for cover during World War II, Sister Josephine, unfazed, would continue her cooking or sweeping. Many believed their town escaped serious damage because of her saintliness and felt protected by her mere presence.

Sister Josephine died on February 8, 1947. Since then, many have sought her prayerful intercession, especially those who experience any form of slavery, and those who need to find peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives. She was canonized a saint in 2000 by Saint John Paul II. Her feast day is February 8.