This month we highlight two of the great stewards of our faith, Saints Peter and Paul, commemorated on June 29. The two apostles are celebrated together as the founders of the early Church of Rome.
St. Peter held a preeminent status among Jesus’ disciples. He was very close to Jesus and is the apostle Jesus designated as the “rock” upon which his Church would be built. Even St. Paul acknowledged St. Peter as the pillar of the Church in Jerusalem. The Gospel of St. Luke describes Jesus commissioning St. Peter as the head of the disciples. In the first of his letters contained in the New Testament, St. Peter penned the stewardship reflection placed so prominently in the United States Bishops’ pastoral letter on Christian stewardship: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt. 4:10).
Thinkers throughout the ages acknowledge St. Paul as a genius and his success as a missionary was unmatched. He was a highly educated Jew and interpreted his conversion experience on the road to Damascus as Christ’s personal call to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. He established Christian communities around the eastern Mediterranean, is noted for three great missionary journeys and wrote letters to various communities.
St. Paul believed that exercising good stewardship over the gift of the Risen Christ was fundamental to eternal life. How Saints Peter and Paul actually exercised stewardship over the Church in Rome is lost to history, but our faith tradition affirms that they jointly founded the Church of Rome, exercised a special authority over it and established its apostolic succession; a succession of bishops and popes that continues to this day
On Sunday June 14, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. Of course, now that we are beginning to return to the physical Eucharistic table in our parishes and celebrate the sacrament in person, we can more readily recall that the best way to celebrate the Eucharist is to live it, to put the Eucharist into action. None of us can be a mere spectator to the Eucharist, for this offering to God of bread and wine is really our offering to him of ourselves, of our lives and of the whole world.
Jesus taught us this connectedness when he enjoined us to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel (see Mark 16:15). The Eucharist invites us to be “stewards of the gospel;” to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and to love others just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. This is the meaning behind the language of blood sacrifice of which we will hear proclaimed in the weekend’s readings. Blood is fundamentally life.
The commitment to share in a common life, the covenant between God and Israel, was endorsed in blood, lots of it. Sacrifice was, and is necessary.
But how does the celebration of the Eucharist relate concretely to our ordinary day-to-day lives? At one level, our physical return to the Eucharistic table affirms our belief that there is something extraordinary in our ordinary, daily lives. We take time to acknowledge to ourselves, our families and our communities with whom we have been separated that we are engaged in an extraordinary relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
More deeply, however, is that the Eucharist transforms us. It provides a center of our being and a driving force that impels us to go out and “be” Christ to a broken world. We are nourished and strengthened in a profound way in order to build up the Body of Christ and carry out Jesus’ command to be missionary disciples. The theme for the 58th annual conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, to be held, both virtually, and in Anaheim, California, if permissible, September 27 to 30, is Encounter! This conference will give us a wonderful opportunity to learn more about encountering the risen Christ in our lives, putting his gift of the Eucharist into action and to become “doers” of God’s Word as individual Catholics, and as local Catholic communities of faith.
Whether we are still observing stay-at-home orders or slowly emerging from our quarantine and getting back to Mass in those places where permissible, we know that our Catholic faith is a communal faith, not meant to be lived in isolation. Our prayer and spirituality serve as a springboard to a life of Christian charity and service to others in some form or fashion.
In Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus alludes to the lives of action his disciples will lead. He speaks to God about his followers: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
As a communion of Christian stewards, we live our Catholic faith in a challenging world. We see overwhelming problems and social ills, and we’re bombarded from so many sides to take action. We are sometimes hit by “compassion fatigue,” and often the issues are complex and our response unsure. There are a host of Catholic agencies that can help us better understand Catholic social teaching and how we apply that teaching to the complexity of world issues that surround us. Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Services, to name just two, deal with international issues with a focus on faith, and Catholic Charities USA focuses on domestic issues.
But are you aware that our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) addresses many issues on the domestic and international front, through its educational resources as well as its activities? Many times, news reports focus on the Church’s position on one or two issues. But in reality, the bishops are very active and outspoken on a wide range of social concerns, and by joining with them as people of faith we can create a united front that promotes positive change and enhances the common good. Through its teachings and programs, the USCCB addresses issues such as human trafficking, hunger among our nation’s poor, the human suffering brought on by Syria’s civil war, employment, health care, the environment, education and capital punishment. Visiting www.usccb.org can bring you up to date on a wide range of issues and show you how you can help address them by applying the teachings of our Catholic faith.
Together as a communion of faith we can make a difference as we live in this world as Christ directed even in these disquieting times.