All Saints Day Weekend of October 31/November 1, 2020
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his followers about “blessedness,” a word not used much in American culture. The Beatitudes Jesus evokes in this Gospel reading are not promises of happiness, but promises of a new life with God; blessedness is key to a new way of living through the human experiences of mourning, meekness, peacemaking, persecution, and poverty of spirit. For Christian stewards, “blessedness” does not depend on wealth or health or status. Rather, Christian stewards recognize that blessedness is God’s gift. In the kingdom of God, life is not governed by honor and fame, but by the promise of abundant life. Embracing a poverty of spirit and meekness reveal God’s abundant life “breaking into” our world. Reflect on the Beatitudes this week. How might they help us improve our relationship with the Lord?
There is one command that summarizes this weekend’s Gospel: to love. For Jesus there is no distinction between these two commands of loving God and neighbor. One naturally flows from the other. In fact, for Jesus, these commands constitute a way of life for Christian stewards; a unique approach to life and to their relationship with others. Our neighbors include everyone with whom we come into contact: family members, friends, people we don’t like, strangers and particularly those most in need of our love and compassion. Love calls us to open our hearts and do more to help others grow closer to the Lord. How might we follow Christ’s love command more fervently?
Maria Bertilla gave witness to Christian stewardship through her simple living and caring for others as a nurse and consecrated religious. She was born in 1888 in a village near Vicenza, in northern Italy, to a poor farming family headed by a violently abusive and alcoholic father. She lacked a normal education and was ridiculed for her seeming lack of intelligence. She worked as a house servant in her youth.
At age 16, Maria joined the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Vicenza and was assigned to work in the kitchen, laundry and bakery. Eventually she was given permission to be trained as a nurse and displayed a special gift for working with children suffering from diphtheria.
During World War I, the hospital was taken over by the Italian army to care for its wounded. Sister Bertilla became well-known to military authorities and others for her compassion, dedication and unwavering care of those who could not be moved, even in times of terror, when the hospital was under fire and subject to bombing and artillery barrages. She wrote in her diary: “Here I am, Lord, to do your will whatever comes.” When she and her patients were finally transferred to a safer area Sister Bertilla’s religious superior transferred her back to the laundry. Soon thereafter, however, the mother general of the religious community countermanded that order and Sister Bertilla was reassigned to the hospital to take charge of a children’s ward. Her reputation for simplicity and hard work left a deep impression on those who knew her. Sister Bertilla had suffered for a number of years with a painful tumor, and in 1922 her health declined rapidly. After an unsuccessful surgery to remove the tumor she died on October 20, 1922. Thousands of people attended her funeral in Vicenza, Italy, and her tomb became a pilgrimage site. A plaque remains at the hospital in her honor, describing her as a “chosen soul of heroic goodness…an angelic alleviator of human suffering …” Family members and many former patients attended Maria Bertilla’s canonization in 1961 by Saint Pope John XXIII. Her feast day is October 20.
Jesus offers us a profound teaching on stewardship in this weekend’s reading: What belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God? Christian stewards recognize that everything they have belongs to God. God created them, and God has claims on every part of their existence. They also realize that the sovereign is an institution whose nature and purpose is to promote the common good and protect the welfare of its citizenry. As long as it accomplishes this mission while treating every single person with deep respect, justice and compassion, it merits the steward’s support and cooperation. Christian stewards know what belongs to the Lord, and they are better citizens when they live their lives according to his Gospel.
There are a number of Bible verses Christians have memorized. One of them is in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians found in this weekend’s second reading: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). Most people define themselves either by their problems or their possibilities. Fearful people wake up each morning ensnared by their problems. Christian stewards wake up reflecting on their possibilities with confidence and hope. Some stewardship reflection questions for the week: What challenges do you back away from because you doubt that you are up to them? What would you attempt tomorrow if you were sure God would help you?
With the presidential election upon us, it is more important than ever for mature Catholics to be mindful of their responsibilities to exercise good stewardship over their neighborhoods, communities and society by participation in the public life of our country.
Jesus said that we, his disciples, are the light of the world. We must not hide that light under a bushel basket (see Matthew 5:16) or in the privacy of our homes or in a church building. We must let it shine so that all men and women can see it. Stewards understand that living out their faith in public life is part of their responsibility to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15); and that their relationship with Jesus Christ and their desire to please him should inform all of their moral decisions, including how they participate in public life and how they vote.
How should stewards exercise their responsibilities as citizens? One way of course, is to inform themselves of the political issues of the day and to vote. Voting is literally the least one can do to promote Gospel values in our communities, state and nation. Stewards are not found wanting in this vital area of their stewardship. The teachings of the church help us understand our responsibility to make informed choices about issues that concern our society and world, especially as it relates to peace and justice and the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.
The bishops of the United States have again provided important guidance through their statement: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, this document continues a tradition by the bishops of encouraging Catholics to use the values of their faith to shape their participation in political life. It focuses on helping Catholics form their consciences so they can make sound moral judgments about public choices. (See www.faithfulcitizenship.org)
Stewards commit to prayer, reflection and discussion among others in their community of faith about how to bring the Gospel to public life. They believe in continued conscience formation and conversion, take the teachings of the Church seriously, and keep themselves informed on the political issues of the day. Stewards also strive to make prudent choices, vote and encourage others to vote. These are just a few of the ways stewards can help bring the Good News to all creation.
This weekend’s Gospel reading poses some challenging stewardship questions, particularly at a time when so many people are becoming disengaged from their faith communities. When Christ returns, will we be found working diligently in the Lord’s “vineyard;” converting our own hearts into a rich harvest of love and compassion? Calling those outside our vineyard to enter into the joy of the Lord? Or will we just be living off of what the Lord has given us, but not sharing God’s love with others? Jesus’ parable suggests that if we are not good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given then the gifts will be taken away, and we will be called to give an account for our failures. We have all we need for a bountiful harvest, even during these disquieting times. What will our Lord find when He returns and asks us to give an account?