April 4, 2021 The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ has risen today! Our Savior is active, alive, and transforming us and our communities of faith, even the world, at this very moment. Easter is a time of joy, a time of celebration. To have faith in the risen Lord is also to believe that we are disciples who bear witness to Christ in a broken and troubled world. To be good stewards of this faith obliges us to be living witnesses to Christ’s peace at home and in public. Jesus cannot be found buried. He is risen. Alleluia!
April 3, 2021 In tonight’s reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are reminded that we are alive in Christ. And it is not merely once a year that we remember what Jesus did to give us this new life, forgiveness and peace. Every day good stewards remember their baptism. They remember that they are united with Jesus in his death; that daily they drown the old sinful nature, and that daily they rise to their new life in Christ. Let us be mindful every day, especially when we are troubled by life or tempted by sin, that our lives are no longer about us, but about Christ’s active, loving presence within us. That is our baptism. Alleluia! He is risen!
This weekend we participate in the proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus according to the Gospel of Mark. In the extended version of this weekend’s Gospel reading, Jesus is at Gethsemane, praying to his Father, in much emotional distress. He knows he can save himself. He can escape over the Mount of Olives in the dead of night and make his way safely into the Judean desert. Instead, Jesus chooses obedience to his Father and waits for his persecutors. As Saint Paul puts it in the second reading, Jesus is “obedient to the point of death.” Jesus’ obedience is a lesson for those who are good stewards of their life in Christ. Let us reflect on how we might be more obedient to the will of God instead of our own will.
The Year of Our Lord 2020 may go down in history as an annus horribilis (a horrible year) because of the devastation caused by the sudden, unexpected outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have thousands of people lost their lives worldwide, but the economic and social implications of this modern day plague have caused serious hardships for millions in countries covering the globe.
And yet, as Pope Francis has observed, these months of trial and adversity have also been a time of grace. It’s been a time for giving and sharing, a time for healing, hope and prayerful support, especially for those who are most vulnerable. In short, this is a time for stewardship, which can be defined as “taking care of and sharing all God’s gifts.” During times of crises, we are reminded that no one is an island. We are not self-sufficient. We depend on God, and on each other, for everything we have and everything we are. The pandemic we are suffering now is a wake up call, a stark reminder that unless we share our gifts and talents with all our sisters and brothers, we run the grave risk of being left alone in moments of serious need. Alone we are powerless, but united with other members of the human family we are capable of overcoming all obstacles.
Stewardship is intimately connected to the concept of “solidarity.” Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, clearly identifies the Church’s proper role in human society “as a strong moral force stimulating the cooperation of all and urging the responsibilities we all have to serve the cause of human solidarity everywhere” (#89). The Church cannot command unity (even among her own members), but she can continually call for unity and the pursuit of the common good “that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, On Social Concern, #38). “Solidarity” was used by Pope St. John XXIII in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher, #157). According to the Holy Father, “The solidarity which binds all men together as members of a common family makes it impossible for wealthy nations to look with indifference upon the hunger, misery and poverty of other nations whose citizens are unable to enjoy even elementary human rights. The nations of the world are becoming more and more dependent on one another and it will not be possible to preserve a lasting peace so long as glaring economic and social imbalances persist (#157). The concepts of stewardship and solidarity also appear in many postconciliar encyclicals and apostolic exhortations of recent popes even if the terms are not used. (To learn more about papal teaching on stewardship and solidarity, read Part II of this article next month.)
Proclaimed this weekend is the Gospel story of Jesus inviting his disciples into a great mystery with curious pronouncements: Those who love their lives just as they are will lose them. If a grain of wheat dies, it will bear much fruit…What does Jesus mean? The climactic event of Jesus’ passion and death is drawing closer; a time when the great confrontation between Jesus and the powers of darkness take place. When Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all to himself. The Christian steward knows life can’t be lived in complacency. We are called to die to self, bear more fruit, be raised up with Jesus. Jesus brings discomfort to those who are comfortable. Jesus urges us to give witness in his name. How will we respond?
This weekend’s Gospel reading gives us the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews who comes to Jesus by night, recognizing Jesus as a teacher from God, but coming in secret for fear of being put out of the synagogue. Jesus rebukes him for his lack of understanding. Good stewards realize that for the sake of this world, God gives his most cherished beloved son. And so they are willing to confess Jesus as their Lord and savior in a public way. They do not keep their faith to themselves, in darkness. The Gospel reading challenges us to profess our faith in word and deed publicly, not to hide it away. Are we willing to accept the Gospel’s challenge? Are we willing to get out of our personal “comfort zone” and confess our faith in Christ Jesus in an open, tangible way?
When we look at the three traditional “disciplines” of Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we know that almsgiving gets the least attention. Yet, the Bible places emphasis firmly on almsgiving: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness … It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life” (Tobit 12:8-9). Almsgiving is simply an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us, and a realization that as a member of a community of faith, it is never just “me and God.”
For disciples of the Lord, almsgiving means much more than simply throwing a little change in the poor box. It is part of cultivating an attitude of generosity. It challenges us to examine how we are using our time, abilities, and money to better the lives of those around us. It urges us to share what we have been given by God with others in love and justice. It reminds us that Jesus blesses those who seek to be “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).
Almsgiving opens our hearts to the realization that God blesses us through those we serve. It is here that we find the great mystery of Christian service. We see God in the life of Jesus, and we see Jesus in all those who are in need of our care. It is especially during these uncertain times that we can look around, see those who are in need, and ask God to take away those obstacles and distractions that keep us from being generous with them. In turn, we will receive Christ’s blessing, a blessing we need to receive.
Almsgiving ideas for Lent as is appropriate and safe during this time of pandemic:
- Show an act of kindness to someone you don’t speak to often.
- Reach out to an elderly person who may be lonely.
- Reflect on the regular contributions you make to the parish. Could you do more?
- Do an extra chore for your parents one day each week during Lent.
- Go through your closet and find some clothes in good shape and offer them to a clothing bank or homeless shelter in your area.
- Write a letter or create a card for someone who is sick or might be lonely.
- Buy some cans of food to give to our Parish Pantry or another food bank or soup kitchen of your choice.
- Talk with your family about eating one simple meal each week of Lent and offering the money you save for an organization that serves the poor such as Catholic Charities
- Volunteer to clean the yard or wash windows for an elderly person in your neighborhood
- Prepare a meal or baked goods for a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (Brother Benno’s, Bread of Life)
- Make a gift to the Diocesan “Annual Catholic Appeal”.
- Volunteer to read books and magazines to the elderly
- Donate diapers, formula, baby clothing, baby furniture, and maternity clothing to a local crisis pregnancy center.
In this weekend’s Gospel reading, you may hear the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, a familiar story. The prophets Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi prophesied that when the Kingdom of God was at hand, the Temple would be cleansed of all activities unworthy of an encounter with God. Christians are often referred to as “Temples of the Lord.” As stewards of a “Holy Temple” God has entrusted to each one of us, what are we doing to be cleansed of activities unworthy of an encounter with the Lord? This week, reflect on one thing you can do to cleanse the Temple God has given you so that it becomes a more inviting home for Christ Jesus.
Katharine Drexel, the second American-born canonized saint, was born into great wealth in Philadelphia in 1858. Her mother died soon after Katharine’s birth, and she was raised by her father and stepmother, both known for their philanthropy, especially their generosity to the poor. As a young heiress, Katharine traveled extensively across the U.S. and became aware of the difficult circumstances faced by Native Americans and African Americans. After her father and stepmother died, Katharine determined to use her inherited wealth to help these groups. Traveling in Europe in 1887, she asked Pope Leo XIII for help in sending missionaries to the many institutions she funded, including a school in South Dakota. The pope challenged the heiress to undertake the mission herself. After much discernment, Katharine decided to devote not just her fortune (worth more than $200 million today), but her life to the poor.
In 1889, at age thirty, she entered the Sisters of Mercy. But Drexel continued to feel a special call to serve African and Native Americans. In 1891 she started her own religious congregation, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People (S.B.S). The order’s first American Indian school was launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico, three years later. Mother Katharine eventually created eleven more schools on Indian reservations, nearly a hundred for African Americans in rural areas and the inner cities of the South, and in 1915, established a teachers college that would eventually grow to become the first and only Catholic university for African Americans, Xavier University in New Orleans. In 1922 in Beaumont, Texas, the Ku Klux Klan threatened to tar and feather the local pastor and bomb his church if he did not close down one of Mother Drexel’s schools. The sisters prayed for God’s intercession to resolve the threat. Within days a tornado destroyed the Klan’s headquarters. Two Klansmen died, and the Klan never bothered the sisters again.
In 1935, a severe heart attack forced Mother Katharine into prayerful retirement at her motherhouse in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, she continued to fight for, and fund, civil rights causes. During the 1950s, her sisters in Harlem and New Orleans were jeered at as “Nigger Sisters,” and Mother Katharine’s response was to ask the sisters if they prayed for their detractors. She died in 1955, and was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1988 and canonized in 2000. Her feast day is March 3.