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.)