In today’s Gospel and in the reading from the letter of St. Paul we hear of the gift of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In our devotional life we make the sign of the cross and recite the “Glory Be” as an expression of our faith as a Trinitarian people. But what does it mean for Christian stewards to accept in a practical way the experience of God in this three-fold gift? Is it not a call to share our own life in community, with compassion and love, and to work for healing, justice, peace and unity? Is it not an invitation to invite others into fellowship with us in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
St. Philip Neri Philip Neri was born in 1515 in Florence, Italy, during a time of intensive reform and vigorous renewal in the Church. The Council of Trent convened on three occasions during his lifetime. He went to Rome in 1532 where he lived in extreme poverty, but devoted himself to visiting the sick and helping poor children. With his engaging style, he evangelized young Florentines of the banking and merchant class. He arranged informal prayer and discussion groups. In 1548 he established an organization to provide hospitality for pilgrims to Rome and to care for shut-ins.
At the urging of his confessor, Philip at age 36 was ordained a priest. He soon earned a reputation for being an outstanding confessor and spiritual director; gifted with being able to pierce the pretenses and illusions of others and to help them see the truth about themselves. He received penitents and visitors from all walks of life, from cardinals to the very poor. Many were attracted by the warmth of his personality, his wit, unpretentiousness and cheerfulness.
Some of Philip’s followers became priests. Five of them lived together with him in community and began to share a common life under his direction. The group eventually grew and became the Congregation of the Oratory, which was approved in 1575. They are best known in England through their most famous member, Cardinal John Henry Newman. Philip and the Oratorians introduced a new style of personal spirituality for the laity, and encouraged them to give public testimony to their faith, put on theatrical productions and compose and play songs with religious themes.
Philip suffered a stroke on May 25, 1595 and died the next morning. He was canonized a saint in 1622, although many church leaders considered him a saint even in his lifetime. He was known as the “apostle of Rome” for evangelizing and reviving a spirit of faith among the city’s populace. His many friends included St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales. He is the patron saint of the city of Rome. His feast day is May 26.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church and the beginning of its mission in the world. Pentecost Sunday reminds us that our lives are filled with the Holy Spirit and that God has accomplished creative things in us through this gift. We have been entrusted with this great gift of the Holy Spirit. This great gift empowers us to be bold proclaimers of the Gospel in word and deed. It urges us to speak truth to power. It encourages us to use words and exhortations and even arguments that are meant to heal, show care and compassion and to reconcile. Now is a good time to ask: Are we being good stewards of this gift of the Holy Spirit? What creative things have we done to glorify God’s accomplishments in us?
On the weekend of May 22 and 23, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples to bring fire and flame to their hearts’ commitment to Jesus. The Holy Spirit continues to place our hearts on fire to know Jesus. But do we realize it? In this time of continued uncertainty, do we sense the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Do we allow the Lord to inspire us to burn with a desire for greater intimacy?
Good stewards make efforts to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit so that their prayer lives bring them closer to Christ. In the mystical writings of St. Teresa of Avila, this doctor of the Church relates a beautiful story that underscores her relationship with Jesus. Teresa would often engage in conversation with the Lord, and one evening, Teresa heard Jesus ask her name, to which she replied with her religious name, saying, “I am Teresa of Jesus.” Teresa was heartened to inquire of the Lord, “And who are you?” to which she heard Jesus respond, “I am Jesus of Teresa.” What beautiful intimacy Teresa felt with the Lord! It is to this intimacy, this deeply personal relationship, that each of us is called. St. Francis of Assisi, whose name our Holy Father, Pope Francis adopted, was said to have prayed simply by asking repeatedly of the Lord, “Who are you, and who am I?” It was from the depths of the answers he received, and the questions he continued to ask, that Francis drew his strength to renew Christ’s church. To exercise good stewardship of our prayer lives and to lead a life filled with contemplative moments is the call given to each Christian steward. St. Ignatius of Loyola called us to “contemplation in action,” that combination of prayer in our life that inspires the good things we do each day which in return deepens our commitment to prayer.
As Christian stewards, we know that our good works become hollow when they are done without a relationship with the Lord who inspires us. By the same token, a prayer life can become rote and sterile if we leave it behind when we immerse ourselves in our daily routines. We must be committed to a balance between the good works that we do and our quest to seek a more intimate relationship with Christ Jesus. May this Easter season and the feast of Pentecost place our hearts on fire with the desire to know Jesus even better and motivate us to live our lives in his service.
Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all of creation. In the first reading, after Jesus’ ascent, the angels ask his disciples “Why do you stand here staring at the skies?” The angels want them to look around themselves and be assured that Christ is working through them. The Ascension does not memorialize Christ leaving us. But instead, Christ working through us, his mystical body, his church. As stewards of this legacy, we too are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions; in how we live and how we treat others. Are we sharing the life of Christ with others in our day-to-day lives? In what ways do we see ourselves proclaiming the Gospel? In what ways can we do better?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands his disciples, whom he calls “friends,” to love one another as he loves them. Jesus uses the word “love” as a verb or a noun nine times. He also employs the word “command” or “commandment” five times. His command to love one another is explicit. Those who understand the depth of Christ’s love for us have reason to be joyful. We are called to be stewards of this loving friendship; to love one another as Jesus loves us. Do we give serious attention to what this love requires of us? What is the price of this friendship with the Lord? Are we willing to pay this price to keep Christ’s friendship?
The month of May means summer is right around the corner. There will be an urge to make up for the dark summer of 2020 with gusto. We head into a time when vacation planning is emerging, barbecues are a realistic activity, family reunions may actually be realized and trips to a favorite state park or beach may be eagerly anticipated.
Christian stewards remain mindful, however, that even during this time, the need to be generous continues, especially to our parishes and dioceses. The Christmas spirit has always inspired us to share our material blessings with others. Cold weather also brings out our desire to make sure others are sheltered from winter storms. But often, food and clothing pantry shelves are not quite so full in the summer, even though people are still hungry and need clothing. Even in pre-pandemic times, social service agencies scrambled to fill their rosters with volunteers during the summer. Parish outreach ministries have suffered this past year and need financial contributions to continue during the summer weeks.
Christian stewards are well aware of summer needs, as well as being aware of their own need to give throughout the year. For Christian stewards, the spirituality of gratitude to God is part of their everyday lives and motivates their generosity. Let’s not forget our parishes when we make our summer plans. Let’s make sure to increase our gifts to make up for the past year. Also, many diocesan appeals take place in the spring and summer. Giving to the diocesan annual appeal is an excellent way to support the ministries of the local church that no single parish could undertake by itself. This summer may offer a chance to renew our quest for fun and relaxation in a way that the pandemic, the economy and closures would not allow last summer. Let us be mindful of our parishes, diocesan ministries and other charities that are in need of our support. A plan to continue our generous habits this summer can serve as a great blessing to those in need and serve as an authentic witness to the renewal of our Baptismal promises at Easter.