In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenged the social structure of the Pharisees and teaches his hosts and their guests some profound lessons in humility. Pharisees maintained deep social divisions between who they considered “holy” and “unholy,” rich and poor, honored and despised. They didn’t invite someone to a banquet or dinner who couldn’t reciprocate. And the lowly, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind had no capacity to reciprocate. Good stewards realize that if they embrace a humility that allows them to be generous to those who cannot repay them, they give evidence of having the kind of heart that will enjoy the Lord’s intimate friendship. This week let’s reflect on our attitude towards those who cannot repay our generosity. What is the extent of our hospitality toward others? Are we generous with those who cannot repay us?
The Gospel reading today starts with a question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus offers only a simple reply: Strive to enter through the narrow gate. Many will try to enter and will not be able. Good stewards know there is only one, narrow gate. Not everything will fit. This narrow gate has no room for our accomplishments. No room for our money. No room for our possessions. No room for anything else but those who’ve been good stewards of the Gospel. We can’t custom build our own gates either. There is only one, narrow gate that happens to be open for a time, but for how long? What is our plan of action to get through that gate?
The Book of Psalms is Israel’s hymnbook. Historically, the psalms are so closely linked to King David that many believe some of them were written by him. They provide prayers for every aspect of the life of the Israelites, and today they reveal a spiritual wisdom that can draw the Christian steward into a deeper intimacy with God, especially through the fundamental notion of gratitude. Psalm 50 provides an insightful look at gratitude. The psalmist felt so strongly about the call to thankfulness to the Lord that he even chose to speak with the Lord’s voice, assuring the people that God did not need their burnt offerings: “I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine. The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine.” No, God tells the people, everything is already God’s, so your cattle and birds and young bulls need not be offered to their Creator. So what does God want from us? The psalmist urges us to “offer to God a sacrifice of Thanksgiving.” Keeping in mind that all we have is from God, and remains God’s, Christian stewards awake each morning to say with humility, “Thank you.” The ancient psalmist’s words make sense to a modern Christian, because the God who gave us free will does not possess our thankfulness until we freely give it. And we’re asked for more than a perfunctory show of gratitude. The God who already possesses cattle on a thousand hills and every bird of the mountain is calling us to a deep sense of conversion, a sense that we stand before the God who has gifted us with everything we possess.
In today’s second reading, we hear the author of the letter to the Hebrews liken the daily life of the Christian steward to a race, a long-distance race perhaps, certainly not a sprint; requiring endurance and a single-minded focus on Jesus at the finish line. Good stewards are firmly committed to running the race, to live the Christian life to the fullest, to keep their eyes focused on Jesus. They don’t grow weary. They don’t lose heart. They know there is immense joy waiting for them at the finish line. Are you fully committed to living each day for Christ? Are you running the race, or are you simply jogging? Just walking? Sitting? Going backwards? Going nowhere? Some of us may want to reflect on what we can do to run the race with even more conviction. Others may want to reflect on how to simply enter the race and start running.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus concludes his teaching about those who are “faithful and prudent stewards” with that classic stewardship teaching: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Christian stewards recognize that God is the ultimate source of their gifts, talents, resources and aptitudes, and that God wants them to use these varied gifts in his service. This week might be a good time to reflect on our God-given gifts. Are we using those gifts to serve the Lord? If Christ came back to us unexpectedly tomorrow would we be able to give a full accounting of how we have exercised stewardship over these gifts?
1. Invite a single friend over for a meal.
2. Turn off the TV, phone, and computer, and spend an hour devoted to someone you love.
3. Attend an extra Mass on a weekday this month.
4. Abstain from something you like – meat, a latte, a cold drink – on Fridays and save the money for a charity.
5. Take your rosary with you for an early morning walk.
6. Recycle more.
7. Think of a charity which is amply blessed at Christmas. Remember it with a gift mid-year.
8. Each day, say a prayer for one of the world’s trouble spots.
9. Surprise an old friend with a phone call.
10. Buy or pick a flower for someone without a “reason”.
11. Take your family to a farmer’s market if in season.
12. Stop for a moment during your busy day and enjoy an ice cream cone or other favorite treat.
13. If you hear a great homily, tell the homilist.
14. Splurge on some produce and buy enough to share with someone in need.
15. On occasion, try turning your prayer before meals into a spontaneous prayer of thanks, using your own words
Of all of summer’s pleasures, few can top that early morning trip to the farmers’ market. And nothing can top the farmers’ market for health, nutrition, freshness and taste. This year, August 7 to 13 is National Farmers’ Market Week. Let’s celebrate by counting all the great reasons to grab a reusable cloth bag and head to the market. Nutrition is high on the list. Fresh produce that makes its way from the field to the table in short order means more vitamins and minerals for your family. And of course, freshness means better taste, the tastiest produce of the year. Farmers’ markets are said to promote child health and reduce childhood obesity by increasing children’s access to affordable and convenient fruits and vegetables. And farmers’ markets increasingly support anti-hunger initiatives through donations of unsold food to feeding programs for those in need. There are also great ecological reasons to shop the farmers’ market. Today, food at the grocery averages about 1,500 miles to get from the producer to your plate. Transportation of food contributes to our carbon footprint in a huge way. Buying from the producer in your local area cuts down on transportation drastically. Moreover, these local producers play a key role in developing regional foodsheds which also benefits the environment. Here’s something else: sometimes we forget about the cycles of growth and production when we visit a supermarket in snowy February to buy an eggplant. The farmers’ market restores your connection to the natural cycles in your area. You will also be surprised by the variety of produce at the market. Maybe you’ll try a vegetable you’ve never tasted before. And the meat and eggs you purchase are produced in environments that treat animals humanely. And let’s face it: what is more energizing than walking through our local market, meeting area farmers, greeting your neighbors, maybe picking up a locally grown bouquet of flowers or a fresh muffin and feeling like you are part of a vibrant community. Farmers’ markets are as old and as American as apple pie. And the apple in that pie is locally sourced, higher in nutrition and great for small business. Make the farmers’ market a weekly summer adventure and be a steward of good food, nutrition, health and the community.
Clare of Assisi was a close friend of Saint Francis of Assisi and the foundress of the Poor Clares. She was born in Assisi in 1194 and at age 18 was so moved by the Lenten sermons of Francis that she renounced all of her possessions and entered a convent, much to the dissatisfaction of her family and friends, who tried very hard to dissuade her and bring her home. She was formed in the religious life at Benedictine monasteries and then accepted Francis’ offer of a small house for herself and her companions adjacent to the church of San Damiano in Assisi. At age 21, she was appointed by Francis to lead the community, much against her will. She would lead the community for the next forty years and would never leave the San Damiano convent. The community would eventually include her mother and two sisters. The way of life in the new community was marked by poverty and austerity, and sustained itself entirely from charitable contributions. The Poor Clares observed almost complete silence unless spoken to or in order to perform a work of charity. They went barefoot, slept on the ground and ate no meat. In later years, Clare urged her nuns to moderate their own austerities and offer Christ “reasonable service and sacrifice seasoned with the salt of prudence.” The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They owned no property. Clare served the sick and washed the feet of the begging nuns. She was devoted to a life of prayer and celebration of the Eucharist. She was first up in the morning to ring the choir bell and light the candles. Clare sought to imitate Francis’ virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes called “another Francis.” She played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure. She took care of him during his final illness. From the time Francis died in 1226 until her own death 27 years later, Clare suffered various illnesses and was often bedridden. All the while, she lived a simple but dedicated religious life, performing such menial tasks as sewing altar linens for local parishes. Twice when the town of Assisi was under attack, Clare prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and the armies were said to have ended their siege and fled. Clare’s nuns soon spread to other countries in Europe, including Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England. Today, they are also established in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. She passed away on August 11, 1253 and was canonized two years later. Her feast day is August 11.