November – A Month to Reflect on Gratitude

“It is gratitude that ultimately asks one thing, but at a great price: fall extravagantly in love with what is given.” Those words were penned by a Jesuit priest, Pat Malone, a man who volunteered for service at Ground Zero after the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings, and who struggled with leukemia and associated complications before succumbing to the disease in his early fifties. A mystic, Father Malone endured, or as he described it, “was given” much suffering. He was also given love, as he was beloved by his parishioners at Creighton University’s parish, St. John’s, who put together a book of his homilies and writings following his death. During the month of November, those of us who live in the United States are focused on a major national holiday, Thanksgiving; the fundamental theme of which is “gratitude.” Gratitude is a foundational principle of Christian stewardship, so November is a great time for stewards to contemplate giving thanks. But sometimes, there is a tendency to get distracted and the deeply spiritual aspect of thankfulness gets lost in the preoccupation with family, home, income – that we often take for granted but pause to acknowledge over the turkey and stuffing.

Father Malone’s words ask us to think much more radically about gratitude. How often are we grateful for “what is given?” Natural disasters have caused immense suffering globally. War and ethnic cleansing continue. Refugees swarm the planet in record-breaking numbers. Mindless violence haunts our streets. How do we fall in love with tragedy? Doesn’t this seem wrong? And in our own lives, troubles and struggles, small and sometimes great, are seldom things for which we pause and give thanks. But as any good spiritual director will tell you, a fundamental question of our prayer lives must be: Where was God in this for you? How did you find God in this event? Perhaps a good November exercise for Christian stewards would be to keep a 30-day journal of thankfulness. But don’t just make it a list of the “good” stuff. Make it a review of the day in which, for better or worse, you found God guiding you through good times and bad. Father Malone suggests that falling in love – extravagantly – with what’s given in your life will exact a great price. What does he mean? How might you be changed? What more ordinary ideas of thankfulness will you put aside as you learn to love your life and your struggle in the given moment?

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Weekend of November 5/6, 2022. In today’s second reading we hear Saint Paul urging the members of the community at Thessalonica to direct their hearts to God’s love through Christ. He wants them to be laser-focused on Christ, and nothing else. He desires that they be strengthened by the Lord and shielded from what is not Christ-like. Good stewards cultivate a “laser-sharp” focus on Christ; not on things that could give them false or superficial images or ideals. Let’s think about our own daily focus: Do we direct out hearts toward Christ or are there other “gods” that claim our attention? Our career? Material possessions? Sexuality? Favorite sports team? Political leanings? Does our daily life point to Christ so that those who are younger and less mature in their faith learn from our example?

Zaccheus: Saint Luke’s Model of Stewardship

The gospel reading for the last weekend of October reveals to us the encounter Jesus had with a wealthy tax collector named Zacchaeus as he was passing through the town of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 19:1-10). The significance of this incident gives us insight into that aspect of Saint Luke’s theology of stewardship that concerns itself with the appropriate stewardship of money and wealth. This encounter is unique to the Gospel of Luke as it is not found in the other three gospels. Arguably, it can be said that the meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus can be regarded as one of the most important in the gospel for it illustrates the gospel’s concern that one show substantial generosity toward the poor and the exploited in order to enjoy Jesus’ friendship. Zacchaeus was a superintendent of customs officials. Tax collectors were often corrupt, and hated by many of their fellow Jews who saw them as traitors for working for the Roman Empire. His position would have carried both importance and wealth. Described as a short man, Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore tree so that he might be able to see Jesus. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name and told him to come down for he wanted to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus would condescend himself to being a guest of a tax collector. Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy, opening his heart and his wallet in a heartfelt expression of generosity. Moved by Jesus’ public acceptance of him, Zacchaeus promises Jesus to give half his wealth to the poor and to pay fourfold in restitution to anyone he may have defrauded. In addition to his dignity and reputation, Zacchaeus now risks his financial security and his social standing among the rich. His vow of giving to the poor and restoration to those defrauded goes far beyond what is contemplated in Mosaic law. But he seeks Jesus’ approval and friendship, and he makes a great sacrifice in order to do so. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to leave behind his profession nor to give away the rest of his possessions. Rather, he meets him in the place where Zacchaeus wants to meet him and he opens up a saving way forward within his life’s reality. For Saint Luke, those who sincerely desire to see and be known to Christ, like Zacchaeus did, will make the necessary sacrifices to do so. They show a specific concern for the poor and the marginalized, those who suffer injustice and oppression. Those who listen to Christ’s call become sensitized and proactive at some level to the suffering in the world. Zacchaeus gave public proof that he was willing to be converted in order to enjoy Jesus’ friendship. Christ has come to his house, and where Christ comes he brings salvation with him. And through Zacchaeus, Saint Luke offers a model of stewardship.