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.
Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast day is April 29, was the first layperson, and alongside Saint Teresa of Avila, one of the first two women named a Doctor of the Church. She was born Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa in Siena in 1347, the twenty-fourth of 25 children. She decided early on not to be married, and after several years of prayer and fasting, began an active life of service. She started by nursing the sick at a local hospital. Notable during that time was her aid to victims of the 1374 pandemic.
As a young woman, Catherine believed she had a call to preach the Gospel. She organized a group of people to accompany her on mission trips where she urged her audiences to seek a deeper conversion to Christ in their lives through prayer and repentance. She became so extraordinarily successful that she had to recruit priests to serve as confessors to these large gatherings.
A devoted advocate of the Church, Catherine publicly promoted the offices of papacy, bishop and the clergy as Christ’s ambassadors, but she was also a severe critic of the abuses she saw among many members of the clergy and church hierarchy. She believed they should embrace poverty and assume a more humble spirit instead of “living in worldly luxury and ambitiousness and pretentious vanity.” “In fact,” she maintained, “many laypersons put them to shame by their good and holy lives.”
Catherine, though, knew that there could be no lasting reform of the Church without strong papal leadership. In 1376 she met with Pope Gregory XI in Avignon, France, where the papacy had been banished since 1309, and urged him to return to Rome. In one letter, she insisted that he must be “courageous” and not a “coward.” Catherine’s letter strengthened the pope’s resolve and he returned to Rome in 1377. After Gregory’s death the following year and the election of Pope Urban VI, the Great Schism ensued. For the next 39 years, there would be at least two and sometimes three claimants to the papacy. Catherine sent frequent letters to Urban in the hope of moderating his severity towards his opponents. She also wrote to various other church authorities, encouraging them to recognize Urban as the legitimate successor to the Chair of Saint Peter. Although a prodigious producer of letters, Catherine dictated her thoughts to others because she did not learn to write until near the end of her life.
During the years 1377 to 1378, Catherine dictated The Dialogue, her reflections on the spiritual life. Many spiritual writers insist that this major work of mystical theology stands beside other great spiritual classics such as those of two other Doctors of the Church, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Pope Urban invited Catherine to Rome in 1380 to help lend support to his papacy, but on the way she suffered a stroke. She died on April 29, 1380. She was 33 years old.
Weekend of April 24 / 25 2021 In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus referring to himself as “the good shepherd.” His sheep know him, trust him, listen to him and follow him; having faith that no harm will come to them as long as they stay close to him. We reaffirmed our faith in Christ when we renewed our baptismal promises at Easter. As stewards of our relationship with Jesus Christ, are we, like the sheep, willing to listen to Jesus, follow him, trust him?
On Sunday, March 21, World Water Day was celebrated to raise awareness of the global water crisis. In his Sunday remarks, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, made a plea for people the world over to be more responsible in the protection and use of water, as clean water is denied to an estimated 2.2 billion people around the world. The pontiff reminded us that water should not be considered a commodity to be bought and sold, but a valuable gift in which everyone should have access as a fundamental human right. The pontiff observed that “without water, there would have been no life, no urban centers, no agriculture, forestry or livestock,” and yet the world and its people have not exercised good stewardship over this fundamental and essential gift to the planet. “Wasting it, disregarding it or contaminating it has been a mistake that continues to be repeated even today,” he said.
The Holy Father asked how in our age of technological advances, “access to safe, drinkable water is not within everyone’s reach.” Referencing his apostolic letter, Laudato si, Pope Francis reminded us that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” He went on to say that water is a gift to which all human beings, without exception, have the right to have adequate access, so that they can lead a dignified life. Thus, “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.”
Pope Francis concluded his message by calling for urgent action to end the global water crisis: “Let us make haste, therefore, to give drink to the thirsty. Let us correct our lifestyles so that we do not waste or pollute. Let us become protagonists of that goodness that led St. Francis of Assisi to describe water as a sister ‘who is very humble, and precious and chaste!’”
Water is a gift that connects every aspect of life. Access to safe water and sanitation can quickly turn problems into potential, contributing to improved health for women, children, and families around the world. What is vital is how we respect and value this gift.
Here are a few ways we can expand our consciousness about the value of water.
Keep yourself informed on the global clean water crisis. Once we become aware of water access issues around the globe, we will better appreciate the need to take action to ensure we aren’t misusing the gift of water that we consume. Challenging and changing our water habits is an easy way to notice the impact we are having on water consumption.
Be mindful of the ways you use water While we shouldn’t give up drinking water each day, consider the small ways you waste water on a daily basis and then cut back. For example, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Watch the water you consume while washing or rinsing utensils, glassware or pots and pans. Reduce the amount of water used while taking a shower A 10-minute shower uses at least 25 gallons of water. Try to reduce your shower time by a few minutes. One source recommends keeping your shower time down to two songs.
Repair leaks in your house. One environmental researcher suggested that a typical household loses thousands of gallons of water each year due to ordinary leaks in faucets, pipes and garden hoses. Take time to make needed repairs. You’ll save water and money along the way.
Reduce water consumption in home appliances. Dishwashers and washing machines use a lot of water. Consider making sure those washers are full before doing a load of laundry or dishes.
Include nonprofits that provide clean water in your charitable giving There are a number of widely known nonprofit organizations that have made it their mission to address this global clean water crisis. Check out these nonprofits and prayerfully consider adding them to your list of charitable beneficiaries.