One of the biggest questions parents have right now is what kind of routine their children will have as they contemplate a new school year during COVID-19. One thing is for sure, however, autumn brings back a routine, a sense of order and a discipline that summer lacks. Christian stewards can take advantage of this “new routine” to integrate prayer more deeply into their children’s lives. As August begins, it is natural to begin thinking about scaling back the bedtime hour and wringing the most out of the last weeks of freedom before autumn, however we determine what the beginning of the school year will look like. Make a plan now to take advantage of this “new” school year and incorporate aspects of prayer and a heightened awareness of God into your children’s new schedule. For example, evaluate your morning routine. That short morning “journey” can be a great time for a shared morning prayer. Even a walk together can be a time to pause and ask God to bless our day. Perhaps your summer of eating sporadically will be replaced by more established mealtimes. Take advantage of these moments you have with your children to begin a new blessing at the evening meal. Along with thanksgiving for the food, each member of the family could relate one person for whom they were particularly grateful during the day. Maybe there was a particular event that occurred during the day for which your children were thankful. At bedtime, each child could be called upon to recall with a parent the best part of that child’s day, and also what was the most challenging part of the day. Then, reflect briefly on how God was present through those events. Not only is this a beautiful way to help your child be conscious of the presence of God, it’s a great way to learn more about your child’s experiences. By allowing the stewardship of your own prayer life to unfold for your children, you reveal to them that a sense of prayerfulness permeates your day, that life has more meaning and purpose when reflected upon, and that the habit of prayer, ingrained in a schedule, can be a habit retained for a lifetime.
Alphonsus Liguori was the founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) and one of the greatest moral theologians in the history of the Church.
Born into a Neapolitan noble family in 1696, he studied and practiced law successfully until, after losing an important case through his own fault and seeing it as a sign of God’s will, he decided to enter the priesthood. He studied theology and was ordained in 1726. Soon thereafter he established a reputation as an effective preacher and understanding confessor in and near Naples. In 1732, Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer for priests dedicated to preaching the Gospel, especially to the rural poor in the kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus continued to preach and hear confessions with great success throughout the kingdom, especially in villages and hamlets, until 1752 when his health failed. He was especially gentle with the scrupulous, those with an unhealthy sense of anxiety and guilt, because he himself suffered from scrupulosity.
Alphonsus published the first of three dozen theological and devotional works in 1745, the most important of which was his Moral Theology, revised and reprinted nine times during his life. In this work he created new moral principles, and his pastoral approach was always one of simplicity and kindness. He also published devotional writings, especially about the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Glories of Mary (1750) influenced Marian piety well into the nineteenth century. After at first refusing the appointment, in 1762 Alphonsus was ordained bishop of Sant’Agatha dei Goti, a diocese located between Benevento and Capua, Italy. He organized parish missions and urged his priests to be simple in the pulpit and compassionate in the confessional. He was especially critical of priests who celebrated Mass too quickly. When a famine broke out in the winter of 1763, he sold everything he had, including his carriage and mules and his episcopal ring, to buy food for the starving. The Holy See gave him permission to dip into the assets of the diocese for relief work.
Alphonsus suffered an attack of rheumatic fever in 1767 that almost killed him and left him with an incurably bent neck. He eventually resigned his position in 1775 because of poor health. He lived another twelve years in poor mental and physical health. He died during the night of July 31/August 1, 1787, within two months of his ninety-first birthday. Alphonsus Liguori was beatified in 1816, and made patron saint of confessors and moral theologians in 1950. His feast day is August 1.
Just before Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, his close friends, Martha, her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus, entertained Jesus at their home in Bethany (John 12:1-8). Martha “served,” while Mary anointed his feet. It is in the simple statement, “Martha served,” that we recognize Martha for her witness to stewardship. She isn’t a prolific evangelist, she doesn’t work miracles. She simply serves Jesus. Jesus may have been a frequent visitor to Martha’s home and perhaps this is one of the reasons the Gospel of John reveals to us that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (11:5). This unique statement in the gospel informs us of the special relationship Jesus had with Martha and her siblings. And, as another one of Jesus’ visits to Martha’s home affirms, Martha continues to be concerned that Jesus be served. Like any good steward, hospitality was very important to Martha (Luke 10:38-42). What is most revealing about Martha is on the occasion of the death of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Martha takes an active role, going out to meet Jesus to let him know what happened to her brother while Mary stays at home. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will be raised from dead. With courage and conviction, Martha confesses her deep faith in Jesus Christ: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” And then Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” When he asked Martha if she believed this, she replied: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:24-27). The feast of St. Martha, a witness to service who confessed her faith in Jesus, is July 29. She is the patron saint of homemakers, cooks, domestic workers, waiters and waitresses, and hotel employees.
If you are looking for some consolation from the Bible during these disquieting times, you might try the Book of Psalms. 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. Go to your Bible this month. Take some quiet time to pray some of the psalms. And remember to be thankful for what he has done for us.
By Mary Ann Otto, pastoral minister for missionary discipleship, St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin
I was involved in a small group reflecting on one of Bishop Robert Barron’s books, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues. The beauty of this process is that we are called to a change of heart. The challenge of this process is that we are called to a change of heart.
Bishop Barron begins by suggesting that the polar opposite of love is fear. He suggests we are unloving because we are afraid of losing control, of others having more prestige, more possessions and of not accomplishing personal goals. Bishop Barron describes love as: “Allowing ourselves to be conduits of God’s divine love.” We are called to delight in each other’s hopes, dreams, gifts and successes. Parallels can be made between love, fear and our ability to be Christian stewards. Each day we make decisions either grounded in love or fear in regards, for example, to matters such as the depth of our gratitude, the time we make for prayer, the extent to which we are willing to offer our talents in service, and the extent to which we share generously of our treasure. In light of this, I decided to do a self-check and reflect on where I fall between these two polar opposites of love and fear. The fear side of me suggests that I love and trust myself first, live independently and make self-actualization my goal.
As a person of fear, I am afraid I might be less and have less. On the love side of this lovefear balance, I have placed my trust in God. My commitment to prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit are key components. Love would be the measure of my success. I would live life in gratitude, in relationship with Jesus, serve wherever I’m called and give generously of the treasure. I truly want the best for others and I want to do something about it! So where am I between love and fear? Let’s say I am intentionally traveling on the highway toward authentic love and take less off ramps than when I was younger. I know my road will end in front of the Master one day where perfect love exists. I hope that my life as a steward will reflect that I was “leaning into” the love side of the love-fear continuum all along.
This time of uncertainty really has our personal “worlds” turned upside down. Schedules are no longer the same. Planning has gone awry. Calendars look like a mess. And the rhythm of our days has met a new “abnormal.” Many of us have neither the time nor the resources for a vacation, but all of us can resonate with the need to really “get away” from the stress of our daily grind.
Good stewardship of our bodies, minds and souls obliges us to get away on a regular basis (see Luke 5:16). As Christian stewards, we aren’t just encouraged but obligated to consider how we approach our stewardship of leisure time. Stewards are aware of their need to be busy doing God’s work, but often forget that down time is equally important to spiritual growth.
Leisure time, whether it’s our evenings, our weekends, or our vacation, provides spiritual, physical, mental and emotional recharging. Leisure is necessary for human wholeness. Leisure reconnects us to the wider mysteries of our world and our God. It helps us daydream, imagine, pray. It refreshes our spirit. Today, connectivity has become almost an obsession. People check their emails, their messages and calls with alarming repetitiveness. Accidents, both pedestrian and automobile, happen because people can’t put down their phones. Employers expect their workers to be available for evening emails. The lines between work and free time increasingly blur, as do the lines between solitude and always being present “online.” We can’t imagine putting aside screens for a two-week vacation.
But we must give ourselves time to renew and recharge, not just two weeks of the year, but each day and each week. July offers an opportunity to reconnect with the rhythms of God and nature. We need to take time off from screens and phones, and practice giving undivided attention to the things before us. When we pray, we commit time and silence. When we enjoy time with our friends and family, we practice being totally present. When we sit on the patio or at the beach, we give ourselves wholly to the wind or the waves.
Be a good steward of your body, mind and soul. Don’t over schedule your time off. Listen to the quiet whisper of God encouraging you to relax
This month we highlight two of the great stewards of our faith, Saints Peter and Paul, commemorated on June 29. The two apostles are celebrated together as the founders of the early Church of Rome.
St. Peter held a preeminent status among Jesus’ disciples. He was very close to Jesus and is the apostle Jesus designated as the “rock” upon which his Church would be built. Even St. Paul acknowledged St. Peter as the pillar of the Church in Jerusalem. The Gospel of St. Luke describes Jesus commissioning St. Peter as the head of the disciples. In the first of his letters contained in the New Testament, St. Peter penned the stewardship reflection placed so prominently in the United States Bishops’ pastoral letter on Christian stewardship: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt. 4:10).
Thinkers throughout the ages acknowledge St. Paul as a genius and his success as a missionary was unmatched. He was a highly educated Jew and interpreted his conversion experience on the road to Damascus as Christ’s personal call to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. He established Christian communities around the eastern Mediterranean, is noted for three great missionary journeys and wrote letters to various communities.
St. Paul believed that exercising good stewardship over the gift of the Risen Christ was fundamental to eternal life. How Saints Peter and Paul actually exercised stewardship over the Church in Rome is lost to history, but our faith tradition affirms that they jointly founded the Church of Rome, exercised a special authority over it and established its apostolic succession; a succession of bishops and popes that continues to this day
On Sunday June 14, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. Of course, now that we are beginning to return to the physical Eucharistic table in our parishes and celebrate the sacrament in person, we can more readily recall that the best way to celebrate the Eucharist is to live it, to put the Eucharist into action. None of us can be a mere spectator to the Eucharist, for this offering to God of bread and wine is really our offering to him of ourselves, of our lives and of the whole world.
Jesus taught us this connectedness when he enjoined us to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel (see Mark 16:15). The Eucharist invites us to be “stewards of the gospel;” to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and to love others just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. This is the meaning behind the language of blood sacrifice of which we will hear proclaimed in the weekend’s readings. Blood is fundamentally life.
The commitment to share in a common life, the covenant between God and Israel, was endorsed in blood, lots of it. Sacrifice was, and is necessary.
But how does the celebration of the Eucharist relate concretely to our ordinary day-to-day lives? At one level, our physical return to the Eucharistic table affirms our belief that there is something extraordinary in our ordinary, daily lives. We take time to acknowledge to ourselves, our families and our communities with whom we have been separated that we are engaged in an extraordinary relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
More deeply, however, is that the Eucharist transforms us. It provides a center of our being and a driving force that impels us to go out and “be” Christ to a broken world. We are nourished and strengthened in a profound way in order to build up the Body of Christ and carry out Jesus’ command to be missionary disciples. The theme for the 58th annual conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, to be held, both virtually, and in Anaheim, California, if permissible, September 27 to 30, is Encounter! This conference will give us a wonderful opportunity to learn more about encountering the risen Christ in our lives, putting his gift of the Eucharist into action and to become “doers” of God’s Word as individual Catholics, and as local Catholic communities of faith.
Whether we are still observing stay-at-home orders or slowly emerging from our quarantine and getting back to Mass in those places where permissible, we know that our Catholic faith is a communal faith, not meant to be lived in isolation. Our prayer and spirituality serve as a springboard to a life of Christian charity and service to others in some form or fashion.
In Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus alludes to the lives of action his disciples will lead. He speaks to God about his followers: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
As a communion of Christian stewards, we live our Catholic faith in a challenging world. We see overwhelming problems and social ills, and we’re bombarded from so many sides to take action. We are sometimes hit by “compassion fatigue,” and often the issues are complex and our response unsure. There are a host of Catholic agencies that can help us better understand Catholic social teaching and how we apply that teaching to the complexity of world issues that surround us. Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Services, to name just two, deal with international issues with a focus on faith, and Catholic Charities USA focuses on domestic issues.
But are you aware that our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) addresses many issues on the domestic and international front, through its educational resources as well as its activities? Many times, news reports focus on the Church’s position on one or two issues. But in reality, the bishops are very active and outspoken on a wide range of social concerns, and by joining with them as people of faith we can create a united front that promotes positive change and enhances the common good. Through its teachings and programs, the USCCB addresses issues such as human trafficking, hunger among our nation’s poor, the human suffering brought on by Syria’s civil war, employment, health care, the environment, education and capital punishment. Visiting www.usccb.org can bring you up to date on a wide range of issues and show you how you can help address them by applying the teachings of our Catholic faith.
Together as a communion of faith we can make a difference as we live in this world as Christ directed even in these disquieting times.
This year, the Church celebrates the great feast of Pentecost on May 31.
As recounted in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Pentecost occurred when the followers of Jesus were, filled with fear, clustered together in a room and were suddenly surprised by the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Strong wind and flame seemed to sweep the room, and the Apostles were so filled with the gifts of the Spirit that they emerged with new confidence, energy and a newly discovered strength. They experienced a new life in the Holy Spirit. In our secular culture,
Pentecost goes largely unobserved. “Pentecost” cards don’t pop up on store shelves weeks in advance, and there’s no merchandising that remotely compares to Easter and Christmas. Yet make no mistake. To Christians, Pentecost is a great celebration, sometimes called the birthday of the Church.
The word Pentecost has its roots in the Greek word for “fifty;” Pentecost comes fifty days after the Resurrection on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Why was Pentecost such a watershed event in the life of the Church?
As Christian stewards, we know we are called to live a life using the “fruits of the Spirit.” This calling has its roots in the momentous events of Pentecost. Up until that time, the followers of Jesus were still a somewhat disorganized band of believers, still in shock over the events of the crucifixion, still confused about the meaning of the sightings of the Risen Lord. Pentecost abruptly and forever changed that. Suddenly, missionary disciples were born, followers both called and sent forth. Like us, they were called together, in community. They became aware that their great mission was to reach, not just their Jewish brothers and sisters in Palestine, but the disparate crowds who visited Jerusalem and beyond. Like us, they were called to bring Jesus to the world. The Holy Spirit brought courage to replace fear, understanding to replace confusion, faith to replace doubt.
The same Holy Spirit moves in our own lives, perhaps not always with the drama of that first Pentecost, but with the same spiritual energy. The Spirit calls us within our Church community to share Jesus with others, just as the disciples were called. Our task is to embrace the strength and energy of the life of the Holy Spirit moving through us. Let’s celebrate Pentecost this year as heirs to this great moment in the life of our Church, as stewards inspired to be people of hope for others in this world desperate for God’s presence.