Drawing Hope from the Future
St. Augustine defines love as wanting someone (or something) to “be and be everything it can be” (esse et bene esse). Is there any person or group or people I would just prefer not to have on the planet? Or not in our own country? Or at least not living near me or working where I work?
Is there any category of people I am not interested in helping to get better? Is there anything else God made that I am not concerned about preserving or developing? Shall we save the whales? The rain forest? How about the Bronx?
What if we changed the Entrance Antiphon into a plea addressed to ourselves instead of to God, and spoken by some person, group of people, or something else God made whose existence is in some way threatened: “Do not abandon me, [your name]… Hurry to help me, [your name], my savior!” How would I answer that plea? Would I answer, no matter where it came from?
The fact is, every Christian in the world is consecrated by God as a steward of Christ’s kingship and charged with responsibility for all creation. We may not be very conscious of this — because it may not be what was emphasized in our religious instruction — but it is Catholic doctrine.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we acknowledge that everything we have received or see or use comes from God’s “fullness.” We value everything as coming from God and in some way expressing his goodness. But we are very aware that it is “only with God’s help” that we can offer “fitting service and praise” by responsible care for all God has made and entrusted to us. We ask God to keep the “limits which our failings impose on hope” from “blinding us ” to God’s presence in all he has made so that we can “trust in your promise” to give “eternal life” to all who ask him for it, and in the “fullness of time” to “gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” Today’s Mass is a summons to confident stewardship. 1
Every sight a site
Wisdom 11:22 to 12:1 defines the attitude Christians should have toward all God has made by declaring God’s attitude:
For you love all things that are… for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it?
We did not make this world, and it is not for us to declare its value except by recognizing the value it has for the One to whom all things belong: the One who made them and preserves them in being.
Christians never just see trees, flowers, animals or beer. Christians see these all beings as be-ing, here and now, because God is in them, giving them existence, sharing with us, through each one’s nature, some characteristic of his own goodness translated into physical being, sight, sound, touch, taste and fragrance. For Christians every “sight” is a “site”: a place where God dwells and manifests himself.
You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
This is the foundation of Christian stewardship: we recognize that nothing is truly ours, but that God has entrusted everything that is his to us, to manage it for him. To do this well, we first need to recognize the value of everything that is.
An excellent first step toward this would be to re-read the Vatican II document, “The Church in the Modern World,” whose real title (in Latin) is “Joy and Hope.” The document is too rich and exciting to summarize here.
This stewardship is a special responsibility of the laity, whose identifying mission as “sharing in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ,” is to “penetrate and perfect the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the Gospel…. since it is proper to the laity’s way of life to spend their days in the midst of the world and of secular transactions… as a kind of leaven.”
In particular, the Church declares it is “desirable, and often imperative, that Catholics cooperate with other Christians…. and with other people who, though not Christians, acknowledge certain human values held by all humankind…. Through this cooperation… the laity bear witness to Christ the Savior of the world, and to the unity of the human family.”2
To search and save
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 145) reminds us to grow in appreciation for people and things by expressing it in praise: “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”
Luke 19: 1-10 shows us Jesus recognizing and affirming the goodness in a man everyone had written off. Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” had become “a wealthy man” through exploitation and graft. Jesus shocked all the bystanders by inviting himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house.
When they “began to murmur, ‘He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest,’” Jesus said, “This man too is a son of Abraham.” By acknowledging that truth even though Zacchaeus’s conduct denied and obscured it, Jesus was able to “search out and save what was lost.” This is the spirit of the true shepherd, who takes responsibility for the sheep. We need to consciously appreciate and love everything and everyone we are responsible for. A practical means to this is to form the habit of deliberately praising what is good in everything we see: “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”
Faithful to the end
In 2Thessalonians 1:11 to 2:2 Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians to be faithful — to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught (2:15)” — so that “God may make you worthy of his call” to be faithful stewards of the word Paul has preached to them.
The Thessalonians, as often happens in times of persecution or crisis, were getting focused on claims and prophecies that the “day of the Lord” was at hand. Paul says to stop wondering when the end of the world is coming and to concentrate instead on persevering in responsible stewardship, working to establish the reign of God on earth for as long as it takes.
When Christ comes in “the glory of his power” he will “be glorified among his holy ones” who have believed and persevered in faith (1:9-10). Paul prays that “the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified” in them and in all of us now, so that both we and the world can see God bringing “to fulfillment every good purpose and effort” inspired by faith. The more we see this happening now, the more it will encourage us to persevere.
But it will always seem that the deck is stacked against us. Even though we know that God loves everything and everyone he made, and that his “imperishable spirit is in all things,” working in the best and worst of us alike to “deliver us from evil,” we still find it hard to love everyone and to keep striving to establish the reign of God over every area and activity of human life on earth, without exception. But this is what stewardship is all about.
In times of special difficulty, persecution or any trial, what motivates us to faithful stewardship is a cultivated awareness of the “end time,” when Christ is going to come in glory, having triumphed over everything that blocks or resists the reign of God on earth. We know this is going to happen. We know it is happening now. To keep ourselves conscious of this, we keep singing now what we will sing then, “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”
1 See Genesis 2:15; Ephesians 1: 9-23; Colossians 1: 9-20; Philippians 3:21.
2 Vatican II, “The Laity,” nos. 2, 27.
What is your strongest reason for affirming the essential goodness of every person and product of God’s creation on earth?
Never stop with the “bad news.” Whatever you see or hear that discourages you, always look deeper into what is there (make every sight a site), and always look beyond the present, to see what will be when Christ’s victory is complete.