Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

16 July 2016

Our Stewardship of Suffering and Love

It sometimes occurs as a point of meditation that the saints are human just like us, but at the same time we are called to the same holiness as they. We do a great job, don’t we, of putting different folks on a pedestal, whether it be the saints, or various political or religious leaders or inspirational people in our lives. We know we’ve put them on a pedestal when they inevitably give us reason not to keep them there, and as a result we become outraged; perhaps, in a quieter moment, we might become embarrassed at the thought that we invested the person with such esteem and paid so much attention to what they said—never mind that their words may have been true and valuable, but suddenly their own imperfection or hypocrisy prompts us to call everything into question. Please God, with a little perspective we learn to sift through everything to retain what is of value.

Anyhow, Saint Paul reminds us today of the exalted dignity that all the baptized share. He calls it a “stewardship” (οîκονομία), which refers to a plan for attending to the concerns of an individual or a household. It's where we get the word "economy": the aggregate of transactions (usually financial, but not exclusively so) by which a community of persons keeps going. Paul’s “stewardship” was the mission entrusted to him by God for the communities he’d founded (we’d call them parishes or dioceses). We might find the term more relevant if we considered our family, workplace, and even our own bodies and souls as a stewardship. Paul’s mission was to proclaim the Word of God in Jesus Christ through doctrinal and moral instruction, in order to form active, growing believers. Our responsibility as disciples isn’t really that different: by example and by words we want to show people who Jesus is and what He means for the world. We do this not as “lone rangers,” but as persons baptized into the visible Body of Christ on earth, found most fully in the Catholic Church that the Lord Jesus founded and has sustained for nearly 2,000 years with believers and leaders such as us.

As a result, we want to cultivate our relationship with the Lord in and through the Church, so that people are drawn not merely to us with our personal gifts and drawbacks, but to the Lord living and acting in the Church. We may need to brush up on our appreciation of our great Catholic heritage so as to become the best possible witness.

Now most of us don't have a pulpit from which to proclaim any sort of message, nor do we have any kind of script. In the absence of laborious research and skillful oratory, there is one element in most lives that can provide a compelling witness, and that is our suffering. Strange to hear, perhaps, but God’s honest truth. St. Paul said to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church.” We’d be foolish to suppose that, because Jesus suffered for us, we shouldn’t have to suffer, we shouldn’t have to experience pain, inconvenience, humiliation, and all the rest. Jesus experienced upon the cross the suffering experienced by every person in every place and time, so that as we come to experience that suffering in our own time, it doesn't have to be purposeless: we are able to make it something of infinite value by offering it in union with the Lord for those in need of repentance and healing. Thus we can create a space in our lives for the "inconveniences" that visit us, like those three men who visited Abraham and Sarah, and they can become a channel of unexpected blessing.

And when we don’t necessarily have any suffering on our plate, the other legacy in which we always share is the Eucharist that unites us to the saints of every time and place. The very Body of Christ that suffered upon the Cross is sacramentally made present here and now and everywhere the ministerial priesthood is found. In our worthy reception of Holy Communion we share in the sufferings and joys of the whole Church across time and space. Why, therefore, waste an opportunity to suffer well? Why waste an opportunity to love well? Why waste a chance to learn from the Master where He is most concretely found—in the Host and in our neighbor?

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