Everything is Held in Stewardship

As I’ve said before, every day my prayer includes St. Ignatius’ Suscipe: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”

This morning as I prayed it, I heard more deeply than ever the truth that EVERYTHING – all I have, all I am, everything – is gift from God. Not mine to do with as I will, but mine only in trust to use for the benefit of all.

We use the term “stewardship” a lot. For many people stewardship is just about how we use the goods of the earth (sustainable farming, etc.). But while that is certainly an important part of it, my stewardship of my self, of what I have, of the gifts I have been given, is at least as (if not more) important.

Earlier this week I sent to those who had participated in our UST vocation retreat this past weekend an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island. Given my reflections on the Suscipe, it is a fitting quote to share here:

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others?

Total stewardship over all is easier to understand when we realize our deep interrelationship and interdependence. My use of my gifts can be no “for me” separate from “for others” or “for others” separate from “for me.” It is all “for us.”

The Feast of Self-Gift

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi – the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. I should specify “the Catholic Church in the United States,” since the actual day of the feast is the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but the celebration has been transferred to the Sunday following Trinity Sunday in the United States.

Descriptions of the feast of Corpus Christi describe it as a feast that commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, and it does that. But the danger in using only those words is that we focus only on Jesus act and not on what that act demands of us in return.

The Eucharist represents Jesus’ complete self-gift to us. He gave everything – his body and his blood, his whole person – during his life and by his death.

Each time the Eucharist is consecrated at Mass, we hear the words Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in memory of me.

The last is clearly not intended as an afterthought. Rather “Do this in memory of me” calls us to make the same self-gift Jesus made for our sake.

The question this feast of Jesus’ gift of self invites us to ask ourselves, in the words of Sr. Barbara Reid, O.P., I once read is: “How do we replicate the giving of our whole selves, body, mind and spirit, to the one who is the source of all nourishment so that we may be broken open in love for the life of the world?”

Self-Gift

I just watched a “last lecture” delivered by Fr. Michael Himes, whose work I always benefit from. This lecture at Bostton College was the first in an anticipated series named for the talk given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch in September 2007, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The idea of the “last lecture” is that the speaker shares his or her wisdom about the most important things in life, as though this were the last chance one had to convey that which it is absolutely necessary to convey.

What Himes spoke about what his understanding of Christ’s statement in the Gospels that if one holds onto one’s life one loses it but if one gives it away, it becomes everlasting life.

Himes observed that for a long time he mistakenly understood Jesus’ words as a commandment, as saying this is what we ought to do – give up our live to save it. However, over time he came to understand that is it not a command, but a description; not an ought, but a statment of how things are: if we hold onto our live we will lose it; if we give it away, it won’t run out. What that means, he says, is that being and giving oneself are the same thing, which is precisely what John is saying in saying that God is love: that the foundation of existence is self-gift.

Love, in this context is not an emotion, but an activity – the act of giving oneself to another. To really love means to give oneself over to. We can’t, he observes really get to know or understand anyone or anything without giving ourself to it. Giving our time, our intelligence, our energy – really giving ourself to it.

I’ll want to continue mulling over what Himes says in this lecture, but his words resonate. If God is love and we are make in God’s image, than we are made for self-gift. It is not about commands and oughts, but about being who we are. We cannot be fully human, we cannot exist as we were made to exist, in God’s image, without giving ourselves over.

You can watch the lecture in its entirety here.