The Sunday Gospel (Luke 16: 1-13) packs some heavy punches. Take a minute to read it again. We all carry heavy responsibilities. We need to pay our bills and not get into debt, while saving for retirement and not burdening others. Most of us need to earn paychecks, which requires long days on the job. All of us need to nurture our domestic life — both the practical needs of daily family life as well as the faith elements of our domestic church.
We need to feed our families nutritious food, make sure they lead a healthy, active lifestyle, while not packing in psychological wounds or burdens. We need to ensure our children learn well — both in school and in their faith, and that they have extra-curricular opportunities to develop their talents. We need to help our children connect with good friends, and avoid less desirable companions. We need to keep them safe from dangers — external and internal. We need to stay close to them, while knowing how and when to let go.
We need to manage a thousand details on the domestic front, while serving our world. We need to be active and responsible citizens. We need to serve the poor and volunteer in our parish.. And we need to be green too — not just in Ordinary Time — but every day, by choices we make with respect to the environment.
I don’t know about you, but most of us are stewards of quite a lot in modern life. I’m not sure anyone can wear so many stewarding hats, and do well in even “small things.” No one can “do it all,” or manage all equally well. So, how do we sort; how do we prioritize? And — most important of all — how do we keep God before us in all things?
What are we stewards of first?
1. Our souls — That’s right, the first responsibility we have is to nurture the life of God within us. That includes following the rules of the faith, as well as stretching ourselves to grew in The Spirit. Our end is to know, love and serve God in this life, so we can be happy with Him in heaven for all eternity. In brief, we are called to be saints. Nothing less fulfills the promise of our Baptism, when we were marked as Christ’s own forever.
How do we care for our souls? Minimally, we go to Mass, strive to follow the Commandments, pray without ceasing, serve tirelessly, study God’s Word, lead a life of virtue, and shine His Light in our world. A tall order. I don’t know about you, but it makes me tired just reflecting on the expanse of the stewardship we are all called to!
2. Our children’s souls — That’s right, we are responsible for their souls too, at least as long as they are under our direct care; and, after that, we still must pray for and witness to them, to guide them in their path toward heaven.
How do we care for our children’s souls? We need to lead them in the fullness of our faith — which we glimpse daily, weekly, and seasonally in the liturgical year. We need to draw attention to what our Church teaches, and we need to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Most of us, of course, are still taking toddler steps in the faith. It’s pretty tricky teaching what we are continuously figuring out. But that’s a process to share.
3. The souls of all God’s people we encounter daily and throughout our lives — Okay, now you think, she’s really piling it on — right? But it’s true: Who is our neighbor? It’s the guy with the loud car next door, the lady with the obnoxious kid around the corner, the grouchy grocery clerk, our bosses, the office gossip, your child’s teacher, the garbage collector — the list is endless.
How do we care for other’s souls? We need to be the people of God who shine His light, share His love, give with His generosity, serve with His strength and wisdom.
If you’ve read this far, you have reached the obvious conclusion: This is an impossible call! Who in the world can do all this? If this is what God asks of each of us, how can I ever be called that “good and faithful steward” when I meet my Maker?
Well, we can’t do it all — and we can do all that God prepares for us to do, by persevering in faith, living by right principles, and — most important of all — relying on God’s Grace and strength to see us through. Take care of the small things — those moment-by-moment choices each day that lead us closer to God (or can lead us astray) — and God will take care of the big things.
Keep your eyes on the prize, and rely on the Master at all times, to discern and prioritize among your stewarding tasks. That’s the work of faithful servant-souls striving toward eternity.
I have a favorite icon, which is a bit haunting: The Ladder of the Divine Ascent. This is a classic in Orthodox iconography. You see monks (symbolic of all of us) climbing a ladder to the Lord, who waits for them at the top, and encourages them along. Meanwhile, there are demons trying to pluck the monks off the ladder. Our days are full of those demons; and they don’t bear such obvious outward appearances.
I read a book this summer about a young Catholic Polish woman who lived during the Holocaust. She wound up saving a small group of Jews from the Nazi death camps. When you look at the nine people she saved, compared the the nine million murdered in the Holocaust, it seems so small. But what she did was care for those “in her hands.” The book is In My Hands. Ultimately, that’s all God asks of us.