Then his homily began. He gave a one sentence nod to the Gospel, summarizing what it was about. Then he beamed, "Today we're going to celebrate STEWARDSHIP SUNDAY! There are financial reports at the end of each pew. You may share them and follow along as I read the entire thing to you and complain about how much more you need to give of your TIME, TALENT AND TREASURE!"
Now, I celebrate many things.
I celebrate Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving - but I do NOT celebrate "Stewardship Sunday."
But this brings me to a point, the main point of six weeks of spiritual struggle that have transpired inside my sinful little breast, culminating in a revelation of sorts that I now hope to share with you.
I have written on this blog at length about the Problem of Love. How are we to engage our love in the world in a meaningful way - our love which includes Eros, Agape, Philia, Storge: four different faces of One Single Love?
It is a problem that's particularly acute for actors, who, as the late Marvin Hamlisch described, can aptly sing, "What I Did for Love" - a song written about what actors and performers do "for love". We give our all to a business that is often brutal to us. We are taken advantage of by producers, directors and drama teachers. We often live in poverty and on the emotional edge, simply because we love what we do so much that we're never smart about it. We allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. As Othello says of himself, after killing Desdemona, we are ones that love "not wisely but too well".
|Othello with Iago, lamenting that he hasn't quite learned good stewardship of love.|
And are we even called to love "wisely"? Isn't the Christian Faith, indeed all of life, about giving it our all, loving with our whole selves and not counting the cost? Are we supposed to be careful with our caritas? Isn't love about just feeling or doing or expressing and not holding back?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, we are not to keep our hearts uncircumcised. We are to realize that love involves suffering; love will always hurt. Staying away from love for fear of pain is always a sin. We are to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves; indeed we are to love one another as He loved us - by taking up our crosses and following Him.
But no, we must not think that love can be love if we love ineffectively, without maturity, without prudence, without stewardship.
In twelve years as a Catholic, I have never heard a homily about this. I have never heard anybody in the Church speak on the Stewardship of Love - and that's not exactly "How do I budget my time, talent and treasure?" It's about, "How do I love wisely SO THAT I may love well?"
Let me give some examples, all from either events in my life or in the lives of people I know.
- If you love an addict, you stop enabling his addiction. You don't look the other way when he or she boozes up, you intervene and refuse to pretend the elephant in the living room isn't there. This may cause rejection, anger, fighting, outbursts - but it's the proper stewardship of love.
- If you love your kids, you don't let them do whatever they want whenever they want to. You don't try to be their best friend. You correct them when they're wrong and punish them when the situation warrants. This may cause gigantic temper tantrums and some major effort on your part - but it's the proper stewardship of love.
- If you love the poor, you don't give a homeless guy cash when he begs, as it will almost certainly go towards drugs or booze. You give to the shelter, or someplace that can help him in a real way. This requires effort and makes it harder to put a sop in your social consciousness - but it's the proper stewardship of love.
- If you love your back-yard neighbor family, you don't let them come in and out of your house without knocking and spread the dysfunction of their household into yours (I speak from personal experience). This may require you to put your foot down, or to move - but it's the proper stewardship of love.
- If you love your children, you don't let a bad bishop enable a child pornographer to victimize them; nor do you let this child pornographer slide by without competent psychological help, despite what the bishop intends. This may make your fellow "conservative Catholics" hate you - but it's the proper stewardship of love.
- And if you love your fellow man enough to evangelize to him, and he rejects you - are you to keep trying, to let your heart bleed for him, to stick around and try different tactics, like pop music or jumbo-trons or gay friendly Masses in the hopes of snagging his attention? No, if you spread the Gospel and it is rejected, you are to wipe the dust off your feet as a witness against those who won't hear it and move on. Our Lord Himself told us to do this - for this is the proper stewardship of love.
It is very tempting as an old fart (again I speak from experience) to find yourself attracted to cute young things and to long for the false intimacy of your profligate youth. But God has put a Law into our hearts - and that law speaks against adultery and even emotional unchastity - for keeping within these bounds is the proper stewardship of love.
It is very tempting as a young fart (I speak from very distant experience) to think that society's rules don't apply to you, and that you can do whatever - or whomever - you want. But this is not the proper stewardship of love.
It is very tempting in society today to excuse homosexual behavior, to wink at fornication, to make excuses for pedophilia, to be more loyal to your political party than to Christ and His teaching. To do otherwise is painful and counter-cultural - but it is the proper stewardship of love.
Everything that God tells us in His Word and through His Church is about How to Love. Let me repeat that. Everything that God tells us in His Word and through His Church is about How to Love.
In Genesis 38, the young lady Tamar is the victim of some very bad stewardship of love. She is supposed to bear children to Onan, in the place of Onan's dead brother; in Jewish culture, she has a right to this, a claim on it - so that she might not be a forlorn and hapless and childless widow. But Onan spills his seed (masturbation is the archetype for the bad stewardship of love) and Tamar suffers. After God strikes Onan dead, her father-in-law Judah is supposed to make things right and send another of his sons to do the job, but Judah refuses, for selfish reasons, allowing Tamar to suffer some more and languish childless for his bad stewardship of love. She eventually has to trick Judah himself into sleeping with her and siring a child, and Judah, thinking she's a road-side prostitute, is more concerned with paying his bill to a hooker than with doing justice to his daughter by marriage - more bad stewardship of love. Finally, the children are born (twins), one of whom becomes a distant ancestor to Jesus Christ Himself.
So we have, for quite a long time, we fallen creatures, practiced very bad stewardship of love.
But by God's grace, this can change. We can become like Christ, and our love can change the Church and change the world, by first changing our heats. But not just our hearts - also our heads. We are not merely to "luv" - we are to "love" - to love wisely so that we might love well. And that takes the head and the heart - prudence and charity - sacrifice and wisdom.
May we all learn and practice good stewardship of love.