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Column: Saint provides timely perspective on current hardships

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Normally, I do not like to give over this space to another author. However, recently I came across this “essay” that I felt was so timely with regard to our current economic problems and the challenges they present to us: 1) to preserve grateful hearts; and 2) to be even more generous in helping those in need. I offer the following for your thought and reflection:

“Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly and as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son [or daughter] of God, co-heir with Christ. Where did you get all this, and from whom?

“Let me turn to what is of less importance: the visible world around us. What benefactor has enabled you to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that are theirs, like the music of a harp? Who has blessed you with rain, with the art of husbandry, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and the easy familiarity of kinship?

“Who has given you dominion over animals, those that are tame and those that provide you with food? Who has made you lord and master of everything on earth? In short, who has endowed you with all that makes man superior to all other living creatures?

“Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all creatures and for the sake of all other creatures? Because we have received from him so many wonderful gifts, will we not be ashamed to refuse this one thing only, our generosity? Though he is God and Lord, he is not afraid to be known as our Father. Shall we for our part repudiate those who are our kith and kin?

“Brethren and friends, let us never allow ourselves to misuse what has been given us by God’s gift. If we do, we shall hear Saint Peter say: Be ashamed of yourselves for holding on to what belongs to someone else. Resolve to imitate God’s justice, and no one will be poor. Let us not labor to heap up and hoard riches while others remain in need. If we do, the prophet Amos will speak out against us with sharp and threatening words: Come now, you that say: When will the new moon be over, so that we may start selling? When will Sabbath be over, so that we may start opening our treasures?

“Let us put into practice the supreme and primary law of God. He sends down rain on the just and sinful alike, and causes the sun to rise on all without distinction. To all earth’s creatures he has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers and the forests. He has given the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in water. He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure. His gifts are not deficient in any way, because he wanted to give equality of blessing to equality of worth, and to show the abundance of his generosity.”

The preceding was written by St. Gregory Nazianzen, a 4th-century priest and bishop who lived in what today is the nation of Turkey. It is a section from a reflection that he wrote regarding the love of the poor. The church presents this particular excerpt to priests and others who pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the office of readings for Monday of the First Week of Lent.

St. Gregory’s thoughts are timeless. He challenged his listeners and readers 1600 years ago — as well as us today — to consider how everything that we “have” is truly God’s gift. Even if we “possess” very little wealth as the world measures it, we have been richly endowed.

My mother used to make Legion of Mary visits with a very saintly woman who grew up in extremely poor circumstances. This woman had a keen appreciation for the beauty of the natural world and the delight it can bring to one who is attuned to its splendor. She said that her father used to tell her: “The sunset is the poor man’s art gallery.”

Grateful hearts necessarily result in generosity. When we are aware of how richly we have been blessed, then we cannot help but desire to give in return.

Mother Teresa told the story of bringing some rice to a family that was very poor and was without food. She said that the mother of the family immediately divided the rice and took half of what she received to her neighbor. She explained to Mother Teresa: “They are hungry also.”

May the Lord give each of us, during this Lenten season, more and more grateful hearts, inspiring us to be more generous with whatever the Lord has entrusted to us so that no one is without hope, so that no one is deprived of what they need. In the words of St. Peter quoted by St. Gregory: “Resolve to imitate God’s justice, and no one will be poor.”

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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