by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One of the five pastoral priorities for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is cultivating a spirituality of stewardship. The foundation of a stewardship spirituality is gratitude. For the Christian, every day is a day of thanksgiving because of our keen awareness of God’s blessings.
The Second Vatican Council reminded Catholics that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” We give thanks to God who loved each of us into existence. We believe, as Christians, something no other world religion holds to be true. We believe that the Creator of the Cosmos loves us so profoundly that God entered into our humanity, actually becoming a human being.
The Second Person of the triune God immersed himself into our human condition by being conceived as a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary, born in the humble circumstances of an animal shelter in Bethlehem, growing up in the small village of Nazareth, spending the majority of his adult life as a carpenter, exercising his public ministry in a small, obscure geographic area that was considered by contemporary worldly powers as insignificant, and who eventually went to Jerusalem where he endured a painful, humiliating, and unjust execution in order to reveal for us the depth of God’s love and mercy. This same Jesus, the Word made flesh, rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, inviting us to share in his eternal and everlasting life.
This description of God’s love revealed in Jesus was referred to by Church Fathers as the “kerygma,” an articulation of the central mysteries of our faith. Christians believe in a God who pursues us and desires for us to share in his risen life. Thus, the Christian is never without reason for hope and joy.
In the Eucharist, Jesus uses the priest to make himself present to us in the consecrated bread and wine that become his living presence. Our Lord invites Christians to take and eat the bread of life and to take and drink the cup of our salvation.
At each and every Mass, we participate in a miracle — the Lord of lords and King of kings makes himself present to us. He manifests himself in what appears to be a small piece of unleavened bread and a cup of ordinary wine. It should not surprise us that the God who chose to become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary would figure out a way to be present to his disciples throughout time, and he would choose to do so under the humble appearance of ordinary bread and wine.
This past Friday, I celebrated our annual St. Cecilia Mass. I offered the Mass for the intentions of all those who serve the church as music directors, musicians, cantors and choir members. Music for Mass is not intended to be a concert that is performed for our entertainment. The purpose for music and singing at Mass is to assist us with our prayer. Liturgical music helps us to become more deeply aware of God’s amazing presence in the Eucharist. Through the bread of life and the cup of salvation, Jesus comes to nourish us and strengthen us on our journey through this world to our eternal destiny: the new and eternal Jerusalem.
Gratitude is the natural disposition for the Christian because we are never alone — God is with us to accompany us as we strive to follow Jesus. It does not matter the external circumstances of our lives, because Jesus is with us through every trial and adversity.
Archbishop Sheldon Favre, of Louisville, Kentucky, celebrated one of the Masses at the recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Favre shared with us that he learned of the abiding gratitude of Christians from the witness of African-American family matriarchs, who carried many burdens for their families. From a worldly perspective, the lives of these heroic African-American women were not easy or uncomplicated. However, if you asked them how they were doing, the reply was always the same: “I am blessed by the God of mercy and goodness.”
We find an example of the indomitable gratitude of Christians in the 16th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In Philippi, Paul and Silas are imprisoned after having been beaten with rods. Are Paul and Silas glum and depressed at their ill fortune? No! Just the opposite!
The Acts of the Apostles provides this description: “About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose (16: 25-26).
The jailer is preparing to commit suicide to avoid the punishment he fears for allowing the prisoners to escape. Paul and Silas prevent him from harming himself. The jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer takes Paul and Silas to his home, where they instruct his entire family about the truth of the Gospel.
What a gift is our Catholic faith! Like Paul and Silas, we are never without reason for faith, hope and joy! It was the faith and joy of early Christians, even amid persecution and the threat of execution, that transformed the world with the power and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus.
Each week, the Mass preface reminds us that it is right and just always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise. If our hearts are open to the miracle of the Eucharist, then it is impossible not to be grateful, no matter what crosses we may be carrying.
Each week as we leave Mass, we are sent on a mission to bring the hope and joy of the Gospel to everyone that we will encounter during the coming week. Let us always and everywhere give thanks!