Do you remember the great magazine covers that appeared shortly after Jorge Mario Bergolio was elected pope? There were many wonderful images of him found of the covers of Time, Life, America, Esquire, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, to name a few. I have several of them in my office and they always offer me inspiration and yes, make me grin. The cover of Rolling Stone Magazine is especially interesting to me because our newly elected pope has this amazing twinkle in his eye and beneath his picture it states: “Pope Francis: The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
In a relativity short period, our pontiff has addressed many critical and difficult issues of our day. The honesty in his writings not only portrays the love and mercy of a shepherd for his sheep but also the call to authenticity as followers of Jesus. He calls us to “be who we say we are” in stating: “The teachings of the Gospel have direct consequences for our way of thinking, feeling and living.” (Tweeted 8/15/15)
Recently, in his newest writing, “Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home,” he helps us to look in the mirror as a first-world nation and as households of faith in regard to our responsibility for the earth and for the poor. Pope Francis is very clear in making the connection between our call to care for and nurture all creation and our baptismal call to holiness. We are asked to “stand apart” in the decisions we make every day.
For the Christian steward, the message of Laudato Si is foundational. It is as important as beginning the stewardship journey with a heart of gratitude. Our earth is this wonderful living creation that God said was “good” and that supports all of human life from the beginning to the second coming. As Christian stewards, if we are “pro-life” we are “pro-earth.” How can they be separated?
I believe Pope Francis is seriously challenging you and me on two levels in his encyclical. The first is our personal use of God’s resources. We are asked to look at our daily habits in regard to water, energy, food and reusable and recyclable materials, etc. The questions echo around the world: “Are we members of the culture of waste? Do our lifestyles individually and collectively truly harm others in this world? I wish there was an “ecological Fitbit” to help us track our habits.
The second and perhaps even more difficult level to change than one’s habit is to change one’s heart. Whether we are looking to be grateful stewards of the earth or prayer, service and sharing, that one-on-one with God and the truth is the most challenging. It is in those conversations where we begin to understand how loving, compassionate, merciful and generous toward the earth and each other we truly are. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could each have the equivalent to a pacemaker that would give us a slight heart shock when our attitudes and decisions did not reflect the Scriptures and the teachings of our church?
In October, I will present a workshop at the International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Chicago entitled: “Stewardship in the Writings of Pope Francis.” Needless to say, he has given me not only a lot of material to work with but also has challenged me personally to truly live and promote the message of “our common home.”
Through his writings he has taught me that to be a Christian steward in 2015 takes the courage and trust found in an honest, loving relationship with Jesus and the Gospel. Jesus is our inspiration and our hope as we look to become better stewards. There is no doubt in my mind who is driving our pontiff as he takes on this important issue of our day. We are all able to tap into that source!
When Pope Francis comes to address the World Meeting of Families in September, he will also take time to address Congress. We have the opportunity to witness this remarkable historical moment in light of faith and the Gospel or make it a political issue. No doubt he will be blunt in calling us all to accountability as stewards of the earth just as the master will do one day. I think this could be a tipping point for you and me. In regard to protection of the earth and the most vulnerable, please pray with me that our hearts and the times will be a-changin’!
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.