Have you ever encountered a character in a book or movie that captures your heart and peaks further interest? My husband and I had the opportunity to see the movie “Frozen” with our beautiful 8-year-old granddaughter and our son over the Thanksgiving holiday. Disney once again was able to capture our imagination with incredible animation and a story of good versus evil, with the love for all people the triumphant victor.
There were many interesting characters in the movie but it was Anna who most caught my attention. This princess (of course there is a princess, its Disney), second in line to the throne, had an unwavering hope and joyful spirit. Anna drew me in from the opening where she was seen as a young child to the end where she matured into a beautiful young woman and heroine. I believe that it was her joy, hope and ongoing quest for the truth that made her actions consistent and fearless. Even in the face of death, she did not waver from doing what was right. She was unstoppable by the power of love.
As I reflected on how I might make my Advent journey as a Christian steward more meaningful than the 50-some I have already celebrated, I thought of Anna. Though I may not ever reach the ideal portrayed in a Disney character, I would like to become more consistent, fearless, joyful and unstoppable about my commitment to Jesus Christ and to becoming his witness in the world.
Similarly, our Holy Father, in his apostolic exhortation on evangelization, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which was released on Nov. 26, speaks to the foundational characteristic of joy. He states in the opening of the document: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (1).
This Gospel and this joy is the stimulant for our lives as generous stewards of prayer, service and sharing and, according to the pope, is “unpredictable in its power” (22).
Pope Francis also speaks to embracing a life of generosity of time in service and treasure in sharing. He states: “Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of ‘charity à la carte,’ or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world” (180).
The Holy Father is calling us out of a lukewarm response to our joy with just a seasonal or occasional outpouring of charity to a full-fledged life of stewardship. There is no doubt that our new “fearless leader” is inviting us to a life of joy that will transform not only our lives but our church and the world. This is no fairytale. He believes the Holy Spirit can and will work through the joy, perseverance and generosity of all of us. I do too.
Likewise, as we prepare for the celebration of God becoming human and for Jesus’ return one day, we know the love story did not come out of the imagination of Disney but out of the very heart of God. It is real and you and I get to be a living testimony to this love in our generation. But how do we acquire the joy-driven fearlessness of a Christian steward?
I believe it is the direct product of a grateful heart and trust in a loving God. Though we do not live in a castle or have a prince or princess as a prefix to our names, we carry some pretty hefty titles. To be called “Child of God” or “Follower of Jesus,” “Body of Christ” or “People of God” carries eternal weight as well as important responsibilities. We are also part of a real kingdom, one in which we are helping help to build.
To become joyfully fearless in our roles, we must continually be willing to push the boundaries of our time in prayer, our talents in service and our treasure in generous sharing. We can do it. Jesus taught us how and Pope Francis is carrying on his work with his voice. Advent is a great time to begin. If it seems to cause a little discomfort in the beginning, they say it will pass. Ready? On three … one, two, three, push!
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.