In No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton wrote:
We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others.
That last sentence has been sticking with me and worked its way into my homily last weekend. This idea, that life is a gift and is good because of what it enables me to give to others is beautiful and at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Lord called us to follow him and to make disciples—followers—of all nations. To follow Christ, we must imitate the way he lived. Christ gave himself to us as a gift. Good and loving in his very nature, He did not live to receive but to give.
When we seek to become closer to Christ and to follow him, we begin our journey by imitating him, by seeking to give ourselves back to God by giving ourselves to those around us. At the core of our human nature, we recognize that we need other people to complete us. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that we human beings are hard wired to give ourselves to those around us. When this giving is guided by our God who loves us, this gift of self allows us to become the beautiful saintly people God created us to be, the holy ones who will spend eternity in blissful love united with the only One in existence who can satisfy our desires.
When I reflect on my own life in the context of these ideas, I recognize that those moments where I give most completely of myself are the moments when I am most at peace with myself. Every time I have given something up, God has supplied what I need. When I was first starting to take my faith in God personally and seriously, I was not able to make many time or talent commitments due to work and, well, the fact that I didn’t really want to, but I talked myself into tithing 10% right off the bat. It stung a bit, honestly, but I never wanted for anything. I began to understand that God is never outdone in generosity, and over time became more willing to show up for things at Church, to give my time to events, to get to know my fellow parishioners. I was always busy doing something for the people around me; somehow, I always had enough time to recharge and to spend time with my friends and family too. Eventually, I realize that just giving in these ways wasn’t enough. God was asking me to dedicate my entire life to giving myself away to Him and to His people.
Reading this, you may be thinking, “Wait. Is Fr. Matt really saying that practicing stewardship led him to the priesthood?” The answer? Yes. If I hadn’t learned through the practice of stewardship that giving unselfishly of everything I could, even when it stings a little, brings about peace and contentment, then I would never have ended up where I am today. I would never have had my heart broken by the pain of a penitent I’ve never met, but who is suffering terribly from sin. I would never have experienced the absolute joy of welcoming a new child into the Church. I would never have dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to go to comfort a heartbroken family who can’t bear to let the coroner take their son away. I would never have learned to love God and his children like I do now.
When I started giving back to God, I never would have expected where He would lead me.