St. Paul tells us in the epistle that we are children of God. How easily we forget, in our complex and technological society, that we are children of an all-provident Father. We have grown used to the illusion of self-sufficiency, depending on technology and government and the works of our hands to meet our needs.
The last two weeks I’ve been in the Island kingdom of Papua New Guinea, giving a retreat to the Missionaries of Charity sisters. They have 17 stations, many accessible only by small boats and trails in the bush. It’s refreshing to spend a week or two with people who are closer to the earth. Funny thing: the closer you are to the earth the more clearly you can see heaven. “The spirit we have received bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and heirs to the kingdom,” writes St. Paul. The Spirit of God inspires in us a thirst for a simple, God-fearing life. I was delighted to find the people of the bush so friendly. Everyone you pass says hello with a big smile, usually red from chewing betelnut. How much faith they have in God’s providence and the universal brotherhood of man! Yesterday the sisters and I drove to a rural stretch of seacoast for a picnic. The road ended at a weather-beaten farm house, where an old man and his wife were spading the rich black soil to plant potatoes. It seemed like we had come upon Abraham and Sarah, at peace with themselves and the world. “Good mother,” Thomas (our driver) called out, “can we swim at your beach?” She smiled, put down her hoe, and took us down a path to the ocean. Then she returned the potato patch and her husband, who waved at us with a broad smile. They were delighted to have a visit from strangers, fellow servants of God. Thomas and I swam in the blue coral waters while the sisters walked along the shore, and their grandchildren joined us.
Our divine Lord uses the word “steward” in today’s Gospel. Like that dear elderly couple in Papua New Guinea, a steward understands that the goods he manages are not his own. The earth, the sea, the air: all from God. He gives us everything not to squander, but to cultivate. Abraham and Sarah, if you remember their story in Genesis, followed the Lord’s call to emigrate from Ur of the Chaldees to the Jordan valley, making the desert bloom by their hard work and grateful praise. When three men came upon their camp, Abraham and Sarah offered warm hospitality to this “Old Testament Trinity.” You never know when you will receive angels into your home, so grow your gardens, and tend your souls, with loving care. We are stewards, now owners. Many of our neighbors in post-Christian America unthinkingly live as if they owned their bodies and all that they have been given. Their bodies end up owning them, “debtors to the flesh” in Paul’s words.
Planned Parenthood wants to build a flagship abortion clinic on Bush at Van Ness. It will be a statement. Some of us went down to protest, and a counter protester stood shouting “my body my choice.” Even the poor farmers in New Guinea know that is not true. First, the unborn child is a genetically distinct individual. And second, no one owns his or her own body. We are stewards, not owners, of the mysteries of God. The human body is a gift and a mystery. We did not make our bodies and they will be taken from us one day. All around us people squander their bodies and souls, as if they were theirs to waste. Life is so much better if we humbly acknowledge the gift, and the Giver. Why not happily tend our little potato patches for the glory and honor of God? Let me recommend one way of tending your potato patch.
The sisters’ retreat in New Guinea was on Our Lady of Fatima. After showing the three shepherd children a vision of hell in July 1917, she said: “You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” We practice devotion the Immaculate Heart by cultivating purity in our own hearts. Let us pray to God for hearts so pure, so beautiful. Pray the rosary daily, and you will become what you pray. Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!