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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

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Love, Respect and Justice for All

by Joan McKamey

I admire generous people. My neighbor, a farm wife with seven children, is always ready to offer her time, a listening ear or a hug. A friend’s mother is inclined to give others something they admire in her home. These two women are givers, not takers, in life. They stand out as exceptions to the way so many of us operate. They inspire me to become more like them.

Most sins are rooted not in generosity but in selfishness—a concern about my wants over another’s needs, a focus on my will over God’s. Emphasis on getting and having is rampant in our culture. “The one with the most toys wins” is the way we’re often encouraged to gauge our own worth and that of others.

God is the most generous of lovers—the giver of life, blessings and salvation. All of us have dignity and worth simply because we are God’s loved creation. We must acknowledge God’s gifts to us and recognize the value and rights of all others.

We are called to be Christian stewards, to “receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 450). Under the umbrella of our stewardship are life, possessions, truth and justice.

Promote life

The Fifth Commandment—“You shall not kill”—“calls us to foster the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social well-being of self and others” (USCCA, p. 389). We must value and support all life.

How can we promote respect for life? This starts with respecting and valuing our own lives as gifts from God. The death of a friend in college helped me consider my own mortality and the gift and responsibility of each day. The wintry drive home from the hospital with our newborn brought into focus the need to protect my “precious cargo.” I now include more than the baby in the backseat—myself and other travelers.

Supporting life also means promoting peace and understanding in time of war. When family life is far from peaceful or I experience inner turmoil about a relationship, I think, “No wonder nations don’t get along.” This leads me to resolve to work first for peace in my own heart, home and community. Peace will take root only when we recognize and commit to supporting the dignity, value and rights of all.

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Christian stewardship

God made us stewards of the earth for the common good. To keep the Seventh Commandment—“You shall not steal”—we need “to acquire the virtues of moderation in our possessions, justice in our treatment of others, respect for their human dignity, and solidarity with all peoples” (USCCA, p. 419, emphasis added). We must respect people and their possessions.

This commandment invites us to consider “the relationship between the economy and social justice, the importance of solidarity among nations, and a preferential love for the poor” (USCCA, p. 421). It calls me to think about where my “great buy” was made, how the workers were treated and whether they were paid fairly. I realize that my purchases have global implications.

Digging deeper

It becomes more difficult to justify an expensive evening at a nice restaurant when I pass homeless people on the way back to the car—unless I also take action on behalf of the poor. It’s been said that “sacrifice is trading what can’t be kept for what can’t be lost.” Does what I give for others come only from my excess, or am I willing to feel the pinch and dig deeper into my pockets? Can I make conscious choices to “live more simply so that others may simply live”?

As our concern for others grows, “[s]olidarity opens our hearts to identifying with the whole human family” (USCCA, p. 419). We begin to see that even our enemies have hopes, dreams and basic dignity as God’s creations. Injustice and oppression trouble us. We see the environmental impact of our lifestyles and purchases. We simply cannot be as selfish or self-centered as we once were.

Uphold truth

God is the source of all truth, and Jesus spoke of himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). The Eighth Commandment—“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”—calls us to the truth in word and deed. “Integrity requires that we allow our faith to shape every aspect of life, public as well as private” (USCCA, p. 432). I’m big on honesty and searching for the truth. I don’t enjoy confrontation and prefer to avoid it, but sometimes a level of discomfort and even conflict is required for the truth to rise to the surface. When we seek and uphold the truth we best honor God and each other.

Life is not as black and white as it once seemed. There are many shades of grey. Every day, life confronts us with new choices for which we must discern right and wrong. Our culture says there is no objective truth, that all is relative (USCCA, p. 431).

God’s truth is for all time and every situation. We need to trust God and God’s presence in the Church as we make important decisions. Trying to discern between my will and God’s will for me is often difficult. That’s where the guidance of the Church helps. I trust that God wants what is best for me, and when I put my faith in God’s truth in the Church, I experience peace in my heart.

Live justly

The 10th Commandment—“You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods”—is an invitation to practice “poverty of spirit” and a “healthy detachment from material goods.” It gives us an opportunity to look “at the interior attitudes of greed and envy that lead us to steal and act unjustly” (USCCA, p. 449).

Many of us are slaves to money and possessions, or the desire for them. We become so preoccupied with acquiring that we fail to recognize and live the giftedness of our lives. Our consumer culture leads us to believe that we truly need the latest and “greatest” product or technology. A recent TV commercial for a homebuilder featured a woman talking about the “exquisite media room we just had to have.”

A quote that has been a measuring stick concerning my attachment to material possessions is: “Only what we can give away do we truly possess. That which we cannot give possesses us.” I think of this when I’m shopping and see something I really want but don’t absolutely need. While I experience the “desire to acquire,” I feel empowerment and an inner freedom when I am able to walk away. We can’t stop at simply curtailing our desire for material possessions—and that’s not always so simple. We are obligated as Christian disciples to see that “all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity: faith, education, health care, housing, employment, and leisure” (USCCA, pp. 454-455). We are called to live justly.

“Having more is never enough. Being more is paramount” (USCCA, p. 454). We can take our cue from our generous God and develop generous hearts. When our hearts are truly grateful for God’s grace in our lives, it’s a natural progression that we’ll become less selfish and more generous with our talents and resources. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12:48).

Thomas Merton wrote, “All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the world is ordered.” Only when we reorder our view of reality and place God in the center will we be true stewards of the gifts of life, possessions, truth and justice.

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 29 (pp. 387- 402), 31 and 32 (pp. 417-438) and 34 (pp. 447-457) of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Joan McKamey worked professionally as a catechist and DRE before joining the staff at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She holds a master’s in Religious Studies/Pastoral Family Studies from the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati.

Next: Responding to God’s Love in Prayer (final article in this series)

Questions

• How do you live Christian stewardship in your life? How has your understanding of what this means changed or broadened since reading this article?

• Which of the four commandments covered here (#5, 7, 8, 10) is most difficult for you to keep? Why do you think this challenges you? What can you do to be more faithful to this commandment?

• How generous are you? How well is your generosity modeled on God’s generosity to you? What will you do this week/month to stretch yourself in your practice of generosity?

 

 

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