Grateful to those who made possible my Catholic education from an elementary level through college, I was introduced to, and found myself immersed in, the world of several famous Christian writers. Among them was the famous British writer, C.S. Lewis, the author of many significant books, and best known for his fictional works The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity. Lewis wasn’t always a Christian. Although baptized in infancy, as a young adult he lived as an atheist for several years before embracing the actual practice of Christianity at 32, largely through the influence of his colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings. During World War II, Lewis gave a series of talks, which he eventually developed into a theological book he called Mere Christianity, where he intended to describe the common ground of faith shared by the various Christian Churches and denominations, all aiming to explain the fundamental teachings of Christ. Several passages of that book are good for us to consider. In one passage, Lewis asks if it is not true that the popular idea of Christianity is simply this: “that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher, and if only we took His advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war.” Undoubtedly, that’s quite true. But it tells you much less about the whole truth of Christianity, and has no practical importance at all. For, if Christianity means only one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no real importance – as there’s been no lack of good advice for the past two thousand years, and a bit more makes no difference. But, when you look at any real Christian writings, you find that they are talking about something quite different from the popular religion. Christianity is telling us about another world, about something behind the world that we can touch and see. The whole point of Christianity is the statement that by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can become ‘children of God.’ It’s emphasizing that the goal of Christianity is not just to make us nice people who are very nice to each other; rather, we’re called to become something or someone entirely new and different. Niceness is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice,’ just as we must try to produce a world where we all have plenty to eat. But, we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice that we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people – content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God – would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world, and might even be more difficult to save. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. When Jesus invited a rich young man to be His disciple, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.” (Mt. 19:21). That might initially sound attractive, but when we start to think about what we currently have, and don’t yet know what Christ’s promise holds in store for us, it is not surprising that a common and natural reaction is resistance. In fact, the very next verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mt. 19:22).
Lewis explains: “The natural life in us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. It especially wants to be left to itself – to be kept well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up dirty are afraid of a bath. It knows that if the spiritual life ever gets hold of it, all of its self- centeredness and self-will are going to be killed, and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid this. So the process of becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ is a surrender of oneself to the higher power of God.” This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:24-25). Looking toward yourself, you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. When we finally understand this true meaning of discipleship, we will see the connection between discipleship and what we call stewardship, that is, the discovery that we are mere stewards or custodians of God’s creation.
Being good disciples and God’s stewards invites us to look at how we can foster a community-wide support of Catholic education, so that more students will be able to attend Catholic schools. Hopefully, this should lead us to understand that Catholic education is the responsibility of everyone in the parish as a means to hand on the faith to the next generation of Catholics, not just the financial burden of some parents who must pay for their children’s Catholic education.
As Lewis opines: “Every faculty you have – your power of thinking or moving your limbs from moment to moment – is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. God has entrusted this creation and all that we have to our care as ‘good and faithful servants’.” So, let’s consider how we can make a common commitment as a parish community regarding discipleship and stewardship as a way of life, and teach this role to the next generations.