A gym membership and exercise should go hand-in-hand and the same should go for as discipleship and stewardship.
The connection between a gym membership and exercise is easy enough to understand. Being a “card-carrying member” of a gym is a good start, but it’s very different from being an actual frequenter of the gym. It means if we want to get any value out of our investment, we’re expected to commit to the process: go to the gym and exercise. It’s not something we can delegate; we each have to take both the first and the second step – first, go to the gym; then, use the equipment we have at our disposal and do the work – to reap the benefits.
The lessons we learn from the relationship between a gym membership and exercise can teach us a lot about the relationship between discipleship and stewardship. But first, let’s clarify one thing. Our call to be a disciple of Christ should not be over-theologized. It’s not something “those people” are doing, high and beyond our abilities. We must begin to see ourselves in the ordinariness of everyday life and outside of the church building, as disciples and stewards.
First, just as “having” a gym membership is different than exercising; so too, being a disciple in-name-only is not enough. Calling ourselves Catholic and receiving the sacraments is a good start, but it is only the beginning of a life of sainthood. In accepting the call to discipleship, we live our whole lives oriented toward Christ as a Catholic in pursuit of sainthood; we name ourselves, and we are sent out into the world to do something about it.
Second, being a disciple of Christ carries with it a specific set of expectations, a real commitment to change our lives. We are quick to identify and despise hypocrisy in any form, and we naturally seek authentic relationships and “real” life beyond the social media filters of painted perfection. As disciples of Christ, we must make a valiant effort in pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Though we are imperfect and will make mistakes on the way, we are called to an authentic life in the name of our Lord.
Finally, just as a gym membership challenges us to exercise and care for our physical bodies, so too does discipleship call each of us, personally, to live our faith in concrete actions. The call to discipleship lived out in stewardship’s concrete actions of care for others and our world is not something we delegate to the “Pope Francis, John Paul II, and Mother Teresas” of this world. If we truly believe what we profess on Sunday, we must find ways to live the message on Monday.
So what’s next? To actualize our gym membership, we might step on the treadmill or walk into our first group exercise class. As daunting as the first step seems, a lifetime of healthy living has its roots in the very first workout. What are some very first steps of stewardship we can take to actualize our beliefs into lived experiences? Here are a few ideas.
Get back to the sacraments. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith: everything comes from it, and it is the highlight of our worship as Catholics. Similarly, getting to the sacrament of reconciliation is an excellent way to take an honest look at our lives and get back on the right track. Stop by the church or a local adoration chapel and say hello to our Lord. He welcomes us with open arms.
Share your story. Why are you Catholic? How has your faith changed your life? When was the first time you encountered Jesus on a personal level? When has your faith helped you through a tough time? Talking about religion in public in the 21st century may seem taboo, but it doesn’t mean we must stand on a street corner or go door-to-door. Talk about God with your family or mention your faith in passing to a good friend or co-worker. Stewards don’t just know the story of the Good News; they live the story. So, start sharing your story and living it.
Get outside yourself. Jesus sent his disciples out to the poor, the sick, those in need. What needs do you see in our world that break your heart and stir your passion? Give these needs a face and a name; look for occasions to meet people in need and help in whatever way you can. What organization, cause, or need can you champion? What have you been given that can be used to benefit others?
Simply put, our goal is not just to be good and make it to heaven. Our goal is to extend the kingdom of God on earth. We do this by making the world a place where Christ is known and loved. So, as many people as possible experience eternal life. As this Advent season begins and we prepare our hearts for Jesus, let’s activate our faith as disciples of Christ and become stewards of our lives.