Today, we celebrate Charles Borromeo, a man who worked tirelessly for the reform of a decadent Church. The Holy Spirit raises up such witnesses in every age, witnesses which challenge us to reform our own lives so that we, too, may be fitting members of Christ’s body. Paul warns us that, even in the Church, we can all too easily become a counter-witness that obscures the grace of God, rather than bearing witness to it. “For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame’” (Phil 3:17-18a). Paul says that such people are occupied with earthly things: pleasure, possessions, and power. They are attached to things which bind them to the world instead of seeing—together with Paul and Ignatius of Loyola—that all created things are offered to us so that we might praise, reverence, and serve God by freely loving as God loves.
If we have a disordered attachment to created things—which properly belong to the Creator—how can we learn to have a more proper relationship to the things of this world so that they once again become instruments of love that lead to God? Perhaps today’s gospel can help us. God gives the world to us so that we may be stewards of it (Gen 1:26-30, 2:4-25), but if we expropriate the things of this world, making them serve us rather than their true end, then we have become dishonest stewards. As dishonest stewards, we hold fast to what is not really ours, “squandering” the property of one who alone is truly rich, God (cf. Lk 16:1). We may say, “I earned this,” or “here’s the deed and title,” but do you really think that the jurisprudence that dishonest stewards concoct to justify their ill-gotten gains will hold weight in the eyes of God on the last day? No, all things are God’s, and all things are given, but as God’s (cf. Lk 15:31). The steward that Jesus holds up for our consideration does something very interesting: with what he has left to manage of the master’s property, he writes off the debts of others. This, actually, is exactly what Jesus does and what he invites us to do in the Lord’s prayer. Accurately translated, one of the final petitions of the “Our Father” is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mat 6:12) Of course, these debts are the ones that people incur when they sin against us. But they are owed, first and foremost, to God. When we release the people who have sinned against us from their debts, we become the stewards that God wishes us to be: no longer holding fast to the things of this world, but rather using those things in order to set others free to love anew. In the process, we are ourselves set free to love anew, by God’s grace.