By Father John P. Cush
At the risk of dating myself, the first U.S. president of whom I was conscious was Jimmy Carter. I seem to have vague recollections of the hostages being held in Iran and that Carter was the president. Most likely, I knew who he was through my older siblings telling me of Dan Aykroyd’s impressions of him on Saturday Night Live. Whatever one may think of Carter’s politics, one can hardly argue that he isn’t a strong practicing Christian man.
In an interview, the former president told the story of his days working with Admiral Hyman Rickover when he was a young officer in the U.S. Navy. Carter states he learned a valuable life lesson from this experience:
“I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover … and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. … In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat. Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself.
“He said, ‘How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?’ Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, ‘Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!’ I sat back to wait for the congratulations – which never came.
“Instead, the question: ‘Did you do your best?’ I started to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human.
“I finally gulped and said, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’ … He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer. He said, ‘Why not?’ I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.”
The basic message, namely always try your best and give 100 percent, is also a message that we can glean from the Gospel this Sunday taken from the Evangelist Luke. The Lord Jesus speaks of the “wise and prudent steward” whom the master has placed in charge of the household to distribute the food allowance at the proper time. Our Savior states univocally: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Much Given, Much Required
As Catholics, we have been entrusted with very much. We have been given the gift of faith by the Lord Jesus Christ and the consolation of the Truth by the Holy Spirit. By the will and love of God the Father, we live and move and have our being.
Through our Mother, the Church, we are fed with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Through her, we receive other life-giving sacraments and learn of the Way of the Lord. We have indeed been given much. A question, then: What are we doing with what we have been given?
In my role as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, America’s seminary at the Vatican, I am charged with directing the intellectual formation of seminarians. Since I can’t give them what I don’t have, I need to continue to study, prepare, research and write, so that I can serve and continue to be an example of a diocesan priest actively engaged in the intellectual life of the Church.
I tell the seminarians that they don’t have to be geniuses. However, they all need to give 100 percent of themselves over to their studies, to try their best and strive for knowledge in the same way that a medical intern would do, because ultimately, they will be doctors of the soul, dealing with the supernatural healing necessary for the most important thing in the world: the salvation of souls. Don’t do it for good grades; do it because the People of God need you.
What do we do with the gift of our faith? Have we continued to grow in knowledge of our faith, Sacred Scripture and Church teachings? Or have we allowed our own faith formation to cease after the Sacrament of Confirmation? Our diocesan School of Evangelization helps guide local directors of faith formation by offering resources for the increase in knowledge of the faith and love of the Lord.
Making Time for God
Have we continued to grow in our spiritual lives? Do we make time for prayer? What is prayer? Prayer is a conversation with the One who loves us the most, Our Lord. If we can’t devote a great deal of time to prayer, perhaps we might practice the art of becoming more aware of God’s presence in our daily lives.
What do I mean by this?
When we wake, thank the Lord for bringing us to a new day, and dedicate our thoughts, works, joys and sufferings to His greater glory. During the day, offer an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for all those who can’t pray for whatever reason (persecution, sickness). At the end of the day, thank the Lord for the good things of the day and ask Him for forgiveness for the times we have failed. Really simple, really basic, and this practice of usually takes no more than three minutes!
For those who wish to do more, the Church offers the Holy Mass and the Divine Office; the Holy Rosary and the Examen, coming from the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola. And we can always spend time before the Mirror of Truth, that is, the Blessed Sacrament. We have been given much by the Lord and indeed, much is required. May we always give 100 percent to Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 18: 6-9
Psalm 33: 1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-12
Luke 12: 32-48
Father John P. Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is the academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City State and a professor of U.S. Church history.