My brother is 4 and a half years younger than me. When we were little kids, I remember pulling that old prank when divvying up snacks or candy: “One for you, one for me. One for you, two for me. One for you, three for me. One for you, four for me.” I totally took advantage of being the older brother. My desire for more drove my selfishness.
The desire for more is built into humanity to a degree. It is definitely built into our American bootstrap culture. We work hard for what is ours. Whether through strength, intellect, charisma, cleverness, talent, or productivity, deep down, if we are honest, we share a conviction that everything we work for and earn is our own.
One for you, five for me. One for you, six for me.
Saint Gregory the Great, also known as Pope Gregory I, lived from 540 CE to 604 CE. He was the son of a Roman senator and a prefect himself by the age of 30. He established a monastery on his family estate and would have happily lived the contemplative life of the monastic until his death. When he became Pope in 590 CE, he assumed the office unenthusiastically. As Pope, Gregory continued praising the contemplative life of the monks. He is probably most known among English Christians for sending a delegation of missionaries led by Saint Augustine of Canterbury to preach the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxon tribes that had invaded England.
Reading more deeply about Gregory, I am captivated by his faithfulness to the poor and his stewardship of alms for the poor. From the earliest days of our church, it was the habit to receive alms from the faithful to assist in caring for the poor. Gregory was known for his widespread and far-reaching system of charitable relief and support for those in need across Rome, particularly refugees. Gregory’s philosophy was that the wealth of the church belonged to the poor; the church simply served as the steward of those resources. He believed it was the duty and role of the church to relieve the poor in their distress. He even gave deacons buildings associated with churches called diaconium where the poor could go to apply for assistance. Gregory wrote, “I hold the office of steward to the property of the poor ….”
Gregory gives us a powerful example of Christian stewardship that can help us, as both individuals and families, navigate against the cultural push for more stuff, the human impulse of selfishness, and the hoarding of resources. Gregory helps us to wrestle with the tension found in the subtext of the Baptismal Covenant: that everyone and everything is intertwined, connected. From “I believe in God” to “respect the dignity of every human being,” we begin to acknowledge that all of our resources (money, time, energy, and even our love) have been given to us as a gift from God. From Gregory to our Baptismal Covenant, we are invited to pray and consider how we are stewards of our resources to the benefit of our neighbor in need.
This weekend, try flipping the old prank around with young children in your care: One for you, one for me. Two for you, one for me. Three for you, one for me. Four for you, one for me.
What are the ways you help cultivate a sense of stewardship, and a habit of generosity, with your family that benefits your neighbors in need?
BONUS for parents: Saint Gregory the Great apparently urged his followers on the value of bathing as a bodily need. In other words: Bath time is a holy habit!