After last week's plenary meeting in Cornwall of Canada's Bishops, I boarded a plane Sunday morning from Montreal to come to Orlando. The first thing I noticed was the large number of children boarding with me, which reminded me that the International Stewardship Conference is not the only major attraction in this city. The children were excited, to say the least! It was wonderful to see, but - I must confess - more than once on the flight I found myself thanking God for the invention of noise-canceling headphones. The young ones were coming to see Mickey and friends. They kept asking their parents about what they would see, and were not at all shy about telling complete strangers what they were most looking forward to experiencing. Some were on a plane for the first time, and in their cries of "cool" or "awesome" as the plane lifted off, the children gave voice to what is one of their most beautiful characteristics - the capacity for wonder and awe. They were dazzled by the plane and soon would be marveling at the exciting adventure awaiting them at Disney World.
More than once in the Gospel Jesus calls us to be like children. Among other things, this call of the Lord is an invitation to marvel, to stand in awe, not before the achievements of human ingenuity or imagination, but at the love of God and at his wonders, above all the mystery of his grace working in our lives and throughout history. As a people of faith we naturally marvel at God's great deeds of creation and redemption, but frequently in the Gospels Jesus calls us also to recognize with awe how one can point to and give insight into the other. "The kingdom of heaven is like ...." The marvels of creation direct our hearts and minds to the infinitely greater wonders of the kingdom of God. For example, the wondrous mustard seed, at once the smallest and the greatest, gives intimations of God's ways, whereby in his kingdom the last is first, the weak shame the strong, and what is judged small and of no account will by the power of God transform this world. Or again, the amazing properties of leaven kneaded thoroughly through dough reflect the mystery of grace, which beginning from our Baptism comes to indwell us through and through - our hearts, minds, memories and imaginations - so that we might rise from the rather flat existence of life without God to the fullness of joy, tasted even now and held out for us without limit in the kingdom of God.
The Christian life is imbued with this awe - awe before the beauty and majesty of God who comes not only to teach us through his self-revelation, but also to touch and transform our lives and draw us to himself. This awe deepens as we recognize we are standing in wonder before what is true, what is real. The conference I am attending is taking place next door to a major centre of fantasy, the capital city of the unreal. It is a place of escape from reality into illusion. The Gospel is a call to change direction and run from illusion toward the real, from the "magic kingdom" to God's kingdom. That "real" is the marvel of salvation history, God coming to and remaining with his people through the wondrous workings of his grace. Engaging this reality, stepping fully into this history, is not without difficulty and pain, because we are speaking of the wonder of God's freely bestowed grace encountering human freedom weakened by sin. It is a history that therefore works itself out in the great struggle of conversion and longing. But it is a history of which God is the beginning and end, and Jesus the centre. Thus, in the final analysis, it is a history of hope, because it exposes the sentiment of being alone and on our own as illusion, and makes known as very real indeed the truth of God's love and proximity.
Wonder and awe before this truth leads naturally to surrender, to fiat, to the act of faith. Christians are those who say "yes" to the presence of God in their lives. This "yes" is given unconditionally when born of a heart awakened to the marvelous truth of God's plan and to his infinite wisdom. It is the very heart of Christian stewardship, and determines the use we make of our time, talent and treasure.