My Dear Parishioners:
“It’s all taking and no giving!” as Dolly Parton belted it out, in the Film: Working Nine to Five, and her next line was to mock that way of life: “What a way to make a living!”. Today’s Scriptures point to another way. The good life manages to blend gracious taking with cheerful giving, and the value is in the giving. It’s our giving that is recorded in the Book of Life. Jesus is the Great Giver: that we may have life, and have it to the full [Jn 10:10.] As a fine example of this kind of mutual help, we have heard how Elijah and the widow of Zarephath helped each other to survive. During the famine she shares the last of her food with the starving prophet. She gives without hesitation, and is blessed in return. In the Gospel Jesus says, in effect, “Give from the heart.” The widow’s offering to the Temple might seem small in the eyes of other donors, but it was whole-hearted and therefore priceless in value. Generosity is not the exclusive prerogative of the rich. The poor have great gifts to share too, and when they do so, others should respond with appreciation.
Gifts from ordinary people support many projects and causes in the Catholic Church, just as they kept the Jerusalem temple going in Jesus’ day. It is a strange, but at the same time common truth, that generosity is more widespread among those who have little to spare than among those who have lots of money and property. But let’s recall today that all donations made for the glory of God share in Jesus warm praise of the woman who “gave all she could.” This story of the Widow’s Mite invites us to examine the quality of giving in our lives — not just to Church collections, but to whatever worthy cause attracts our attention and our sympathy. More than once, Jesus spoke about this subject. Not only should the gift he made with a generous heart, but so far as possible in an anonymous, non-fussy way, so that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” The thing should be done because it is right, with the intention of pleasing God rather than winning credit or praise from others. And the more it costs us in personal terms — giving up some of our time, or our comfort, for something worthwhile — the more it is part of the one great sacrifice of Christ, who gave himself totally for us.
Saint Paul began the first extensive charity collection for people in need in the history of the Church. He proposed two wise slogans to guide us in this: “Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly” and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7.) And there can be no doubt that the cheerful gift is more acceptable even among people on a everyday level. The hospitality shown to the famished prophet Elijah by the poor widow in the town of Sidon, was all the more precious in that it was given with loving respect, and not as a grudging duty. Here was a man of God, clearly in need of help. There was no need for long, involved argument about how he had gotten into this position, or whether he had drawn up a wiser plan for his future. She did what she could for him, and was blessed in the process.
“Charity brings its own reward,” says the proverb. There is a glow of satisfaction in giving for a good cause. It is also, in a Gospel sense, the best possible investment for our eternal future — that “treasure in heaven” of which Jesus spoke, when he invited people to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” And it has been well said that, from the perspective of our death-bed, we will be happier to think of what we have freely given away during our life-time than of what we have simply stored away for the rainy day.
Giving can be global as well as local. In our technological age, we have more detailed information than any previous generation about the hungry and deprived plight of people in Third World countries, and indeed of the major miseries endured in inner-city areas of high unemployment much closer to home. Sometimes we feel almost crushed into apathy by the sheer magnitude of the problems; at other times we may grow indignant at the political and economic structures that seem to perpetuate this state of affairs. Aware and intelligent generosity should prompt us to outspoken concern for justice, as well as some personal contribution to charities like famine relief, development funds and soon. At the same time, we ought not neglect the smaller, perhaps less urgent, needs at our own door-step. The personal touch is part of the giving, and giving our time can often be more precious than anything else. And Shakespeare’s line remains true about all works of kindness and mercy, in whatever circumstances: “It is twice blessed: it blesses him that gives and him that receives.”
Our parish has been greatly blessed by your generosity of Time, Talent, and Treasure. May we continue to ‘give from the heart’ and one day know the reward promised a cheerful giver.
Blessings, Fr. John