Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA
Is it best to give much, to give often, or to give wholeheartedly? Perhaps it is best to give much, often, and wholeheartedly! This is certainly better than giving little, seldom, and miserly. A stingy heart pumps bile not blood and will dry quickly into a stone. The gospel question here is: from where do we give? Out of what do we give? Jesus praises the widow for her generosity. But her generosity is not a matter of amount, frequency, or attitude. Her generosity is measured by her poverty. While the rich people at the temple give from their surplus wealth—what was leftover—the widow gives from her destitution, her impoverishment. She contributes “all she had, her whole livelihood.” Now, this is not an exhortation from Jesus for rich people to give more, more often, and with a more gracious attitude. This is, in fact, a call for every generous heart—rich, poor, somewhere in between—to think carefully about what our Father has provided for us and how we spread His goodness around.
Christ wants more, better, and best from us always, but what he wants most is our contrite hearts and humble spirits. Out of these sacrifices he wants an outrageous generosity to pour out service, prayer, and abundant witness. So let me ask you another gospel question: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from?
You might ask: “Why does it matter where my generosity comes from? Isn’t giving the point?” The short answer: No. Giving isn’t the point. Giving is the result, the conclusion. What must come before giving itself is a wide-open, bountiful, abundantly generous heart, a heart at the center of which is the living sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross. Christian generosity pours out from the heart's tabernacle, from the holy of holies where the Lord Himself rests in us—the hub of our friendship with God, the axis point at which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit meet to contain all that we are and all that we have. An abundantly generous heart is a bottomless covenant, an eternal promise of blessing and gift, of virtue and of holy consequence. If we will give as the widow does, we give a lot or often or graciously, we will give as God our Father gives: fully, freely, without price, expectation, or debt. We will give of ourselves, all of ourselves, everything we have and are, give all that we love, all that hold for security, all that we reserve just for us. We will give as Christ gave to us and for us on the altar of the cross and gives to us now on that altar of sacrifice. We must give our lives if we are to live.
Let’s see if we all understand the sacrifice of Calvary, the generous gift of Christ’s life for our sins. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, rose from the tomb, ascended to the Father, and now we come together to sacrifice him again on that altar. We are here to beat and bruise his body again, here to lash him and crown him with thorns, here to pound those nails through his hands and feet, and lift him up over Golgotha so that we might benefit again from his death—a death that we repeat over and over again in the Mass. Right? NO! That is an anti-Catholic parody of our theology of redemption. The Catholic theology of redemption is the theology of redemption found in today’s reading from Hebrews. Christ does not offer himself repeatedly for our sins; he does not come before the holy of holies once a year like the levitical High Priest to expiate our sins; he does not enter a wooden temple for us. Instead, he enters for us the temple of the presence of God. He went before the holy holies once to expiate our sins. And he offered himself once for all on the cross. Hebrews reads, “…now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice…[and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
Surely this is the Christian exemplar for generosity! Christ doesn’t give much, often, or graciously. He give all, forever, and perfectly. He gives us all of his life—his time among us, his trial, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. He gives us forever the benefits of his high priesthood, making us a royal, holy, and prophetic people. He gives perfectly the one sacrifice we need, the only sacrifice we need for new life, for life eternal. And to complete, right here in history, to complete the sacrifice of the cross, he will return in abundance, in glory, in awesome blessing and bring the fullness of divine healing to everyone who waits for him, everyone who waits with hearts opened, with tabernacle doors thrown wide.
Let me ask you again: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Think about what you take out of the treasury, what we all take from the treasury! My point here is not to shame anyone into being generous. My point is simply this: if we are withdrawing from the abundant treasury of God’s blessings—and we are—then surely we are filled with those blessings, surely we are stuffed like our uncles at Thanksgiving with the gifts and rewards of our Father’s goodness and beauty. Wonderful! Precisely as it should be. But if we are stuffed and continuing to stuff, then surely we are called to spread the goodies, to diffuse the blessings. You might say to me, “But Father, God gave me these blessings for my benefit. I prayed for them especially!” Yes, absolutely correct. He gave you that blessing so that you might use it to its fullest effect—by giving it away! By giving it away you will be truly blessed in your near reckless generosity. Hoarding blessings and gifts from God is a contradiction in terms. Let me suggest a radical notion to you: if you have a blessing or gift that you aren’t eager to give away, it is probably not a blessing or gift from God at all, but a bribe from the Devil. He is trying to buy you, an agent of Christ, off. He is trying to prevent you from delivering the Goods to those in need by making you think that the purpose of a blessing or gift is its immediate, personal use. The nature of blessing and gift is giving not hoarding.
What are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Whatever abundance you have and whatever blessing you are, they and you come from God. It makes no sense to say that Christian generosity is obligatory; that it is stingy or mean; that it is frugal or sparing. Christian generosity comes from the welling up of love that is God Himself in us. Sitting at our center, the stillpoint of our body and soul, He dumps blessing after blessing after blessing into our lives and moves us to treat each blessing according to its nature: gift, giving, given. The widow does not give much or often or perhaps even graciously. She gives out of her poverty and her poverty is transformed into fertile wealth—the teaching of Christ that feeds the generations. Of course, put time, talent, and treasure in the basket. The parish has bills to pay like everyone else. But put yourself on the altar of gift and offer a contrite heart and a humbled spirit as a perfect sacrifice to the Lord.
He wants you wholly given, perfectly gifted, and beautifully graced. Once for all, give it all—everything, and enter the kingdom of God.
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