17th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
We start this morning/evening with generosity. What Aquinas calls liberality. This is the virtue of freely giving what you have to those who do not have for their good use. St. Thomas teaches: “when a man quits hold of a thing he frees it...from his keeping and ownership, and shows his mind to be free of attachment...”(ST II-II.117.2). So, to be generous is to be open-handed with what you have, unattached to the things you own. The virtue behind generosity is charity, love. And the excellence of both generosity and charity is, of course, God, who is Generosity and Charity Himself. We see this clearly when Christ takes a meager offering of five loaves and two fish and feeds 5,000. . .with leftovers! No, this is not the miracle of otherwise stingy people being inspired to share the food they had hidden away. This is the prefigurement of the Eucharist – where the small offerings of bread and wine are given to the priest and transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ and then distributed to the people of God to strengthen them – body and soul – in a unity of faith and purpose. At root, we learn that nothing we have and nothing we are is truly, finally ours. It all belongs to God first and always.
In the celebration of the Mass, we remember the feeding of the 5,000 during the Offertory. The gifts of bread and wine are brought forward; given to the priest, who then prays, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread/the wine we offer you...” We receive from God through His goodness that which we in turn give back to Him as an offering. And not only do we offer bread and wine, the priest offers us all as sacrifice when he quietly prays: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may WE be accepted by you, O Lord, and may OUR sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” Then he asks the congregation to pray: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that MY sacrifice and YOURS may be acceptable to God...” You then respond as members of the royal priesthood: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” In this exchange of prayers and offerings we are all of us both the sacrificing priests and the sacrificial victims. In our generosity, we offer back to God what He has given us – bread, wine, and all of ourselves, everything we have and everything we are. Acceptable sacrifices for the praise and glory of His name.
Jesus took the offered loaves and fishes, blessed and multiplied them, and fed 5,000. He did this to bear witness to the power of the Father's generosity and to prepare us to become generous offerings ourselves. If, at the consecration, the offered bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, then so do we. We offered ourselves. We prayed that we ourselves would be an acceptable sacrifice. And the priest prays again, “May he [Christ] make of US an eternal offering to YOU...” We give back to God all that we have received from God. The life of holiness, a life striving toward perfection, is a life of self-sacrifice, of generosity in the Father's charity. Christ himself is our exemplar. Being both fully human and fully divine, he willingly died on the Cross as a gift, freely given, so that we might be reconciled to the Father and become ourselves Christs in the world. This transformation cannot happen without our attentive cooperation. It won't happen to us. It must happen with us. Participating in the sacrifice of the Mass is one way we sign onto the adventure of becoming Christs for the world.
The other way we sign onto this adventure is how we live our daily lives. Generosity is a virtue; that is, it's a good habit – practiced day in and day out. Not just with family and friends. But with those who need what God has given you. Think of your time, your talents, and your treasures as gifts God has given you so that you can be generous with them. IOW, your gifts from God aren't rewards for good behavior – like a cookie for cleaning your room; nor are they blessings from heaven to show everyone else what good person you are. The gifts God gives you are held in your trust so that you may grow in holiness by being generous to others. The more gifts you have, the more opportunities you have to be generous, the more chances you have to grow in holiness. But to take advantage of those opportunities you have to practice the virtue of generosity. Everything you give away in love is a sign that you know and love the truth of who and what you are – a creature totally dependent on God for everything you have and everything you are. Nothing you own should ever own you. Nothing you are should ever be other than who God made you to be. It all belong to Him, first and always. Give it all back to Him and in the giving, grow to perfection.