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Cheerful giving

You don’t hold God in a debt of gratitude because you can never outdo God in generosity

I sent a thank you note to one of the benefactors who shared a generous amount to our community pantries.

She texted back and said, “Please don’t thank me. I should be the one thanking you for giving me the opportunity to share what I have with the less fortunate through your community pantries. I would not know how to do it by myself.”

Every now and then, I get to meet givers of this kind who leave me speechless and deeply edified. Perhaps this is what our readings today are trying to impart to us: they are about SINCERE AND CHEERFUL GIVING.

They remind me of St. Paul who said in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or pressure, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Many years ago, when I was still a seminarian, we had Mother Teresa of Calcutta as visitor at the Loyola School of Theology. When she came up on the stage, she literally disappeared behind the regular-sized podium because she was smaller than we thought she was.

Somebody ran to get a platform on which she could stand so she could become visible at the podium. She dutifully stood on it and we could see only up to her nose. So the emcee just pulled out the microphone and gave it to her and she spoke in front of the podium instead.

She shared about giving and its many forms. She reflected on the common human tendency to give with all sorts of conditions. At some point she even made us laugh when she spoke about people who give, not just with strings but with ropes and chains attached to their gifts. She mentioned also about people who can give only the things they want to throw away already.

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She said the first challenge is to learn to give “until it hurts.” Meaning, that we learn to give even from our need, like the story of the widow’s mite in the Gospel. But she said, if it hurts, it means there is still reluctance and heaviness of heart, and it deprives the giver of the joy of giving. And so she said, we must learn to GIVE UNTIL IT NO LONGER HURTS.

Like I said, she looked so small. But as we listened to her, she started to grow big in our sight, or maybe in the sight of God.

She was the person who came to my mind when I saw an interesting video this morning of an 82-year old woman who still dared to finish college in her late senior years. She was asked by her professor on the last day of their class to share some words of wisdom. She stood gamely still looking zestful glamorous.

At the end of her little speech which got the young graduates really absorbed, she said, “Do not forget this; we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Our first reading from the book of Sirach is saying something like that too: Sir. 35:8-11: “Glorify the Lord generously, and do not be stingy with the first fruits of your hands. With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your offering with gladness. Give as the Most High has given you, and as generously as you can. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold.”

Part of human nature is the tendency for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing, meaning—to give only on the condition that we get something in exchange.

In the Gospel, Peter is being candid about what he has given up to follow Jesus, and straightforward about what he will get in return. Note the humor in what Jesus says in reply:

“…there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

In short, you don’t hold God in a debt of gratitude because you can never outdo God in generosity. St. Ignatius taught the Jesuits a Prayer about generous giving. It is the prayer we all must learn especially when our giving still hurts, or when we tend to be too conditional about it.

The prayer goes:

“Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve you as I should. To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and ask not for reward, save that of knowing that I do your most holy will.”

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David for Tuesday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time, 25 May 2021, Mk 10:28-31

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