At this time of year, there is a familiar sound in front of the stores I visit. It is the distinct sound of bell-ringing and the seasonal sight of a red kettle. Frankly, it is a comfort to me. And I have taught my children that we have a family rule: We never pass the red kettle without putting something in. Never. I can still hear my grandmother telling me stories of how the folks with the Red Kettles saved her and her family during times of great poverty, and she instilled in us an ethic of generosity that also was coupled with a complete “forgetfulness” of having been generous, because we acted as if every time we dropped something in the Kettle was the first time! Frankly, that’s the only way to be truly generous. Scorekeeping makes giving “something” other than generosity.
Listen to St. Poemen. “As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin.”
Why? Why does almsgiving and faith purify from sin?
To drill down to the answer to this fundamental question, we will have to re-visit the Garden. Our first parents were placed in a garden by God and told to “tend” the garden. They were given this responsibility BEFORE the fatal flaw that saw them sent away from the garden and saw the break of intimacy between them and God. So, work precedes sin. The vocation to “tend” the Garden, to learn to become “like” their Creator in bringing order and purpose and joy to creation all came before this labor was made difficult and “sweat producing” because of the Fall. Work, before the Fall was joy and filled with the tutoring power of growing maturity to be “like” their Maker!
There is something about work, purposeful effort toward a specific goal, that teaches us how to enter into a closer relationship with God. Effort expended invites me into relationship. No effort, no work, and I all too easily reduce myself to just myself. Work invites me to abandon self-centeredness and extend my energy to something outside myself. Work gets results.
But the next step is key. The Church teaches us that the three main disciplines of any fasting period are Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. When we work and gain results, we are then called by the Faith to take a portion of those results – harvested crops, leisure time, money, education, developed talents, etc. – and give that portion away. Why?
Because work without giving only serves to deepen the poverty of my own self-centeredness. And that creates the exact opposite of intimacy with others and with God. Work without giving creates stinginess and greed. But work that sees a portion of the fruits of my labors as an opportunity to share and extend mercy and kindness and support to causes greater than myself creates the exact kind of dynamic in my heart that invites intimacy and devotion to others and to God. The truth is Almsgiving is always as much for my own good as it is for others. Generosity is simply not an option for someone who claims to be a Christian. Period.
Look at our Gospel Lesson for today: At that time, Jesus came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” Mark 8:22-26
Here Jesus heals a blind man. He displays His generosity in touching someone in need AND someone who simply could not repay the Lord’s kindness. The Lord even tells the man not to return to the village, to go straight home, so this would avoid bringing too much adulation to the Lord! Amazing! The purpose for the healing wasn’t a marketing ploy, but a pure act of generosity expecting NOTHING in return, not even credit for the healing!
During this time of the year when our thinking is turned to the dangers of mere sentimentality in our giving, the Church continually calls us to a more robust and mature attitude about generosity and sharing the fruits of our work.
We are called to appreciate the absolute necessity of giving. The truth is work, and the blessings that come from our work, are fundamentally about our first desire and need to see our souls shaped into a fitting companion for God. If that isn’t the foundation of our thinking and attitudes then we will fall into the may “traps” for our souls that diminish the power of our work and our generosity.
It’s why the Church insists that those who really are serious about their spiritual maturity, about actually practicing their faith see Almsgiving (the sharing of money or time or abilities to others who cannot repay them) as one of the three pillars of spiritual development. Without Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting are incomplete.
Today, allow the insights of your true spiritual need to return to a deep and intimate connection with God and with others around you for your own salvation, to mature your motivation for giving. You need to give. If you don’t a serious spiritual illness in your heart (and in all our hearts) will never be healed. Learning the power of generosity to overcome the spiritual cancer of stinginess is necessary if you are ever going to enjoy being with God. Be cause He is the most generous and the most humble Being in the universe. And learning to be like Him is the only way you are ever going to enjoy being around Him for eternity. Today, give alms and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly with a free heart and a joyful life. That’s the power of generosity and the real value of hard work!
P.S. We are fast approaching the end of another year, and I wanted to say “thank you” to my precious friends who have been a part of the growth of Faith Encouraged in 2014. 2015 is already shaping up to be an amazing opportunity to share this timeless and beautiful Faith with so many new people and you make this possible. So, from all of us at Faith Encouraged Ministries, God bless and keep you!