Tag Archives: generosity

15 December: Generous, I.

From St David’s Cathedral

We think of Christmas as a time of generosity, but do we stop to think what that means? Sister Johanna did not write this reflection specifically for Advent, but it challenges us to go to the roots of generosity, to the creator who gives us everything, in due season.

Why should you be envious because I am generous? (Mt.20:15)

The question, ‘Why should you be envious because I am generous,’ comes at the end of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. If you are not sure which parable I mean, have a look at Mt. 20: 1-16. Instead of recounting the whole story here in detail, I’d like to take two days to concentrate on only two aspects of this rich and beautiful parable.

The first thing that I noticed on reading the parable of the labourers this time is that the notion of generosity is evident right from the beginning in the way the vineyard owner actually goes out to the busy marketplace to look for workers to hire. He doesn’t sit back and say to himself, “I’m big and important. Let them come to me if they want a job.” He goes out looking for workers, again and again, at different times in the day – once is not enough for him; he cannot seem to rest until he has employed as many workers as possible. Is he doing this for the sake of his business? One would assume so, but the parable doesn’t exactly say this, and I am a bit tempted to wonder why the vineyard owner isn’t organised enough to know how many workers he needs to begin with.

We see him going out repeatedly, and each time finding men ‘standing idle’ in the village square and saying ‘You go to my vineyard, too.’ This suggests to me that the Lord wants us to think that this vineyard owner might be more concerned to provide work for those who need it than to run an efficient business. My theory seems even more plausible in light of what he does the last time he goes out, when it’s “the eleventh hour”. There are still people standing idly in the marketplace, and he asks them why they have been idle all day long. There’s a hint of a reproach here, I think. And their answer is not stellar: ‘Because no one has hired us’ – or in other words, “Not our fault, mate.” The vineyard owner might have written them off as lazy lumps, without a shred of initiative. But he doesn’t. He gives them a chance, too, and invites even this dubious crowd into his vineyard to work with the others.

Although there are some aspects of this parable that have given me problems over the years, this part of the story has always been easy for me to transmute into a description of God’s loving grace. True, on a bad day, I may feel that in my relationship with God, I’m the one who is searching for him, and he’s the elusive one. But when I look more deeply into the events of my life, I see clearly that God is the one who has gone out to the busy ‘marketplace’ of my life and noticed that I was not in his employ. Without hesitation, he offered me a position as a worker in his vineyard. Did I have any qualifications? Not one. This position was given to me in my baptism; with God, you learn by doing. The learning was further strengthened by the other sacraments of the Church, and was made fast by my vocation to monastic life. None of this came about because I made it happen – especially my monastic vocation (which actually took me quite by surprise). God sought me, attracted me, prepared me and made it all possible. And it’s not over yet. I now know that I will always be on the receiving end of the Father’s generosity. My search for him is always wedded to and made possible by his search for me.

What’s more, as a member of the Church, I am a member of a group, a community of other workers who are all objects of the Father’s ceaseless pursuit and beneficiaries of this generosity. I do not work alone in his vineyard. As an ecclesial community, we witness together to this mystery of call and of service. How? In terms of this parable, we can say that each one in our own way is contributing to the “wine-making” business of the Father – which is to say, we are a Eucharistic community. Our response to his invitation, then, contributes to the making of the blood of Christ, the spiritual drink – a heavenly “product.” How blessed is that?

Tomorrow, I would like to look at a second aspect of this parable. SJC.

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13 July: The wine of life

Doctor Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell, is commenting on Johnson’s thoughts on friendship.

I have often thought, that as longevity is generally desired, and I believe, generally expected, it would be wise to be continually adding to the number of our friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others. Friendship, ‘the wine of life,’ should like a well-stocked cellar, be thus continually renewed; and it is consolatory to think, that although we can seldom add what will equal the generous first-growths of our youth, yet friendship becomes insensibly old in much less time than is commonly imagined, and not many years are required to make it very mellow and pleasant. Warmth will, no doubt, make a considerable difference. Men of affectionate temper and bright fancy will coalesce a great deal sooner than those who are cold and dull.

From “Life of Johnson by James Boswell

This seems to be Boswell himself, not reporting Johnson’s words; Johnson was famously melancholy but had many friends whom he helped in different ways. Johnson was a great tea drinker, though also had a notable capacity for drinking wine.

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2 June, Heart II: a ready heart.

Praying hands, Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire

Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying:

Set aside with you first-fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord: gold, and silver, and brass, violet and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goats’ hair, and rams’ skins dyed red, and violet coloured skins, setim wood, and oil to maintain lights, and to make ointment, and most sweet incense. Onyx stones, and precious stones, for the adorning of the ephod and the breastplate. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded.

Exodus 35:4-10.

Moses had come down from seeing God on Mount Sinai to find the people dancing around the golden calf, made from their jewellery. His hopes for the birth of a god-fearing nation were shattered, along with the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments, God’s route map through the desert.

But he went back up the mountain, received anew the Commandments, and returned to the Assembly. While the priests were getting ready to perform properly the Temple ritual, Moses challenged the people to be generous in providing materials for the Tabernacle, or mobile Temple. Many of these precious items had been given to them by Egyptians who were probably glad to see the back of them after the final plague, killing off the firstborn.

What am I being asked to give up at this time? Money, the loan of my tools, my time and talents? Whatever it may be, let me give it readily, willingly.

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24 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LII: the courteous gentleman, 1.

 

footwash

How Jesu Christ, the blessed One, at the prayer of St Francis, let convert a rich and gentle knight and become a brother, the which had shewn great honour and liberality unto Saint Francis

Saint Francis, the servant of Christ, coming late one evening to the house of a great gentleman and powerful, was received of him to lodge therein, both he and his companion, as if they were angels of God, with exceeding great courtesy and devotion: for the which cause Saint Francis was greatly touched with love for him, bethinking him how at their coming into the house he had embraced and kissed them lovingly, and then had washed their feet and wiped and humbly kissed them, and had kindled a great fire and made ready the table with much good food, and whilst they ate, he served them always with a joyful countenance. 

Now, when that Saint Francis and his companion had eaten, this gentle man said: “Behold, my father, I offer to thee myself and all my goods; so oft as ye have need of tunic or mantle or aught beside, buy them and I will pay for them; and behold, I am ready to provide your every need, since by the grace of God am I able, seeing that I abound in all temporal goods; and therefore, for the love of God, that hath given them me, I do good unto His poor right willingly.”

Whereby Saint Francis, seeing in him such gentle courtesy and friendliness, and so liberal an offering, conceived in his heart great love towards him.

To be continued.

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June 6. Justice II: Justice and Prudence Work Together

Traveler

Following the herd

 

When we consider the virtue of justice, we first find that it is intimately linked to prudence. Josef Pieper again says: ‘justice is based solely upon the recognition of reality achieved by prudence.’ No prudence, no justice, he seems to be saying. Why is that? Surely, an imprudent person cannot be all bad. Even someone with a limited capacity for making prudent decisions would not wish to be unjust, we might argue. But, sadly, the wish to be just is not the same thing as the capacity to be just.

What is justice? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a wonderful definition:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion.’ Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbour (no. 1807; also see nos. 2095 and 2401).

Justice is not about merely wanting to be just. Justice, like prudence, requires ‘habitual right thinking.’ The word habitual is the operative one, I think. Once in a while isn’t good enough. Life is too complex, and if we just drift along like an animal in a herd most of the time, without actively questioning our culture’s half-truths and exercising our powers of insight, we will not develop the ability to evaluate situations truly, nor will we recognise what our obligations are in the situations life throws at us. Nor, for that matter, will we respond generously if, by chance, we happen to notice that something is required of us.

SJC

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