Faith and generosity go hand in hand. Generosity is a critical indicator of your spiritual life. Jesus watched how people gave to the treasury to discern their spiritual life. He saw a poor widow who “put in two small coins worth a few cents.” Meanwhile others were giving large amounts. But he said, “This poor widow put in more than all the others.” (Mk. 12:43). The first thing Jesus teaches us: Don’t compare your giving with others.
A few years ago, a small parish was doing a capital campaign for a large building project. One donor with the means to pay for the entire project was approached. He asked what others were giving. He wanted to give at their level. His approach to giving was to compare his gift with others.
Don’t compare your giving with others. Rather, give in a way that represents your blessings. Your generosity should represent your relationship with God. In other words, give in a manner that reflects your faith. The level of my giving reveals how much I trust God. It shows the strength or weakness of my faith.
The widow gave everything. Jesus said, “from her poverty, she has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mk. 12:44) He did not say that she was foolish to give her last few cents. Rather, he marveled at her gift. WHY? For one thing, it showed her total trust in God’s providence. Her reckless generosity is a striking gesture of faith.
Her attitude reflects a similar teaching of Jesus. He said, “Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. . . . Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are?” (Mt. 6:25-26)
Clinging tight to my money is a way of saying I don’t trust in God’s providence. The rich often trust in their wealth. And the poor trust in God. So Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, yours is the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 6:20) The poor know how to live inside of God’s providence.
When I was on the Standing Rock Indian reservation, one day we were taking up the collection for World Mission Sunday. One poor lady was providing a home for ten or more children and grandchildren. Her name was Germaine Eagle. She had barely enough to get by each month. I saw her put into the special collection a $50 bill, and I was tempted to tell her not to give so much.
She didn’t compare her gift with others. Rather, her giving reflected a deep faith in God. She trusted in God’s providence. She was like the widow of Zarephath who trusted that God would provide when Elijah told her, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:14)
Some of the most generous people are those who have had a profound experience of God’s mercy. Their giving is based on the generosity of Christ. The best motivation for generosity is God’s bountiful mercy. How have you experienced God’s mercy? Does your generosity reflect God’s goodness?
We see that generosity in the saints. It shined out in St. Maximillian Kolbe at the concentration camp in Auschwitz. When the Nazis sentenced ten men to die in a starvation bunker, one of the men cried out saying that he had a wife and children. He begged not to be chosen. Fr. Kolbe heard him cry out and offered himself instead. He said: “I am a Catholic priest; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”
The man, whose place Kolbe had taken, later said, “I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me—a stranger.”
St. Maximillian sacrificed his life for someone he didn’t even know. Kolbe’s generosity was inspired by Jesus’ example on the cross. When Pope John Paul II canonized Fr. Kolbe in 1982, the man he saved was there for the event. A TV interviewer asked this man what it felt like to have been saved from death, to have another man die that his own life might be spared. The saved man replied, “Ever since that day I feel that I have been walking in another man’s shoes. I feel impelled to live with his attitude, by the values for which he lived and died.”
To be Christian is to come to the same place. It means to live with Jesus’ attitude, to live by the values for which he lived and died, especially to live with his generosity. How have you experienced God’s great mercy? Does your generosity reflect God’s goodness toward you?
The Lord’s bountiful generosity overflows at the Eucharist. It is freely given so that we might become his generosity for others. As St. Augustine said about the Eucharist, “Become what you receive.”