Finger of God: Almsgiving and Hospitality
“The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (Pr. 11:25).
As a young girl, St. Brigid was renown for generosity. Milk, butter, and meat flowed out of her home to every passing beggar. She gave with such enthusiasm, that it constantly irritated her father. Eventually, he had enough. It was time for her to marry. So he brought her to meet the King of Leinster. While the men negotiated, Brigid waited in the chariot, when along came a leper begging for alms. She could not help but give, but had no money or food on her. So, she took her father’s sword and scabbard, promising the leper that it would pay for many weeks of food. When the men returned, her father was furious. The king declared that such a woman would ruin his household. She got her wish, and was sent off to a monastery.
The words ‘heart’ and ‘hearth’ are nearly identical, just as are their roots in Anglo-Saxon, ‘heort’ and ‘heroth.’ We can thank St. Brigid for this. Her spirit of giving took off throughout Ireland and the British Isles. People everywhere began to associate the Christian hearth, the Christian home, with hospitality and love. We would do well to pick up this tradition in our own lives.
Christ brought charity to the world. When John’s disciples asked Jesus if he were the messiah, he gave them a truly proper answer. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me" (Mat. 11:4) This is the very definition of Christ. He is the one who heals.
Healing is the essence of God. "Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you" (Ex. 23:25). Yet, this healing is not really about temporary sicknesses. Christ does heal some diseases. He raises a few from the dead. Yet, in other times, he leaves us in our illnesses and death. The healing that God brings is far more important, far more encompassing. It is eternal healing. Why, you might ask, did Christ even bother to heal the sick, when they would eventually get sick again? Why trouble with raising Lazarus when he would return to the grave in a matter of years. God’s healings in the now and here are signs, foreshadowings, pointing us towards the ultimate healing. He heals to reveal his nature: God is the healer, and he wants us to do the same.
Our Gospel today finds Him casting out devils.
“Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebub. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk. 11:14-20).
Again, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
Gazing up at the moon and sky, the Psalter marvels, “I will behold thy heavens, the work of thy fingers” (Ps. 8:4). God handed to Moses the Ten Commandments, “two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). God brings life with a touch. The “Finger of God” is a metaphor of his healing power. For us, the Church, this is utterly significant. It means we have work to do.
We are God’s finger. As Christians, we share an obligation. We are here to become God’s vessels for healing.
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Pt. 2:5). “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tm. 2:20-21).
If there is one common thread through all the lives of the saints, it is this vocation for healing. Each saint nourished the sick, fed the hungry, in one way or another, built up the Kingdom of God on earth. We too are called to become holy vessels for nourishing the community around us.
We lose this mission too often. We replace our calling with the spirit of individualism and consumerism. Church becomes a place to get, rather than a place to give. Before we know it, we begin treating the Eucharist like one more pill. It becomes our opportunity for self-seeking and escape. Is not this lopsided? The Church should be the place we come to give up selves and be remade. We gather, as the Church, to be the Church, God’s holy finger of healing.
In his famous Lenten sermon, St. Leo the Great says: “Nothing is more profitably joined to worthy and holy fasting than almsgiving, which includes many works of piety under the single name of mercy.” In the Old Testament, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar to atone for his “sins with alms” and his “wrongdoings with compassion for the poor” (Dn. 4:27). Archangel Raphael teaches Tobit that almsgiving “washes away every sin” (Tob. 12:9). If Lent becomes the time for taking care of oneself only then it is nothing. If we merely increase our fasting and prayer during Lent, and do not increase our almsgiving and mercy, then it is a travesty. Lent has as much to do with our inner spiritual life as it does with the building of community, a loving soul, a heart of mercy.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (Jn. 13:35).
During Lent, we have a mission, to become a little less self-centered and a little more other-centered. When we gather on Sunday, we can make an effort to reach out and bless someone in the room. We can stay for coffee hour to simply ask someone different each Sunday about their week. Or, we may simply show an act of love to someone as we walk through those doors. This is what Liturgy means. This is the work of the people, to be God’s people, the Finger of God healing the world.
Through the prayers of the Blessed Mother, St. Brigid of Ireland, and all the saints renown for charity, may God increase in our hearts a spirit of mercy and healing.