A Generous Heart
“The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (Proverbs 11:25).
She was a constant pain in the neck. As a young girl, St. Brigid, seized every opportunity to feed the poor. Everytime her parents turned around, the cabinets were emptied. Milk, butter, porkchops, all of it passed through her hands to every passing beggar. Eventually, her father had enough. It was time for this girl to get married. He drove her away to the King of Leinster. Prospects looked good and the two men negotiated a dowry. Meanwhile, Brigid waited behind in the chariot when a leper passed by. She had neither food nor money, but looked down and, sure enough, her father had left his sword and scabbard. “Take these,” she told the leper, “sell them and you can by food for months.” Upon returning, the father was furious, and the king thought to himself, ‘This woman will be the ruin of my household.’ So she got her wish. Brigid was sent off to a nunnery.
When we give to someone in need we give to God. When we give, we make friends who will intercede for us on Judgement Day. Cheerful giving purifies the soul and invokes God’s grace.
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer” (Luke 16:1-2).
It is Judgment Day. Our time on earth is over. We are standing face to face with God. What does he say to us? “Give me an account of your management.” Time, money, personality, talents…each day of our life, God loans us exactly what we need for a purpose: to love God and love our neighbor.
This meeting between the rich man and the manager is fortuitous. “I’m in for it now,” the manager thinks. He has waisted his time and money. Deep down, he always knew he would be held accountable, but he kept putting it off. It had become an idea, vague and hazy. We all know Judgment Day awaits us. We know death will take us, and it may very well come today, or tomorrow, or at any moment. But it all feels so far away. We live in blissful denial.
Now the time has come. He is shaking in his boots and thinking, “There has got to be some way to wiggle out of this.”
“Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty” (Luke 16:3-7).
What a little scoundrel. The manager is devious. Yet, he pleases God. He is shrewd, and his shrewdness saves him. We have squandered a lot of time. We waist our money and talents. Add to that, behind many of our actions is a sly and insidious selfishness. This is precisely why this parable is so wonderful. It means it is never too late.
“What will I do now…When I am dismissed people may yet welcome me into their homes.” “So I have been a scoundrel. At least, I still have time to help out a few more people, and, who knows, maybe they will help me out in the end.”
Jesus Christ condescends to our level. He knows we are a mess. We have all made mistakes. Our motivations are mixed, at best. But it is not too late. Look around. Who can you help? Use the little time left to build up friends to advocate for you in heaven.
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9).
Here we turn to the topic of money.
“Dishonest wealth” (Rather, “Mammon of iniquity,” in the Greek) was a common phrase in the Hebrew culture. They recognized what every 20 year old wrestles with who questions capitalism — there is something dirty about money. Every exchange of cash, however justified, is somehow, somewhat tinged. Even when it is earned nobly, money casts a spell on the soul. It is almost impossible not to get attached to it. Money is not evil, but it is dangerous.
So what can we do?
“Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9).
Use money for good.
“Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness. Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practise it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High” (Tobit 4:7-11).
It is hard to discern how to handle our money.
Do you ever have this phantasy? You picture yourself selling everything and living in poverty. It feels so clearcut — so straightforward. Yet, for most of us, God asks us to walk the harder path: discernment.
It is hard to know how much we should give away. There is no sure proof answer. But the gospel does give us guidelines. First, we should probably be giving more. Second, we should most certainly be giving away enough that it hampers us, enough that it hurts us a little. Otherwise it is no sacrifice. Finally, we must learn to give cheerfully.
C. S. Lewis offers some solid advice: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
How important is almsgiving?
St. John Chrysostom insists: "Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing...The poor are a greater temple than the sanctuary; the poor are an altar that you can raise up anywhere, on any street, and offer the liturgy at any hour.”
St. Brigid continued to give as a nun. She became abbess and made her monastery a beacon of hospitality. The zeal for cheerful giving spread all across Ireland and Great Britain, so much so that her ministry left a permanent mark on history. Today, the words ‘hearth’ and ‘heart’ share the same root in Anglo-Saxon. Christians gave so abundantly that the world associated the Christian hearth with Christian hospitality and love. May it be so in our own homes.