Generosity is a trait universally admired. Yet how do we tap into the genuine, dynamic spirit of giving? How do we become a gift to others, when human nature bids us to hold on to whatever we have?
From Poverty to Wealth
Reflecting upon this question, I am reminded of a passage from the novel Jane Eyre. Jane is an orphan utterly destitute, without anyone or anything to call her own; indeed, at one point in the story she is forced to beg for food, wandering the countryside in search of someone who will give her some bread. Eventually, she encounters aid in two young women and their brother. Months later, she discovers that she has been granted a large inheritance of money from an unknown uncle, and even more remarkably, comes to know that the young people who have helped her are actually her own cousins.
Jane’s immediate response both astonishes and delights us: she resolves immediately to divide up the inheritance with her new cousins. She defies all objections and insists that she will have it no other way. The joy with which she gives away most of her fortune is admirable. Though she had grown up penniless, once given the gift of money, she shares it abundantly with the people who most closely bound to her in love. And in that mysterious dynamic of grace, yet more blessings unfold in her life following the division of her fortune.
Law of the Gift
This story highlights what we all know intuitively, and what St. John Paul II proclaimed to the world throughout his pontificate: the Law of the Gift. We are called to be a gift to others: nothing more and nothing less. We have been given into existence. All that we have and all that we are is gift, and there is nothing that is actually our own. Yet if we try to hold onto a gift and keep it to ourselves, it ceases to be what it is. Rather, we must freely give it away, even to the point of dying to self, casting aside all fear.
Why? And how?
Quite simply, we look upon the Cross and behold the Law of the Gift incarnate: Christ who gives himself away for the sake of the world. When we then give away our own share, we participate in the very life of God—God who is Love, God who is Gift. As Jesus tells us in today’s reading, the grain of wheat which holds onto its own life “remains but a grain,” but if it dies, “it bears much fruit.”
There is a beautiful mosaic in the ancient church of San Clemente in Rome which depicts this very dynamic. At the center is Jesus on the cross, from which radiate innumerable, fruit-bearing vines that encompass the whole painting, illustrating the very life of the Church. It is into this abundance of life that God invites each one of us—not simply as recipients, but as participants.
In today’s reading from Corinthians, Paul poses the same question to us: Do we sow sparingly? Or do we sow bountifully? For if we sow bountifully, God “will increase the harvest of [our] righteousness.”
Friends, let us consider today what gift we can give away to others. Perhaps the greatest gift any of us may claim is the grace of faith. We must share it freely, radically, generously, even to the point of discomfort and self-sacrifice. The treasure of faith in Christ has been given to us not to keep, but to give away to others, particularly those most in need of it.
Let us venture forth in confidence, then, trusting that “God is able to make every grace abundant.” Where can we give today? And to which souls are we being called to give away the gift God has given us?
Thank you once again for a great reflection. It’s interesting that poor people tend to be more generous with what little they have, because they know what it’s like to be without. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that we should measure our generosity not by what we give, but what we have left. Seems your reflection captures that spirit extremely well. See you next month. 👍