Important Lesson. You receive more when you give. When I was principal of a Catholic elementary school (a lesson for another day) I changed the celebration of Christmas in the school. The students did not bring in gifts for each other, but they worked to help a poor school in Chicago so that kids there could have the supplies they needed for school.
Welcome to Day 3 of the Preparing for Lent Novena. Today we will discuss the benefit of giving alms, as almsgiving is an important part of a healthy spiritual Lent. The question almsgiving raises is whether or not our stuff or our God are more important.
And so today’s reflection will help each of us to identify how to become more generous. I remember a story I was told about Mother Theresa in a time where she was giving oranges (a rare luxury for those with whom she worked) to a family only to find they gave three of the six oranges back to her. They needed to be generous and this was the way it could be done.
And so each of us can be generous, and each of us should be generous. Possessions become a problem in the spiritual life when they become things that possess us. I want this stuff, or to live this standard of living or to have these things more than I want to grow in holiness and to have a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus.
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We have all probably heard the phrase, “it is better to give than to receive.” And we probably don’t think too much about it. But there are two contrasting stories in the bible that might help us to decide how it is we will practice almsgiving this Lent.
The first story is about the man who had many possessions. And the second is the widow who gave all she had to live on. Let’s look at each story to see what they might teach us about almsgiving.
The Rich Young Man
The Story of the Rich Young Man is one that helps us to know that it is not always the case that only following the commandments makes us holy. Sometimes more is required of us. Of course with each person this is different, but for the Rich Young Man it was not only about keeping the commandments.
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
The rich young man is moved with great motivation. His question is one that all of us should ask Jesus. “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” What is important in Jesus’ answer to this question is that he sends the young man back to the scriptures. “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
This is an important point. It is not the case that Jesus is saying it is ok to ignore the commandments. He is not going to do away with these commands. We still need to follow them. And we need to follow all the commandments. The rich young man could be seen as trying to hedge his bets. “He asked him, “Which ones?”
“What do I still lack?”
So maybe his heart is not all in it. But his heart is in this enough for him to ask this second question: “What do I still lack?” And this is the dangerous question if we do not want to change. Can you ask Jesus this question, “What do I still lack?” It takes some courage (a virtue) to answer this question honestly.
So the question of the rich young man is an important lesson for all of us. “What do I still lack?” And if we wish to grow in holiness we must summon the question, “What do I still lack?”. And when Jesus answers us, we need to commit to not only intellectually understanding this important lesson but more importantly that we commit to living the importance of it in our lives.
“If you wish to be perfect . . .”
It is interesting that when we consider almsgiving we might think that it is about what we give. But really it is how we receive, and what we receive from Jesus. Trying to accumulate stuff can take away our trust in God. We can try even to fill our heart with stuff and not with the love of God. We can find our heart changing. We can think that we have possessions, but the reality is if we are not careful possessions can have us.
And so the important lesson is that possessions had the rich young man. “When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Jesus did not just want the rich young man’s compliance with the rules of the Law. As important as the Law is, Jesus wanted the entire heart of the rich young man. And the thought of giving his whole heart made the young man sad.
The widow’s mite
The widow who gave all she had to live on is the antithesis of the rich young man. She enjoyed a freedom quite different than the rich young man. She could absolutely trust in God.
We live in a world where we see the rich giving lavish gifts and receiving accolades for doing so. And while there are many wealthy people who are very generous, they give from what they have left over, at least some of the time.
But the widow has placed her total trust in God. The widow has given not from excess, because the widow has her heart in very much the right place. For her, it is all about God.
So who will you be?
Today these two stories give us the contrast. Will you be the person who gives only a little bit of what’s leftover, or will you and your almsgiving come from a deep desire to please God and follow God wherever He leads?
It is not that we need to always exhaust our resources. The difference in these stories is the heart. Can we continue to develop a very generous heart? Or are we afraid God may lead us where we do not want to go, so we hang in to our hearts?
So where do I start?
The place to begin is to offer your heart to God. If you struggle to do so, ask God to help you to offer your heart. The beginning is to ask God to stretch your heart. And if what He asks seems too much, don’t walk away from Jesus. Walk with Him.
Bible Verses to Ponder
Reflection Questions to Ponder
What does it mean to have a generous heart?
How are you like both the rich young man and the widow?
When you consider what to give away, what makes your heart sad? What does this tell you about what God wants?
How do you believe God wants you to be generous and give to the poor?
In what ways can you be generous with other things besides money?
Heavenly Father, we praise and glorify your name. We praise you because you have given us so many blessings, even if we do not always see these blessings. We thank you for the gifts and talents you have given to us, gifts that we can use to help others. We praise you Lord for the people you have sent into our lives to teach us how it is we can be more generous, those who have taught us to be more faithful and true to you.
We know that too often we are like the rich young man. We want to hang on to what it is that you have given us. We want to keep it for ourselves. We know that sometimes we want to follow you on our own terms, that we want to follow you by doing only what we want. But we know that is not what following you means.
Hel; us to learn how to grown in almsgiving. Help us to learn more the important lesson you want to teach us about how it is you want us to grow in almsgiving. For we know Lent is a time for us to focus more and more on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And we want to do so, O Lord.
And so we make this prayer in the name of your son, Jesus, for He is Your Son, You sent Him to save us, you showed us your overwhelming love for each of us by having Him die on the cross for us. In His name we pray. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Other Helps to Grow in the Spiritual Life
Participate in the Friar Book Club, where you can read along with the Confessions of Saint Augustine, and soon the Meditations for Time of Retreat and the Companion to the Summa by Walter Farrell, OP.
Search our website for devotional prayers. You can ask for people and the friar to pray for you, and you can pray for others. There are three ways you can pray the rosary. You can pray the traditional rosary (the one you may have learned as a child). But you can also pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Dominicans or you can pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Lasallians. All of the links to the rosary come with audio recordings so that you can pray the rosary in the car, on your way to work, or anytime you are otherwise occupied.
There will be other resources which you can find as well. The high school students I teach and work with will offer a reflection each day. Of course all those who ask me to pray should know that I do each day, twice a day.
And sometimes it is helpful to know what is going on in the Church, and so from time to time I post news stories from the Church too. I pray that all of you will find a deep and fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus. Nothing is more important or able to change your life than that. And I pray that this relationship with Jesus changes your life in every way. It can.
When you see the world as God sees the world, it does not mean there are not hard times or that there is not still suffering and sin, but it does mean that none of these things do you need to experience on your own. Be sure to come back tomorrow.