The Secret to a Generous Heart
The Secret to a Generous Heart. Do you ever think that you can achieve discipleship in Jesus by doing the minimum? We see examples of it in the bible. “Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Another instance concerns the generosity of others mentioned in the story of the widow’s mite. Some give out of their surplus (not all bad) but she gave all she had to live on (much better). The question to consider in terms of almsgiving is the degree to which we really want a generous heart.
So on this day I will focus on what I call the secret to a generous heart. Or to ask the question from a scriptural perspective, what is the best way for us to love God with our whole heart? How is it we arrive at the point where we not only see the needs of others, but we are also able to meet them through our own almsgiving this lent and beyond?
Wants and Needs
The first step is, I think, trying to ask ourselves honestly whether what we have are wants (I want to buy this think because I think it is cool, or because I am feeling sad and buying this will make me feel better), or is it a need, something integral to my survival and to do the thinking that make me a disciple of Jesus?
Consider the story in the gospel of the man whose business was so good. Rather than think of how it is he could make the world around him a better place, he could only think of building larger barns to that he could live luxuriously for the rest of his life.
Or there is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias, after selling his property, holds back some of the sale for himself. He was not able to place his full trust in the apostles as others had done. By extension, this represents a failure to trust God completely.
These are just a few of the examples of a “half-way heart.” It is certainly the case that trusting in God can be difficult, and sometimes it may even feel impossible. That is the way I feel sometimes. I know that God loves me. I know that God only wants the best for me. Even when bad things happen, I know God only allows them because he knows a greater good can come from it.
But I know that the beginning of trust is to ask God to inspire me to trust. I need to make the prayer of the father who brought his son to Jesus to drive out a demon, I need to make the father’s statement my prayer. “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
I want to be generous. But how?
Stretching my heart
If the way I stretch my heart is by differentiating (with God’s grace) what I need and what I want, then I have to practice being generous. But how? How is it I practice becoming more generous? Without meaning to be glib, the answer is simple. Be generous.
Aristotle said we are what we repeatedly do. From the perspective of virtues, then, we are honest when we are repeatedly hones, we are courageous when we are repeatedly courageous. So in order to become generous, then we need to be repeatedly generous.
So, first of all, think of the world around you, the local part of the world where it is that you live. Can you see who is in need? Can you see who it is that needs you to be generous and reach out to them?
It starts with empathy
Empathy is that skill that helps us to know what others are feeling, to really feel their emotions and difficulties. So when I see someone that does not have enough food, I feel their hunger, and it moves me to help. Empathy comes out of relationship. As I get to know those in need, I begin to view the world differently.
The skill of empathy in terms of understanding the homeless was demonstrate in a project in the Saint Louis area called In Plain Sight. As their website describes, in 2017 the project was started. “April 18 marked the beginning of a 4-month call to action with the distribution of 100 disposable cameras to 100 local homeless residents, who used the cameras to tell their own stories of what it’s like to live unsheltered here. On April 26 the cameras were collected and participants who completed the photography assignment received backpacks filled with supplies of basic need items and gift cards for food.”
The goal (and the benefit as one who saw the exhibit) was to help people examine their own preconceived notions about homelessness in a suburb often considered to be wealthy. And by allowing the homeless to tell their story, people were provided an opportunity to see that there were homeless who had jobs (but did not earn enough for housing) there were homeless who were placed in difficult circumstances.
The title of the exhibit, though, was the main point. That the homeless, far from being invisible, were in plain sight. When students I was teaching at the time saw the exhibit, they were first struck by places they recognized as having driven by. And by reading the narratives created by the homeless they came to realize that there were humans behind these stories.
Discover ways to help
I have never lived in any place that did not have some way of service to volunteer. There is no place I have lived that did not have ways to contribute financial resources. And the world is filled with amazing organizations doing unbelievable work.
So stretching the heart seems to have the first step to be one of getting to know what areas of need are in plain sight. These may very well be needs that have always been there, but when you try to stretch your heart you begin to notice them, maybe even for the first time.
Begin with a Prayer
And so any journey where the goal is to come to be more like Jesus in how you live your life must start with prayer. How can we be more like Jesus without asking Jesus to help us? It certainly is the case that when we ask Jesus for something that might result in spiritual growth, we have to know that he is ready to pour out His grace on our efforts.
So when you pray, ask God to help you to see the ways in which He is calling you to be more generous. Ask God to touch your heart so that you can see those ways your almsgiving can touch the hearts and the lives of others.
But be ready — God may reveal to you an unexpected way to help. God may call you not simply to make a donation, but to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Words are nice, but as we all know, actions speak louder than words, and as Saint James says, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
If you need practice being generous, think about this. Think of something that you love to do, or something you really enjoy. Preferably, think about a habit that costs some money for you. What if that is the fasting you engaged in? What if you fasted from the activity you really loved to do, and donated the money you saved to an organization in need?
But what if you did more? What if you also took the time you saved and volunteered at the place you donated the money? It is true you saved money, but you also saved time, time you can use to serve others.
If you are a parent, what if part of your strategy involved helping your children to be more generous. It could be something as simple as helping them to go through their toys with a view of donating some to an agency that works with children.
Whatever you do, make sure you ask Jesus to help you to see Him in the people you notice. For the people you did not notice were the Christ in disguise. And recognizing the ways we have been blessed by helping others can be occasion to grow in gratitude to God.
Whatever You Do – Do It!
So the time has come. You have prayed to have God open your eyes to those in need. Now is the time do to something. Do not let not knowing what it is you will do paralyze you. Do something. Do not wait thinking you have to come up with the perfect penance.
And there is no rule that says you cannot change your penance during Lent. If you find yourself being tugged in a different direction by God, then go in that direction. Remember you are asking God to stretch your heart in order to see His presence more clearly.
Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving are all interconnected
While it can seem the case that we are focusing (or have been focusing) on three separate things, the truth is that each one of these actions are intimately connected with each other. Of course prayer is the foundation, but if prayer is the foundation, it spills out into wishing to be generous in almsgiving. And if almsgiving is to be real, it leads to the sacrifice that comes out of fasting.
With these three interconnected notions, Lent takes root. Lent changes us. Lent makes us more and more a disciple of Jesus. Lent leads us through a journey that ends with our becoming more holy, more like Jesus. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we discover the secret to a generous heart.
For authentic almsgiving is born out of a desire to recognize the needs of others. Hopefully by preparing for Lent, you have come to see more clearly the ways in which you can become holy. Whatever you decide to do, make your prayer to be more and more like Jesus. Ask Jesus to help you to become more holy this Lent through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Bible Verses to Ponder
Reflection Questions to Ponder
What is the most difficult part of being generous?
What attitudes within you towards the poor do you need to overcome to belive in Jesus more fully?
In what ways can the sacrifices you make for being more generous be tied to the sacrifice of Christ?
What are specific charities where you live that would provide the opportunity to give financially and to volunteer?
Where do you seek to find Christ in the poor?
Heavenly Father, we praise and glorify your name. We thank you for giving us your Word. We thank you for speaking with us so that we may know that you are always with us. Teach us to love your word, to hear your word, and to act on your word.
Thank you Lord for all the blessings you give us. Help us not to be selfish, but to become more generous, so that in sacrificing for other we may become more like you. Help us to see you in those who are in need. Help us to notice them, to look at them, to engage. them.
As we begin this season of Lent, help us to know how to stretch our hearts, so that there is more room in them for your love. Help us to be open to the grace we need so that we see you deep into our hearts. Help us to live by your word.
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.