One day I was surprised to find an Old Testament passage which seemed to deal with a very down to earth practice: “Give to the most High as God has given to you, generously, according to your means” (Sirach 35:9). I was also puzzled, for it sounded a bit like double talk. First we were asked to give generously as God has given, but then, “according to our means.” I did not puzzle long, however, for simple psychology told me that if we, like God, gave 100% all the time we would exhaust ourselves. More importantly, such giving would reduce the possibility of others giving generously. Let me explain. Does it boil down to a matter of quantity versus quality of life? We all have felt suffocated by someone in our parish, school, or community who, competitively (or generously, depending on your view), always wants to be the giver rather than the receiver of gifts. If such behavior is challenged, friends of the giver may quickly react: “Oh, but he/she has such great talents!” True, but if this view prevails, the talents of others will be shoved aside. And in case there are two obsessive “givers” it can become a matter of survival of the fittest. The truth is that sometimes quality of life determines the quantity. God came to us in Jesus, a mere baby. Could God have come in a smaller “quantity”? He came from the least of towns, Bethlehem, in lowliest of settings, a stable, and, finally, from the smallest of residences, a virgin’s womb. God gave us all in Jesus, but in so doing we were enabled, in Jesus, to give our total selves back as sons and daughters. We need to think of this when we strive to be generous givers of gifts. If we make ourselves indispensable, we may give others the message that they are dispensable. In God’s view, each person is important. Jesus stripped Himself of His high estate, taking on our lowly humanity in order to free us from this attitude of self importance. It may be nice to offer others the gift of all our talents, but the best gift we can ever give to anyone is the gentle drawing out of their gifts.
—Mary E. Penrose,OSB
|Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.|