Showing posts with label generosity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label generosity. Show all posts

Show me the money!

Matthew 25: 31 - 46 (Christ the King, year a)

When I was a seminarian, a large and stressful part of my life was studying for exams. One evening after dinner I was having a conversation with another seminarian about all the tests we had coming up. We expressed how worried we were and how much we were studying. We both felt that unless we did well on our exams, we would not see our semester as a success. After speaking for a few minutes, we were surprised when an old priest joined our conversation. He had overheard all we had said. This priest explained that our exams are important and we should study and try our hardest. Before he left, he said one short line I will never forget: “Now remember, no matter how you do on these class exams, just make sure you pass your final exam!” By “final exam”, this elderly priest was referring to the scene that is described in the gospel of today in which the the sheep are separated from the goats by Christ the King.

We all have different ways of measuring whether our life is a success or not. We hold ourselves to certain standards. Sometimes people place these standards on others, particularly their children. If you meet these expectations you are good and your life is a success.  If not, it’s a failure. As I mentioned, for me such a standard was doing well academically. For others, the test of their life’s value may be whether they are popular and have many friends. Or maybe they give themselves a passing grade if they have a great job and are respected in their profession. Still others judge their value based on the amount of money they have. Do you have a nice house? A flashy car? The latest smartphone? We all create different tests to see whether or not we or those around us are “making the grade” in their life. Certainly, many of these goals are important and worth working towards. The problem is that none of these things matter in our final exam.

In the end, Jesus’ test is easy and it consists of just one question: did you show me love by concretely helping those who are in need? It is incredible when we consider the fact that so much of what we consider important, so much of what we spend our time working towards and worrying about, does not come up on Jesus’ final exam. What matters is simply whether we have helped those who are poor and needy or not. This is the way that we show love to Jesus. This is how we will be judged. Mother Teresa lived this reality in a profound way in her life. She was always careful to explain that the incredible work she did with the poor was not mere social work, but rather service done for Jesus, out of love for him. She explained that the Gospel, the entire message of Jesus, is so simple that it can be summarized in five words. She would repeat these words by counting them out on her fingers. Mother Teresa would teach others to do the same. This is what she called the five-fingered-Gospel: you did it to me. Whenever we do something to help someone in need, it is as though we did it to Jesus. Whenever we failed to do for someone in need, it is as though we fail to do it for Jesus. At the end of our life we will be judged on our response to this simple reality.

Jesus’ final exam is a practical test rather than one testing mere theory. Notice that Jesus does not tell us we will be judged based on whether we thought it was a good idea to help those in need or intended to do this. He judges us on whether or not we concretely helped the needy or not. There are many ways we can help those in need. For example, we can volunteer our time at a soup kitchen. I would like to look at a very simple way that all of us can help the poor. It is also a simple test to know whether we are doing so or not. If you have ever seen the movie Jerry Maguire, you will be familiar with the most catchy phrase from the film: show me the money! How generous we are in giving our money to those in need clearly reflects our commitment to the poor. Certainly not all can give as much to the poor as others, but the majority of us can and should be giving something. I am not speaking here about giving a toonie now and then to someone begging on the street. I would argue that this is not the most efficient and prudent use of our money. I am speaking here about giving consistently and regularly to some charity that helps the poor. There are many such groups run by the Archdiocese of Vancouver, for example, the Men’s Hostel or the Door is Open. Giving to Project Advance is also a way to help the poor and needy as this initiative funds many worthwhile Catholic Charities. When we look at our monthly budget we find a long list of expenses. Is one of the items on this list a regular financial contribution to the poor? If we do give regularly, do we give less to the poor than we spent on coffee or going to the movies? In a recent homily, Pope Francis said the following:
“this is a golden rule. When conversion reaches your pockets, it’s certain”. He explained: “Christians at heart? Everyone. Christians in mind? Everyone”. But, Pope Francis asked, how many are Christians when it comes to “our pockets? Few”.

When I was in school, teachers would sometimes give us the exam questions ahead of time. When this happened, I always spent a lot of time preparing these questions. I would be foolish not to. Jesus, our King and judge, has told us that at the end of our life we will be tested on only one question. He has told us well in advance what the question is so we all have plenty of time to prepare. You did it to me. Has our conversion reached our wallet? Does the way in which we spend out money show care for Jesus present in the poor and needy or not?

No to "shotty not"

Matthew 14:13-21 (18th Sunday of Ordinary time, year a)

Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
We are all probably familiar with the expressions “pass the buck” and “cop out”.  If you are younger, you will know what it means when someone calls out “shotty not!”  Situations regularly arise when we are aware that there is something we should do to help those who are in need. For example, we might hear of an opportunity to donate money or food to help the poor. Or we may know a friend or co-worker who is passing through a hard time and needs someone to talk to. Maybe we realize there are ways we can better support our parish. When we encounter these situations we sometimes choose not to help, knowing that we are able to.  We can pass the buck to our neighbors, assuming someone else will take care of the situation. We can even pass the buck to God thinking something like “let Him take care of it, He’s God afterall!” Today’s Gospel makes it clear that if we are serious about following Christ, passing the buck in this way is not really an option.

From the miracle in which Jesus feeds the multitude we learn a fundamental lesson: Jesus helps the needy through the mediation of his followers. Jesus is aware of the needs of the people around Him and desires to help. Pay close attention to how Jesus works this miracle. He does not pull out bread and fish from His own bag, multiply it and then personally hand this out to the crowd. Jesus does say to the people - as in an episode of Oprah - “everyone look under your seats ... surprise, there is a meal there!” This miracle does not happen without the mediation of the disciples. The disciples are those who bring the needs of the people to Jesus’ attention. The disciples provide the five loaves and two fish which Jesus multiples. Finally, the disciples distribute the food to the hungry crowd. Jesus follows this same pattern today. Jesus has compassion on those in need - whether it is the materially poor or the spiritually poor - and helps these people through the mediation of those who follow Him. St. Theresa of Avila recognized this in her famous reflection:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

It is for our own good that Jesus allows us to be mediators in His work of compassion. We may wonder why Jesus does not simply help the needy directly.  Why doesn't Jesus just snap His fingers and give food to all the hungry in the world and consolation to the sorrowing? Why must we be His hands? The truth is that Jesus does not need us to be His mediators, rather, we need to become His mediators so that we can grow as His disciples. The other day I was watching my sister and her young son interact as he was trying to put on his shoes. My nephew was struggling and soon became frustrated. He wanted his mom to simply put on the shoes for him. My sister wanted to make him do it on his own. It’s not that she didn't care that he was having trouble. Rather, she knows that if she always put on his shoes for him he would never learn to do it on his own. Parents often interact with their children in this way so that they can grow and develop. When it comes to helping the needy, Jesus does a similar thing with us. By letting the disciples play a role in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus gives them an opportunity to become more like Him by being generous, serving others and more attentive to the needs of others. We are all meant to become more like Jesus. If Jesus simply provided helped the needy directly, without our cooperation, then our growth as Christians would be forever stunted.

It is Imperative that we put our time, talents and treasure at the service of those in need, trusting that God will make our efforts fruitful. Sometimes we hold back from helping those in need because we feel we cannot make a difference. We feel like we wouldn't know what to say to console someone who is sorrowing. Maybe we think we lack the talents or time to get more involved in the parish. Perhaps we feel that the small amount of money that we could donate to some cause is too insignificant to matter. In the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, what the disciples give is so little: 2 fish and 5 loaves. What is this among thousands? Jesus, however, multiplies these gifts and feeds the crowd. If the disciples had not given anything, however, there would be nothing to multiply! With us too, when we give give of our time, talents and treasure to help those in need, we can be sure that Jesus will make our contributions fruitful. A recent example that comes to mind is the life of Mother Teresa. Physically she was so small. She did not posses any advanced degrees or training. She herself was aware of her own weakness. When she was convinced that God was asking her to begin serving the poorest of the poor, she often prayed that God would choose someone who was strong, more talented and better qualified. In the end, Mother Teresa was generous in helping those in need and God made her work extremely fruitful. The world would be a very different place for a great many people if Mother Teresa had not used used her gifts, trusting that God would make her efforts fruitful. Many thousands would have remained in their suffering. She herself would never have become such a remarkable saint.

Passing the buck, copping out or calling “shotty not” are not options if we are serious about following Jesus. Doing this has two negative results: 1) the suffering of the needy will not be alleviated and 2) we will not grow to become more like Jesus. When we are tempted not to help those in need, we would do well to remember a favorite saying of Mother Teresa: “be the one”. When you hear of a way you can help out in your parish think let me be the one. When you get a chance to listen to someone who needs comforting, be the one. When there is an opportunity to help out someone in your family or a coworker with some task be the one. If we desire to grow to become more like Jesus, each of us must want to be the one.