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11/11/18 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

There are two ways of being generous: the way of the scribes, and the way of the widow.

The scribes were the experts in interpreting the Law of Moses, and the Law of Moses was the core of Jewish culture.

And so the people of ancient Israel respected and reverenced the scribes.

But Jesus was unhappy with them. Without a doubt, they worked long, hard hours; they were always busy with worthy projects. But, unfortunately, their natural intellectual gifts and elevated social function had gone to their heads. Instead of exercising their leadership as a service to the nation and to their neighbors, they were flaunting it to stoke their vanity, increase their comfort, and enhance their reputation. The higher they climbed, the more they looked down on everyone else. They considered themselves superior because they gave more time, talent, and treasure to the Temple than anyone else. But this was a one-dimensional view of generosity. The scribes were forgetting that all those external things were actually gifts God had given them in the first place.

What God truly wants from us is something more, something deeper: he wants our love; he wants us to trust in him.

This is what the poor widow gave to him. She didn’t just share some of her abundance; she handed over to God all of her wealth, saying to him: “Lord, you are my good shepherd, and I will follow wherever you lead.” That was a prayer the scribes never prayed. They considered that they were doing God a favor by serving him; the widow understood that God was the one doing the favors.

That’s the kind of generosity God wants to see flourish in each one of us: the generosity by which we give to God not just our stuff, but our heart.

Generosity of the heart, true Christian generosity, frees us from the self- destructive shackles of anger, resentment, and vengeance.

In 1995 in Cook County, Illinois, a man was on trial for drunk driving. While he was driving drunk, he had collided with and killed two pedestrians. The case was a simple one, because the man pleaded guilty and was willing to accept his sentence. The man's mother came with him to be present at the trial. After the proceedings were finished, another woman came up to her. She introduced herself as the mother of one of the victims of the drunken accident. Then she said, "I just want you to know that I know you must be in great pain, and that I feel for you. I know your son didn't mean to do it. I just wanted you to know that." Instead of being blinded by her own pain and suffering, this woman was able to reach out and comfort someone else, someone related to the very man who killed her own child.

That's the kind of interior strength and freedom that comes from a truly humble, self-forgetting, generous heart.

As St Vincent de Paul used to say:

"The most powerful weapon to conquer the Devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it."

Unless we gradually transform our self-centered, scribe-like tendencies into a Christ-centered, humble generosity like that of the widow, we will never be able to attain true Christian wisdom or experience true Christian joy.

We can do two things to foster this transformation.

First, we can ask God, every day, to purify our hearts, because without his grace we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5).

Second, we can practice. True, life-transforming virtue can only be developed by conscious effort. It doesn't come from pills or feelings; it comes from exercise. Virtues, in this sense, are like muscles: the more we use them, the stronger they get. And the best place to exercise heart-felt, selfless generosity is at home.

In fact, family life is designed by God to be a gymnasium for all Christian virtues. It is easy to put on the appearance of generosity, like the scribes, when we are interacting with people outside our family circle, because they only see us every once in a while. At home, our family members see us all the time, and so they know the good, the bad, and the ugly. And so, finding creative ways to serve our family members is a sure path to purify our hearts of selfish motives; they simply won't be impressed with our efforts – they know us too well.

There is little chance of family members praising us too much for helping with someone else's chores even when they didn't ask us, or for being the first to forgive after an argument or a fight, regardless who was at fault, or for leaving the last cookie for someone else without expecting any reward for ourselves.

God wants to give us the freedom and joy of a truly generous heart.

And he will, if we ask for his help, and if we do our part by practicing at home.

 

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