Living Fruitfully: Generosity

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Living Fruitfully Generosity

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Learning from the Saints

Fr John S Hogan

All booklets are published thanks to the generosity of the supporters of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY publishers to the holy see

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Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Generosity as a fruit of the Holy Spirit . . . . . . . . . 8 Generosity in God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Material generosity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 The gift of self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Martyrdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60

Appendix: Examen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63

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Introduction

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here was that moment, as she stood at the threshold, when she could have turned back – back into the convent, the school, the habit, back to her name. But the street stretched out before her, with all its possibilities, fears and sacrifices. Hidden there were the voices silenced by want and despair, and she could not ignore them. For Mother Teresa Gonxhe Bojaxhiu there was an urging in her heart that could not be explained – it was not from her, but from Another. The visions had ended, the light was gone; now darkness had descended, and in that darkness she was to give until there was nothing left. The voice of Christ from the cross, “I Thirst”, beckoned from the streets of Calcutta and she stepped out. The future St Teresa of Calcutta had made the decision to lift the sick and dying from the streets and bring comfort and, as far as possible, healing to them – tending their wounds, feeding them, consoling them, at their end being there for them, holding them

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to her breast as their mother may have done, so they would not be without someone loving them as they drew their last breath. The world would later stand in awe at what she did, but she did not think that way. She understood that what she did was not from her but from God. The Holy Spirit was at work in her, and it was his fruit of generosity, dwelling and working within her, that allowed her to give even when she had nothing else left. The providence of God and his grace, in this fruit, replenished her heart and her soul just as he provided for her work materially. This booklet is one in a series, Living Fruitfully, which explores the fruits of the Holy Spirit – what they are, how they operate in the life of a disciple of Christ, and how the saints show us the way these fruits are manifest and reveal the process of sanctification at work. The fruits are given liberally by God, and among them is the fruit of generosity. Being generous makes us feel good. It is a human thing which reveals that most noble part of our nature. It is also a divine thing: when we are generous we are imitating the One who has been most generous with us. But the dynamic is deeper than that: when we are generous God is present both in the giving and in the receiving. Our generosity has far-reaching consequences, going way beyond that sense of peace or goodwill we feel towards ourselves and others.

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St Paul’s observation “The Lord loves a cheerful giver� (2 Co 9:7) is not simply a beautiful sentiment encouraging Christians to be generous. It reveals a call, an urging, to abandonment, to the very generosity of God; a renouncing of hesitation, begrudging and fearfulness so as to open ourselves up in trust to the mystery of the Spirit working within us, pouring out whatever is within in the service of others, and then, when the store of nature is empty, replenishing it in grace. The limit of generosity is love, and as God is love, it is eternal and infinite. St Teresa of Calcutta understood that. Though human generosity will eventually come to end, perhaps even when all is given, for those living fruitfully in the Spirit their generosity may have no end since it is immersed in the bounty of the divine. The soul is possessed of an eternal bounty, and in sharing this bounty the soul is sanctified. As grace builds on nature, God transforms this human charity into a divine one. Since charity and generosity are at the very heart of God, those who give themselves to it are taken into the very presence, into the very heart, of God himself.

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Generosity as a fruit of the Holy Spirit

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he Jewish feast of Pentecost was a harvest festival: a feast of thanksgiving to God for his bounty. That God should choose to send the Holy Spirit on the infant Church on that day was no coincidence: he came to confer his fruitfulness on the Disciples of Christ as a means of beginning the Church’s great mission – her being sent out to gather the harvest. The Jewish feast also celebrates the giving of the Torah, the Law of Moses, on Mount Sinai, by which the covenant between God and his chosen people would be established and regulated. Again, it is no coincidence that this anniversary should be chosen: on Pentecost day the Holy Spirit planted his law within the hearts of the disciples as they were sent out into the world with the seed of the new law of the new covenant growing within them to produce a harvest of good works and holiness.

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As explained in the first booklet in this Living Fruitfully series, on self-control,1 the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines them, “perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory”.2 They are given to those who have embraced the Christian life and are seeking to live by the way of virtue in the pursuit of holiness. These twelve fruits seem at first glance to be human actions or attributes, and while initially they are, as grace builds on nature the Holy Spirit transforms them and they come under his control and become supernatural. They are perfected, and with them the person within whom they are working. As a human virtue generosity is noble, but as a fruit by which the Holy Spirit is nourishing and guiding the soul it becomes not only an extraordinary expression of a Christian’s selflessness, but the sign of God’s bountiful providence and love. Goodness and generosity Generosity is the fruit of a transformed heart. It emerges from goodness. Indeed the old translation of the word St Paul uses for this fruit, άγαθωσύνη (agathosune), was ‘goodness’. This word denotes intrinsic goodness and is derived from άγαθός (agathos), meaning good. It is a biblical and ecclesiastical word, so it is not used in secular Greek. In his Letter to the Galatians, where he

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lists the fruits of the Spirit, Paul uses it in the context of kindness and beneficence or charity, and from this is derived its translation as ‘generosity’. The link between goodness and generosity is established, then, not just in the word but also in the attitude St Paul is asking Christians to have towards others. When it is said, “See how the Christians love each other”,3 that love was to be manifest externally as much as internally, and one of the ways in which this is to be seen is through acts of generosity, be they material or otherwise. Generosity as a human attribute is simply an act of kindness and goodness to those in need. As a fruit of the Holy Spirit it is concerned not only with the service of those in need, but with the transformation of the soul, through renunciation, to a greater conformity with Christ who was generous in the extreme for the salvation of mankind. Authentic generosity is not mere giving. Generosity, operating as a fruit of the Spirit, is a perfection in which one is called above and beyond the call of duty to be of service to others, be it in a material sense or simply through the gift of our time, our attention, our care. It is a gift of self which is not only selfless, but grounded in love and tied to growth in virtue; as our love becomes purer, so too the nature and extent of our generosity. Ordinarily there is only so much we can do, but extraordinarily, as the Spirit perfects our generosity, we do what we never

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imagined was possible. Generosity as a fruit excels in renunciation, in death to self and total gift to God and the other. Jesus describes this in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says: You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Mt 5:38-42) That this teaching on giving is set in the context of giving to enemies and those who hate us is no accident: this is the generosity Christ expects of us. As frail human beings we may well wonder if it is possible, but Christ responds to our doubts simply and concisely: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). It is the Spirit who will not only make this selflessness possible but also turn us into profligates in generosity. It is the Spirit who will help us let go of comfort, and sometimes even need, so we can pour ourselves out in generosity. How is it possible to pour ourselves out? When we are immersed in God and he is our model and our

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motivation, when we seek to love our neighbour as ourselves, and yes, even our enemies, the charity of Christ within us will teach us how to pour ourselves out. Created as we are in the image and likeness of God, this total gift of self is possible, but only when the fruit of the Spirit has ripened within us and is producing seeds which themselves are beginning to germinate. Spirit-led generosity Generosity is a response. On a human level it is a response to those in need; on a spiritual level it is a response to God’s generosity to us. In the first, it is an act of charity; in the second it is an act of thanksgiving. Spirit-led generosity is a giving to others and service of others without any hope or expectation of return, and as such, it is a sign of trust in God: as we have given from what we have, God will provide for us. It is an act of faith, an overwhelming confidence in God’s bounty that shatters any anxiety we might have and allows us the freedom to give without counting the cost, to serve without any thought for what we lose or what response we might receive. Generosity involves renunciation, and as a fruit of the Spirit coming to seed within us it becomes a total renunciation for Christ’s sake, a forgetfulness of self to embrace the other through love. That complete

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forgetfulness of self can only emerge after we have abandoned ourselves into the hands and providence of God. This renunciation allows us to become channels for God’s grace and his bounty so God can serve his people through us and there is nothing that stands in his way. When the Spirit takes control of the generous soul he perfects that generosity, turning a human response into the action of God working in and through that person. The soul now participates in the work of God as he pours out his goodness, his bounty and his help to others. Jesus reveals this in his teaching on judging others, in which he urges generosity. But God himself provides for the generous giver. The more you give the more you receive and so the more you can give again: the Spirit becomes the one who directs the alms from his own store. The prophet Malachi is given a similar insight into this provision of the Spirit when he writes this prophecy: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Ml 3:10). In this, God seems to be daring his people to be generous, to test him: whatever they give into his house he will not only return, but will do so in abundance – he himself

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will make provision from his own storehouse. The saints have often dared God to provide for them when they have turned to the poor with empty hands. God loves this challenge and he will not be found wanting. He may well be creative in the way he provides, surprising us; but he will not fail.

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Generosity in God

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hat God urges generosity in his people should come as no surprise when we look to the Holy Trinity and catch a glimpse of his inner life. Generosity is inherent in God: it is central to the life of the three Persons of the Trinity. In exploring that inner life, in as far as it can be known, theologians down the centuries have identified a dynamic which is referred to as perichoresis (περιχώρησις). This Greek term, first used by early Church thinkers in the context of the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures, is first employed in a Trinitarian context by St Maximus the Confessor. Perichoresis is derived from two Greek words: peri (περι) meaning ‘around’, and the verb chorein (χώρηιν) meaning to make room for, to go into and to take hold. The Latin translation of the term, circumincessio, led to an understanding of it referring to a divine dance – a movement around and within. The term in its theological sense refers to the indwelling of the Persons of the Holy Trinity with

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each other, a total giving of each Person to the others in the most intimate way. This concept of perichoresis reveals the nature of true love in the heart of the Trinity: it is one of total gift, utter generosity. In his theology, St Gregory Nazianzen used the term perichoresis to explore the two natures of Christ, understanding the term to include “flowing into one another, according to the law of their intimate union”.4 St John Damascene in his writings developed it as a means of understanding the inner life of the Trinity and resolving problems regarding the exact identity of God as One and as three Persons. Theologians reflecting on the concept saw that it did indeed reveal an important dimension of the inner life of God. Translating St Gregory’s understanding of the term to explore the life of the Trinity, it was revealed that the three Persons’ mutual indwelling was a pouring of each Person into the others in love and total gift, this occurring eternally within the Godhead. It is in this context that we understand that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. Each Person of the Trinity gives all to the others in an act of eternal and divine generosity that is true love. This is what St John means when he says that God is love. The Latin term of circumincessio, implying a dance, is not too far off the mark as the movement of this pouring out

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of the divine Persons is like a great dance: a moving in and through the others, what we can understand to be a living for each other. To become more like him This extraordinary revelation of the life of God reveals the divine source of generosity. God is, by his eternal nature, generous, because in the heart of his divine life is giving. God urges generosity among his adopted children so we can become more like him. As God is generous within, that generosity cannot remain within, but it pours out from the three Persons and their union; and so God creates and permeates his creation with his generosity. The scriptures bear witness to this generosity from the first verses of the Book of Genesis as he creates; but the creation of the world was not the first expression of God’s generosity. The creation of the world and the creation of men and women is the manner in which we are first acquainted directly with the generosity of God. As the chaos was transformed into the universe, God the great artist brought into being a most marvellous work: complex, beautiful and rich, a world not only to sustain life but to offer meaning and intrigue. God the creator did not mean only to make but to bring joy. When the Holy Spirit breathed over the face of the abyss (see Gn 1:2), he

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not only brought life but he generously poured out the imagination and adventure of God so making what was nothing rich and exciting. When he breathed life into Adam, God did not hold back either: he made man and woman in his own image and likeness. This most daring, and perhaps some with common sense might say, foolhardy action, brought into existence beings that would seek to be like God because they were intended from the beginning to be like God, to share his eternal life. This creature resembled God in what was given, in what is part of our human nature. The generosity of God flowed out as he heaped intelligence, ability, creativity, sensitivity, wit, immortality and free will on this being. Great risks were indeed taken, but God wanted to give all; and though he knew how things would turn out in the short term, he also knew how things would turn out in the long term, so it was worth it. This creature, the union of flesh and spirit, was destined to be holy, to share in the very holiness of God. This earthly life was a transitional stage where men and women would prove their mettle and advance in virtue to holiness and the life that was its eternal reward. Even in this creation the interior generosity of God is manifest: the Father created it all in, with and for the Son, and the Spirit vivified it all with his presence, moving across the abyss and

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the chaos to order it and mould it according to the will of the Father. And when the Father gazed on Adam, the first human being, he saw the face of his own beloved Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, when he would be made man as part of God’s plan for the salvation he knew would be necessary. God’s extraordinary generosity looked even then beyond the disaster which was coming. An unworthy race? God’s generosity found a new outlet as he nurtured an often rebellious mankind, conferring his grace and help and revealing himself even when mankind proved ungrateful or uninterested, though some responded in kind: Abel and the mysterious Enoch who “walked with God” and was taken up into heaven (see Gn 5:24). In choosing one man, and from him a small tribe as his chosen people, God was not only carrying out his plan of salvation and preparing redemption, he was also seeking out a family on which to confer his gifts and graces to raise them up. He chose the weakest of all, not only to demonstrate his power but to reveal that in his generosity he seeks out the smallest, the most miserable. God is not interested in prestige; rather he seeks to better the plight of the poor and raise up those most affected by the weakness of our human nature.

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The children of Abraham seemed to have little going for them. In the eyes of the world, these Hebrews, later Jews, were despised and mocked – an unworthy race in the minds of the strong, yet they were the ones who received the greatest portion of God’s love and mercy. Though they fell, and made stupid decisions and silly alliances; though they were often unfaithful and ungrateful; though they were at times as cold as ice or driven to irrational extremes, God looked on them with the intensity of his generous love, made a covenant with them and called them his people. In the fullness of time when the Second Person of the Trinity descended to become man to win the salvation of the world, he became one of them. The Jewish people are certainly the living embodiment of the utter faithfulness and generosity of God. The Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are the greatest outpourings of the generosity of God. In these mysteries we see the interior dynamic of the Trinity as the Son in his love says yes to the Father’s will; we see the Father’s love for and generosity to the world in the way that, as St John notes, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” to be a sacrifice to redeem us (Jn 3:16). In the Incarnation the Son stripped himself of his glory and became man. This extraordinary mystery reveals the outpouring of the Son in the inner life of the Holy Trinity. In

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his living among us, Christ brought the life of God into our midst, the miracles and teachings revealing the presence of the healing and wisdom of God. The Lord’s pity towards the sick and sinners is to be noted above all: God continues to reach out to the weakest and most miserable to raise them up. Christ’s public ministry is a testament to generosity. He did not spare himself, but preached the Word and healed the sick, refusing none of them; he forgave sinners, even the most notorious, and offered them a new life. He did not come to the healthy, but to the sick who needed a doctor, a divine physician (cf. Lk 5:31-32). Going beyond the realm of Judaism he preached in pagan territory, in the Decapolis, revealing that God was now reaching out to restore all humanity. Emptying of self in love The depths of God’s generosity are seen in the offering, Passion and death of Jesus. God himself provided the sacrifice to redeem mankind (cf. Gn 22:7-8), and the victim was himself: the Son of God made man. We must remember, however, that this offering was a difficult one. As St Paul notes in his Letter to the Romans, it is hard to die, and though one might be prepared to die for a good person “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:7). Jesus struggled in his humanity with this offering of

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