We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers. – Seneca
As we often do, at this weekend’s Mass, we had a special speaker. He is a missionary priest who serves a community in a very poor area in the mountains of Peru. The area he serves is so mountainous, in fact, that the 5,280 altitude of which we are so proud is a mere hill to him. He lives in an altitude over 11,000 feet. That, in and of itself, should reserve him a place in heaven.
He told this story: He grew up in Miami, Florida, where he went to school with one of the priests who serves our parish. He graduated from high school, then went on to earn his college degree. He had a comfortable position at a big company in Miami, where he earned a more-than-comfortable living. And then, God called him to be a missionary.
I have mentioned in the past that the nuns who taught me in my formative years used to tell her students to pray every night that God would call us to be priests or nuns. Instead, at night, my heart full of sheer dread, I would beg God to not call me to be a nun. True story. I lived in fear that I would hear God’s voice telling me to join a convent. I think I might have had a bad attitude, and as such, God wouldn’t have called me in a million years.
This priest, however, answered God’s call. He quit his lucrative job and left to be a missionary in Peru. In time, God called him to be a priest, and unlike me, he answered the call. He became a priest, and serves 40,000-some people who are poor as church mice. They live in shacks at best. They scarcely have enough money to feed their family.
He asked for money. In fact, he begged us to look into our hearts and give until it hurts a bit, or even better, until it hurts a lot. His parishioners are as generous as they are able to be, and yet his total weekly collection barely reaches $100. It’s hard to meet the needs of a intensely poor parish on a C note a week.
Bill dug in his pocket and put cash in the basket as it came around. I was happy for his contribution because my purse was in the car and I was unable to contribute even a cent. Isn’t that so convenient? My purse is in my car. That’s as lame as the check’s in the mail.
I try to be generous, both financially and in spirit. I’m often unsuccessful, however. As I examined my conscience during the sermon, what I decided is that what I lack isn’t a desire to be generous; instead, it’s a lack of creativity. When someone comes to me with a request for money, I generally give. That’s a good thing.
Still, there is so much more to generosity than reaching in a purse or wallet and pulling out some cash. There is generosity of spirit. There is generosity of prayer. There is generosity of time.
The other day, as Bill and I walked to our car, I was holding a box full of the leftovers we hadn’t eaten at the restaurant. I saw a man sitting in the corner outside of one of the stores. I have seen him before in that same spot, and he appeared to be homeless. Before I could chicken out, I went over and offered him my leftover BBQ ribs. I held my breath, hoping like the dickens that he wasn’t just a fellow who lived in one of the expensive apartments nearby having a bit of a sit-down. But he happily took the package, and thanked us for our kindness.
I’m not patting myself on the back for that effort. Instead, I’m writing it to remind this oh-so-lucky woman that generosity comes in all forms.