Monday, March 11, 2013

Teaching generosity

I woke up this morning with a question on my heart.


I have been watching my children as they grow and realizing that this is one of the hardest virtues to teach. We are countered in our efforts to teach generosity because the focus is on self. For instance, my daughter was relaying a commercial -- it was more of a mini-documentary on a thing that a child had accomplished -- on a popular kids' channel. The premise: a 5 or 6 yr. old girl was having a birthday party and instead of presents, she asked her little friends to bring new shoes that she could offer to homeless shelters.

Great, right?

Until you hear how the commercial ends: "and this is how I made my mark."

It's all about ME! See what a good thing I did!

Is that truly teaching generosity to suggest that you should be praised for your good service? Is that how it should be done?

I would suggest that this is not the best platform to use in teaching the virtue of generosity. True generosity is devoid of pride, and recoils from attention.

God described His own generosity to St. Catherine of Siena this way:
O My dearest daughter, as I have told you so often, I want to be merciful to the world and provide for My reasoning creatures' every need. But the foolish take for death what I giver for life, and are thus cruel to themselves. (Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena 135)
Man in turn destroys what he is given; what could be virtuous turns to dust in man's hands without the grace of God to guide it.

The notion of giving shoes to the poor is indeed noble and good, but loses its merit when the attention shifts to self. Spotlighting achievements for the sake of self-aggrandizement is detrimental to growth in virtue.

The Lord tells Catherine this from the start:
For all virtues are built on charity for your neighbors. So I have told you, and such is the truth: Charity gives life to all the virtues, nor can any virtue exist without charity. In other words, virtue is attained only through love of Me. (Dialogue of Catherine of Siena 7)
You are not practicing generosity or charity toward neighbor, nor are you doing anything more than using the gifts God has given you for the death of your own soul.

Generosity flows from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It requires both love and grace. Grace comes from God. God is love.

It's simple really -- to teach generosity, one must simply love God and then love neighbor. The joy of the virtue of generosity comes from the good you do for God and for the recipient. There is no self-love involved.

"Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 44-45)

Do good for the sake of the Kingdom, and if the consolation is that someone should notice, great. But, don't draw attention to yourself.

So, the best way to teach generosity is to get out of the spotlight and into God's light.

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