A few weeks ago a man, not unknown to the parish but not a parishioner – indeed not even a Catholic – stopped in the office to make a gift to the Catholic Church. He reached in to his pocket and handed a $5 bill to the secretary. She thanked him, and showed me his gift. No one there thought his gift meaningful. Two days later I was at the food pantry and this same man was walking in as I was leaving. In a small, but very meaningful way, this man demonstrates the lessons we learn from the Readings this weekend.
Giving from the depths of ourselves – of our souls— even when we feel that we don’t have that much to give, is an authentic response to the call of discipleship.
Just a few weeks ago we were all musing fancifully over what we would do if we won over a billion dollars in the lottery. I cannot tell you how many people let me know that the parish would benefit – some even told me of their dreams for the parish if they won – but there is certainly much more to the demands of discipleship than giving away one’s windfall.
Jesus asks – indeed demands – that we give of our sustenance. The gentleman I encountered in the food pantry did just that. I am sure that his donation to the parish could have gone farther in his own life, than it does for the parish. The point isn’t the impact of the gift. The woman’s few coins could have dropped on the ground when the money was being collected, and never missed.
Many of us, probably most of us, feel that if you can’t do it big, then there is no reason to do it at all. We can easily muse over giving multiple millions of dollars to our church, or to some other charity, or even a needy family member or friend, but we pay little mind to the simple $50 or even $5 gift. The impact that an individual can make is often and usually insignificant. The gift that a community can make is immeasurable.
The challenge for us is to see the value in the act, getting beyond the value in itself.
The Pharisees at the time of Jesus would make a demonstrable fuss over their donations. Similarly, people today like to see their names on plaques. Even with those plaques it is essential that there are clear gradations of giving levels – we can’t all be the same.
Most of our parish churches and schools were built – not by the generous gift of a wealthy donor – but by the ordinary working class, and even lower class, immigrants who had nothing of value for themselves, but knew the value of having beautiful churches. While they could have built ordinary meeting-style multi-functional churches, they instead built magnificent structures, gilt with gold and laden with marble. Each brick, each stone, reflects the hard work and sweat equity of countless nameless persons whose names are not etched in the narthex of the church.
We all need to recognize the value of our ordinariness and the significance that we make through the little, yet consistent, things that we contribute to our churches, our community, and our world.
Like the Pharisees, we make our contributions and then go and spend more on a latte and a brioche (that’s coffee and a bun for most of us) missing entirely the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a community or of the individual in front of us.
Discipleship calls us to seriously contemplate what we have and what we need. Generosity of heart does not come easy for many of us. It is easier to focus on what I think I need than it is to think of the bigger picture. We spend so much of the first half of our lives hoarding that we then waste so much of the second half of our lives trying to figure out what to do with it all.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.