Quite a few years ago I was walking on the beach (where I do my best thinking), and I was musing about how much I should contribute to the parish I worked in. When I was little I saw my parents putting money into the basket each week, but since I was on my own I hadn’t thought much about it. After all, I was giving my life to the church, and working for it 50-60 hours a week or more (I was younger then…). And I wasn’t paid very much. Yet I still thought I owed something.
So I found myself thinking along the lines of, How little can I give and still feel ok with myself? And then I thought, I sure hope God doesn’t feel that way about me! And my relationship to money changed. In an instant. It took a few months to sort the details out, and I’m still learning from that insight (which is why I retell the story here), but the new direction was now set; and set in a way, I’m convinced, that has been more important to my spiritual growth than almost anything else in my life.
In a word, I learned that I can only understand God’s generosity toward me to the extent that I am becoming generous myself.
So while still walking the beach I roughed out a budget: salary so much, add so much for stipends, income from interest on savings (back when that was a thing)… Add it up, come to a total. Now: What’s 10% of that? Result: Shock. It was a pretty big number (at least in the financial universe in which priests live).
But I decided I would work toward doing it. That took a few years as I adjusted other areas of my life, but within about three years I was able to give at that level. (Note I’m not saying any of you should give at this rate; this is just my story. The 10% figure is a traditional benchmark, but people’s situations differ.) And by the time I had gotten to that point, I had learned two more things:
First, that I could manage to give even more, and wanted to;
Second, that my spiritual life had “opened up and out” in ways I could never have predicted.
As I look back, this makes sense. Kelly puts words to it well at the start of the chapter on generosity in his book:
The happiest people I know are also the most generous people I know. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. The world proposes selfishness as the path to happiness. God proposes generosity as the path to happiness. … Selfish people always seem restless and discontented. … But I also know some very generous people, and their happiness is not dependent on things going their way or on getting what they want; their happiness is rooted in the life of God. [The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, p. 109]
“Rooted in the life of God” because the hallmark of God as we experience Him is His generosity. Everything we are and have is from Him, as His gift to us. So we learn something about God by imitating His generosity.
Here’s what I’d like you to take from my story:
God’s like that. Imitating God is like that. More next week. Until then, peace.