Generosity: the Core of Christian Spirituality

What constitutes happiness and how happy are the people really? The United Nations’ (UNO) World Happiness Report has, in its survey of 2017, ranked India at a dismal 122nd spot. In this context the State Government of Madya Pradesh, which is the first State in India to set up a Ministry of Happiness (Anand Mantralaya), has tasked the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur with finding an answer to the above question and to devise a Happiness Index for the State. The IIT’s report is awaited with keen interest.

In this context it would be appropriate to reflect on the foundations of human happiness. On what does the happiness of a man or a people depend? Many seem to think that they can be happy by being selfish, by acquiring and accumulating everything possible for themselves, by satisfying all their needs and desires. For the world selfishness and self-satisfaction are the path to happiness, while for God it is selfless generosity that leads to happiness.  Selfish people are always restless and discontented and their happiness is fleeting. Experience tells us that the happiest people are the most generous people. Their happiness is not dependent on things going their way or on getting what they want. Their happiness is rooted in their relationship with God, who is generous by his very nature. As the children of God we are invited to be happy by being generous as God himself.

St. John says that “God is love” (1Jn 4.8). In the same vein we could also say that God is generous. He is generous in everything that can be attributed to God: love, mercy, kindness, creation, redemption, etc. God is infinitely generous in His blessings. We find God’s incredible generosity amply manifested on several occasions in the life of Jesus: Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana (Jn 2. 1-10), multiplication of bread (Mt 14. 13-21; 15. 32-39), healing the sick, his caring love for the disciples who caught no fish the whole night (Jn 21. 1-14), his unimaginable suffering, his pouring out even the last drop of blood for mankind, etc. He laid down his life for us as the supreme act of love and generosity. We also find several persons in the Gospel who are models of generosity: Mary who responded to the Angel saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1. 38), the Magi who travelled from Far East with gifts to worship the Infant Jesus (Mt. 1-12), the disciples who left everything and followed Jesus (Mt. 4. 18-22), the poor widow who, out of her poverty, put in the treasury everything she had (Lk 21. 1-4), the woman who poured an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment on Jesus’ head (Mt. 26. 6-13), etc. The Gospel abounds with stories of generosity. Just like love, generosity is the heart of Christian life.  It is through generosity that we can bring God’s love to the people around us in tangible ways. God wants us to become aware of and bear witness to His infinite generosity through our generous life.

Generosity and gratitude

Generosity and gratitude go together. We have received untold blessings from God. But are we grateful for them?  Committed Christians always live in a state of gratitude. They may not have received extraordinary gifts or more gifts than others, but they recognise with gratitude that whatever blessing they have received is from the generous hands of God. They are always conscious that they have been abundantly blessed by God and avow with St. Paul: “I am what I am by the grace of God” (1 Cor 15.10). They understand their life, health, time, talent, possessions, family, friends and people around as blessings from God’s generosity and are grateful for them. Each one of us has received so much to be grateful for, but very often we take them for granted. The more we become aware of how much we have received, the more we become inclined to give. “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20: 35). God is the supreme giver. Whenever we give, we grow in the image of God.

We are at our best when we are grateful. When we give up the perspective of gratitude, we become irritable, restless and discontented. One cannot be grateful when one is angry or haughty. A man with a negative frame of mind thinks of what he does not have, while a man with a positive attitude thinks of all that he does have and is grateful even for the minute blessings in his life. It is when we are conscious of the millions of our fellow human beings, who do not have even the basic amenities of life, we become aware how blessed we are indeed and how much grateful we should be. Just think of our time, talents and possessions – are they not God’s precious gifts? We are only stewards – they are entrusted to our care just for their careful and responsible management. These gifts have been entrusted to us not just for our growth alone; they are meant also for the benefit of others. We Christians believe that one day we will have to give an account for the way we made use of them. Hence it is good to ask ourselves, how generously we make use of our time, talents and possessions for the good of others.

Generosity in daily life

The spirituality of generosity embraces every corner of the life of engaged Christians. It is uppermost in their value system. Their spirituality goes beyond their talents and possessions. They think in terms of how they can do the most good with the resources at their disposal. They are generous in appreciating, encouraging and praising people around them. They look for opportunities to be generous and they are immensely happy when they get one. They consider themselves as recipients of incredible generosity and are ever grateful. They consider service as their mission.

One of the surest ways to grow in spiritually is to grow in generosity. It is good to ask ourselves:  How generous are we in our love, patience and appreciation? How generous are we with others: our partner, our parents, children, neighbours and colleagues? Such questions will help us realize where we stand on the spectrum of generosity. It can lead us to understand that we are not as generous as we think of ourselves.

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the command of God and generosity is at the very core of that command. If we are not generous with our neighbour, it is unlikely that we are generous with God. How much money do we spend in frivolous things, which we don’t really need, money that could be used for the needy? How much precious time do we waste by being lazy? When we pose such questions we become conscious of God’s invitation to us to a greater level of generosity. Every day God calls us to live more generously, switching the focus from ourselves to others. If we follow His invitation, it will certainly lead us to greater joy, freedom and happiness. Hence we must make greater generosity a priority in our life. A Christian who is not generous is no Christian at all.

Finally how generous are we with God Himself? He yearns to be with us, his children. One way we can be generous with God is by spending the best time of our day with him in prayer. Do we devote a specific time for prayer every day? The hardest way for us to be generous with God is by surrendering ourselves totally to His will in our daily lives with the words: “Thy will be done”. Surrendering our whole life, what we think, do and say, to His will is the core of Christian spirituality.

Fr. James Mundackal CST