Children love to take things apart to figure out how they work. Before the advent of hi-tech cars, the average young man could work on an automobile, changing the fan belt or rebuilding the carburetor. Today, we just put gas in the tank, press the ignition button, and schedule routine servicing. But we still need to know the basics. A car runs on gasoline, not water.
Thoughtful people also want to know the basics of their identities and what makes them tick. In recent decades, there is not only a crisis in self-knowledge but a crisis in how the leaders of society— educators, medical experts, politicians, and clergymen— understand man’s nature. Our happiness depends upon whether we have an accurate understanding of ourselves, how we relate to the world and our mission in life.
Most of us, regardless of creed, agree on a few basics. We’d be happy to live in reasonable comfort among friends. We value honesty in commerce because we know what goes around comes around. Dishonesty begets dishonesty. So fair-mindedness in trade is practical, even for a Godless society like ours.
But the usefulness of honesty has its limits. In a Godless society, in addition to a desire for fairness in trade, we often cloak selfish entitlement and envy with demands for justice. So we are quick to self-identify as victims, often to rationalize a right to cash settlements brokered for a lucrative price by our attorneys. Of course, one can be indeed a victim of another’s negligence. But if one burns oneself with hot coffee, is it honest to blame McDonald’s?
Many of us self-identify as members of various communities made up of families, churches, and neighborhoods. But members of Alcoholics Anonymous would hardly say, “I’m a member of the alcoholic community.” Many others identify themselves as members of “communities” defined by various and sundry sinful sexual inclinations. (One shudders to think of the initiation requirements for enrollment in the “gay community.”) What is held out as a community may really be a gang characterized by lawlessness and immorality.
Where do we discover the building blocks of dependable self-knowledge and identity? What is the source of every authentic community of human beings? God reveals who we are, and God reveals the meaning of community when He reveals to us Who He is.
The first mystery of our faith is the Blessed Trinity. God is three Persons in One, the absolute unity of love. The love within Trinity is infinitely perfect and cannot be improved. Creation adds nothing to his perfection.
Hence Creation is the second mystery of our faith. Why did God create us? We don’t know. He does not improve or perfect his love, yet He creates and shares his love. God is mysteriously and selflessly generous. Unity and selfless generosity within the Trinity are inseparable.
Man carries the Divine imprint of God’s three-in-one unity: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) We are created in the image and likeness of God. And with the eyes of faith, we see every other human being as an image of God with the same unfathomable dignity.
Man reflects the generosity of God by responding to God’s first command is to go forth and multiply and fill the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28). The unity of man— male and female in marriage— and selfless life-giving generosity are inseparable attributes of who we are. Every authentic community— neighborhoods, cities, nations—is rooted in the Blessed Trinity through the family.
So the health of every community depends upon the health of the family. It is dangerous to tinker with God’s definition of “family.” Such attempts disfigure our identities and introduce vice into our communities. The diabolical and all-too-familiar modern social experiments are destructive: like filling up the car’s gas tank with water from the garden hose.
The community of love that we seek comes to fruition with Christian generosity. Not only are we obliged to proclaim faith in the inestimable dignity of man, but we must also, with God’s grace, respond with a generous love that derives from the Blessed Trinity. It is a generosity that comes to fulfillment on the Cross: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Selfless human generosity cannot be explained without God’s Trinitarian revelation because authentic generosity breaks the boundaries of legitimate self-interest. Yet examples abound in a secular world, from first responders risking their lives for others to charity organizations funded by anonymous donors without any thought of payback. But Christians know the source of all charity and with that knowledge, comes greater responsibility.
The many opportunities for Christian generosity in our age are not easy to miss. This brief report from a priest describes the context of the beautiful ministry of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Haiti:
The squalor and the misery of the people are heart-breaking, but the sisters keep soldiering on cheerfully through it all. They took me to visit two of their other houses (all in slums), a hospital with many dying patients, mostly with AIDS and tuberculosis, and a hospital/wound-clinic. I anointed some of the dying. The "morgue" was a cinderblock pump-shed with shelving. One of the mysteries is the scrawny pigs, scrawny goats, and scrawny chickens that graze on the garbage that lines the streets, moving around untended and molested only by the dogs. 've never understood how ownership is maintained. One of the things that got to me most—though not particularly dramatic in itself—was the sight of women squatting on the roadside among others selling vegetables or fruit, with a small basket of home-made charcoal for sale. Even if they sold their whole stock every day…
Selfless charity extinguishes the modern spirit of entitlement and the corrosive claim of victimhood. Rooted in the Trinity, generosity confronts evil and suffering, and brings joy to our families and our communities.
Generosity is part of our DNA, and it is our path to holiness.
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Posted by: geardoid -
Jun. 21, 2019 7:01 PM ET USA
It seemed apt to find this thoughtful reflection on generosity as definitive of Christian identity, now on the tenth anniversary of pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate. One of his emphases was on a novel 'economics of the gratuitous'. Imagine lenders following a meaning of the word 'interest' moved from money-centrist speculation to a love interest in the success of a human project (like, say, a micro-finance scheme in Haiti). Much of the reward would be successful projects and raised dignity !