Why we, as Christians, need to give

It hardly seems necessary to explain why love should be the first commandment, the greatest virtue, and the distinctive quality of Christians. Surely the primacy of love in the human experience is a self-evident truth. It is unsurprising that Christ should raise it above all other human experiences and identify it as the path to salvation.

Jesus saved us through giving.

We’ve all experienced the joy of radical giving. Perhaps you can recall your excitement about presenting an unsolicited gift or a particularly generous one to someone who couldn’t reciprocate in the same way. You were probably eager to witness their joy upon receiving it. Parents experience this when they give to young children. We all experience it when we give to a friend or neighbor having a difficult time, or give to charity, or give to a stranger. It isn’t a matter of giving money only; we also love sharing our talents with others. The plumber is happy to fix his friend’s leaking faucet, the artist is happy to give her painting to a friend. Finally, we love to share our time. We love to spend countless hours working on a cause in which we believe.

If you’ve had experiences like these, you probably had a warm feeling about what you did. The truth is we need to give because we grow by giving. The world would rather have us believe that we grow by getting: the more I have, the more I am. In this view, persons are defined by things. Personal possessions, like homes and cars, count more than personal qualities, like character and virtue. A flashy car or an eccentric cell phone case is a poor means of self-expression. In order to express ourselves, we need to share our uniqueness with others, to create and to give.

Giving also allows us to grow socially. The latest gadget, the most delicious meal, and the most exciting trip are all more enjoyable when they are enjoyed with others. We need relationships, and relationships are enriched by giving. Trading creates buyers and sellers; giving creates friends. Trading is the basis of the marketplace; giving is the basis of family and community. Trading promises material wealth; giving always delivers spiritual wealth. We create the best society when we trade wisely and give generously.

Giving helps us to understand the true purpose of our possessions. We should own things in order to increase our ability to act. A car extends our range of activity, a computer extends our ability to store and process information, a cell phone extends our ability to communicate. Do our possessions also extend our ability to love? If they are shared with others, they can. We can offer a ride to someone without a car, volunteer our time, and donate our money. A former spiritual director of mine had this message on his answering machine: “Remember that today is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God.” As a diocesan development director, he understood the practice of stewardship: receive God’s gifts gratefully and, by caring for and sharing them, return them to God with increase.

We sometimes hold back our giving because of fear. If I volunteer my time and donate my money, will I have enough left for me? Am I willing to sacrifice a few minutes of sleep in order to offer a friend a ride to work. When we give, others always receive and we always grow. When we give, we strengthen the community — and that’s good for everyone who lives in it, including us. As St. Paul says, “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8a).

We all have a need to give — a need to love “somebody sometime,” as Dean Martin famously used to sing. Because God loved us first, he has given us abundant life. We each possess a unique combination of gifts. Through our baptism, Jesus calls us to join his mission of salvation. Our gifts are tools which can extend our ability to contribute to that mission. When we use these tools, we grow through self-expression and creativity and develop relationships of true and lasting friendship. When we give, we obey the first commandment, we practice the greatest virtue, and we show ourselves as Christians.

Father Jon Thomas is parochial vicar at The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light, Cherry Hill.

Categories: As I See It

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