Zacchaeus - by Tissot (Public Domain)
“He was the most generous man I ever met.” - James Cardinal Harvey about St. John Paul II
“For God loves a cheerful giver.” - 2 Corinthians 9:7
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchae′us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchae′us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The virtues are the path to happiness. It should be no surprise then that St. Gregory Nazianzen said that the goal of the virtuous life is to become like God. Godliness and happiness are identical. At the same time, very often when we think of another word for moral perfection, holiness, generosity doesn’t seem to immediately come to mind as a defining characteristic of one who is holy; or for that matter happy. We tend to think of holiness dealing with penitence, faith, love, prayer, chastity, serving the poor, or any other number of virtues. I do not think, however, that generosity gets its due as an important virtue of the happy and holy person.
This summer while on the Rome Pilgrimage with many of our students, we had the incredible opportunity to receive a tour of the basilica of St. Paul’s outside the walls from the American James Cardinal Harvey, a friend of our good bishop David Kagan, and the archpriest of that basilica. Cardinal Harvey spent many years as the Prefect of the Papal Household for St. John Paul II. In other words, every day he was with the one of the most beloved and venerated saints in the modern era. He knew the saint as well as anyone in the world. Fr. Josh Waltz convinced the Cardinal to say a word to our students about St. John Paul II. His words have stuck with me. They have changed the very way that I understand the meaning of my life, and what it means to be holy, happy, and virtuous. Cardinal Harvey said simply about the saint: “He was the most generous man I ever met.”
I believe that as parents and teachers we must strive to inculcate into the children of our school the absolute importance of striving every day to be generous. Generosity is one of the virtues that most makes us like God “who makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Mt. 5:45) and is the source of “every good endowment and perfect gift” (Jm 1:17). Everything good in our lives comes from God, even when we don’t acknowledge him for it. God’s goodness is supremely manifest in his acts of mercy and generosity, by which he freely bestows good on those who have no claim to it. Similarly, the generous person strives to give good things to others, simply out of the goodness of their heart. In the gospel story about Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus, the unmerited generosity of Jesus inspired generosity in Zacchaeus, a notably greedy man. Generosity begets generosity. This principle holds for both the ability of generous people to inspire others to be generous, and the fact that our own acts of generosity tend to make us more generous in the future. Even more interestingly the fact that the more generous we are with others, the more we receive from God. As the saying goes, God will not be outdone in generosity.
Perhaps, this Advent can be a time of intentional generosity in our homes and school. I encourage you to foster practices within your own family that foster generosity of time, talent, and treasure. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy would be a great place to start for ideas about how to become more generous. Pick a work of mercy that each member of the family strives to practice for a week, or choose one to do together as a family. Encourage your children to be generous with the upcoming “No Room in the Inn” Homeless Coalition fundraiser beginning at the end of November. Increase your own charitable giving to a real ten percent tithe called for in the Bible. Since the season of Advent is primarily one of preparation to receive the ultimate gift, namely God himself, it is quite fitting that we prepare to receive by giving of ourselves in a new and intentional way. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).