THIS SUNDAY’S readings, most especially the Gospel, invite us to consider our readiness to respond to God’s call.
Our final point for reflection will be the generosity with which we are able to respond.
I am sure each of us has encountered a person who is physically present in a situation, but is mentally and emotionally not there. We often hear comments such as: “Are you with us? Your mind is wandering again.”
This is basic in the ability to respond—to be present in the moment or the situation. Spiritual writers say that God’s grace works always in the present, in the here and now.
Thus, to dwell in the past with resentment, or to anticipate the future with anxiety, can often be a tactic of the evil spirit to distract us from the present moment where God’s grace visits us, and when we can allow his grace to enter our life and transform us.
Mental, emotional and spiritual presence in the moment is the basic requirement in the ability to respond. A realistic awareness of the situation is needed for a proper response.
2 key elements
In “The Characteristics of Jesuit Education,” the two key elements are a realistic knowledge of oneself and a realistic knowledge of the world. I think the key is a realistic knowledge of the world—its needs and call.
With it, self-knowledge is contextualized according to what is essential to the needs and the call of the situation. It is only after a sorting out, an emptying of self, that we are more able to respond properly to the situation.
Think of the classic Marie Antoinette story when the poor of France were protesting out of hunger. She continued an ostentatious life and said, “give them cake”—i.e., a cake of charcoal to bake bread.
Such is the poster girl of insensitivity, so full of herself that she couldn’t even sense the suffering and the needs of others and the urgency of the situation.
It’s important that we are selfless and are able to place our self in the situation of the other in order to respond. We go back to compassion: the ability to enter the chaos of the other and help the other find the meaning out of the chaos, as one author wrote.
But compassion also requires knowledge of self for one to be of help and service to the other; the knowledge of the strengths and gifts we can share, as well as our weaknesses and shortcomings.
In all this, it is the generosity that springs from the freedom born out of gratitude; the freedom and gratitude that allows us to place all that we have and all that we are in the service of the other person and of God.
There is a line in today’s Gospel that seems like a tough code to crack: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12: 48)
What do “much will be required” and “more will be demanded” mean? Surely, it is not simply a sharing of one’s gifts and blessings.
Considering the operative words here—“much” and “more”—one senses that it is a call to a heroic giving of self. It is akin to the Ignatian “magis,” or more—always giving what is more, what is greater, what is for the greater glory of God.
Let me blend the two points: awareness and freedom. The giving with the “magis,” with generosity, is premised on awareness and freedom. We have a realistic knowledge of self and the situation, and this awareness must lead to freedom.
The spiritual freedom, the goal of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, comes from an awareness—and acceptance— that gives us the freedom from all things in our worldly existence, and levels up to the freedom to commit to God’s mission for us.
Such a freedom is a result of gratitude for so much given to us, and finds its succinct expression in the prayer: “…to you I return them that you may dispose of me totally according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”
This is the person who now gives back much and more out of gratitude and freedom. Giving back with generosity is a response to God’s great and unconditional love for us. As we also often hear, God cannot be outdone in generosity.
Martyred in Cambodia
In the end, our ability to respond is the ability to be aware of God’s generous and unconditional love; the ability to accept that he loved us first and loves us most; the ability to give back out of gratitude all that we have and are—a giving back that leads us to the freedom to generously respond to his call and mission.
Twenty years ago this October, a young Jesuit scholastic, Richie Fernando, died in Cambodia where he was doing his two years of regency working in a vocational school for victims of land mines.
He died saving students from a grenade hurled by an angry and disturbed classmate of theirs, placing his body over the grenade to save both the other students and the student who released the grenade.
Days before his martyrdom, he wrote to one of his batch mates in the Jesuit novitiate, Totet Banayal, SJ: “I know where my heart is, it is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphans… I am confident that God never forgets his people: Our disabled brothers and sisters. And I am glad that God has been using me to make sure that our brothers and sisters know this fact. I am convinced that this is my vocation.” (from PDI, 25 May 2014 by Josephine Darang)
At that moment, Bro. Richie was able to respond to the situation with complete freedom and edifying generosity. Days before this, he expresses his joy and faith that he was an instrument in God’s hands.
His life and death witnessed to the grace of the prayer: “Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you ought to be served; to give and not to count the cost… save that of knowing I am doing your most holy will.” (“Prayer for Generosity” attributed to the spirit and charism of St. Ignatius)