Pastor Column: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 11, 2018
Msgr Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
Dear friends / Estimados amigos,
If your mailbox is anything like mine, they have begun to arrive. They come every year before taxes have to be filed, almost like clock-work. “They” are the annual report issue of your college or university’s alumni magazine, with the list of donors to the institution’s annual fund. Social service agencies, relief societies, art groups and charitable foundations also publish such lists under various headings in the Table of Contents: “annual donor report,” “honor roll of donors,” or simply “our supporters.”
The donations are broken down by class year and level of giving. You look. Fundraisers and development officers know you look. That is why they compile the lists in the first place, then send them to everyone. You look to see how your gift measures up to those of your classmates. You look to see who is doing well – and who is not – judging from the size of the donation. Maybe you place yourself among the apparently well-off, looking with pride, self-satisfaction, as well as with a bit of curiosity. When I was little, there used to be a small magazine-type publication that came from my home parish and listed member contributions to the Church. I can remember turning pages to see how much Mr. Logan gave this time, as he was always the number one giver in the parish. Poor Mrs. Donnelly was a reliable $4 a month contributor, but hardly that noteworthy at $1 a week. Thank God I have matured in my assessments with the passage of time.
These kind of donor lists are about numbers. They tell us nothing about important things: qualities like dedication, faithfulness, commitment, and values. The alumnus/a who writes the $10,000 check may not give his/her gift a second thought until tax time rolls around and other lists have to be drawn up for deductions. But the alum struggling with tuition payments for his own two or three children manages to give $100 because he/she feels a sense of gratitude for a great education that was received. His family somehow puts together a small to modest gift because they believe in the mission of the institution and want to help them continue it.
Sometimes the donors to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Kimmel Center, or cultural groups like them, are the movers and shakers of the area’s community. Support of the arts is a plain old good business practice. People remember their generosity when deciding to buy their product or service versus another one. But we cannot overlook the retired lunch lady’s gift of $25 to her former place of employment or the school teacher’s donation of $50 because it is their way of being part of something good, something important in the community.
In short, the real honor in giving is not the amount, but what compels the donor to give in the first place.
This weekend in the Gospel Jesus exalts the gift of the poor widow. He wants us to realize that, in the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving. What we give from our want – not from our extra – speaks of what one truly values, what kind of good we want to accomplish, and what we want our world to be. Not many of us, I suspect, give from our want. I know I do not; but trying to express my generosity in other ways makes it easier to give when the checkbook balance gets low. I have found it always comes back to you! Thank God the Gospel scheme is not my own. For Jesus, it is not the measure of the gift, but the measure of the love with which it is given. The selflessness and commitment to doing good that directs your gift or mine are what makes it great in the eyes of God. We should watch ourselves that we are not giving to seek to impress anyone else, but out of great love where we wish to enrich someone else’s life and world.