In today’s First Reading St. Paul encourages us to give bountifully and cheerfully, without sadness or compulsion. Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the three classic dimensions of Christian life, and the attitude we should have while living them: doing it for God, not for self-promotion. Prayer, fasting, and alms giving can be miserable if we do them in a calculating way, grudgingly, or just to fulfill some social obligation out of peer pressure. When we’re miserly in these things, making sure everyone knows we’re not happy about something we feel forced to do is natural, our glum attitude is simply venting in the face of an unpleasant situation. On the flip side, when we do these things in a flashy way, out of a desire for esteem or self-promotion, the boost to our ego is all we should expect, and that is not much: we’re just turning Christian living into another way to get ahead in a competitive world.
It’s not a question of not doing what we don’t want to do; rather, it is reminding ourselves, as St. Paul does in the First Reading, that a generous and cheerful heart is not only a blessing for those to whom it is giving–God and others–but a source of joy and peace to the giver as well. Instead of a vicious circle it becomes a virtuous cycle: it gives us a sort of spiritual second wind that helps us maintain our effort. We’ll feel the weight of sacrificing something for others, of giving precious time to God, of denying ourselves some comforts in order to win spiritual benefits for others and to grow in self-mastery, but we won’t let that stop us from giving from the heart. Virtue goes deeper than feelings. We experience that on those days when we pray, fast, and give alms even when we are having, by other standards, a rotten day and seemingly no recognition. When we joyfully give, quietly pray, and quietly fast we also ensure that what we are doing is for God, not just for ourselves. Our Lord may not reward us with a lot of public recognition, as we reminds us in today’s Gospel, but he will bless us.
Let’s examine today any glumness in our Christian living and ask Our Lord for the grace to give bountifully, cheerfully, and for his glory and not our own, knowing that he will bless us and others.
Readings: 2 Corinthians 9:6–11; Psalm 112:1b–4, 9; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18.