Meditations for Layfolks - Generosity

There is but one thing incompatible with sanctity, and that is meanness. Sin may be found in the saints. In nearly every biography we find the writer hard pressed in his attempts to defend some one action or other of his hero, and we prefer, perhaps, to skip the whole episode by admitting that no doubt the saints may have done wrong. They were human children of Adam, heirs to an imperfect nature, at best unprofitable servants. Some, we are persuaded as we read their letters or their books, had a very quick temper, nor do they seem even at the end to have brought this wholly under control. Some, from what we can make out, must have been extremely difficult to get on with, disagreeable and meddlesome by nature and not wholly to have overcome this defect by grace. Some, again, had lapses from discretion and provoked evils which they had steadily endeavoured to avoid: but in none do we ever notice any real meanness. For a saint is one who loves God heroically; and a hero has no place for littleness in his soul. People are sometimes known to be pious and good yet incredibly mean, with petty jealousies and narrow suspicions, and an intolerant attitude towards sinners. Indeed, piety, in its least pleasant sense, flourishes at times in those souls who are incapable of anything great and for whom the sanctity and the sin of the Magdalen are alike impossible. But these are not the saints, who are God's chosen ones; they have not that characteristic of heroism which is altogether inseparable from real saints. We can quite easily suppose the saints to be sinners (indeed, they were saints only because they had realized themselves as sinners); we cannot at all imagine the saints to have been mean.

Now this generosity which we associate with holiness is not an act so much as a state, an attitude towards life or rather the values of life. It bases itself upon the very simple principle that the more a thing costs, the more it is appreciated. When people say to you that they cannot see the good of religion, you can be sure that religion has certainly never cost them anything; nay, there is no reason for me to go outside my own heart, for I can be sure that in my spiritual life what I least value has cost me least. At times I find myself saying that I would be willing, eager, to sacrifice a good deal for God if I could only taste and see His sweetness; that I would gladly spend more time in prayer and meditation and the thought of divine things, but that I get no good out of them, and find myself no better; that I would willingly suffer if I could only obtain that peace of soul which alone makes suffering bearable. What really do I mean by all this? Simply that I will not work except for a reward. Surely it is precisely this that so many of our non-Christian friends are always telling us that Christianity is not at all self-sacrificing, but is really incredibly selfish, only it is selfish for rewards that do not happen to appeal to most people. Surely my life does in some sort justify this taunt. I do find myself building upon foundations certainly other than Christ laid down; for it is His way always first to give freely, and from the very freedom of the gift to find the recompense. Never surely did His soul overflow so fiercely with the joy of the spirit as when after death He passed out into peace; never surely, if it may be said with reverence, did He love the human race so well as when He died for it. Just as we can see how valuable we must be to Him to have cost Him His life, may we not almost say that it was when dying to save us that He saw the greatest possibility of goodness in us.

A generous soul, therefore, throws over all those ideas and principles which are really at heart selfish. I must first pay the cost if I would obtain the benefit. It is no use my saying that I will put off going to daily Mass till such a time as I can really get good out of it, for that will never be till I have actually practised going. I must first attend at some personal inconvenience to myself, before I can hope for my dryness to be softened by the falling of God's gentle dew upon it. To buy cheaply is to lose the value of a thing; "lightly come," we say of certain ways of acquiring wealth, "lightly go": the money has come without effort; with as little effort will it be spent. But to the man who has stinted himself to save enough to buy some cherished thing a book, a work of art, or a seat at the opera the high privilege he has won is a privilege indeed. The child that the mother most loves is the one that has cost her most dear. We wonder sometimes why those we have loaded with favours are so ungrateful; they are ungrateful for what we have done, just because they had everything given to them: had they obtained these things at a cost to themselves, they would have held them dear. So in my life the sacrifice must come first; it is prayers said with difficulty that in the end will be of most avail. To enjoy life I must lose it; to love the world I must be crucified for it: to love God I must have sacrificed to Him not the fag-end of my days, but my noblest, highest, best.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.