Editors Note: The four previous article spoke of Lent as a time to “open wide our hearts to Christ”, a time “to listen to God’s voice”, a time “to repent in words and actions” and a time to “pray for miracles.”
In works of charity one offers fine flour, and when he gives alms he presents his sacrifice of praise. To refrain from evil pleases the LORD, and to avoid injustice is an atonement. Appear not before the LORD empty-handed, for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the precepts. The just man’s offering enriches the altar and rises as a sweet odor before the Most High. The just man’s sacrifice is most pleasing, nor will it ever be forgotten. In generous spirit pay homage to the LORD, be not sparing of freewill gifts. With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means (Sirach 35:2-9).
Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness (2 Corinthians 9:6-10).
You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in an account of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once. It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account. I have received full payment and I abound. I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus, “a fragrant aroma,” an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:15-19).
Say the words sacrificial giving today, and people immediately think about “doing without” something or “giving until it hurts.” If you were to say these words to a Jewish person in Old Testament times, he would probably think about the animals offered up in the Temple, as required by the Law. Somehow, “sacrifice” and “as required” go together in our minds.
But in God’s mind, a sacrifice is meant to be a gift. It’s meant to be something offered freely in a “generous spirit,” “cheerful countenance,” and “a spirit of joy” (Sirach 35:7-8). Why? Because we know that is pleasing to the Lord and that “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Our gift could be a traditional sacrifice like almsgiving or serving the poor. But it could also be words of kindness and praise or a gracious smile offered in a tense situation.
In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks the believers in Philippi for their donations to meet his needs during his travels (Philippians 4:16). They are “a fragrant offering,” he writes, “an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (4:18). The Philippians didn’t have to help Paul. He never demanded it of them. He didn’t try to pull rank and say he deserved the help of other churches. Rather, the people were moved by the needs of their brother, and they gladly gave what they could.
This is what makes our sacrifices “most pleasing” to the Lord (Sirach 35:6). No matter how large or small the offering, whether it is a sacrifice of money, time, or something else, the real issue is whether we are giving from our hearts. Whenever we sacrifice in a spirit of love and generosity, we open the door for the Holy Spirit to fill our offering with divine grace and his power. Just as our gifts of bread and wine are transformed on the altar at every Mass, so too can our gifts of love become gifts of grace to the people around us.
Isn’t it amazing? Our simple gifts—both to God and to the people around us—can become instruments of conversion, healing, and transformation. All because we are giving with loving, grateful hearts. So don’t discount the opportunities to be generous when they present themselves to you during the remaining days of Lent. You never know what good can come from them!
“God, you are so good and generous! Stir my heart today so that I can give generously and with a cheerful heart. May my gifts and offerings during Lent be sacrifices of praise and love to you.”
Many thanks to The Word Among Us (www.wau.org) for allowing me to adapt meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
- Take some time to meditate and reflect on the Scriptures at the beginning of the article. What do you think God is trying to reveal to you through them?
- What is your reaction to such words as “sacrificial giving” or “tithing” or sayings like “give until it hurts”? Explain your reasons for your reaction, whether positive or negative.
- Do you find it easy to give alms with a “generous spirit,” “cheerful countenance,” and “a spirit of joy” (Sirach 35:7-8)? Why or why not?
- We think of almsgiving primarily as our gifts of money to the church and to charities? What about “serving the poor” and “words of kindness and praise or a gracious smile offered in a tense situation”? How well are you doing with these during this Lent? How can you do better?
- In the article, we hear these words: “No matter how large or small the offering, whether it is a sacrifice of money, time, or something else, the real issue is whether we are giving from our hearts. Whenever we sacrifice in a spirit of love and generosity, we open the door for the Holy Spirit to fill our offering with divine grace and his power. Just as our gifts of bread and wine are transformed on the altar at every Mass, so too can our gifts of love become gifts of grace to the people around us.” Why is there divine grace and power in our giving when “we are giving from the heart” with “a spirit of love and generosity”?
- The article goes on to say that “Our simple gifts—both to God and to the people around us—can become instruments of conversion, healing, and transformation.” Why is this so? Are there some steps you can take in your own patterns of giving that can bring “conversion, healing, and transformation” to others?
- Take some time now to pray that the Lord would increase your ability to give from the heart with a spirit of love and joy. Use the prayer at the end of the article as a starting point.