Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of my summer assignments as a seminarian was in a city parish with a relatively large immigrant population. I distinctly remember being stopped after a morning Mass by one of the laywomen who volunteered to help count the Sunday offertory collection. She handed me an envelope and said, “You need to see this.” Written on the envelope in Spanish were the words “I thank God for everything. This is my tithe.” In Spanish, the word for tithe can be more literally translated as “tenth.” In the envelope, were ten one-dollar bills. At first, I thought the woman wanted me to see it because of the piety expressed in the donor’s thanksgiving to God. But the next week, she again handed me an envelope, with the same handwriting. This envelope contained fifty dollars. The following week, twenty dollars. Another week, the envelope contained two hundred dollars. The week after, fifteen dollars. I have never forgotten those envelopes or the real reason the volunteer wanted me to see them.
The individual who gave each week was tithing. Literally, they gave 10% of their income every week as an offering to God. Imagine if ten percent of your weekly income was $10. To give 10% would be a huge sacrifice! Imagine now that your income varied week to week. To give 10% becomes a tremendous act of faith. The week that the envelope held $200, the reason our volunteer showed me the envelopes became clear. In their highest earning week, this faithful donor continued to give 10% back to the Lord. The pious sentiment “I give thanks to God for everything” never wavered, nor did the external sign of that thanksgiving. Further, the willingness to sacrifice in faith was abundantly evident. The laywoman knew that it was important for this future priest to understand the meaning of sacrifice and to appreciate the real life situations of the members of the parish community. Because of that lesson, I tithe 10% of my income, though I cannot claim that I have that generous donor’s same spirit of gratitude each week!
In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus teaches us what it means to ask the Lord for something, what it means to receive from the Lord, and reminds us that we know how to give. Using the image of a midnight knock on the door, our Lord shows us that a person may not always want to give, but they will give when asked persistently. In like manner, our heavenly Father always stands ready to give to those who ask, if only we would ask with faith. And so we are encouraged to ask, to come to the Lord as beggars seeking whatever grace or blessing we need. May God always give us the faith necessary to approach Him with such humility! But Jesus continues, reminding us that we know how to give good things to those who are in need. We know how to, for example, appropriately feed our children. In spite of our weakness/sinfulness/neediness, we are capable of doing what is right and necessary. Thus, our Lord is showing us that there is no contradiction between our petition to God for various things and our generosity to others. Rather, they go hand in hand.
A hard-working, faithful, generous, and anonymous person put this Gospel into action for me over a decade ago. He or she came before God every week with a heart filled with thanksgiving and surely placed many cares and concerns before the altar. And they gave, in their need, from the little they had. I pray that my giving – both financial and spiritual – may always reflect that spirit of gratitude and generosity. I pray that the graces I ask from the Lord (and my receptivity toward them) may always reflect an equal spirit of surrender, humility and trust that the God who created me knows how to give good things to those who ask. May we all put this Gospel into action, ready to give to those who are in need and humble enough to ask the Lord for his graces and blessings every day.