I am confronted each day with my own inner struggles, the never ceasing temptations to have more, or newer, or better as we live in a culture of consumption. The daily battle that is waged in fighting the “gods” of our country who are rightly named: “more” and “even more” seems an irony to me. It goes something like this. The more we buy, the more companies sell. The more they sell, the more jobs we have. So, buy more, and more, even if you can’t afford it – so you can work and pay off the credit that you obtained in buying things that you want – but don’t really need?
But perhaps, just perhaps, in this time of economic “re-adjustment”, when all of the certain things and pleasures of our greed and selfishness, are being challenged and toppled; perhaps God is giving us a greater gift? A gift called contentment. A gift called giving. A gift called ‘learning to live simply’? St. John Chrysostom, 4th century Patriarch of the Church in Constantinople, saw his culture through the eyes of the poor. He saw too few living with too much, and too many living with too little – thus, like prophets of old, he was convicted to confront his culture with a simple truth: what we ‘own’, is not ours, and what we have belongs to our brothers and sisters in need. For this daring proclamation, not surprisingly, he was hated and vilified. But what he spoke is Truth… for when we do anything to the least of these – we do that very thing to Christ Himself.
When you are generous to another person, you are not bestowing a gift, but repaying a debt. Everything you possess materially comes from God, who created all things. And every spiritual and moral virtue you possess is through divine grace. Thus you owe everything to God. More than that, God has given you His Son, to show you how to live: how to use your material possessions, and how to grow in moral and spiritual virtue. We may say that your material and spiritual possession cost God nothing; God created the universe in order to express His own glory. But the gift of His Son was supremely costly, because His Son suffered and died for our sakes. The agony of Christ on the cross is the measure of how much God loves us. For this reason we should take none of our gifts – material or spiritual – for granted; day by day we should give thanks to God for what He has bestowed on us.
Once this spirit of gratitude infuses us, we shall see generosity for what it is. When we help someone in need, we shall be saved from any temptation to take pride in our actions. On the contrary, we will regard our act as no more than small token of appreciation for all that we have received – or, more precisely, the repayment of a tiny fraction of God’s blessings.
St. John Chrysostom