“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.”
Author’s note: I made a mistake. Last week I wrote my reflection on this week’s readings. In order to get back on track, this article is based on last week’s readings. Next week, provided I don’t make the same mistake again, we should be back on schedule. Thanks for reading!
Sometimes we can think of our spiritual journey as an individual call to holiness: my relationship with God, my growth, my struggles with sin, my gifts, my meaning, or my purpose. There is a necessary and good sense in which our spiritual lives are personal. We should realize that God’s love is personal and we should take a certain ownership of our own actions and engagement with God, the Church, and all the world. The problem arises when we think of this aspect of our faith as the only or primary lens through which we look. We can end up setting ourselves up as the central beneficiary of the actions of God and everyone else. It becomes all about me. We can experience our faith as simply consumers or customers and judge everything based on how it benefits me. How I spend my time, use my talents, or give my money become a type of exchange for what I feel I have already received. Is it worth it? Was it earned? It is sort of like tipping a waiter.
Last Sunday, as I was leaving St. Boniface, I got stopped at a red light. Out of the cold and snow, a frail elderly woman without enough clothes on to be warm approached my car. Now, it was a bold move seemingly born of desperation to come off the sidewalk and to ask for money from a stranger who happened to be stopped at a red light. Although I know there are arguments not to do this (which, if it is your policy should also be met with systemic action to assist the homeless and poor), I always give of what I have and take the opportunity to value the dignity of the person, looking them in the eye, finding out their name, and conversing if possible. I pulled out my wallet and said, “All I have is a twenty,” as I handed it to her. Her eyes welled up with tears even as a huge smile spread across her face. Amazed, she gushed gratitude and exuded joy. I couldn’t help but share in her delight. The light changed, but I had received more of an emotional payoff that lasted longer than spending that twenty bucks on a movie. We often say that we receive more than we give and I did, but it was not my motivation. It was a small act of love for the benefit of a fellow human being. It wasn’t done for what I would receive (trust me, the payoff usually isn’t that great).
God is a giver of gifts to those who don’t deserve them. The Holy Spirit has given much to each of us. We are not simply customers, however, who have received a product for our own benefit. To each individual gifts are given for some benefit, but for whose benefit? To be like God, to be holy, our gifts are meant to be given away or used for the benefit of others. We are each on a personal journey of love with God, but that necessarily includes others and, even, all of God’s creation. We are personally and as a community called to be saints, givers, or lovers, those who act in love: to act for the benefit of another regardless of the personal cost. It is a journey initiated by God for the good of others. In this way, God has chosen us to be partners in his mission. Like Mary at the wedding banquet in Cana, God acts in and through our action. It is not all about me, but about letting God’s gifts flow through me to others. That’s the destination for our journey, our call to holiness and love. We don’t just tip for service, we become givers, lovers, and saints.