Monday, March 26, 2007

Solemnity of The Annunciation of the Lord
The Nature of Giving

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10; Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

You may recall that today is only our second interruption in this great season of purple. The first was when we wore white in honour of St. Joseph. We do so again today to celebrate the Annunciation. These are happy interruptions. They help us to enter more deeply into the spirit of the season. Even as we continue our Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, even as we concentrate our efforts on giving up and giving away, our readings today invite us to consider the true nature of giving. And it’s important for us to pay attention because, as Jesus tells us in John 14:27, I do not give as the world gives. Yet it’s all too possible for us, even in Lent, to remain only at the level of the world.

When the world gives, the focus is often only on things and nothing more. When someone comes to the door of our house asking for alms, for example, I may give the person $10 or $20 or $30 dollars, but all the while I may be hoping that the person will leave as soon as possible. The money really becomes an obstacle that keeps us apart instead of drawing us closer. The same thing can happen even if the giving is mutual, even if there is an exchange of things. I may scratch your back and then let you scratch mine. But all too often the focus is still on the back-scratching. People still have their backs to each other, rather than face-to-face. When the world gives, the focus is also often on me, on us, on the ones doing the giving. We carefully calculate what, when and how much to give. We sometimes even consider if there’s anything in it for me. A tax-break perhaps? Or a plenary indulgence?

In contrast, our readings for the Annunciation help us to meditate more deeply on the true nature of giving. Perhaps what strikes us first is the refrain that runs throughout. Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will. How different from, Here is $10, please leave as soon you can. True giving is not just a matter of things, but an exchange of selves. As the second reading reminds us, it is not the offering of things, of sacrifices or oblations that God wants, as much as an offering of the self. Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will! Even so, this giving of the self is not really focused on the self at all. Instead it is rooted in a prior gift, the total self-gift of God. As the prophecy in the first reading reminds us, the Lord himself… will give you a sign… Emmanuel… ‘God-is-with-us. In Christ, God empties God’s very self. God gives all that God has and all that God is for the life of the world. Emmanuel!

It is really this total self-gift of God that gives meaning to Mary’s own gift. I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me. Mary’s gift of herself actually helps her to receive God’s prior gift of the Emmanuel. God’s generosity finds completion only when it meets with Mary’s willing reception. And that reception benefits not just Mary but the whole of creation. Mary’s generosity enables God to find a home among us so that we might all find a home in God.

We began Mass with the Prayer of St. Francis (it is in giving that we receive, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life). Let us end this homily with a prayer of St. Ignatius.
Lord, teach me to be generous;
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To labour and to ask not for reward;
Save that of knowing I do your will.
How are we being invited to give of ourselves today?

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