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August 1975

There is more happiness in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35).

There are some phrases which Jesus said which seem made for measuring how Christian we are. The words he utters are simple and immediate, and when they strike us, they focus our Christian conscience. One such phrase is "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving"; a phrase which is not written in the gospels but which is reported by St. Paul. It is hard to translate the original phrase into our modern languages without altering the meaning. Literally it means "It is happier to give than to receive" and this happiness is to be understood in the same sense as the word "happy" which Jesus used in the sermon on the mount. He was not talking about transitory joy which might be the result of occasional almsgiving or doing a good deed: it is a joy which includes such joys and goes much further as well. The happiness Jesus spoke of is the radical happiness which is deep within every human life: a happiness which will be fulfilled in the fullness of time, but which is partially fulfilled now as a foretaste of the happiness to come.

As in all the beatitudes of Jesus, we achieve happiness in a way which is revolutionary when compared with people's normal outlook, and when compared with the instinctive pre-Christian way of thinking which we find we easily lapse into. We live in a world in which most people firmly believe that in order to be happy you must possess more power or more riches than anyone else, whereas a Christian is convinced that happiness lies in mutual love, a love which embraces heaven and earth, God and men. This happiness does not come easily but it is the only true happiness. In love, in general, it is more important to give than to receive. We have to change our outlook. It is no longer a question of "What can I get out of it?" "How can I take advantage of people and situations?", but, "What can I do for these people?", "What can I give them and how can I give them myself, in order to help them or to make them happy?". This attitude is Christ's attitude: this is the love of Christ, and we can measure how Christian a person is by how convinced he is by the truth of the phrase "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving".

St. Paul relates his experience of putting this phrase into practice: "I have never asked anyone for money or clothes; you know for yourselves that the work I did earned enough to meet my needs and those of my companions. I did this to show you that this is how we must exert ourselves to support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, 'There is more happiness in giving than in receiving'." His experience is only one of the many possible applications of this phrase. It is up to each of us to discover the countless ways that exist of putting it into practice in our daily life. This word of life is not something to be worried and overanxious about. It does not tell us how much we each must give and it does not say we must give. It does not threaten us with punishment if we do not give and we are not under any obligation to give. The word of life faces us with the truth and offers us the joy of giving, and trusts our freedom and generosity. Each of us can learn to give -to give what we feel we can give, what we feel it is opportune to give, without neglecting our duties and without depriving ourselves of necessities. We can always give something, be it only a glass of water, and we know that even this small gift will not go unrewarded by Jesus. Our capacity for giving ourselves and our possessions will grow spontaneously, and at the same time our freedom and joy will also grow. By adopting this attitude we will learn to give others what is their due according to justice, and we will then learn to go further and we will be inspired to make more heroic sacrifices.

The objection may be made: if you are going to give in order to have joy isn't this a form of selfishness? No. We give out of love, and this is always difficult; the joy comes afterwards. But even if the accusation were true, why shouldn't we desire to have joy. I would like to see lots of men and women pursuing this form of "selfishness" and if it led them to share all their goods and possessions in common, they would have every right to experience joy. If this were to happen there would indeed be great joy, a great celebration, and both giver and receiver would share the joy which comes from love, the love which Jesus brought on earth for us.

Fede

 

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