Generosity: Pure but not Simple

Today is one of those days with multiple layers of meaning. We remember that at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Great War for Civilisation which was to end all wars officially came to an end. We also remember St Martin of Tours, himself a former soldier like so many monks, but remembered today chiefly for one incident — the sharing of his cloak with a beggar.

I once summed up the secret of St Martin’s hold on the popular imagination in words that earned me a thorough scolding from some readers:

The fact that we still remember St Martin of Tours so long after his death may provide a few clues about how to attain long-lasting fame. It helps to have a good biographer (Sulpicius Severus) and to have been on the winning side in some historically important struggle (Martin championed Trinitarianism against Arianism). It is also useful to have done something novel (Martin is generally credited with being the founder of the first monastery in Gaul, Marmoutier, and introduced a rudimentary parish system to the diocese of Tours). It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a reputation for mercy (Martin did his best to save the Priscillianists from being put to death and the story of his sharing his cloak with a beggar has passed into legend). But the most certain way of ensuring that one is remembered is to seek not to be remembered at all and become a saint instead. Easy peasy really.

Perhaps I should have kept the smile out of my writing and concentrated on Martin’s generosity instead, because I think it is generosity that connects both Armistice Day and the saint. The selflessness of those who gave their lives for freedom is a theme many have recalled over the week-end; the lived generosity of day-to-day will be the theme of many a gospel homily this morning. Generous people are immensely attractive. They are big-hearted, kind, warm. They never misuse their gifts to make others feel small or inferior. They never praise one in order to make another feel slighted. They are great encouragers, even if inside they don’t feel quite as happy or confident as they appear on the outside. They remind us that generosity is a mark of the pure of heart, but attaining that purity isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Do read Tanya Marlow’s blog post for Saturday afternoon (link opens in new window), when she reflected on the CNMAC Blogger of the Year award, for which she, like me, was a finalist. It is a beautiful example of the kind of generosity I am writing about. Her blog is uniformly excellent: add it to your list of must-reads. You can find a list of the winners and runners-up of the CNMAC awards here.


5 thoughts on “Generosity: Pure but not Simple”

  1. Thanks Dame Catherine for another reminder of one the gifts that we can give freely and purely “out of the goodness of our hearts”.

    That phrase is something that it used so often in speech that it’s been devalued as a statement of what is essentially a God given gift! Having goodness of heart is something that we are all called to, along with purity of heart and mind and much else.

    Generosity is something that is in short supply these days, not just in people, but in those who govern in this country and in many others. Generosity would make people think hard of depriving people of their dignity which Austerity seems to be doing to many of the disabled and unemployed or on low incomes or asylum seekers. Labeling and victimizing them, making them seem to be the enemy to those ‘hard working’ taxpayers.

    Scapegoating and creating a new class of outcasts seems to me to be the action of meanness of heart not the generous heart that is an essential ingredient of the Gospels and something that Jesus exhibited right up to his death on the cross. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” says it all.

    Martin of Tours seems to have lived out that, never forgetting the ‘once and for all’ sacrifice made by Jesus and seeing in those around him, perhaps a reflection of those that Jesus himself associated with and actively aided and promoted. The Poor, the Outcasts, Prisoners and Children.

    Why can’t we see so clearly?

  2. Thank you for today’s, as always, thought provoking post. Thanks for all you other posts and …….many, many congratulations.
    I hope you and Brother Duncan will have a celebratory walk or something!

  3. Thank you so much for introducing me properly to St Martin of Tours, of whom I did not know. (It was also good to get an action plan of how to achieve long-lasting fame – I shall add ‘be on the winning side of a historically-important struggle’ to my To Do list ;-))

    And thank you so much for your generous mention of my blog post. I was really touched by your commendation, and it made me feel all warm and happy inside, like hot chocolate.

    I’m DELIGHTED that you won the award, and I look forward to lurking around here and learning from you all the more.

  4. Oh!! Forgive me….but I am basking in your reflected glory….I am so delighted that the blog that I constantly recommend to other people has won this lovely award!! So well deserved…..I do hope the monastery is aglow with delight this evening…with Bro Duncan probably claiming the glory for himself for his ‘takeovers’ when Sr Catherine is away…… 🙂 Woof, Bro!

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