A Question About Generosity

The other day someone asked me something to which I paid little attention at the time but which I have thought about since: how does someone with a life-limiting disease such as cancer feel/respond when they are asked to pray for someone who has a bad cold, or when they read some heartening story about someone who has ‘beaten’ the disease they themselves have. I can’t remember the answer I gave. I imagine it was along the lines of ‘All requests for prayer are taken seriously. What may seem minor to one person may loom large in the life of another. Our business is to pray, not to judge the person who asks.’ Anyone who has ever had a bad cold will heartily concur. It does feel like death — or what we imagine death to be like — and we do want people to pray for us.

The question about reacting to another’s good news is trickier. I’d like to say, I rejoice for them and give thanks; and most times I do. But I must confess there are times when the gladness and rejoicing have to be squeezed out rather than oozing freely. I recall with shame when a dear friend telephoned to tell me that what we had both feared might be a cancerous growth turned out not to be. As he said over and over again, ‘Thank God, it’s not cancer!’ part of me was echoing the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Of course I rejoiced for mt friend, but I would like to be free of my own leiomyosarcoma and it would be dishonest not to admit that my gladness was tinged with more than a dollop of . . . not envy exactly, but something very like it. There was definitely a green tinge to my rejoicing.

We are so often urged to be generous. In origin, the word means to be noble, magnanimous, unstinting. Unfortunately, we tend to limit it to more prosaic meanings. We talk about being generous with money or time and conveniently forget that before we can be either we must be magnanimous, big-hearted. Of the three gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, surely the gold is most clearly a sign of love and generosity. Even today, gold is regarded as precious, a symbol of the desire to lavish the costliest of gifts on the beloved. But, alas for us, we are called upon to lavish the gold of our hearts on those who are not necessarily beloved (or at least, not as beloved as perhaps they ought to be). We are called upon to be generous to all. It may not be money or time we have to give. It may be something as simple as a smile of welcome, a listening ear, a small kindness that goes virtually unnoticed. We are called upon to rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who grieve; in short, to look beyond ourselves and find and worship Christ in the other. I hope the next time I read one of those ‘I beat cancer’ stories, I shall do exactly that.

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16 thoughts on “A Question About Generosity”

  1. I find myself particularly struggling when people of faith rejoice enthusiasticly over answered prayer for healing in some cases when i know of other people for whom healing does not seem to be happening. Of course I am happy for those healed, but I can’t help feeling that the chorus of praise implies that God chooses to heal one person rather than another. And even that God loves them more. And I refuse to think that.
    Or that God plans for anyone to go through such suffering. Instead I focus on the vulnerability of the incarnate God who shares our vulnerability and powerless-ness.

    • Unless one can praise God equally for not answering prayer in the way we would like, I question whether we have begun to understand what prayer is or who God is. It’s difficult, but then so are many things in life.

  2. I have to admit that I rejoice at good news, as there is so much bad news to cope with.

    When I hear of God’s love and grace being expressed by the healing of someone, I rejoice with them and pray in Thanks Giving to God for such healing.

    I think that any prayer that we raise to God, may or may not be answered, but I don’t despair, because I know, that if God had willed it, it would have happened, but I don’t try to second guess God, if healing happens rejoice, if healing happens, if not, still rejoice, because we can’t hope to know why it doesn’t happen, but rejoicing in God giving us the space to lay and to intercede with him, through his Son is a gift, which we should use unsparingly and continuously.

    I pray for your recovery, not knowing whether it will or will not happen, but that is no reason not to pray, anything else would devalue the love and respect that I hold for you, since we met online, a good few years ago. You read my rants back then, and didn’t seek to scold me, but gave me sound guidance and advice, disabused me of some of the erroneous ideas that I harboured of Catholics, and helped me to see past some of the obstacles that were blinkering my faith and views about my Catholic upbringing.

    I thank God that I have had these contacts, and selfishly want them to continue, as I value them highly. So, my prayers are sometimes underpinned by that ambition.

    Prayer is so important, but so is taking Joy from life, people, relationships, and God’s Love, shown to us by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our sake. Much more for me to be joyful about, although sometimes sad when I read of your next journey to Oxford for Chemo, or a scan – hoping against hope, for an improvement or remission, if God wills it

  3. I feel a bit awkward ‘telling’ God what I want to happen in my prayers. After all, He is God! I often ‘express a preferred outcome’ in my prayer, while trying to remember that I might not know what is best for me, or the person I am praying for, as it is only God who has the full picture.

  4. My mother had a significant cure at Lourdes. Whilst she (and we, my father and her children) rejoiced in that lavish show of love from Our Father, she still questioned why her, and not others she felt were more deserving.

    We can never understand why God does as He does, but I guess its about making the most of His gift, yes for ourselves but also for others.

    My own prostate cancer, (so far successfully adressed by surgery 12 months ago, but I must wait to see ultimately what happens) has I think been a gift to at least 2 other close male friends and one brother. Each has now had this silent killer identified and medically addressed. There is always a gift in there somewhere, as the ‘bad thing’ is allowed by God. But the message of that gift can be so hard to understand.

      • Thabk you Dame Catherine, I too pray for you and your illness.

        For information my mother’s cure was in 1978, whilst in the Downside contingent of the Knights of Malta pilgrimage. She was well cared for by Dom Philip Jeb when subjected then amnd over several years later to the rigours of the Lourdes Mediccal Bureau.

  5. Again “A question of Generosity,” a thought provoking issue; I’m sure I like many tweet followers, will pray daily for a remission of your leiomyosarcoma, “Thoughts and never too many Prayers.”

    • Thank you very much. As I said to Tim, the fact that I’ve lasted much longer than predicted/expected is itself a miracle of prayer and a tribute to the excellent care I have received.

  6. Dear Sister Catherine, we seek your earnest intercession with our Lord without realising that you are suffering greatly yourself. That you are asking the questions of your ability to be generous in the light of your predicament is testimony to the freedom of the human spirit to pursue a course of action. Although the medical outcome for many who suffer may contradict the will of prayer, it does not debase the value of seeking a positive result through prayer.
    When Jesus came to Earth, his life was predestined. He would grow, preach, convert, heal, be betrayed, be crucified, die, be resurrected and return to Heaven. All this was for us. Our lives have a similar but not as eventful pattern. Most of us sin, ignorant of the love of our Lord and of the hurt we do to others. But we have the ability and the free will to follow His message of universal peace and love for others, to do what we can for others and, if nothing else, be kind in our thoughts and deeds.
    And if nothing else, praying is not a request list for the Lord but a sign that in talking to Him we love Him and that we care.
    God bless and care for you as you struggle on and love us all. Peace and love be with you xx.

    • Thank you, Tim. I don’t think I have the right to call my health issues ‘suffering’ but I do attribute the fact that I’ve lived much longer than predicted to the prayer of many, known and unknown, who, like you, intercede for me. Thank you and bless you!

  7. Thank you for your honesty again. I sometimes wonder how you respond internally to the sometimes apparently trite comments on Facebook that people “hope you will be better soon”. Personally I grind my teeth on your behalf ! Joni Eriksen tada has written a good book about wrestling with lack of physical healing, after 40 years as a quadriplegic. Your comment about rejoicing when prayer is not answered (the way we want it) is a bullseye!

    • Thank you. I know the comments are well-meant, so I take them that way. That said, knowing my sarcoma is incurable and spreading means I have to make a kind of mental adjustment and I know I don’t always get it ‘right’. I live in the reality of not knowing! Hope your teeth are not too ground down. 🙂

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