New Year’s Gifts
The new year marks the end of the “giving season.” With the end of the tax year coinciding with “the holidays,” people give more to charitable organizations than any other time. Everyone takes for granted that others will follow the golden rule of giving — to honor the intention of the donor.
This is only fair. To do otherwise would constitute a grave injustice towards the donor who gives in good faith.
Everyone, I think, agrees with this. Nonetheless, few people apply this rule to God for his gifts or donations to us.
Perhaps many people think that God doesn’t attach any intentions to his gifts for us. This is not the case. God gives gifts to us with specific intentions. To understand and fulfill these intentions would enable us to practice justice towards God for his many gifts. What do we need to do?
Let’s start with what we normally do when we receive a gift from someone; we acknowledge the fact that we have received it. For many, this naturally raises another question: What have I received from God to acknowledge?
The answer is: everything.
Everything that we have comes providentially from God’s goodness: our family, our home, our property, the things we use and so on.
The first step toward practicing justice with God demands that we give thanks to God for everything that we have and use. Yet it is not enough to acknowledge God’s gifts to us.
We need to honor the intentions of his gifts.
God donates to everyone the material goods of the world with the intention to benefit all, especially the poor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God entrusted the resources of the earth “to the common stewardship of mankind to care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits” (No. 2402). These goods of creation affirm the Catechism, “are destined for the whole human race.” The Church calls this “the universal destination of goods” (No. 2403).
Does this mean that everything should be held in common? Absolutely not. The Church defends the right to private ownership of material goods as a requirement for the common good.
The Catechism points out that this right is “legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in charge.” Then, what does the Church mean by the universal destination of goods?
From the right of ownership, a sense of solidarity should develop, leading people to understand their relationship with others. Consequently, the right to own and to use material goods implies the principle of stewardship, with the understanding that material goods should not benefit just its owner, but others, as well.
The Catechism reminds us that “the ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family” (No. 2404).
All of this has special implications for the way in the way in which we deal with the poor and promote social justice.
It is a specific, clear and normative teaching of sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church that we have a special duty to care for the poor. This mandate, according to the Catechism, “is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and his concern for the poor” (No. 2444).
Our love of the poor required by the Gospel directly relates to the manner in which the goods of the earth are regarded and used. For instance, the Church teaches that “love of the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use.” Furthermore, the duty to share goods with the poor is considered not to be merely a work of mercy, but rather a requirement of justice.
However, it’s worthy noting that the Catechism condemns “immoderate love of riches and their selfish use.” It doesn’t support the view that riches are immoral per se. As with any endowment, the key to moral discernment lies in the use made of it.
This “season of giving” is all but over, and the season of resolutions is upon us. We have new opportunities to use well God’s gifts for the good of others.
“For God loves a cheerful giver.”
Legionary Father Andrew McNair is a theology professor at Mater Ecclesiae College
in Greenville, Rhode Island.
- January 6-12, 2008