During the third week of Lent, Frank and I focus on “Generosity” in A Spring in the Desert. In specific, we write about giving and tithes. We have chosen generosity as the opposite of covetousness, one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Covetousness covers a number of things that might not first come to mind when one considers this sin. According to the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, these are:
COVETOUSNESS is the refusal to respect the integrity of other creatures, expressed in the inordinate accumulation of material things; in the use of other persons for our personal advantage; or in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.
Inordinate Ambition. Pursuit of status, power, influence, reputation, or possessions at the expense of the moral law, of other obligations, or of the rights of others. Ruthless or unfair competition. Putting self or family first. Conformity to standards we recognize as wrong or inadequate in order to get ahead. Intrigue or conspiracy for self-advancement.
Domination. Seeking to use or possess others. Over protection of children; refusal to correct or punish lest we lose their affection; insistence that they conform to our ideal for them contrary to their own vocation. Imposing our will on others by force, guile, whining, or refusal to cooperate. Over-readiness to advise or command; abuse of authority. Patronizing, pauperizing, putting others under a debt of gratitude, or considering ourselves ill-used when others’ affection or compliance is not for sale. Respect of persons, favoritism, partiality, flattery, fawning, or bribery to win support or affection. Refusal to uphold the truth to fulfill duties, to perform good acts, or to defend those wrongfully attacked, because we fear criticism or ridicule, or because we seek to gain the favor or approval of others. Leading, tempting or encouraging another to sin.
Avarice. Inordinate pursuit of wealth or material things. Theft, dishonesty, misrepresentation, or sharing in stolen goods. Cheating in business, taxes, school or games. Making worldly success the goal of our life or the standard for judging others.
Prodigality. Waste of natural resources or personal possessions. Extravagance or living beyond our income, to impress others or to maintain status. Failure to pay debts. Gambling more than we can afford to lose, or to win unearned profits. Unnecessary borrowing or carelessness with others’ money. Expenditure on self of what is needed for the welfare of others.
Penuriousness. Undue protection of wealth or security. Selfish insistence on vested interests or on claimed rights. Refusal to support or help those who have a claim on us. Sponging on others. Stinginess. Failure to give due proportion of our income to Church and charity, or of our time and energy to good works. Failure to pay pledges promised to the Church or charities, when able to do so.
Kind of eye-opening, isn’t it, especially considering it is just one of seven sins? If I am ever feeling a little holier than thou, all I have to do is open up the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book to the Self-examination, and I quickly regain some humility.
But the Third Week in Lent is about generosity and giving. I think this poem by the Poet Laureate of Arizona says it well:
When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto Ríos – 1952-
One river gives
Its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
The lesson of not judging others is an incredibly difficult one to learn. It is human to struggle with being critical about others or to look down on those we deem to be spiritually or morally inferior. Unfortunately, it is impossible to fully love God and experience spiritual freedom if we do not love others, including our enemies, without any kind of judgment.
A lack of judgment, on the other hand, is not the same as discernment, which is a spiritual gift. For example, discernment might lead me to stop associating with someone who causes me to fall into some type of sin, either because of that person’s sinful habits or my own sinful inclinations. In not associating with that person, I do not condemn them, but rather I know it is not beneficial for me be with them.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16 that we should “be wise as serpents (use discernment) and as innocent as doves (don’t judge or condemn people when we happen to notice their faults)”. An excellent start toward living into that is to prioritize not judging others. Using discernment will help us to realize our own sinfulness, which, in turn, will deepen our purity of heart. Being aware of our own sinfulness should help lead us to genuine repentance.
Interestingly, the New Testament Daily Office reading for Saturday was from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and spoke on this very thing. In Chapter 4 it reads: 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
This week in A Spring in the Desert, we write about “Forgiveness” and “Judgement”. Below, you will find some quotes from the Desert Fathers that address these subjects:
ISAAC THE THEBAN
One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, ‘I will not let you enter.’
But Isaac persisted saying, ‘What is the matter?’
The angel replied, ‘God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned.’
Immediately Isaac repented and said, ‘I have sinned, forgive me.’
Then the angel said, ‘Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so.’
THEOPHILUS THE ARCHBISHOP
Theophilus was asked, ‘Father, in this way of life which you follow, what do you find to be best?’
Theophilus replied, ‘The act of accusing myself, and of constantly reproaching myself to myself…There is no other way but this.’
MOSES THE BLACK
If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbor…To die to one’s neighbor is this: To bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil…Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, ‘God knows each one.’ Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander, and do not hate him who slanders his neighbor.
A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.
When you think of traveling to Phoenix, Arizona, the first thing that comes to mind is a dry heat, right? Bizarrely, this particular December, we left pouring rain and cold on the east coast for pouring rain and cold in the desert. My suitcase, and many of the clothes inside it, were literally soaked when I picked it up at baggage claim.
So, while it didn’t rain nonstop while we were there, for the first five days, there wasn’t a lot we could do outside. Fortunately, we don’t have Disney+, so we were able to watch the newest version of Lady and the Tramp, which was filmed in our hometown of Savannah, with our daughter. We also got to watch the first season of The Mandalorian. And, Griffin’s boyfriend and I were able to enjoy a couple of Manchester United games.
Finally, on Saturday, the sun came out and Frank and I took a quick hike at North Mountain Park:
Then the four of us headed out to find some petroglyphs in North Phoenix. Amazingly, these rocks were on a hillside overlooking a heavily populated valley.
That evening, we headed to Glendale, where my daughter is in vet school, to enjoy Glendale Glitters, their annual light show. We finished the evening with pierogis, paprikash, and goulash at a Polish (serving Eastern European food) restaurant.
Beginning on January 1, 2018, I will begin a daily blog featuring wisdom from the desert fathers and mothers. Below you will find a sample–advice from Desert Mother, Amma Theodora.
Stay tuned for a special announcement about this blog, The Wilderness Road, coming next week . . .
Amma Theodora said, “It is good to live in peace, for the wise man practices perpetual prayer. It is truly a great thing for a virgin or a monk to live in peace, especially for the younger ones. However, you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts.
“It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray.
“But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away. There was, in fact a monk who was seized by cold and fever every time he began to pray, and he suffered from headaches, too. In this condition, he said to himself, ‘I am ill, and near to death; so now I will get up before I die and pray.’
“By reasoning in this way, he did violence to himself and prayed. When he had finished, the fever abated also. So, by reasoning in this way, the brother resisted, and prayed and was able to conquer his thoughts.”
If you want to savor a piece of daily desert wisdom in 2018, you can follow my blog here: Franciscans Day by Day