Blessings of a generous spirit

Two recent heartwarming stories about Catholic entrepreneurs who succeeded in the grocery business — one in the United States and one in Britain — give me an opportunity to convey important principles for living out the Gospel call to be a generous people.  

Patrick Roche, an American, is the co-founder of the Roche Brothers supermarket chain in Massachusetts. He is making a $30 million donation to a Boston College center to help reinvigorate Catholic grade school education. Catholic education clearly played a major role in his life, and, recognizing the stress that the system is under today, he wanted to do what he could to ensure Catholic education remains an important part of the Church’s work in America.  

Albert Gubay, the Brit, also founded a supermarket chain. He made a pact with God after World War II was over: “Make me a millionaire and you can have half of my money.” Starting from scratch, he founded Kwik Save, a chain of grocery stores that has grown into a $690 million business. He has placed the business into a charitable trust and hopes to grow it to $1 billion so that as much as possible will be available for charitable work.  

Scriptural reminders  

It’s heartening to see such examples of generosity, and even if we’re not a grocery store magnate we can learn important lessons. The first, and most important, is to remember that all we have ultimately comes from the Lord and belongs to him (see Dt 10:14). We have been entrusted with the gifts of life, time, talent and treasure, and as stewards of providence are expected to use these gifts in ways pleasing to God.  

A second important principle is the Scriptural tenet of giving from our first fruits (see Prv 3:9). The Lord wants our first and our best. It’s a mistake to wait until we are wealthy to be generous. The Lord wants us to have a generous spirit no matter what our situation is. Unfortunately, in America, we tend to give out what’s leftover. Hence, Catholics give on average about 1 percent of their income to charity, and that has spiritual consequences.  

Giving should be driven by two motives: love of God and love of neighbor. Mother Teresa once said, “Give until it hurts.” Giving should be sacrificial. While each situation is unique, it’s fair to say that in most cases, 1 percent of income is barely noticeable. Most people spend far more than that just on eating out.  

While the tithe (10 percent) is not a legal obligation of the Church today, it does represent an important benchmark for us to consider, especially in a consumer-driven culture such as ours. Our economy continues to work through the excesses of the past decade. We would do well to reset our financial priorities by making giving (and saving) more important parts of our family budgets.  

Blessings in many forms  

A third important principle is that the Lord promises to bless generosity. There are numerous references in Scripture regarding such blessings, including Malachi 3:7-10.  

One has to be careful not to misinterpret these references as part of a “prosperity Gospel.” While it’s fine to make a “pact” with God that you will share generously if you become wealthy as Albert Gubay did, it’s also important to note that blessings come in many forms. A blessing is anything that brings us closer to our goal of heaven. If that includes a responsibility over wealth, so be it, but remember that blessings include suffering as well. So be generous, but accept whatever blessings the Lord has in store for you.  

Developing a truly generous spirit leads to contentment. One woman shared how when she and her husband became more consistent in their giving, she noticed changes: greater love in the family and a deeper love for the Lord. Now those are real blessings! God love you!  

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.