The Ripples of Generosity, Unseen

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RippleGenerosity is dramatically exemplified by the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem. I'm guessing their arrival on the scene was a surprise to Mary and Joseph, an unscheduled blessing. Nothing announced the Magi's coming. They read the signs of their times—and the stars in the sky—and took it upon themselves to visit and offer gifts befitting the newborn king. Their lengthy journeys were made at their own expense; their gifts bestowed unexpected provision for Jesus' family, indicating a larger, eternal plan was in motion.

The Magi could never have fathomed that what they gave freely and generously to the Holy Family would ring down through the ages, blessing untold numbers whom they would never see or meet.

From my vantage point, that is the by-product of generosity: you just never know where the ripple effect might lead. One gracious word, gift, or action can leave quite a wake.

My earliest recollection of the word generosity comes from Girl Scout camp. I remember singing at the top of my lungs a ditty that still echoes in my brain: "She wears a 'G' for Generosity!" That little tune spelled out the virtues of being a G.I.R.L. S.C.O.U.T. But I saw it on display in the selfless service of my camp leaders.

Generosity was just one of those things implicit in what Mom or Dad asked of me in so many ways without really calling it such: "Share with your sisters" and "try not to be stingy." Author Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com speaks of her own memories, recalling her parents' advice: "Always err on the side of generosity." And that's so true.

Generosity is going the distance with big-hearted energy. It powerfully frames the Gospel's challenge to "love one another. . ." (Jn. 13:34)

After all, the call to holiness is supposed to imitate God's first love for us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . ." (Jn. 3:16)

God's munificence leads us, like Magi-wannabes, toward charity for others.

Generosity has a rather noble duty attached to it. It is always connected with lifting up another person. It is a chance to serve, bless, or elevate another through the sheer graciousness of giving liberally. To paraphrase Jesus' later Sermon on the Mount: we go the extra mile. (See Mt. 5:39-41.)

Generosity is the ability to give with no thought of getting, whether one is giving time, talent, or treasure. Fortunately, in God's economy, giving without thought of a return is never for nothing.

People I know have routinely offered their generosity to my family and me. I am so grateful for their unselfish love. Even if they were unable to see into the future to know if it was all going to be worth it, they didn't stop from giving in the first place.

The gifts of the Magi remind me of a remarkable potentiality: when we bestow generosity on those beyond our own circles, unseen exponential blessings become possible. There are many people this side of heaven who will never know that they have participated in the largesse of Providence through their own charitable giving.

My own memories are filled with stories of the ripple effects of generosity.

Back in my college radio days, I asked the station manager for an opportunity to do a radio show featuring Christian music and commentary. (In the late '70s there was little-to-nothing of what we call "Catholic radio" today.) The manager offered me a chance to produce a pre-recorded show to air in the traditional Sunday morning slot. The only hitch was that I had to provide the content and the music. Mind you, I was a struggling college student. My meager part-time job's income was going to my college tuition. I could not finance a radio show without any sponsors.

So I prayed and was inspired to talk to a local shopkeeper, the owner of a Christian bookstore. That Christian man listened to my dream of starting a Catholic radio show. To my shock and surprise, after our conversation, I walked out of his store with a stack of music albums under my arm—all for free! That storeowner did not know me, but his generosity set me on a path that would eventually lead me into Christian radio fulltime for several years. The ripple effects from that gift not only blessed me personally, but all my listeners who heard the music and the message of those shows. And it continues to resonate in my work in new media today.

We may never know who might be ultimately blessed by our generosity. The ripple effects are often shielded from our sight. But God uses generosity to help convert souls, I'm sure of it.