Much attention is focused on Pope Francis' attention to the needy. Whatever individuals may think of the new Holy Father, everyone seems to admire his love for the poor. Different eras appreciate different virtues, and this is a virtue that our time does honor.
The funny thing is that we tend to think, "Good for him! A lot of people need to be less selfish and give more to the poor." Too often we think about how much other people need to change without considering that we might need to as well.
Americans are pretty generous in general; we have a reputation for that. We are especially giving after a natural disaster or personal tragedy. We also donate regularly to churches and charities.
People like Pope Francis and Mother Teresa, however, raise the ante and keep us from thinking too highly of our generosity. After all, we are a prosperous people. The average American today has luxuries that even the wealthy of past ages could envy (air conditioning and automobiles for starters). Our homes are cluttered with things we don't need and perhaps don't even use anymore. We may give, but most of us could probably give a good bit more.
Life is like a piñata scramble. The moment the candy bursts from the piñata and cascades to the ground is exciting, but hardly fair. There are always those who get more than others, being in a better location or being older or faster. Similarly, the world's goods aren't distributed fairly. We need to be as mature as those children who notice the little ones who didn't get much, and share with them.
How much is enough? How much should one give?
That is a question each must answer, after prayer. And more than once. It's something we should be talking with God about periodically, especially when circumstances change.
But Mother Teresa gave a good rule of thumb: Give until it hurts. Give an amount that causes you to go without something. There should be some sacrifice involved.
There's a touching example of this in Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek. Her family had just started a new farm and had very little money to spare. Pa had been saving up to buy some new boots, as his old ones were getting worn out. Finally, he had enough, and went to town to buy them. But he came home without the money and wearing his cracked old pair. While he was there, he heard that the new church needed so much more to buy a bell—the exact amount he had in his pocket. He gave it to them—all of it.
If giving like this sounds hard—and it is—keep in mind that giving helps the giver too. We need to give, and give until it hurts, to rid ourselves of the things that hold us back. We are fallen, material beings, living in a materialistic culture; we become attached to things so easily. But life isn't a game in which the one with the most toys at the end, wins. If anything, those with the least attachments gain the highest rewards.
Greed is a trap. Consider how it ensnares the monkey: a banana is placed in a jar with a narrow neck; the monkey can get his hand in the jar, but once he clutches the banana, his hand can no longer fit through the neck. Rather than let go of the banana and escape, he hangs onto it and is captured.
We talk about and value freedom so highly, not realizing that we are slaves to our possessions (and often our passions too). True freedom is the ability to let go of anything that keeps us from the fulfillment of our being.
God is our goal, our fulfillment; He alone is worth clinging to, indeed what we need to cling to.