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40 Days: Generosity


Welcome to 40 Days, a reflective journey for Eureka Street subscribers beginning Ash Wednesday and running through until Easter. Each week we’ll bring you a reflection on a theme, followed by some reading from our archives to help you reflect more deeply throughout the week. You might read them all at once, or sample one each day of Lent.

Our third reflection is from Andrew Hamilton SJ, and explores the theme of ‘Generosity’. 



In Lent, together with prayer, penance and fasting, almsgiving is a central theme. It is an expression of generosity, the theme of this reflection. Jesus’ instructions about almsgiving were pretty restrictive. He insisted that to be rewarded by God, alms should be given in secret. How that is consistent with naming Christian school buildings and scholarships after donors, searching for a wealthy donor to make the first contribution to a fund-raising appeal, and the demand that the names of donors Political Parties be publicly available, we may leave to discussion on another day.  

Generosity is most heartwarming when it is a habit. We see it in people whose first inclination is to give something to a beggar, to subscribe to an appeal, to stop and listen to a hard luck story, to think first of persons affected by war and economic crises and only secondly to policy, to welcome people into their homes and to go out of their way to help. Although on reflection they may not follow their first inclination, they will feel some regret in failing to do so. 

Generosity is attractive in individual persons. It is also attractive when we see it in local communities and in Government. People who have been in good hospitals have commented on how, from signing in, through all the encounters with nurses, doctors and others, to their treatment, they have found respect and attention that valued them as persons. Generosity can also restore the strong meaning of the name to public service.    

When working in enterprises that rely for survival on others’ generosity, many of us who are not naturally generous feel both shame and gratitude at the support given us by people with few resources. It is also a privilege to be vicariously generous by doing things like highlighting projects in need of resources, by introducing writers to readers, and by encouraging second thoughts for hardened minds. 

Here are some articles from our archives conspicuous for their generosity.




There’s room at the table for the poor if we make it

Julie Edwards writes, ‘The truth is that there is enough food in the world to feed the world's population, enough wealth in the world to bring food to those in need of it. People are not poor and do not go hungry because there is no food. People do not live in the streets because there are no buildings; a child need not lack clothes unless her mother does not eat today. They are forced to live in this way because as human beings we lack the attentiveness, the compassion, the wit and the persistence to cooperate in order to feed, house and clothe them.’ [From 2016]

Read more here. 


The extraordinary sandwiches of Sister Cook

Brian Doyle writes, ‘Perhaps I soaked up something subtle and telling and substantive and holy about service and commitment and promise from Sister Cook, who did not teach a class, nor rule the religious education curriculum, nor conduct religious ritual and observance in public, but quietly served sandwiches to more small hungry shy children than anyone can count, in her golden redolent kitchen, with its table bigger than a boat.’ [From 2013]

Read more here. 


Ordinary heroes shine on suffering

Gillian Bouras writes, ‘Sometimes the better angels of our nature triumph. Take the case of Australian life-saver Simon Lewis, who recently returned from working with Lifeguard Hellas on the Greek island of Lesbos where, it is calculated, 12,000 people have arrived so far this year, most of them in highly unsafe rubber dinghies. The team was involved in the rescue of more than 500…. Lewis, understandably, says he is not the same person. The people rescued cannot speak English, he said, 'but they say thank you with their eyes'.’ [From 2016]

Read more here. 


Remembering Hassan

Bernard Appassamy writes, ‘Practically anywhere I stood on Mauritius, I could see a basalt mountain in the distance. In year 9, our geography teacher asked us to trace from a map onto paper the contours of all the scattered mountains, and then join them. They formed the ring of the giant volcano from which my island had erupted 8 million years ago. A mountain-like figure, always on my horizon, was Hassan.’ [From 2008]

Read more here. 


A migrant living on stolen land

Dinali Devasagayam writes, ‘In 1989, Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins said: “My expectation of a good Australia is when white people would be proud to speak an Aboriginal language, when they realise that Aboriginal culture and all that goes with it, philosophy, art, language, morality, kinship, is all part of their heritage. And that's the most unbelievable thing of all, that it's all there waiting for all of us. White people can inherit 40,000 or 60,000 years of culture, and all they have to do is reach out and ask for it.”’ [From 2019]

Read more here. 


On Seamus Heaney’s turf

Peter Gebhardt writes, ‘[Heaney] He was a man of extraordinary generosity, a critic who could make adverse findings seem like winning lottery tickets. I knew I wasn't a great poet, and he knew it too, but he also knew I liked curling up in the word. He gave me an 'A'!’ [From 2013]

Read more here. 





Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, 40 Days, Lent, Generosity



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